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Lecture 7: Aeschylus

ALIKE in its origin, and throughout the most flourishing period of its history, Greek drama was intimately associated with the services of religion. The seed from which tragedy sprang was the dithyramb or choral hymn in honour of Dionysus; and after the tragic art had attained to its maturity in Athens, it was still only at the solemn festivals of Dionysus that plays were exhibited. The representation of a tragedy was thus in a true and proper sense an act of public worship rendered by the State to one of its Gods.1 If the spirit of Greek drama is pre-eminently religious, it is therefore no more than we should expect from a consideration of its origin and history. But in the case more particularly of Aeschylus, we may well suppose that the circumstances of his childhood and youth contributed to give a strongly religious bias to his mind. Born about 525 B.C., the scion of a noble family belonging to Eleusis, he lived for a time in the immediate precincts of the temple which, next to that of Apollo at Delphi, was the most widely honoured of all Greek temples—that of Demeter and Corê, the patron Goddesses of the Eleusinian mysteries. In early manhood he witnessed the tide of barbarism rolled back from Greece by the heroic efforts of Athens; and he himself fought at Marathon, Salamis, and Plataea. It is natural that in so great a deliverance Aeschylus should have seen the hand of the Gods; and the Persae remains as a memorial to show that the defeat of Xerxes was interpreted by the poet as an example on a gigantic scale of the law of righteousness by which God rules the world.

The lofty prophetical tone characteristic, as we have seen, of Pindar, is not less characteristic of Aeschylus; but in the tragedian it is combined with a greater intensity of moral purpose, and a far profounder treatment of moral and religious problems, than either the subject of Pindar's odes, or the peculiar quality of his genius, allowed. The conception which lies in the background of Aeschylus' theology is the old Hesiodic story of successive dynasties of Gods. This conception appears from time to time throughout the other plays,2 and is, in particular, the pivot on which the action of the Prometheus Bound revolves. In that tragedy, Cronus and his allies are engulfed in the abyss of Tartarus, and except for one possibility of danger, it would seem that Zeus is firmly and for ever seated on his throne. Prometheus, who has incurred the wrath of Zeus on account of his friendship for humanity, holds in his keeping the secret that alone can save the newly-established tyrant from suffering the fate of his predecessors.

“Yea verily shall Zeus, though stubborn-souled,

Be humbled yet; such marriage he prepares

Which from his throne of power to nothingness

Shall hurl him down; so shall be all fulfilled

His father Kronos' curse, which erst he spake

What time he fell from his primeval throne.

From such disasters none of all the gods

To Zeus escape can show, save I alone;

I know it and the way.”3

It is because Prometheus stubbornly refuses to yield the secret that he is subjected to age-long torture. But even in pronouncing sentence, the divine messenger holds out the hope of ultimate deliverance:

“But of such pangs look for no term, until

Some god, successor of thy toils, appear,

Willing to Hades' rayless gloom to wend,

And to the murky depths of Tartaros.”4

In the sequel, as seems to have been related in the Prometheus Delivered,5 Heracles, the son of Zeus, in accordance with the decree of Destiny, and by his father's will, released the hero. Prometheus, taught perhaps by suffering,6 discloses the secret, with the result that a reconciliation is effected, and Zeus escapes the danger by which he was threatened.

Such, in broad outline, is the Aeschylean version of the old legend. To a modern reader, the interest centres chiefly round the figure of Prometheus; but if the other two members of the trilogy survived, we should probably see that the idea which gives unity to the whole is the substitution of Harmony and Justice for Discord and Violence in the government of the world. According to the Orphic anthropology, man is a composite creature, half-bestial and half-divine, combining something of the Titan and something of the God; and the path of progress lies in starving the Titanic element and nurturing and developing the divine. The Promethean trilogy, so far as its theological ideas are concerned, seems to be inspired by a somewhat similar conception. That which the Orphic religion represented as an ideal for the individual is here represented as having happened in the dynasty of heaven. The Titans whom Zeus overthrew were deified impersonations of the reign of force and terror. With the accession of Zeus, a new era is about to begin, in which wisdom and justice will take the place of blind force. It is true that the Zeus of the Prometheus Bound exhibits many characteristics of the previous era. His servants are Violence and Might; and he had conceived the design of destroying humanity and founding a new race of mortals. But even in this play there are not wanting indications of an ulterior purpose seeking to bring good out of evil. The nymph Io, after her wanderings are ended, is to be restored by Zeus to human form, and become the foundress of a race whence Heracles should arise to free Prometheus and confer inestimable good upon mankind.7 And we must remember that the Prometheus Bound represents only the transition from the old era to the new. After the empire of Zeus was finally established by a reconciliation with Prometheus, Justice and not Force became the sceptre of his rule.

In the Prometheus it is implied throughout that Fate is stronger than Zeus.

“‘Not yet nor thus is it ordained that fate

These things shall compass; but by myriad pangs

And tortures bent, so shall I 'scape these bonds;

Art than necessity is weaker far.’

‘Who then is helmsman of necessity?’

‘The triform Fates and ever-mindful Furies.’

‘Is Zeus in might less absolute than these?’

‘E'en he the fore-ordained cannot escape.’”8

We may infer from this passage that Aeschylus sometimes conceived of a transcendent principle, at once superior and prior to the Gods, and determining the succession and duration of their dynasties. The Theogony of Hesiod, as we have already seen, contains the same idea, though in a less explicit form. But except in the Prometheus, Aeschylus is hardly more consistent than his predecessors on the subject of the relation between Zeus and Fate. Though he frequently distinguishes between the two powers, and sometimes brings them into collision,9 yet the tendency of his drama as a whole is undoubtedly to exalt the authority of Zeus, and to make Destiny either his coadjutor or simply that which he decrees. At the close of the Eumenides, “all-seeing Zeus” and Fate are in perfect harmony;10 and throughout the whole of the Suppliants, Destiny is nothing but the will of Zeus.

“Whate'er is fated that must sure befal;

The will of Zeus, almighty, absolute,

None may transgress.”11

The predominance of Zeus is indeed one of the great distinguishing features of Aeschylean theology. Zeus is “the king of kings, most blessed among the blessed, of perfect powers most perfect,” the “all-seeing,” “all-powerful father,”12 the cause and accomplisher of all things (παναίτιος, πανϵργϵ́της, παντϵλής, τϵ́λϵιος),13 without whose will nothing either good or evil happens to man.14 Many other epithets and sentiments might be quoted from nearly all the plays, to illustrate man's dependence upon the Almighty Father in the different relationships of life; but it is perhaps in the Suppliants—one of the most truly religious poems in ancient literature—that Aeschylus' conception of Zeus reaches the highest point. Nothing can convey to us a more vivid impression of the religious sentiment of the poet than the choruses in that play: and I will venture to put before you Mr. Morshead's admirable version of two typical passages:

“Justly his deed was done,

Unto what other one,

Of all the gods, should I for justice turn?

From him our race did spring; Creator he and King,

Ancient of days and wisdom he, and might.

As bark before the wind,

So, wafted by his mind,

Moves every counsel, each device aright.

Beneath no stronger hand Holds he a weak command,

No throne doth he abase him to adore;

Swift as a word, his deed

Acts out what stands decreed

In counsels of his heart, for evermore.”15

“Though the deep will of Zeus be hard to track,

Yet doth it flame and glance,

A beacon in the dark, 'mid clouds of chance

That wrap mankind.

Yea, though the counsel fall, undone it shall not lie,

Whate'er be shaped and fixed within Zeus' ruling mind—

Dark as a solemn grove, with sombre leafage shaded,

His paths of purpose wind,

A marvel to men's eye.

Smitten by him, from towering hopes degraded,

Mortals lie low and still:

Tireless and effortless, works forth its will

The arm divine!

God from his holy seat, in calm of unarmed power,

Brings forth the deed at its appointed hour!”16

In these two poems, as well as elsewhere throughout the dramas, the poet clearly assumes the essential unity of the divine purpose as manifested in the world. It would nevertheless be an error to suppose that Aeschylus is in any proper sense of the term a monotheist. He constantly recognises a plurality of Gods; and nowhere does he contend against the prevailing polytheism. There is, indeed, one fragment which appears to deny the existence of more Gods than one. “Zeus is aether, Zeus is earth, Zeus is heaven: Zeus, in truth, is all things and more than all.”17 We have here an interesting anticipation of the half-poetical, half-philosophical pantheism which among ancient poets is characteristic chiefly of Virgil, and among modern, of Wordsworth and Tennyson.

“The sun, the moon, the stars, the seas, the hills, and the plains,

Are not these, O Soul, the Vision of Him who reigns?”18

But no other passage in Aeschylus strikes exactly this note; and the fragment, if genuine, probably refers to some pantheistic doctrine of the Orphic type.19

The most that we can fairly say on the subject of Aeschylean monotheism is that in Aeschylus the personality of Zeus overshadows that of all the inferior Gods to a much greater extent than formerly; and that in the dynasty of Gods to which Zeus belongs, there is but a single purpose, a single ruling will, the will of Zeus himself. Hence it is to Zeus that the thoughts of the chorus spontaneously rise in seasons of perplexity and danger:

“Zeus, whoe'er he be, this name

If it pleaseth him to claim,

This to him will I address;

Weighing all, no power I know

Save only Zeus, if I aside would throw

In sooth as vain this burthen of distress

Who the victor-strain

To Zeus uplifts, true wisdom shall obtain.”20

Of all the divine attributes, there is none upon which Aeschylus lays so much stress as Justice. Justice is the daughter of Zeus —Δίκα, rightly so named from Διὸςκόρα:21 and everywhere in Aeschylus, Zeus is her champion and avenger. The poet by no means ignores the beneficent aspect of Justice. If Zeus is the punisher of sin, he is also the rewarder of virtue, distributing “blessing to the good, and to the wicked bale”—ἂδικαμϵ̀ν κακοι̑ς ὂσια δ'ϵ̓ννόμοις.22 The seed of the righteous, say the Chorus in the Agamemnon, shall be blessed.23 But for one passage of this kind in Aeschylus, there are probably ten or more which proclaim the penalties of sin; and that which gives its great distinguishing feature to Aeschylean drama is the unique and almost appalling emphasis with which the poet dwells upon this theme. He is above all things the prophet of retributive justice, calling to his fellows to be just and pious: for human action is irrevocable, and sin must ever be expiated by suffering.

What is the view of Aeschylus as to the nature, development, and history of sin? This matter is put very briefly in a couplet spoken by the shade of Darius in the Persae:

ὕβρις γὰρ ϵ̓ξανθον̑σ' ϵ̓κάρπωσϵ στάχυν ἄτης, ὅθϵν πάγκλαντον ϵ̓ξαμᾳ θϵ́ρος

“For bursting into blossom, Insolence

Its harvest-ear, Delusion, ripeneth

And reaps most tearful fruit.”24

Sin is ὕβρις, overweening pride or insolence, showing itself outwardly in the attempt to encroach on the rights of others or the Gods. It is—so Aeschylus appears to hold—a kind of disease or madness,25 which fastens on the soul of the sinner, confounding his intelligence so that he can no longer discriminate between right and wrong. The sinner is μάταιος, the slave of idle delusions: like a child pursuing a winged bird, so he vainly strives to attain the unattainable.26 Aeschylus portrays the development and consequences of sin in many passages of extraordinary vehemence and power. It must here suffice to quote a single example:

“Child of designing Ate's deadly womb,

The wretch Temptation drives him to his doom.

Then cure is all in vain. The vice he wears

He cannot hide; sinister gleam declares

His mischief; as base metal at the touch

And trial of the stone, he showeth smutch

(This fond man like a child a-chase of wings),

And the awful taint on all his people brings:

To prayers is not an ear in Heaven: one frown

All conversant with such calls guilty and pulls down,”27

Here, and in other passages of the kind, there is little that goes beyond the teaching of Solon, though in Aeschylus we have more elaboration and prophetic fire. But the question which it concerns us chiefly to consider is whether Aeschylus believed that the original seed or germ of sin is implanted in the individual by his own spontaneous act, or by a supernatural agency beyond his control. A number of passages might be quoted from the plays to support the view that the individual is not in this matter a free agent, but is led astray by some divine power. The opening chorus of the Persae contains a clear expression of this belief:

“But ah! what mortal baffle may

A god's deep-plotted snare,—

Who may o'er leap with foot so light?

Atȳ at first, with semblance fair,

Into her toils allures her prey,

Whence no mere mortal wight

May break away.”28

And elsewhere we hear of an evil daemon or Alastor confounding men's senses and hounding them on to ruin.29 A fragment of the Niobe, as we have already seen,30 declares in so many words that “God engenders guilt in mortal men, when he is minded utterly to destroy their house.”31 But in the case of a dramatic poet, we cannot determine a question of this kind by an enumeration of isolated sentiments, many of which are spoken by characters whom the poet clearly means us to condemn. We must have regard to the general drift of Aeschylus' teaching, as shown in the catastrophe of his plays, and formulated from time to time by those speakers who, like the chorus in the Agamemnon, and Darius in the Persae, point the moral of the dramatic situation. If we adopt such a criterion, we shall conclude, I think, that the position of Aeschylus with reference to this matter was analogous to that of Jewish theology. It bas been said that “in no part of the Old Testament is God represented as the primary author of evil thoughts or actions in men; if He instigate them to evil, it is in punishment or aggravation of evil they have already committed.”32 A similar statement applies to the drama of Aeschylus. The idea that sin is originated by divine agency he found deeply rooted in antecedent and contemporary thought.33 With this idea he does not entirely break; but he distinguishes two moments or stages in the career of the sinner: one when be commits the first transgression, and the other when he persists in his wickedness. It is in the power of the individual to refrain from taking the initial step; but, as soon as he has transgressed, infatuation follows from the Gods, and his doom is sealed. This is the meaning of the line in which the ghost of Darius moralises on the Persian downfall: ἀλλ' ὅτανσπϵύδῄ τις αཐτός, χའθϵός ξυνάπτϵται: when of our own free will we rush into sin, God himself becomes our ally.34 As Professor Butcher says, “It is the dark converse of ‘God helps those who help themselves.’”35 In Aristotle's Ethics we find a noteworthy parallel to this conception. The philosopher admits that one who is fairly embarked on a career of vice cannot any longer be virtuous. But he contends that the original acts which generated the vicious habit were entirely in the man's own power; and on this account we must pronounce him a voluntary agent, even though he cannot act otherwise than he does. “True, you cannot alter your character now; but it was open to you at first not to become wicked: and you are therefore voluntarily wicked.”36 Moral freedom, in Aeschylus, has apparently the same foundation.

I have confined myself, so far, to Aeschylus' view of sin as it appears in the life of the individual; but the theme of his most powerful tragedies is the history of sin as it reveals itself in the successive generations of a crime-stained family. The legends connected with two royal houses, the Labdacidae and the Pleisthenidae, supply the poet with materials for this subject. In the case of the Labdacidae, the primary infatuation or crime (πρώταρχος ༂τη)37 was Laius' wilful disobedience to the repeated warnings of Apollo, that he should die without issue; among the Pleisthenidae, it was the unholy banquet which Atreus, Agamemnon's father, offered to Thyestes. In the trilogy of which the Seven against Thebes was the concluding play, Aeschylus painted with tremendous power the appalling consequences of Laius' transgression. The son begotten by Laius in defiance of Apollo's warning slew his father and married with his mother: this is the first recrudescence of the ancestral crime. When the awful truth was revealed, Oedipus, in a frenzy of despair, put out his eyes, and finally abdicated in favour of his two sons, Eteocles and Polyneices. In course of time, stung by the ignominies put upon him by his children, Oedipus prayed that they might fall in battle by one another's hands. The fulfilment of this prayer forms the subject of the Seven against Thebes; and throughout the whole play we are conscious that each new development is only, as it were, a fresh shoot thrown out by the parent stock of sin. The Oresteian trilogy is dominated throughout by the same idea. The primal curse brought upon the family by Atreus breaks forth anew in the murder of Agamemnon by Clytaemnestra, and in that of Clytaemnestra by Orestes; and only by the intervention of Apollo and Athena is the spectre finally laid. In the last chorus of the Choephori the whole tragic history is thus summed up:

“Now in Mycenae's royal halls,

The storm, o'er Atreus' race that lowers,

Running its course, for the third time hath burst.

Child-devouring horror first,

Brooded o'er these walls;

Next a monarch's deadly bale,

When the chief whom we bewail,

War-leader to Achaia's martial powers,

In the bath lay dead.

Now, behold a third is come,—

Saviour, shall I say, or doom?

From what quarter sped?

Full-accomplished, when shall Fate,

Lulled to rest, her stormy ire abate?”38

In such a network of calamity, it is difficult to see any room for moral choice. Whether the original transgression was voluntary or involuntary, there appears to be no real hope for those in the second generation. It is true that Aeschylus invariably makes the victim of ancestral guilt a sinner also on his own account. The familiar characteristics of a sinful frame of mind—stubbornness, self-will, and impiety—are attributed to Agamemnon as soon as he consents to the sacrifice of his daughter.

“Then harnessed in Necessity's stern yoke

An impious change-wind in his bosom woke,

Profane, unhallowed, with dire evil fraught,

His soul perverting to all daring thought.”39

And in like manner Eteocles, at the crisis of his fate, is overcome by impetuous and unreasoning passion.40 But this very passion is itself a sign that the avenging daemon of the family is at work. Sin, we read in the Agamemnon, does not die childless, but begets a numerous progeny. “In the hearts of evil men, sooner or later, when the appointed hour arrives, the old Insolence (ὕβρις) begets a young Insolence in the likeness of its progenitors, an avenging spirit (δαίμονα), working in darkness,41 irresistible, unconquerable, unholy Recklessness (θράσος), bringing black destruction upon the house.”42 We cannot but feel that the responsibility belongs of right not to the doer of the deed, but to the never-sleeping Alastor or Erinys that haunts the crime-stained race from the moment the first seed of guilt was sown. Over the body of the murdered Agamemnon the Chorus see in fancy the evil genius of the household chanting its ill-omened strain of triumph.43 Clytaemnestra, too, after the first transports of revenge have subsided, is fain to disclaim all responsibility for her deed of blood:

“Dost boast as mine this deed?

Then wrongly thou dost read,

To count me Agamemnon's wife;—not so;

Appearing in the mien

Of this dead monarch's queen,

The ancient fiend of Atreus dealt the blow;—

Requiting his grim feast,

For the slain babes, as priest,

The full-grown victim now he layeth low.”44

The justice of the plea is half-admitted by the Chorus in their reply:

“That thou art guiltless of this blood

Who will attest? Yet by thy side,

Haply, as thy accomplice, stood

The Fury who doth here preside.”45

But even if the responsibility rests with Fate, it is still the doer who must suffer. It is in vain that Clytaemnestra, as she shrinks from the avenging sword, exclaims:

ἡ μοι̑ρα τούτων, ὠ̑ τϵ́κνον, παραιτία.

“Fate, O my child, must share the blame thereof.”

The reply of Orestes leaves no loophole of escape:

καὶ τόνδϵ τοίνυν μοι̑ρ̕ ϵ̓πόρσυνϵν μόρον.

“This fatal doom, then, it is Fate that sends.”46

Situations of this kind, it will be allowed, are already sufficiently tragic; but the tragedy is not unfrequently heightened by representing the offence committed by the individual as in itself the fulfilment of a moral obligation. It has been said that the true tragic conflict “is not between right and wrong, but between right and right.” The remark holds good of Aeschylus. When Agamemnon is called upon to slay his daughter, he has to choose between two conflicting duties—that which he owes to family, and that which he owes to country.47 In fulfilling the one, he necessarily violates the other; and whichever alternative he selects, calamity is certain. At the close of the Seven against Thebes, Antigone is placed in a similar dilemma. She must either defy the edict of the State, or disobey the still higher law which enjoins that the rite of burial shall be accorded to the dead.48 But it is in the Choephori and Eumenides that this warfare of contending obligations appeals most powerfully, if not to the ancients, at least to us. On the one hand, the duty of avenging his father's death is laid upon Orestes by Apollo; on the other side, there is the reverence due to a mother. If he obeys Apollo, he is exposed to the vengeance of the Furies who pursue the shedder of kindred blood. In the event of disobedience, torments even more terrible are threatened by the God. At the supreme moment he hesitates; but Apollo's command prevails.49

The question may be asked: Does Aeschylus provide any solution of this dark problem? Does he anywhere succeed in reconciling the claims of Justice with what would appear to be due to the individual, if we are to assume the moral government of the world?

I do not think that the ethical difficulty is ever solved by the poet. In the case of Orestes, it is true, the Eumenides offers, not so much a solution, as a kind of explanation. The fugitive is tried before the Areopagus court. Apollo, representing the newer and more benign theocracy, becomes his champion against the vengeful Furies, who belong to the older, less humane generation of Gods; and by the intervention of Athena, he is acquitted and delivered from the curse. At the same time, the Furies are propitiated by receiving a shrine in Athens, and take their place henceforward as loyal supporters of the dynasty of Zeus. It is obvious that we have here a mythological rather than an ethical solution. The collision of moral principles is referred to the antagonism between the Chthonian and the Olympian powers, and as soon as they are reconciled, it disappears. “It is Aeschylus's conviction,” writes C. O. Müller, “that the conflict between those ancient orders and the powers that sway the present world is merely transient, existing for a certain epoch, a crisis preparatory only to a higher development. With him the world of Olympian Gods is in perfect unison with the original powers, and, as it were, nothing more than an improvement upon them.”50 This is undoubtedly correct; but it must be remembered that the matricide by which Orestes incurred the vengeance of the Furies was enjoined upon him by Apollo; and from the ethical point of view, his ultimate acquittal affords no adequate compensation for the torments he endured. In other cases, Aeschylus apparently offers no solution at all. Eteocles must either take the field against his brother, or fail in his duty to the kingdom over which he rules.51 The claims of honour and patriotism prevail, although, as I have already pointed out, Aeschylus contrives to make it appear that he is also swayed by passion; with the result that the curse of Oedipus is fulfilled through the mutual slaughter of the brothers. In like manner the sacrifice of Iphigeneia by Agamemnon, a duty from which he could not escape except by surrendering every title to command the Grecian fleet, is represented as a contributory cause of his destruction. It is perhaps the function of the tragic poet—it certainly was the favourite field in which Greek tragedy worked—to utilise such situations for the purpose of purifying our emotions of pity and fear rather than to suggest a solution by which the rights of the individual as well as the demands of Justice shall be satisfied; but in any case we cannot, I think, maintain that Aeschylus has solved the mighty problems which he raises.

Enough has now been said to enable us to understand the Aeschylean conception of sin, in its effect upon the life both of the individual and of the family; and I proceed to consider the law of punishment as expounded by the poet. In Greek literature, as elsewhere,52 we find two conceptions of punishment, the retributory and the remedial. The principle of the former theory is expressed in the Hesiodic line: ϵἴ κϵ πάθοι τά τ̕ ἔρϵξϵ, δίκη κ̕ ἰθϵι̑α γϵ́νοιτο.53 It is simply the jus talionis: the doer must suffer in his own person that which he has done to others. The remedial view of punishment appears at a later stage of civilisation. It conceives of sin as a kind of spiritual disease, for which punishment is the appointed cure. In Aeschylus, of course, punishment is for the most part retributory. Again and again throughout the Oresteia he proclaims this principle in emphatic tones:

Let tongue of Hatred pay back tongue of Hate;

Thus with her mighty utt'rance Justice cries,

Due penalty exacting for each deed.

Let murder on the murderous stroke await!

Doer of wrong must suffer.—This sage lore,

Tradition utters, trebly hoar.”54

“For law it is, when on the plain

Blood hath been shed, new blood must fall.

Carnage doth to the Fury call;

Avenger of the earlier slain,

She comes, new Ruin leading in her train.”55

The blood of Iphigeneia calls from the ground for Agamemnon's death: and it is the murdered Agamemnon who drives home the sword of Orestes in Clytaemnestra's bosom.56 In the Choephori no element is wanting to complete the tragic parallel. By the side of the dead Clytaemnestra and her paramour, Orestes places the net in which his father was entangled and slain, to justify himself before the all-seeing sun:

“Mark this device, my wretched father's snare,

His hands which fettered and his feet which yoked.

Unfold it,—form a ring,—and, standing near,

Display the Hero's death-robe, that the Sire,

Not mine, but He who all these woes surveys,

Helios, my mother's impious deeds may mark;

So in my trial, at some future time,

He by my side may stand, and witness bear

That justly I did prosecute to death

My mother.”57

In none of these passages is there any hint that the divine justice has regard to the interests of the criminal; but the poet more than once expresses the milder and more Sophoclean belief, that suffering is the way by which God leads men into knowledge. “We learn by suffering” (πάθος μάθος), “Wisdom cometh by constraint”58—such is the language in which this thought is clothed. “It is Zeus who guideth mortals on the road to wisdom, who hath appointed the sure ordinance—by suffering thou shalt learn. In sleep the anguish of remembered suffering breaks out before the heart, and wisdom cometh to mortals in their own despite.”59 We have exactly the same sentiment in the Book of Job: “God speaketh once, yea twice, though man regardeth it not. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falleth upon men, in slumberings upon the bed; then he openeth the ears of men, and sealeth their instruction, that he may withdraw man from his purpose, and hide pride from man.”60 It is particularly to be observed that Aeschylus ascribes the law of πάθος μάθος to Zeus. The retributive principle, δράσαντι παθϵι̑ν, is a τριγϵ́ρων μυ̑θος, an immemorial precept, older, we may presume, than the Olympian dynasty.61 Its champions, in Aeschylus, are the Furies and the Fates.

We have next to consider how Aeschylus interprets the traditional doctrine of the “envy of the Gods.” It has already been remarked that, according to the usual Greek view, the divine jealousy is awakened by a man's success, without the imputation of sinful action or desire: and we have also seen that it may be averted by the voluntary sacrifice of some highly-valued possession.62 One of the choruses in the Agamemnon contains a reminiscence of the second of these ideas. There is no limit, the poet says, to the pursuit of prosperity; but misfortune is close neighbour to success. Suddenly, when holding a straight course, we strike upon a hidden reef; and then, if fear casts out part of the cargo, the whole house does not sink by reason of the calamitous freight, nor is the vessel engulfed in the sea.63 “Too much praise,” we read elsewhere, “is dangerous: the mountain peaks are blasted by the eyes of Zeus.”64 The messenger who relates the defeat of Xerxes attributes it to the “envy of the Gods”:65 but Darius assigns the disaster to a different cause—the anger of Zeus at Xerxes' “overweening thoughts”:66 and this is, of course, the poet's own view. That Aeschylus disbelieved in the popular interpretation of the “envy of the Gods” is evident not only from the pervading spirit of his drama, but also from the deliberate protest which he makes against the doctrine in one of those relatively few places where he expressly challenges traditional beliefs.

“Lives among men this saw, voiced long ago:

Success consummate breeds apace,

Nor childless dies, but to the race

From prosperous Fortune springeth cureless Woe.

Apart I hold my solitary creed.

Prolific truly is the impious deed;

Like to the evil stock, the evil seed;

But fate ordains that righteous homes shall aye

Rejoice in goodly progeny.”67

According to Aeschylus, the resentment has for its object not the prosperity, but the sin; so that the “envy of the Gods” is only an expression for the divine Nemesis when directed against those in whom prosperity has engendered pride. In the Prometheus Bound, it is true, Zeus is represented as jealous of the whole human race.68 But in this, as in other respects, the Prometheus stands apart. We may be sure that the subsequent reconciliation between man's champion and Zeus was at the same time a reconciliation between Zeus and man.

Does Aeschylus attribute untruthfulness to the divine nature? Plato severely censures him for making Thetis accuse Apollo of deception. Apollo, at the marriage of the Goddess, had

“Dwelt on her happy motherhood to be,

Diseaseless lives, crowned with long happy years.

Fondly I deemed that Phoebus' voice divine

Stooped not to lies, rich in prophetic skill.

But he that at the banquet sang of joys

To come, he that foretold these blissful days,

Even he with his own hand hath slain my child.”69

But it is obvious that this passage has only a dramatic value. In the Prometheus, on the other hand, we read that “the voice of Zeus cannot speak falsely, but he shall fulfil every word”;70 and in the Seven against Thebes, Apollo is said either to keep silence or to speak truly.71 On the other hand, Hermes, as usual, is still in Aeschylus the God of guile:72 and according to two fragments, God is not averse to “just deception.”73 It is clear that truthfulness is a necessary part of the conception of Zeus which we find in most of the Aeschylean choruses; but it is not a feature on which the poet specially insists: nor did he disdain to employ his art on those ancient stories of divine transformations which Plato ranks in the same category with the legends ascribing to them deceitfulness and lies.74

The same may be said with reference to those myths which represent the Gods as subject to carnal desires. Aeschylus does not, any more than Pindar, discard such legends. But he draws a veil over whatever of grossness they contain; and in the Suppliants, Zeus' passion for Ιο furnishes the theme of a chorus which is second to none in Aeschylus for depth and purity of religious feeling. I will give you Mr. Morshead's version of the poem:

“Whose hand was laid at last on Io, thus forlorn,

With many roamings worn?

Who bade the harassed maiden's peace return?

Zeus, lord of time eterne.

Yea, by his breath divine, by his unscathing strength,

She lays aside her bane,

And softened back to womanhood at length

Sheds human tears again.

Then quickened with Zeus' veritable seed,

A progeny she bare,

A stainless babe, a child of heavenly breed,

Of life and fortune fair.

His is the life of life—so all men say,—

His is the seed of Zeus.

Who else had power stern Hera's craft to stay,

Her vengeful curse to loose?”75

In the hands of Aeschylus the legend is half-spiritualised into a kind of symbolical expression of that union between the divine and human which, as will afterwards be shown, is one of the fundamental ideas of Platonism, and lies at the root of Christianity itself.

The last of the topics with which we have to deal is immortality. Aeschylus speaks of death as the “never-ending sleep,”76 the great deliverer from the pains and sorrows of life. A fragment of the Philoctetes runs thus:

“O healing Death, hear thou my prayer and come!

Sole cure art thou of woes incurable;

For Pain lays not her hand upon the dead.”77

Sentiments of this kind are easily compatible with a belief in immortality; and Aeschylus makes frequent allusion to a future state. “Child,” say the Chorus in the Choephori, “Fire's ravening jaw doth not subdue the spirit of the dead.”78 We have seen that Pindar believes the soul to be divine and therefore imperishable.79 Aeschylus, too, in more than one passage shows himself acquainted with the Orphic and Pythagorean doctrine of the divinity of the soul. When he says that the eye of the mind sees clearly during sleep, but in the day men cannot look into the future,80 we are entitled to suppose, in view of the Pindaric parallel,81 that the soul foresees the future through her affinity with God. The belief in the divine origin of the soul is also to some extent implied in the idea that we are taught of God in sleep.82 The importance attached by Aeschylus to dreams and visions of the night83 points in the same direction; and even when the body is awake, in moments of prophetic ecstasy, such as he depicts in the person of Cassandra, and in those ominous forebodings which oppress the Argive elders, the soul appears to betray her kinship with the Gods. But Aeschylus does not, like Pindar, bring the doctrine into relationship with immortality. Sometimes Aeschylus' picture of the underworld resembles that of Homer. We read of Charon's “black-sailed galley, sunless, untrodden by Apollo, that leads to the invisible, all-receiving shore.”84 The ghost of Darius says grimly that the powers beneath the ground are more skilled to seize than to let go:85 nor is there a single ray of hope in the words he utters before returning to the realm of Hades:

“But I to nether darkness now depart.

Farewell, ye elders; although ills surround,

Yet to your souls give joyance, day by day,

For to the dead no profit is in wealth.”86

Elsewhere we find mention of the “sapless dead,” insensible alike to pleasure and to pain, in whom is “no vigour nor veins that flow with blood.”87 Aeschylus also makes reference to degrees of rank in Hades.88 At other times the poet admits several un-Homeric features. Throughout the Oresteia, the dead are no longer “phantoms of men outworn”; they retain feeling, intelligence, and will, and are able to help or harm the living.89

The shade of Agamemnon is invoked to co-operate with Orestes and Electra in exacting vengeance from his murderers.90 But the most important difference between Homer and Aeschylus in regard to eschatology is that Aeschylus, like Pindar and the Orphics, recognises a judgment and penalties hereafter.

“There thou shalt see in durance drear,

'Gainst god or guest or parents dear,

Like thee who sinned, receiving their due meed.

For Hades, ruler of the nether sphere,

Exactest auditor of human kind,

Graved on the tablet of his mind

Doth every trespass read.”91

Dr. Headlam has also pointed out an allusion in Aeschylus to a sort of Purgatory.92 But there is apparently no trace whatever in his plays of an Elysium for the just; and the consequence is that his eschatology is steeped in an atmosphere of totally unrelieved gloom.

If, in conclusion, we ask what is the peculiar claim of Aeschylus to be regarded as a great moral and religious teacher, our reply, I think, must be, that more emphatically, perhaps, than any other ancient writer, he proclaims the government of the world by justice. “Justice guides all things to their goal.”93 This is the one great lesson which he draws from the history alike of families, individuals, and nations. That it is chiefly the punitive side of the divine justice on which he insists may be due in part to the nature of the subjects he selects for treatment. But it is impossible to study the drama of Aeschylus without forming the impression that the poet himself was far more profoundly convinced of the retribution awaiting sin than of the rewards in store for virtue. To call Aeschylus a pessimist would be a ludicrous perversion of the truth. His characters indulge, of course, occasionally, in the usual Greek commonplaces about the frailty of man and the troubles of human life.94 But the poet sees the band of Zeus too clearly in the administration of the world to permit himself to despair.

“Weighing all, no power I know,

Save only Zeus, if I aside would throw

In sooth as vain this burthen of distress.”95

It is none the less true that Aeschylus' constant preoccupation with the problems of sin and suffering deprives his teaching of that serene tranquillity which characterises his great successor, of whom a sympathetic writer has well said that “the undertone of divine vengeance running through the dramas of Aeschylus seems in Sophocles to pass away into an echo of divine compassion, and we move from the gloom of ‘sin and sorrow’ towards the dawning of a brighter day in which strength is made perfect in weakness.”96

  • 1.

    Croiset, Littßrature Grecque iii. p. 52.

  • 2.

    Ag. 178 ff., (Uranus, Cronus, Zeus); Eum. 644 al. Wecklein.

  • 3.

    939 ff., tr. Miss Anna Swanwick.

  • 4.

    1058 ff., tr. A. Swanwick.

  • 5.

    Cf. P.V. 206 ff.

  • 6.

    Cf. line 528 f. with Ag. 186 ff. (Miss Swanwick, p. 363).

  • 7.

    787 ff., 874 ff.

  • 8.

    527 ff., tr. A. S.

  • 9.

    e.g. fr. 199; cf. Eum. 173 f.

  • 10.

    Eum. 1046 f. Cf. Choeph. 305 ff.

  • 11.

    1058 ff., tr. A.S. Cf. 681, 829 ff.; Pers. 103 (θϵόθϵν μοι̑ρα); Ag. 1010 f.

  • 12.

    Suppl. 433 ff., 145; Eum. 919.

  • 13.

    Ag. 1487; Sept. 111; Ag. 964.

  • 14.

    Ag. 1488 f.

  • 15.

    598 ff.

  • 16.

    88 ff.

  • 17.

    fr. 70.

  • 18.

    Tennyson, The Higher Pantheism.

  • 19.

    See p. 95

  • 20.

    Ag. 170 ff., tr. A. S.

  • 21.

    Choeph. 948; cf. Sept. 649.

  • 22.

    Suppl. 409.

  • 23.

    Ag. 758 f.; cf. 767 f.; Eum. 538 ff. al.

  • 24.

    823 f., tr. A. S.

  • 25.

    νόσος ϕρϵνω̑ν, Pers. 752.

  • 26.

    Eum. 338 al.; Ad. 404.

  • 27.

    Ag. 396 ff., Dr. Headlam's tr. (Cambridge Praelections, 1906, p. 103). Cf. esp. Eum. 552 ff.

  • 28.

    94 ff., tr. A. S.

  • 29.

    e.g. Pers. 356 f., 726.

  • 30.

    See p. 37.

  • 31.

    fr. 156.

  • 32.

    Hastings' Dict. of the Bible, i. p. 96b.

  • 33.

    For examples, see p. 88; and Nägelsbach, Nachhom. Theol. p. 55 ff.

  • 34.

    Pers. 744 f. Cf. fr. 22, 395.

  • 35.

    Aspects of the Greek Genius, p. 118.

  • 36.

    Eth. Nic. iii. 7. 1114a 19.

  • 37.

    Ag. 1191.

  • 38.

    1063 ff., tr. A. S.

  • 39.

    Ag. 228 ff., tr. A. S.

  • 40.

    Sept. 679 ff.

  • 41.

    Reading βαθύσκοτον (with Dr. Headlam).

  • 42.

    Ag. 760 ff.; cf. 718 ff., and Eum. 935 ff.

  • 43.

    1473 ff.

  • 44.

    Ag. 1498 ff., tr. A. S.

  • 45.

    1506 ff., tr. A. S.

  • 46.

    Ch. 909 f.

  • 47.

    See esp. Ag. 215 ff.

  • 48.

    Sept. 1017 ff.

  • 49.

    Ch. 898 ff.

  • 50.

    Dissertations on the Eum. p. 184.

  • 51.

    Sept. 660 f., 670, 704.

  • 52.

    Sec Westermarck, Origin and Develop. of Moral Ideas p. 80 ff.

  • 53.

    fr. 217 Goettling.

  • 54.

    Ch.308 ff., tr. A. S.; cf. Ag. 537 f., 1317 ff., 1322 ff., 1337 ff., 1431, 1561 If.; Ch. 144 ; Eum. 264 f.; Pers. 815 f.

  • 55.

    Ch. 399 ff., tr. A. S.

  • 56.

    Ch. 926.

  • 57.

    Ch. 978 ff., tr. A. S.

  • 58.

    Eum. 523 f.

  • 59.

    Ag. 186 ff.; cf. 261 f.

  • 60.

    33. 14 ff.

  • 61.

    Cf. Ag. 1563 (νϵ́σμιον γάρ).

  • 62.

    See p. 124.

  • 63.

    Ag. 993 ff. Cf. Sept. 754 ff.

  • 64.

    Ag. 474 f.; cf. 912, 937.

  • 65.

    Pers. 365.

  • 66.

    Pers. 829 f. Cf. Ag. 136 ff.

  • 67.

    Ag. 749 ff., tr. A. S.

  • 68.

    11, 28 ff. and passim.

  • 69.

    ap. Pl. Rep. ii. 383 B.

  • 70.

    1064 f.

  • 71.

    606. Cf. Pers. 802 ff.; Eum. 618; Ch. 557.

  • 72.

    Ch. 808 ff.

  • 73.

    301, 302.

  • 74.

    See, e.g., fr. 99. Cf. Suppl. 305.

  • 75.

    580 ff.

  • 76.

    Ag. 1452.

  • 77.

    fr. 255.

  • 78.

    322 f.

  • 79.

    See p. 132.

  • 80.

    Eum. 104 f.

  • 81.

    See p. 131.

  • 82.

    See p. 155.

  • 83.

    e.g. Pers. 179 ff., 521 f.; Ch. 521 ff.

  • 84.

    Sept. 842 ff.

  • 85.

    Pers. 691 f.

  • 86.

    Pers. 841 ff., tr. A. S.

  • 87.

    fr. 229, 230, 266.

  • 88.

    Pers. 693; Ch. 355 ff.

  • 89.

    Ch. 39, 322 f.; Eum. 94 ff.; cf. Pers. 223 ff.

  • 90.

    Ch. 130 ff.; cf. 477 ff.

  • 91.

    Eum.269 ff., tr. A. S.; cf. 340;Suppl. 236 f., 421.

  • 92.

    In Ch. 61. See Cl. Rev. xvi. p. 348.

  • 93.

    Ag. 773.

  • 94.

    e.g. Ag. 1326 ff.; Ch. 1016 ff.; fr. 401.

  • 95.

    Ag. 173 ff., tr. A. S.

  • 96.

    E. Abbott, Hellenica p. 66.