Victim of the Muses: Poet as Scapegoat, Warrior and Hero in Greco-Roman and Indo-European Myth and History

  Compton, Todd M. 2006. Victim of the Muses: Poet as Scapegoat, Warrior and Hero in Greco-Roman and Indo-European Myth and History. Hellenic Studies Series 11. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.

Chapter 12. Aeschylus: Little Ugly One

As we turn to the major Athenian dramatists, we find that three of the four fit into our pattern somewhat; Aeschylus suffers an adverse trial against his poetry and bitterly leaves Athens; Euripides is attacked by the Athenians and leaves Athens, only to be torn to pieces by comic poets or women; Aristophanes attacks Cleon, and is subjected to trial and punished as a result. Only Sophocles lives a peaceful life and receives a peaceful death, an example of the Pindaric line of development in poetic vitae, the positive life. [1]

As in the cases of Hesiod and Archilochus, the poetic theophany takes place in nature, in the fields, in a setting of pasturage and cultivation (tending either animals or plants). Here, appropriately, the plant is the grape. As in the case of Archilochus, the poet is given his visitation while a youth. Judging the antiquity of this story is difficult; the scholia referring to the poet writing drunk would easily encourage such an anecdotal elaboration, in the tradition of Hesiod. On the other hand, Pausanias mentions twice that Aeschylus is the source of the tale; the imperfect, elegen, perhaps emphasizes that he would tell the story frequently. This kind of emphasis is impressive, though putting an apocryphal tale in the mouth of a hero is standard strategy in pseudepigraphy.


[ back ] 1. Sophocles had a peculiarly pious reputation. He was visited by Heracles in a dream and was enabled to recover a stolen crown of gold, Vita 12 (in Pearson 1957:xviii-xxi; translation in Lefkowitz 1981:75-87); after his death Dionysus appeared to a Spartan commander to make the dramatist’s proper burial possible (Vita 15; Pausanias 1.21.1); his epitaph called him “a most sacred person” (Vita 16: skhêma to semnotaton). He was a priest of Halon, a hero associated with Asclepius (Vita 11); he received the title Dexion because he received Asclepius in his house (Plutarch Numa 3; Etymologicum Magnum s.v. Dexion), see Connolly 1998. He led a thiasos devoted to the Muses (Vita 6). Like Aeschylus, and most Athenians, he was a soldier; he was elected general twice. (Vita 9; Plutarch Pericles 8; Plutarch Nicias 15.) ¶ There are a number of deaths to choose from, but none of them fits the exiled poet pattern. Like Anacreon he died choking on a grape pip; or he died straining his voice in a rehearsal of Antigone; or, perhaps most fittingly, he died of joy when awarded first prize for the Antigone (all Vita 14.) For the Cleobis and Biton theme—ecstatic death—cf. Fairweather 19/4.269-270. For literary” death, cf. Theophrastus, who dies of exhaustion after writing too many books, Suda s.v. Theophrastus. All of these qualify as extraordinary deaths, but are not otherwise remarkable. ¶ Sophocles received hero cult after death (Vita 17): “Istros says that the Athenians voted to sacrifice [thuein] to him every year because of his aretēn [bravery or excellence]” (Ίστρος φησιν Αθηναίους διά την του άνδρός άρετήν και ψήφισμα πεποιηκέναι κατ’ ετος αύτώ θύσειν)· Cf. Vita 15-16; Pausanias 1.21.1; Clay 2004.78-79, 151-152.

[ back ] 2. Cf. Aesop’s “deformed” name.

[ back ] 3. Vita 4. This document can be found in Radt 1985 test. 1, whose paragraph notation, following Wilamowitz, I use. It is also in Page 1972:331-333 and in Wilamowitz-Moellendorff 1914. Translation in Lefkowitz 1981:157-160 (from which translations in this section are quoted, with modifications, unless noted otherwise), cf. 68-70.

[ back ] 4. Vita 11 (test. 162R), Pausanias 1.14.5; Athenaeus 14.627d; Plutarch On Exile 13-15 (604-606) (test. 88R). Pausanias and Athenaeus have Aeschylus write this epitaph; the Vita has the people of Gela write it, and later quotes another epitaph (17) related to his death. Cf. Dioscorides in Palatine Anthology 7.411; Antipater of Thessalonica in Palatine Anthology 7.39; Diodorus in Palatine Anthology 7.40 (test. 162-165R). For bibliography on scholars who have accepted or rejected this epitaph as Aeschylean, see Radt 1985:106-107.

[ back ] 5. Frogs 1021: Areôs meston. Cf. above, chapter 3 (Archilochus).

[ back ] 6. Table Talk 7.10.2 (715E) (test. 188R).

[ back ] 7. Cf. Aesop’s “deformed” name.

[ back ] 8. See Seaford 1984; Pausanias 2.13.6 (test. 125bR); Diogenes Laertius 2.133 (test. 125aR).

[ back ] 9. Pausanias 1.21.2 (test. 111R), translation by Jones, modified, εφη δέ Αισχύλος μειράκιον ών καθε^ έν άγρώ φυλάσσων σταφυλάς, καί οί Διόνυσον έπιστάντα κελεΰσαι τραγωδίαν ποιεϊν ήν ήμέρα—πείθεσθαι γάρ έθέλειν—ραστα ήδη πειρώμενος ποιεϊν. ούτος μέν ταυτα έλεγεν· the dream theophany of Dionysus, cf. Dionysus’ appearance to Spartans after the Sophocles, instructing them to honor his tomb, Pausanias 1.21.1; Sophocles Vita 15-16.

[ back ] 10. Vita 8: ήσσηθε’ις νέω δντι τώ Σοφοκλεϊ… ήσσηθεΐς Σιμωνίδη.

[ back ] 11. Plutarch Cimon 8 (test. 57R), translation Clough, modified, ό μέν ούν άγων και διά τό τών κΡι αξίωμα την φιλοτιμίαν υπερέβαλε, νικήσαντος δέ του Σοποκλέους λέγεται τόν περιπαθή γενόμενον καί βαρέως ένεγκόντα χρόνον ού πολύν Αθήνησι διαγαγεΐν, ειτ οιχ δι’ όργήν εις Σικελίαν, οπου καί τελευτησας περί Γέλαν τέθαπται.

[ back ] 12. See Fontenrose 1968:86, 73-77. The trial theme is also found in the stories of Aeschylus revealing the mysteries in his plays (Scholia on Aristotle Nicomachaean Ethics 3.2.1111a8 (test. 93bR), cf. further references in test. 93-94), and in the story that he terrified the audience by the appearance of the Eumenides in the play of the same name, Apsines The Art of Rhetoric 2 p. n 229.14 Spengel-Hammer (test. 95R).

[ back ] 13. Vita 8: υπό Αθηναίων κατασπουδασθείς.

[ back ] 14. Cf. Lefkowitz 1981:72, who characteristically opts for the prosaic idea that Aeschylus was invited to Sicily, and was paid well to go there. There is another variant of the aetiology of Aeschylus’ departure: the Suda (test. 2R) tells us that “he went into exile [phugôn] in Sicily because the stage fell down when he was putting on a performance” (φυγών δ’ εις Σικελίαν διά ΐό πεσεΐν τα ικρία έπιδεικνυμένου αύτου).

[ back ] 15. Vita 10; cf. Wilamowitz 1958 #32 p. 11, citing Valerius Maximus 9.12. extract 2 (test. 96R); Sotades, in Stobaeus Anthology 98.9 Mein.; Pliny History of Animals 10.7 (test. 97R); Aelian On the Characteristics of Animals 7.16 (test. 98R).

[ back ] 16. See above, chapter 7; Piccolomini 1888.

[ back ] 17. Vita 11, my translation, ἀποθανόντα δὲ Γελῶιοι πολυτελῶς ἐν τοῖς δημοσίοις μνήμασι θάψαντες ἐτίμησαν μεγαλοπρεπῶς…εἰς τὸ μνῆμα δὲ φοιτῶντες ῟οσοις ἐν τραγωιδίαις ἦν ὁ βίος ἐνήγιζόν τε καὶ τὰ δράματα ῾θπεκρίνοντο. For Aeschylus’hero cult, see Clay 2004:127.

[ back ] 18. See Burkert 1985:194, 200. For enagizein , 194n46. However, the enagizein/thuein, hero/god dichotomy can be overschematized, see Kearns 1989:4; Ekroth 2002:74-128; Clay 20044 94-95.

[ back ] 19. Vita 13, translation by Lefkowitz, Ἀθηναῖοι δὲ τοσοῦτον ἠγάπησαν Αἰσχυλον ὡς ψηφίσασθαι μετὰ <τὸν> θάνατον αὐτοῦ τὸν βολόυμενον διδάσκειν τὰ Αἰσχύλου χρυσὸν λαμβάνειν…οὐκ ὀλίγας δὲ μετὰ τελευτὴν νίκας ἀπηνέγκατο.

[ back ] 20. Thus we find the following themes in the Aeschylean tradition: 1a1, criminal impiety (revealing the mysteries in his plays); 3, oracle; 4d, ugly (at least, in his name); 5a, sacred; 7, adverse judgment by public meeting; 8, ambiguously voluntary (exile); 10a, exile; 13, hero cult; 19, madness; 23a, consecration theophany; 25a, poetry contest; 26, poet as soldier; 26a military paraenesis as poetic theme.