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THE noble author, with whose remaining tragedies the public is here presented, was an Athenian of an honourable family, distinguished for the sublimity of his genius and the ardour of his martial spirit. In his youth he had read Homer with the warmest enthusiasm; and finding his great master unrivalled in the possession of the Epic, he early conceived the design of creating a new province for himself, and forming the drama; so much we may be allowed to infer from the fable, that whilst he was yet a boy Bacchus appeared to him as he lay asleep in a vineyard, and commanded him to write tragedies. This noble design he soon executed, and before the twenty-fifth year of his age began to entertain his countrymen with representations worthy of an Athenian audience. He had pursued these studies about ten years, when Darius invaded Greece. His generals, Datis and Artaphernes, with an army of two hundred thousand foot and tenthous and horse, were now advanced
to the plains of Marathon, distant only ten miles from Athens. The danger which threatened his country, called forth the martial spirit of our poet; and very honourable mention is made of him, and his two brothers, Cynægirus and Amynias, for their eminent valour in that battle: to have wanted courage on such an occasion would have been a mark of the most abject baseness; but to be distinguished in an action, where every soldier was a hero, is a proof of superior merit: in a picture representing the battle of Marathon the portrait of Eschylus was drawn: this was all the honour that Miltiades himself received from the state for his glorious conduct on that day; he was placed at the head of the ten commanders, and drawn in the act of encouraging the soldiers and beginning the battle.
Some time after, Cynægirus was one of the four naval commanders, who, with an armament of one thousand Grecians, defeated thirty thousand Persians; but he lost his life in the action.
Ten years after the battle of Marathon, when Xerxes made that immense preparation to revenge the defeat of his father, we find the two surviving brothers exerting their courage in the sea-fight of Salamis here Amynias, too boldly laying hold of a Persian ship, had his hand lopped off with a sabre; but Æschylus defended him, and saved his life; and the Athenians decreed him the first ho
nours, because he was the first to attack the commander of the Persian fleet, shattered the ship to pieces, and killed the satrap. It is observed that the two brothers were ever after inseparable. The following year Eschylus acquired fresh glory in the battle of Platea, where the brave Persian Mardonius was defeated and slain.
Having taken this active part in three the most memorable battles that grace the annals of Greece, and distinguished himself as a good citizen and a brave man, he returned with ardour to his former studies, and completed his design of making the drama a regular, noble, and rational entertainment. He wrote about seventy tragedies, and was in great esteem with his countrymen: but upon some disgust in the latter part of his life he retired from Athens to the court of Hiero king of Sicily, where, about three years after, he died in the sixty-ninth year of his age. The cause of this disgust is variously related: some impute it to his impatience of the rising fame of Sophocles, yet a young man, to whom the prize was adjudged against him; others to the preference given to the Elegies of Simonides, written in honour of those who fell in the field of Marathon.
But to have excelled in elegy could have added no glory to the superior genius of Æschylus: neither does it appear probable that such a contest should have happened thirty years after the battle
was fought. From the other charge one would wish to vindicate so great a name; and happily it carries its own confutation with it; for whether Sophocles was only seven or seventeen years younger than Eschylus, which is not precisely determined, he could not be a young man when the other was sixty-four; and we know that the prize was adjudged to the last exhibition of Eschylus, which consisted of his Agamemnon, the Choephora, the Furies, and a satyric piece. But the tragedy of the Furies gave great offence to the city; and the poet, whether for that or on some other pretence, was accused of impiety. His brother Amynias pleaded his cause; the Athenians were struck with this instance of fraternal affection, they reverenced their maimed veteran, and Eschylus was acquitted. But such a spirit was not formed to submit to the affront; it made too deep an impression to be effaced; and the poet quitted the city with great indignation, declaring with a noble pride that he would intrust his tragedies to posterity, certain that he should receive from thence the honour he deserved. This honour the Athenians soon paid to his noble works: by a decree of the senate, never granted to any other, they offered rewards to any man that should again exhibit his plays; they frequently adjudged the prize to him after his decease, and acknowledged him "the Father of Tragedy."