Prometheus Bound and Other Plays
Format/Source: Paperback; my purchase
The first of the great Greek Tragedians, Aeschylus wrote a large number of plays, of which seven survive. Of the four included in this volume, The Persians is unique in Greek tragedy in having as its subject matter a recent historical event, the defeat of the Persians at the famous battle of Salamis. The other three, Prometheus, The Suppliants and Seven Against Thebes, were all written as parts of trilogies and take their themes from Greek legend, but in each Aeschylus’ interpretation reflects the new morality of classical Athens. Thus, in Seven Against Thebes the fate of the two main figures, Eteocles and Polyneices, is not entirely controlled by the gods, for Eteocles is free to choose whether or not he should fight his brother. And in Prometheus and The Suppliants Aeschylus shows that although the struggle of reason against violence can never be an easy one, it is reason that is the proper principle of civilized life.
I had read Aeschylus’ The Oresteia (review) earlier this year and greatly enjoyed it. I ended up picking up this book as I was planning on re-reading Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound and was curious on reading a classic playwright’s take on the original story. A bit of searching on the internet led to me Aeschylus’ remaining plays which unfortunately comes down to us only in fragments.
Of the four included in this collection, my favourite hands down was “Prometheus Bound.” It’s a fascinating take on a familiar Greek classic, and the themes between obedience and foresight, of challenging the status quo, of justice and punishment, are very strong here. Plus, of the four plays I found it to be the most entertaining as Prometheus straddles between trying to be dignified over his situation and spreading his misery with everyone who comes across him (Io, the Chorus, Oceanus). Like most of his works, it’s a pity that it’s not complete as from the four collected here this was the story I would’ve read the most. The other plays were all right–man, the Oedipus story just has all of these twists and turns, the tragedy never ends does it? as “Seven Against Thebes” follows the Oedipus family–but they weren’t as interesting as “Prometheus Bound”, not to mention a lot of the dialogue went on and on and sometimes it felt like nothing was happening. But like any of Aeschylus’ other stories, he does focus a lot on large thematic questions about law and order, violence and fate, etc.
Despite of their incompleteness, I thought it was great to read up on these other plays, read more antiquity classics–definitely a change of pace from Renaissance/Jacobean dramas! I’d definitely recommend reading The Oresteia first but if you’re interested in reading more of his works then this is something worth picking up.