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Gilbert Murray's Aeschylus

Gilbert Murray’s Aeschylus: The Creator of Tragedy’s was first published in 1940 by the Oxford University Press in London, England.  Murray’s primary objective for the book would appear to be to demonstrate that Aeschylus’s plays were both “great literature and great drama […] built by him out of little myths and ridiculous language."

Gilbert Murray's Aeschylus

Murray supports this theory through not only the exposition of a number of his works but also through the detailed examination of his life as the creator of the written form of the Greek tragedy as well as its presentation on the stage.  Although Murray concedes that Aeschylus was not the first author of the Greek tragedy he emphasizes that it was his artistic and literary style that “created the form of literature that we now call tragic”.

Murray offers an interesting perspective into the life of Aeschylus and one that contributes to a greater understanding of the man and his artistic motivation to create the tragic plays that he is noted for.  Clearly, an examination of all of Aeschylus’s plays, which Murray suggests may total as many as seventy-nine, is beyond the scope of the author’s manuscript.  Nevertheless, Murray manages to touch briefly on lesser know works including his satyr-plays in order to demonstrate the diversity of Aeschylus’s works.

Murray reinforces the role of Aeschylus in developing the Greek tragedy by revealing that although he followed the example of Sophocles on many accounts, he was responsible for forming a number of aspects of the play.  For example, Aeschylus played a vital role in increasing the significance of dialogue as the primary aspect of the play, while the Chorus was given a secondary role.

In fact, Murray frequently contradicts the recognition that has traditionally been given to Sophocles in developing the classic stage of the Greek tragedy and places the credit with Aeschylus.  On the assumption that Sophocles  was responsible for introducing the concept of the skenographic of scene painting, Murray suggests that it was actually or more importantly used in Aeschylus’s last trilogy.

In addition to the stage techniques and the effects of language and diction that Murray maintains were introduced by Aeschylus, the author also works to reveal the true motivation for his plays, which would appear to be to impart his philosophical beliefs and speculations on others through the Greek tragedy.  While his influence was, at the beginning, confined to only a small part of the world,  it was nevertheless reflective of a part of the world that was thick with the problems, conflicts and issues of human life.

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