The first to bring tragedy into the world, Aeschylus is lofty, dignified and grandiloquent often even to a fault, but rough and unpolished in many things. For this reason, the Athenians allowed later poets to enter revised versions of his plays in the competitions; in this way, many won the first prize. But Sophocles and Euripides brought tragedy to much greater heights. Their styles are different, and very many debate which of the two is the best poet. Since this question has nothing to do with the subject that I am discussing, I will not express my opinion. But everyone must ac- knowledge that Euripides will be much more helpful to those who train themselves to plead in court. Quint. Inst. 10.1.66–7
With these words, Quintilian quickly reviews Greek tragedy, names its three main champions and comments on how their plays can benefit the ideal reader of his Education of the Orator, the budding speaker that is to rule over the state.1 Quintilian wrote and probably published his work before the death of the Emperor Domitian in 96 CE, but he does provide an excellent starting point into the reception of Aeschylus and his tragedies during the Hellenistic period. In assessing Greek literature and selecting Greek texts for his trainee, Quintilian draws from works by scholars active in the Library of Alexandria, especially Aristophanes of Byzantium and Aristarchus of Samothrace, whom he calls “judges of the poets” (Inst. 10.1.64). The Alexandrian scholars both col- lected and selected Greek texts, drawing the lists of authors familiar to later writers: Quintilian is aware that Aristarchus selected Greek iambic poets, for instance, and that both Aristarchus and Aristophanes of Byzantium ex- cluded contemporary writers from their lists.2 Hellenistic scholarship looms large in the Education of the Orator as in many other rhetorical works from
1 See Morgan 1998, 226–34 on Quintilian’s orator. 2 Quint. Inst. 10.1.54, 59. For Quintilian’s use of Hellenistic sources in his poetry section, see Steinmetz 1964 and Rutherford 1998, 41.
© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, ���8 | doi ��.��63/9789004348820_006 110 Nervegna antiquity. Quintilian concisely brings to the fore the two key trends character- izing Aeschylus’ afterlife from the Classical through to the Hellenistic period and beyond: Aeschylus’ reputation in the history of Greek tragedy and his little popularity with later generations. Quintilian opens his survey of Greek tragedy by stating Aeschylus’ founding role in the history of the genre: Aeschylus “first brought tragedy into the world.” Although Aeschylus belongs to the second gen- eration of Greek tragedians, for Quintilian as for a host of ancient authors he is the father of Greek tragic theatre. Throughout antiquity, however, Aeschylus enjoyed little favour in comparison with his younger colleagues, Sophocles and, above all, Euripides. Quintilian makes clear that, despite Aeschylus’ repu- tation as the first tragedian, Sophocles and Euripides contended for the title of the best tragedian. Quintilian is interested in Greek dramas as texts for rhe- torical training, but in public theatres too Aeschylus’ plays did not circulate widely. Both scholarly and theatrical activities show little interest in the earli- est canonical tragedian. This chapter reconstructs these two parallel strands in Aeschylus’ ancient afterlife—his reputation in the history of Greek tragedy and the little circulation of his plays among later generations—by drawing upon a variety of sources: literary records, the iconographic material related to Aeschylus’ plays, and the papyri preserving their texts. They both confirm the two points noted by Quintilian and provide specific information on what scholars, readers, and audiences knew about Aeschylus and his works across the ancient world, from the late fourth through to the first century BCE.
Aeschylus and the Birth of Greek Tragedy
In the second half of the fourth century BCE, Aristotle wrote and theorized about Greek tragedy in his Poetics, a work that was to exert a long-lasting influence on the study and interpretation of poetry. Setting his discussion within a naturalistic framework, Aristotle applies to the history of Greek trag- edy, and poetry in general, the language of nature: he regards tragedy as devel- oping over time, going through various stages of changes to “acquire its own nature,” and finally reaching its maturity. Aristotle’s discussion presupposes that the genre has reached its full development; indeed, it aims at determin- ing the features necessary to successful poetic compositions.3 Although he was
3 Select key passages: Ar. Po. 1449a.14–6; 23–4; 1451a.9–11; see also 1447a.1–3 on Aristotle’s stated aim. See further Halliwell 1998, esp. 92–6 and Munteanu, this volume. Most 2000 pro- vides a wide-ranging discussion of the theorization of tragedy and the idea of the tragic in antiquity and beyond.