Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Themistocles & Aeschylus

Did Themistocles (mastermind of the Ancient Athenian navy) and Aeschylus (playwright extraordinaire) know each other? The answer is a probable...yes!

Aeschylus was born around 525 BCE, while Themistocles was born between 525 and 520 BCE. They both fought at Marathon, both fought at Salamis (in fact Themistocles was the architect of this famous battle) and both achieved ever-lasting fame in their lifetimes. But is there any evidence that they knew each other personally? And if so, were they friends?

The odds of them having crossed paths is more than likely considering they were in the same battles and probably ran with similar crowds. Yet there's scance evidence of direct contact...except for a small (if suspiciously belated) clue. According to the 21 Letters of Themistocles, one of his friends was named Aeschylus! Here is the letter as translated by Patricia A. Rosenmeyer:

To Aeschylus

After leaving Athens and arriving in Delphi, I decided that, if the Athenians allowed it, I would settle down to live there. On the way I bumped into some friends of mine from Argos: Nicias and Meleager, as well as Eucrates, who had recently spent time in Athens. They stood around asking me questions, and when they learned about my ostracism, they immediately grew angry and blamed the Athenians in particular. When they realized I was planning on settling in Delphi, they stopped accusing the Athenians and began reporoaching me, saying they would be insulted if I didn't accept them as suitable people to share my bad luck. They also pointed out that my father Neocles had lived for a long time in Argos, and that I shouldn't dishonor the memory of his love for Argos and his Argive friends. They also went so far as to praise the Athenians for making me pay an approriate penalty. Finally they urged me to honor them with more than just an accidental encounter, and not to insult the good luck of our meeting up. Then again they pointed to the example of Neocles, saying how appropriate it would be for me to live in the same city and home as my father once had. So, Aeschylus, they convinced me and took me to Argos. Now that I've stopped fleeing and landed in Argos, I'm suffering greatly because I won't agree to rule the Argives. They want to force me to rule, and claim that I'm acting unjustly towards them if I don't assume power. But I'm perfectly happy not being considered to be a great man, and not just because I've already been hurt, by that reputation, but also because it's enough for me to have benefited from those things when I had to.

It is also supposed by some that Aeschylus' The Persians and its mention of Salamis was the playwright's way of reminding the Athenians that they owened Themistocles a debt. (Though according to some sources, Themistocles already financed a play called The Phoenissae,which also happens to celebrate the Battle of Salamis and in fact predates The Persians. )

In any case, Aeschylus and Themistocles were certainly aware of each other, and the playwright is going to be a part of my novel for sure!

1 comment:

Gary Corby said...

It's inconceivable that they didn't know each other! (Sorry about that double negative.)

The Persians was funded by Pericles, so it's unlikely to be a subtle defense of Themistocles. It's more likely to be a reminder of the value of Greek, or at least Athenian, unity.

If Aeschylus and Themistocles were friends, then Aeschylus can't have been a happy camper when Themistocles popped up in Magnesia. Aeschylus considered slaughtering Medes to be a good way to relax.