Translator and professor Robert Fagles was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on September 11, 1933. He received a BA in English from Amherst College and a PhD in English from Yale University. While obtaining his degrees, he studied Latin and Greek on the side. He taught at Yale for one year and then joined the faculty at Princeton University as an English professor and remained there until he retired in 2002. While at Princeton, he created the university's department of comparative literature and received an honorary doctorate in June 2007. He was also a renowned translator of Latin and Greek. His first published translation was of the Greek poet Bacchylides (1961), which was followed by versions of The Oresteia by Aeschylus and the plays, Antigone, Oedipus the King and Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles. Fagles was best known for his versions of The Iliad (1990), The Odyssey (1996) and The Aeneid (2006). Instead of being an exacting literal translator, he sought to reinterpret the classics in a contemporary idiom which gave his translations a narrative energy and verve. He died of prostate cancer on March 26, 2008.
Aeschylus was born at Eleusis of a noble family. He fought at the Battle of Marathon (490 b.c.), where a small Greek band heroically defeated the invading Persians. At the time of his death in Sicily, Athens was in its golden age. In all of his extant works, his intense love of Greece and Athens finds expression. Of the nearly 90 plays attributed to him, only 7 survive. These are The Persians (produced in 472 b.c.), Seven against Thebes (467 b.c.), The Oresteia (458 b.c.)---which includes Agamemnon, Libation Bearers, and Eumenides (or Furies) --- Suppliants (463 b.c.), and Prometheus Bound (c.460 b.c.). Six of the seven present mythological stories. The ornate language creates a mood of tragedy and reinforces the already stylized character of the Greek theater. Aeschylus called his prodigious output "dry scraps from Homer's banquet," because his plots and solemn language are derived from the epic poet. But a more accurate summation of Aeschylus would emphasize his grandeur of mind and spirit and the tragic dignity of his language. Because of his patriotism and belief in divine providence, there is a profound moral order to his plays. Characters such as Clytemnestra, Orestes, and Prometheus personify a great passion or principle. As individuals they conflict with divine will, but, ultimately, justice prevails. Aeschylus's introduction of the second actor made real theater possible, because the two could address each other and act several roles. His successors imitated his costumes, dances, spectacular effects, long descriptions, choral refrains, invocations, and dialogue. Swinburne's (see Vol. 1) enthusiasm for The Oresteia sums up all praises of Aeschylus; he called it simply "the greatest achievement of the human mind." Because of his great achievements, Aeschylus might be considered the "father of tragedy."