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."
Born in Field Place, near Horsham in Sussex, Shelley was educated at Syon House Academy and Eton, where he acquired the sobriquet "Mad Shelley" for his independent spirit. While at Eton he published Zastrozzi (1810), a Gothic novel. Expelled from Oxford because he refused to retract his atheistic beliefs, Shelley quarreled with his wealthy father and was banished from home. Shelley married impulsively and then abandoned his young wife to run off to Italy with the 16-year-old Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (the daughter of the radical feminist and the anarchist philosopher, who was eventually to write Frankenstein). While in Italy, Shelley became close friends with Byron, and the two became objects of endless, notorious rumor. Shelley's personal character was revered by almost everyone who knew him. Extremely generous toward others, frugal with himself, he strove tirelessly for the betterment of humanity. Prometheus Unbound (1820), a lyrical drama in four acts, calls for the regeneration of society through love and for the destruction of all repressive institutions. The Cenci (1819), a verse drama based on real events, is one of the few plays from the romantic period still produced. Shelley's lyrics are marvelously varied and rich in sound and rhythm. Wordsworth regarded him as the best artist among living poets.Adonais (1821), written to honor the memory of John Keats, is one of the supreme elegies in English.The Triumph of Life, which was left incomplete at his death, has been hailed by T. S. Eliot as the nearest approach in English to Dante (see Vol. 2). The "Ode to the West Wind" and "To a Skylark" are anthologized everywhere. Shelley's early death by drowning ended his career just as it was coming into full flower. A revolutionary in his art and life, Shelley is considered by many to be an inspired polemicist and poetic genius. As one of his contemporaries wrote in Etonian (1821), "He is one of the many whom we cannot read without wonder, or without pain. . . ."
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1749-1832 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was born in Frankfurt am Main. He was greatly influenced by his mother, who encouraged his literary aspirations. After troubles at school, he was taught at home and gained an exceptionally wide education. At the age of 16, Goethe began to study law at Leipzig University from 1765 to 1768, and he also studied drawing with Adam Oeser. After a period of illness, he resumed his studies in Strasbourg from 1770 to 1771. Goethe practiced law in Frankfurt for two years and in Wetzlar for a year. He contributed to the Frankfurter Gelehrte Anzeigen from 1772 to 1773, and in 1774 he published his first novel, self-revelatory Die Leiden des Jungen Werthers. In 1775 he was welcomed by Duke Karl August into the small court of Weimar, where he worked in several governmental offices. He was a council member and member of the war commission, director of roads and services, and managed the financial affairs of the court. Goethe was released from day-to-day governmental duties to concentrate on writing, although he was still general supervisor for arts and sciences, and director of the court theatres. In the 1790s Goethe contributed to Friedrich von Schillerï¿½s journal Die Horen, published Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship, and continued his writings on the ideals of arts and literature in his own journal, Propylï¿½en. The first part of his masterwork, Faust, appeared in 1808, and the second part in 1832. Goethe had worked for most of his life on this drama, and was based on Christopher Marlowe's Faust. From 1791 to 1817, Goethe was the director of the court theatres. He advised Duke Carl August on mining and Jena University, which for a short time attracted the most prominent figures in German philosophy. He edited Kunst and Altertum and Zur Naturwissenschaft. Goethe died in Weimar on March 22, 1832. He and Duke Schiller are buried together, in a mausoleum in the ducal cemetery.