The Social Consciousness
THERE IS a gap of at least two centuries between Homer and Aeschylus. With Aeschylus we are within the frame of recorded history. He helped to make history at Marathon, as he boasted in his epitaph; and his account of the struggle at Salamis in his Persians is our most trustworthy historical source for the battle that turned the tide against Xerxes in 480 B.C. He did not boast of his tragedies, of which there were at least sixty, for he had dedicated them to time. They continued to be performed by special regulation at Athens after his death. Actually he was, more than any one man after Homer, the inventor of tragedy, since he first gave the actors more to say than the chorus and increased their number. The grandeur of story and diction that Aristotle also requires for tragedy can be seen in his seven extant plays.
The influence of Homer on tragedy is often underestimated. The appearance of gods, whether at beginning or end, or as actors in a play, needs no other explanation than Homer's use of the gods as symbols or as machinery. Even the choruses in tragedy have their counterparts in Homer. Consider what Aeschylus has done in recasting the story of Achilles from the Iliad. In the three plays of his trilogy he used choruses of Myrmidons, Nereids, and Phrygians, that is, Trojans. The Myrmidons do not speak, but are described collectively, in Homer. Aeschylus had only to make them vocal and to let them be present when the death of Patroclus was reported. So with the Nereids; they accompany Thetis as a wailing chorus when she goes to help her son. They have no words, though their names are given. Aeschylus presumably kept them