Friday, November 9, 2007

Fate: In Some Stories Is Fatefully Fatal

Aeschylus the "father of tragedy" was an Athenian tragic poet as well as playwright of popular Greek dramas such as Agamemnon, The Persians, Prometheus Bound, and Oresteia. The inspiration to write tragedy, according to his own telling, came one fateful day as a child when he was sent out into the countryside to watch grapes ripen and (not surprisingly) dozed off, at which point Dionysus, the Greek goddess of love, visited him and commanded him to write tragedies. So the very next day the obedient Aeschylus began to write his first tragedy and "succeeded very easily."

But, relevant information aside, my favorite tid-bit about Aeschylus is the tragic fate of his death. According to Pliny and Valerius Maximus, Ascehylus, who upon recently being warned that he would meet his death by something falling on his head, decided to venture out into an open field, where be believed himself to be absolutely safe under the trustful provisions of a clear blue sky, only to be killed by an eagle who released a helpless tortoise from its talonous clasps when it mistook Ascehylus' soft bald head for a hard, shell-cracking rock. (At the time it was common knowledge that eagles dropped tortoises on rocks to break their shells and access the fleshy meat, though I doubt anyone had ever witnessed it themselves).

As far as stories about death by falling tortoise go, I'm pretty sure that it is safe to say this particular tale is, as they say in Latin, sui generis. I've heard creation stories which rested on the backs of tortoises, one on top of the other, ad infintum, but this is the only story that I'm aware of in which a tortoise is used as a fatefully fatal flying projectile.

The ancient Greeks sure were good story tellers and exceptional myth makers.

Aeschylus was buried at Gela, where the following epitath (supposedly writen by Aeschylus) can be read on his grave:

Beneath this stone lies Aeschylus, son of Euphorion, the Athenian,
Who perished in the wheat-bearing land of Gela;
Of his noble prowess the grove of Marathon can speak,
Or the long-haired Persian who knows it well.

1 comment:

El Duderino said...

Ah Aeschylus, what discussion of tortoises would be complete without him?
Thanks for the link, it has been reciprocated.