The Persians

The Persians and Authorial Intent: A Question of Tragedy College

Aeschylus’ play The Persians, written in 472 BCE, is the oldest extant play in Western Civilization. The play is set within the city of Susa immediately following the defeat of the Persian navy at Mycale. However, The Persians is not as straightforward in its tragic nature as other Greek tragedies of the time given the rocky political relationship between Greece and Persia. Critics tend to debate whether or not the play is earnest as a tragedy. Although some critics interpret The Persians as Aeschylus’ xenophobic exultation following the end of the Greco-Persian wars, The Persians can be more accurately read as a tragedy that aims to evoke sympathy from the audience so that audience members may learn from Persia’s mistakes.

The debate between the two aforementioned interpretations is well-founded as there is ample evidence to support both sides. Early in the play, one of the members of the Persian chorus reflects: “We have always been the favorites of fate. Fortune has cupped / us in her golden palms. It has only been a matter of choosing / our desire. Which fruit to pick from the nodding tree” (114-116), and while the lines are demonstrative of a tragic fall from grace, they also show that the Persians were once prideful to a...

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