Sunday, January 3, 6449

Confucius (551-479 BC) - Instruments / Drama

Confucius (Kǒng Fūzǐ; K'ung-fu-tzu, lit. "Master Kung,"September 28, 551 BC - 479 BC) was a Chinese thinker and social philosopher, whose teachings and philosophy have deeply influenced Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese thought and life.

His philosophy emphasized personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, justice and sincerity. These values gained prominence in China over other doctrines, such as Legalism or Taoism) during the Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 AD). Confucius' thoughts have been developed into a system of philosophy known as Confucianism. It was introduced to Europe by the Jesuit Matteo Ricci, who was the first to Latinise the name as "Confucius."

His teachings may be found in the Analects of Confucius, a collection of "brief aphoristic fragments", which was compiled many years after his death. Modern historians do not believe that any specific documents can be said to have been written by Confucius, but for nearly 2,000 years he was thought to be the editor or author of all the Five Classics such as the Classic of Rites (editor), and the Spring and Autumn Annals (author).


Traditional Chinese musical instruments comprise a wide range of string, wind, and percussion instruments. Traditionally, they were classified according to the materials used in their construction.

The eight categories, in the spirit of the eight trigrams, are

1. Silk

2. Bamboo

3. Wood

4. Stone

5. Metal

6. Clay

7. Gourd

8. Skin


1. Silk instruments are mostly string instruments (including plucked, bowed, and struck). Since the very beginning, the Chinese have used silk for strings, though today metal or nylon are more frequently used.

Instruments in the silk category include:

(1a. Plucked)

Ch'in (Kuchin) - 7-stringed zither

Se - 25-stringed zither with moveable bridges (ancient sources say 13, 25 or 50 strings)

Guzheng - 16-26 stringed zither with movable bridges

Konghou - harp

Pipa - pear-shaped fretted lute with 4 or 5 strings.


The pipa, sometimes called the Chinese lute, is a plucked neck-string instrument with a pear-shaped wooden body. It has been played for nearly two thousand years. Several related instruments in East and Southeast Asia are derived from the pipa; these include the Japanese biwa, the Vietnamese đàn tỳ bà, and the Korean bipa. The Korean instrument is the only one of the three that is no longer used. Attempts to revive the instrument have failed, although examples survive in museums.

[China - Pi'pa]

The name "pípá" is made up of two Chinese syllables, "pí" and "pá." These are the two most common ways of playing this instrument. "Pí" is to push the fingers of the right hand from right to left, thus more than one finger can be used at a time striking multiple notes, and "pá" is to pull the thumb of the right hand from left to right, in the opposite direction. The strings were originally played using a large plectrum in the Tang Dynasty, then gradually replaced by the fingernails of the right hand. Since the revolutions in Chinese instrument making during the 20th century, the softer twisted silk strings of earlier times have been exchanged for nylon-wound steel strings, which are far too strong for human fingernails, so false nails are now used, constructed of plastic or tortoise-shell, and affixed to the fingertips with the player's choice of elastic tape.

Prototypes of the pipa already existed in China in the Qin Dynasty (221 BC - 206 BC). At that time, there were two types of pipa. One was straight-necked, with a round sound box, and two faces mounted with leather. The other was believed to be inspired by the primitive forms of zheng, konghou, and zou. It also has a straight neck, a round sound box, and also four strings, along with twelve standards of notes. This model was later developed into the instrument known today as the ruan. The modern pipa is closer to the instrument which originated in Persia/Middle-East (where it was called barbat) and was introduced into China beginning in the late Jin Dynasty (265-420 A.D.).

By the Tang era, the pipa had become popular in the imperial court. It had a crooked neck, 4 or 5 silk strings, and 5 or 6 frets, and was played with a plectrum in a horizontal position. As the ages went by, the crooked neck was replaced by a straight one, the number of frets increased to between 14 or 16, and to 17, 24, 29, or 30 in the 20th century. The 14- or 16-fret pipa had frets arranged in approximately equivalent to the western tone and semitone, starting at the nut, the intervals were T-S-S-S-T-S-S-S-T-T-3/4-3/4-T-T-3/4-3/4, (some frets produced a 3/4 tone or "neutral tone"). In the 1920s and 1930s, the number of frets was increased to 24, based on the 12 tone equal temperament scale, with all the intervals being semitones. Since then the number of frets has been extended to 29 or 30. The traditional 16-fret pipa is becoming less common, although it is still used in some regional styles such as the pipa in the southern genre of nanguan/nanyin. The plectrum was replaced by fingernails and the horizontal playing position was replaced by the vertical (or near-vertical) position. During this time, the five-stringed pipa became lost, although in the early 21st century it was revived by the Beijing-born, London-resident pipa performer Cheng Yu, who performs on a modernized five-string pipa modeled on the Tang dynasty instrument, which she researched and commissioned to be made.

The pipa became a favorite in the Tang Dynasty, during which time Persian and Kuchan performers and teachers were in demand in the capital, Chang'an (which had a large Persian community). Many delicately carved pipas with beautiful inlaid patterns date from this period. Masses of pipa-playing Buddhist semi-deities are depicted in the wall paintings of the Mogao Caves near Dunhuang.

The pipa is referred to frequently in Tang Dynasty poetry, where it is often praised for its refinement and delicacy of tone.

The instrument was imported into Japan during the Tang Dynasty as well as into other regions such as Korea and Vietnam.

In the late 20th century, largely through the efforts of Wu Man, Min Xiao-Fen, and other performers, Chinese and Western contemporary composers began to create new works for the pipa (both solo and in combination with chamber ensembles and orchestra). Most prominent among these are Terry Riley, Philip Glass, Lou Harrison, Tan Dun, Bright Sheng, Chen Yi, Zhou Long, Bun-Ching Lam, and Carl Stone.

The loquat tree and fruit, called pipa in Mandarin Chinese, are named after the instrument, likely due to the distinctive shape of the tree's fruit and leaves, both of which resemble the body of the pipa.


Sanxian - plucked lute with body covered with snakeskin and long fretless neck

Ruan - moon-shaped lute in five sizes: gaoyin-, xiao-, zhong-, da-, and diyin-

Liuqin - small plucked, fretted lute with a pear-shaped body and four strings

Yueqin (Moon Guitar) - plucked lute with a wooden body, a short fretted neck, and four strings tuned in pairs.


The yueqin s a lute with a round, hollow wooden body which gives it the nickname moon guitar. It has a short fretted neck and four strings tuned in courses of two (each pair of strings is tuned to a single pitch), generally tuned to the interval of a perfect fifth. Occasionally, the body of the yueqin may be octagonal in shape.

According to legend, the instrument was invented in China during the Ch'in dynasty. It is an important instrument in the Beijing opera orchestra, often taking the role of main melodic instrument in lieu of the bowed string section.

A similar Japanese instrument, called the gekkin, was formerly used in Japan. Another very similar instrument, called đàn đoản or đàn tứ, is occasionally used in Vietnam.


Qinqin - plucked lute with a wooden body and fretted neck

Duxianqin - plucked zither with only one string

(1b. Bowed)

Huqin - family of vertical fiddles

Erhu - two-stringed fiddle


The erhu , also called nanhu (literally "southern fiddle"), and sometimes known in the West as the "Chinese violin" or "Chinese two-string fiddle," is a two-stringed bowed musical instrument, used as a solo instrument as well as in small ensembles and large orchestras. It is the most popular instrument in the huqinfamily of Chinese bowed string instruments.

The erhu can be traced back to instruments introduced into China more than a thousand years ago. It is believed to have evolved from the xiqin, which was described as a foreign, two-stringed lute in Yue Shu (Book of Music), an encyclopedic work on music written by music theorist Chen Yang in the Northern Song Dynasty. The xiqin is believed to have originated from the Xi people of Central Asia, and have come to China in the 10th century.

The erhu consists of a long vertical stick-like neck, at the top of which are two large tuning pegs, and at the bottom is a small resonator body (sound box) which is covered with python skin on the front (playing) end. Two strings are attached from the pegs to the base, and a small loop of string (qian jin) placed around the neck and strings acting as a nut pulls the strings towards the skin, holding a small wooden bridge in place.

Various dense and heavy hardwoods are used in making the erhu. According to Chinese references the woods include zi tan (red sandalwood and other woods of the genus Pterocarpus such as padauk), lao hong mu (aged red wood), wu mu ( black wood), and hong mu (red wood). Particularly fine erhus are often made from pieces of old furniture. A typical erhu measures 81cm from top to bottom, the length of the bow also being 81cm.

The erhu has some unusual features. First is that in that its characteristic sound is produced through the vibration of the python skin by bowing. Second, there is no fingerboard; the player stops the strings by pressing their fingertips onto the strings without the strings touching the neck. Third, the bow hair is never separated from the strings (which were formerly of twisted silk but are today usually made of metal); it passes between them as opposed to over them (the latter being the case with western bowed stringed instruments). Lastly, although there are two strings, they are very close to each other and the player's left hand in effect plays as if on one string. The inside string (nearest to player) is generally tuned to D4 and the outside string to A4, a fifth higher. The maximum range of the instrument is three and a half octaves, from D4 up to A7, before a stopping finger reaches the part of the string in contact with the bow hair. The usual playing range is about two and a half octaves.

The erhu is featured along with other traditional Chinese instruments such as the pipa in the contemporary Chinese instrumental music group, Twelve Girls Band. They perform traditional Chinese music as well as Western classical and popular music.


Zhonghu - two-stringed fiddle, lower pitch than erhu

Gaohu - two-stringed fiddle, higher pitch than erhu; also called yuehu (粤胡)

Banhu - two-stringed fiddle with a coconut resonator and wooden face, used primarily in northern China

Jinghu - two-stringed fiddle, very high pitched, used mainly for Beijing opera

Jing erhu - erhu used in Beijing opera

Erxian - two-stringed fiddle, used in Cantonese, Chaozhou, and nanguan music

Tiqin - two-stringed fiddle, used in kunqu, Chaozhou, Cantonese, Fujian, and Taiwanese music

Yehu- two-stringed fiddle with coconut body, used primarily in Cantonese and Chaozhou music

Daguangxian - fiddle used primarily by the Hakka, in Taiwan and Fujian

Datong - two-stringed fiddle used in the traditional music of Hunan

Datongxian - two-stringed fiddle used primarily in the traditional music of southern China and Taiwan

Hexian - large fiddle used primarily among the Hakka of Taiwan

Huluqin - two-stringed fiddle with gourd body used by the Naxi of Yunnan

Huluhu [!] - two-stringed fiddle with gourd body used by the Zhuang of Guangxi

Maguhu- two-stringed fiddle with horse bone body used bu the Zhuang and Buyei peoples of southern China

Tuhu - two-stringed fiddle used by the Zhuang people of Guangxi

Jiaohu - two-stringed fiddle used by the Gelao people of Guangxi, as well as the Miao and Dong

Sihu - four-stringed fiddle with strings tuned in pairs

Zhuihu - two-stringed fiddle with fingerboard

Zhuiqin - two-stringed fiddle with fingerboard

Leiqin - two-stringed fiddle with fingerboard

Dihu - low pitched two-stringed fiddles in the erhu family, in three sizes

Gehu - four-stringed bass instrument, tuned and played like cello

Diyingehu - four stringed contrabass instrument, tuned and played like double bass

Niutuiqin or niubatui - two-stringed fiddle used by the Dong people of Guizhou

Matouqin - Mongolian two-stringed "horsehead fiddle"

Xiqin - ancient prototype of huqin family of instruments

Yazheng- bowed zither; also called yaqin

Zhengni - bowed zither; used by the Zhuang people of Guangxi

Aijieke - four-stringed bowed instrument used in Xinjiang; similar to kamancheh

Sataer - long-necked bowed lute used in Xinjiang

(1c. Struck)

Yangqin - hammered dulcimer of varying strings struck using two bamboo hammers


The trapezoidal yangqin is a Chinese hammered dulcimer originally from the Middle East (Persia (modern-day Iran)). It used to be written with the character meaning "foreign zither" but over time the first character changed to a homonym which means "acclaimed." It is also spelled yang quin or yang ch'in. Hammered dulcimers of various types are now very popular not only in China, but also Eastern Europe, the Middle East, India and Pakistan. The instruments are also sometimes known by the names "santur" and "cymbalom."

The yangqin was traditionally fitted with bronze strings, which gave the instrument a soft timbre. This form of instrument is still occasionally heard today in the hudie qin "butterfly zither" or "butterfly harp") played in the traditional silk and bamboo genre from the Shanghai region known as Jiangnan sizhu, as well as in some Cantonese music groups.

The Thai and Cambodian khim are nearly identical in their construction, having been introduced to those nations by southern Chinese musicians.

Historians offer several theories to explain how the instrument was introduced to China: 1) that the instrument may have been introduced by land, through the Silk Road; 2) that it was introduced by sea, through the port of Guangzhou (Canton); or 3) that it was invented without foreign influence by the Chinese themselves.

In the playing of traditional Chinese music, most Chinese yangqin players use a numerical notation system called jianpu, rather than Western staff notation.


Zhu - ancient zither, struck or plucked with a stick

2. Bamboo - mainly refers to woodwind instruments, which include:

(2a. Flutes)

Dizi - transverse bamboo flute with buzzing membrane


The dizi is also sometimes known as the di or hengdi, and has varieties including the qudi and bangdi.

These names are likely to have multiple spellings, too, depending on the transliteration used to convert from Chinese names. Nonetheless, dizi seems to be the most common name (and written form) used in the West.

The dizi is a major Chinese musical instrument, and is widely used in many genres of Chinese folk music, as well as Chinese opera, and the modern Chinese orchestra. Traditionally, the dizi has also been popular among the Chinese common people, and it is simple to make and easy to carry.

Most dizi are made of bamboo, which explains why dizi are sometimes known by simple names such as "Chinese bamboo flute." However, "bamboo" is perhaps more of a Chinese instrument classification like "woodwind" in the West.

Although bamboo is the common material for the dizi, it is also possible to find dizi made from other kinds of kinds of wood, or even from stone. Jade dizi are popular among both collectors interested in the almost magical beauty of jade dizi, and among professional players who seek an instrument with look that matches the quality of their renditions. But jade may not be the best material for dizi since, as with metal, jade may not be so tonally responsive, unlike bamboo which is more resonant.

The dizi is not the only bamboo flute of China, although it is certainly distinctive.

Whereas most simple flutes have only a blowing hole (known as chui kong in Chinese) and finger-holes, the dizi has very different additional hole, called a mo kong, between the embouchure and finger-holes. A special membrane called dimo (lit. "di membrane"), made from an almost tissue-like shaving of reed, is made taut and glued over this hole, traditionally with a substance called ejiao. Garlic juice or glue sticks may also be used to adhere the dimo. This application process, in which fine wrinkles are created in the centre of the dimo to create a penetrating buzzy timbre, is an art form in itself.

The dimo covered mokong has a distinctive resonating effect on the sound produced by the dizi, making it brighter and louder, and adding harmonics to give the final tone a buzzing, nasal quality. Dizi have a relatively large range, covering about two-and-a-quarter octaves.

Dizi are often played using various "advanced" techniques, such as circular breathing, slides, popped notes, harmonics, "flying finger" trills, multiphonics, fluttertonguing, and double-tonguing. Most professional players have a set of seven dizi, each in a different key (and size). Additionally, master players and those seeking distinctive sounds such as birdsong may use extremely small or very large dizi.

There are many suggestions for the source of dizi. While some suggest that the Yellow Emperor (Huang Ti) ordered his government official to make the bamboo musical instrument, others believe that dizi was imported into China during the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD).

The first written record of the membrane (dimo) dates from the 12th century. On traditional dizi the finger-holes are spaced approximately equidistantly, which produces a temperament of mixed whole-tone and three-quarter-tone intervals. During the middle of the 20th century dizi makers began to change the finger hole placements to allow for playing in equal temperament, as demanded by new musical developments and compositions, although traditional dizi continue to be used for purposes such as kunqu accompaniment. A fully chromatic version of the dizi, called xindi.


Xiao - end-blown flute; also called dongxiao

Paixiao - pan pipes

Chi - ancient transverse bamboo flute

Yue - ancient notched vertical bamboo flute with three finger holes; used in Confucian ritual music and dance

Koudi - very small transverse bamboo flute

(2b. Oboes)

Guan - cylindrical double reed wind instrument made of either hardwood (Northern China) or bamboo (Cantonese); the northern version is also called guanzi or bili and the Cantonese version is also called houguan

Sona - double-reed wind instrument with a flaring metal bell; also called haidi


Sona, also called laba (Chinese: 喇叭; pinyin: lǎbā) or haidi (Chinese: 海笛; pinyin: hǎidí) is a Han Chinese shawm (oboe). It has a distinctively loud and high-pitched sound, and is used frequently in Chinese traditional music ensembles, particularly those that perform outdoors. It is an important instrument in the folk music of northern China, particularly the provinces of Shandong and Henan, where it has long been used for festival and military purposes. It is still used, in combination with sheng mouth organs, gongs, drums, and sometimes other instruments, in wedding and funeral processions. Such wind and percussion ensembles are called chuida or guchui.

The sona has a conical wooden body, similar to that of the European oboe, but uses a tubular brass or copper bocal to which a small double reed is affixed, and possesses a detachable metal bell at its end.

The instrument is made in several sizes.

The nazi, a related instrument that is most commonly used in northern China, consists of a suona reed (with bocal) that is played melodically, the pitches changed by the mouth and Sometimes the nazi is played into a large metal horn for additional volume.

The suona is believed to have been developed from Central Asian instruments such as the sorna, surnay, or zurna, from which its Chinese name probably derives. It was originally introduced into China from central or western Asia. A musician playing an instrument very similar to a suona is shown on a drawing on a Silk Road religious monument in western Xinjiang province dated to the 3rd to 5th centuries, and depictions dating to this period found in Shandong and other regions of northern China depict it being played in military processions, sometimes on horseback. It was not mentioned in Chinese literature until the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), but by this time the suona was already established in northern China.

In Korea, a similar instrument is called taepyeongso, and in Vietnam similar oboes are called kèn.

The Japan counterpart is the charumera. This instrument's name is derived from charamela, the Portuguese word for shawm. Its sound is well known throughout Japan, as it is often used by street vendors selling ramen.

The suona is also used as a traditional instrument in Cuba, having been introduced by Chinese immigrants during the colonial era. It is known there as trompeta china and is used in some forms of son and carnival music.


Nazi [!] - sona reed and bocal played melodically, with or without amplifying horn

(2c. Free reed pipes)

Bawu - side-blown free reed pipe with finger holes

Mangtong - end-blown free reed pipe producing a single pitch

3. Wood - Most are of the ancient variety:

Zhu - a wooden box that tapers from the top to the bottom, played by hitting a stick on the inside, used to mark the beginning of music in ancient ritual music

Yu (Tiger Box) - a wooden percussion instrument carved in the shape of a tiger with a serrated back, played by hitting a stick with an end made of approximately 15 stalks of bamboo on its head three times and across the serrated back once to mark the end of the music

Muyu - a rounded woodblock carved in the shape of a fish, struck with a wooden stick; often used in Buddhist chanting

Guban - clapper made from two flat pieces of wood; used in shuochang and Beijing opera

Paiban - a clapper made from several flat pieces of wood

Bangzi - small, high-pitched woodblock

4. Stone - The category comprises various forms of stone chimes.

Bianqing (Stone Chimes) - a rack of stone tablets (resonant jade) that are hung by ropes from a wooden frame and struck using a mallet

5. Metal

Chuzeng Baizhong - 100 bronze bells hung on a rack, struck using poles

Bianzhong - 65 bronze bells hung on a rack, struck using poles

Fangxiang - set of tuned metal slabs (metallophone)

Nao - ancient cymbals

Bo - cymbals

Luo - gong

Chau gong


By far the most familiar to most Westerners is the chau gong or bullseye gong. Large chau gongs, called tam-tams (not to be confused with tom-tom drums), have become part of the symphony orchestra. Sometimes a chau gong is referred to as a Chinese gong, but in fact it is only one of many types of suspended gongs that are associated with China.

The chau gong is made of copper-based alloy, bronze or brass. It is almost flat except for the rim, which is turned up to make a shallow cylinder. On a 10" gong, for example, the rim extends about a half an inch perpendicular to the gong surface. The main surface is slightly concave when viewed from the direction to which the rim is turned. The centre spot and the rim of a chau gong are left coated on both sides with the black copper oxide that forms during the manufacture of the gong, the rest of the gong is polished to remove this coating. Chau gongs range in size from 7" to 80" in diameter.

The earliest Chau gong is from a tomb discovered at the Guixian site in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region of China. It dates from the early Western Han Dynasty.

Traditionally, chau gongs were used to clear the way for important officials and processions, much like a police siren today. Sometimes the number of strokes on the gong was used to indicate the seniority of the official. In this way, two officials meeting unexpectedly on the road would know before the meeting which of them should bow down before the other.

Richard Wagner was one of the first composers to use the tam-tam in his works. Within a few decades the tam-tam became an important member of the percussion section of a modern symphony orchestra, including use in the operas of Giacomo Puccini. Fine examples of its use are demonstrated in the symphonies of Gustav Mahler, Sergei Rachmaninoff, and Dmitri Shostakovich. Karlheinz Stockhausen used a 60" Paiste tam-tam in his Momente.


Yunluo - literally "cloud gongs"; 10 or more small tuned gongs in a frame

Shimianluo - 10 small tuned gongs in a frame

Weiqun - ancient hanging bell

Bronze drum

Laba - long, straight trumpet without valves

6. Clay

Xun - ocarina made of baked clay


The ocarina is an ancient flute-like wind instrument. While several variations exist, an ocarina is typified by an oval-shaped enclosed space with four to twelve finger holes and a mouth tube projecting out from the body. It is often ceramic, but many other materials, such as plastic, wood, glass, clay, and metal, may also be used.

The ocarina is a very old family of instruments, believed to date back some 12,000 years.

Ocarina-type instruments have been of particular importance in Chinese and Mesoamerican cultures. For the Chinese, the instrument played an important role in their long history of song and dance.

The xun is a Chinese vessel flute made of clay or ceramic. It is one of the oldest Chinese instruments. The xun is made in several sizes and is in the shape of an egg. It has a blowing hole on top and generally eight smaller finger holes (three each for the index, middle, and ring fingers of each hand, and one for each thumb).

The Korean equivalent is the hun.

In Japan, the same type of instrument is called tsuchibue ("earthen flute").


Fou - clay pot played as a percussion instrument

7. Gourd

Sheng - free reed mouth organ consisting of varying number of bamboo pipes inserted into a gourd chamber with finger holes


Traditionally, the sheng has been used as an accompaniment instrument for solo sona or dizi performances, in kunqu and some other forms of Chinese opera, and in small ensembles. In the modern symphonic Chinese orchestra, it is used for both melody and accompaniment. Its warm mellow sound expresses lyrical melodies well, while its ability to play chords makes it a highly prized accompaniment instrument.

The sheng has been used in the works of a few non-Chinese composers, including Lou Harrison

The traditional sheng has 17, 21, 24, or 30 (depending on maker, model and regional culture). It often uses jianpu, Chinese numerical notation.


Yu - ancient free reed mouth organ similar to the sheng but generally larger

He - ancient free reed mouth organ similar to the sheng but smaller

Hulusi - free-reed wind instrument with three bamboo pipes which pass through a gourd wind chest; one pipe has finger holes and the other two are drone pipes; used primarily in Yunnan province

Hulusheng - free-reed mouth organ with a gourd wind chest; used primarily in Yunnan province

8. Skin

[Chinese Drums at the Great Wall]

Daigu - large drum played with two sticks

Huapengu - flowerpot-shaped large drum played with two sticks

Bangu - small, high pitched drum used in Beijing opera

Biangu - flat drum, played with sticks

Paigu - set of three to seven tuned drums played with sticks

Tanggu - medium-sized barrel drum played with two sticks

Huagu - flower drum

Yaogu - waist drum

Zhangu- war drum; played with two sticks

Bajiao gu - octagonal tambourine used primarily in narrative singing from northern China

Yanggegu - rice planting drum

Bofu - ancient drum used to set tempo

Jiegu - hourglass-shaped drum used during the Tang Dynasty

Tao or taogu - a pellet drum used in ritual music


Chinese instruments are either played solo, or collectively in large orchestras (as in the former imperial court) or in smaller ensembles (in teahouses or public gatherings). Normally, there is no conductor in traditional Chinese music, or use of musical scores or tablature while in performance. Music was generally learned orally and memorized by the musician(s) beforehand, then played without aid, meaning totally accuracy and teamwork is required. But nowadays, music scores can be used, or a conductor if the number of musicians is large enough for that need.


Aeschylus (c. 525 BC/524 BC – c. 456 BC/455 BC) was an ancient Greek playwright. He is often recognized as the father of tragedy, and is the earliest of the three Greek tragedians whose plays survive, the others being Sophocles and Euripides. According to Aristotle, he expanded the number of characters in plays to allow for conflict among them; previously, characters interacted only with the chorus. Only seven of an estimated 70 to 90 plays by Aeschylus have survived into modern times; one of these plays, Prometheus Bound, is widely thought to be the work of a later author.

At least one of Aeschylus's works was influenced by the Persian invasion of Greece, which took place during his lifetime. His play The Persians remains a good primary source of information about this period in Greek history. The war was so important to the Greeks and to Aeschylus himself that, upon his death around 456 BC, his epitaph commemorated his participation in the Greek victory at Marathon rather than to his success as a playwright.

There are no reliable sources for the life of Aeschylus. He was said to have been born in c. 525 BC in Eleusis, a small town about 27 kilometers northwest of Athens, which is nestled in the fertile valleys of western Attica, though the date is most likely based on counting back forty years from his first victory in the Great Dionysia. His family was both wealthy and well-established; his father Euphorion was a member of the Eupatridae, the ancient nobility of Attica.

As a youth, he worked at a vineyard until, according to the 2nd-century AD geographer Pausanias, the god Dionysus visited him in his sleep and commanded him to turn his attention to the nascent art of tragedy.

As soon as he woke from the dream, the young Aeschylus began writing a tragedy, and his first performance took place in 499 BC, when he was only 26 years old; He would eventually win his first victory at the City Dionysia in 484 BC.

The Persian Wars would play a large role in the playwright's life and career. In 490 BC, Aeschylus and his brother Cynegeirus fought to defend Athens against Darius's invading Persian army at the Battle of Marathon.

The Athenians, though outnumbered, encircled and slaughtered the Persian army. This pivotal defeat ended the first Persian invasion of Greece proper and was celebrated across the city-states of Greece.

Though Athens was victorious, Cynegeirus died in the battle.

In 480, Aeschylus was called into military service again, this time against Xerxes' invading forces at the Battle of Salamis, and perhaps, too, at the Battle of Plataea in 479.

Salamis holds a prominent place in The Persians, his oldest surviving play, which was performed in 472 BC and won first prize at the Dionysia.

Aeschylus was one of many Greeks who had been initiated into the Eleusinian Mysteries, a cult to Demeter based in his hometown of Eleusis.

As the name implies, members of the cult were supposed to have gained some sort of mystical, secret knowledge. Firm details of the Mysteries' specific rites are sparse, as members were sworn under the penalty of death not to reveal anything about the Mysteries to non-initiates. Nevertheless, according to Aristotle some thought that Aeschylus had revealed some of the cult's secrets on stage.

According to other sources, an angry mob tried to kill Aeschylus on the spot, but he fled the scene. When he stood trial for his offense, Aeschylus pleaded ignorance and was only spared because of his brave service in the Persian Wars.

Aeschylus traveled to Sicily once or twice in the 470's BC, having been invited by Hieron, tyrant of Syracuse, a major Greek city on the eastern side of the island; during one of these trips he produced The Women of Aetna (in honor of the city founded by Hieron) and restaged his Persians.

By 473 BC, after the death of Phrynichus, one of his chief rivals, Aeschylus was the yearly favorite in the Dionysia, winning first prize in nearly every competition.

In 458 BC, he returned to Sicily for the last time, visiting the city of Gela where he died in 456 or 455 BC. It is claimed that he was killed by a tortoise which fell out of the sky after it was dropped by an eagle, but this story is very likely apocryphal.

Aeschylus' work was so respected by the Athenians that after his death, his were the only tragedies allowed to be restaged in subsequent competitions.

His sons Euphorion and Euæon and his nephew Philocles would follow in his footsteps and become playwrights themselves.

The inscription on Aeschylus's gravestone makes no mention of his theatrical renown, commemorating only his military achievements:

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.

The Greek art of the drama had its roots in religious festivals for the gods, chiefly Dionysus, the god of wine.

During Aeschylus's lifetime, dramatic competitions became part of the City Dionysia in the spring.

The festival began with an opening procession, continued with a competition of boys singing dithyrambs, and culminated in a pair of dramatic competitions.

The first competition, which Aeschylus would have participated in, was for the tragedians, and consisted of three playwrights each presenting three tragic plays followed by a shorter comedic satyr play.

A second competition of five comedic playwrights followed, and the winners of both competitions were chosen by a panel of judges.

Aeschylus entered many of these competitions in his lifetime, and various ancient sources attribute between seventy and ninety plays to him.

Only seven tragedies have survived intact: The Persians; Seven against Thebes; The Suppliants, the trilogy known as The Oresteia, consisting of the three tragedies Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, and The Eumenides; and Prometheus Bound (whose authorship is disputed). With the exception of this last play -- the success of which is uncertain -- all of Aeschylus' extant tragedies are known to have won first prize at the City Dionysia. The Alexandrian Life of Aeschylus indicates that the playwright took the first prize at the City Dionysia thirteen times. This compares favorably with Sophocles's reported 18 victories (with a substantially larger catalogue, at an estimated 120 plays), and dwarfs the five victories of Euripides (who featured a catalogue of roughly 90 plays).

One hallmark of Aeschylean dramaturgy appears to have been his tendency to write connected trilogies in which each play serves as a chapter in a continuous dramatic narrative.

The Oresteia is the only wholly extant example of this type of connected trilogy, but there is ample evidence that Aeschylus wrote such trilogies often. The comic satyr plays that would follow his dramatic trilogies often treated a related mythic topic. For example, the Oresteia's satyr play Proteus treated the story of Menelaus's detour in Egypt on his way home from the Trojan War. Based on the evidence provided by a catalogue of Aeschylean play titles, scholia, and play fragments recorded by later authors, it is assumed that three other of Aeschylus's extant plays were components of connected trilogies: Seven against Thebes being the final play in an Oedipus trilogy, and The Suppliants and Prometheus Bound each being the first play in a Danaid trilogy and Prometheus trilogy, respectively.

Scholars have moreover suggested several completely lost trilogies derived from known play titles. A number of these trilogies treated myths surrounding the Trojan War. One --collectively called the Achilleis and comprising the titles Myrmidons, Nereids, and Phrygians (alternately, The Ransoming of Hector) -- recounts Hector's death at the hands of Achilles and the subsequent holding of Hector's body for ransom; another trilogy apparently recounts the entry of the Trojan ally Memnon into the war, and his death at the hands of Achilles (Memnon and The Weighing of Souls being two components of the trilogy); The Award of the Arms, The Phrygian Women, and The Salaminian Women suggest a trilogy about the madness and subsequent suicide of the Greek hero Ajax; Aeschylus also seems to have treated Odysseus's return to Ithaca after the war (including his killing of his wife Penelope's suitors and its consequences) with a trilogy consisting of The Soul-Raisers, Penelope, and The Bone-Gatherers.

Other suggested trilogies touched on the myth of Jason and the Argonauts (Argô, Lemnian Women, Hypsipylê); the life of Perseus (The Net-draggers, Polydektês, Phorkides); the birth and exploits of Dionysus (Semele, Bacchae, Pentheus); and the aftermath of the war portrayed in Seven against Thebes (Eleusinians, Argives (or Argive Women), Sons of the Seven).

When Aeschylus first began writing, the theatre had only just begun to evolve, although earlier playwrights like Thespis had expanded the cast to include an actor who was able to interact with the chorus.

Aeschylus added a second actor, allowing for greater dramatic variety, while the chorus played a less important role.

He is sometimes credited with introducing skenographia, or scene-decoration, though Aristotle gives this distinction to Sophocles. Aeschylus is moreover said to have made innovations in costuming -- making the costumes more elaborate and dramatic, and having his actors wear platform boots (cothurni) to make them more visible to the audience. According to a later account of Aeschylus's life, as the actors walked on stage in the first performance of the Eumenides, the chorus of Furies were so frightening in appearance that they caused young children to faint, patriarchs to urinate, and pregnant women to go into labor [!].

Overall, though, he continued to write within the very strict bounds of Greek drama: his plays were written in verse, no violence could be performed on stage, and the plays had to have a certain remoteness from daily life in Athens, either by relating stories about the gods or by being set, like The Persians, in far-away locales.

Aeschylus's work has a strong moral and religious emphasis.

The Oresteia trilogy particularly concentrated on man's position in the cosmos in relation to the gods, divine law, and divine punishment.

Aeschylus's abiding popularity is perhaps most evident in the praise the comic playwright Aristophanes gives him in The Frogs, produced some half-century after Aeschylus' death.

Appearing as a character in the play, Aeschylus claims at line 1022 that his Seven against Thebes "made everyone watching it to love being warlike"; with his Persians, Aeschylus claims at lines 1026-7 that he "taught the Athenians to desire always to defeat their enemies." Aeschylus goes on to say at lines 1039ff. that his plays inspired the Athenians to be brave and virtuous.

Aeschyluss' works were influential beyond his own time. Hugh Lloyd-Jones (Regius Professor of Greek Emeritus at Oxford University) wrote extensively on Richard Wagner's reverence of Aeschylus and the ensuing effect on his works. Michael Ewans argues in his Wagner and Aeschylus: The Ring and the Oresteia (London: Faber. 1982) that the influence was so great as to merit a direct comparison, character by character, of Wagner's Ring Cycle and Aeschylus's Orestia. Reviews of his book, while not denying Lloyd-Jones's views that Wagner read and respected Aeschylus, refute Ewans' arguments on the grounds that they seem unreasonable and forced.

Sir J. T. Sheppard argues in the second half of his Aeschylus and Sophocles: Their Work and Influence that Aeschylus, along with Sophocles, had a major part in the formation of dramatic literature from the Renaissance to the present, specifically in French and Elizabethan drama. He also claims that their influence went beyond just drama and applies to literature in general, citing Milton and the Romantics as his prime examples.

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