ou)k a)ndro\j o(/rkoi pi/stij, a)lla\ o(/rkwn a)nh/r
Oaths are not the guarantee of a man,
but the man is the guarantee of the oaths.

This quote from Aeschylus comes from an unknown source. Most likely it is from one of the 97 tragedies he wrote during the fifth century BCE. Thankfully, due to his reknown as the "father of tragedy", many ancient historians attempted to recover some of his works and fragments, such as this one. Our appreciation is owed to Stobaeus (mid-fifth century CE or later) who recorded this quote in an anthology of Aeschylus' work.

The Life of Aeschylus

Aeschylus was born in Eleusis in 525 B.C. According to legend, as he lay in a field, Dionysus came to Aeschylus in a dream ordering him to write plays for his festival in Athens that would revere the gods. The truth of this tale is questionable, but he did indeed write tragedies, seven of which survive and are performed to this day. Aeschylus was accused of revealing the Eleusinian mysteries in one of his plays and in turn was forced to leave Athens. He went to Sicily, where he spent most of his life, as a member of the court of Hieron, the tyrant of Syracuse. Despite his absence from Athens, Aeschylus still participated in the festival every other year. Aeschylus also left two sons to carry on his legacy, one of whom, Euphorion, later defeated both Sophocles and Euripides at the Dionysia in 431 B.C. His death in 456 B.C. is said to have been caused by an eagle who, mistaking his bald head for a rock, dropped a turtle on it.

Aeschylus and Drama

Aeschylus' contributions to Greek Tragedy and subsequent drama were many. It was Aeschylus who reduced the importance of the chorus and made dialogue the focus of the plays. Aeschylus also developed the tradition of performing three plays in a trilogy at the Dionysia. His sway was so significant that under his influence all violence was removed from view and at times replaced with extravagant visual spectacles.

Unfortunately for all, most of Aeschylus' work was lost, but as scholars of his work, for classicists and dramatists alike, we at least have the seven plays and fragments such as this one that have carried his legacy to our time and will continue it for generations to come.

Sources and Links for more Information:

Theatre Database

Aeschylus on Moonstruck


E. Conn, St. Paul's School, 2003