Archive for July 24th, 2020

First time ever on July 25: Aeschylus’s “The Persians” will be livestreamed from Epidaurus’ ancient theater! Be there!

Friday, July 24th, 2020
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For the first time ever, an classic ancient Greek drama will be live-streamed from the ancient theater of Epidaurus. On Saturday, July 25, Aeschylus’ The Persians will be performed by actors of the Greek National Theater.

The play is Aeschylus’s The Persians, circa 472 B.C., about the Persian-Greek war. The playwright himself had participated in the crucial battle it describes, so he knew what he was talking about. It is not only the oldest surviving Greek play, but Aeschylus’s most powerful antiwar statement, praising the freedom of the individual and the wisdom of democratic norms.

Don’t speak Greek? Relax. The 90-minute performance will have English subtitles. The livestream will take place here. The livestream begins at 10 a.m., and the performance at 11 a.m., California time (again, go here for the countdown).

The “storyline,” such as it is, consists of one long lament about the defeat of Xerxes and the Persians at the hands of the Greeks in the Battle of Salamis (480 BC). You might say that this is the Greeks, rubbing it in. They did the same thing with Euripides’s The Trojan Women.

So here’s what happens: the play takes place in Susa, one of the capitals of the Persian Empire. Xerxes’s mother, Atossa, waits for the news of the expedition against the Greeks.  She laments in what is may be he first dream sequence in the Western theater history.  A messenger arrives, and describes the Persians’ defeat at the Battle of Salamis. 

Atossa beckons the spirit of her late husband, the Persian leader Darius. He appears, and condemns his son’s hubris, and prophesies another defeat. The play ends with the king leading engaging the chorus in a long lament about Persia’s defeat. He particularly notes the folly of building pontoon bridges over the Hellespont strait to attack. Of course, the Persians destroyed the bridges, which provided access for retreat. It was a disaster. Xerxes beheaded those who built the bridges, and punished the strait, too, by throwing fetters into it, having his soldiers shout at it, branding it with red-hot irons, and giving it three hundred lashes. (Herodotus noted it was a “highly presumptuous way to address the Hellespont,” but totally in character for Xerxes.)

The ancient theater at Epidaurus is known for its excellent acoustics. It normally seats 14,000, in non-COVID times.

The drama will be live-streamed at 9 p.m. Athens time (GMT +2) through livefromepidaurus.gr . It will also be available at the websites of the National Theatre of Greece, the Athens and Epidaurus Festival and the Ministry of Culture and Sports, as well as the National Theatre of Greece’s YouTube channel.