Is The Persians a proper tragedy or just a piece of dramatized military and civic propaganda? Can it be both? Illustrate your answer with close reference to the text. The Persians is the only Greek tragedy to focus on a subject other than mythology, and this fact in itself should tell us something about the playwright's concerns. Why did Aeschylus not turn to mythology if he had a point to make about war? Greek mythology is full of wars and heroes, and playwrights of the time could find ample raw material to turn into plays if they adapted stories from mythology. Perhaps it was because the play was so blatantly propagandist in nature that Aeschylus deliberately steered away from mythology to show his readers that he was interested in 'real' life rather than fiction. One is tempted to do wonder if there is such a thing at all as a "proper" tragedy. The Greeks are undoubtedly the masters of the genre, or at least its inventors.
What makes a tragedy a proper tragedy? Let us examine Aristotle's concept of tragedy and apply it to Aeschylus' play, to see if it is 'really' a tragedy, or if it does not fit the classical requirements for a 'proper' tragedy. Aristotle defines tragedy as follows: "Tragedy, then, is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude; in language embellished with each kind of artistic ornament, the several kinds being found in separate parts of the play; in the form of action, not of narrative; with incidents arousing pity and fear, wherewith to accomplish its katharsis of such emotions... Every Tragedy, therefore, must have six parts, which parts determine its quality -- namely, Plot, Characters, Diction, Thought, Spectacle, Melody." (McManus Section 1, paragraph 1) Aristotle's famous definition sets up the following requirements for a work to be considered truly 'tragic': o "Pity and fear" are the reactions that must be aroused in the audience by the action; o Catharsis or purging of emotions must take place; o The six vital parts, as cited above, must be part of the play. Aeschylus may be said to be guilty of a kind of reverse orientalism.
As Edward Said pointed out, the West created a construct of the orient by exoticizing it, and emphasizing the differences between the East and the West. MacFarlane points out that there was a fundamental difference between the Greeks and the Persians. In any great war story, the warring sides are seen to respect each other, and the message the writer gets across is usually that it is war that is to be despised, and not the people who are forced to become pawns in a gory game. MacFarlane, however, tells us that "the Persians as they saw themselves" were very different from "the Persians as the Greeks saw them" (captions to figures I and 2). The Persians saw themselves as disciplined warriors, but the Greeks saw them as an inferior race meant to be subjugated and abused.
They had to be suppressed at all costs.