Valerius Maximus, in Facta et Dicta Memorabilia, describes the death of Aeschylus (V.Max. 9.12(ext).2):

Aeschyli uero poetae excessus quem ad modum non uoluntarius, sic propter nouitatem casus referendus. in Sicilia moenibus urbis, in qua morabatur, egressus aprico in loco resedit. super quem aquila testudinem ferens elusa splendore capitis—erat enim capillis uacuum—perinde atque lapidi eam inlisit, ut fractae carne uesceretur, eoque ictu origo et principium fortioris tragoediae extinctum est.

The Loeb translation reads:

The poet Aeschylus’ departure was not voluntary, but the novelty of the occurrence makes it worth mention. He was in Sicily. Leaving the walls of the town where he was staying, he sat down in a sunny spot. An eagle carrying a tortoise was above him. Deceived by the gleam of his hairless skull, it dashed the tortoise against it, as though it were a stone, in order to feed on the flesh of the broken animal. By that blow the origin and beginning of more perfect tragedy was extinguished.

I am particularly interested in the translation of the final latin lines: eoque ictu origo et principium fortioris tragoediae extinctum est.

Reading from the English translation, there is an ambiguity specifically in the phrasing “more perfect.” Is Maximus suggesting that Aeschylus's work was perfect and that, now being dead, he will no longer create further examples of perfect tragedies? Here, “more” being read quantitatively. Or, alternatively, do we read “more” as suggesting a qualitative distinction: Aeschylus death was itself the perfect tragedy? Is Maximus here making a claim toward poetics?

Not having familiarity with translating Latin, any further contextualizing information derived from the original would be of great help.

1 Answer 1


You should note that your text and the Loeb don't match up. Shackleton Bailey's (i.e. the Loeb's) text reads perfectioris, and Kempf (in the Teubner and reproduced on Perseus) opts for fortioris, "stronger."

Valerius Maximus is most likely alluding to the fact that Aeschylus is considered to have substantially changed tragedy into its common form. Not that his tragedies are perfect in the English sense, but are more complete (which is what perfectior really means) compared to what came before. Tragedians coming after Aeschylus thus followed his model. This is all found in Aristotle's Poetics:

To consider whether tragedy is fully developed by now in all its various species or not, and to criticize it both in itself and in relation to the stage, that is another question. At any rate it originated in improvisation—both tragedy itself and comedy. The one came from the prelude to the dithyramb and the other from the prelude to the phallic songs which still survive as institutions in many cities. Tragedy then gradually evolved as men developed each element that came to light and after going through many changes, it stopped when it had found its own natural form. Thus it was Aeschylus who first raised the number of the actors from one to two. He also curtailed the chorus and gave the dialogue the leading part. Three actors and scene-painting Sophocles introduced.

Aeschylus' changes were substantial enough to grow the form from dithyrambic improvisation to tragedy qua tragedy. Playwrights who came after Aeschylus merely added on to Aeschylus' original innovations.

  • My sincere thanks for your answer. I have one further question: how is it that there exists two different versions of the latin text?
    – BtureP
    May 29, 2021 at 22:16
  • @BtureP I don't have a critical edition of this particular text with me, but generally one of three ways. 1. There is gibberish in the manuscript (like a typo); 2. The word makes no sense where it is; or 3. A word is clearly missing. What happens is that different editors choose different options to correct the text (called 'emendation') when they publish their editions.
    – cmw
    May 29, 2021 at 22:19

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