Home Page-Greek Tragedies by Eric Hubscher

Greek Tragedy
Greek Tragedy

Greek tragedy, ancient Greek word meaning goat-song, is a type of art based on human suffering.  Greek tragedy refers to a drama where a main character, or the protagonist, suffers some sort of tragic ending.  In most situations the tragic ending is undeserving to the protagonist, but gives excitement to the audience.


Originating over 2500 years ago, it is believed that Greek tragedy was formed out poetic and religious traditions of ancient Greece.  There are a few different beliefs to these traditions.

1. Dithyrambs, known as chants and dances, are to be believed to be the base of the tragic form.  These dithyrambs were used to honor the Greek god Dionysus.  These chants are known to be created by satyrs, who surrounded Dionysus.

2. Other scholars believe that a man named Thespis invented Greek drama because he would ride around in a cart and perform his own drama.


The Greek tragedy performance was performed for audiences inside of theaters much like the ones today.  Of course these theaters are not as modern.  There were three main writers of tragedy that boosted popularity.  These three writers were Sophocles, Euripides, and Aeschylus.  Many of there dramas were performed for the Greek god Dionysus.  Many of the performance back then were sung much like a modern opera.  Scholars' studies have shown that there were props and scenery used to make the play writers' dramas more realistic.  A cart called the ekkylema was used behind the scenery to display the outcome of an event that took place.  Because in modern times we read tragedies as opposed to watching them we usually miss out on emphasis and elements including scenery, voices, gestures, wardrobe, and dancing.


Epidaurus Theater

Many theaters that presented these dramas were much like today's theaters. It was an auditorium based theater, but open aired.  Since there were no artificial lights the plays were to be acted out in the day.  Many of these tragedies took place in front a palace or temple.  Many of these outdoor auditoriums featured stadium style seating with a stage and open floor.  The open floor was for the chorus to dance and the orchestra to play.  Every year, Dionysus has a huge festival with a contest to prove who the best play writer is.  This is where main play writes have begun including Sophocles and Aeschylus.


For a lot of the performances, there were three actors on duty to the play writer.  The first actor was named the protagonist.  The second actor was named the deuteragonist.  The third actor was called the tritagonist.  Since there were only three actors each actor had to take on multiple roles.  2500 years ago women weren't allowed to do much.  That included acting.  Male actors were forced to play both men and women.  To disguise the actor into each role, costumes and masks were used to differentiate each character.  Because of the orchestra and chorus, actors were able to change roles between scenes.



Known as the “Father of Greek Drama,”Aeschylus was born in 525 B.C.  Aeschylus was born to the Greek goddess Demeter in the city of Eleusis.  According to Aeschylus, he would fall asleep and have dreams of Dionysus telling him to create plays.  When Aeschylus began writing his tragedies, Greek theater was just under way.  Aeschylus is known for seven main plays, even though it is believed he has written well over 90.  Such famous plays include The Persians , Seven Against Thebes , and The Oresteia .


-Sophocles is known as one of the greatest play writers of any time.  Born near Athens, in 495 B.C., Sophocles was popular at an early age because of his beauty and singing voice.  He began his education at an early age and when he was finished he took part in the festival of Dionysus.  His first competition, he upset Aeschylus, the “Father of Greek Drama.”  Sophocles is of great claim and superiority in the Greek literature world, for being the first to including three actors in his plays.  Oedipus and Antigone are Sophocles' best known work out of the more than 100 plays he has written over time.  In 405 B.C. Sophocles passed away leaving behind a legacy that still hasn't been forgotten to this day.


-Son of Mnesarchides, Euripides was intended to be a poet.  Born in 480 B.C., Euripides presented his first tragedies as the festival of Dionysus in 455 B.C.  Euripides was very unpopular with the judges of the festival because he did not furnish his tragedies to the likes of the Athenian crowd.  Euripides didn't win his first award out of five until 441.  Euripides was a man of truth and religion, who put his characters in the face of both.  Euripides was tried for impiety by the city of Athens and forced to leave.  Scholars believe he wrote many of his plays in a cave on Salamis Island.  It is believed, Euripides died in 406 B.C. and was buried in Macedonia, where King Arcelaus I invited him to stay after Athens.

Bibliography|Picture Bibliography