Ancient Greeks: Theatre as Competition and Ritual

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Ancient Greeks: Theatre as Competition and Ritual

The ancient Greeks were the inventors of what is today known as “theater.” Beginning with religious ritual celebrations and competitions, they created an art form which has been parent to the modern theater, as well as television and film.

Although the origins of Greek theater are unknown, it is believed that it grew out of the dithyramb, songs and dances honoring Dionysus held at a festival called the Dionysia (Theater of Ancient Greece). Although these uninhibited songs and dances probably grew out of ritual celebrations, they eventually became more formalized and symbolic, eventually evolving into the Greek theater (The Ancient Greek Theatre Page).

Theater started as ritual fertility celebrations by the “Cult of Dionysus” in Athens. These rituals altered over time and became Spring ritual with theater at the center of the celebrations (Drama 30), although it is impossible to know how the rituals separated into comedy and tragedy (Greek Theatre).

A lesser festival in honour of Dionysus, The Lenea, became another theater festival/competition halfway through the fifth century BC. The rules of the Lenea were different from those of the Dionysia. In the Lenea, there were only four tragedies, two from each of two playwrights, and five comedies from five playwrights (Greek and British Theatre).

According to Aristotle's Poetics, Greek tragedy came before satyr plays and comedies. Tragedy came out of the dithyrambs sung in praise of Dionysus at the Dionysia every year. By the 600's BC, the dithyramb was changed into a formalized narrative sung by a chorus (Greek Theatre). Tragedy lost its Dionysiac associations very early, and only one of the preserved plays, Bacchae by Euripides, has any Dionysiac content, namely the myth of resistance to the introduction of Dionysus's cult to Thebes, and the god's revenge upon the city (Greek Tragedy).

In the 500s BC, the poet, Thespis of Attica, is credited...
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