Greek History

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The Greeks' history began around 700 B.C. with festivals honoring their many gods. One god, Dionysus, was honored with an unusual festival called the City Dionysia. The revelry-filled festival was led by drunken men dressed up in rough goat skins (because goats were thought sexually potent) who would sing and play in choruses to welcome Dionysus. Tribes competed against one another in performances, and the best show would have the honor of winning the contest. Of the four festivals in Athens (each reflecting seasonal changes), plays were only presented at one festival--City Dionysia. Historians believe that the Greeks patterned their celebrations after the traditional Egyptian pageants honoring Osiris. At the early Greek festivals, the actors, directors, and dramatists were all the same person. Later, only three actors could be used in each play. After some time, non-speaking roles were allowed to perform on-stage. Because of the limited number of actors allowed on-stage, the chorus evolved into a very active part of Greek theatre. Though the number of people in the chorus is not clear, the chorus was given as many as one-half the total lines of the play. Music was often played during the chorus' delivery of its lines. Although few tragedies written from this time actually remain, the themes and accomplishments of Greek tragedy still resonate to contemporary audiences. The term tragedy (tragos and ode) literally means "goat song," after the festival participants' goat-like dancing around sacrificial goats for prizes. Most Greek tragedies are based on mythology or history and deal with characters' search for the meaning of life and the nature of the gods. Most tragedies that have survived from this period begin with a prologue that gives the audience exposition to the following action. The chorus then introduces a period called the paradox. During this time introductions to characters are made, exposition is given, and a mood is established. The final scene is...
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