Genre - Tragedy
As was noted in the discussion of the Iliad, the word "tragedy" refers primarily to tragic drama: a literary composition written to be performed by actors in which a central character called a tragic protagonist or hero suffers some serious misfortune which is not accidental and therefore meaningless, but is significant in that the misfortune is logically connected with the hero's actions. Tragedy stresses the vulnerability of human beings whose suffering is brought on by a combination of human and divine actions, but is generally undeserved with regard to its harshness. This genre, however, is not totally pessimistic in its outlook. Although many tragedies end in misery for the characters, there are also tragedies in which a satisfactory solution of the tragic situation is attained.
To learn more about the connections between ancient Greek theater and religion, see Connections between Ancient Greek Theater and Religion.
Tragedy was a public genre from its earliest beginnings at Athens; that is, it was intended to be presented in a theater before an audience. Epic originally was also a public genre. Homer chanted the Iliad and Odyssey to the accompaniment of a stringed instrument called a kithara before an audience. Epic continued to be recited by rhapsodes at festivals like the Panathenaia, but it gradually became more of a private genre to be read from a manuscript at one's leisure. This happened in part also to tragedy. In the fourth century Aristotle in his Poetics points out that it is possible to experience the effect of tragedy without public performance (i.e., by private reading). Tragedy was still being written and produced in the Athenian theater in Aristotle's day, but the plays of the three great tragedians (Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides) and no doubt of other playwrights were also being read privately. Reading, of course, is our primary means of access to ancient tragedy... [continues]
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