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Introduction to Ancient Greek Tragedy. Life in Ancient Greece. Greece reached its peek in the 6 th and 5 th centuries, specifically in Athens. Athens: The Place to Be:. Named after the goddess Athena Birthplace of Democracy Center of commerce and arts. Athens was on the cutting edge of….

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Life in ancient greece
Life in Ancient Greece

  • Greece reached its peek in the 6th and 5th centuries, specifically in Athens

Athens the place to be
Athens: The Place to Be:

  • Named after the goddess Athena

  • Birthplace of Democracy

  • Center of commerce and arts

Athens was on the cutting edge of
Athens was on the cutting edge of…

  • Philosophy

  • Art

  • History

  • Politics

  • Architecture

Athens sculptures
Athens Sculptures

  • Realistic figures in bronze and marble

  • Perfect human form

  • Influence still felt today

    • Our desire to look perfect has its origins in Greek sculpture

Physical excellence
Physical Excellence

  • Emphasis on physical training

  • No standing army, so this ensured “instant soldiers”

Physical excellence1
Physical Excellence

  • Athletic games were held in Olympia, the Olympics

  • Olive wreaths, a symbol of peace and a major industry

2 greek tragedy
2. Greek Tragedy

  • Ancient Greeks invented the art of drama

  • Some plays from Ancient Greece are still performed today

Modern words from tragedy
Modern Words from Tragedy

  • Orchestra

  • Thespian

  • Drama

  • Dialogue

  • Skene

  • Comedy

  • Tragedy

Greek tragedy
Greek Tragedy

  • Wealthy Athenians subsidized plays

  • Plays performed annually at the spring festival of Dionysus

Greek tragedy dionysus
Greek Tragedy: Dionysus

  • March/early April

  • Disrupted city life and could not be contained—the ultimate block party!

  • Tragedy competition

  • Satyr (means, Risque) competition

Greek tragedy playwrights
Greek Tragedy: Playwrights

  • Aeschylus (525-456 B.C.)

  • Sophocles (496-406 B.C.)

  • Euripides (485-406 B.C.)

Greek tragedy plays
Greek Tragedy: Plays

  • Going to the plays was exceptionally popular

  • Day-long Performances

  • Theater was a sacrament, a form of worship

Greek tragedy plays1
Greek Tragedy: Plays

  • Plays were performed in large semi-circle, outdoor amphitheaters made of stone or wood

  • 15,000 to 17,000 spectators (all male)



The theater of dionysus today
The Theater of Dionysus Today

The Theater of Dionysus in Athens, Greece

Restored by the emperor Nero in 68 A.D.

(Computer recreation)

Theater of Epidauros

(built 330 B.C., near modern day Nauplion, Greece)



Greek tragedy scenery and costume
Greek Tragedy: Scenery and Costume

  • Minimal Scenery and props

  • Platform shoes, and elongated togas with high waistbands

  • Masks stood for characters:

    • Grief -Happiness

    • Anger -Bearded King

    • Old Man -Young Girl

Masks in greek theater
Masks in Greek Theater

  • Masks portray character types or character emotions

  • Fit over the head

  • Wig attached

  • Large mouth openings for speech

Tragic and comic masks
Tragic and Comic Masks

Greek tragedy theatrical machines mechanai
Greek Tragedy: Theatrical Machines (

The ekkyklema (“a wheeled-out thing”) was a cart on wheels which carried a dead body onto the stage.

It was sacrilegious to show a character actually dying on the stage.

Greek tragedy theatrical machines mechanai1
Greek Tragedy: Theatrical Machines (

  • The mechane (machine) was a crane-like machine that could lift a character up as if flying, or could carry an actor, usually in the guise of a god, to the top of the skene.

Greek tragedy chorus and actors
Greek Tragedy: Chorus and Actors

Greek tragedy who could be in the chorus
Greek Tragedy: Who could be in the Chorus?

  • males

  • trained by a poet to sing and dance

  • twelve or fifteen, depending on when the play was written

  • the leader was called the coryphaeus (“head man” or “leader”)

    • All men

    • Chanted or danced

Greek tragedy chorus
Greek Tragedy: Chorus

  • Chorus

    • Provided “emotional bridge”

      • How? Through its five functions.

Greek tragedy chorus1
Greek Tragedy: Chorus

  • Five Functions of Chorus

    • Set the mood

    • Represent common person

    • Takes a moral side/stand

    • Will warn characters

    • Expresses itself in common language, which is usually in contrast with hero

Greek tragedy actors
Greek Tragedy: Actors

  • Who could be an actor?

    • Males

Greek tragedy actors1
Greek Tragedy: Actors

  • One to three actors

    • For most of the 5th century, no more than three were used

Greek tragedy conventions
Greek Tragedy: Conventions

  • Play Observed Aristotle’s unities of time, place, and action

    • Time: Took place during a twenty-four hour period

    • Place: One setting

    • Action: No subplots

Greek tragedy conventions1
Greek Tragedy: Conventions

  • All violence took place off stage

  • Emotions of characters most important elements of play

Greek tragedy tragic hero protagonist
Greek Tragedy: Tragic Hero/Protagonist

  • Worthy

  • Mature

  • Imperfect

  • Disaster will befall him/her

  • Believes in his freedom to make choices

  • Hubris

  • Suffers

  • Transfiguration—Becomes a better person

  • His/her tragedy causes a life reflection

Greek tragedy structure
Greek Tragedy: Structure

  • Encroachment

    • Bites off more than he can chew

Greek tragedy structure1
Greek Tragedy: Structure

  • Complication

    • Forces build up against the hero

    • Events become so complex that no single action can resolve them

Greek tragedy structure2
Greek Tragedy: Structure

  • Reversal

    • Clear to audience that hero’s expectations are mistaken

    • Hero might have a suspicion as to where his actions will take him. Usually, he/she

      is ignorant though.

Greek tragedy structure3
Greek Tragedy: Structure

  • Catastrophe

    • Moment hero realizes full guilt

    • Hero realizes helplessness in the hands of the gods

Greek tragedy structure4
Greek Tragedy: Structure

  • Recognition

    • Chorus suggests a larger order and sense of life exists beyond the hero’s downfall

    • Catharsis

What is catharsis
What is Catharsis?

  • Literally means “to purge” or “to purify”—to cleanse.

  • For a tragedy, catharsis references

    • The release of pent up emotions or energy (many times negative)



3 antigone
3. Antigone

  • Theme: What is the higher law: humankind’s or the gods’?

Family tree immediate
Family Tree (Immediate)

  • King Oedipus (deceased)

  • Queen Jocasta (deceased)

    • Eteocles (son)

    • Polynices (son)

    • Antigone (daughter)

    • Ismene (daughter)

Family tree extended
Family Tree (Extended)

  • King Creon (Uncle: Jocasta’s brother)

  • Queen Eurydice (Aunt)

    • Haemon (Cousin and Fiance)