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Definition of tragedy (by Aristotle, Poetics) : Tragedy is an imitation of an important and complete action, which has a specific length, written in an embellished language, with its separate parts set in order and not randomly, in active and not narrative form, tending through pity and fear to the catharsis of passions.

Analysis of the definition : 

  • "imitation of an important and complete action" : Tragedy is the imitation of life itself, a mimisis of important things, emotions and passions

  • "specific length" : Tragedy's story must have a start, a medium point and an end. It cannot be too long nor too short.

  • "embellished language" : the language must have rhythm, melody and harmony. Vulgarity must be excluded.

  • "its separate parts set in order and not randomly" : The lyrics, the dancing and the prose must be set in the right proportion.

  • "in active and not narrative form" : Action characterizes tragedy. Action is achieved through dialogic parts. Monologues can be used only as an exception.

  • "tending through pity and fear to the catharsis of passions" :  The spectator watches the leading actor to raise in arrogance and fall in despair. He feels pity and mercy for him, because he has been the innocent tool in the hands of fate. His insulting behavior towards the divine element merits a punishment. This punishment though will purify him and at the end the spectator feels that justice has been served.


     Comedy originates from Dionysian cult and more specifically from the hymns devoted to Dionysus, called "phallic hymns".

     The peasants, during their rural festivities, were forming  parades wandering around the fields holding torches, flourishing phallus-shaped objects and singing hymns to the god called "Comoi". The word in Greek means amusement, entertainment. From this word derives the modern word "comedy", which implies something funny and gay. The peasants were addressing to each other with vulgar lyrics using very raw and mocking language. Thus the precursor of comedy consisted of loose and saucy (maybe offensive) lyrics.

     Comedy was supposed to be a mockery of people and situations, a criticism against immorality, avarice and corruption. It was in direct relation with actuality. Its goal was to pass the message of the return to tradition and to the values of the ancestors.

     The chorus' disguise depended on the play (birds, frogs etc). Comedy's language may seem vulgar to modern audience but it was not shocking the ancient Greek audience, since it was in harmony with the comedy's rural roots.

     Only 11 comedies written by Aristophanes have been saved.


Satiric drama

     Since the years of Thespis, the writers abandoned the stories about the adventurous life of Dionysus and pointed at stories of heroes (i.e. Hercules), legends and ethography. The chorus of Satyrs had been replaced by old men (or women - men in disguise of course). Still, deep in the hearts of Greeks, tragedy had always been related to Dionysus. A common comment after the performance of a tragedy was "nothing to Dionysus", meaning that the play had nothing to do with Dionysus, in order to criticize the story of the presented tragedy.

     Satiric drama was meant to be the Dionysian part of the festivities. In the contests every writer was participating with 3 tragedies and 1 satiric drama.

     The chorus consisted of Satyrs, leaded by an old Seilenos (Seilenos had been the closest friend and companion of Dionysus). Although the structure of a satiric drama was similar to the one of the tragedy, it was shorter (in length) and lighter. The stories mocked the lives of heroes or Dionysus, in order to give a chance to the audience to relax after having attended the presentation of 3 tragedies.

     The only satiric dramas that have been saved are "The Cyclops" by Euripides and "The Scouts" by Sophocles.





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