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The Birth of Theatre

Tragic Comic Masks -Hadrian's Villa mosaicAlmost 27 centuries ago, in the beginning of the 6th century B.C., a Greek poet named Arion “invented” the Dithyramb, a poem sang in chorus, during celebrations in honor of Dionysus. About half a century later, Thespis –another poet who then became the first actor in History– had an original idea: he stepped out of the chorus and responded to what the chorus was singing, using verse in a different style and meter than the one the Dithyramb had. Thus, a new form of art was born, and Ancient Greeks called it Theatre.

The Greek word Theatron means “that which can be seen”. Thanks to Thespis’ original idea, stories about Greek Gods and Heroes could now be represented in front of an audience who could see them come to life in front of their eyes.

The poem representing this new form of art was called Drama, from the Greek word meaning “to act, to perform”. Gradually, it developed its first “genre”, Tragedy, a serious drama, almost exclusively representing myths and stories about Gods and Heroes. Its name actually means “goat song” because the chorus members initially sang it wearing masks in the form of goats, in order to honor Dionysus and the tradition of the Dithyramb which was sang by a chorus dressed up as Satyrs. Acknowledging drama’s powerful effect on the culture of the human mind and soul, Ancient Greeks used the phrase “teaching tragedy”, regarding the staging of new plays. The use of the verb “to teach” also underlines the educational qualities of Tragedy.

There were two other “genres” of Drama, called Comedy and Satyr-Drama. Comedy was generally written in order to satirize the ill-doings of the officials of the City-State or to point out injustices and human flaws, usually using obscene language. Satyr-Drama was like a serious form of Comedy, honoring Satyrs, the loyal followers of Dionysus.

As you may imagine, this new form of art called Theatre had a huge success and soon there were poets specialized in writing Tragedies, Comedies and Satyr-Dramas. The world-famous poets who wrote timeless Tragedies were Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides. Their works are considered to be true masterpieces of Literature up to this day and were represented in the greatest ancient theatres of Greece, such as Dionysus Theatre at the feet of the Acropolis in Athens, as well as the ancient theatres of Epidaurus, Dodoni and Delphi.

Theatre was, in fact, considered to be one of the greatest forms of art, one which was essential for the true culture of a man’s mind, and had invaluable healing power over the human soul.

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The most Perfect Tragedian

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