Greek tragedy

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Comedy mask ( slave ), around 250 BC Chr.

The Greek tragedy (from ancient Greek τράγος tragos "buck" and ᾠδή ōdē "song") was created during the official celebrations in Athens in honor of the wine god Dionysus . The tyrant Peisistratos (around 600-528 / 527 BC) elevated the cult of Dionysos to the state cult of Athens and introduced the annual Great Dionysia as a festival lasting several days. In 534 BC The poet Thespis performed the first tragedy by giving the singing and dancing choir of the already in the 7th century BC. BC incurred. Dithyrambos first time faced a single actor. Aeschylus introduced the second actor to the tragedy, the third Sophocles , if not already Aeschylus. The connection with the myths about the god Dionysus was soon abandoned, but mythical topics remained binding and were only ignored in exceptional cases.

The Greek tragedy had its heyday between 490 and 406 BC. The most famous tragedy poets were Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides . The most important ancient communications about Attic tragedy are contained in Aristotle 's treatise entitled Poetics .


The Greek tragedy deals with the fateful entanglement of the protagonist , who has gotten into such a hopeless situation that he can only be guilty of anything. The approaching catastrophe, which is becoming more and more apparent, can no longer be averted despite the great efforts of the people involved. The tragic character is also described with the attribute "guiltlessly guilty". The topics covered range from philosophical to religious and existential issues such as:

  • The question of being
  • The individual and the world
  • People and gods
  • Crime and Punishment
  • Character and destiny.

Fate or the gods bring the actor into an indissoluble situation, the conflict typical of Greek tragedy , which results in the internal and external collapse of a person. There is no way not to get guilty without giving up your values ​​(which a tragic actor cannot do). A good example is King Oedipus of Sophocles .


The actions are structured in such a way that they follow the law of the three units , namely the unity of place, time and action. This means that the action shown is linear, the time shown is identical to the duration of the performance and the action - with very few exceptions - takes place in the same location.

The structure follows the basic scheme:

  • the prologue: an explanatory “foreword” before the choir moves in
  • the epeisodies (singular: the epeisodion) as the actions - comparable to the acts or acts - between the choral songs
  • the Exodos: the part after the last choir song
  • A distinction is made between the choir parts:
    • 1. the Parodos: first choir song when the choir performs
    • 2. the Stasimon: choir song between the roles of the actors, occasionally with the participation of the actors

This basic structure could not be changed. A fixed convention was the alternation between choirs (song verse) and the mono and dialogues of the actors (play verse). Due to the linear course of action, flashbacks were not possible, but what had already happened had to be brought to the attention of others. This also applied to parallel plots or important events that were presented to the audience because of the nature of the plot - for example fight scenes - or because of ethical conventions - e.g. B. the killing of a person was not shown - not shown directly. The means available for this were pondoscopy (wall exhibition), the messenger report , the deus ex machina or the ekkyklema .


But not only the strict structure of the tragedy had to be adhered to, the following conventions also had to be observed:

  • The actors wore masks. No masks have survived (only reduced versions in the Museum of Lipari in Italy), but images can be found on vases.
    • The mask gave a rigid, terrifying look.
    • The actor's individuality and identity have been discarded.
    • She simplified the role-play for the actor.
  • The choir responsible for the performance was free to put together the costume, but it was contemporary and historical.
  • The tragedy was always performed outdoors, never indoors.

Only fragments of the accompanying music have survived.

Target of tragedy

According to Aristotle, the aim of a tragedy was the viewer's change of heart: this should lead to a “cleansing” ( catharsis ) of certain feelings. By experiencing misery / emotion and horror / shudder (from Greek éleos and phóbos, translated somewhat misleadingly by Lessing as pity and fear), the viewer of the tragedy experiences a purification of his soul from these states of excitement.


  1. ^ Athenian Agora Excavations
  2. In 492 BC, the poet Phrynichus was the first to venture to bring current political events to the stage under the impression of the Persian Wars . BC with a tragedy Μιλήτου ἅλωσις Miletou halosis ( The Conquest of Milets ) about the capture and destruction of Milets and thus caused a theater scandal (Herodotus 6,21,2). Aeschylus, however, won after the battle of Salamis with his mitρσαι Persai ( The Persians ) in 472 BC. The victory over his competitors.

See also


Web links

  • Greutmann, Peter (2007): Good Practice Project: Ancient Tragedy , some worksheets on ancient tragedy, as well as lesson plans based on the Swiss online platform Educanet2 . (accessed March 31, 2013)