Theater of Dionysus Term Paper

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Theatre of Dionysus: Athens, Greece

General history about the theater itself and the history of theater in Greece

The evolution of theater in Greece, and therefore, theater's evolution as an art form over the course of early Western history, may be directly linked to the festivals of Dionysus of the land. Dionysus was the Grecian god of wine and misrule. Over the course of performances of tragedy and comedy written and designed to honor this God, all of Athens essentially shut down to observe the literary performed works of its greatest dramatists and judge them in competition, as well as the ribald satyr plays designed for the populace's enjoyment. Much of the history of the earliest period of Greek drama has been lost. But the earliest theater probably took place in the Athenian marketplace or agora. Eventually this became fixated as a site on the southeast slope of the Acropolis. This site was eventually was chosen for a theater dedicated to Dionysus. (Theater of Dionysus, CUNY, 2004)

The first Greek dramas were largely choral in nature. They then took on the form of alternating a chorus speaking as a collective with the individual voice of a singular actor, the first of whom, legend suggests, was named Thespis. He became the spiritual patron of all subsequent thespians or actors. Gradually, the religious elements of theater became more subtly injected into the plots of Greek drama. Drama's ritual elements began to be less important than the elements of character and plot. At the end of this period of history, in later comedies like "Lysistrata" by Aristophanes, the dueling personas of Aphrodite and Athena take on far less importance than, for instance, the drama of the human characters engaging in debates over the morality of war. (Elderkin, 1940)

Architecture of Greek theaters -- a parallel reflection of social realities

It should be noted that Greek theaters, including the theater of Dionysus are not freely standing works of architecture. They are built into hills in amphitheater forms. There were many alterations to theater of Dionysus. It was not until the late fourth century BC that the theater of Dionysus was rebuilt in stone. During the age of the three great tragedians, the audience sat on wooden benches on the hillside and watched actors perform in front of a wooden stage building. (Theater of Dionysus, CUNY, 2004)

In terms of how the audience was allocated, the civic, as opposed to private nature of theater in Greece is evidenced in how the ordinary citizen was probably assigned by tribe to one of the thirteen seats of the Theater of Dionysus. The first few rows at the bottom of the viewing area of the theater, just before the orchestra, were reserved for state officials and public benefactors such as victorious generals and athletes. Foreign dignitaries could also be given this privilege. Some offices conferred this honor on the holder, while the Assembly could vote it for certain individuals. (Theater of Dionysus, CUNY, 2004)

This shows how the theater was a public ritual, where individuals participated in public acts of worship and debate over common values, rather than merely private displays of values -- however; there was still a hierarchy in this participation. (Connor, 1987)


The parodos of the Theater of Dionysus was a gangway leading into the orchestra over which chorus and actors made their entrances. There are two parodoi, one on each side of the orchestra. Parodos was also the name of the song chanted by the chorus as they entered the orchestra at the beginning of the play. (Theater of Dionysus, CUNY, 2004) This is another indication of the fusion of the role of ritual, the role of the chorus, and the role of architecture in early Greek theater.

Bema of Phaidros

The bemata of Greek theaters were usually plastered over, to…

Sources Used in Document:

Works Cited

Theater of Dionysus. CUNY Classical Website accessed on March 30, 2004 at

Bongie, E. "Heroic Elements in the Medea of Euripides." Transactions of the American Philological Association 107 (1977) 27-56 / full text

Brown, L. "The Erinyes in the Oresteia: Real Life, the Supernatural, and the Stage." Journal of Hellenic Studies 103 (1983) 13-34 / full text

Connor, W.R. "Tribes, Festivals, and Processions." Journal of Hellenic Studies 107 (1987) 40-50 / full text

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