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The Greek Theater:

Festivals, the Stage and


Sophocles

Dionysus and Greek Drama


In the beginning, the Greeks
worshipped the god, Dionysus by
dancing and celebrating.
The worship of Dionysus became so
important to Greek culture that
worship took on the form of
performance.
Around 480 B.C., the performances
turned into dramatic festivals and
contests honoring Dionysus.
Banks would shut down for days,
people would travel from all around to
see the drama competitionseven
prisoners were temporarily released to

Athenian Dramatic Festivals


Festivals were held
twice a year to honor
Dionysus (or Bacchus)
the god of fertility,
harvest, wine,
merriment and theater.
The festivals were held
in January and February
for winepress season
and March and April for
growing season.

Festival Events
The Festivals consisted of three days
of ceremonies; then on the fourth
day, dramatic performances took
place.

Three Days of Religious


Ceremonies

Day 1: The Citizens honored the


performers, producers, poets and
playwrights with feasts and celebration.
Day 2: The citizens honored the statue
of Dionysus.
They brought the statue to the countryside
and made sacrifices using livestock, like
rams and goats.
During the day they enjoyed feasts and
contests.
At night they brought the statue back to the
theater by torchlight.
These rituals were symbolic of the first time
the statue was brought to the theater.

Ceremonies continued
Day 3: The artists competed in
contests including competition in song,
dance and poetry, which the citizens
would watch.

Day 4: The Main Event


Dramatic Celebration
Each author prepared a play (or multiple
plays) to participate in the playwriting
contest.
Presentations of the plays began at
daybreak.
At the conclusion of the contest the best
playwright won the ivy crown.
This was a great honor for the Athenians.
Sophocles (author of Oedipus and Antigone)
won 18 times.

The Stage: The Theater of


Dionysus

The Parts of the Theater

The Parts of the Greek Theater


cont

The Significance of
Sophocles

Sophocles is important to our studies


because he wrote several great
tragedies in his lifetime. Specifically,
seven of these tragedies have
survived and remained famous plays
from the Athenian Golden Age, they
are as follows: Ajax, Antigone, The
Women of Trachis , Oedipus the
King, Electra , Philoctetes , and
Oedipus at Colonus.
In class, we will be focusing on two
of his plays, Oedipus the King and
Antigone, which come from the
Oedipus trilogy.

and The Golden Age in


Athens
The 5th century B.C., known as The
Golden Age in Athens, is one of the
most creative and prosperous
periods in Athenian history.
Sophocles was born in 496 B.C. in
Colonus, at the time a town just
outside Athens.
His family was wealthy and welleducated, which meant that
Sophocles also received a
traditional upper-class education in
a thriving Greek Empire.
He lived until he was 90, and was
able to see the rise and fall of the
Golden Age in Athens.

Sophocles Career
at the Dramatic Festivals
At the age of 28 in 468 B.C.,
Sophocles won his first
competition at the Dionysus
Dramatic Festival; he received
the first prize for tragic drama
over Aeschylus (whose talent as
a tragic poet had long been
undisputed, in a dramatic
competition).
He wrote around one hundred
and twenty-three plays for the
Athenian theatre, and won
twenty-four festivals -- he
placed second in every festival
that did not win first prize.

Sophocles Influence on
Theater
Sophocles introduced several key

innovations, introducing painted


background scenery, changing the
number of speaking actors from
two to three, and enlarging the
chorus from twelve to fifteen men.
Sophocles also affected a
transformation in the spirit and
significance of a tragedy;
thereafter, although religion and
morality were still major dramatic
themes, the plights, decisions and
fates of individuals became the
chief interest of Greek tragedy.

Ruins of the
Theater of Dionysus
in Athens