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A Look at Ancient Greek Tragedy
A Review
Comedy Old Comedy began as plays that were mainly
satirical and mocked men in power. New Comedy was the
evolution of plays to make fun of every day life and ordinary
Tragedy Tragedy depicts the downfall of a noble hero or

heroine, usually through some combination ofpride, fate, and

the will of the gods. The tragic hero's powerful wish to achieve
some goal inevitably encounters limits, usually those of human
frailty, the gods (through oracles, prophets, fate), or nature.
The hero need not die at the end, but he / she must undergo a
change in fortune. In addition, the tragic hero may achieve
some revelation or recognition about human fate, destiny, and
the will of the gods.
Satyr plays Satyr plays were short plays conducted between

the acts of tragedies that would mock the plight of the

tragedys characters.
Tragic Hero our main character, usually noble in birth,
who must go through unfortunate events.
Chorus a group of twelve or fifteen men, led by a

Choragus, who would sing and choral songs that dictated

what was happening in the play and forced the audience to
question what was going on in the tragedy.
The Gods either the gods themselves or prophets or
oracles acting as mouthpieces for the gods. The gods prevent
the tragic hero from reaching his goal or they attempt to tell
the tragic hero for what he should be on the lookout.
Deus ex machina literally, god out of the machine, refers to a
plot device used by ancient playwrights in which gods interfere in
the storyline, often in creating a resolution for the play.
Minor Characters act as supports for or obstacles to the
tragic hero.
Usually of noble birth, sometimes royalty, and always a
leader of men, the tragic hero is a man who encounters a
series of unfortunate events. The audience usually feels
pity for him.
Hamartia, or tragic flaw, such as hubris, or pride, leads

to the eventual downfall of the tragic hero. It is not the

tragic heros fault that he has this flaw, but he is
responsible for his actions that lead to his downfall.
The tragic downfall is not senseless; it must have

After his tragic downfall, the tragic hero encounters

peripetia, or a reversal of fortune.

As a result of his downfall, the tragic hero has increased

self-awareness and knowledge of life and reality.

Sang three primary types of songs:
Parados entrance song
Stasima songs throughout
Exodos exit song
Choral songs divided into three sections:
**What else has strophes, antistrophes, and epodes?**
Choral songs reaffirm what had happened in the play
and point out deeper questions about the plot and
themes of the play to the audience.
The chorus often engaged in dialogue with the tragic

hero of the play.

Set in an outdoor auditorium or
amphitheater, and, because of the lack
of artificial light, set mostly in the
daytime. If scenes were at night, which
was rare, the protagonist or chorus
would give clues to the audience
members, who would have to use their
Advantages to outdoor setting: action of
tragedy almost always took place outside;
and Greek citizens were used to events
being held outside, such as political,
religious, and civil forums.
Stage was circular, with audience
seating going up a sloping hill. A tent,
or skene, would be located towards the
rear of the stage for the actors to change
costume, and on the other side would be
a crane for the more realistic entrance
of the gods (deus ex machina).
The Story of a Playwright
Born around 495 B.C. just north of Athens, Greece to a wealthy
merchant father.
Educated in all of the arts, and known to be successful in his

academic endeavors as a teenager.

Entered a number of playwriting competitions, which were

fashionable in his lifetime. He won first place in the first

competition he entered, besting well known playwright
Aeschylus. He won eighteen other first place prizes, and never
took less than second place in the other 150 competitions he
Fulfilled many occupations aside from playwright: he acted in

many of his own plays, he was an ordained priest, served on the

Board of Generals, and for a time was the director of the
Treasury of Athens.
The Oedipus Cycle, in particular, Oedipus Rex, is considered his

best work.
Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus, and Antigone
Thebes, ancient Greece, in a polytheistic society. States are ruled
by kings and queens.

Dramatis Personae
King Laius Oedipus biological father

Queen Jocasta Oedipus biological motherand something else!

Oedipus protagonist, tragic hero

King Polybus of Corinth Oedipus adopted father

Queen Merope of Corinth Oedipus adopted mother

Oracle at Delphi messenger of the gods

The Sphinx torturing Thebans, riddles passersby

Creon Oedipus brother-in-law

Tiresias blind prophet

Plot summary: King Laius and Queen Jocasta hear a prophecy that says Laius will be killed
by his son. When Jocasta bears a son, they abandon him in the woods. This child is brought
by a shepherd to Corinth, where he is reared as Oedipus by King Polybus and Queen
Merope. When Oedipus gets older, he hears a rumor that he is not the biological child of
Polybus and Merope. He goes to the Delphic Oracle who does not answer his question, but
tells him he will kill his father and mate with his mother. In order to protect Polybus and
Merope, Oedipus leaves Corinth. On the road to Thebes, Oedipus encounters a man and his
guards who attempt to run him off the road; he fights to stay alive and eventually kills this
man. When he gets close to Thebes, he encounters the Sphinx, who, along with tormenting
the city of Thebes, kills passerby who cannot answer its riddle. Oedipus correctly answers
the riddle and, as a reward, is given the Queen Dowager to marry. This Queen happens to be
Jocasta, a fact Oedipus is still unaware of, and thus the prophecy is fulfilled. Now King of
Thebes, Oedipus seeks out Creon, Jocastas brother, to determine what the cause of the
plague is that is upon Thebes; Creon says that it is caused by the fact that King Laius
murderer has never been caught. Oedipus, still unaware that Laius was his father and he is
married to(and having children with!) his mother, seeks the help of the blind prophet
Tiresias in finding the murderer who has brought this plague upon Thebes. Tiresias is at
first silent, but Oedipus forces him to speak; he tells Oedipus the truth, which Oedipus only
takes as a bid by Creon to kill him and take over the throne. Oedipus, prepared to execute
Creon, listens to Jocasta who says to take no note of prophets and oracles because one
important one about her and Laius did not come true. She then describes how Laius was
killed: by bandits at a crossroads. When a messenger arrives to tell Oedipus about Polybus
death, Oedipus finds himself relieved because he believes he cannot fulfill half of the
prophecy. He mentions this to the messenger, who tells him that Merope is not, in fact his
mother. Oedipus, now curious, threatens the messenger to tell him everything, and the facts
of his birth, life, and now marriage and sexual relationship with his mother, is revealed.
When Jocasta finds out, she runs into the palace and hangs herself. Oedipus wishes to kill
himself, but instead gouges his eyes out with pins from Jocastas dress. Oedipus is to be
exiled, while his daughters (and half-sisters) Antigone and Ismene will be watched over by
Colonus, just northwest of Athens, said to be
Sophocles actual birthplace.

Dramatis Personae
Oedipus protagonist, tragic hero

Antigone Oedipus daughter

Ismene Oedipus daughter

Polyneices Oedipus eldest son

Eteocles Oedipus son

Theseus King of Athens

Creon Oedipus brother-in-law

Plot summary: Oedipus has been exiled from Thebes, and finds himself brought to
Colonus, just north of Athens, by Antigone. He finds himself on the sacred land of the
Furies, which he believes will be his burial ground (when he was told by Apollo that he
would kill his father and marrying his mother, he was also told his burial place would be
of great sanctity and he would bring it honor and strength). Upon arriving in Colonus, the
chorus of the city is horrified to learn who he is, and, though they promise not to hurt him,
request that he leave in order not to pollute their land and fate. Oedipus asks to see their
king, Theseus. While awaiting the arrival of Theseus, Ismene returns, overjoyed to see
Oedipus and her sister. She brings news that Eteocles has seized the throne of Thebes
from his older brother Polyneices, who is now trying to gain support to win back his seat
of power. Both Eteocles and Polyneices have heard from an oracle that who wins the
throne depends on their fathers burial place; in order to prevent anyone from receive the
prophesied power of Oedipus burial, Creon intends to come for him and bury him without
proper burial rites at the border of Thebes. Condemning his sons lack of loyalty when
compared to his daughters, Oedipus begs the Elders of Colonus (the Chorus) for protection
from Creon. While Ismene leaves to offer sacrifices for the holy ground Oedipus has
trespassed upon earlier, Theseus arrives, offering Oedipus unconditional support.
Theseus offers Oedipus his own burial spot, hoping to guarantee victory in any future
battle with Thebes. Theseus leaves, and Creon arrives, feigning concern for Oedipus and
his family. Oedipus is not fooled, and Creon erupts, telling him he has already captured
Ismene and forcibly takes Antigone in the hopes that Oedipus will follow. Theseus returns,
is infuriated by the Thebans lack of justice, and has his forces overpower the Thebans and
return both girls to Oedipus. Polyneices is banished from Thebes by Eteocles, and tells
Oedipus he is to blame for their fate and aid him in attacking his younger brother.
Oedipus refuses and warns Polyneices that he and Eteocles will kill each other. Polyneices
does not listen to the warning, and leaves. Shortly after Polyneices leaves, Oedipus hears
an oncoming thunderstorm, a sign from Zeus that it is his time to die. Only Theseus
knows of Oedipus burial place, and he may not share that information with Ismene or
Antigone, for whom he now must take care. Antigone, in the hopes of preventing the battle
between her brothers (also called The Seven Against Thebes) returns to Thebes.
Thebes, ancient Greece, after the battle that killed both

Eteocles and Polyneices in their fight for the throne.

Dramatis Personae
Antigone protagonist, Oedipus daughter

Ismene Antigones sister

King Creon Antigones uncle

Queen Eurydice Creons wife

Haemon Creons son

Polyneices Antigones dead brother

Eteocles Antigones dead brother

Basic plot summary: Antigone tells the story of
Antigones struggle to provide a proper burial for her
brother Polyneices after he and Eteocles killed each
other in a battle for the throne. Creon, now King, has
provided a proper burial for Eteocles, but refuses to
allow Antigone to give Polyneices that burial rites
required by the Greek gods.

Make a family tree for Oedipus whole family!

Include the in-laws and his adopted parents.