). The word χορός
in Greek meant a number of persons who performed songs and dances
at religious festivals. When the drama at Athens was developed from the dithyrambic choruses,
the chorus was retained as the chief element in the Dionysiac festival. With the old
dramatists the choral songs and dances much preponderated over the action proper. As the form
of the drama developed, the sphere of the chorus was gradually limited, so that it took the
comparatively subordinate position which it occupies in the extant tragedies and comedies.
The function of the chorus represented by its leader was to act as an ideal public, more or
less connected with the dramatis personae.
It might consist of old men
and women or of maidens. It took an interest in the occurrences of the drama, watched the
action with quiet sympathy, and sometimes interfered—if not to act, at least to
advise, comfort, exhort, or give warning. At the critical points of the action, it performed
long lyrical pieces with suitable action of dance and gesture. In the better times of the
drama these songs stood in close connection with the action; but even in Euripides this
connection is sometimes loose, and with the later tragedians, after the time of Agathon, the
choral performance sank to a mere intermezzo.
The style of the chorus
was distinguished from that of the dialogue partly by its complex lyrical form, partly by its
language, in which it adopted a mixture of Attic and Doric forms. The proper place of the
chorus was on the orchestra, on different parts of which, after a solemn march, it remained
until the end of the piece, drawn up, while standing, in a square. During the action it
seldom left the orchestra to reappear, and it was quite exceptional for it to appear on the
stage. As the performance went on, the chorus would change its place on the orchestra; as the
piece required, it would divide into semi-choruses and perform a variety of artistic
movements and dances. The name ἐμμέλεια
was given to the
tragic dance, which, though not lacking in animation, had a solemn and measured character.
The comedy had its burlesque and often indecent performance called κόρδαξ
; the satyric drama its Σίκιννις
representing the wanton movements of satyrs. The songs of the choruses, too, had their
special names. The first ode performed by the entire body was called πάροδος
; the pieces intervening between the parts of the play, στάσιμα
; the songs of mourning, in which the chorus took part with
the actors, κομμοί
. The number of the
) was, in tragedies, originally twelve, and
after Sophocles fifteen. This was probably the number allowed in the satyric drama; the
chorus in the Old Comedy numbered twenty-four.
The business of getting the members of the chorus together, paying them, maintaining them
during the time of practice, and generally equipping them for performance, was regarded as a
, or public service, and devolved on a wealthy
private citizen called a χορηγός
, to whom it was a matter of
considerable trouble and expense. We know from individual instances that the cost of a tragic
chorus might run up to thirty minae (about $540), of a comic chorus to sixteen minae (about
$265). If victorious, the choregus
received a crown and a finely
wrought tripod. This he either dedicated, with an inscription, to some deity as a memorial of
his triumph, or set up on a marble structure built for the purpose in the form of a temple,
in a street named the Street of Tripods, from the number of these monuments which were
erected there. One of these memorials, put up by a certain Lysicrates in B.C. 335, still
remains. (See Choregus
.) After the Peloponnesian
War, the prosperity of Athens declined so much that it was often difficult to find a
sufficient number of choregi
to supply the festivals. The State,
therefore, had to take the business upon itself. But many choruses came to an end altogether.
This was the case with the comic chorus in the later years of Aristophanes; and the poets of
the Middle and New Comedy accordingly dropped the chorus. This explains the fact that there
is no proper chorus in the Roman comedy, which is an imitation of the New Comedy of the
Greeks. In their tragedies, however, imitated from Greek originals, the Romans retained the
chorus, which, as the Roman theatre had no orchestra, was placed on the stage, and as a rule
performed between the acts, but sometimes during the performance as well. See Drama
The Roman chorus, in fact, belonged especially to the crepidatae
—i. e. the tragedies modelled on and derived from the
Greek ones; but it also appears in the national tragedy of the Romans, the praetextatae.
Even though Diomedes declares that the Roman comedy had no chorus, yet
this is only true generally, for there is an undoubted chorus of fishermen in the
of Plautus. It was probably the whole company of actors (caterva, grex
), not a chorus, which said the “Plaudite”
with which comedies end. There appear to have been choruses in the pantomimus
and in the pyrrhica
of the Empire. There was no
fixed number of choreutae.
As that part of the theatre which was the
Greek orchestra was given up to the spectators at Rome, the chorus had to occupy the stage
(Vitruv. v. 6, 2). The Roman chorus took more part in the action of the drama than did the
Greek chorus (Ars Poet.
193). It was led by a magister
, who had his place in the middle of the chorus, and so was called mesochorus
ii. 14, 6). The musical accompaniment was played by
on a double flute. Between the acts the chorus (probably in
tragedy) and the tibicen (in comedy) used to sing or play (Donatus, Arg. ad
); and Horace (Ars Poet.
194) especially urges that the subject
of the songs should be pertinent to the action of the drama. The chorus was composed of
men who were professionals (artifices
), and who were for the most part
slaves. As the chorus of the Romans sometimes represented women, they must have worn masks.
They were probably dressed after the manner of the Greeks, and the dresses appear to have
been very splendid, as was the whole production of plays at the end of the Republic and
during imperial times —e. g. purple chlamydes were wanted for a chorus of soldiers,
as is told in a well-known story of Lucullus (Epist.
i. 6, 40).
The literature on the subject of the chorus is very extensive. The most important works
are: ArnoldB. , art. “Chor” in Baumeister's Denkmäler des
, pp. 383-391; Sommerbrodt, Scaenica;
Die chorische Technik des Sophokles;
R. Arnoldt, Die chorische Technik
F. Castets in Daremberg and Saglio, art.
“Chorus”; A. Müller, Die griechischen
In the two last works full reference is made to
the numerous works on the subject. See also O. Ribbeck, Die römische
Tragödie im Zeitalter der Republik
, 607, 631 foll.; and the articles Comoedia