previous next


TRAGOE´DIA The purpose of this article is to sketch the progress of Greek Tragedy from its origin to its maturity; and to give some account of Roman Tragedy, which was derived from the Greek.

The Dithyramb.--The Dorian worship of the gods, and especially of Apollo, had been accompanied from an early time by choral lyrics, to which an artistic development was given by Alcman of Sparta (660 B.C.) and Stesichorus of Himera (620 B.C.). It was reserved for a man of Aeolian origin to perfect one particular species of the poetry which Dorians had made their own. Arion, of Methymna in Lesbos, lived about 600 B.C. He gave a finished form to the διθύραμβος, or choral hymn in honour of Dionysus. The κύκλιος χορός--i. e. the chorus which stood, or danced, round the altar of Dionysus--received from him a more complete organisation, its number being fixed at fifty. The earliest κύκλιοι χοροὶ of this kind were trained and produced by Arion at Corinth in the reign of Periander. Pindar alludes to this when he speaks of Corinth as the place where “the graces of Dionysus” --the joyous song and dance of his festival--were first shown forth, σὺν βοηλάτᾳ . . . διθυράμβῳ (Olymp. 13.19). The epithet βοηλάτης which is there given to the dithyramb probably refers to the fact that an ox was the prize, rather than to a symbolical identification of Dionysus with that animal. In one of his lost poems Pindar had connected the origin of the dithyramb with Naxos, and, in another, with Thebes. This is quite consistent with Corinth having been the first home of the matured dithyramb. It is well known that the dithyramb had existed before Arion's time. The earliest occurrence of the word is in Archilochus (circ. 670 B.C.), fr. 79: ὡς Διωνύσοι᾽ ἄνακτος καλὸν ἐξάρξαι μέλος | οἶδα διθύραμβον, οἴνῳ συγκεραυνωθεὶς φρένας--a testimony to the impassioned character of the song. Herodotus speaks of Arion as not merely the developer, but the inventor (1.23); and Aristotle made a similar statement, if we can trust the citation in Photius (τὸν δὲ ἀρξάμενον τῆς ᾠδῆς Ἀριστοτέλης Ἀρίωνά φησιν εἶναι, ὃς πρῶτος τὸν κύκλιον ἤγαγε χορόν: Biblioth. Cod. 239). But it was natural that the man who developed and popularised the dithyramb should have come to figure in tradition as its inventor. The etymology of διθύραμβος is unknown. Plato conjectures that its original theme was the birth of Dionysus (Legg. p. 700 B). If this was so, at any rate the scope must soon have been enlarged, so as to include all the fortunes of the god.

Earliest “Tragic Choruses.”--At Sicyon, circ. 600 B.C., τραγικοὶ χοροὶ were in use. This date coincides with the period at which Arion perfected the dithyramb; and we find that these χοροὶ had originally been held in honour of Dionysus. The Sicyonians had diverted them from that purpose, and had applied them to the cult of the Argive hero Adrastus, whose adventures were celebrated by the choruses (Her. 5.67, τὰ πάθεα αὐτοῦ τραγικοῖσι χοροῖσι ἐγέραιρον). Cleisthenes, the tyrant of Sicyon, reclaimed these χοροὶ for Dionysus. Two points in this account deserve attention.

(1.) The epithet τραγικοὶ is already given to these choruses, although there was as yet no actor distinct from the chorus. The σάτυροι (=τίτυροι, “he-goats” ) were woodland beings, half man, half beast, who attended on Dionysus, and who were conventionally represented with pointed ears, budding horns, a snub nose, and a tail. Some allusion to the satyrs was evidently involved in τραγικός, as an epithet of the chorus, and in τραγῳδία, as a name for their song. But it is hardly doubtful that these terms also refer directly to the association of an actual goat with the Dionysiac worship. It was the goat that suggested the conventional type of the σάτυροι, not the latter that prompted the use of the terms τραγικὸς and τραγῳδία. The choice of the votive animal is sufficiently explained by the lower side of the nature ascribed to the god, the side which would be most prominent in a rustic carnival. A goat was perhaps sacrificed to Dionysus before the choral song began. But this does not necessarily exclude another hypothesis--viz. that a goat was sometimes the prize. When, in early times, the country people spoke of a “goat-chorus,” or a “goat-song,” no doubt the literal and the allusive meanings were blended; men thought partly of the goat which was the sacrifice or the prize, partly of the goat-like satyrs who formed the Chorus. The word τραγῳδία is often applied to the purely choral performance in honour of Dionysus, when as yet there was no “tragedy” in the later sense. Thus Plato remarks that τραγῳδία had existed in Attica before the days of “Thespis and Phrynichus” (Minos, p. 321 A). Similarly Athenaeus (630c) and Diogenes Laertius (3.56) speak of the primitive τραγῳδία which was performed wholly by a chorus.

(2.) Further, it appears that as early as 600 B.C. τραγικοὶ χοροὶ were not necessarily restricted to the worship of Dionysus, but could celebrate the fortunes of a hero such as Adrastus. This illustrates the peculiar position of Dionysus among the Hellenic deities. According to legend, his entrance into Greece had been opposed; he had endured various insults and trials before his worship was finally established. Dionysus alone was at once a god--superhuman in might--and a hero who had striven like Heracles. The “tragic chorus,” which sang the dithyramb, commemorated his πάθη--the varying fortunes which had preceded his final triumph. Such a chorus might change its theme to a hero who had experienced like vicissitudes, but not to any other god. Apollo had long been honoured with choruses by the Dorians. But there was no germ of drama in the choral cult of Apollo, because there was no reminiscence of suffering.

Transition from Lyric to Dramatic “Tragedy.”--As the central idea of the Dionysiac worship was a vivid sympathy with the fortunes of the god, a certain dramatic element must have entered into it from the first. The energy of the dithyrambic style would itself prompt the dancers to use animated gesture. It would also be natural that their leader should enact the part of Dionysus himself, or of a messenger from him--reciting some adventure, to which the satyr-chorus would then make a lyric response. Greek tradition clearly associated some such rudiments of drama with the primitive τραγῳδία. [p. 2.859]Thus Diogenes Laertius says: “In early tragedy the Chorus alone sustained the action (διεδραμάτιζεν); afterwards Thespis introduced one actor, in order to give rest to the Chorus” (3.56). Aristotle, too, states that tragedy was at first “extemporary” (αὐτοσχεδιαστική), and took its rise “from those who led off the dithyramb” (ἀπὸ τῶν ἐξαρχόντων τὸν διθύραμβον: Poet. 4). He refers to an effusion, more or less unpremeditated, by the leader, as distinguished from the hymn chanted by the Chorus.

Thespis, a native of Icaria in Attica, flourished about 536 B.C., in the later years of Peisistratus. He was a trainer and leader of dithyrambic choruses, who made an improvement in the mode of performance. Hitherto the leader, who recited an adventure of Dionysus, had addressed the Chorus, and had been answered by them. Thespis now set apart a person specially for dialogue with the leader. As this person had to reply to the leader, he was called “the answerer,” ὑποκριτής--which became the regular term for an “actor.” This was another step towards drama; but how far it went we do not know, because we do not know what the δράματα of Thespis (as Suidas calls them) were like. The alleged fragments of Thespis in Plutarch, Clement of Alexandria, Pollux, and other writers, are spurious, as Bentley has shown (Phalaris, pp. 289 ff., ed. Dyce). Everything would depend on the manner in which the part of the new ὑποκριτὴς was adjusted to that of the coryphaeus. If the latter was made virtually a second actor, then Thespis might fairly be regarded as the founder of drama proper. If, on the other hand, the dialogue remained comparatively unimportant, and the whole performance continued to be essentially lyric, then Thespis had merely modified the tradition--though in a fruitful way. The latter view seems the more probable. The ancients themselves were divided: some regarded him as the πρῶτος τραγικός: others, as merely improving on Sicyonian tradition (Suidas). Bentley maintained that Thespis composed only pieces of a humorous character; Welcker, that he produced serious tragedy also. Neither view admits of proof. Horace (Ars Poet. 276) has given currency to the notion that Thespis went about the country with a strolling company, and acted his plays on a waggon. The fiction may have been suggested by the “jests from a waggon” which were associated with the processions to Eleusis (ἐξ ἁμάξης ὑβρίζειν). When all the evidence has been sifted, Thespis remains to us a famous name, and little more. That he made an epoch in the gradual development is beyond question. But, in the light of such imperfect knowledge as we possess, Aeschylus, not Thespis, must be regarded as the true founder of Tragedy.

The Period between Thespis and Aeschylus.--(1) Choerilus, an Athenian, is said to have gained his first dramatic victory in 523 B.C., and to have been active for some sixty years afterwards. Pausanias (1.14.2) refers to him as δρᾶμα ποιήσαντι Ἀλόπην. Alope was a hapless maiden whom her father Cercyon put to death; and Pausanias quotes the play for some genealogical details about Triptolemus. Here, then, we have a tragedy, connected, by subject, with Eleusis, but not directly with Dionysus. Choerilus is said by Suidas to have composed 160 plays. Only a few words are extant. The view that he excelled in satyr-drama rests on a verse of an unknown poet, ἡνίκα μὲν βασιλεὺς ἦν Χοιρίλος ἐν σατύροις, quoted by Marius Plotius Sacerdos (circ. 300 A.D.), in the third book of his Ars Grammatica, where he treats of metres. The phrase ἐν σατύροις, however, may have referred to Dionysiac choruses generally, and not to satyr-plays as distinguished from tragedies. (2) Pratinas, a native of Phlius, is said by Suidas to have contended against Choerilus and Aeschylus “in the 70th Olympiad,” i. e. at some time between 500 and 497 B.C. If the first year of the Olympiad is meant, the date would be the spring of 499 B.C. The tradition that he was the first to write satyr-plays is founded on the words of Suidas, πρῶτος ἔγραφε σατύρους: but it can be traced further back, if “Pratinae” be read for “Cratini” in a note on the Ars Poetica (230) by Helenius Acron, the commentator on Terence and Horace (circ. 190 A.D.). The satyr-plays of Pratinas were presumably intended to preserve the old type of satyr-chorus, now threatened with extinction by the new improvements. Such an effort would have been natural for one whose native place was not far from Sicyon. Among the scanty fragments of Pratinas, which are almost wholly lyric, the most considerable is a passage of 20 lines from a ὑπόρχημα (Bergk, Poet. Lyr. 953 ff.: cf. Nauck, Frag. Trag. p. 562). Suidas says that he wrote 60 plays, of which 32 were, satyric dramas; unless, with Boeckh, 32 should be altered to 12 (λβ᾽ to ιβ᾽). (3) Phrynichus, an Athenian, is said to have gained the tragic prize first in 511 B.C., and for the last time in 476 B.C. His tragedy on the Capture of Miletus must have been produced soon after the date of the event (494 B.C.): it is uncertain whether the title was Μιλήτου ἅλωσις (Her. 6.21), or Πέρσαι. Eight other of his plays are known by titles, but only a few verses remain (Nauck, Frag. Trag. 557 ff.). According to Bentley's conjecture, the Phoenissae (on the same subject as the Persae of Aeschylus) was the play produced in 476 B.C., when Themistocles was his choregus. In the Thesmophoriazusae of Aristophanes the tragic poet Agathon says of Phrynichus that the comeliness of his person was matched by the beauty of his dramas (5.166). His lyrics, in particular, were admired for their simple grace and sweetness. It seemed as if the birds had taught him to warble (Ar. Av. 748 ff.) These lyrics had probably more of an Ionian than of a Dorian or an Aeolian stamp. He was. the most popular tragic poet of his time: the audiences to whom Aeschylus made his earlier appeals are described as having been “brought up in the school of Phrynichus” (παρὰ φρυνίχῳ τραφέντας, Ar. Ran. 910).

Aeschylus, a native of Eleusis in Attica, was born in 525 B.C. About 499 B.C. he was already exhibiting tragedy, but it was in 484 that he first gained the prize. The great change which he introduced consisted in adding a second actor, and in making the dialogue more important than the Chorus (τὸν λόλον πρωταγωνιστὴν παρεσκεύασε, Arist. Post. 4). It may be conjectured that this change had been made some years before 484 B.C.; at any rate it was earlier [p. 2.860]than the date of the Persae, 472 B.C. So long as there was only a single actor, that actor might, indeed, assume different parts in succession, but there could be no drama in the proper sense of the word. If, for instance, Phrynichus used only one actor in the “Capture of Miletus,” that person might first appear as a messenger, relating the calamity; the Chorus would express their grief; the actor might then reappear as one of the victors or of the vanquished, and give occasion for another choral strain. But the presentment of an action as passing before the eyes of the spectators became possible only when a second actor was added. Aeschylus also gave a new grandeur to the scenic accessories of tragedy. He improved the masks, and introduced new costumes, of which we shall speak presently. The introduction of scene-painting has also been ascribed to him; but it is probable that his use of this aid did not go beyond an elementary form. Aeschylus is essentially the creator of the tragic drama as it existed at Athens during the 5th century B.C. In comparison with Phrynichus and his other predecessors, Aeschylus stood out as “the first of the Greeks” who had “built up” a lofty diction for Tragedy, and who had made it a splendid spectacle. (Ar. Ran. 1004 f.)

Sophocles was born in or about 495 B.C., and first gained the tragic prize in 468 B.C., against Aeschylus. He added a third actor. He also raised the number of the tragic chorus from 12 to 15. Hitherto one of the ordinary choreutae had acted as leader. One of the three additional men was now appointed coryphaeus; the other two were destined to serve as leaders of ἡμιχόρια when the Chorus was required to act in two divisions (as it does in a passage of the Ajax, 866 ff.). Aristotle mentions scene-painting (σκηνογραφία) as an improvement distinctive of Sophocles. It cannot be doubted that, though Aeschylus may have used some kind of scenepainting at an earlier date, Sophocles was the dramatist who first made a more thorough and effective use of it, so that it continued to be associated with his name. (Cf. THEATRUM) The external form of Attic tragedy was now complete.

Occasions on which Tragedy was acted at Athens.--We may next consider the conditions under which tragedy was presented to the Athenian public. Before the time of Peisistratus, the rural Dionysia (τὰ κατ᾽ ἀγροὺς) afforded the only occasion for the Bacchic choruses in Attica. It is conjectured that Peisistratus was the founder of the Dionysiac festival called the Lenaea. This was held every January in the Λήναιον (so named from ληνός, a wine-press), the precinct sacred to Dionysus, on the S.E. slope of the Acropolis. The Lenaea witnessed the exhibitions of Thespis, Choerilus and Pratinas, as well as the earlier plays of Phrynichus and of Aeschylus. A regular contest (ἀγὼν) for the tragic prize at the Lenaea seems to have existed as early as the days of Thespis and Choerilus. The institution of the Great, or City, Dionysia (τὰ κατ᾽ ἄστυ) may probably be referred to the time immediately after the Persian wars, circ. 478 B.C. The Great Dionysia then became the chief occasion for Tragedy; and in the middle part of the 5th century the Lenaea seems to have been exclusively the festival of Comedy. About 416 B.C., however, we again hear of Tragedy at the Lenaea. Thenceforth, down at least to the days of Demosthenes, tragic drama accompanied both festivals; though it was more especially associated with the Great Dionysia. At the Anthesteria, the February festival, no drama was exhibited.

Trilogy and Tetralogy.--The form in which Aeschylus produced his tragedies,--during, at least, the later part of his career,--was that of the “trilogy,” or group of three. To these was appended a satyr-drama (σάτυροι, or σατυρικὸν δρᾶμα), so called because the Chrous consisted of satyrs attendant on Dionysus. We have seen that Pratinas was the reputed inventor of the satyr-play, and that its object was to preserve the memory of the “tragic” chorus in its earliest phase. A mingling of seriousness and mirth was characteristic of the Dionysiac worship. Tragedy represented one side of this mood, and Comedy the other. The satyr-drama--true to its origin from the old τραγικὸς χορός--was nearer to Tragedy than to Comedy, but contained elements of the latter also; hence it was aptly described as παίζουσα τραγῳδία (Demetrius, de Elocut. § 169). The trilogy, or group of three tragedies, and the satyr-drama, together made up the “tetralogy.” It is not known that Aeschylus himself, or any of the Attic dramatists, used the word τριλογία or τετραλογία. These terms cannot be traced back beyond the Alexandrian age. But, whether the Attic dramatists did or did not use these words, it is certain that they composed in these forms. The origin of the trilogy has been conjecturally derived from a custom, in the days when there was only one actor, that he should give three successive recitations between the choral songs: but this is doubtful. Nor is it certain, though it is very probable, that Aeschylus was the inventor of the trilogy. His Oresteia is the only extant example. In that trilogy, the three plays form successive chapters of one story. A trilogy which has this kind of unity has been called a “fable-trilogy.” On the other hand the term “theme-trilogy” has been used to describe three tragedies linked, not by story, but by some abstract idea, such as that of Hellenic victory over the barbarian. Thus, according to Welcker, the Persae belonged to a theme-trilogy in which the first play (Phineus) related to the Argonauts, and the third (Glaucus) to the victory of the Sicilian Greeks at Himera (480 B.C.). The “fable-trilogy” was the type characteristic of Aeschylus. It has been attempted to show, from the recorded titles of his plays, that his trilogies always had the unity either of “fable” or of “theme.” But it is more probable that, though he preferred fabletrilogies, he sometimes also produced trilogies in which the plays were wholly unconnected. With regard to the practice of the poets after Aeschylus, these points may be observed. (1) In addition to the Aeschylean examples, ten tetralogies can be traced, ranging in date from 467 to 405 B.C. Five of these belong to Euripides; the other five, to minor tragic poets. (2) Suidas says that Sophocles “began the practice of play contending against play, and not tetralogy against tetralogy.” But it is known that Sophocles competed with Euripides on at least two occasions when the latter produced [p. 2.861]tetralogies, viz. in 438 and in 431 B.C. It cannot be doubted that in each of these cases Sophocles, too, produced four plays. To have competed with a single play against a tetralogy would have argued sterility or arrogance. Sophocles continued to use the tetralogical form, but the tragedies in his trilogy were usually unconnected, as those of Aeschylus had usually been linked. The statement of Suidas is probably founded on a statement of some older writer who was noticing a result of the Sophoclean practice: viz., that the judges of the tragic prize, having to decide between trilogies of unconnected plays, found it easier to pronounce which one play was the best of all, than to determine which trilogy was best as a whole. Thus, though tetralogies were still produced, the contest for the prize would often be one of “play against play.” (3) There is no proof that Sophocles, or any poet of his time, ever competed at the Dionysia with one tragedy only. The year 340 B.C. is the earliest in which it is proved that the tragic poets exhibited less than three plays each; and in that year they produced two each. This is proved by a contemporary inscription. (4) The conclusion is that tetralogy continued to be the rule in Tragedy down at least to 400 B.C., and perhaps somewhat longer. It was only by a tetralogy that the old Dionysiac chorus of fifty persons was fully represented. The Aeschylean chorus of 12, and the Sophoclean of 15, roughly symbolised a quarter of that number. Anything less than a tetralogy would have seemed an incomplete tribute to the god. No argument can be drawn from the case of Comedy. Comedies were always produced singly.

The Actors.--In the time of Thespis, poet and actor were identical. In the earlier years of Aeschylus and Sophocles it was still not unusual for a poet to bear a part in the performance of his own tragedies. Thus Sophocles is recorded to have played the title-rôle in his own Thamyris, and Nausicaa in his Plyntriae. But, when the tragic drama had once been matured, the art of the tragic actor became a distinct profession. According to the degree of the actor's skill--which was tested by special trials--he was classed as a player of first, second, or third parts. We must remember that, until Aeschylus introduced the second actor, the principal performer was not the single actor, but the coryphaeus, since the choral element was more important than the dialogue. It was Aeschylus who, in Aristotle's phrase, first “made the dialogue protagonist.” The protagonist played the most important character of the piece, which was often, but not necessarily, the character from which the piece was named. He might take more than one part, if the leading person disappeared long before the end of the play: thus in the Ajax the protagonist would play Ajax and Teucer; in the Antigone, the heroine, Teiresias, and Eurydice. The deuteragonist usually played the person, or persons, most directly concerned with the principal character;--as Ismene and Haemon in the Antigone. The tritagonist took the smaller parts,--as, for example, the part of a king, when, like Creon in the Antigone, he was not the chief person of the play (Dem. de Fals. Leg. § 247). The Athenian actor went through an elaborate preparation. In the first place, great care was given to the artistic training of the voice (πλάσμα φωνῆς), with a view to flexibility and strength. This was demanded alike by the size of the theatres and by the fineness of the Athenian ear. Deportment was also carefully studied. In Attic Tragedy the movements were usually slow and stately: much, also, depended on statuesque effects. As the masks excluded play of feature, it was all the more necessary that the actor should have command of expressive gesture, especially with the hands. Now and then, though not often, he was required to dance (cf. Eur. Phoen. 316); hence his professional training was incomplete without ὀρχηστική.

Costume.--How the tragic actor was dressed before the time of Aeschylus, we do not know; it is only a conjecture that the dress of the Dionysiac priests may have been the model. Aeschylus introduced a type of costume which remained in use throughout the classical period. Its chief elements were the following. (1) A tunic, with stripes of bright colours, sometimes richly embroidered with patterns of flowers or animals. It was girt up high under the breast, and fell in long folds to the feet. The sleeves reached to the hands. Such a tunic was called. ποικίλον (Pollux). Women sometimes wore a purple robe, with a long train (συρτὸς πορφυροῦς). (2) Over the tunic, or robe, an upper garment was worn;--sometimes the ἱμάτιον, an oblong piece of cloth; sometimes a mantle, χλαμύς, which was cut in a circular form, and fastened by a clasp on the right shoulder. The chlamys was often very splendid. Some other varieties of garment, with special names, are mentioned; but their nature is often uncertain. Padding was worn under the costume, which was designed to exaggerate all the actor's proportions. (3) A boot, which the Greeks called ἐμβάτης, and the Romans cothurnus. The sole was wooden, and the shape such as to fit either foot. The object of this boot--like that of the high girdle--was to increase the actor's apparent stature; and the sole seems to have varied in thickness from some two inches to as many as six, or even more. Indeed, for an inexperienced actor, the difficulty of walking on the ἐμβάτης seems to have resembled that of walking on stilts. We hear of clumsy actors falling; and the support afforded by a long walking-stick was not disdained, where the part admitted of it. (4) Masks. Thespis, according to the tradition, first used pigments to, smear the actor's face, and afterwards adopted linen masks of a simple kind. Masks suited to female characters are said to have been used first by Phrynichus. The improvement made by Aeschylus seems to have been the application of painting to the plain linen masks of the earlier period. In the Alexandrian age, if not earlier, the workmanship of tragic masks had become highly elaborate. Pollux gives a list, derived from that age, which includes six types of old men, eight types of young men, and eleven types of women. These various types. were distinguished by a regular system of conventional traits, such as the colour of the hair, and the mode of wearing it; the tint of the face; the expression given by the eyebrows; the shape of the forehead, and even the line of the nose: thus a hooked nose (ἐπίγρυπος) was [p. 2.862]considered appropriate to the ἀναιδής. Each mask was known by a technical name: for example, the suffering heroine was the κατάκομος ὠχρά. [PERSONA] A mask which did not belong to any regular type, but was made for some exceptional part (such as the horned Actaeon), was called ἔνσκευον πρόσωπον. In the tragic mask a peculiar device was used to raise the height of the forehead. This was a cone-shaped frame (ὄγκος), built up above the face, from which the hair of the mask fell over the brows. The height of the ὄγκος varied with the dignity of aspect desired. (5) Special attributes. A king carried a sceptre; Hermes, a herald's staff (κηρύκειον); the bacchant, a thyrsus, etc. Such an emblem was usually borne in the left hand, in order that the right might be free for gesture: extant works of art show this (cf. Baumeister, Denkmäler, p. 1852; Ovid, Amor. 3.1, 13). Warriors had swords, spears, etc. But, except by indications of this nature, the dress was not adapted to the particular part which the actor played. This will not appear strange if it is recollected that Athenian drama was an act of Dionysiac worship. The tragic costume was festal first, and dramatic only in a secondary sense, because, at the Dionysia, art was merely the handmaid of religion. It is said that Aeschylus took some hints from the splendid dresses of the hierophant and the δᾳδοῦχος at the Eleusinian mysteries. (Athen. p. 21 e, reading ζηλώσας ἣν with Fritzsche; A. Müller, Bühnenalth. p. 229.) This would have been quite in the Aeschylean spirit; but the tradition can no longer be verified. In satyric drama the costume of gods and heroes was the same as in Tragedy, but the chiton was shorter, as livelier movement was required. Silenus, an important figure in satyric drama, was dressed either in “tights,” set with tufts of goat's hair, or in a tunic and hose of goat's skin.

In the 5th century B.C. we find great actors specially associated by fame with the poets in whose plays they excelled: as Cleander and Mynniscus with Aeschylus; Cleidemides and Tlepolemus with Sophocles; Cephisophon with Euripides. At a somewhat later period, it became usual for the three competitors in tragedy to receive their protagonists from the archon by lot. But that arrangement seems to have ceased before 341 B.C., when a protagonist played in one piece of a trilogy for each of the three poets. Thus, by successive steps, the connexion between poet and actor had become less and less close.

The Chorus.-In the development of Attic Tragedy the treatment of the Chorus passed through several phases. Even after Aeschylus had made the dialogue more important than the lyric element, he continued to compose choral odes of a length which seemed excessive--or at least archaic--to the next generation. In the Frogs, Euripides complains that his rival's Chorus used to inflict on the audience “four strings of lyric verse, one after another, while the actors were silent” (914, δὲ χορὸς ἤρειδεν ὁρμαθοὺς ἂν | μελῶν ἐφεξῆς τέτταρας ξυνεχῶς ἄν: οἱ δ᾽ἐσίγων). In the Supplices of Aeschylus the Chorus follows up the parodos with eight consecutive pairs of strophes and antistrophes; in the first stasimon of the Agamemnon there are six pairs. Such a practice was tolerated, Euripides remarks, only because the audiences of Aeschylus had been accustomed to it by Phrynichus. The Aeschylean treatment of the Chorus bears, in fact, some impress of the still recent period when the Chorus, and not the dialogue, had been “protagonist:” the Chorus has lost its old primacy, but it still claims a large share of attention. Here, as in other respects, Sophocles represents a golden mean. Nothing could be more perfect than his management of the Chorus, given the two conditions under which he worked--viz., a matured drama, in which the dialogue necessarily holds the first place; and secondly, the requirement that the Chorus should continue to be an organic part of such drama. His choral odes have always a direct bearing on the action, by commenting on what has passed, by preparing the mind for what is to come, and, generally, by attuning the thoughts of the spectator to successive moods, in harmony with the progress of the action. Then they are always of moderate length, and often very short. Euripides marks a third phase. The Chorus is now little more than an external adjunct to the drama; the choral songs have often nothing to do with the action. This could hardly be avoided. The Chorus presented difficulties to a poet who, like Euripides, was beginning a transition. When the gods and heroes were handled in the new spirit, the old meaning of the Chorus was lost. It is not a reproach to Euripides, it is rather a proof of insight, that he modified the use of the Chorus in accordance with his dramatic aim, and in perhaps the best manner which that aim permitted.

The Chorus was trained and equipped by the choregus whom the Archon had assigned to the poet [CHORUS; THEARUM]. The tragic chorus of fifteen entered the orchestra three abreast: this was the arrangement called κατὰ στοίχους ( “in files” ). The αὐλητὴς walked in front. The leader of the Chorus (κορυφαῖος) walked third in the file nearest the spectators. The two leaders of hemichoria were next to him--one in front of him, as second man of the file, and the other behind him, as fourth. On reaching the orchestra, the Chorus made an evolution to the right, so as to change from three files, five deep, into three ranks, facing the actors, with five men in each rank. This was the disposition κατὰ ζυγά. The file of five men who, on entering, had been nearest the spectators, now formed the front rank: the coryphaeus was in the middle of it, having on his right and left the half-chorus-leaders, who were thence called παραστάται. In dialogue between the actors and the Chorus, the coryphaeus spoke for the Chorus. It is also possible, though not certain, that he alone recited any anapaests which belonged to the choral part. In the delivery of choral odes the strophe was accompanied by a dance-movement towards the right, and the antistrophe by a corresponding movement towards the left; while, during the singing of the epode, the Chorus remained stationary. It would appear that, at least in some cases, the functions of singing and dancing were divided; one part of the Chorus executed the dance, while another sang. The dance proper to Tragedy ( τραγικὴ ὄρχησις) was technically called ἐμμέλεια, a name denoting stately movement in time to music: [p. 2.863]as the dance of Comedy was the κόρδαξ, and that of satyric drama the σίκιννις. The ὑπόρχημα--sometimes introduced in Tragedy, either incidentally or in the place of a regular choral stasimon--was a more lively dance, a kind of ballet, in which the best dancers appeared, adapting their movements to the sense of the words sung by the other choreutae. Sophocles often employs it to express sudden emotions of delight or hope,--especially for the purpose of contrast, when a tragic catastrophe is at hand. In a κομμός, or lyric dialogue between actor and Chorus, parts were sometimes assigned to single choreutae. The verses with which the Chorus close a tragedy were not attended by dancing, but were recited to a musical accompaniment. As a rule the Chorus consists of persons belonging to the scene of the action. In such cases the Chorus entered the orchestra, and left it at the close of the play, by the entrance on the spectator's right hand. But the entrance on his left was used if the Chorus represented strangers to the place, as in Aesch. Suppl.; Soph. Phil.; Eur. Suppl., Ion, Iph. in Aul. With regard to the first song of the Chorus on entering the orchestra (πάροδος), the extant plays illustrate three different cases. (1.) The play can begin with this πάροδος: as Aesch. Suppl. and Pers. (2.) The Chorus may enter to the anaepaestic chant after the πρόλογος: as in Soph. Ant. and Aj. (3.) The Chorus may enter silently, after the πρόλογος, and then begin the πάροδος: as in Aesch. P. V., Soph. El., and often. In some exceptional instances the drama required that the Chorus should enter, not in regular procession, but singly or in small groups (σποράδην); as in Aesch. Theb. and Soph. O. C. The costume of the Chorus was, like that of the actors, conventional--a chiton, made shorter than the actor's, for convenience in dancing--and a himation. If the Chorus represented mourners, they could be attired in dark-coloured garments (cf. Aesch. Cho. 19). Where the Chorus represented sailors (as in Soph. Aj. and Phil.) hats (πῖλοι) may have been worn; in the Bacchae of Euripides, the Chorus seem to have carried the τύμπανα of Bacchants (5.58). But the general type of costume remained the same, whatever was the special character of the Chorus. Instead of the ἐμβάτης of the tragic actor, they wore the half-boots called κρηπῖδες, which were sometimes white. In satyric drama the Chorus wore a closefitting dress (σωμάτιον) representing the naked form, with a short apron (or girdle) of goat's skin.

The Innovations of Euripides.--The unsparing satire of Aristophanes, amusing and often instructive as it is, must not blind us to the nobler side of the effort made by Euripides to maintain the place of Tragedy as a living force in the spiritual life of Athens. A change was coming over the old mental attitude of Athenians towards wards the popular religion and the consecrated mythology. A large and increasing proportion of the spectators in the theatre was now destitute of the training, musical and poetical, which earlier poets could take for granted. The spirit of his age, and the bent of his own genius, led Euripides to renounce much of the ideal grandeur with which Tragedy had been invested by Aeschylus and Sophocles. He made a step from typical towards individual portraiture, relying on the delineation of human passion and human suffering in traits with which the ordinary spectator could sympathise. He was not afraid of being homely, so long as he touched the springs of natural feeling.

At first sight it might seem that, in a dramatist, such a conception deserves nothing but praise. The praise awarded to it must, however, be tempered by regard for the conditions under which the experiment was made. Euripides was not the unfettered creator of a new drama. He inherited and maintained the old framework of Attic Tragedy. He had still only three actors. He had still a Chorus in the orchestra. His materials were still drawn exclusively from the heroic myths. Such Tragedy could be great only so long as it was ideal. Every step by which its persons were brought nearer to everyday life was a step which increased the danger of burlesque. This fact is the element of justice in the attacks made on Euripides by Aristophanes. Euripides gave a signal proof of original genius, not only in the boldness of his conception, but also in the degree of success with which he executed it. Nevertheless his effort was foredommed to the measure of failure which attends on artists who, in seeking an impossible conciliation, achieve only a clever compromise. Euripides stands between ideal and romantic drama; his Tragedy has lost the noblest beauty of idealism, without attaining to the full charm of romance. But, just for that reason, it was through Euripides, rather than through Aeschylus or Sophocles, that the tradition of Tragedy was derived in the later periods of ancient literature.

We said above that the Aristophanic jests on Euripides, however unfair, are often instructive. This is particularly true of the satire in the Frogs. It shows us the points in which Euripides seemed an innovator to those who were familiar with the older school of Tragedy. One such point was his use of the prologue to introduce duce the persons of the drama and explain its subject:--a clumsy and sometimes ludicrous expedient, which is best excused by the plea that the spectators, no longer familiar with the old mythology, required something in the nature of a modern play-bill. Another novelty ascribed to Euripides is his practice of dressing his suffering heroes in rags,--a detraction from their dignity which probably struck Athenians all the more, because it was also a departure from the conventional type of tragic costume described above. With regard to the frequent use of the deus ex machina which has sometimes been made a reproach to Euripides, it is only fair to distinguish between two classes of examples. In some instances his deus ex machina is really no better than a mechanical expedient: this might be said of the Andromache and of the Orestes. But in some other cases the intervention is dramatically warranted by the plot, as in the Hippolytus and in the Bacchae. In respect to lyrics, Aristophanes represents Euripides as having admitted the more florid style which was becoming fashionable, and having thus destroyed the grave dignity of the old choral song. The extant plays of Euripides indicate that there was some ground for this charge: jingling repetitions of single words [p. 2.864]are especially frequent; no fewer than sixteen instances occur in 150 lines of the Orestes. But the most important innovation made by Euripides in the lyric province was the introduction of florid lyric solos (μονῳδίαι), to be sung by an actor on the stage. Perhaps the cleverest stroke in the Frogs is the parody of such a μονῳδία (1331 ff.), in the course of which the hapless heroine describes herself as λίνου μεστὸν ἄτρακτον | εἱειειειειειλίσσουσα χεροῖν.

After 400 B.C. Greek Tragedy declined. Numerous tragic poets appeared, indeed, who won more or less applause from their contemporaries; but no one of them rivalled the great masters. In the fourth century B.C. an ordinance was made that some work of Aeschylus, Sophocles, or Euripides should always be produced at the Dionysia along with the new tragedies. Lycurgus (circ. 330 B.C.) caused a standard text of those three poets to be deposited in the public archives, with a view to guarding against further corruption by actors; and this text afterwards passed into the possession of Ptolemy Euergetes (247-222 B.C.). Down to about 300 B.C., Athens continued to be the chief seat of Tragedy. Alexandria afterwards became so; and under the Ptolemies tragic composition had many votaries. Among these were the seven poets who, in the reign of Philadelphus (283-247 B.C.), were known as “the tragic Pleiad.” It was in 217 A.D. that the edict of Caracalla abolished theatrical performances at Alexandria.

Aristotle defines Tragedy as the imitation of an action which is serious, complete in itself, and of a sufficient magnitude or compass. The instrument of imitation is language, made delightful to the hearers, either (a) by metre alone, or (b) by metre combined with music. Further, this language is not used in the way of narrative merely, but is conjoined with action on the part of the speakers. The elements of Tragedy are six in number:--μῦθος, the story; ἤθη, the moral qualities of the persons; λέξις, the verbal form; διὰνοια, the thoughts or sentiments; ὄψις, the presentation to the eye (under which Aristotle includes not merely scenic accessories of every kind, but also gesture and dancing); μελοποΐα, musical composition. In every tragedy there is δέσις, a tying of a knot, and λύσις, a solution. The most effective kind of λύσις is that which is introduced by a περιπέτεια, a sudden reversal of fortune for the persons of the drama; or by an ἀναγνώρισις, the discovery of a previously concealed relationship between the persons. The ἀναγνώρισις may or may not be accompanied by a περιπέτεια. A μῦθος is said to be πεπλεγμένος when it involves a περιπέτεια, an ἀναγνώρισις, or both. It is ἁπλοῦς when the λύσις is managed without either. Again, a tragedy is παθητικὴ when the chief person acts mainly under the influence of πάθος, a strong impulse of the mind,--as Medea does. It is ἠθικὴ when the chief person acts mainly in accord with a deliberately formed purpose (προαίρεσις), as Antigone does. As to the so-called “unities,” the unity of action is the only one upon which Aristotle insists. The action represented by tragedy must be one; it must not be a series of incoherent or loosely-linked episodes. About the unity of place he says nothing at all. As to the unity of time, he says that Tragedy now seeks, as far as possible, to confine the supposed action within the compass of a single day, or nearly so: but the earliest form of Tragedy, he adds, did not even do this; in it, just as in epic poetry, the time was indefinite. Viewed as a composition, Tragedy consists of the following parts; which are, in Aristotle's phrase, the μέρη κατὰ τὸ ποσόν, as distinguished from the six elements named above, which are the μέρη κατὰ τὸ ποιόν. All that part of a tragedy which precedes the first choral song is called πρόλογος. The part which comes between two choral songs is an ἐπεισόδιον (a term probably derived from the reappearance, ἐπείσοδος, of the single actor in primitive Tragedy). The ἔξοδος is the part after the last choral song. The πάροδος is the first utterance of the whole Chorus. The στάσιμον is “a choral song without anapaests or trochaics:” i.e., not preceded by an anapaestic march, like the πάροδος, nor interrupted by dialogue in trochaic tetrameters, such as that which the Chorus in the Agamemmon (ad fin.) holds with the actors. The term στάσιμον μέλος means literally, a song by the Chorus “at its station” in the orchestra. A κομμὸς is a θρῆνος κοινὸς χοροῦ καὶ ἀπὸ σκηνῆς, a lyric lament, sustained partly by the Chorus and partly by an actor.

Tragedy is described by Aristotle as δι᾽ ἐλέου καὶ φόβου περαίνουσα τὴν τῶν τοιούτων παθημάτων κάθαρσιν, “effecting, by means of pity and terror, that purgation (of the soul) which belongs to (is proper for) such feelings.” The word κάθαρσις involves a medical metaphor, from the use of purgatives. Tragedy excites pity and terror by presenting to the mind things which are truly pitiable and terrible. Now, pity and terror are feelings natural to men; but they are often excited by unworthy causes. When they are moved, as Tragedy moves them, by a worthy cause, then the mind experiences that sense of relief which comes from finding an outlet for a natural energy. And thus the impressions made by Tragedy leave behind them in the spectator a temperate and harmonious state of the soul. Similarly Aristotle speaks of the enthusiastic worshippers of Dionysus as obtaining a κάθαρσις, a healthful relief, by the lyric utterance of their sacred frenzy:--ὅταν ἐξοργιάζωσι τὴν ψυχὴν μέλεσι, καθισταμένους, ὥσπερ ἰατρείας τυχόντας καὶ καθάρσεως (Pol. 8.7).

Of the three great tragedians, Sophocles seems to have been on the whole the favourite of Aristotle, who refers to him in the Poetics about twenty times, and in all cases, except three, with praise. The Oedipus Tyrannus is cited in no less than ten places. Euripides is defended against the critics who had complained that his plays usually ended unhappily; this, says Aristotle, is right in Tragedy, and the, proof is that Euripides, “although a faulty composer in other respects, is found to be at, least the most tragic of poets” (εἰ καὶ τὰ ἄλλα μὴ εὖ οἰκονομεῖ, ἀλλὰ τραγικώτατὀς γε τῶν ποιητῶν φαίνεται: Poet. 13). By “most tragic” is here meant, “exciting pity most strongly,” --“most pathetic.” But in Aristotle's other notices of Euripides censure decidedly predominates [p. 2.865]over praise. Aeschylus is named only thrice in the Poetics: there are further three citations of his plays without his name. Aristotle seems to regard him as belonging to a period when the proper type of Tragedy had not yet been matured. In this connexion it may be noticed that not only are the terms “trilogy” and “tetralogy” absent from the Poetics, but there is no indication in the treatise that tragedies had ever been produced otherwise than singly. In one place, indeed (100.24), there is a reference to “the number of tragedies set for one hearing” (i. e. performed in one day); but nothing in the context forbids us to suppose as many poets as pieces. The reason of this silence is simply, doubtless, that the grouping of plays in representation was foreign to the subject with which Aristotle was immediately concerned,--viz. the analysis of Tragedy considered as a form of poetical art. Indeed, the scenic aspect of drama generally receives comparatively little attention from him. The production of scenic effects (ἀπεργασία τῶν ὀψέων) is the affair of the stage-manager. The art of the actor, again, is but slightly touched, since it lies outside of the poet's domain.

The Didascaliae.--Aristotle compiled a work called Διδασκαλίαι, “Dramatic performances,” being a list of the tragedies and comedies produced at Athens in each year. His materials were contemporary records. In the 5th century B.C. it had been customary for the archon, after each festival at which dramas had been performed, to draw up a list of the competing poets, the choregi, the plays, and the protagonists, with a notice of the order in which the judges had placed the competitors. This record was preserved in the public archives. At some time between 450 and 400 B.C. it became usual to engrave such a record on a stone tablet, and to set it up in or near the Dionysiac theatre. Further, the choregus whose poet gained the prize received a tripod from the state, and erected it, with an inscription, in the same neighbourhood. Aristotle's compilation has perished, but its nature is known from citations of it which occur in the Greek Arguments to some plays, in scholia, and in late writers. There are altogether thirteen such citations, five of which cite the Διδασκαλίαι with Aristotle's name, and eight without it. They are collected in the Berlin Aristotle (vol. v. p. 1572). About 260 B.C. the Alexandrian poet Callimachus compiled another work of the same kind, Πίναξ καὶ ἀναγραφὴ τῶν κατὰ χρόνους ἀπ᾽ ἀρχῆς γενομένων διδασκαλιῶν, “A table and record of dramatic performances from the earliest times.” He made use of Aristotle's Διδασκαλίαι (Schol. Ar. Nub. 552). Works of a similar kind were written by Aristophanes of Byzantium (circ. 200 B.C.), and by other scholars of Alexandria and of Pergamum. Several of these writings were extant as late at least as 150 A.D. This appears from Athenaeus, who was able to consult the Διδασκαλίαι of Callimachus and Aristophanes, as well as “the Pergamene records” (Athen. p. 336 c). Among the authors of the last-named was Carystius of Pergamum (circ. 110 B.C.), who wrote περὶ Διδασκαλιῶν. The period covered by the extant fragments of Διδασκαλίαι ranges from 472 B.C. (Arg. Aesch. Persae) to 388 B.C. (Arg. Ar. Plut.).


The first half of the 3rd century B.C. was the period at which the influence of Greek literature began to be directly felt by the Romans. Tarentum was the greatest of the Greek colonies in Southern Italy. After the fall of Tarentum in 272 B.C., the intercourse between Romans and Greeks became more familiar. In the First Punic War (263-241 B.C.) Sicily was the principal battle-ground; and in Sicily the Romans had ample facilities for improving their acquaintance with the Greek language. They had also frequent opportunities of witnessing Greek plays. Just after the close of the war the first attempt at a Latin reproduction of Greek tragedy was made by Livius Andronicus (240 B.C.). He was a Greek, probably of Tarentum, and had received his freedom from his master, M. Livius Salinator, whose sons he had educated. He then settled at Rome, and devoted the rest of his life to literary work. It may be conjectured that most of his plays were translated from the Greek. All of them, so far as we know, were on Greek subjects. Among the titles are Aegisthus, Ecus Trojanus, Ajax, Tereus, Hermione. His Latin style appears to have been harsh and crude. “Livianae fabulae non satis dignae quae iterum legantur” is Cicero's concise verdict (Brutus, 18, 71).

Five years after the first essay of Livius Andronicus, a Latin dramatist of greater originality came forward (235 B.C.). Cn. Naevius was probably a Campanian; and the racy vigour with which he could use his native language entitles him to be regarded as the earliest Roman poet. Comedy was the form of drama in which Naevius chiefly excelled; and he turned it to the purposes of political strife, in a spirit similar to that of Aristophanes. But he was also a writer of tragedy. His Lycargus was akin in theme to the Bacchae of Euripides; while the titles of his Andromache, Ecus Trojanus, and Hector Proficiscens, show that, like Livius, he drew largely on the Trojan cycle. At the same time he occasionally composed tragedies founded on Roman history, or, as they were technically called, fabulae praetextatae. The earliest praetextatae on record are his; one of them was called Romulus. In the scanty fragments of his works we can recognise his ardour, his self-confidence, his somewhat aggressive vigour, and his gift for terse and nervous expression, of which the familiar “laudari a laudato viro” is a specimen.

The career of Naevius was drawing to a close when Q. Ennius came to Rome (204 B.C.). Ennius, a native of Rudiae in Calabria, was serving as a centurion with the army in Sardinia, when Cato arrived there as quaestor. Ennius followed Cato to Rome; acquired the Roman citizenship in 184 B.C.; and made his permanent abode on the Aventine. Here we have to do with his work only so far as it concerned Tragedy. Although his Annals and his Satires were more characteristic products of his genius, he was also the most popular tragic dramatist who had yet appeared; and it was due to him, in the first instance, that Roman Tragedy acquired the popularity which [p. 2.866]it retained down to the days of Cicero. About twenty-five of his tragedies are known by their titles. Two of these were praetextatae,--one of which, called Sabinae, dealt with the intervention of the Sabine women in the war between Romulus and Tatius; while another, the Ambracia, turned on the capture of the town of Ambracia in the Aetolian war. The other pieces were on Greek subjects,--about one half of them being connected with the Trojan war. His Medea was translated from the play of Euripides, and the opening lines, which are extant, indicate that the version was a tolerably close one. They have a certain rugged majesty which agrees with Horace's description of the style used by Ennius in Tragedy,--“In scaenam missos magno cum pondere versus.”

M. Pacuvius, a nephew of Ennius by the mother's side, was a native of Brundusium. He is thus the third instance (Livius and Ennius being the two others) in which early Roman drama is associated with South Italian birth. Pacuvius was born about 219 B.C., and lived to the age of ninety. Of his tragedies, one, called Paulus, was a praetextata; twelve more are known to have been on Greek subjects; and among these one of the most celebrated, the Antiope, was a translation from Euripides. Some remarkable fragments of his Chryses--a tragedy concerned, like his Dulorestes, with the wanderings of Orestes in search of Pylades--disclose the growth of a Roman interest in physical philosophy, and also in ethical questions. About 400 lines of Pacuvius are extant, but many of these are merely single verses, preserved by grammarians as examples of strange words or usages. Much as Pacuvius was admired on other grounds, his Latinity was not accounted pure by Cicero, who couples him with the comic poet Caecilius in the censure, “male locutos esse” (Brutus, 74, 258). Pacuvius was prone to coin new forms of words (such as temeritudo, concorditas), and carried the invention of compound adjectives to an extent which sometimes became ludicrous,--as in “Nerei repandirostrum incurvicervicum pecus.”

L. Attius was born at Pisaurum, a Roman colony in Umbria, in 170 B.C. The forms Attius and Accius are equally well-attested; but in the Imperial age the form with tt became predominant; and the Greeks always wrote Ἄττιος (Teuffel, Hist. Rom. Lit. § 119, 1). The aged Pacuvius, having left Rome in ill-health, was spending the evening of his days at Brundusium, when Attius, then a young man, passed through that place on his way to Asia. Attius was entertained by Pacuvius, and read to him his tragedy Atreus. The old man found it “sonorous and elevated, but somewhat harsh and crude;” and the younger poet, admitting the defect, expressed his hope that the mellowing influence of time would appear in his riper work. The excellences which Pacuvius recognised must have been present in the maturer writings of Attius, whom Horace calls “altus,” and Cicero, “gravis et ingeniosus poeta.” The harshness of his earlier style was due, perhaps, to a youthful excess of that “nervous and impetuous” character, as Cicero calls it (de Orat. 3.58, 217), which afterwards distinguished him, and which Ovid expresses by the epithet animosus. Attius was far the most productive of the Roman tragic dramatists. The extant notices and fragments indicate, according to one estimate, about 37 pieces; according to another, about 50. Two of these were praetextatae;--the Brutus, on the downfall of the Tarquins and the Aeneeadae, dealing with the legend of the Decius who devoted himself at the battle of Sentinum. There are indications that Attius was a student of Sophocles, though Euripides was probably his chief model. Thus the verse in his Armorum indicium (fr. 10), “virtuti sis par, dispar fortunis patris,” is translated from Soph. Ai. 550 f. Among his other celebrated tragedies were the Atreus, Epigoni, Philocteta, Anstigona, Telephus. Cicero, in his youth, had. often listened to the reminiscences of Attius (Brutus, 28, 107). The poet, who was sixty-four at the date of the orator's birth (106 B.C.), must therefore have lived to an advanced age.

The period from 240 to 100 B.C. is the first period in the history of Roman poetry and oratory. And the century from 200 to 100 B.C. marks the flourishing age of Roman Tragedy, as cultivated by Ennius, Pacuvius, and Attius. But Tragedy continued to be a favourite form of composition in the later years of the Republic and in the earlier part of the Imperial age. It became, however, more and more a literary exercise, less and less a form of poetry which could appeal with living force to the mind of the people. In the Augustan age C. Asinius Pollio wrote tragedies which seem to have been acted. Virgil's well-known praise of them, as “sola Sophocleo digna cothurno,” must be qualified by the criticism in the Dialogus de Oratoribus (100.21), where Tacitus observes that the harshest traits of earlier Roman tragedy were reproduced in the style of Pollio ( “adeo, durus et siccus est” ). In the same dialogue high praise is given to the Medea of Ovid and the Thyestes of Varius (100.12). No fragment of this Medea remains, except a few words quoted by Quintilian (12.10, 75). Of the Thyestes Quintilian says that “it is comparable to any Greek Tragedy” (10.1, 98); and in another place he quotes it (3.8, 45). Two anapaestic fragments are also extant (Ribbeck, Frag. Lat. p. 195 f.). But for Ovid and for Varius, as for other less famous poets, Tragedy was now a mere πάρεργον, a field into which they might make occasional excursions, not the province of poetry in which they sought to establish their permanent renown. In the middle of the 1st century A.D. we have eight tragedies on Greek subjects by L. Annaeus Seneca: Hercules Furens, Thyestes, Phaedra, Oedipus, Troades (Hecuba), Medea, Agamemnon, Hercules Oetaeus; also part of an Oedipus Coloneus (362 lines), and of a Phoenissae (302). A praetextata called Octavia, which was formerly ascribed to Seneca, was certainly of later origin. The parentage of the other tragedies has also been disputed, but the results of recent criticism confirm Seneca's authorship. The general characteristic of the plays is rhetoric of the most pompous and artificial kind. A fertile and lively fancy is present; the psychology, too, is often acute; but there is no depth either of thought or of feeling. As most of Seneca's Greek models are extant, a comparison is instructive. It serves to show how completely, in this latest age of Roman [p. 2.867]Tragedy, the love of declamation had displaced all regard for the soul and essence of tragic art. The pieces of Seneca were primarily designed, doubtless, for recitation; but it is not impossible that, in Nero's age, they were also acted; and certain scenic hints have been thought to point in that direction (e.g. Phaedra, 392 f.). The last Roman writer of Tragedy who claims mention is Curiatius Maternus, whose activity extended from the reign of Nero to that of Vespasian. He wrote both tragedies (as Medea, Thyestes) and praetextatae (as Domitius, Cato); and his eminent reputation is attested by several passages in the Tacitean Dialogus (cc. 2, 3, 5, 11).

In looking back on the course of Roman Tragedy as a whole, we see, in the first place, that for inspiration and material it was altogether dependent on Greece. Euripides was more especially the master of the Roman dramatists, because, in his hands, Tragedy had become less distinctively Hellenic, and therefore more susceptible of imitation by those who were strangers to the Hellenic spirit. In the plays of Euripides, the Chorus was already ceasing to be an organic part of drama; and the Roman dramatists went only one step farther when they banished the Chorus from the orchestra, leaving to it merely an occasional part in the dialogue. Lyrics of a simple character, with a musical accompaniment, served, indeed, to accentuate the more impassioned moments of a Roman tragedy; but, save for these, the lyric element of the great Attic drama had vanished. In dialogue the iambic and trochaic metres were retained: yet even here the Roman imitation marred the Greek original. Any foot possible for an iambic verse was now admitted in any place except the last. The finer rhythms were thus destroyed. Quintilian says, “Comedy is our weak point” (10.1, 99). But, so far as the tragic fragments warrant a judgment, Roman Tragedy was, in style, much less successful than Roman Comedy. Comedy had more in common with the satura, and the satura is the one species of composition in which the Roman mind expressed itself with a truly original force. [SATURA.] At the same time it is clear that there were noble qualities in the Roman Tragedy of the Republic. It was marked by earnestness and by oratorical power; the tones of the statesman and of the soldier were heard in it; it imbued the youth of Rome with the “fas et antiqua castitudo” (as Attius says),--with the lessons of ancestral fortitude and prudence; it taught the men who were conquering the world how they should work, how they should suffer, and how they should rule. So long as Roman Tragedy was doing this, it was living, though its spirit was not Athenian. But this moral and political significance departed with the Republic; and then it was inevitable that Roman Tragedy should descend to the place which it occupies under the Empire. That noble form of drama which the Attic genius had matured, and which is first made known to us in the majestic poetry of Aeschylus, disappears from the ancient world in the rhetoric of Seneca.


hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: