Introduction to Humanities

This should be addressed to Claudia Watts

Theater was one of the most prominent civic institutions in Greece, and was also, interestingly enough, the place where the most dramatic form of tragedy had reached its zenith in perfection (Matthews, Noble, & Platt, 2014). Greek theater came to be originally connected with the worship of Dionysus. Greek tragedy was defined as “goat song”, which may refer to prehistoric religious ceremonies where groups of intoxicated male singers and dancers sacrificed a goat as a tribute to the god of wine (Matthews et al., 2014). The focus of tragedy was originally the chorus, and the need for space to hold all the male singers and dancers determined the shape of the theater. These choreographed tragedies were based on legends and sufferings of royal families such as the dynasties of Thebes, Sparta, and Argos, dating back to the Age of Heroes of Homer’s epic songs. The audience, already aware of the tales, focused their interests on the playwright treatment of familiar tales, Homer’s ideas about moral significance, and how his language had an influence on those very ideas (Matthews et at., 2014). According to Aristotle’s many influential theories, his take on the “Poetics” was based on his study of the Hellenic Age, and the purpose of tragedy was to work a purging effect on the audience in order to arouse pity and fear so the negative emotions could be drained from the soul. These tragic heroes were mostly considered warnings than models, in an attempt to encourage the audience to seek humble lives and not to live above their means. Comedy gradually juxtaposed tragedy as a public display and component of the Dionysiac festivals which was held annually during the month of March in celebration of the Great Dionysia.

Aristotle also proposed that Greek comedy cleansed the heart through pity and terror, all while purging us of our petty concerns and worries by making us aware that there can be nobility in suffering (Tindemans, 2008). Comedies, just like tragedies, were also performed in the Great Dionysia, however, they were celebrated annually in late winter at a festival known as the lesser Dionysia, unlike tragedy, which was held and celebrated in March. Comedies were established for the purpose of downplaying the seriousness of people and/or events, and blended elegant poetry with coarse language. Ancient Greek comedy was divided into three periods; Old Comedy, dealing with strong elements of political criticism, Middle Comedy which is mainly lost, and New Comedy (Tindemans, 2008). Those who did the playwrights devised their own plots and focused on contemporary matters, politics, philosophies, the new social classes, and well-known personalities. The Greek comedies even made fun of the deities, portraying them in some embarrassing situation, even though the origins of comedy as a formal genre of drama were far more obscure than those of tragedy. Comic playwrights had freedom only in democracy and that freedom’s limitations rested at highly ritualized settings. This meant the comedy drama festival allowed overturning rules and burlesque traditions which, in turn, controlled the unspoken provisions that strengthened the communal bonds within the polis.

For this discussion on Ancient Greek plays, I have chosen Aristophanes (445-385 B.C.) play, “The Birds”. The plot of this comedy genre is set to two old men, disgusted with debt and taxes, who ventures out on a quest for the land of birds (Moulton, 1998). One of the men, Pisthetairos, who plays the tramp, convinces the birds to make him their leader. Towards the end of the play, he becomes the leader of the birds and has overpowered the gods as well. The gods agree to let him marry the very beautiful representative of Zeus;s power and authority, Basileia. The play ends with a wedding, and Pisthetairos succeeded in gaining the ultimate comic fantasy-supreme power.

What this play tells us about the people of Athens is that they believed in finding humor through sufferings. The two men who left behind their homes because they were tired of debt and taxes, were able to achieve the ultimate happiness by believing and staying humble.


Aristophanes. (1998). In C. Moulton (Ed.), Ancient Greece and Rome: An Encyclopedia for Students (Vol. 1, pp. 57-59). New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. Retrieved from

Matthews, R. T., Noble, T. F., & Platt, F. D. (2014). Experience humanities (8th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Tindemans, K. (2008). The Politics of the Poetics: Aristotle and Drama Theory in 17th Century France. Foundations of Science, 13(3-4), 325-336. doi:10.1007/s10699-008-9131-1

This should be addressed to Shaniya Ellison

Sophocles, who lived during 496-406 BCE, was one of the productive great tragedians (Matthews, Noble & Pratt, 2014). He wrote approximately 125 plays, although only 7 survived. I decided to write about Antigone, which was written around 442 BCE. Antigone is indeed a tragedy following Aristotle’s definition of a tragedy; the play must imitate an action that has serious consequences. In the tragedy Antigone, the city-state of Thebes had just emerged from a civil war between two brothers battling for the throne, and both were killed in the battle. One brother, Polyneices, was supposed to give up the crown, as their father ordered, but he refused (Mastin, 2009). Both were killed in the battle. The new king, who was their uncle Creon, decided that one brother should be revered as a hero and buried with full military honors. The other brother was to be disgraced by leaving his unburied body on the battle field; this was a very harsh punishment at the time. Creon’s niece, Antigone, feels she owes it to her brother to properly bury him. She disobeys the law of the state to follow her own conscience, which her sister Ismene did not have the courage to do. Antigone pays for her decision with her own life. Creon’s son Haemon, who was engaged to Antigone, also takes his life (Antigone, 2018). Antigone is important because it addresses the conflict between allegiance to the state, obedience to its laws, and adherence to a higher code of morals and ethics dictated by religious beliefs. This shows us that some Athenians of the time abided by divine law over man-made law and vice versa. The Ancient Greek society had strict rules regarding the behavior of its people. There were also cultural values in regards to family and respect for the dead that were expected to be abided by.

References: Antigone. (2018). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from

Matthews, R. T., Noble, T. F., & Platt, F. D. (2014). Experience Humanities (8th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.


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