Showcase CTCWeb Consortium CTCWeb Home

Connections between Ancient Greek Theater and Religion
by Peter Baiter, Betty Banks & John Burke

This exercise is the basis for the study of the connections between ancient Greek theater and religion. Beginning with Step 1, read the brief explanation and click on the links to vases, sites, texts and images to learn more about the links between ancient Greek religion and theater.

Step 1: The Origin of Theater
Link:
Historical Overview, 4.12. Religion, Myth, and Community.
Explanation:
Greek theater grew out of a religious festival, and was often concerned with the deepest questions about morality and the relationship between mortals, the gods, and fate. What does the first step say about the role of tragedy in Athenian society? Note the social context of religion and the way religion was celebrated. Read all of sections 4.12-4.13.

Step 2: Hesiod's Theogony
Link:
Primary Text,
Hesiod Theogony lines 1-100.
Explanation:
Read Hesiod's Theogony, lines 1-100. What is the role of the muses of song and dance in religion?

Step 3: Tragedy
Link:
Historical Overview, 10.2. The Development of Athenian Tragedy.
Image: Dionysos between satyr and maenad.
Explanation:
Please read this section carefully. What were the connections between drama and religion?

Step 4: Overview
Link:
Historical Overview, 10. Athenian Religious and Cultural Life in the Golden Age.
Explanation:
A long but good outline of the different strands of Greek religion.

Step 5: Sacrifice
Link:
Encyclopedia, Sacrifice.
Explanation:
Read through the list of references to sacrifice in this encyclopedia entry. The list will give you some idea of the variety of reasons (for rain, at marriage, to dead men) and types (birds, bears, oxen, wool) of sacrifice performed by the Greeks and others in ancient times.

Step 6: The practice of religious sacrifice
Link:
Vase Catalog, Harvard 1960.367.
Image:
Sacrifice of a ram.
Explanation:
Phrixos sacrifices the ram with the golden fleece that has carried him to safety at Colchis. Read the description of Side A, neck. Notice where the sacrifice is taking place. To learn more about the myth of Phrixos, read the first paragraph of
"The Golden Fleece Medea" in Bullfinch's Mythology.

Step 7: Euripides
Link:
Encyclopedia, Euripides.
Explanation:
Read this account of Euripides' contribution to tragedy. Make sure to read the full account of his life and how he was portrayed after his death. How is this contradictory to his actions in life?

Step 8: Bacchae 1
Link:
Primary Text,
Euripides Bacchae lines 1-40.
Explanation:
This play is about Dionysus, the god of wine, and the rituals from the other side of religion not commonly associated with it in the modern world. Read lines 1-40 in which Dionysus describes the Bacchic rites. For more information on Euripides' Bacchae and a full account of Bacchic rituals, see
Masters Course: Bacchae.

Step 9: Bacchae 2
Link:
Primary Text,
Euripides Bacchae line 298-326.
Explanation:
This section of the play involves the nature of Bacchic harmony with spontaneous, prophetic forces in nature. Teiresias urges Pentheus to accept the Bacchic rites into his land. Read lines 298-326. Why is Pentheus reluctant to accept Dionysus and his rites?

Step 10: Bacchae 3
Link:
Primary Text,
Euripides Bacchae line 677-770.
Explanation:
What did the messenger see? What happens when religion is denied? You will have to click over to the next section to complete your reading of the messenger's account of the Bacchic madness. Having read the account of his life, what do you think is the message Euripides' is trying to send to his audience?

Step 11: Comedy
Link:
Historical Overview, 12.2.5. Athenian comedy during the war.
Explanation:
Comedic theater was performed during a religious festival. But it was obviously political, at least during the classical period. Equally obviously, it contained elements that may seem to us to contradict public morality. Tragedies and comedies were performed on the same day, in the same theater, and to the same audience. Would modern religious festivals allow comedies of this kind? What sort of religious and moral system was it that had, at one if its main festivals, the performance of plays with such a strong political and pornographic content? How could the gods smile on such an occasion? The remainder of this exercise is designed to present what is for us a dilemma, but perhaps not for the ancient Greeks.

Step 12: Birds
Link:
Vase Catalog, Malibu 82.AE.83.
Explanation: Comedy went hand in hand with tragedy. This vase shows comic actors in
Aristophanes' Birds. There are some aspects of the depiction which today might not be regarded as moral - certainly not in a religious context. Read the description of the costumes.

Step 13: Comic Actor
Link:
Vase Catalog, Tampa 89.98.
Image: Phlyax actor on semi-circular lid.
Explanation:
Explore further scenes from comedy, and identify common characteristics of dress, action, situation and language as they are depicted in images and plays. Question: What common elements can you detect in the appearance of comic actors on this vase and on the vase above? Look for other representations (making a note of what you find) to fill out the picture. For a list of actor associated links, see this search for "actor."

 

Email this page




Quick Start | Knowledge Builders | Teachers' Companions | Curriculum Guides | Netshots


Consortium | Showcase | Glossary | My Word! | My Year! | Honor Roll | Chi Files

Chalice Awards | Awards & Praise | Home | Site Map | Contact Us | About AbleMedia

Rules & Regulations of this Site

© 1998-2000 AbleMedia. All rights reserved.
Sponsored by AbleMedia.
ctcweb@ablemedia.com