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Ancient History Sourcebook:

Documents on The Hellenic Drama, c. 560 - 330 BCE


Plutarch:
The Life of Solon [written c. 110 CE], '29
Thespis, at this time [c. 560 B.C.], beginning to act tragedies, and the thing, because it was new, taking very much with the multitude, though it was not yet made a matter of competition, Solon, being by nature fond of hearing and learning something new, and now, in his old age, living idly, and enjoying himself, indeed, with music and with wine, went to see Thespis himself, as the ancient custom was, act: and after the play was done, he addressed him, and asked him if he was not ashamed to tell so many lies before such a number of people; and Thespis replying that it was no harm to say or do so in play, Solon vehemently struck his staff against the ground: "Ah," said he, "if we honor and commend such play as this, we shall find it some day in our business."

Demosthenes:
Against Midias, c. 360 B.C., ''21.16-18 The sacred apparel---for all apparel provided for use at a festival I regard as being sacred until after it has been used---and the golden crowns, which I ordered for the decoration of the chorus, he plotted to destroy, men of Athens, by a nocturnal raid on the premises of my goldsmith. But not content with this, men of Athens, he actually corrupted the trainer of my chorus; and if Telephanes, the flute-player, had not proved the staunchest friend to me, if he had not seen through the fellow's game and sent him about his business, if he had not felt it his duty to train the chorus and weld them into shape himself, we could not have taken part in the competition, Athenians; the chorus would have come in untrained and we should have been covered with ignominy....he bribed the crowned Archon himself; he banded the choristers against me; he bawled and threatened, standing beside the umpires as they took the oath, he blocked the gangways from the wings....
Aristotle: Poetics, c. 340 B.C., '1449b Indeed it is only quite late in its history that the archon granted a chorus for a comic poet; before that they were volunteers. Comedy had already taken certain forms before there is any mention of those who are called its poets. Who introduced masks or prologues, the number of actors, and so on, is not known. Plot-making originally came from Sicily, and of the Athenian poets Crates was the first to give up the lampooning form and to generalize his dialogue and plots. Epic poetry agreed with tragedy only in so far as it was a metrical representation of heroic action...And then as regards length, tragedy tends to fall within a single revolution of the sun...although originally the practice was the same in tragedy as in epic poetry. Consequently, any one who knows about tragedy, good and bad, knows about epics too, since tragedy has all the elements of epic poetry, though the elements of tragedy are not all present in the epic. Tragedy is, then, a representation of an action that is heroic and complete and of a certain magnitude--by means of language enriched with all kinds of ornament, each used separately in the different parts of the play: it represents men in action and does not use narrative, and through pity and fear it effects relief to these and similar emotions.

Source:From: Plutarch, Plutarch's Lives, (The "Dryden Plutarch"), (London: J.M. Dent & Sons, Ltd., 1910); Demosthenes, The Orations of Demosthenes Against Leptines, Midias, Androtion, and Aristocrates, Charles Rann Kennedy, trans., (London: G. Bell & Sons, 1889); Aristotle, The Poetics of Aristotle, 4th Ed., Samuel Henry Butcher, trans., (London: Macmillan, 1917).
Scanned by: J. S. Arkenberg, Dept. of History, Cal. State Fullerton. Prof. Arkenberg has modernized the text.

This text is part of the Internet Ancient History Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.
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© Paul Halsall, August 1998
halsall@murray.fordham.edu


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