The Theatre of Dionysus: Think Big

Written by Hank Martin in E. Europe

Thinking Big

If you are looking to get in touch with your inner art then visit the theatre of Dionysus in Athens, Greece. Part of the reason Athens was an intellectual center of the world during the classical period was because of innovations like theatre. Although the basic set designs, costumes and characters were rudimentary in nature compared to the HD filming, storyboards, and animation of today they were quite remarkable in terms of innovation. I imagine that when Aeschylus thought to himself "why not add a second actor in the play?" he must have thought himself crazy. Or, maybe it occurred out of necessity like many innovations, out of a need for more actors to make his more complex plays a reality.

Either way, Greek theatre is accredited with being the root of theatre for Western Society. A trip here will show you just how far we have come, and open your eyes to what is possible when "impossible" doesn't exist in your vocabulary.

Dionysus Theatre

Located near the Parthenon is the theatre of Dionysus, a theatre responsible for shaping European theater today and giving the world the tragic and comedic plays. The greatest of these two was the tragedy, a play aimed at giving audiences a cathartic, life changing experience through the tragic experiences characters underwent.

Seeing a tragedy in ancient times was like going to the movie theater today. Greek citizens flocked to these plays, the greatest of which were performed in competitions held at the Theatre of Dionsysus. Held during religious festivals these competitions brought the best playwrights together for the chance and honor of being crowned the best poet.

The field was narrowed down to the three best plays and then those were funded by three choregoi, or Greek citizens. On the day of the competition a panel would judge the plays and select the best one, as well as the best actors. There were 3 tragic poets who stood out among the rest.


This innovative poet added a second actor to his plays (it was customary to only have one actor in your tragedy) and created fresh drama from even the oldest, most well worn Greek stories. Tragically, of the 70 plays he wrote only seven survive today.


By adding a third actor Sophocles created plots with much greater sophistication and drama than ever before. He also employed painted scenery, and even went so far as to change his scenery during the play. Once again, the great tragedy is that Sophocles wrote over 100 plays and only seven survive.


Although he won few competitions, due to his love for making the audience uncomfortable, his works were very popular with the public. For example, in his most famous play, Medeia, Jason of the Argonaunts leaves his wife for the King of Corinth's daughter. Medeia retaliates by killing her children.

This article was previously published in Issue 4 of Breaking Trail Quarterly


Hank Martin

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Traveling for a world education and writing about the life lessons learned.

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