Tuesday, January 7, 6420

Greece - Pythagoras (580-528 BC) - Drama

Greece is a country in southeastern Europe, situated on the southern end of the Balkan Peninsula. It has borders with Albania, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Bulgaria to the north, and Turkey to the east. The Aegean Sea lies to the east and south of mainland Greece, while the Ionian Sea lies to the west. Both parts of the Eastern Mediterranean basin feature a vast number of islands.

Greece lies at the juncture of Europe, Asia and Africa. It is heir to the heritages of ancient Greece.

Greece is the birthplace of democracy, Western philosophy, Western literature and historiography, political science, major scientific and mathematic principles, and Western drama, including both tragedy and comedy.

The scope of Greek habitation and rule has varied significantly through the ages, and as a consequence, the history of Greece is similarly elastic in what it includes. Each era has its own related sphere of interest.

The first (proto-) Greek-speaking tribes are generally thought to have arrived in the Greek mainland sometime in the 3rd millennium BC, where various pre-Greek peoples had already been practicing agriculture since the 7th millennium BC.

One of the earliest civilizations to appear around Greece was the Minoan civilization in Crete, which lasted approximately from 2700 (Early Minoan) BC to 1450 BC, and the Early Helladic period on the Greek mainland from ca. 2800 BC to 2100 BC.

[Three judges in the underworld, Minos in the middle]

Little specific information is known about the Minoans (even the name is a modern appellation, from Minos, the legendary king of Crete). They have been characterized as a pre-Indo-European people, apparently the linguistic ancestors of the Eteo-Cretan speakers of Classical Antiquity, their language being encoded in the undeciphered Linear A script. They were primarily a mercantile people engaged in overseas trade, taking advantage of their land's rich natural resources. Timber, at that time was, an abundant natural resource that was commercially exploited and exported to nearby lands such as Cyprus, Egypt and the Aegean Islands.

Although the causes of their demise are uncertain, they were eventually invaded by the Mycenaeans from mainland Greece. This invasion took place around 1400 BC, and in conjunction with the Thera eruption, it presents a likely scenario for the final end of the Minoan civilization. According to this theory, the Minoan fleet and ports were irrevocably destroyed by colossal seismic and tidal waves. Possible climatic changes affected crops for many years, which in turn could have led to famine and social breakdown. The Mycenaean invaders wrote the final chapter of a civilization that flourished for some 1600 years.

Mycenaean Greece, also known as Bronze Age Greece, is the Late Helladic Bronze Age civilization of Ancient Greece. It lasted from the arrival of the Greeks in the Aegean around 1600 BC to the collapse of their Bronze Age civilization around 1100 BC. It is the historical setting of the epics of Homer and much other Greek mythology. The Mycenaean period takes its name from the archaeological site Mycenae in the northeastern Argolid, in the Peloponnesos of southern Greece. Athens, Pylos, Thebes, and Tiryns are also important Mycenaean sites.

Mycenaean civilization was dominated by a warrior aristocracy. Around 1400 BC the Mycenaeans extended their control to Crete, center of the Minoan civilization, and adopted a form of the Minoan script called Linear A to write their early form of Greek. The Mycenaean era script is called Linear B.

The Mycenaeans buried their nobles in beehive tombs (tholoi), large circular burial chambers with a high vaulted roof and straight entry passage lined with stone. They often buried daggers or some other form of military equipment with the deceased. The nobility were frequently buried with gold masks, tiaras, armour, and jeweled weapons. Mycenaeans were buried in a sitting position, and some of the nobility underwent mummification.

Around 1100 BC the Mycenaean civilization collapsed. Numerous cities were sacked and the region entered what historians see as a dark age. During this period Greece experienced a decline in population and literacy. The Greeks themselves have traditionally blamed this decline on an invasion by another wave of Greek people, the Dorians, although there is scant archaeological evidence for this view.

The Greek Dark Ages (ca. 1100 BC–800 BC) refers to the period of Greek history from the presumed Dorian invasion and end of the Mycenaean civilization in the 11th century BC to the rise of the first Greek city-states in the 9th century BC and the epics of Homer and earliest writings in alphabetic Greek in the 8th century BC.

The collapse of the Mycenaean coincided with the fall of several other large empires in the near east, most notably the Hittite and the Egyptian. The cause may be attributed to an invasion of the sea people wielding iron weapons. When the Dorians came down into Greece they also were equipped with superior iron weapons, easily dispersing the already weakened Mycenaeans. The period that follows these events is collectively known as the Greek Dark Ages.

Archaeology shows a collapse of civilization in the Greek world in this period. The great palaces and cities of the Mycenaeans were destroyed or abandoned. The Greek language ceased to be written. Greek Dark Age pottery has simple geometric designs and lacks the figurative decoration of Mycenaean ware. The Greeks of the Dark Age lived in fewer and smaller settlements, suggesting famine and depopulation, and foreign goods have not been found at archaeological sites, suggesting minimum international trade. Contact was also lost between foreign powers during this period, yielding little cultural progress or growth of any sort.

Kings ruled throughout this period until eventually they were replaced with an aristocracy, then still later, in some areas, an aristocracy within an aristocracy -- an elite of the elite. Warfare shifted from a focus on cavalry to a great emphasis on infantry. Due to its cheapness of production and local availability, iron replaced bronze as the metal of choice in the manufacturing of tools and weapons. Slowly equality grew among the different sects of people, leading to the dethronement of the various Kings and the rise of the family.

Families began to reconstruct their past in attempts to link their bloodlines with heroes from the Trojan War, more specifically Heracles. While most of this was legend, some were sorted by poets of the school of Hesiod. Most of these poems are lost, though, but some famous "storywriters," as they were called, were Hecataeus of Miletus and Acusilaus of Argos.

It is thought that the epics by Homer contain a certain amount of tradition preserved orally during the Dark Ages period. The historical validity of Homer's writings is vigorously disputed; see the article on Troy for a discussion.

At the end of this period of stagnation, the Greek civilization was engulfed in a renaissance that spread the Greek world as far as the Black Sea and Spain. Writing was relearned from the Phoenicians, eventually spreading north into Italy and the Gauls.

There are no fixed or universally agreed dates for the beginning or the end of the Ancient/Classical Greek period. In common usage it refers to all Greek history before the Roman Empire, but historians use the term more precisely. Some writers include the periods of the Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations, while others argue that these civilizations were so different from later Greek cultures that they should be classed separately. Traditionally, the Ancient Greek period was taken to begin with the date of the first Olympic Games in 776 BC, but most historians now extend the term back to about 1000 BC.


Homer (ancient Greek: Homēros) is an ancient Greek epic poet, traditionally said to be the author of the epic poems The Iliad and The Odyssey. The ancient Greeks generally believed that Homer was a historical individual, but some modern scholars are skeptical: no reliable biographical information has been handed down from classical antiquity. According to Martin West, "Homer" is "not the name of a historical poet, but a fictitious or constructed name."

The poems are now widely regarded as the culmination of a long tradition of orally composed poetry, but the way in which they reached their final written form, and the role of an individual poet, or poets, in this process is disputed. By the reckoning of scholars like Geoffrey Kirk, both poems were created by an individual genius who drew much of his material from various traditional stories. Others, like Martin West, hold that the epics were composed by a number of poets. Gregory Nagy maintains that the epics are not the creation of any individual; rather, they slowly evolved towards their final form over a period of centuries and, in this view, are the collective work of generations of poets.

The date of Homer was controversial in antiquity and is no less so today. Herodotus said that Homer lived 400 years before his own time, which would place him at about 850 BC; but other ancient sources gave dates much closer to the Trojan War. For modern scholarship, "the date of Homer" refers to the date of the poems' conception as much as to the lifetime of an individual.

James Horner - Troy: Banquet Scene

The scholarly consensus is that The Iliad and The Odyssey date from the extreme end of the 9th century BC or from the 8th, The Iliad being anterior to The Odyssey, perhaps by some decades, i.e. somewhat earlier than Hesiod, and that The Iliad is the oldest work of western literature. Over the past few decades, some scholars have been arguing for a 7th-century date.

Those who believe that the Homeric poems developed gradually over a long period of time, however, generally give a later date for the poems: according to Nagy, they only became fixed texts in the 6th century.

Homer's works form the cornerstone of the Western Canon and are universally praised for their genius. Their formative influence in shaping key aspects of Greek culture was recognized by the Greeks themselves, who considered him their instructor.


Ancient Greece is considered by most historians to be the foundational culture of Western Civilization. Greek culture was a powerful influence in the Roman Empire, which carried a version of it to many parts of Europe. Ancient Greek civilization has been immensely influential on the language, politics, educational systems, philosophy, art and architecture of the modern world, particularly during the Renaissance in Western Europe and again during various neo-Classical revivals in 18th and 19th century Europe and The Americas.

The basic unit of politics in Ancient Greece was the polis, sometimes translated as city-state. "Politics" literally means "the things of the polis." Each city was independent, at least in theory.

Some cities might be subordinate to others (a colony traditionally deferred to its mother city), some might have had governments wholly dependent upon others (the Thirty Tyrants in Athens was imposed by Sparta following the Peloponnesian War), but the titularly supreme power in each city was located within that city. This meant that when Greece went to war (e.g., against the Persian Empire), it took the form of an alliance going to war. It also gave ample opportunity for wars within Greece between different cities.

Pythagoras of Samos (born between 580 and 572 BC, died between 500 and 490 BC) was an Ionian Greek mathematician and founder of the religious movement called Pythagoreanism. He is often revered as a great mathematician, mystic and scientist; however some have questioned the scope of his contributions to mathematics and natural philosophy. Herodotus referred to him as "the most able philosopher among the Greeks". His name led him to be associated with Pythian Apollo; Aristippus explained his name by saying, "He spoke (agor-) the truth no less than did the Pythian (Pyth-)," and Iamblichus tells the story that the Pythia prophesied that his pregnant mother would give birth to a man supremely beautiful, wise, and of benefit to humankind.

He is best known for the Pythagorean theorem, which bears his name. Known as "the father of numbers," Pythagoras made influential contributions to philosophy and religious teaching in the late 6th century BC. Because legend and obfuscation cloud his work even more than with the other pre-Socratics, one can say little with confidence about his life and teachings. We do know that Pythagoras and his students believed that everything was related to mathematics and that numbers were the ultimate reality and, through mathematics, everything could be predicted and measured in rhythmic patterns or cycles. According to Iamblichus, Pythagoras once said that "number is the ruler of forms and ideas and the cause of gods and demons."

He was the first man to call himself a philosopher, or lover of wisdom, and Pythagorean ideas exercised a marked influence on Plato. Unfortunately, very little is known about Pythagoras because none of his writings have survived. Many of the accomplishments credited to Pythagoras may actually have been accomplishments of his colleagues and successors.

Pythagoras was born on Samos, a Greek island in the eastern Aegean, off the coast of Asia Minor. He was born to Pythais (his mother, a native of Samos) and Mnesarchus (his father, a Phoenician merchant from Tyre). As a young man, he left his native city for Croton, Calabria, in Southern Italy, to escape the tyrannical government of Polycrates. According to Iamblichus, Thales, impressed with his abilities, advised Pythagoras to head to Memphis in Egypt and study with the priests there who were renowned for their wisdom. He also was discipled in the temples of Tyre and Byblos in Phoenicia. It may have been in Egypt where he learned some geometric principles which eventually inspired his formulation of the theorem that is now called by his name. This possible inspiration is presented as an example problem in the Berlin Papyrus. Upon his migration from Samos to Croton, Calabria, Italy, Pythagoras established a secret religious society very similar to (and possibly influenced by) the earlier Orphic cult.

Pythagoras undertook a reform of the cultural life of Croton, urging the citizens to follow virtue and form an elite circle of followers around himself called Pythagoreans. Very strict rules of conduct governed this cultural center. He opened his school to male and female students alike. Those who joined the inner circle of Pythagoras's society called themselves the Mathematikoi. They lived at the school, owned no personal possessions and were required to assume a mainly vegetarian diet (meat that could be sacrificed was allowed to be eaten). Other students who lived in neighboring areas were also permitted to attend Pythagoras's school.

Known as Akousmatikoi, these students were permitted to eat meat and own personal belongings. Richard Blackmore, in his book The Lay Monastery (1714), saw in the religious observances of the Pythagoreans, "the first instance recorded in history of a monastic life."
According to Iamblichus, the Pythagoreans followed a structured life of religious teaching, common meals, exercise, reading and philosophical study. Music featured as an essential organizing factor of this life: the disciples would sing hymns to Apollo together regularly; they used the lyre to cure illness of the soul or body; poetry recitations occurred before and after sleep to aid the memory.

Flavius Josephus, in his polemical Against Apion, in defence of Judaism against Greek philosophy, mentions that according to Hermippus of Smyrna, Pythagoras was familiar with Jewish beliefs, incorporating some of them in his own philosophy.
Towards the end of his life he fled to Metapontum because of a plot against him and his followers by a noble of Croton named Cylon. He died in Metapontum around 90 years old from unknown causes.

The organization was in some ways a school, in some ways a brotherhood, and in some ways a monastery. It was based upon Pythagoras’ religious teachings and was very secretive. At first, the school was highly concerned with the morality of society. Members were required to live ethically, love one another, share political beliefs, practice pacifism, and devote themselves to the mathematics of nature.

Pythagoras's followers were commonly called "Pythagoreans." They are generally accepted as philosophical mathematicians who had an influence on the beginning of axiomatic geometry, which after two hundred years of development was written down by Euclid in The Elements.

The Pythagoreans observed a rule of silence called echemythia, the breaking of which was punishable by death. This was because the Pythagoreans believed that a man's words were usually careless and misrepresented him and that when someone was "in doubt as to what he should say, he should always remain silent". Another rule that they had was to help a man "in raising a burden, but do not assist him in laying it down, for it is a great sin to encourage indolence", and they said "departing from your house, turn not back, for the furies will be your attendants"; this axiom reminded them that it was better to learn none of the truth about mathematics, God, and the universe at all than to learn a little without learning all.

In his biography of Pythagoras (written seven centuries after Pythagoras's time), Porphyry stated that this silence was "of no ordinary kind." The Pythagoreans were divided into an inner circle called the mathematikoi ("mathematicians") and an outer circle called the akousmatikoi ("listeners"). Porphyry wrote "the mathematikoi learned the more detailed and exactly elaborate version of this knowledge, the akousmatikoi (were) those which had heard only the summary headings of his (Pythagoras's) writings, without the more exact exposition."

According to Iamblichus, the akousmatikoi were the exoteric disciples who listened to lectures that Pythagoras gave out loud from behind a veil.

The akousmatikoi were not allowed to see Pythagoras and they were not taught the inner secrets of the cult. Instead they were taught laws of behavior and morality in the form of cryptic, brief sayings that had hidden meanings. The akousmatikoi recognized the mathematikoi as real Pythagoreans, but not vice versa. After the murder of a number of the mathematikoi by the cohorts of Cylon, a resentful disciple, the two groups split from each other entirely, with Pythagoras's wife Theano and their two daughters leading the mathematikoi.

Theano, daughter of the Orphic initiate Brontinus, was a mathematician in her own right. She is credited with having written treatises on mathematics, physics, medicine, and child psychology, although nothing of her writing survives. Her most important work is said to have been a treatise on the principle of the golden mean. In a time when women were usually considered property and relegated to the role of housekeeper or spouse, Pythagoras allowed women to function on equal terms in his society.

The Pythagorean society is associated with prohibitions such as not to step over a crossbar, and not to eat beans. These rules seem like primitive superstition, similar to "walking under a ladder brings bad luck". The abusive epithet mystikos logos ("mystical speech") was hurled at Pythagoras even in ancient times to discredit him. The prohibition on beans could be linked to favism, which is relatively widespread around the Mediterranean.

The key here is that akousmata means "rules", so that the superstitious taboos primarily applied to the akousmatikoi, and many of the rules were probably invented after Pythagoras's death and independent from the mathematikoi (arguably the real preservers of the Pythagorean tradition). The mathematikoi placed greater emphasis on inner understanding than did the akousmatikoi, even to the extent of dispensing with certain rules and ritual practices. For the mathematikoi, being a Pythagorean was a question of innate quality and inner understanding.

There was also another way of dealing with the akousmata -- by allegorizing them. We have a few examples of this, one being Aristotle's explanations of them: "'step not over a balance', i.e. be not covetous; 'poke not the fire with a sword', i.e. do not vex with sharp words a man swollen with anger, 'eat not heart', i.e. do not vex yourself with grief," etc. We have evidence for Pythagoreans allegorizing in this way at least as far back as the early fifth century BC. This suggests that the strange sayings were riddles for the initiated.

The Pythagoreans are known for their theory of the transmigration of souls, and also for their theory that numbers constitute the true nature of things. They performed purification rites and followed and developed various rules of living which they believed would enable their soul to achieve a higher rank among the gods.

Much of their mysticism concerning the soul seem inseparable from the Orphic tradition. The Orphics advocated various purificatory rites and practices as well as incubatory rites of descent into the underworld. Pythagoras is also closely linked with Pherecydes of Syros, the man ancient commentators tend to credit as the first Greek to teach a transmigration of souls. Ancient commentators agree that Pherekydes was Pythagoras's most intimate teacher.

Pherekydes expounded his teaching on the soul in terms of a pentemychos ("five-nooks", or "five hidden cavities") — the most likely origin of the Pythagorean use of the pentagram, used by them as a symbol of recognition among members and as a symbol of inner health (ugieia).

[Pythagoras in a medieval manuscript]

Pythagoras was very interested in music, and so were his followers. The Pythagoreans were musicians as well as mathematicians. Pythagoras wanted to improve the music of his day, which he believed was not harmonious enough and was too hectic.

According to legend, the way Pythagoras discovered that musical notes could be translated into mathematical equations was when one day he passed blacksmiths at work, and thought that the sounds emanating from their anvils being hit were beautiful and harmonious and decided that whatever scientific law caused this to happen must be mathematical and could be applied to music. He went to the blacksmiths to learn how this had happened by looking at their tools, he discovered that it was because the anvils were "simple ratios of each other, one was half the size of the first, another was 2/3 the size, and so on."

The Pythagoreans elaborated on a theory of numbers, the exact meaning of which is still debated among scholars. Pythagoras believed in something called the harmony of the spheres. He believed that the planets and stars moved according to mathematical equations, which corresponded to musical notes and thus produced a symphony.

Orpheus (Greek: Ορφεύς; pronounced OHR-fee-uhs or OHR'-fews) is a figure from Greek mythology

born in the Rhodope Mountains of Thrace (now partly in Bulgaria), king of the Thracian tribe of Cicones. Orpheus was called by Pindar "the father of songs". He was a son of the Thracian river god Oiagros[1] and the Muse Calliope.

His name does not occur in Homer or Hesiod, but he was known by the time of Ibycus (c.530 BC).

[The God Hermes Creating the Lyre]

The Greeks of the Classical age venerated the legendary figure of Orpheus as chief among poets and musicians, and the perfector of the lyre invented by Hermes. Poets like Simonides of Ceos said that, with his music and singing, he could charm birds, fishes and wild beasts, coax the trees and rocks into dance, and even divert the course of rivers. He was one of the handful of Greek heroes to visit the Underworld and return; even in Hades his song and lyre did not lose their power.

As one of the pioneers of civilization, he is said at various times to have taught humanity the arts of medicine, writing (in one unusual instance, where he substitutes for the usual candidate, Cadmus) and agriculture, where he assumes the Eleusinian role of Triptolemus. More consistently and more closely connected with religious life, Orpheus was an augur and seer; practised magical arts, especially astrology; founded or rendered accessible many important cults, such as those of Apollo and the Thraco-Phrygian god Dionysus; instituted mystic rites both public and private; and prescribed initiatory and purificatory rituals, which his community of followers treasured in Orphic texts. In addition, Pindar and Apollonius of Rhodes place Orpheus as the harpist and companion of Jason and the Argonauts.

His son was Musaeus, "he of the Muses."

Orpheus' father was Oeagrus a Thracian king (or, according to another version of the story, the god Apollo); his mother was the muse Calliope. While living with his mother and her eight beautiful sisters on Parnassus, he met Apollo who was courting the laughing muse Thalia. Apollo became fond of Orpheus and gave him a little golden lyre, and taught him to play it. Orpheus's mother taught him to make verses for singing.

The most famous story in which Orpheus figures is that of his wife Eurydice (also known as Agriope). While fleeing from Aristaeus (son of Apollo), Eurydice ran into a nest of snakes which bit her fatally on her legs. Distraught, Orpheus played such sad songs and sang so mournfully that all the nymphs and gods wept. On their advice, Orpheus traveled to the underworld and by his music softened the hearts of Hades and Persephone (he was the only person ever to do so), who agreed to allow Eurydice to return with him to earth on one condition: he should walk in front of her and not look back until they both had reached the upper world.

In his anxiety he forgot that both needed to be in the upper world, and he turned to look at her, and she vanished for the second time, but now forever. The story in this form belongs to the time of Virgil, who first introduces the name of Aristaeus. Other ancient writers, however, speak of Orpheus' visit to the underworld; according to Plato, the infernal gods only "presented an apparition" of Eurydice to him. Ovid says that Eurydice's death was not caused by fleeing from Aristaeus but by dancing with naiads on her wedding day.

The story of Eurydice may actually be a late addition to the Orpheus myths. In particular, the name Eurudike ("she whose justice extends widely") recalls cult-titles attached to Persephone. The myth may have been mistakenly derived from another Orpheus legend in which he travels to Tartarus and charms the goddess Hecate.

The descent to the Underworld of Orpheus is paralleled in other versions of a worldwide theme: the Japanese myth of Izanagi and Izanami, the Akkadian/Sumerian myth of Inanna's Descent to the Underworld, and Mayan myth of Ix Chel and Itzamna. The mytheme of not looking back is reflected in the story of Lot's wife when escaping from Sodom. The warning of not looking back is also found in the Grimms' folk tale "Hansel and Gretel." More directly, the story of Orpheus is similar to the ancient Greek tales of Persephone captured by Hades and similar stories of Adonis captive in the underworld.

[The Persian God Mithras]

However, the developed form of the Orpheus myth was entwined with the Orphic mystery cults and, later in Rome, with the development of Mithraism and the cult of Sol Invictus.


The Roman army first encountered the cult of Mithras in Persia (modern Iran) during the reign of the emperor Nero although its origins in India have been traced back to 1400 BC. One of the many mystery cults that the Romans introduced from the east, Mithraism first appealed to slaves and freedmen but with Mithras's title Invictus, the cult's emphasis on truth, honour and courage, and its demand for discipline soon led to Mithras becoming a god of soldiers and traders.

Various stories survive to account for Mithras's birth. Often he is depicted springing from the living rock or from a tree; at Housesteads on Hadrian's Wall, however, there was a tradition that he was born from the Cosmic Egg. This sculpture shows Mithras bursting from the Egg whilst holding in his upraised hands the Sword of Truth and Torch of Light. Around him in an egg-shaped frame is the Cosmos containing the Twelve Signs of the Zodiac. This is an unique representation in Britain and is thought to be the earliest surviving representation of the Signs of the Zodiac in the north-west provinces of the Roman Empire.

Mithras's early life was one of hardship and painful triumph. Finally, he captured the primaeval bull and, after dragging it back to his cave, killed the animal in order to release its life force for the benefit of humanity: from the bull's body grew useful plants and herbs, from its blood came the vine, and from its semen all useful animals. This bull slaying scene - known as a tauroctony -was to be found in relief or as a wall painting in all Mithraea. The scene includes the Sun god and the Moon goddess as well as the Raven, the Sun god's messenger. Mithras is assisted by a dog, a snake and a scorpion, and is attended by the twin Torchbearers, Cautes and Cautopates.


[Albrecht Dürer - The Death of Orpheus, 1494 (Kunsthalle, Hamburg)]

According to some versions of the story (notably Ovid's), Orpheus forswore the love of women after the death of Eurydice and took only youths as his lovers; he was reputed to be the one who introduced pederasty to the Thracians, teaching them to "love the young in the flower of their youth."

According to a Late Antique summary of Aeschylus's lost play Bassarids, Orpheus at the end of his life disdained the worship of all gods save the sun, whom he called Apollo. One early morning he went to the oracle of Dionysus (there are ongoing discussions whether this is Perperikon or Mount Pangaion) to salute his god at dawn, but was torn to death by Thracian Maenads for not honoring his previous patron, Dionysus. Here his death is analogous with the death of Pentheus.

Ovid (Metamorphoses XI) also recounts that the Thracian Maenads, Dionysus' followers, angry for having been spurned by Orpheus in favor of "tender boys," first threw sticks and stones at him as he played, but his music was so beautiful even the rocks and branches refused to hit him. Enraged, the Maenads tore him to pieces during the frenzy of their Bacchic orgies. Later, the story would sometimes be seen from a Christian moralist angle: in Albrecht Dürer's drawing the ribbon high in the tree is lettered Orfeus der erst puseran ("Orpheus, the first sodomite").

His head and lyre, still singing mournful songs, floated down the swift Hebrus to the Mediterranean shore. There, the winds and waves carried them on to the Lesbos shore, where the inhabitants buried his head and a shrine was built in his honour near Antissa; there his oracle prophesied, until it was silenced by Apollo (Life of Apollonius of Tyana, book v.14). The lyre was carried to heaven by the Muses, and was placed among the stars. The Muses also gathered up the fragments of his body and buried them at Leibethra below Mount Olympus, where the nightingales sang over his grave. His soul returned to the underworld, where he was re-united at last with his beloved Eurydice. Another legend places his tomb at Dion, near Pydna in Macedonia. Other accounts of his death are that he killed himself from grief at the failure of his journey to Hades, or that he was struck with lightning by Zeus for having revealed the mysteries of the gods to men, or he was torn to pieces by the Maenads for having abandoned the cult of Dionysus for that of Apollo.

The Orpheus legend has remained a popular subject for writers, artists, musicians, and filmmakers.

The story of Orpheus and Eurydice has been the subject of operas, cantatas, ballets, and other works through the history of western classical music:

Angelo Poliziano's Orfeo, a musical Renaissance considered by some scholars an important forerunner of the opera genre.

Jacopo Peri's opera Euridice (1600)

Giulio Caccini's opera Euridice (written 1600 / first performance 1602)

Claudio Monteverdi's opera Orfeo (1607)

Stefano Landi's opera La morte d'Orfeo (1619)

Luigi Rossi's opera Orfeo (1647)

Marc-Antoine Charpentier's unfinished opera La descente d'Orphée aux enfers (date unknown: mid-1680s?)

Louis-Nicolas Clerambault's cantata "Orphee" (1710)

Georg Philipp Telemann's opera "Orpheus" (1726)

Johann Caspar Ferdinand Fischer's Musikalischer Parnassus (c. 1738) comprises nine dance suites dedicated to the Muses; it is thought the final dance of the Uranie suite tells the story of Orpheus & Eurydice.

Christoph Willibald Gluck's opera Orfeo ed Euridice (1762)

Johann Gottlieb Naumann's opera Orfeo ed Euridice (1785)

Joseph Haydn's opera L'anima del filosofo, ossia Orfeo ed Euridice (composed 1791)
Friedrich August Kanne's Orpheus (1807)
In a 1985 article in 19th Century Music musicologist Owen Jander controversially argued that the 2nd movement (Andante con moto) of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4 was programmatically modelled after the Orpheus myth.

Franz Liszt's Symphonic poem Orpheus (1853-54)

Jacques Offenbach's operetta Orpheus in the Underworld (1858)

Darius Milhaud's opera Les malheurs d'Orphée (1924)

Ernst Krenek's opera Orpheus und Eurydike (1926)

Stravinsky's ballet Orpheus (1948).

Orphee 53, opera in musique concrete style by Pierre Henry and Pierre Schaeffer (1953)

Mark Alburger's Orpheus Cycle (1982), six art songs to lipogrammatic texts of Matthew Kiell

Harrison Birtwistle's opera The Mask of Orpheus (1986)

Philip Glass's opera Orphée (1993).

Leslie Burrs and John A. Williams, Vanqui (2000), a retelling of the Orpheus legend set during the time of the Underground Railroad.

Ingram Marshall, imagined how Orpheus would recall his trip to the Underworld and back to Earth: Orphic Memories (2006), a piece for the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.

The Tennessee Williams play Orpheus Descending is a modern retelling of the Orpheus myth set in 1950s America.

Jean Anouilh's Eurydice (1941) sets the story among a troupe of performers in 1930s France.

Orphée, directed by Jean Cocteau (1949)

Black Orpheus (Orfeu Negro), directed by Marcel Camus (1959), from the play Orfeu da Conceição by Brazilian poet Vinicius de Moraes; retells the story during the Rio de Janeiro carnival

Moulin Rouge!, the film directed by Baz Luhrmann (2001), is, among other things, a take on the idea of the power of music. It draws on the Orpheus myth via the operetta Orpheus in the Underworld by Jacques Offenbach, at least according to the writer's/director's DVD commentary.

Thomas Pynchon's novel Gravity's Rainbow uses the Orpheus myth as one structure, with Slothrop as Orpheus and postwar Germany as Hades.

Salman Rushdie used the Orpheus and Eurydice narrative as a mythic underpinning to the magical realist novel The Ground Beneath Her Feet (see also the song of the same name recorded by U2 with lyrics provided by Rushdie).


Thespis of Icaria (present-day Dionysos, Greece) (c. 564 BC), according to certain Ancient Greek sources and especially Aristotle, was the first person ever to appear on stage as an actor playing a character in a play (instead of speaking as him or herself). In other sources, he is said to have introduced the first principal actor in addition to the chorus.

According to Aristotle, writing nearly two centuries later, Thespis was a singer of dithyrambs (songs about stories from mythology with choric refrains). Thespis supposedly introduced a new style in which one singer or actor performed the words of individual characters in the stories, distinguishing between the characters with the aid of different masks.

This new style was called tragedy, and Thespis was the most popular exponent of it. Eventually, on November 23, 534 BC, competitions to find the best tragedy were instituted at the City Dionysia in Athens, and Thespis won the first documented competition. Capitalising on his success, Thespis also invented theatrical touring: he would tour various cities while carrying his costumes, masks and other props in a horse-drawn wagon.

It is implied that Thespis invented acting in the Western world, and that prior to his performances, no one had ever assumed the resemblance of another person for the purpose of storytelling: In fact, Thespis is the first known actor in written plays. He may thus have had a substantial role in changing the way stories were said and inventing theater as we know it today.

In reverence to Thespis, actors throughout western history have been referred to as thespians.

Titles of some plays have been attributed to Thespis. But most modern scholars, following the suggestion of Diogenes Laërtius, consider them to be forgeries, some forged by the philosopher Heraclides Ponticus, others by or altered by Christian writers:

Contest of Pelias and Phorbas

Hiereis (Priests)

Hitheoi (Demi-gods)


Fragments (probably spurious) in A Nauck, Tragicorum graecorum fragmenta (1887).

A branch of the National Theater of Greece expressly instituted in 1939 to tour the country is named The Wagon of Thespis.


The theatre of ancient Greece, or ancient Greek drama, is a theatrical culture that flourished in ancient Greece between c. 550 and c. 220 BC. The city-state of Athens, which became a significant cultural, political and military power during this period, was its centre, where it was institutionalised as part of a festival called the Dionysia, which honoured the god Dionysus. Tragedy (late 6th century BC), comedy (486 BC), and the satyr play were the three dramatic genres to emerge there. Athens exported the festival to its numerous colonies and allies in order to promote a common cultural identity. Western theatre originates in Athens and its drama has had a significant and sustained impact on Western culture as a whole.

The word tragoidia, from which the English word "tragedy" is derived, is a portmanteau of two Greek words: tragos or "goat" and ode meaning "song," from aeidein, "to sing."

This etymology indicates a link with the practices of the ancient Dionysian cults. It is impossible, however, to know with certainty how these fertility rituals became the basis for tragedy and comedy.

Greek tragedy as we know it was created in Athens some years before 532 BC, when Thespis was the earliest recorded playwright. Being a winner of the first theatrical contest held at Athens, he was the exarchon, or leader, of the dithyrambs performed in and around Attica, especially at the rural Dionysia. By Thespis's time the dithyramb had evolved far away from its cult roots. Under the influence of heroic epic, Doric choral lyric and the innovations of the poet Arion, it had become a narrative, ballad-like genre. Thespis probably aided in the final transition from dithyramb to tragedy by adding characters who speak (rather than sing) with their own voice (rather than a single narrative chorus). Because of these, Thespis is often called the "Father of Tragedy"; however, his importance is disputed, and Thespis is sometimes listed as late as 16th in the chronological order of Greek tragedians; the statesman Solon, for example, is credited with creating poems in which characters speak with their own voice, and spoken recitations, known as rhapsodes, of Homer's epics were popular in festivals prior to 534 B.C.

Thus, Thespis's true contribution to drama is unclear at best, but his name has been immortalized as a common term for performer: a "thespian."

The dramatic performances were important to the Athenians -- this is made clear by the creation of a tragedy competition and festival in the city of Dionysia. This was organized possibly to foster loyalty among the tribes of Attica (recently created by Cleisthenes). The festival was created roughly around 508 B.C. While no drama texts exist from the sixth century BC, we do know the names of three competitors besides Thespis: Choerilus, Pratinas, and Phrynichus. Each is credited with different innovations in the field.

More is known about Phrynichus. He won his first competition between 511 BC and 508 BC. He produced tragedies on themes and subjects later exploited in the golden age such as the Danaids, Phoenician Women and Alcestis. He was the first poet we know of to use a historical subject - his Fall of Miletus, produced in 493-2, chronicled the fate of the town of Miletus after it was conquered by the Persians. Herodotus reports that "the Athenians made clear their deep grief for the taking of Miletus in many ways, but especially in this: when Phrynichus wrote a play entitled “The Fall of Miletus” and produced it, the whole theatre fell to weeping; they fined Phrynichus a thousand drachmas for bringing to mind a calamity that affected them so personally, and forbade the performance of that play forever."

He is also thought to be the first to use female characters (though not female performers).

Until the Hellenistic period, all tragedies were unique pieces written in honor of Dionysus and played only once, so that today we only have the pieces that were still remembered well enough to have been repeated when repetition of old tragedies became fashion.

The theatres were originally built on a very large scale to accommodate the large number of people on stage, as well as the large number of people in the audience, up to fourteen thousand. Mathematics played a large role in the construction of these theatres, as their designers had to be able to create acoustics in them such that the actors' voices could be heard throughout the theatre, including the very top row of seats. The Greeks' understanding of acoustics compares very favourably with the current state of the art, as even with the invention of microphones, there are very few modern large theatres that have truly good acoustics. The first seats in Greek theatres (other than just sitting on the ground) were wooden, but around 499 BC the practice of inlaying stone blocks into the side of the hill to create permanent, stable seating became more common. They were called the "prohedria" and reserved for priests and a few most respected citizens.

In 465 BC, the playwrights began using a backdrop or scenic wall, which hung or stood behind the orchestra, which also served as an area where actors could change their costumes. It was known as the skené, or scene. The death of a character was always heard behind the skene, for it was considered inappropriate to show a killing in view of the audience. In 425 BC a stone scene wall, called a paraskenia, became a common supplement to skenes in the theatres. A paraskenia was a long wall with projecting sides, which may have had doorways for entrances and exits. Just behind the paraskenia was the proskenion. The proskenion ("in front of the scene") was columned, and was similar to the modern day proscenium. Today's proscenium is what separates the audience from the stage. It is the frame around the stage that makes it look like the action is taking place in a picture frame.

Greek theatres also had entrances for the actors and chorus members called parodoi. The parodoi (plural of parodos) were tall arches that opened onto the orchestra, through which the performers entered. In between the parodoi and the orchestra lay the eisodoi, through which actors entered and exited. By the end of the 5th century BC, around the time of the Peloponnesian War, the skene, the back wall, was two stories high. The upper story was called the episkenion. Some theatres also had a raised speaking place on the orchestra called the logeion.

There were several scenic elements commonly used in Greek theatre:

machina, a crane that gave the impression of a flying actor (thus, deus ex machina).

ekkyklema, a wheeled wagon used to bring dead characters into view for the audience

trap doors, or similar openings in the ground to lift people onto the stage

Pinakes, pictures hung into the scene to show a scene's scenery

Thyromata, more complex pictures built into the second-level scene (3rd level from ground)

Phallic props were used for satyr plays, symbolizing fertility in honor of Dionysus.

The Greek term for mask is persona and was a significant element in the worship of Dionysus at Athens, likely used in ceremonial rites and celebrations. Most of the evidence comes from only a few vase paintings of the 5th century BC, such as one showing a mask of the god suspended from a tree with decorated robe hanging below it and dancing and the Pronomos vase, which depicts actors preparing for a Satyr play.

No physical evidence remains available to us, as the masks were made of organic materials and not considered permanent objects, ultimately being dedicated to the altar of Dionysus after performances. Nevertheless, the mask is known to have been used since the time of Aeschylus and considered to be one of the iconic conventions of classical Greek theatre.

The actors in these plays that had tragic roles wore boots called cothurnuses that elevated them above the other actors. The actors with comedic roles only wore a thin soled shoe called a sock. For this reason, dramatic art is sometimes alluded to as “Sock and Buskin.”

When playing female roles, the male actors donned a “prosterneda” (a wooden structure in front of the chest, to imitate female breasts) and “progastreda” in front of the belly.

Melpomene is the muse of tragedy and is often depicted holding the tragic mask and wearing cothurnus. Thalia is the muse of comedy and is similarly associated with the mask of comedy and comic’s socks.

[6420 - Greece - Drama]