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by Archaeology Newsroom

Athens, birthplace of the theatre

The history of the theatre began in Greece with the cult of Dionysus. This cult came from northwest Asia Minor and despite reactions, it was finally accepted and introduced to Attica in the 6th century BC. The rural character of the cult was apparent in the ritual that displayed a cyclical dance performed by men disguised as satyrs,singing the dithyramb. The festival of the Great Dionysia was held in Athens annually in honor of Dionysus, where performances of drama narrating the life and cult of the god were included in whch the main role was played by the chorus. This was the situation until 534 BC when Thespis introduced tragedy and the first actors (hypocrites). By the 5th century, when tragedy achieves a social status, three actors performed on stage, while the chorus commented on their actions and sayings. The religious character of drama gradually diminished and the three great tragic poets, Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides produced plays financed by the city. The roles were exclusively played by men wearing masks. The theatrical performances were initially staged in the orchestra of the Agora and later in the theatre of Dionysus at the foot of the Acropolis. The development of comedy also related to the cycle of the dionysiac cult running a parallel course to that of tragedy. Aristophanes, its main representative, drew the material for his plays from his contemporary everyday life and reality. Tragedy as theatrical form died out in the 4th century, while comedy continued to be performed and reached its peak in the Hellenistic period. The “new comedy” under Menander gave to theatre its final form, lasting until today.