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Supporting Materials for Lectures

Lecture 3: Dionysus and the Origin of Drama


Dionysus Although the Greeks may frequently have said of the tragedies they saw, "this has nothing to do with Dionysus," Polybius 39.2.3), the plays were performed in his honour and may reasonably be expected-perhaps at a deep level-to reflect his true nature. Consider the nature of this god and its possible impact upon the plays performed in his theatre. You may wish to consider his status as god of the whole liquid element (Plutarch, Isis and Osiris 35, 364a, quoting Pindar fr. 153 Maehler), and his consequent association with epiphytal vegetation such as ivy, mistletoe and the vine, the role of intoxication with wine and the concomitant experience of intensified mental power (mania), mob-psychology or "the Madness of Crowds" (this being the subtitle of Charles Mackay's 1852 work, Extraordinary Popular Delusions 2nd ed, e.g. during the pannuchis or night-long revel) in contrast to the Apollonian principium individuationis or "principle of Individuation", covering the face with purple wine lees (Horace Ars P. 276-7) and later with masks, loss of identity in play-acting, the role of Dionysus as a "kommender Gott" or a god who irrupts into the normal orderly life of the community (e.g. the myths of Dionysus and Lycurgus, the pirates and Pentheus). Discuss Dionysus as Liber. Consider the discovery of wine: Icarius gave it to his neighbours, who thinking that he had poisoned them, murdered him; cf. the story of Noah lying naked in his tent.


  • *E. R. Dodds, The Greeks and the Irrational (Berkeley and Los Angeles 1951) 270-82.
  • H. Jeanmaire, Dionysos (Paris 1951) 268-331.
  • E. R. Dodds, Euripides: Bacchae 2nd ed. (Oxford 1960) xi-lix.
  • W. F. Otto, Dionysus: Myth and Cult trans. R. B. Palmer (Bloomington and London 1965) esp. 209-10.
  • J.-P. Grépin, The Tragic Paradox (Amsterdam 1968).
  • C. Kerényi, Dionysus, trans. R. Manheim (Princeton 1976).
  • M. Detienne, Dionysus Slain, trans. M. and L. Muellner (Baltimore and London 1979).
  • R. S. Kraemer, "Ecstasy and Possession: The Attraction of Women to the Cult of Dionysus," Harvard Theological Review 72 (1979) 55-80.
  • H. P. Foley, "The Masque of Dionysus," Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 110 (1980) 107-33.
  • S. G. Cole, "New Evidence fo the Mysteries of Dionysus," Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies 21 (1980) 223-38.
  • R. Seaford, "Dionysiac Drama and the Dionysiac Mysteries," Classical Quarterly 31 (1981) 252-75.
  • *A Henrichs, "Loss of Self, Suffering, Violence: The Modern View of Dionysus from Nietzsche to Girard," Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 88 (1984) 205-40.
  • T. H. Carpenter, Dionysian Imagery in Archaic Greek Art (Oxford 1986).
  • M. Detienne, Dionysus at Large, trans. A. Goldhammer (Cambridge, Mass. 1989).


The Origin of TragedyThe origin of tragedy has been sought (i) in the spirit of music (Nietzsche), (ii) in the "Year Daimon" alleged to govern the calendar of the agricultural year: agon, pathos, threnos, angelos, anagnorisis and apotheosis (Murray), (iii) the trance-dance of the shaman's ritual nome (Lindsay and Kirby), and (iv) in animal-sacrifice (Burkert; on a goat (tragos) as the price/prize for a song (aoidos), see Theocritus 7; note the central altar of the thumele in the orchestra). Discuss these rival theories.


  • *F. Nietzsche (W. Kaufmann trans.), The Birth of Tragedy 1886 (New York 1967).
  • W. Ridgeway, The Origin of Tragedy (Cambridge 1910).
  • M. P. Nilsson, "Der Ursprung der Tragödie," Neue Jahrbücher 14 (1911) 609-42 = Opuscula selecta (Lund 1951) 1.61-145.
  • *G. Murray, "Excursus on the Ritual Forms Preserved in Greek Tragedy," 341-63 in J. A. Harrison, Themis 1912 (New York and Cleveland 1962).
  • D. C. Stuart, "The Origin of Greek Tragedy in the Light of Dramatic Technique," Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 47 (1916) 173-204.
  • E. Schuré, The Genesis of Tragedy and the Sacred Drama of Eleusis (London 1936).
  • A. C. Mahr, The Origin of the Greek Tragic Form (New York 1938).
  • B. Hunningher, The Origin of the Theater (The Hague and Amsterdam 1955).
  • J. Carrière, "Sur l'essence et l'évolution du tragique chez les Grecs," Revue des études grecques 79 (1960) 6-37.
  • H. Patzer, Die Anfänge der griechischen Tragödie (Wiesbaden 1961).
  • *J. Lindsay, The Clashing Rocks: A Study of Early Greek Religion and Culture and the Origins of Drama (London 1965).
  • F. G. Else, The Origin and Early Form of Greek Tragedy = Martin Classical Lectures 20 (Cambridge, Mass. 1965)
  • *W. Burkert, "Greek Tragedy and Sacrificial Ritual," Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies 7 (1966) 87-121.
  • B. M. W. Knox, "Myth and Attic Tragedy," in Word and Action: Essays on the Ancient Theater (Baltimore 1970).
  • *E. T. Kirby, Ur-Drama: The Origins of Theater (New York 1975).
  • M. S. Silk, Nietzsche on Tragedy (Cambridge 1981).
  • R. Friedrich, "Drama and Ritual," 159-223 in J. Redmond ed., Drama and Religion = Themes in Drama 5 (Cambridge 1983).


The Origin of Comedy The word "comedy" is related to several other Greek words. (I) It suggests komos (Athletic or military) victory celebration, or carnival. Discuss the nature of the carnival-world (i.e. topsyturviness, e.g. women in power in Lysistrata: Women Celebrating the Feast of Demeter and Women in the Assembly, escape-valve, e.g. from war in Peace) and how it is preserved in ancient comedy. (Ii) The word is also related to kome, which, according to Aristotle Poet. 1448a 35ff is a word for "village". Consider the comic nature of village life with its rusticity or non-urbanity and its relaxation of the laws of the city, especially as regards sex (cf. Hamlet's punning reference to "country/cunt-ry matters" in Shakespeare Hamlet 3.2.116). (Iii) The word is also, perhaps, related to koimao "to sleep" and koma "a deep sleep", thereby suggesting the oneiric or dream-like, wish-fulfillment quality of comedy as well as the nocturnal setting of the Dionysiac ritual, the pannuchis. (Iv) the word recalls enkomion or "praise" and hints that comedy involves an ambiguous relation to its characters, at once glorifying the eiron and deriding the alazon. Discuss also the politically conservative nature of comedy.


  • F. Cornford, The Origins of Comedy (London 1914).
  • M. Roberston, Greek Painting (Geneva 1959) 30.
  • G. Giangrande, "The Origin of Attic Comedy," Eranos 61 (1963) 1-24.
  • M. Bakhtin, trans. H. Iswolsky, Rabelais and His World (Cambridge 1968).
  • E. Segal, "The Eymologies of Comedy," Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies 14 (1973) 75-81.
  • J. C. Carrière, Le carnaval et la politique (Paris 1979).

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