ANCIENT GREEK TRAGEDY: In ancient Greece, tragedies addressed the relationship between the
individual, the community, and the gods. 

Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle mapped it out as follows:

Tragedy is an imitation of an action involving incidents that arouse fear and pity

Tragedy deals with how catastrophic events work to affect individuals: 

How does the protagonist react to the situation?

What choices does he or she make?

How does she or he confront life when faced with difficult choices?

There is a specific moment of friction in the play that produces the dramatic action.

The tragic action should involve an error in judgment made by the tragic figure (hero) in the play.

The tragic hero (also called "tragic figure") should be a better-than-ordinary, yet imperfect, individual with 

whom the audience may sympathize (= the tragic hero should be relatable). A tragic hero is a character who 

commits an error in judgment that inevitably leads to his or her downfall and sometimes to greater wisdom.

The tragic hero should have a tragic flaw (hamartia), a weakness or imperfection that brings the protagonist 

into conflict with fate or with the antagonist, and ultimately leads to his/her downfall. Often the tragic hero's 

hamartia is hubris (= excessive pride).  

A tragedy must effect a catharsis in the spectators: an emotional release that comes from the spectators 

identifying with the suffering of the tragic hero. 

Sophocles' tragedies are concerned with flawed but virtuous human heroes:

What drives them? 

How do they behave in the face of impossible situations? 

How do they choose between two equally valid options? 

How do they explain (or justify) their choices and actions? 

Are they willing to assume responsibility for their choices and actions? 

What are the consequences for those choices and actions, for themselves, their family members, their fellow 


Above: The theatre of Epidaurus, designed by ancient Greek architect Polyclitus the Younger, seats about 
           12 000 spectators in its 55 rows.


Greek tragedies and comedies were always performed in outdoor theaters. Early Greek theaters were probably 

little more than open areas in city centers or next to hillsides where the audience, standing or sitting, could 

watch and listen to the chorus singing about the exploits of a god or hero. From the late 6th century BCE to 

the 4th and 3rd centuries BCE there was a gradual evolution towards more elaborate theater structures, but 

the basic layout of the Greek theater remained the same. The major components of Greek theater are labeled 

on the diagram below.

The orchestra (meaning "dancing space") was normally circular. It was a level space where the chorus would 

dance, sing, and interact with the actors who were on the stage near the skene. The earliest orchestras were 

simply made of hard earth, but in the Classical period some orchestras began to be paved with marble and 

other materials. In the center of the orchestra there was often a thymele, or altar. The orchestra of the theater 

of Dionysus in Athens was about 60 feet in diameter.

The theatron (meaning "viewing-place") is where the spectators sat. The theatron was usually part of hillside 

overlooking the orchestra, and often wrapped around a large portion of the orchestra (see the diagram below). 

Spectators in the fifth century BCE probably sat on cushions or boards, but by the fourth century the theatron 

of many Greek theaters had marble seats.

The skene (meaning "tent") was the building directly behind the stage. During the 5th century, the stage of 

the theater of Dionysus in Athens was probably raised only two or three steps above the level of the orchestra, 

and was perhaps 25 feet wide and 10 feet deep. The skene was directly in back of the stage, and was usually 

decorated as a palace, temple, or other building, depending on the needs of the play. It had at least one set of 

doors, and actors could make entrances and exits through them. There was also access to the roof of the 

skene from behind, so that actors playing gods and other characters could appear on the roof, if needed.

The parodoi (meaning "passageways") are the paths by which the chorus and some actors (such as those 

representing messengers or people returning from abroad) made their entrances and exits. The audience also 

used them to enter and exit the theater before and after the performance.


After a prologue spoken by one or more characters, the chorus enter, singing and dancing. 

Scenes then alternate between spoken sections between characters and sung sections 

between the characters and the chorus. 


The prologue is spoken by one or two characters. It usually gives background necessary for understanding the 

events of the play.

Parode or Parodos (Entrance Ode)

This is the song sung by the chorus as the first enter the orchestra and dances. The chorus usually remain on 

stage throughout the remainder of the play. Chorus members wear masks and dance expressively, using the 

hands, arms and body.

Episodes and Stasima (singular: stasimon)

For the rest of the play, there is alternation between episodes and stasima, until the final scene (exode).


There are typically 3-5 episodes in which one or two actors interact with the chorus. At the end of each 

episode, the chorus remains on state while other characters usually leave. 


A stasimon is a choral ode sung by the chorus. It often comments on or reacts to the preceding episode, and 

puts it into a larger mythological framework.

Exode / Exodos (Exit Ode)

The exode is sung by the chorus after the last episode, 
usually offering words of wisdom concerning the 

actions and outcome of the play.

Structure of Sophocles' Antigone

PrologueAntigone asks for her sister Ismene's help in burying their brother Polyneices. Ismene refuses, and 

Antigone rejects her sister.

ParodosThe Chorus enter(s), rejoicing and thanking the gods that the attack of Polyneices has been 

defeated and Thebes is safe.

First EpisodeCreon enters, and announces his plan to bury Eteocles but leave Polyneices unburied. 
A guard 

enters, and reports that someone has tried to bury Polyneices. Creon reacts with anger, threatens the guard.

First StasimonThe Chorus dances and sings its Ode to Man.

Second EpisodeAntigone is brought before Creon and confesses that she buried her brother. She and Creon 

argue, Creon decrees she will die. Ismene is led in.

Second StasimonThe Chorus reflects on the destiny of Antigone's house, fate, and the nature of a divine 


Third EpisodeHaemon argues with his father Creon and leaves. Creon decrees that Antigone be entombed, 


Third StasimonThe Chorus sings a song about the power of the god Eros.

Fourth EpisodeAntigone, lamenting her fate to the Chorus, is led to the cave.

Fourth StasimonThe Chorus compares Antigone's fate and imprisonment to that of three others: Danae, 

Lycurgus, and Cleopatra.

Fifth EpisodeTeiresias enters, and tells Creon he has made a serious mistake. Creon realizes his error in 

judgment, and rushes to bury Polyneices and release Antigone from the cave.

Fifth Choral OdeThe Chorus calls upon Dionysus, the god who protects Thebes ("O you with many 


Exodus: A messenger reports the deaths of Antigone and Haemon. Euridyce, Creon's wife, commits suicide. 

Creon laments his losses.

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