What is the Greek Tragedy and Its Characteristics

Greek tragedy is a dramatic genre created in Ancient Greece, whose arguments revolve around the fatality of destiny signed by the gods. In this sense, it is born from the hand of classical mythology.

According to the Poetics of Aristotle, Greek tragedy is based on two principles of dramatic art: mimesis and catharsis. Mimesis refers to the imitation of nature, in this case, the imitation of a noble deed. Catharsis refers to a personal purification.

Characteristics of greek tragedy

Within the main characteristics of Greek tragedy we can consider those that refer to its function, structure, characters and themes.

Dramatic role

The Greek tragedy tries to move fear and compassion, fundamental elements to achieve catharsis. Hence, the outcome always implies the fall of the hero.


The central theme of the Greek tragedy is the fatality of destiny, whose announcement awakens the conflict in the characters.


  • individual characters: they are usually characters who enjoy social recognition and, therefore, stand as models: heroes, nobles or demigods.
  • Chorus: Sort of a collective character who acts as driver and sanctioner of the story through songs. It usually expresses the poet’s point of view.

External structure

When we speak of external structure, we refer to the way in which the discourse is organized and presented to the reader or viewer, that is, it is the visible scaffolding. As a general rule, Greek tragedy has the following structure:

  • Foreword: explains the background of the argument.
  • parodos: is the entrance of the choir that begins the development of the action.
  • episodes: each one of the dramatic passages where the dialogues take place.
  • we are: refers properly to the songs of the choir, intended to guide the reflection of the audience, either by sanctioning the actions, or by explaining the moral, political, philosophical or religious principles of the author.
  • Exodus: refers to the conclusion of the conflict, where the execution of the sentence or punishment takes place. In this the choir intervenes with a final song.
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Internal structure

The internal structure refers to the order in which the story is conceived within the story, and that gives it dramatic tension. As is typical of the classic concept of narration, the tragedy has a beginning, a middle and an end.

  • Start: presentation of the situation.
  • Knot: climatic facts.
  • OutcomeDivided in two parts: peripeteiawhich is the hero’s fall from grace, and the anagnorisisthe moment in which the character becomes aware of his fate through reflection.

Social function

Greek tragedy fulfilled an important function in antiquity: on the one hand, to represent the main concerns of the time; on the other, to educate the people in the values ​​that guided society. That is, to promote order and the fulfillment of duty.

Rendering mode

In the times of Ancient Greece, the representation characteristics were different from the current ones. Let’s see.

  • The plays were performed in an amphitheater.
  • For the scenography mechanical devices were used such as: the periaktoi or rotating prism; the eccyclemadolly luck and the machinea mechanism of pulleys that to give entrance to the gods.
  • All the actors were men.
  • The locker room was composed of chiton or long tunic; short, brightly colored coat; called soled shoes buskin Y oncosa headdress for use by the protagonist.
  • Characters were assigned colorful, large, and expressive masks, allowing one actor to portray multiple characters.

greek theater

Ancient masks for the representation of the Greek tragedy.

Origin of Greek tragedy

It is believed that the tragedy may have originated in the 6th century BC. It may have been related to sacrificial rituals for agriculture and hunting, in which an animal, usually a male goat, was sacrificed.

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Indeed, the etymological origin of the word tragedy, a loan from the Latin tragoediaseems to result from two Greek terms: drinkswhich means ‘goat’, and adein, which means ‘sing’. From there would come its use as a song or heroic drama.

It is also thought that the tragedy could have to do with the dithyramb, a type of poetic composition that was performed at parties in honor of the god Dionysus.

Authors and works

The main representatives of Greek tragedy that are known were Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides.

Aeschylus (ca. 525 – ca. 455 BC)

Aeschylus is considered the first great Greek playwright. He was a participant in the victory of the Greeks against the Persians, so his work The Persiansquickly earned him fame. He wrote almost a hundred tragedies, but only a few have survived. Among them we can count:

  • The Persians
  • the supplicants
  • The seven against Thebes
  • The trilogy Oresteia: agamemnon; coephoras Y the eumenides
  • Chained Prometheus

Sophocles (496 – 406 BC)

Sophocles gained fame after winning as a playwright against his predecessor, Aeschylus. He was a prolific author, deserving of numerous awards and recognitions, a close friend of Pericles. Today, only seven titles remain of his work. Namely:

  • Antigone
  • King Oedipus
  • electra
  • Oedipus at Colonus
  • Ajax
  • trachinias
  • Philoctetes

Euripides (ca. 484 – 406 BC)

Euripides completes the triad of the great playwrights of Classical Greece. Unlike his predecessors, he did not always fix his attention on mythical figures, but gave rise to properly human dramas. Among his works we can mention the following:

  • Medea
  • The Trojans
  • Andromache
  • Orestes
  • The Bacchantes