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The Theater in Classical Greece

From the Classical era, we have only 44 plays still extant, with perhaps hundreds more lost. Much of our knowledge comes from the writings of Aristotle from a century later, but he concentrates largely on aesthetics and says little about the theater itself (MacGowan and Melnitz 1-2).

We do know that the theater developed as part of the celebration of the god Dionysus, a pan-Hellenic god who was widely celebrated throughout the Archaic period and honored at dramatic contests with tragedies and comedies. His was also an orgiastic cult. Dionysus is the god of ecstasy and possession and might be called the patron saint of the drama as well as of various festivals and celebrations. Bacchus is the Roman name for the same god. The iconography of Bacchus makes him easily recognizable in artworks and evokes images of wine and revelry along with specific symbols of the god and his cult. In Greek mythology, Dionysus was a bastard son of Zeus. The mother of Dionysus is variously named depending on the source, and some have said she was Demeter, or Io, and some Dione, and still others Lethe. The most common story has it that Zeus disguised himself as a mortal and had a secret affair with Semele ("moon"), the daughter of King Cadmus of Thebes. Zeus's wife, Hera, was jealous. She disguised herself as an old neighbor and advised Semele to ask her lover to do her a favor by


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