Page:The Harvard Classics Vol. 51; Lectures.djvu/379

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By Professor Charles Burton Gulick

THE word "drama" is Greek, and means action—or, as the Greeks limited its use, action that goes on before our eyes. In this way they distinguished the product of the theater from the action of epic poetry and the action of history, both of which, as understood and written by the Greeks, had highly dramatic qualities.

Three centuries roughly coincide with the three periods of development into which the history of the Greek theater naturally falls. The sixth century B.C. is the time of preparation. The fifth witnessed the full flowering of Athenian genius. In the fourth the so-called New Comedy, largely inspired by the realism of Euripides, took shape in the comedy of manners, the portrayal of domestic life, and the foibles of society.


A superficial glance at any play contained in The Harvard Classics will at once reveal the prominence of the chorus. To understand this, as well as other features in the structure of a play, we must inquire into the origin of tragedy and comedy.

This inquiry, slight though it must be, is the more essential because it was the constructive genius of the Greeks that discovered and developed the drama as all countries and ages have since known it.

The drama is founded in religion. In the Greek consciousness it had its spring in the worship of Dionysus, who in one of his aspects was a god of the underworld, latest comer into the Greek Pantheon, whose religion had evoked much opposition, and whose story was full of suffering as well as triumph and joy. He represented the life-giving forces of nature; he was god of the vine and of wine, and at the vintage festival the country folk celebrated him in dance and