Why is this? Although dozens of studies have been conducted and proved that arts are essential for child development and should be incorporated into students’ education. Unfortunately, this is not the case because simply, the arts are not looked as important anymore. This is significantly different than how greek culture thought of the arts in 534 BC. In 534 BC, the festival of Dionysus was established. My instructor, Dr John Lennox, has provided me an in-depth online lecture about what it was like living in the times of Athens during the crop rebirthing period. I have included his points all over this document. In this paper, we will look into what these festivals meant to the greeks and why they valued theatre so much.
These festivals were intended for the people of Greece to enjoy themselves during the rebirthing of crops from December to April. During that window of time, four theatrical festivals with one tetralogy each would take place. Tetralogies are structured lineups of three tragedies (serious plays) and one satyr (mocks tragedies) by each writer. Members of satyr plays were dressed in goat skins and the winners of the best tragedies would be awarded one goat as a sacrifice. These theatrical performances consisted of dithyrambs, exarchos, and one lone speaking actor. You see, only one actor would speak for each play while the exarchos would react to the actor, which included the dithyrambs in each play. Dithyrambs were orgiastic, drunken dances in honor of Dionysus, the god of wine. Sounds like a fantastic Saturday night in modern times, yeah? Let’s look into the four festivals that took place during the rebirth of agriculture.
Majority of these festivals focused on tragedy around 434 BC and finally introduced comedy in 432 BC. The first festival is called Rural Dionysia. Rural Dionysia takes place in December, which happens to be the month of Poseidon, the god of the sea. This festival took place outside the walls of Athens, Greece and consisted of mostly dithyrambs. The next festival is called Lenea which lengths from January to February. This is known as the month of Gamelion in ancient greek calendars. Lenea focused primarily on comedy and most of the population was required to attend, we’ll dive into that in the next paragraph. The following festival was known as Anthesteria, which took place in March, also known as the month of anthesterion. This is a children’s festival, which is hilarious because this festival included food and libations to the souls of the dead.
The last festival of this rebirthing time is City of Dionysia, or Elaphebolion. This stretched from March to early April, thus bringing an end to the dead period of agriculture. Elaphebolion took placed in the walls of Athens and was the last of the celebration period for the year until next December. The attendance of the whole population was actually required for the month of Gamelion. The reasoning behind this was because the greek government found that the feelings of catharsis in theatre was important enough to a citizen’s development that they were required to attend. This was strictly for Lenea as this was focused on mainly comedy, which helped purge any feelings of pity and fear in society. Since comedies focused on mocking serious plays, it became easier for citizens to face topics of war and terror, making them stronger as people. In fact, it became so necessary for citizens of Greece to go that the government would assist with paying your admission fee into this festival.
Admission for the festival was two obols, which equates to roughly a day’s worth of wages. If you could not pay the two obols, the government would have you consult their theoric fund to help experience the festival’s catharsis. As you can tell, the government held theatrical performance to such a high standard and valued the arts to its highest possible honor. In addition to how much the government appreciated the theatre, the higher class would also value the festival just as much. The higher class would fund different territories of their government, some would help pay for the military while others would help pay for the productions in the festival. This became a sort of competition between some members of the upper class, each member would make a contest for who would fund the biggest show and would make sure their money would be put towards as many advancements to the performance as they could think of.
The “trophy play” was always a tough call to make since each wealthy person would exceed the funding for each performance. One great thing about this investment was that the state would never have to prosecute the wealthy for not investing enough money and the people would get a superb performance out of it all. These competitions were of course separated from the contests going on between the actors. The actors would compete in their own contest to make the best performance during the whole festival and the grand prize would be a goat sacrifice. As we can see, everyone was onboard with making theatre an experience for everyone to enjoy, they would even join for large feasts and share a plentiful amount of wine in celebration. With a lifestyle like this, what kind of actor would not want to be a farmer?
Unfortunately for everyone, after the Peloponnesian war, Athens got their butt kicked and the state funding for the festivals ceased, bringing theatre justice to a complete halt. On the topic of comedy, old comedy came from the comuses. Actors in tunics and long phalluses would dance in this age of comedy. Old comedy was subjected to pose attacks on people, war, and government. This was enjoyed by many until after the war stunted Greece, these jokes quickly became not funny anymore. This brings us to middle comedy, which pretty much just focused on attacks based on literary criticism, which were mainly writers. Once this style of comedy got boring, they would abandon attacks on literary criticism and shifted gears into jokes about everyday life. This style became known as new comedy and can be compared to television sitcoms we have today.
As we can see, Greek theatre festivals were a fantastic time for everyone to get their mind off of the crop season and enjoy the theatre. For discussional purposes, how does this compare to how we value theatre today? Even though performance funding fell dramatically after the war, the festivals would continue to reign and kept a special place in many people’s’ hearts. What made us stop valuing theatre today, why does the American government want to cut funding for the arts if we haven’t lost any wars? Is modern theatre less of an important catharsis today than it was before 400 BC?