In this essay I am going to analyze Greek tragedy and Greek comedy and look into their political side. I
will do this by comparing a Greek tragedy and a Greek comedy play, I will identify which are the key
elements of the play. Also, I will focus on the authors Euripides and Aristophanes and I will explain what
was their aim in writing this type of plays.
The Greeks are considered to be the pioneers of Theatre. Initially the Greek theatrical performances had
a more religious character involving dance, music this way honoring the Gods. It is consisted out of a
series of representation of religious character their setting being scenes out of poems or stories. The
Greek State provided food for the thousands of attendees, because it was an all-day performance. They
also provided admission of citizens with less resources. From these Feasts Rituals arises the tragedy and
comedy of the classical theatre. The theatrical genre of ancient Greece is characterized by two
expressive forms. One was to celebrate God Dionysus, who was the god of wine, music, ritual madness,
ritual ecstasy and theatre. The other, revealed the problems of the Greek community.
One of the most important authors and representatives of Greek tragedy was Euripides (480 to 460).
Devoted entirely to the problems and passions of his contemporaries, Euripides had a more human
approach than his predecessors. In his plays Euripides highlighted the human side of heroes, this way he
invited the audience to reflect on what they witnessed.i
The Bacchae is a classical Greek Tragedy written by Euripides. This play is characterized by the duality of
several aspects. The play begins with Dionysus, in human form, arriving at the city of Thebes to chastise
the insolence of their king, Pentheus, which denies the divine origin of the god and prohibiting their
rites. Despite the warnings of Cadmus and Tiresias. Dionysus appears to Pentheus and convinces him to
disguise as a woman and go observe The Bacchaeii The Bacchae were Theban women that had fled the
city possessed by the god to perform the rituals in his honor. The king dressed as a woman and
convinced even his own mother, Agave. His mother kills him, blinded by madness, believing him a fierce
lion. When the woman realizes what she has done, she suffers tremendously from the horror of the act
committed. The work ends with the departure into exile of Cadmus and Agave. The moral message of
the play shows the importance of maintaining balance in one’s life, in social and in the natural one.
Euripides establishes pairings, doubles and oppositions in this play. Pentheus serves as Dionysus double,
switching roles during the play. Cadmus and Tiresias are a pair and the mad women and chorus give a
The extreme opposition between Pentheus and Dionysus that represents both a struggle between order
and disorder and a struggle of flexibility within the social regime. Dionysus’s clear defeat of Pentheus
and his stifling system of order suggests that a society completely devoid of a semblance of disorder and
freedom will inevitably tear itself apart. Probably Euripides uses the character of Dionysus as superior in
his wisdom because of his divinity as a God in the real life for Greeks.
The dynamic in the Bacchae in the play it is to represent social orders within ancient Greek culture. The
relation between Dionysus and Pentheus send a message to the audience regarding the practices of
healthy society, and the harsh repercussions that result from misplacing them.
Pentheus represents the youth that does not accept the advice of the elders Cadmus and Tiresias, this
way paying his arrogance with death. He reveals to us the price of playing with power that escapes our
understanding and dominion, with the dangers of a battle that can’t be won. Despite their old age, the
elders embrace the Dionysian rite and try to make the young king understand the mistake he is making
and that he is falling. Ignoring the voices of the elders the monarch will be devastated by the
Pentheus does not accept the rites in honor of Dionysus because they represent the overwhelming of
the human condition, the passion, the pleasure, the debauchery. This leads us to the conclusion that the
human being wants the Dionysian Abandoned because it is inherent to the human condition. We are
always constrained by circumstances beyond our true nature that will allow us to show us just as we are.
At the end of the play Agave is capable of killing his own son. Does this mean that all our morality and
feelings are not strong enough to overcome our instinct? Or maybe it is a human reaction that we as
beasts are capable of performing any acts, if it produces benefits or pleasure?iii
All the extremism only bring misfortune. The human being cannot base its existence in the Apollonian
method, it would be monotonous, boring and predictable and would also be denying our most free and
beautiful part. But to base our conduct only on that method is not the solution. This leaves us without
liability and therefore makes us human beings capable of feeling a multitude of sensations, unable to
feel any emotion that will make us leave our little world of pleasures to discover the advantages that
sometimes we can have by denying our own pleasure and like that helping those around us. The same
can be applied to the concepts of tradition and modernity. Times are changing and we have to change
with them, but by refusing how we were in the past will not make us better, who does not know his
history is destined to repeat it. The errors are already committed, at least we need to take advantage to
create a better future. To ignore the problems of the past will only bring problems back and stronger.
It´s necessary to revolutionize during the path of the individual life and also during the collective human
life of mankind as a whole. We cannot always move forward because we risk to stumble and fall without
any support to get up.
The god Dionysus in The Bacchae is a character that can represent some characteristics as the change,
creativity, instinct, feelings, passion, love, poetry but also drunkenness, lack of control, excess, sex,
music, freedom, the dreams, the subconscious… He probably represents life in its pure state. Apollo, on
the other hand can represent the symmetry, the order, the rationalism, the head, the repression. Apollo
is the nature, making it perfect and peaceful while the God Dionysus is us, Dionysus is the human being
with all its passions, imperfections and defects.
This play has had an influence on several authors, among them the philosophers Hegel and Nietzsche.
Nietzsche was inspired by Euripides plays to write “The Birth of the Tragedy” where he analyzes the
Bacchae and antagonism Dionysus/Apollo, the nature of things and the choir (manifestation of the
multitudes conquered by the God Dionysus).
During all the play the god Dionysus acts cruel and vengeful, determined to be respected no matter the
price and suffering that he caused to his enemies. After the catharsis of tragedy (a mother killing her
son, demonstration of that against the desire of God nothing can be) one cannot avoid making
comparisons between Dionysus avenger and the Christian god of the Old Testament, benevolent with
his faithful and evil to the sadism against their opponents. Not surprising also that the punishment of
Pentheus includes not only the monarch but also to their loved ones (Agave, Cadmus) who have to pay
for the sins they have not committed.
It is clear that Euripides tried to show in this play his fascination with the Dionysian rite, deep-rooted in
the Greek culture perhaps precisely because it was a celebration of life, as opposed to, for example, the
Catholicism that perceive life more as a punishment and suffering as a gift.
The Greek Comedy like the tragedy was born in Athens but is differentiated by its comic burlesque and
obscene character. The aim of the comedy was to expose the author´s criticism on social, political life of
that time. To achieve that in his plays he used contemporary political humor, sexist jokes and versions of
clever slaves. Aristophanes (Athens,444 B. C. 388 BCE.) was a Greek playwright, mainly focusing on the
comic genre, being the only evidence of old comedy. Five times winner of the Lenaia Comedy Festival,
Aristophanes, who´s writing gave us an idea and understanding of the intense ideological discussion of
the political, economic and philosophical life of that time. Aristophanes was a spokesman for peace we
can see that in four out of his five plays. His love for rural life and simpler times is his vision of ideal
peace. The most touched political topics in his play are about life and death struggles between Spartan
league and Athenian. If we are to condemn or approve the lessons of Aristophanes it would be very
difficult to get to the bottom of the poet´s feelings considering the comedic medium in which they are
conveyed and from the madness of Dionysiac festival. As we have seen, social morality plays a big role in
the Greek comedy.1
The Peace is one of the oldest comedic plays written by Aristophanes. For the first time it was staged in
the City of Dionysia dramatic contest in Athens. The play left a mark for its optimism and festive
anticipation of peace and idyllic return to rural life. However, it also has notes of bitterness mistakes of
past leaders, expressing fears of the unstable peace that was subject to bad leadership.2
In this play
Aristophanes shows us that political actions are one of the decisive factor in human affairs and that
relying on Gods exclusively will not get us anywhere. But in all the Aristophanes plays the jokes are
numerous, with absurd actions and brutal satire.
Like most Athenian citizens, Trygaeus was tired of wars and shortage of food, he decides to call upon the
gods for help. To save himself, his family and his country, unlike the others he looks for ways to gain
entrance to heaven and make a plea to Zeus. After a couple of attempts and accidents to gain entrance,
Trygaeus rides a dung beetle the same way Bellerophon of Pegasus. After succeeding to arrive at Zeus´s
home, he finds that Gods moved far away from Greece. They did that so they would stop hearing the
prayers and to stop seeing the fighting amongst them. The gods abandoned them leaving God of war
helped by his slave Tumult the full power over them. Not long after Trygaeus finds out that God of War
already began to carry out his plans. God of War put Peace in a deep pit and started to prepare all the
cities of Greece into a mortar. Trygareus watched how he prepare different provisions representing
different cities like Laconians, Megarians, Sicilians and Athenians. This deed of destruction was
postponed because he could not find a different ingredient he needed. After Tumult failed to find that
ingredient God of War has to leave the mortar and go find it himself. Trygaeus takes advantage of this
opportunity to safe Peace. He immediately asks for help from all the states of Greece. The states came
to Tygareus´s aid this making enough commotion to bring Zeus back from his retreat. Hermes was
angered and aroused but allowed them to go on in exchange of promises of future glorification. After
1 http://www.theatrehistory.com/ancient/aristophanes003.html Alfred Bates
2 http://www.ancient-literature.com/greece_aristophanes_peace.html Martin Luke 2009
some progress made by the people of Greece, Peace and her companions Harvest and Festival were
freed. Hermes after explained why Peace left them years ago – she was drove away by politicians who
were profiting the war. he tried to come back but every time the Athenians voted against her. After
apologizing to Peace on behalf of people of Greece, Trygaeus enjoys her freedom and takes Harvest and
Festival with him. He takes Harvest because she is now betrothed to him and Festival to be the
This comedy connotes meanings profoundly anti-war, Aristophanes attempts to show the Greeks that
the only consequences of wars are the death and destruction, and that it is much better to reconcile and
to forget the quarrels. Unlike Euripides, Aristophanes does so from the point of view of the comedy: the
author is inspired from folk stories or inventions of their own. While the authors of the tragedy used
myths to transmitted messages, Aristophanes choose especially a story to raise awareness among the
public about a reality very current in his time.
An interesting fact about The Peace is that it was represented in the year 421 B.C, about to be
concluded the Peace of Nicias. The comedy it is presented with a story full of double meanings, obscene
allusions and attacks to characters of the time. This will definitely serve the purposes of the author to
make the audience relate with the work and feel closer to the reality. The chorus in this case, represents
Greek men of the various regions that helped Trygaeus in the rescue. The chorus also express the
general feelings about the play, but the chorus does not have a role that important as in the tragedies.
The chorus do not present the play and their interventions are shorter, although the dialogs still being
an important part.
Aristophanes takes into consideration many elements that are found in the collective unconscious of his
time. No one is saved: parody to the great tragic poets, politicians and most famous war strategists of
his time, among others. Even the recently deceased Cleon, a demagogue of his time that favored the
war, is respected.iv
Aristophanes did not write at the same time as the other great authors of tragedy. The society was
already getting tired of the war, and this was reflected in his work. Aristophanes teaches us a lesson, as
we note that even though some decided not to save the goddess, others such as Argos preferred to be
neutral, but the workers were the one who put in an effort to save Peace. The author believes that a
strong and prosperous society will be built with the effort of the people and not of the warriors.v
With this scene was proclaimed the new happiness of Athens, and from there the play conveys a great
sense of joy, by the celebration of peace. In this way, Aristophanes also encompasses the economic
perspective of Peace: some businesses will bloom while others will go down. Therefore, Trygaeus
advised the arm dealers to look for another job, mocking their despair.
Subsequently a couple of children sang and so did the son of Lamachus. The child sings in the honor of
the warriors, and Trygaeus tells him to stop singing. With this Aristophanes tries to tell us that Children
educated in the tradition of the War will continue the same, but if they are re-educated in the tradition
of peace they will know how to behave. The child sings of Cleonymus, the soldier who lost his shield in
battle. This character was humiliated constantly at that time, but Aristophanes claims, that it was a wise
man and a pacifist, obviously in a full comedic way.
Another interesting scene is when The War is preparing the mortar of war, with typical products of each
region that will subsequently be crushed and mashed… as it happened with the cities during the wars of
the Peloponnese. Luckily War does not find the right ingredients that he needs, meanwhile making fun
of Cleon, alluding to his recent death and this gives time to Trygeus to rescue the goddess.
Aristophanes introduces us the gods much earthlier than in the tragedy plays, less solemn and until
bribes. Hermes is flattered to the fatigue to allow the salvation of Peace and he is the one who has all
the story of wars so he tells then from the perspective of the author: a chain of nonsense, pain and
death, all by the insatiable quest for power. In his story he says, referring to the peace: there was who
put an end to the thing and the goddess disappeared, alluding to the various offers of peace that had
been rejected during the war.vi
Other Greek gods do not appear in the play, but are appointed as if they were tired of the men that is to
say, they don’t even care about the sacrifices of the Greeks, the gods have left them to their fate to seek
peace among them.
The theatre was very important for the Greek culture, it was a way of transmitting the myths of the
Greek Ancestors and their beliefs. Also, I think that it was an easier form of protest, an easy way of share
subliminal messages that many Greeks could understand. At the same time, keeping the audience
entertained. Euripides aim would have been to explore the behavior and the relationship between the
Gods and humans even if he does not honor or judge the God Dionysus at all. Also, it sees the human
side of the God that it makes him feel inferior in comparison to other Gods. A curious theme of that
period was women, as they were not taken into consideration in the Ancient Greece, they were not able
to perform on the stage and their roles were performed by young boys. However, it did not undermine
the role of women in Greek plays. The Bacchae is a women tragedy full of women doing unusual things
from different sexual aspects. We can link it with the resolution of the play where Agave is possessed by
madness to lose her self-control and does not recognize her son. Another important aspect of the play
was the King Pentheus who got convinced by the priest to dress as a woman this way losing his dignity.
Also, the final message that I got from The Bacchae is that Euripides tries to expand the religion making
people loyal to their faith and myths of how no one can deny a God.
Aristophanes wanted to help making a change in the political arena, enabling people to think through
his comedies. Both of the styles comedy and tragedy are political as I think all theatre is political. I
believe that any theatre performance has been made for a reason it can be for a purpose as change the
vision of the public, a way of entertainment or to leave the conclusions and the meanings to the public
The theatre was important for the Greek culture, it was a way of transmitting the myths of the Greek
Ancestors and their beliefs. I think that it was an easier form of protest, an easy way of sharing
subliminal messages that many Greeks could understand but at the same time keeping the audience
entertained. I believe that all theatre is performed for a purpose either as a way of entertainment, to
make people think about different aspects of life. Euripides explored the behavior and the relationship
between the Gods and the humans but he does not honor or judge the God Dionysus
The final message that I got from The Bacchae is that Euripides tries to expand the religion making
people loyal to their faith and show the myths of how no one can refuse a God during the play. He also
explores the multiple behavior and relations between the Gods and the humans as an important
characteristic is that some are more in control than others. In the play the God Dionysus sees his human
side weaker and inferior compared with other Gods.
Woman play a fundamental part in these performances, they were not considered important in the
Ancient Greek society and not been allowed to be on the stage. Any woman parts were played by a
young boy. However, The Bacchae it is a woman tragedy play as there is a fundamental role of woman,
but that does not mean that the female role in the theatre was essential, during the full performance
with woman doing unusual things in sexual aspects. That maybe explains why the blame of the young
King ended with the main feminine character losing her self-control and not recognizing her own son.
Also, how the King Pentheus end up dressed as a woman and lost his dignity.
Aristophanes wanted to help make a change in the political arena, enabling people to think through his
comedies. By doing research for this essay I took in consideration the personal goals of each author.
While I read more information about Aristophanes’ life I found that people could describe him as a very
religious and close-minded person. It grabs my attention after reading his play that he is sensitive and
vindictive individual. All Theatre is political it is hard to say which style is more, probably the comedy
was more social as it could break the barrier of expressing and performing taboo thoughts to the public
and mocking popular persons.
. Greeks invented the idea of the criticism and the critical thinking. Not all the Greeks were having an
open mind, some of them would have liked to keep their conservatories ideas and facts forever.
However, Greeks demonstrated their characteristics of a progressive culture that it could predominate
even more than the tradition in itself. Their culture also looks intolerant but they managed to produce
amazing performances full of imagination and they still are an important factor that has influence on our