Greek Drama

Home/ Greek Drama
Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Discipline ElectiveSUS1EN2344

Semester and Year Offered: Winter semester 2016

Course Coordinator and Team: Bodh Prakash

Email of course coordinator: bodh[at]aud[dot]ac[dot]in

Pre-requisites: None

Aim: Greek drama is arguably the second oldest (preceded only by the epic) surviving written literary expression in the Western world. It is also a very early example of a performance tradition that evolved around the two festivals of the Lenaia and the City Dionysia in Greece between roughly the 6th and 5th century B.C. The course aims to familiarize undergraduate students with the earliest dramatic traditions in the Western world through a study of both tragedies and comedies produced in this period. The relationship between religious ritual, social, political and philosophical issues and the Greek drama will be explored in order to understand broader Greek society and culture.

Course Outcomes: At the end of the course students would be able to:

  1. Understand Aristotle’s conception of tragedy and the tragic experience.
  2. Understand how Old Comedy worked as social and political critique
  3. Appreciate the nuanced relationship between society, politics, philosophy and drama in ancient Greece.
  4. Understand how myth and history came together in the evolution of tragedy
  5. Trace changes in the form of tragedy through the 5th century BC.
  6. Critically analyze both Greek tragedy and comedy.
  7. Explore texts independently and make individual class presentations.
  8. Learn from interactive discussions in class and responses of peers.


Brief description of modules/ Main modules:

Module 1: Introduction to Greek history, society and culture

This module will introduce students to the historical background of Greek drama from about the middle of the 6th century to the first two decades of the 4th century. Brief extracts from Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War (Pericles’ funeral oration) and Herodotus’ Histories will be read and discussed in class to familiarize students with how public and private selves were inter-connected in the Greek imagination.

Module 2: Greek Tragedy

2.1 The first part of this module will be concerned with the framework of tragedy and the tragic experience as theorised by Aristotle. Students will read the section on the tragic hero in Aristotle’s Poetics and explore the formal concepts of hamartia, catharsis, the unities and peripitaeia in tragedy.

2.2 The second part of the module will introduce students to two plays by Sophocles, Oedipus Rex and Antigone. Both plays will be discussed in detail in class and students will be required to understand how the Aristotlian conception of tragedy gets articulated in them.

Module 3: Greek comedy

Comedy originated in the satyr play, which was a brief postscript to the more “serious” genre of tragedy in the early fifth century. Later it evolved as a distinct theatrical form and separate prizes were instituted for comedies in the festival. While hundreds of comedies were produced in this period the only complete works that have survived are the plays of Aristophanes. His plays offer significant critiques of historical figures like Socrates, Euripides, and Pericles together with insights into the situation of women, political and social institutions, foreign relations, education and wars. The module will take up at least one play by Aristophanes for detailed discussion in class.

Assessment Details with weights:



Date/period in which Assessment will take place



Mid Semester Exam

As per academic calendar




Mid-September – Mid-November



End Semester Exam

As per academic calendar





  • Herodotus. The Histories (Book 1) Trans. Aubrey de Selincourt (Penguin Classics, 2003)
  • Thucydides. History of the Peloponnesian War (Book 1, The Funeral Oration of Pericles) Trans. Rex Warner (Penguin Classics, 2001
  • Aristotle. Poetics. OUP, 2013. (Excerpts)
  • Euripides. Medea and Other Plays. New Delhi: Penguin Books, 1963
  • Sophocles. “Oedipus Rex.” The Theban Plays. London: Penguin Books, 1947.
  • “Antigone” The Theban Plays. London: Penguin Books, 1947.
  • Lysistrata and Other Plays. Trans. Alan H. Sommerstein. Penguin Classics, 2003.


Suggested Secondary Readings:

  • Angnostoppoulos, Georgios. A Companion to Aristotle. Wiley-Blackwell, United Kingdom. 2009.
  • Balot, Ryan. K. Ed. Greek and Roman Political Thought. Wiley-Blackwell Publishing, United Kingdom. 2009.
  • Easterling, P. E. The Cambridge Companion to Greek Tragedy. Cambridge University Press, UK. 1997.
  • Smith, Tyler Jo. & Dimitris Plantzos Ed. A Companion to Greek. Art Vol. II. Wiley-Blackwell Publishing, United Kingdom. 2012.
  • Vickers, Brian. Comparative Tragedy, I: Towards Greek Tragedy. Longman Paperback, United States of America. 1973.
  • Woodard, Roger D. Ed. The Cambridge Companion to Greek Mythology. Cambridge University Press, United Kingdom. 2007.