Aristotle's Tragedy Terminology

31 Terms to Know That Aristotle Used for Ancient Greek tragedy.

In movies, or on television or stage, actors interact with one another and speak lines from their scripts. If there's only one actor, it's a monologue. Ancient tragedy began as a conversation between a single actor and a chorus performing in front of an audience. A second and, later, a third actor were added to enhance tragedy, which was a major part of Athens' religious festivals in honor of Dionysus. Since dialogue between individual actors was a secondary feature of Greek drama, there must have been other important features of tragedy. Aristotle points them out.


The term agon means contest, whether musical or gymnastic. The actors in a play are agon-ists.


Anagnorisis is the moment of recognition. The protagonist (see below, but, basically, main character) of a tragedy recognizes that his trouble is his own fault.


Anapest is a meter associated with marching. The following is a representation of how a line of anapests would be scanned, with the U indicating an unstressed syllable and the double line a diaeresis: uu-|uu-||uu-|u-.


The antagonist was the character against whom the protagonist struggled. Today the antagonist is usually the villain and the the protagonist, the hero.

Auletes or Auletai

The auletes was the person who played an aulos -- a double flute. Greek tragedy employed auletes in the orchestra. Cleopatra's father was known as Ptolemy Auletes because he played the aulos.


Aulos Player Vase at the Louvre
Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Aulos was the double flute used to accompany lyric passages in ancient Greek tragedy.


The choregus was the person whose public duty (liturgy) was to finance a dramatic performance in ancient Greece.


The choryphaeus was the chorus leader in ancient Greek tragedy. The chorus sang and danced.


A diaeresis is a pause between one metron and the next, at the end of a word, generally marked with two vertical lines.


A dithyramb was a choral hymn (hymn performed by a chorus), in ancient Greek tragedy, sung by 50 men or boys to honor Dionysus. By the fifth century B.C. there were dithyramb competitions. It is conjectured that one member of the chorus began to sing separately marking the beginning of drama (this would be the single actor who addressed the chorus).


Dochmiac is a Greek tragedy meter used for distress. The following is a representation of a dochmiac, with the U indicating a short syllable or an unstressed syllable, the - a long ot stressed one:
U--U- and -UU-U-.


An eccyclema is a wheeled device used in ancient tragedy.


The episode is that part of tragedy that falls between choral songs.


The exode is that part of tragedy not followed by choral song.

Iambic Trimeter

Iambic Trimeter is a Greek meter used in Greek plays for speaking. An iambic foot is a short syllable followed by a long. This may also be described in terms appropriate for English as an unstressed followed by a stressed syllable.


Kommos is emotional lyric between actors and chorus in ancient Greek tragedy.


Monody is a lyric sung solo by one actor in Greek tragedy. It is a poem of lamentation. Monody comes from the Greek monoideia.


The orchestra was the round or semi-circular "place for dancing," in a Greek theater, that had a sacrificial altar at the center.


In Old Comedy, the parabasis was a pause around the midpoint in the action during which the coryphaeus spoke in the name of the poet to the audience.


The parode is the first utterance of the chorus.


A parodos was one of two gangways on which chorus and actors made their entrances from either side into the orchestra.


Peripeteia is a sudden reversal, often in fortune of the protagonist. Peripeteia is, therefore, the turning point in Greek tragedy.


The prologue is that part of tragedy that precedes the entrance of the chorus.


The first actor was the main actor whom we still refer to as protagonist. The deuteragonist was the second actor. The third actor was the tritagonist. All actors in Greek tragedy played multiple roles.


was a non-permanent building placed at the back of the orchestra. It served as a backstage area. It could represent a palace or cave or anything in between and had a door from which actors could emerge.



is a stationary song, sung after the chorus has taken up its station in the orchestra.


Stichomythia is rapid, stylized dialogue.


Choral songs were divided into stanzas: strophe (turn), antistrophe (turn the other way), and epode (added song) that were sung while the chorus moved (danced). While singing the strophe, an ancient commentator tells us they moved from left to right; while singing the antistrophe, they moved from right to left.


Tetralogy comes from the Greek word for four because there were four plays performed by each writer. The tetralogy consisted of three tragedies followed by a satyr play, created by each playwright for the City Dionysia competition.


In general, the theatron was where the audience of a Greek tragedy sat to view the performance.


The theologeion is a raised structure from which the gods spoke. The theo in the word theologeion means 'god' and the logeion comes from the Greek word logos, which means 'word'.

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Gill, N.S. "Aristotle's Tragedy Terminology." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Gill, N.S. (2023, April 5). Aristotle's Tragedy Terminology. Retrieved from Gill, N.S. "Aristotle's Tragedy Terminology." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 7, 2023).