Word of the Day - Friday, February 5th

Contact Us



Word of the Day


Clever Clue of the Month

The Cruciverbalist


Daily Email

ODEA (OH-dee-uh)

Small buildings of ancient Greece used for public performances

Also, contemporary theaters of concert halls

Common clues: Old Greek theaters; Concert halls; Ancient theaters; Concert venues

Crossword puzzle frequency: once a year

Video: Epidaurus, Best Preserved Ancient Greek Theater

The Greek theatre (AE theater) or Greek drama is a theatrical tradition that flourished in ancient Greece between c. 550 and c. 220 BC. Athens, the political and military power in Greece during this era, was the centre of ancient Greek theatre. Tragedy (late 6th century BC), comedy (486 BC), and satyr plays were some of the theatrical forms to emerge in the world. Greek theatre and plays have had a lasting impact on Western drama and culture.

The origin of western theatre is to be found in ancient Greece. It developed from a state festival in Athens, honoring the god Dionysus. The Athenian city-state exported the festival to its numerous allies in order to promote a common identity.

Panoramic view of the Greek theatre at Epidaurus.

The plays had a chorus of up to fifty people, who performed the plays in verse accompanied by music, beginning in the morning and lasting until the evening. The performance space was a simple semi-circular space, the orchestra, where the chorus danced and sang. The orchestra, which had an average diameter of 78 feet, was situated on a flattened terrace at the foot of a hill, the slope of which produced a natural theatron, literally "watching place". Later, the term "theatre" came to be applied to the whole area of theatron, orchestra, and skené. The choragos was the head chorus member who could enter the story as a character able to interact with the characters of a play.

The theatres were originally built on a very large scale to accommodate the large number of people on stage, as well as the large number of people in the audience, up to fourteen thousand. Mathematics played a large role in the construction of these theatres, as their designers had to able to create acoustics in them such that the actors' voices could be heard throughout the theatre, including the very top row of seats. The Greeks' understanding of acoustics compares very favourably with the current state of the art, as even with the invention of microphones, there are very few modern large theatres that have truly good acoustics. The first seats in Greek theatres (other than just sitting on the ground) were wooden, but around 499 BC the practice of inlaying stone blocks into the side of the hill to create permanent, stable seating became more common. They were called the "prohedria" and reserved for priests and a few most respected citizens.

In 465 BC, the playwrights began using a backdrop or scenic wall, which hung or stood behind the orchestra, which also served as an area where actors could change their costumes. It was known as the skené, or scene. The death of a character was always heard, “ob skene”, or behind the skene, for it was considered inappropriate to show a killing in view of the audience. The English word 'obscene' is a derivative of 'ob skene.' In 425 BCE a stone scene wall, called a paraskenia, became a common supplement to skenes in the theatres. A paraskenia was a long wall with projecting sides, which may have had doorways for entrances and exits. Just behind the paraskenia was the proskenion. The proskenion ("in front of the scene") was columned, and was similar to the modern day proscenium. Today's proscenium is what separates the audience from the stage. It is the frame around the stage that makes it look like the action is taking place in a picture frame.

Greek theatres also had entrances for the actors and chorus members called parodoi. The parodoi (plural of parodos) were tall arches that opened onto the orchestra, through which the performers entered. In between the parodoi and the orchestra lay the eisodoi, through which actors entered and exited. By the end of the 5th century BCE, around the time of the Peloponnesian War, the skene, the back wall, was two stories high. The upper story was called the episkenion. Some theatres also had a raised speaking place on the orchestra called the logeion.

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Theatre of ancient Greece".