The Theater and the city

The Theater and the city: The first steps for the transition to democracy – “the city itself becomes a theater”

In the glorious Athens of the 5th century, festivals were an integral part of the life of the citizens as they took place several times a year and included sacrifices, processions and dance and music competitions. These celebrations were financed by the city-state and wealthy citizens as it was a way for them to win the favor of the people.

The Peisistratides were the ones who established the first dramatic prize games in the Dionysians. The first tragic performance took place in the context of the Great Dionysians around 534 BC. Pericles further enriched the festivities by adding additional musical contests. “Citizens were able to experience themselves in the context of their coexistence” as they all participated in the ceremonies together as a group and at the same time each as an individual.

One of the biggest events was the Great Dionyians. They took place in the city center at the end of March. There were also the rural Dionysians which took place in December. As the name reveals, this festival was dedicated to the god Dionysus and was initially supported by Peisistratus for political reasons. This deity was accepted mainly by the lower masses and thus the tyrants used these celebrations for political expediency as they themselves sided against the aristocracy and in favor of the common people, who were marginalized and sought to obtain equal rights with the aristocracy. With the feast of Dionysus, these efforts were strengthened. In other words, the Peisistratides established the Great Dionysians to get closer to the rural population that was their main supporter. At the same time, a sense of collectivity was strengthened as the lower classes all gathered together in a festival dedicated to the god they supported and co-existed in a common cultic purpose. This collective was one of the first steps towards the transition to democracy. Similar movements were made by tyrants in the entire Greek area.

Vernant Jean-Pierre, «Εντάσεις και αμφιλογίες στην αρχαία ελληνική τραγωδία», στο: Jean-Pierre Vernant και Pierre Vidal-Naquet, Μύθος και τραγωδία στην αρχαία Ελλάδα, μτφ. Στέλλα Γεωργούδη, τμ. 1, 2 τμ., 2η., Ζαχαρόπουλος, Αθήνα 1988
Meier Christian, Η πολιτική τέχνη της αρχαίας ελληνικής τραγωδίας, επιμ. Μαρία Ιατρού, μτφ. Φλώρα Μανακίδου, Καρδαμίτσα, Αθήνα 1997.
Vernant Jean-Pierre, «Οιδίπους, ο σύγχρονός μας;», στο: Ανάμεσα στον μύθο και την πολιτική, μτφ. Μ.Ι. Γιόση, Σμίλη, Αθήνα 2003.