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MonkeyNotes-Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles
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The Chorus

Greek tragedy contained two basic elements - - the dramatic spoken exchanges between two or three lead characters, and the choral songs in lyric meters, sung mostly to the accompaniment of the flute. By the early 5th century B.C., Aeschylus and Phyrnicus had invented many graceful and dignified dance steps for the chorus to execute as they recited their lyrics.

In fact, the word "chorus" comes from a Greek term meaning 'dance'. The chorus was, at first, an important part of religious rituals and was later included in public performances of choral lyrics. By the 7th and 6th centuries B.C., the performance of tragedy in Attica, an area near Athens, was part of religious festivals honoring Dionysus and included the use of a chorus. Soon, it was featured in comedy, as well. The chorus sang (or chanted) the lyric passages of a drama to the tune of a lyre (or flute) along with elaborate and stylized dance steps. The original choral lyric was called the 'dithyramb' and was performed mainly at the Dionysia. Far from being a separate literary genre, drama sprang from the choric songs, which in turn became an integral part of both tragedy and comedy.

Like the main actor in the Greek plays, the chorus wore masks, for the surrender of self-identity was an intrinsic part of all Dionysiac rituals. In tragedy, the chorus always performed in character as a united group of people not directly involved in, but commenting on, the main action of the drama. Rarely did the chorus take a direct part in the action. In Oedipus At Colonus, the chorus appears to take an active part. First, they hound Oedipus out of the grove; then they protect him from Creon's attempt to abduct Oedipus.

Occasionally, the leader of the chorus, known as the 'hegemon' or 'Coryphaeus', is singled out from the rest of the group and often allowed to converse briefly with the main characters or to utter a monologue directed to the rest of the chorus or to the audience. This gives him the possibility of partaking in the main dramatic action and dialogues, mostly during the 'kommos' or laments interspersed during or between the Episodes of a play.


The chorus was often trained by the dramatist himself. In this capacity, he was called the 'Chorodidaskalos' -- members of the chorus were selected and financially supported by a prominent private citizen called the 'Choregus'. Later, the Greek city-state took over the task of appointing and underwriting the costs of the chorus for its training and equipment. The chorus, in tragedy, consisted of 12 members at first, but Sophocles increased it to 15. Portions of the drama assigned to the chorus were written mainly in iambic meter for the dramatic dialogues. Some verses were written in pure anapaestic measure, mainly for the entry and exit of the chorus at the start and close of a play.

The chorus was frequently divided into two semi-choruses, who sang alternate stanzas called the strophe and the anti-strophe. Sometimes, a group of three lyric stanzas known as "Triad" was used. In such cases, the first two stanzas (i.e., strophe and anti- strophe) have symmetrical (or corresponding) meters, whereas the third stanza, called the Epode, was a different measure.

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