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Greek Theatre

2. The Chorus

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About this Lecture


In this module, we think about the significance of the chorus in Greek theatre, focusing in particular on: (i) Plato’s views on the social importance of the chorus, including its role in education and for the general wellbeing of society; (ii) the origins of tragedy in choral performance, and the continued (if diminished) importance of the chorus in Greek theatre throughout the fifth century BC; (iii) the importance of the chorus in real-life occasions (e.g. weddings, funerals, religious processions, etc.) and the ways in which these occasions are evoked by the chorus and contribute to the meaning of the drama; and (iv) the tension between the chorus and the individual characters, which gets to the heart of the political significance of Greek theatre.


In this course, Professor Richard Seaford (University of Exeter) explores several aspects of Greek tragedy and comedy. In the first module, we think about the contribution made by vase painting to our understanding of Greek theatre. After that, we think about the significance of the chorus in Greek tragedy and comedy In the third module, we consider what Greek theatre can tell us about contemporary history and society, before turning in the fourth module to think about the extent to which Greek theatre was a ‘democratic’ institution. In the fifth module, we consider the importance of ritual for the understanding of Greek theatre, before moving on in the sixth module to consider the ‘purpose’ of Greek theatre. Is it supposed to teach us something? If so, what? In the seventh module, we think about the importance of music and spectacle to Greek theatre. And in the eighth and final module, we consider whether Greek theatre is better understood as a traditional genre or an innovative one.


Richard Seaford is a professor of the Department of Classics and Ancient History at the University of Exeter in England. He is the author of academic books, especially on ancient Greece, and has penned over seventy academic papers.

His work on Athenian tragedy and religion has led him to investigate the historical conditions for the radical development of Greek culture in the sixth century BC (sometimes called the origin of European culture), and to argue that a crucial factor in this development was money: the advanced Greek polis of this period was the first society in history that we know to have been thoroughly monetised.

Money and the Early Greek Mind. Homer, Tragedy, Philosophy (Cambridge 2004) explores the socio-historical conditions that made this first monetisation possible as well as its profound cultural consequences, notably the invention of 'philosophy' and of drama.

The investigation is taken further in several recent papers, for instance in ‘Money and Tragedy’ in W. V. Harris (ed.), The Monetary Systems of the Greeks and Romans (2008). His most recent book is Cosmology and the Polis: the Social Construction of Space and Time in the Tragedies of Aeschylus (Cambridge 2012). In 2005-2008 he was awarded a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship by the Leverhulme Trust. For 2013-4 he was awarded an AHRC Fellowship for a comparative historical study of early Indian with early Greek thought.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Seaford, R. (2020, March 13). Greek Theatre - The Chorus [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Seaford, R. "Greek Theatre – The Chorus." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 15 Mar 2020,