Departmental Papers (Classical Studies)

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Book Chapter

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Choruses, Ancient and Modern

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For the ancient Athenians, tragedy was a species of choral poetry, a spectacular new development within a long tradition of group performances combining song and dance. Modern discussions and receptions of tragedy have generally focused on what was added as tragedy left its purely choral roots behind: individual speaking actors impersonating the main characters of a myth. But recently critics have paid more attention to tragedy's ongoing choral element, investigating not only the particular choruses of individual plays, but also the tragic chorus's connections to non-dramatic lyric and to the ritual contexts in which most choral song was performed. We are gaining a clearer understand­ing of what the chorus became when it appeared in tandem with the clamor­ous individuals who dominate tragic plots.

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This material was originally published in Choruses, Ancient and Modern edited by Joshua Billings, Felix Budelmann, and Fiona Macintosh and has been reproduced by permission of Oxford University Press. For permission to reuse this material, please visit

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Date Posted: 06 January 2017