chapter  1
Ritual Theatre
Pages 42

In early spring, when the sea was navigable again after the stormy winter months, the citizens of Athens gathered in the theatre to celebrate the Great, or City Dionysia, the largest and most important state (polis) Dionysian festival. The most significant element and climax of this festival was the performance of tragedies over a period of three days. The choregoi (producers), poets and actors competed in the tragic agon (competition), and a victory earned them tremendous prestige and respect from the polis. The winning poets were held in such high regard by their fellow citizens that they would often be elected to important political or military posts. Sophocles, for example, who won twenty victories in the tragic agon between 468 BC (the first year he competed) and the year of his death in 406 BC, was awarded the post of Hellonotamias in 443-2. Between 441 and 439, he was awarded a generalship with Pericles during the Samic War, it is claimed due to the enormous success of Antigone. In 428 he was awarded another generalship, this time with Thucydides, and in 411 he was finally elected as one of the probuloi – all of which is impressive evidence of the effect that performances of the tragedies had on the polis.