Thespis - Encyclopedia




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THESPIS (6th cent. B.C.), Greek poet, of Icaria, in Attica, generally considered the inventor of tragedy, flourished in the time of the Peisistratidae. According to Diogenes Laertius (iii. 56), he introduced for the first time in the old dithyrambic choruses a person distinct from the chorus, who conversed with the leader, and was hence called U7roKptri i s (" answerer") .3 3 According to another explanation, he was so called from repeating the words of another - the poet or composer.

44; E.

His claim to be regarded as the inventor of tragedy in the true sense of the term depends upon the extent to which this person was really an "actor" (see Drama). Suidas gives the titles (of doubtful authenticity) of several of his plays (not confined to the legends of Dionysus, but embracing the whole body of heroic legends), but the fragments quoted in various writers as from Thespis are probably forgeries by Heracleides of Pontus. The statement of Horace (Ars Poetica, 276) that Thespis went round Attica with a cart, on which his plays were acted, is due to confusion between the origin of tragedy and comedy, and a reminiscence of the scurrilous jests which it was customary to utter from a waggon (QKC,µuara aµdEns) at certain religious festivals. A. and M. Croiset (History of Greek Literature, Eng. tr., 1904), who attach more importance to the part played by Thespis in the development of tragedy, accept the testimony of Horace. According to them, Thespis, actor and manager, transported his apparatus on a cart to the deme in which he intended to produce his drama, formed and trained a chorus, and gave a representation in public.

See DRAMA; and W. Christ, Griechische Litteraturgeschichte (1898).

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