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Tragedy was performed in Athens at the annual festival of Dionysus, the Great, or the City, Dionysia in late March. Competition was held on three successive mornings of the festival. Three tragic poets, who had been selected earlier in the year, each presented a tetralogy, consisting of three tragedies and a satyr play. Additional festivities included comic and dithyrambic contests, religious processions and rituals of various kinds. At the close of the festival ten judges chosen by lot determined the winners and awarded the prizes.

The poets wrote the plays, composed accompanying music, directed the production, supervised rehearsals, and in earlier times acted the role of the protagonist. The choregus, who paid the cost of the production, was a wealthy citizen appointed by the government to do this public service. In turn the choregus shared the praise and the awards won by the poet. Tickets were originally free since attendance was seen as a civic and religious obligation as well as entertainment.

Eventually there was a charge for the tickets; however, the state provided funds for citizens who could not afford the price.

Tragedy developed from ancient dithyramb or choral lyric, which was sung by the male chorus in honor of the god Dionysus at his annual festivals. Performances included group dancing and some brief dialogue between the leader and the chorus.

The dithyramb was at first a crude improvisation based on the myths about Dionysus; it may have taken the form of a rough burlesque or satire from the satyr play. In time it came to have a more formal, artistic structure and its content was expanded to include stories from the whole legendary tradition. Radical transformation in approach, a serious philosophical approach, replaced the older boisterousness. The addition of an actor allowed more complicated and lengthy stories...