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THE FIRST PLAYS
IN the days of Solon, men were often to be seen wandering
around the streets during the festival of Dionysus, god of wine. They were clad in goatskins, were smeared
with the dregs of wine, and danced and sang rude songs
in honor of their god.
Theater of Dionysus.
 These songs were called tragedies, which in Greek means
"goat song," because the goat was sacred to the god
whom they thus worshiped. The people were greatly
amused by the rude songs and dances of these worshipers
of Dionysus, and crowds gathered about them to listen
to their singing and to watch their antics.
Thespis, a Greek of great intelligence, noticed how
popular these amusements were, and to please the public
taste he set up the first rude theater. In the
beginning it was only a few boards raised on trestles
to form a sort of stage in the open air; but Thespis
soon built a booth, so that the actors, when not on the
stage, could be hidden from public view.
The first plays, as already stated were very simple,
and consisted of popular songs rudely acted. Little by
little, however, the plays became more and more
elaborate, and the actors tried to represent some of
the tales which the story-tellers had told.
Some people did not approve of this kind of amusement;
and among them was Solon, who said that Thespis was
teaching the Athenians to love a lie, because they
liked the plays, which, of course, were not true.
In spite of Solon's displeasure, the actors went on
playing, and soon the best poets began to write works
for the stage. The actors became more and more
skillful, and had many spectators, although no women
were allowed on the stage, their parts being taken by
Finally, to make room for the ever-increasing number of
theater goers, a huge amphitheater was built. It was
so large, we are told, that there were seats for thirty
thousand spectators. These seats were in semicircular
 rows or tiers, of which there were one hundred, rising
one above another. The lowest row of all, near the
orchestra, was composed of sixty huge marble chairs.
The amphitheater was open to the sky, the stage alone
being covered with a roof; and all the plays were given
by daylight. The ruins of this building, which is
known as the Theater of Dionysus, were dug out in 1862,
and are now often visited by people who go to Athens.
The Greek actors soon dressed in costume, and all wore
masks expressing the various emotions they wished to
represent. The principal parts of the play were
recited; but from time to time singers came on the
stage, and chanted parts of the play in chorus.
Some of these plays were so sad that the whole audience
was melted to tears; others were so funny that the
people shouted with laughter. When you learn Greek,
you will be able to read the grand tragedies which were
written by Æschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, and the comedies or funny plays of Aristophanes.