Brett M. Rogers
University of Puget Sound
Scholars and performers have long been familiar with a curious feature in the language of Greek drama: the technical term for the classical Greek dramatic poet-director was διδάσκαλος.1 The evidence for this phenomenon is widespread. In Aristophanic comedy, the chorus explicitly calls the poet-director διδάσκαλος.2 Various forms of epigraphic evidence (e.g., production lists, victor lists, and other choregic3 monuments) refer to the poet-director as διδάκαλος or indicates that he “produced” (ἐδίδασκε/ἐδίδαξε) a given drama or dramas4 . Similar in diction but later in date, several surviving hypotheses inform us that a given drama ‘“was produced’” (ἐδιδάχθη) or that a poet ‘“produced’” (ἐδίδαξε) or even ‘“reproduced’” (ἀνεδίδαξε) his tragedies or comedies.5 In turn, the poet’s collective output could be referred to as his διδασκαλία (“production”), hence of course the name of the present journal.6 We moderns refer to the official victor lists and inscriptions that record the names of the dramas produced as διδασκαλίαι; this nomenclature dates back at least as far as Aristotle, who composed a book of Διδασκαλίαι,7 although Arthur Pickard-Cambridge argued that Aristotle’s Διδασκαλίαι derived its title from the official language of the Dionysia,8 and other scattered references may corroborate the point.9
None of this is curious in itself; rather, the oddity arises when we examine didaskein language from a diachronic perspective, comparing the diction for dramatic production to other occurrences of the verb didaskein and its cognates that either antedate or are contemporaneous with the development of Greek drama. In most surviving archaic and classical Greek texts, didaskein does not mean “to produce” or “to direct,” but “to teach” or “to instruct.”10 Similarly, the nominal form didaskalos means not “director” or “dramatic poet” but “teacher,” both in the unmarked sense of “one who teaches” – as in Heraclitus’ complaint that “Hesiod is the didaskalos of most people” (διδάσκαλος δὲ πλείστων Ἡσίοδος, B57 D-K)11 – and in the familiar marked sense of “one who teaches a particular tekhnê,” sometimes for money, sometimes not. Even the term didaskalia, in its earliest attestations, does not mean “production” but rather either “education,”12 or, less commonly, “facility in learning,” as we find in a fragment of Evenus: “A clever speaker could quickly persuade those who understand, those who have a facility for learning” (τοὺς ξυνετοὺς δ’ ἄν τις πείσειε τάχιστα λέγων εὖ, / οἵπερ καὶ ῥῄστης εἰσι διδασκαλίης, fr. 1.6 West).13 A particularly compelling example comes from Pindar Pythian 4, wherein the hero Jason declares “φαμὶ διδασκαλίαν Χεί-/ρωνος οἴσειν” (“I claim that I shall manifest the teachings of Cheiron,” 102–3).14 Here didaskalia seems to denote “education” in the sense of “an entire educational regimen,” as if Jason were claiming (as it were) to have a degree from the Cheiron Technical Institute of Heroes. In other words, when we look at didaskein language from a diachronic perspective, it was by no means historically inevitable that Greek dramatists in the fifth century BCE would come to speak of their art as didaskalia, nor that didaskalia would be used to denote such a restricted meaning as “dramatic production.”
Consequently scholars have spilled no little ink attempting to delineate the precise meaning and scope of didaskein language so that we may better understand how and why the broader notion of “teaching” came to be used to talk about the more restricted notion of “producing drama.” Perhaps the simplest explanation has been that didaskein refers to “teaching” in a restricted, technical sense,15 referring to the dramatist’s specialized work “instructing” or “training” the actors in their roles. Such work could also include the composition of the poetry (music and lyrics), the choreography of the performance, and the basic social education or socialization of the chorus.16 As John Herington noted, this diction is not exclusive to drama, but also applies to “training” in other performance genres, including dithyramb, epinician, and other choral poetry.17 This explanation further makes good historical sense if we accept Aristotle’s argument that drama developed out of dithyrambic performance (Poetics 1449a). According to this argument, we would thus take the hypothetical statement *ὁ δὲ Εὐριπίδης ἐδίδαξε τὰς Βαγχάς (“Euripides taught the Bacchae”) to have the marked meaning “Euripides produced the drama The Bacchae” or, to unpack it further, “Euripides trained the actors and chorus of The Bacchae.” Other scholars have attempted, however, to move beyond this basic “technical” interpretation, suggesting instead that the convention of referring to the poet as didaskalos alluded to a classical Greek, if not distinctly Athenian, idea that drama was “culturally formative,” that is, that the dramatist not only “taught” the performers, but offered a moral education to the people or the city at large.18 According to this argument (and to borrow from Pindar), we might say that dramatic performers “made manifest” to the polis the didaskalia of an Agathon or Sophocles. One further extension of this argument has been to assert that the dramatic festivals were civic institutions directly aimed at giving Athenian citizens an education in civic ideology, rooting the tragic performance deeply in its civic and religious festival context,19 although such a view has not been without its detractors.20
The basic idea that drama somehow “teaches” individual citizens or the polis at large, of course, is nothing new, but can be traced back to late-fifth and early fourth-century sources. In books 2–3 and 10 of the Republic, Plato’s Socrates famously scrutinizes the educational value of mousikê, although he argues that most drama and poetry must be heavily redacted, if not completely censored, in order to educate citizens of the kallipolis properly. Moreover, the relationship between drama and education is an explicit, recurring topic in Old Comedy; as Emmanuela Bakola and Zachary Biles have recently shown, comic poets at times even adopted the persona of the didaskalos as a form of self-representation.21 Perhaps most famous is the debate between Aeschylus and Euripides in Aristophanes’ Frogs (1052–1058):
Εὐ: πότερον δ᾽ οὐκ ὄντα λόγον τοῦτον περὶ τῆς Φαίδρας ξυνέθηκα;
Αἰ:μὰ Δί᾽ ἀλλ᾽ ὄντ᾽· ἀλλ᾽ ἀποκρύπτειν χρὴ τὸ πονηρὸν τόν γε ποιητήν,
καὶ μὴ παράγειν μηδὲ διδάσκειν. τοῖς μὲν γὰρ παιδαρίοισιν
ἔστι διδάσκαλος ὅστις φράζει, τοῖσιν δ᾽ ἡβῶσι ποιηταί.
πάνυ δὴ δεῖ χρηστὰ λέγειν ἡμᾶς.
Εὐ: ἢν οὖν σὺ λέγῃς Λυκαβηττοὺς
καὶ Παρνασσῶν ἡμῖν μεγέθη, τοῦτ᾽ ἐστὶ τὸ χρηστὰ διδάσκειν,
ὃν χρῆν φράζειν ἀνθρωπείως;
Eu: Did I compose an account about Phaedra that did not already exist?
Ae: Oh yes, it exists. But the poet must conceal that which is wicked, and not
bring it forth or [teach/produce] (didaskein) it. For children it is the
[teacher/director] (didaskalos) who explains things,22 but for the post-
pubescent there are poets. We are obliged to speak useful things.
Eu: So if you speak to us of Lykabêttoses and mighty Parnassus, this is
“[teaching/producing] (to didaskein) useful things”, when we ought to be
speaking on a human scale?
Euripides’ skepticism aside, the Frogs passage offers two basic, but, for our purposes, significant points. First, in Aristophanes’ view, dramatists like Aeschylus and Euripides would have self-identified as “poets” (ποιηταί: 1053, 1055); indeed, as Kenneth Dover observes, “Aeschylus locates himself within a continuous tradition of teaching,”22 including Orpheus, Musaeus, Hesiod, and “the divine Homer” (1030–1036) who “taught useful things” (ὁ δὲ θεῖος Ὅμηρος… χρήστ’ ἐδίδαξεν, 1034–5).24 Second, Aeschylus argues for a distinction between “teachers” (didaskaloi) and “poets” (poiêtai): “there is a didaskalos for children, but for the post-pubescent there are poets” (1054–5).
Such a positivist reading of this passage, however, oversimplifies. First, Aeschylus’ statement implies that both didaskaloi and poets “teach,” that both are, in one sense or another, didaskaloi. The only distinction Aeschylus offers between these two categories is the age group to which each “teaches.”25 We might, of course, make other assumptions to distinguish didaskaloi from poets – for example, that the distinction has to do with professional status (didaskaloi are paid, poets are granted a chorus). However, Aeschylus does not explicitly authorize this distinction here. Second, even if we think Aeschylus is distinguishing didaskaloi who are glorified babysitters from poiêtai who are grant-winning artistes, there is a meta-theatrical joke that cannot be easily dismissed. For if the language of theatrical didaskalia does indeed date to the fifth century, how can Aeschylus not be ironically suggesting that he and Euripides, themselves didaskaloi, are glorified babysitters, how can he not be implying that the audience of Athenians are anything other than “little children” (παιδαρίοισιν)? We not only have here a meta-theatrical joke to which Aeschylus seems delightfully oblivious, but also a serious question that Aeschylus ignores about the meaningful difference, if any, between kinds of didaskaloi.
The scene from Frogs ultimately gestures towards two important points for our present consideration of didaskalia. First, even though the didaskein-based language of theatrical production is internally consistent, it can be difficult to pin down the precise valence of a given use of a didaskein term, especially in the context of dramatic performance, where many different meanings may be operating at any given moment. Second – and this is perhaps my bolder claim here – much of Greek drama appears to be a contest for the very meaning and aims of didaskalia. That is, far from taking for granted the “instructive” value of drama, the dramatic didaskaloi seem to have been attuned to deeper, troubling questions about “teaching” the city: What does it really mean to “teach”? Is there good “teaching” and bad “teaching”?26 What are the dangers of “teaching”? In other words, there is a second way in which the language of didaskalia is curious: despite the fact that the dramatic poet was, by definition, a didaskalos, the language of “teaching” in Greek drama suggests that the definition of didaskalia was up for grabs, and, as the conclusion of Aristophanes’ Clouds suggests, that education was not always good for the polis.
These contests for the meaning of didaskalia were not exclusive to Old Comedy either, but also appear with some frequency in Attic tragedy. In many instances in Aeschylus, for example, “teaching” is not the language of moral instruction, but rather of tyrannical violence and political capitulation. At the end of Agamemnon, Aegisthus threatens that the Argives elders will be “taught” (διδάσκεσθαι, 1619) to submit to him, characterizing prison bonds and hunger pangs as “exceptional at teaching” (διδάσκειν ἐξοχώταται, 1622):
Αἰγ: σὺ ταῦτα φωνεῖς, νερτέρᾳ προσήμενος
κώπῃ, κρατούντων τῶν ἐπὶ ζυγῷ δορός;
γνώσῃ γέρων ὢν διδάσκεσθαι βαρὺ
τῷ τηλικούτῳ, σωφρονεῖν εἰρημένον.
δεσμὸς δὲ καὶ τὸ γῆρας αἵ τε νήστιδες
δύαι διδάσκειν ἐξοχώταται φρενῶν
ἰατρομάντεις. οὐχ ὁρᾷς ὁρῶν τάδε;
πρὸς κέντρα μὴ λάκτιζε, μὴ παίσας μογῇς.
Aeg: You dare say these things to me? You, who are seated at the oar
below, while those at the helm rule the ship? You, old man, will
learn how hard it is to be taught at such an age, when you should
be speaking prudently. Prison-bonds and the pangs of hunger are
the best healer-prophets for the mind, even for the instruction of
old age. Do you, although seeing, not see this? Do not kick against
the goad, lest you suffer pain as you strike it.
Similarly, in the opening lines of Prometheus Bound, Kratos threatens that Prometheus will “be taught” (διδαχθῇ, 10) to love the rule of Zeus (7–10):
Κρ: τὸ σὸν γάρ ἄνθος, παντέχνου πυρὸς σέλας,
θνητοῖσι κλέψας ὤπασεν. τοιᾶσδέ τοι
ἁμαρτίας σφε δεῖ θεοῖς δοῦναι δίκην,
ὡς ἂν διδαχθῇ τὴν Διὸς τυραννίδα
στέργειν, φιλανθρώπου δὲ παύεσθαι τρόπου.
Kr: Your choicest bloom, the blaze of fire that assists all crafts, he stole and
gave to mortals. Such is the wrong for which he must pay the penalty to
the gods, so that he may be taught to love the rule of Zeus and to cease
from his mortal-loving ways.
Such threats from Aegisthus and Kratos, however, do not go without response. Whereas Kratos uses the notion of “being taught” as an expression of tyrannical compulsion, Prometheus refuses to partake in such a view of “teaching.” Not much later in Prometheus Bound, when Ocean visits the bound Titan, Prometheus rejects the idea that Ocean has any use for him as a didaskalos, claiming “You are not inexperienced, nor do you need me as a teacher” (σὺ δ’ οὐκ ἄπειρος, οὐδ’ ἐμοῦ διδασκάλου / χρῄζεις, 373–4). Even though Prometheus famously enumerates the many technai he has conferred upon humankind (436–506) and offers extensive instruction to the visiting, cow-headed Io (700–741, 786–818) – during which instruction he repeatedly refers to Io’s need to “learn” (701, 817) – never once does he explicitly describe himself as a didaskalos.
Elsewhere in Attic tragedy, “teaching” is the language of ritual and mantic instruction, although it can still imply forcefulness. Fed up with Creon’s paranoia in Antigone, the prophet Teiresias pointedly declares “I shall instruct, and you obey the seer” (ἐγὼ διδάξω, καὶ σὺ τῷ μάντει πιθοῦ, 992). In Eumenides, Orestes explains how he came to Athena, transforming his experience of a violent education, “being taught among evils” (διδαχθεὶς ἐν κακοῖς, 276), into a willing submission to his didaskalos, the god Apollo (φωνεῖν ἐτάχθην πρὸς σοφοῦ διδασκάλου, 279).27 Indeed, the Oresteia offers one final transformation of the notion of “teaching,” transferring it from the language of tyrannical violence to the language of the law court, as if to suggest, as Yun Lee Too has argued, that the court has become a new locus of education in Athenian society.28
My objective in this article is not to offer a complete catalogue or extended analysis of instances of “teaching” in Athenian drama,29 nor do I intend to attribute any singular or unified meaning to didaskalia or the didaskalos in the context of ancient drama. Rather, my aim has been: first, to raise several complications about the language of didaskalia otherwise taken for granted by both scholars and theater practitioners; and second, to argue for a much more dynamic understanding of didaskalia with regard to both the content and performance of Greek drama. Since the language of didaskalia is so central to the performance of Greek drama, as I established at the beginning of this discussion, we cannot help but ask in what way(s) the dramatic poet “teaches” or “instructs,” but we must also be aware that invocations of didaskalia in dramatic performance are far from transparent in meaning and require us to examine each instance of “teaching” in Athenian drama through multiple lenses simultaneously. Do characters speak in terms of literal education or use “teaching” as a linguistic frame for a speech act that expresses violence or submission to ritual or participation in the lawcourts, etc.? Is dramatic didaskalia somehow similar to or different from the didaskalia of Cheiron or Hesiod? And, to put these questions into terms more pertinent to modern directors and performers of ancient drama, do utterances of “teaching” or “instruction” take on new meaning when we consider our (student-)actors and our own claims to be didaskaloi, whether moral, professional, or civic? To conclude, then, my goal is not to answer definitively the question posed in the title – “Why Didaskalia?” – but to demonstrate that Greek dramatic didaskaloi repeatedly and resolutely struggled with and competed over the very idea of didaskalia and its various meanings for Greek drama, and to point forward to the (re-)assessment of didaskalia in the Greek dramas themselves that awaits future scholars and practitioners alike.
[This paper was first presented at the “Ancient Drama in Performance II” conference at Randolph College in October 2012. I wish to thank the other participants at the conference and the anonymous reviewer for many useful comments on this paper, as well as Amy Cohen and her editorial staff for their guidance in the final preparation of this article. Any remaining mistakes are mine and mine alone.]
1 By the third century BCE, Alexandrian scholars were comfortable with this use of didaskalos, as can be seen in the title of Callimachus’ lost work on Greek drama, πίναξ καὶ ἀναγραφὴ τῶν κατὰ χρόνους καὶ απ’ ἀρχῆς γενονμένων διδασκάλων (frr. 454–6 Pfeiffer); cf. Pickard-Cambridge 1968: 70.
2 Ar. Acharnians 628, Peace 737–738: both occurrences take place in the parabasis. Cf. Antiphon 6.11. In a similar vein, the Poet in Ar. Birds calls himself διδάσκαλος (912) but explicitly aligns himself with Homer (κατὰ τὸν Ὅμηρον, 910, 914). Perdicoyianni (1994: 178) takes the reference to τῷ διδασκάλῳ at Wealth 797 (where the god Ploutos accepts food from the Wife) to be a reference to the comic poet.
3 I do not intend here to examine the related figure of the chorêgos, the citizen who funds (as a liturgy) and produces classical Athenian dramas. For more on the chorêgos, see the seminal study of Wilson 2000.
4 It is not uncommon to find phrases such as (e.g.,) ΕΥΡΙΠΙΔΗΣ ΕΔΙΔΑΣΚΕ (“Euripides produced,” on the Socrates Monument, SEG XXIII.102). On the didaskein language in the Athenian production inscriptions (the so-called Didaskaliai), victor lists, and other choregic monuments, see Csapo and Slater 1995: 39–44, 121–138, 227–229.
5 Didaskein terms are used to describe dramatic productions in the following hypotheses: Aes. Agamemnon (ἐδιδάχθη, 21); Soph. Philoctetes (ἐδιδάχθη, 17), Oedipus at Colonus (ἐδίδαξεν); Eur. Alcestis (ἐδιδάχθη, 16), Medea (ἐδιδάχθη, 40), Hippolytus (ἐδιδάχθη, 25), Andromachê (∑mny ad 445 οὐ δεδίδακται, proposed by Cobet); Ar. Acharnians (ἐδιδάχθη, 32), Knights (ἀνεδίδαξε, 2.11–12; ἐδιδάχθη, 25), Clouds (ἐδιδαχθήσαν, 5.1; ἀναδιδάξαι, 5.5, 7), Wasps (ἐδιδάχθη, 30), Peace (δεδιδαχὼς, 3.1, but see app. crit.), Birds (ἐδιδάχθη, 1.7, ἐδίδαξε, 2.25), Lysistrata (29), Frogs (ἐδιδάχθη 1.29, 3.24; ἀνεδιδάχθη,1.33, 3.27), Wealth (ἐδιδάχθη, 4.1; διδάξας, 4.3). No didaskein terms appear in the following hypotheses: Aes. Persians, Seven Ag. Thebes, Suppliant Women, Eumenides, Prometheus Bound; Soph. Electra; Eur. Cyclops, Children of Heracles, Hecabê, Suppliant Women, Electra (fragmentary), Heracles, Trojan Women, Iphigenia Among the Taurians, Ion, Helen, Phoenissae, Orestes, Rhesus. In the Euripidean manuscript tradition, where multiple hypotheses sometimes survive, didaskein language and the accompanying information on performance context appear in the hypotheses attributed to Aristophanes of Byzantium (with the exception of the reference to the didaskaliai in the hypothesis for Rhesus, see n. 9 below).
6 Pickard-Cambridge 1968: 71.
7 Diogenes Laertius (5.26) records the name of three Aristotelian texts about drama: Νῖκαι Διονυσιακαὶ (in one book), Περὶ τραγῳδιῶν (in one book), and Διδασκαλίαι (in one book). For other attestations of the title Διδασκαλίαι, cf. Harpocr. s.v. διδάσκαλος, ∑ Ar. Birds 1379. Pickard-Cambridge (71) notes in addition that διδασκαλίαι included not just records of tragic and comic performances, but also dithyrambic performances. See also Csapo and Slater 1995: 41–2.
8 Pickard-Cambridge 1968: 71.
9 There are explicit references to the Διδασκαλίαι in the hypotheses for Eur. Rhesus (24–5) and Ar. Peace (3.1), as well as in a scholion on Frogs about Bacchae (∑ Ar. Frogs 67: οὕτω γὰρ καὶ αἱ Διδασκαλίαι φέρουσι, τελευτήσαντος Εὐριπίδου τὸι υἱὸν αὐτοῦ δεδιδαχέναι ὁμώνυμον ἐν ἄστει Ἰφιγένειαν τὴν ἐν Αὐλίδι, Ἀλκμαίωνα, βάγχας [= DID C22 Snell]), although these were likely composed later than Aristotle.
10 Perdicoyianni 1994 provides a detailed and comprehensive study of the verb didaskein and related terms from the archaic period to 400 BCE.
11 57 D-K = XIX Kahn = Hippolytus Refutation of All Heresies 9.10.2. The full quotation runs: “Hesiod is the teacher of most people. They think that he knows the most things, he who did not recognize day and night, for they are one” (διδάσκαλος δὲ πλείστων Ἡσίοδος· τοῦτον ἐπίσταναι πλεῖστα εἰδέναι, ὅστις ἡμέρην καὶ εὐφρόνην οὐκ ἐγίνωσκεν· ἔστι γὰρ ἕν.). See also Kirk 1962: 155–161, Conche 1986: 102–3, Robinson 1987: 38, 120–1.
12 E.g., Protag. fr 3 D-K. Cf. Perdicoyianni 1994: 172–3.
13 Perdicoyianni 1994 notes that ῥῄστης διδασκαλίης “designe la faculté d’apprendre” (65). Cf. the alternate, albeit unlikely, reading of διδασκαλίην at h. Hermes 556.
14 Translation: Race 1997: i.273.
15 Perdicoyianni 1994: 172 observes a distinction in the Hippocratic corpus between didaskalia “au sens d’ ‘enseignement’ d’un savoir-faire précis” and paideia/paideusis “au sens de ‘culture’.”
16 Note in particular the theory of Winkler 1990, who suggests that tragic choruses may have been composed of ephebes, thus making performance in the dramatic chorus a kind of education and rite de passage for future adult male citizens; cf. Calame 2001 on the idea of a chorus as a rite de passage, but see Csapo and Slater 1995: 352 and Griffin 1998: 43–4 for criticisms of Winkler’s theory. Even if ephebes did not participate in tragic choruses, nevertheless they were members of the audience, educated along with other citizens; see Goldhill 1997: 59.
17 Herington 1985: 24–5, 183–184. Herington’s Appendix IV.D (183–4) lists select examples of occurrences of the verb διδάσκω or noun διδάσκαλος in various poetic contexts. Herington is careful to note that there are no classical attestations of διδάσκαλος with respect to choral lyric, but he infers continuity in Spartan choral training from the time of Alcman onward on the basis of the reference to Alcman as a διδάσκαλος in the “Commentarius ad Melicos” (Alc. 10 fr. 1 iii PMG = P.Oxy 2506 ).
18 E.g., Jaeger 1945, Marrou 1956, Beck 1975, Forrest 1986, Woodbury 1986. I take the definition of poetry as “culturally formative” from Woodbury 1986: 248.
19 Examples include, but are by no means not limited to: Winkler and Zeitlin 1990 (passim), Euben 1990, Gregory 1991, Rose 1992, Meier 1993, Croally 1994, Seaford 1994, Griffith 1995, Goff 1995, Gellrich 1995, Cartledge 1997, Pelling 1997, Goldhill and Osborne 1999, Seaford 2000, Goldhill 2000. Hall (2006: 1–15) offers a useful, short sketch of the contours of this debate, although she is specifically interested in the larger question of the interrelationship between Athenian drama and social reality.
20 E.g., Heath 1987, Griffin 1998, Rhodes 2003.
21 Bakola 2008, Biles 2011: 98, 247–8.
22 Here I follow the translation of Dover 1997: 193.
23 Ibid. 11.
24 Ibid. 193 advises that we translate ἡβῶσι as “adults” rather than “young” (i.e., adolescents).
25 Cf. Biles 2011, who amusingly observes that Aeschylus’ claim here is “a pithy pronouncement about the poet’s role as didaskalos of the adult population” (247).
26 And does the audience come to the theater with the explicit intention of being “taught”? Dover 1997 reminds us that “It may well be that many, perhaps most, Athenians would have assented to the general proposition that a tragic poet has a responsibility to ‘make his fellow-citizens better people’, but that is not to say that they actually went to the theatre in the hope of moral improvement” (12).
27 It is tempting to speculate that here lurks a potential moment of meta-theatricality, since didaskalos Apollo doubles as both ritual “instructor” of, and onstage “director” for, Orestes’ actions.
28 Too 2001.
29 I provide a lengthy catalogue and extended discussion of the notion of “teaching” in Attic drama in my forthcoming monograph entitled Troubling Teachers in Archaic Greece and Athenian Drama. The present study here is merely intended as a snapshot of, and gesture towards, the larger, much more complicated picture of “teaching” not only in classical Greek drama, but in archaic and classical Greek poetry and culture at large.
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