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the word choros in Greek meant a number of persons who performed songs and dances at religious festivals. When. the drama at Athens was developed from the dithyrambic choruses, the chorus was retained as the chief element in the Dionysiac festival. (See TRAGEDY.) With the old dramatists the choral songs and dances much preponderated over the action proper. As the form of the drama developed, the sphere of the chorus was gradually limited, so that it took the comparatively subordinate position which it occupies in the extant tragedies and comedies. The function of the chorus represented by its leader was to act as an ideal public, more or less connected with the dramatis personae. It might consist of old men and women or of maidens. It took an interest in the occurrences of the drama, watched the action with quiet sympathy, and sometimes interfered, if not to act, at least to advise, comfort, exhort, or give warning. At the critical points of the action, as we should say in the entr'actes, it performed long lyrical pieces with suitable action of dance and gesture. In the better times of the drama these songs stood in close connexion with the action; but even in Euripides this connexion is sometimes loose, and with the later tragedians, after the time of Agathon, the choral performance sank to a mere intermezzo. The style of the chorus was distinguished from that of the dialogue partly by its complex lyrical form, partly by its language, in which it adopted a mixture of Attic and Doric forms. The proper place of the chorus was on the orchestra, on different parts of which, after a solemn march, it remained until the end of the piece drawn up, while standing, in a square. During the action it seldom left the orchestra to re-appear, and it was quite exceptional for it to appear on the stage. As the performance went on the chorus would change its place on the orchestra; as the piece required it would divide into semi-choruses and perform a variety of artistic movements and dances. The name of Emmeleia was given to the tragic dance, which, though not lacking animation, had a solemn and measured character. The comedy had its burlesque and often indecent performance called Cordax; the satyric drama its Sicinnis, representing the wanton movements of satyrs. The songs of the choruses, too, had their special names. The first ode performed by the entire body was called parodos; the pieces intervening between the parts of the play, stasima; the songs of mourning, in which the chorus took part with the actors, commoi. The number of the members (choreutai) was, in tragedies, originally twelve, and after Sophocles fifteen. This was probably the number allowed in the satyric drama; the chorus in the Old Comedy numbered twenty-four. The business of getting the members of the chorus together, paying them, maintaining them during the time of practice, and generally equipping them for performance, was regarded as a Liturgia, or public service, and devolved on a wealthy private citizen called a Choregus, to whom it was a matter of considerable trouble and expense. We know from individual instances that the cost of tragic chorus might run up to 30 minae (about £100), of a comic chorus to 16 minae (about £53). If victorious, the Choregus received a crown and a finely wrought tripod. This he either dedicated, with an inscription, to some deity as a memorial of his triumph, or set up on a marble structure built for the purpose in the form of a temple, in a street named the Street of Tripods, from the number of them monuments which were erected there. One of these memorials, put up by a certain Lysicrates in 335 B.C., still remains. (See LYSICRATES.) After the Peloponnesian war the prosperity of Athens declined so much that it was often difficult to find a sufficient number of choregi to supply the festivals. The State therefore had to take the business upon itself. But many choruses came to an end altogether. This was the case with the comic chorus in the later years of Aristophanes; and the poets of the Middle and New Comedy accordingly dropped the chorus. This explains the fact that there is no chorus in the Roman comedy, which is an imitation of the New Comedy of the Greeks. In their tragedies, however, imitated from Greek originals, the Romans retained the chorus, which, as the Roman theatre had no orchestra, was placed on the stage, and as a rule performed between the acts, but sometimes during the performance as well.
Type: Standard
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