The Athenian festival of Dionysus meant a full day of plays, a kind of ancient movie marathon. Playwrights were chosen to compete for the prize of tragedy. The three tragedy playwrights (only three were selected to participate in a single festival) presented four works: three original tragedies and a satyr play. A tragedy was a play that told of the downfall of a noble character and typically ended with a series of deaths.  The philosopher Aristotle said that these depressing plays actually made the spectators happier.  Why?  By experiencing the characters' painful emotions along with them, the audience rids themselves of their own negative emotions.  Catharsis was the term he used for this emotional cleansing. 
         After all that emotional-purging (not to mention hours sitting in the sun), the audience needed something light and raunchy to wrap things up and lift their spirits before the long way back to their homes.  A satyr play was a crude
parody of a famous myth, presented with a chorus of anatomically correct satyrs who humorously participated in the actions. Satyrs were half-men, half-goat creatures associated with the god Dionysus, the patron of the festival.
         The Greeks may have adored their soul-cleansing tragedy, but they enjoyed comedy too. Comedies were presented at the Dionysia, and playwrights fought for the prize of comedy. While tragedies and satyr plays often used the old myths as their source, comedies were contemporary jabs at daily life in Athens. The comedic playwrights took shots at everything from philosophers to the city assembly to their fellow playwrights. And, for all their intellectual superiority, the Greeks weren't above crude humor. The "fart joke" is much older than most people think, with the Greek comedies using
flatulence to its full potential.



ABOVE:  A Troop of Colorful Characters

BELOW:  Playwrights Competed For the Prize of Comedy or Tragedy