Monday, 23 November 2020


First historically documented in a competition to find the best tragedy (τραγῳδία, literally goat song, suggesting that that was the top prize)—that is stagecraft with an actor portraying a character rather than themselves singly and distinct from the chorus, on this day in 534 BC performer and playwright, according to Aristotle, Thespis is credited in Western traditions with the invention of acting, performing short dithyrambs—that is, stories about gods and heroes with choric refrains, διθύραμβος or hymns to Dionysus and a way to frame enthusiastic speech—playing all the roles himself and differentiating each part by donning a different mask (persona). 

Building on his successful showing at the contest, Thespis then went on, according to Horace, to invent theatrical touring, transporting his masks and costumes in a horse-drawn carriage, Thespis’ wagon (Άρμα Θέσπιδος, Carro di Tespi) being a popular theme for the visual arts.