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Cinema’s and theater’s core concept are Greek

By Dr Dimitra Kamarinou
The National Herald
Vol.20 Issue 1011, p.11
February 25 – March 3, 2017

  • Herod Atticus Odeon

Though two millennia have passed, much of theater’s and cinema’s terminology, plot elements, and classification into genres have not changed significantly since antiquity.

Greeks did not only gave the world the theater, as an idea of enacting in a specific place before a live audience a real or imagined story using actors and elements from many arts. Modern theater and cinema owns to ancient drama much of its core terminology, which defines its content.

The word cinema derives from the Greek kinematographos = kinema and grapho. Κinema (cinema) means the movement and the verb grapho means to write, to record. Cinema records the movement, it is moving images. In English the whole Greek word has been kept in the word cinematography, which is the film making. Cinephile (cinema +philos) is the one who loves cinema. Philos in Greek is friend, the one who loves something, since the ancient Greek verb philo means I love.

Drama comes from the Greek word drama, which derives from the Ancient Greek verb drao, which means to do, to act. In Ancient Greece, it initially meant the genre of poetry which, unlike the epic and the lyric poetry, is being performed as an enactment of the story it narrates. Today we call epic a film, a poem, a book that is long, full of action and historical references. Εpika were called the Homeric poems, and other long historic narrations of heroes’ adventures. Lyric – from lyrikos – then and now is a piece or literature that expresses personal feelings and thoughts.

In Ancient Greece there were three drama genres: the tragedy, the comedy and the satiric drama, still being used to characterize a play or movie.
Tragedy derives from the Ancient Greek word tragodea. It is a compound of two words, tragos and ode: tragos means male goat and ode means song. The word ode, occurs as the second compound in the words tragedy, comedy, parody, melody. Many movie theaters are called Odeon, the Greek word for a small-roofed theater, mainly suitable for singing and concerts.
The first compound, tragos, the billy goat, indicates the origin of the tragedy in the ancient Dionysian cults. In 335 BCE Aristoteles wrote about the origin of the ancient drama in his “Poetics (IV, 1449a 10–15): “Arising from an improvisatory beginning (both tragedy and comedy-tragedy from the leaders of the dithyramb, and comedy from the leaders of the phallic processions which even now continue as a custom in many of our cities), [tragedy] grew little by little, as [the poets] developed whatever [new part] of it had appeared;”
As Aristoteles mentions, comedy originates in folk celebrations to Dionysus and Bacchus. Comedy is a compound of comos+ode .

Comos was also called a joyful evening banquet as well as the band of revelers, who after the evening banquet, would roam around the streets with torches and wreaths, headed by musicians. Aristophanes’ famous comedies were political satires that ridiculed the most prominent personalities and institutions of the Athenian society, even mythological heroes.
Satiric drama used mythological themes and a chorus of phallic satyrs. Being half the duration of a tragedy in the Athenian competitions it was performed between the tragedies as a comic entertainment.

Some of modern theater’s plot elements derive from the Greek theater. An episode today is a coherent narrative unit within a film or television series. The word episode derives from the Greek episodion, meaning the theater’s acts, which were performed by the actors between the chorus songs. The 12-15 chorus members sang as a choir and used the whole space of the orchestra to dance and express with their bodies’ movements feelings related to the protagonists’ actions. The chorus songs, which were the main music parts, were called melos, from which the word melody, derives melos and ode.

Monologue (mono and logos, i.e., single speaking) was the part of the drama in which a single actor spoke alone, while dialogue (dia and logos, i.e., interpersonal talking) was the conversation between two or more actors. The earlier performances involved merely dancing and recitation by the chorus.

In about 536 BC, the poet Thespis introduced the idea of having one actor step out and engage in a dialogue with the chorus. In modern times, actors are called thespians; some belong to thespian societies like the actor’s guild.

Then the poet Aescylus introduced in his plays a second actor, inventing the idea of dialogue between two characters, and Sophocles a third one. The actor was called hypokritis, the one who pretends to be something he is not, a hypocrite. Protagonist is the Ancient Greek protagonistis (protos and agonistis, i.e., the first in the contest) meaning “the principal actor,” who then and now is the main character in the story.

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