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(as pertaining to the ancient theatrical world)

Ruins of Ancient Greek theatre at Thorikos.


The term is used to refer to a formal debate in tragedy and especially Old Comedy. The verb agonize means compete, and the term agon is associated with competition and festival. Its format is a contest between 2 speakers with a symmetrical pattern present, with each speaker outlining his or her argument. The chorus aids and sets the terms by introducing each speaker and interjecting when called for.

Antagonist – in drama, the one who opposes the hero or protagonist.
Protagonist – (“first combatant”) first actor in a play, the principle actor or character.

In Greek tragedy, the play was limited to a protagonist (first actor), deuteragonist (second actor), and tritagonist (third actor).
A few days before the Great Dionysia a contest took place that involved an exhibition of the plays that intended to compete in the theater. It was called proagon because the meaning of the word “pre-contest.” Actors entered without costumes and unmasked.

An example from the play “Clouds” is the scene with the Superior and Inferior arguments.


1. Csapo, Eric and Slater, William J. The Context of Ancient Drama. Ann Arbor: The University Of Michigan Press, 1994. pg. 109,162.

2. Cuddon, J.A. A Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literacy Theory. 3rd Edition. Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell Inc., 1991. pg. 17,751.

3. Meineck, Peter. Aristophanes 1. Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 1998. xxviii.


Originally, words added by the actor into their part. The term derived from gag, meaning something forced into the mouth. It was used as slang in the 1840’s. It came to mean a comic improvisation and in silent films, a surprising twist in the plot, like an exaggerated segment of physical humor.

Gag-based comedies are those that are non-sensical and literally filled with jokes, one liners, etc. They are designed to produce laughter in any way possible, often with comic references to other sources (films, people, literature, plays, etc.)

Sight Gag – a form of visual humor where different interpretations can be arrived at from the same set of images or series of actions.

Play of interpretations are usually visible to the audience. A good example would be a scene from “Robin Hood: Men in Tights,” where Robin Hood and Maid Marian are behind a sheet so you can only see their silhouettes’. They proceed to perform actions that suspiciously look like Robin is getting ready to have his way with her, as his phallus appears to grow when it is really just his sword.

An example of a gag from Aristophenes play Birds would be when the exaggerated actions of Makemedo and Goodhope when they soil themselves.

1.) Banham, Martin. The Cambridge Guide to Theater. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995. pg. 407.

2.) Horton, Andrew S. Comedy/Cinema/Theory. Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA, University of California Press, 1991. pg. 26-27.

3.) Cinematic Terms: A Film-Making Glossary. URL: http://www.filmsite.org/filmtermsID.html.

Scatological Humor:

Pathologically speaking, scatology is the study of or a diagnosis through the examination of feces. Literarily, scatology is that which deals specifically with feces as a term for obscene literature.

Scatological humor is crudely fundamental, playing upon others’ misfortune through humiliating and/or ridiculous, unfortunate events.

Another source cites scatological humor as toilet humor. Toilet humor is humor dealing with bodily toilet functions. Very often is toilet humor seen near sexual humor as the body parts in question serve a duel purpose as well as a fetishism that occasionally pertains to the functions of the toilet.

This kind of humor can easily be recognized in lines 65 through 89 in “Birds.” It is made clear in subtext previously but it is at this point that the characters aloud make reference to the misfortune of their incontinence of both the bladder and bowel. When asked by the Secretary Bird of what species they were, they responded with names such as a “Yellow-Streaked Dribbler” as well as a “Brown-Rumped Turddropper from Phartia.” It is also understood that there is to be much uncomfortable action with regards to the unpleasantness of their respective soiled undergarments at this juncture in the play. One could assume that this type of humor could be appreciated by the classical audience as society at the time of Aristophanes was more accepting of the human body. Certain things were less taboo to the societies of old probably due to extraordinary intellect the cultures of the world today selfishly claim to possess.


Note: The order of works cited directly corresponds with those definitions listed above.

1.) Cuddon, J.A., A Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory, Blackwell Reference, Cambridge, MA, 1976.

2.) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scatological_humor


The term mime is derived from the Greek word mimos, originally referring to a form of comic folk play and later referring specifically to those who performed in it. At first a mime would heavily parody mythological characters and later play on everyday situations of society. Generally two or three characters would perform in a mime, generally masked and quite phallephoric.

Another works describes mime as a spoken drama that could very well involve dancing, singing, and/or music. Often was mime used as a finale to a piece of Roman dramatic performance.

Finally, another falls for the definition mime leads people to believe today: Originating in Sicily and Southern Italy, mime is a method of drama pertaining to a story having been told with gestures rather than words; a form of theatre which plays on visual reception a great deal more than aural.

According to the definitions found and listed above, It would be difficult to identify a line or statement in “Birds” that is true to the aforementioned definitions. However, with the first definition we can see the mythological characters that are heavily parodied and it is certainly understood that the characters were indeed masked and adorned with beak and phallus alike. Although dancing, singing, and music are listed with a definition found for Roman civilization, “Birds” would have entailed these features as well; thus, fairly simply qualifying itself as a certain type of mimos, no matter the origin of definition.


Note: The order of works cited directly corresponds with those definitions listed above.

1.) Banham, Martin, The Cambridge Guide to Theatre, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, Great Britain, 1988. Csapo,

2.) Eric; Slater, William, J, The Context of Ancient Drama, University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, MI, 1994.

3.) Cuddon, J.A., A Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory, Blackwell Reference, Cambridge, MA, 1976.


For questions or comments, please contact John Gruber-Miller