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Phrynichus, son of Polyphradmon and pupil of Thespis, was one of the earliest of the Greek tragedians. [1]

Some of the ancients, indeed, regarded him as the real founder of tragedy. He gained his first poetical victory in 511 BC. His famous play, the Capture of Miletus, was probably composed shortly after the conquest of that city by the Persians (see Ionian Revolt). The audience was moved to tears, the poet was fined for reminding the Athenians of their misfortunes, and it was decreed that no play on the subject should be produced again.

In 476 Phrynichus was successful with the Phoenissae, so called from the Phoenician women who formed the chorus, which celebrated the defeat of Xerxes at the Battle of Salamis four years earlier. Themistocles acted as choragus (leader of the chorus), and one of the objects of the play was to remind the Athenians of his great deeds. The Persians of Aeschylus (472) was an imitation of the Phoenissae. Phrynichus is said to have died in Sicily.

Some of the titles of his plays, Danaides, Actaeon, Alcestis, Tantalus, show that he treated mythological as well as contemporary subjects. He introduced a separate actor as distinct from the leader of the chorus, and thus laid the foundation of dialogue. But in his plays, as in the early tragedies generally, the dramatic element was subordinate to the lyric element as represented by the chorus and the dance. According to the Suda, Phrynichus first introduced female characters on the stage (played by men in masks), and made special use of the trochaic tetrameter.

Fragments in A Nauck, Tragicorum graecorum fragmenta (1887).


[1] P.W. Buckham, Theatre of the Greeks, p. 108: "The honour of introducing Tragedy in its later acceptation was reserved for a scholar of Thespis in 511 BC, Polyphradmon's son, Phrynichus; he dropped the light and ludicrous cast of the original drama and dismissing Bacchus and the Satyrs formed his plays from the more grave and elevated events recorded in mythology and history of his country."


  • P.W. Buckham, Theatre of the Greeks, 1827.

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