What does the term "protagonist" mean in Greek drama?

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thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Greek, the term "protagonist" is derived from "proto-" (first) and "agon" (contest) and literally means first contestant. Its transferred meaning in literary context means "main character". In modern literary criticism the term protagonist is used generically to refer to the most important character in a literary work. In Greek drama, the term has special significance due to the evolution of drama. Drama originated in choral performances. The chorus leader gradually, according to Aristotle's Poetics, began to be given lines spoken individually, often in dialogue with the chorus, and thus gradually evolved into a "protagonist" or lead actor. Aeschylus introduced the second actor, but the most imprtant role or roles was held by the portagonist. Note that Greek actors played multiple roles in plays by changing costumes.