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A good place to start in examining the origins of tragedy as a literary genre would be a thoroughly annotated edition of Aristotle's Poetics. Aristotle explicitly discusses the origins and developments of tragedy, offering many intriguing comments, theories, and suggestions. Any truly responsible editor of any truly scholarly edition of The Poetics would try to provide a sense of current scholarly thinking about Aristotle's claims. Recent scholarly editions published by major scholarly presses (such as Cambridge, Oxford, Harvard, etc.) would be good places to begin your search for information on this topic.
Here's a link that may help, although the information listed here by no means seems exhaustive:
I remember being very impressed by the edition of the Poetics edited by Leon Golden and O. B. Hardison, but I don't recall how much time is spent in that edition discussing the origins of tragedy.
I have always considered that the Greeks had a corner on tragedy, especially as portrayed in classics like Oedipus, Antigone, etc. We get the description of the tragic hero from Aristotle (also a Greek). In looking into the roots of tragedy, and in trying to understand how it has impacted drama and literature through the ages, I would start with the Greeks. However, I also agree with #7, that kplhardison does a fine job with giving an excellent foundation for its beginnings, even down to the etymology of "tragedy."
When one considers tragedy, the true origin of tragedy is life after the Garden of Eden, for once people began to die, tragedy was created. Tragedy as an art form began after people such as the Greeks began to ponder the essence of life and what directed life. Hemingway wrote that in the minds of all thinking people there is a sense of the tragic.
If you are after the precise origins of this word as a literary form, you need look no further than the precise and thorough response of kplhardison in #6. However, as with other editors, I think that tragedy as a literary form can also be related to our nature as human beings and what it is to be human. Our fascination with this form and its popularity could be said to be related to the way that we all have experienced tragedy, and it is part of the human condition. Ideas of catharsis come to play in this sense as well: by watching or reading tragedies we are able to have our emotions purged.
The origins of tragedy among its Greek innovators is the festivals for the god Dionysus. His revelers often took the costume of satyrs, which are half-goat, for his festivals and sang songs honoring him. Some of the songs they sang, probably written for the winter Dionysian death festival, were mournful and somber. It is from these that tragedies arose, as "tragedy" is the word for "goat": Greek tragōidía, equivalent to trág ( os ) goat (Random House Dictionary on Dictionary.com). Dionysian festivals came over time to host competitions to honor the best tragedy at each festival. [See The Origins of Tragedy for more
Tragedy has its roots in the Greek plays. Even the word tragedy comes from the practice of Greek actors wearing masks and goatskin costumes while performing on the stage. The word literally means "goat song" in Greek. The ancient Greeks performed in great arenas and held great festivals which were underwritten by the town so everyone could attend for free. The definitive work on tragedy comes from Aristotle, as well. There are specific and particular criteria for a Greek tragedy, and those are generally accepted as today's criterion. If I were researching "tragedy," I would certainly start with the Greeks.
When looking at this question I first thought about Shakespeare. After looking at it a little more, I decided that it could be interpreted in a different way.
Tragedy has been something we, as a civilization, has faced for millenniums. Our lives, from the beginning of time, have been filled with tragic moments. Some could consider Eve's taking of the apple (or pomegranate) as the initial tragedy- a mirror of the original sin.Therefore, one could justify that tragedy originated with this action.
I always say tragedy has its origins in the oral tradition. When stories were passed from from generation to generation orally, around a fire, most were tragedy I assume. You can learn a great deal from tragedy. Then came the Greeks, which are really the origins of modern tragedy. Greek plays were full of drama and suspense, and serious tragic elements!
Tragedy can be defined as an event that causes great unhappiness or suffering, such as an injury, death, natural disaster, war, etc. Tragedy has been a part of the human condition as long as there have been humans living on the Earth.
I think what you are asking is when and how did tragedy become a part of literature. The answer is that tragedy has always been seen as one type of literature because that's what literature does - it reflects the range of human experience. When people first started to write down records of the stories that had been orally shared for thousands of years prior to the invention of writing, those records included tales of hard times, violent storms, conflicts between groups of people because that was what people remembered and retold.
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