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Although there are no characters named Thespis in Sophocles' Antigone, we do find several "thespians" in the play. Thespis is the name given to the legendary inventor of tragedy. He is said to have lived in the region, Attica, which is home to the city of Athens. Thus, Plutarch has a story about him interacting with the famous Athenian lawgiver Solon:
Thespis, at this time, beginning to act tragedies, and the thing, because it was new, taking very much with the multitude, though it was not yet made a matter of competition, Solon, being by nature fond of hearing and learning something new, and now, in his old age, living idly, and enjoying himself, indeed, with music and with wine, went to see Thespis himself, as the ancient custom was, act: and after the play was done, he addressed him, and asked him if he was not ashamed to tell so many lies before such a number of people; and Thespis replying that it was no harm to say or do so in play, Solon vehemently struck his staff against the ground: "Ah," said he, "if we honour and commend such play as this, we shall find it some day in our business." (John Dryden translation)
Despite Solon's alleged reservations about Thespis' work, tradition holds that Thespis won the first prize at the Greater Dionysia held in Athens in 534 BCE. Ancient sources also tell us that originally tragedy was performed by the chorus alone, but that Thespis gave tragedy a prologue and passages spoken by someone other than the chorus. Although modern scholars highly doubt whether Thespis actually invented tragedy, our English word "thespians" (another term for "actors") is derived from his name.
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