Thursday, 21 April 2016

Tragedy - Greek goats love to climb trees.

Tragedy -
noun (plural tragedies)

1 - An event causing great suffering, destruction, and distress, such as a serious accident, crime, or natural catastrophe: a tragedy that killed 95 people [mass noun]: his life had been plagued by tragedy
2 - A play dealing with tragic events and having an unhappy ending, especially one concerning the downfall of the main character: Shakespeare’s tragedies
2.1 [mass noun] The dramatic genre represented by tragedies: Greek tragedy (O.E.D)

Origin - 
Late Middle English: from Old French tragedie, via Latin from Greek tragōidia, apparently from tragos 'goat' (the reason remains unexplained) + ōidē 'song, ode'. (O.E.D) 

According to Susie Dent, the attractive, dark-haired lexicologist of TV's Countdown (dictionary corner), "It is absolutely true that the word ‘tragedy’ has roots in a Greek word meaning ‘goat-song’.  Many theories have been offered to explain it. One is that Greek tragedies were known as goat-songs because the prize in Athenian play competitions was a live goat. The contests were part of worship to Dionysus, involving chants and dances in his honour. The Romans knew Dionysus later as Bacchus, god of all things ‘bacchanalian’: in other words he freed people from their normal self through madness, wine, and ecstasy".

In her book, 'What Made the Crocodile Cry?' Susie explains that sometimes the goat would be sacrificed, and a goat lament sung as the sacrifice was made. Hence the goat-song became intertwined with the Greek plays.

Others believe that in the plays themselves men and women would wear goat-costumes to dress up as satyrs—half-goat beings that worshipped and surrounded Dionysus in his revelry. Another and more interesting idea is one that was offered in the Guardian’s celebrated Notes & Queries section. In answer to why the word tragedy comes from a word for goat-song, a Mr Marcus Roome of Clapton in London wrote simply: ‘Have you ever heard a goat sing?’

Funnily enough, my sister once kept a goat called Miranda. She wasn't sacrificed, partly due to not being reared in Greece and partly because she was a pet. The thought now crosses my mind to ask, "Why do Greek goats climb trees?" Perhaps it was to avoid being sacrificed during the performance of a play. I also wonder whether the idiomatic phrase, 'acting the goat' also derived from this original root.  Etymology is a fascinating pastime, at least to the extent that it has helped me to knock out a blog in half an hour.

I won't apologise for cutting corners today.  The sun is shining and after a hectic few days helping to organise an event to commemorate 400 years since William Shakespeare died at the age of 52, I wanted to spend today, the 90th Birthday of Queen Elizabeth with my nonagenarian Mum, Dorothy and an octogenarian friend.  We had tea and cakes in the Art Deco Café in Stanley Park and allowed them to reminisce. We toasted the Queen lightly on both sides and now in keeping with the tradition of storytelling, I am getting ready to attend the debut of Liars League Blackpool.

As I can't find a recording of 'goat song' - I leave you with a limerick (freshly penned) and a picture just to prove that Greek goats really do climb trees.





 
If  you chance to see goats up in trees,
On the isles of The Cyclades,
the Greeks they have beaten
by not being eaten,
in plays by Aristophanes.  
 
 
That's all folks. Thanks for reading. Adele
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