On Monday 20th November 2017, the Year 10 Classical Civilisation class weren’t writing essays, or learning facts – they were participating in a festival that originated thousands of years ago in ancient Greece. Yes, the City Dionysia – a 6-day festival in honour of Dionysus, once filled with plays, sacrifice, and parades, recreated in Room 9 of Chislehurst and Sidcup Grammar School on a cloudy Monday morning in period 1.
The students had been researching and preparing for the last 3 lessons in groups of 2-4 (in different denominations – actors, playwrights, organisers, judges, priests, the audience, and reporters) and the day had finally come. It started with setting the room up into a replica of a Greek Theatre – obviously not open air, but with seats and tables in a semicircle, and tiered seating. Two pupils organised this seating arrangement.
Next came the parade, which all groups participated in. The students paraded to the front of the class, round an altar made from a box. The priests stood by the box, on top of which laid a doll that was the sacrifice. Now came the time of the orphans. In the original festival, many orphans of soldiers would be given free schooling and armour. In Chis and Sid’s festival, however, 4 “orphans” paraded piteously around the crowd surrounding the altar and walked to the priests who blessed upon them a sweet or two. The “orphans” then, decidedly happier, returned to the congregation around the altar.
The festival then moved onto the sacrifices. Everyone placed an offering at the altar, then reclaimed it. One person from the audience then directed people to their seats, except the 4 actors who sat at the back. Now came the Proclamation of Honours. A reporter stood at the front, and gave prizes to the actors and a few select members of the audience.
The event we were all waiting for came next – the plays, painstakingly written by the playwrights and performed by the actors. First was “Medrianne”, a play written by two of the playwrights. This was about a man whose wife had run away. He goes to find her and finds a monster, who he thinks is hiding his wife, so there is a struggle. The monster is killed, but before it dies, it reveals it was his wife in disguise. That shocking revelation causes our main character to kill himself, and the lovers lie dead together. This play is very much like the tragedies performed at the original City Dionysia, and even used an ekkyklema, a wheeled-out platform (a table, in these circumstances) on which the dead lie, which the ancient Greeks used as a dramatic device.
The second play, “Dante and Lydia”, was written by the other playwrights, one being yours truly. The plot was that Dante had just returned from war to his pregnant fianceé, Lydia, only to find her crying piteously on the floor. After pressing the matter when she wouldn’t tell him what was wrong, Lydia revealed to him that she had had an affair with Jonius, from Athens, and that her child was his. This made Dante fly into a rage, and he killed her. When finished with the deadly deed, Dante realised what he had done, and killed himself in penance. This play also used an ekkyklema.
Now came the judging. All three judges concluded that “Dante and Lydia” was the clear winner, and the playwrights (not the actors, as per tradition) went up to receive their prize – a crown of laurels, very much like the actual festival. The reporters then explained the City Dionysia, its roots and what would have been done at the festival. Finally, the City Dionysia, for this year’s Classical Civilisations class, had finished.
What did some students think of the event? One said “I found the experience very interesting because we found a fun way of learning about it.” Another said “I really enjoyed creating the festival. It was different to everything else we had done in class, as we had almost complete control over what happened in the lesson. It was new and I think we all had fun.” So, all in all, the City Dionysia was a success.
By Charlotte, year 10