, one of a pantheon
of gods revered in the ancient Greek world, worshipped with seasonal festivals
and orgiastic rites
proves to be the base of early Greek drama
. Seasonal festivals in veneration
of Dionysus started as religious ceremonies
and evolved into much more - though retaining the original elements of religious praise
throughout. These festivals featured drama contests in which playwrights would compete against one another for prizes. It is hypothesized that the inclusion of these dramatic contests took place as a ritual endeavor to insure fertility
and flourishing of the crops during the following year.
The most extravagant of the festivals of Dionysus was the City Dionysia in Athens, lasting from five to seven days and open to non-Athenians. Two days of the festival were filled with dithyrambic contests among the tribes of Athens. Each tribe would present three dithyrambs - that is, narrative lyric plays - and one satyr play - that is, erotic comic relief. The three dithyrambs often had a shared theme, though it was not required. Most often, the plays showed the audience in some way or another why the gods should be worshipped, or venerated above Man.
These dramatic presentations during religious festivals - indeed, the only time that drama was performed - became not just a diverting excursion, but attendance required. The dithyrambs became the primary religious education for the masses - a way to teach the worship of the gods and moral guidelines that should be followed by the people.
When drama was, for the most part, lost during the Roman era and the subsequent Dark Ages, the majority of mass religious and moral education was lost with it. It was not until the Catholic Church began using the pageant wagons to illustrate stories from the Bible that drama reemerged in totality. The Christian pageant wagons would be set up in a caravan-style line; each wagon presenting a separate scene of the story that was being illustrated. With the advent of the pageant wagons, drama was once again playing a significant role in the religious education and training of the masses.
From the dithyrambic presentations at the seasonal festivals in honor of Dionysus in ancient Athens to the Catholic pageant wagons in the post-Dark Ages era, religion and moral instruction have played an important role in the development and propagation of drama and theatre.