In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

In the current wake of theoretical turbulence in criticism propelled by such movements as post-structuralism, deconstruction, feminism, new historicism, cultural studies, and related projects, little is left today -of one of the grandest and most interesting syntheses of the first half of the century: the ritual approach to tragic drama. Sparked by Nietzsche's The Birth of Tragedy (1872) and supported by turn-of-the-century classicists and anthropologists, the theory of tragedy's origin in Greek ritual gave rise to numerous studies attempting to define the genre in relation to its ancient religious roots.1 Today, however, it is impossible to claim-as Nietzsche did-an undisputed tradition that Greek tragedy originated in Dionysian ritual and that understanding Dionysian myth was the key to unlocking tragedy's secrets.2 A remark made by Brian Vickers is characteristic of the sharp disagreements in the area: "This whole complex of false ideas, so widely disseminated, must finally be abandoned not merely because there is no actual evidence for any of its assumptions ... but because it would make the· plays appallingly repetitive, as identical as matchboxes."3 The latter part of Vickers' charge undervalues the ability of adherents. of the ritual approach to produce interesting and varied readings of particular plays. But his critique of the historical evidence is trenchant. My own view is that it is worth revisiting this debate in order to gain new ground: this essay purports to undertake that task.