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Agon (Greek: ἀγών) is an ancient Greek word with several meanings:

  • In one sense, it meant a contest, competition, especially the Olympic Games (Ὀλυμπιακοὶ Ἀγῶνες), or challenge that was held in connection with religious festivals.[1][2]
  • In its broader sense of a struggle or contest, agon referred to a contest in athletics, chariot or horse racing, music or literature at a public festival in ancient Greece.
  • Agon was also a mythological personification of the contests listed above.[3] This god was represented in a statue at Olympia with halteres (dumbbells) (ἁλτῆρες) in his hands. This statue was a work of Dionysius, and dedicated by a Smicythus of Rhegium.[4]
  • In Ancient Greek drama, particularly old comedy (fifth century BCE), agon refers to the formal convention according to which the struggle between the characters should be scripted in order to supply the basis of the action. Agon is a formal debate which takes place between the chief characters in a Greek play, protagonist and antagonist, usually with the chorus acting as judge. The character who speaks second always wins the agon, since the last word is always hers or his. The meaning of the term has escaped the circumscriptions of its classical origins to signify, more generally, the conflict on which a literary work turns.
  • Harold Bloom in The Western Canon uses the term agon to refer to the attempt by a writer to resolve an intellectual conflict between his ideas and the ideas of an influential predecessor in which "the larger swallows the smaller", such as in chapter 18, Joyce's Agon with Shakespeare.

Words derived from agon include agony, antagonism, protagonist etc.


  1. Trapido (1949)
  2. Greek Drama Terms
  3. Schmitz, Leonhard (1867), "Agon", in Smith, William, Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, 1, Boston: Little, Brown and Company, pp. 74, 
  4. Pausanias, Description of Greece, book V (Elis), v. 26. § 3

Other sources

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Agon. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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