In this article Mario Frendo engages with the idea of ancient Greek tragedy as a performance phenomenon, questioning critiques that approach it exclusively via literary–dramatic methodologies. Based on the premise that ancient Greek tragedy developed within the predominantly oral context of fifth-century BCE Greece, he draws on Hans-Thies Lehmann's study of tragedy and its relation to dramatic theatre, where it is argued that the genre is essentially ‘predramatic’. Considered as such, ancient Greek tragedy cannot be fully investigated using dramatic theories developed since early modernity. In view of this, Walter J. Ong's caution with respect to the rational processes produced by generations of literate culture will be acknowledged and alternative critiques sought, including performance criticism and performance-oriented frameworks such as orality, via which Frendo traces possible critical trajectories that would allow contemporary scholarship to deal with ancient tragedy as a performance rather than literary phenomenon. Reference will be made to Aristotle's use of the term ‘poetry’, and how performance criticism may provide new insight into how the Poetics deals with one of the earliest performance phenomena in the West. Mario Frendo is lecturer of theatre and performance and Head of the Department of Theatre Studies at the School of Performing Arts, University of Malta, where he is director of CaP, a research group focusing on links between culture and performance. His research interests include musicality in theatre, ancient tragedy, and relations between philosophical thought and performance.