late 14c., "play or other serious literary work with an unhappy ending," from Old French tragedie (14c.), from Latin tragedia "a tragedy," from Greek tragodia "a dramatic poem or play in formal language and having an unhappy resolution," apparently literally "goat song," from tragos "goat, buck" + ōidē "song" (see ode), probably on model of rhapsodos (see rhapsody).
The connection may be via satyric drama, from which tragedy later developed, in which actors or singers were dressed in goatskins to represent satyrs. But many other theories have been made (including "singer who competes for a goat as a prize"), and even the "goat" connection is at times questioned. Meaning "any unhappy event, disaster" is from c. 1500.
Muse of tragedy, originally of song and musical harmony, from Latin, from Greek Melpomene, literally "songstress," from melpein "to sing, to celebrate with song and dance," a word of unknown origin.
Just as her father was thus summoned away, Lotty saw Fred in the distance, waving his arms, and looking like an animated semaphore of the pre-electric epoch. [Arthur Locker, "Tollit's Tragedy," in The Graphic, summer 1879]
also peripetia, "that part of a drama in which the plot is tied together and the whole concludes, the denouement," 1590s, from Greek peripeteia "a turn right about; a sudden change" (of fortune, in a tragedy), from peri "around" (see peri-) + stem of piptein "to fall," from PIE *pi-pt-, reduplicated form of root *pet- "to rush; to fly."
Figurative senses in English relating to "stage tragedy, tragic drama" are from the word being used (since mid-16c.) to translate Greek kothurnus, the high, thick-soled boot worn in Athenian tragedy; contrasted with sock, the low shoe worn by comedians. Related: Buskined.