1. Consider the depictions of mythological scenes:
i. What are the main similarities and main differences between the way in which the death of Pentheus is depicted in this fresco and in Euripides' Bakkhai? (Use an online text of the Bakkhai if you do not have your copy to hand.)
There are a number of similarities and differences between the depiction of Pentheus's murder in the Roman Fresco and the description in The Bakkhai. Both show the physical and mental torture that Pentheus suffered at the hands of the possessed woman.
However, the Roman Fresco does not seem to portray the murder of Pentheus as brutal as suggested in the play. The play talks about the 'ripping' of Pentheus, and goes on to describe how:
'His body's scattered over the mountain,
parts strewn on the rocks, the rest in the forest.'
In my opinion, the Fresco does not depict this raw, animal savageness.
Another point to take note of is that in the book, Pentheus is said to be dressed as a woman at this point. This again is not depicted in the Fresco. However, I do very much like the Fresco and I believe its strength is in the way that it shows Pentheus's weakness to Dionysus's power.
ii. Compare and contrast the way in which the death of Iphigenia is depicted in this fresco with how it is recounted in Aeschylus' Agamemnon, and/or in Euripdes' play Iphigenia at Aulis.
This Fresco shows Iphigenia being taken for sacrifice so Agamemnon (her father) can appease the Gods and allow safe passage across the sea to Troy.
The Fresco, unlike Aeschylus text, does not show Iphigenia being pulled up to the alter with a gag in her mouth and does not show Clytemnsetra singing to her daughter or making libations.
iii. Why do you think the similarities and differences which you have identified may exist?
The main reason for such differences is probably due to the fact that the Romans would have wanted much more romantic pieces of art, rather than bloody and violent depictions that would have been true to Greek legends. This would explain the lack of violence in both Frescos.
iv. On reviewing your responses to the above questions, how useful do you find these Roman frescos to be as evidence for traditions of tragic performance in 5th-century Athens?
Although the Frescos do depict the basic stories and facts of Greek tragedies, I would not consider them that useful as good translations of the texts.
2. Examine this mosaic from the House of the Tragic Poet in Pompei.
i. What different types of masks can you see?
The main thing that I noticed about these masks was that they are very suggestive of tragedy. The facial expressions depicted are very sorrowful and therefore perfect for performing tragedies.
ii. What do you think is going on in this scene?
To be honest, I am very unsure what is going on in this scene. The only thing I can make out is perhaps the presence of satyrs?
i. What differences can you discern between the 'tragic' masks depicted in the frescos and the vase?
The main difference that I noticed was that the masks on the vase are much more expressive than those in the Frescos.
ii. Why might the masks be different?
One possible answer could be that the Roman Fresco is attempting to show a realism that the Greek Vase masks don't have.
iii. Why do you think the ancient artists (and viewers) might have been so interested in depictions of actors and masks?
One factor responsible may have been the fact that the theatre was of huge importance to society at this time?
4. Consider this painting from the Villa of the Mysteries, Pompeii.
i. Is it similar or different in subject to the vases considered in Q.3 above?
This depiction is different to the masks and frescos we have looked at in previous questions. This depiction is very close up and really helps emphaize the character and emotion that the individual masks were attemting to portray and relay to the audience.
ii. What do you think the purpose of such paintings might have been?
The purpose of such paintings was most probably to help create a record of ancient theatre and its techniques and practices. However, as we have seen, not all the paintings depict a true and correct picture of ancient theatre e.g. the Roman Frescos. It is therefore important to take caution while studying such paintings and depictions.