Using Roman Wall Paintings (frescos) as 'Evidence' for Traditions of Staging in Greece.
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.)
In Euripides Bakkhai the messenger describes how pentheus was "set astride a top limb" of a tree and how the madenads, being told by Dionysus "dug at the roots hoping to fell the big fir". The madeanads then then "tore the tree from the earth" upon which "pentheus smashed into the hard black ground….Pntheus ripped away his false hair ..to show his mother who he was"
Here is the death of Pentheus as depictd in the Fresco:
As you can see , Pentheus is clearly fallen from his tree (that isnt actually depicted at all in the image) . Assuming that the figure to his left is his mother (her blue dress makes her stand out from the rest of the characters) we can say that Pentheus is appealing to his mother (to quote the text : "STOP! Mother, i am Pentheus , your son! Born to Echion! Let me live!"). Yet there is no evidence of him removing or having rmoved his disguise that we hear in the text.
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.
In this Fresco we see Iphigenia being dragged away (presumably to her death) appealing to the sky (perhaps to the two gods overhead). Her displays of flesh perhaps trying to illustarte her virginity/innocence?
The figure on the left is probably Clytemenstra – holding her head in her hands and the figure on the right is logically Agamemnon , looking quite thoughtful (or guilty?).
The chorus describes the death of Iphegnia in the Orestia in a way that would suggest Agamemnon 's lack of compassion or intervension in Iphigenias death , as well as Iphigenia's horror and emotional pleas to her father : "Her shrillings beseechings her cries Papa Papa Iphigeneia a virgin a virgin , whats a virgin to hawks and war lords?"
The actual emotions are presentend very accuuratley between the text and this fresco – the actual description of her killing : "she bends herself double wraps her clothes around her…hoisted like a god to the godstone…a gag in her mouth ….her garments stream groundwards…." isnt evident in this fresco.
iii. Why do you think the similarities and differences which you have identified may exist?
Simillarities exist between in the frescos because these are the main details of the myth that are undisputed or unchnaged through each different text or interpretation. Differences exist because of the variations that existed in the myths after many years of being passed down through the generations : no doubt some of the frescos were an artist interprtation – not an actual depiction of a scene.
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?
_2. Examine this mosaic from the House of the Tragic Poet in Pompei. _
i. What different types of masks can you see?
There are three lrage full face masks complete with beards and hair, one mask which appears to sit on top the top of the head as well as a "normal" mask with what appears to be two pipes (presumably for amplification or voice or to act as some kind of musical instrument).
ii. What do you think is going on in this scene?_
3. Look at the masks in these frescos depicting actors, and those in the Pronomos Vase.
i. What differences can you discern between the 'tragic' masks depicted in the frescos and the vase?
ii. Why might the masks be different?
_iii. Why do you think the ancient artists (and viewers) might have been so interested in depictions of actors and masks?_
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?
ii. What do you think the purpose of such paintings might have been?