Using Roman Wall Paintings (frescos) as 'Evidence' for Traditions of Staging in Greece.
These Roman frescos from Pompei were preserved by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D. around 500 years after the plays of Aeschyus, Euripides and Sophocles were first staged in Athens. They depict myths that were the subject of 5th-century Athenian tragedy, and that continued to be represented on the Roman stage, both in revivals of Greek plays, and in later plays written in Latin.
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?
There are a number of similarities and differences between the depiction of Pentheus'es murder in the Roman Fresco and the description in The Bakkhai ; both show the physical and mental Spryagnos (split) that Pentheus suffered at the hands of the possessed woman.
The Roan Frescp is a little too romantic ; it does show how Pentheus is going to be pulled apart but negelcts to include the derenged, mand and possessed position of the woman. Nor does the Fresco depict the tree form which Pentheus was pulled down or the presence of the power of Dionysos.
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.
The fresco shows Iphigenia being taken for sacrifice so Agamemnon (her father) can placate 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, nor does it show Clytemnsetra singing to her daughter or making libations, rather she looks rather pathetic and unsupporrtive at the sides.
iii. Why do you think the similarities and differences which you have identified may exist?
I think the differences are apparent due to artistic licence ; the Romas would want romantic and melo-dramatic scens as opposed to bloody, violent depictions. Thus Pentheus does not look hurt or in distressed not does his mother look mas and she is not foaming at the mouth. Similarily you do not see Iphigenia being rougly handled !
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?
I would see the Frescos and as a very good medium to help people access the Grekk tragedy stories and superficailly they do give you the basic facts ; there lacking of blood and gore would be very suitable for younger children and those with a weak disposition. Yet as evidence of a good translation of the text I would say that the Frescos are not really very useful.
2. Examine this mosaic from the House of the Tragic Poet in Pompei.
i. What different types of masks can you see?
The fresco shows some masks that are self-supported (i.e around the head) others have to be held up by a stick. I expect this would be a good way to quickly change chracter by simply holding up another mask.
The masks are alrge and inlcude beards and hairl ; this is good evidence of how the masks were more like military helmets.
ii. What do you think is going on in this scene?
I find the scene quite hard to make-out but I would definitely recognise Dionysos sominating the centre surrounded by Satyrs . However apart form that there is not much more to say?
. 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?
The masks in the vases are very sterotypica and more expressive than those in the Frescos ; the vase maks show a chracter with a personlity and the fresco looks like it is trying to depict a mask as human as possible ; this would not have been conducive to a large-scale tragedy!
ii. Why might the masks be different?
I would say that the maks are different simply becuase the Roman fresco is attempting to show a realism which the Greek Vase masls dont have.
iii. Why do you think the ancient artists (and viewers) might have been so interested in depictions of actors and masks?
The interest would have been due to the need for an undertsnading of how ancient theatre would have been presented ; how did the actors convey the stories? What did the masks look like? How did they work? could we compare ancient acting techniques with todays or are they just too different?
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 in subject to those in the other maks and frescos we have looked at. This depiction id very cose-up and really wmphaises the chracter and emotions that the individual maks were attemting to invoke and relay to the audience.
ii. What do you think the purpose of such paintings might have been?
The purpose of such vases and frescos was to be a chronical of ancient theatre and techniques ; however as I have already spoken about this evidence has to be looked at with caution because the Romans could and would have distorted and changed things to suit the needs of their time .