All entries for November 2004

November 09, 2004

Old Comedy and Satyr Plays

Writing about web page

1. Which of the following vase paintings appear to depict scenes from Old Comedy, and which from Satyr plays?

The Aulos-playing Satyr Vase

Definitely a satyr play – I think the title 'aulos-playing satyr vase' kinda gives it away though…

The Cheiron Vase

Old Comedy I reckon – the strange padded costumes that emphasise the actors' ugly bits are typical of the ancient productions of Old Comedy.

The Choregos Vase

Again, Old Comedy, for the same reasons as the Cheiron Vase.

The Pronomos Vase

This is a satyr play, I think; there are satyrs depicted, and the mask (pf Dionysus?) the man is holding looks much more like a tragic kind of mask than one in a comedy :

The Tarentine Vase

I think this is probably from a satyr play, as the actor is not wearing the large, bulgy clothes often shown in Old Comedy.

Vase 96AB113

Definitely Old Comedy; the huge costumes, large, grotesque gestures etc show it to be from a comedy.

Vase 96AE112

This is a hard one; I'm going for a satyr play, because the features of the characters aren't exaggerated as much as in some vase paintings. However, there are elements of comedy such as erect phalluses (or is it phalli in the plural?!) so I'm not too sure.

The Wurzburg Orestes

Ooh, I like this one cos it's quite different from the others – it looks quite exotic somehow. I'll go for a Satyr play, cos the men are depicted quite naturalistically and in a human way.

2. Drawing on the evidence provided by these vase paintings, the plays you have read, and other appropriate online sources:

i. what would seem to be the main characteristics of Old Comic masks, costumes and stages?

The costumes are grotesque and emphasise the large, bulgy bits of the charaters – the masks are likewise non-naturalistic and make the characters look hideous. Many of the male actors wear short skirt-like tunics and large, padded ights underneath. The stages seem to include a large piece of scenery (such as the steps in this picture) to represent where the scene is taking place.

ii. what appear to be the main characteristics of Satyr play masks, costumes and actors?

The satyrs appear to wear a kind of tail ad boots; many have wings coming out of their heads. There is not as much over-padding in the costumes of the characters. There are also no phalluses shown.

3. Read the analytical descriptions for the Pronomos Vase and the Choregos Vase. Using the web-searching and site-evaluation skills that you have developed, find information about, and devise an analytical description that might accompany one of the other vases.

Analytical description of Pronomos Vase : _A late 5th / early 4th-century B.C.E., red-figure volute-krater found in Ruvo, Apulia, in the South East of the Italian peninsula. The vase depicts the artist, named as Pronomos, as a seated aulos player. Pronomos is a known Attic vase-painter most of whose work dates from 410 – 390 B.C.E..The vase depicts Dionysos, a range of young satyr actors and older character actors, in costume, mostly holding their masks, musicians, as well as actual satyrs, maenads, symbols of victory (tripod, winged victory), icons of Dionysos (panther, thyrsos (= thyrsus), musical instruments. It has been suggested that the vase was commissioned to celebrate the victory of a chorus in the dramatic festival, probably a trilogy of tragedies and a satyr play.

National Archaeological Museum, Naples, 3240 inv. no. 81673_

Analytical description of Choregos Vase : _A 4th-century B.C.E., red-figure South-Italian vase, the so-called 'Choregos Vase'. One side of the vase shows four theatre characters on a temporary stage. This is one of a number of vases which has been called a 'phlyax' vase, after the actors of the so-called 'phlyax' farces, which they seem to depict. But, following Taplin's discussion in Comic Angels, these farces are now generally identified as being indistinguishable from Athenian Old Comedy. The vase labels the two shortest figures on this side 'CHOREGOS'. The figure between the two choregoi, (label unclear) is also dressed in comic costume. He stands on an upturned basket, and gestures as if making a speech. A fourth figure, labelled 'AIGISTHOS', stands to the left beside an open doorway; he is holding two spears. His 'tragic' costume, stance and gesture contrast markedly with those of the comic figures. In the scene from a comedy depicted here, two choregoi may have been debating which of them would sponsor a tragic tetralogy, and which a comedy, in one of the dramatic festivals.
The other side of the vase shows a seated female figure. A small bird perches on her left hand. To her left, stands an attendant, fanning her. To the right of the seated figure, is a naked youth. A small dog-like creature stands on his right arm.

Vase of the Choregos Painter. No. 96.AE.29. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu, California._

Analytical description of Cheiron Vase :

The characters depicted on the vase are wearing the grotesquely exaggerated costumes typical of the performances of Old Comedy in Ancient Greece. In Greek mythology, Cheiron (or Chiron) was a Centaur, half man and half horse, and the son of the Titan Cronos. He was the potter who made this vase (the Cheiron vase).

This is a picture of Cheiron the centaur :

4. With reference to the extract from Csapo and Slater on Comic Vases, how reliable are these vase paintings as evidence for 5th-century B.C.E. staging of Old Comedy and Satyr plays in Athens?

As with the frescoes, the vase paintings give fairly good but not totally reliable evidence for how Old Comedies and Satyr plays would have been staged in Ancient Greece. Some of the vases depict phylax and other stages, which are presumably fairly accurate depictions as the sculptors or painters wouldn't have made up how the stages looked. However, it is possible that the pictures were romanticised by the artists to make them look more aesthetically pleasing. For example, the fresco showing Pentheus' death from The Bacchae is fairly romanticised, and not truly based on Euripides' description of the death in his play.

In the vase painting mentioned in the Csapo and Slater article the orchestra is left out of the painting, as the painter simply wished to exclude them from the vase. Such whims of the artists mean that many of the vase paintings may be historically inaccurate.

As stated in the article, "many of the details of our drawing are reconstructed since the pot itself is much damaged and most of its finer details unclear" – since we do not know how the plays were staged in Ancient Greece, we cannot reconstruct them completely accurately. Therefore, the details of how they were staged can be lost when the pots get damaged.

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