October 29, 2004

Reviews of Fresco Things

Jack's entry has some very good points about the frescos. He wrote : "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." I think the women in the fresco do actually look fairly mad and deranged, so I'm not sure if I agree with this. However, I thought that there could have been more women round Pentheus, and this would make the women look more terrifying.

The worst–named bus in Finland

The worst named bus in Finland

October 26, 2004

Week 4 Questions : Frescos

Frescos : 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?

Similarities :
As in 'The Bacchae', the Pentheus in the fresco is being brutally murdered by the women followers of Dionysus. Pentheus' mother, Agave (on Pentheus' left), looks as though she is about to rip Pentheus' arm off, as the messenger mentions in 'The Bacchae' ("Grabbing his elbow and digging her foot into his rib cage she pulled until his shoulder parted") The Bacchae are holding thyrceses, ivy-covered sticks typical of Dionysus' followers, which is mentioned by Euripides in 'The Bacchae'.

Differences :
In the fresco, Agave and Ino are the main perpetrators of the murder and there are only 3 other Bacchae depicted. Euripides states that "the whole pack of blood sisters came screaming from their dance to swarm over him". There are less bacchae around Pentheus and the scene is not nearly as chaotic and confusing as in Euripides' description.

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.

Euripides' description by the chorus of Iphigenia's death keeps descibing her as a she-child, a virgin, as Agamemnon's jewel, joy, virgin-blood. In the fresco she doesn't look terribly young, but her barely-concealed body makes her look vulnerable and innocent.

In the fresco Agamemnon looks very unsure of what he is going to do – his hand on his mouth shows his doubt about comitting the act of sacrifice. 3 of the characters are looking up at the gods, as if waiting for a sign to confirm that the act should be done. In the play it is made to sound as if his mind is unchangeable once it has been made up : Necessity he kneels to it neck into the yokestrap the General harnessed to what he can't change and ince into harness his while life-lot lurches towards the unspeakable horror the crime

iii. Why do you think the similarities and differences which you have identified may exist?

The wall paintings are Roman whereas the plays were written by Greek playwrights; the stories would therefore have changed slightly in the retelling of the stories. Whoever painted the frescos wouldn't have known all the details of the Greek dramas, merely the basic plot.

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?

They are evidence that the performances happened, as they show the plot of the dramas. They show elements of symbolic costume or props from the plays. However, they are not realistic of the plays themselves as they show (for example) humans riding through the sky on horses, which would obviously not have been a tradition of performance. In the ferscos, the characters are not presented as actors, but as the actual people themselves; no one is wearing maks, and there are women, rather than male actors playing women in the performance.

*2. Examine this mosaic from the House of the Tragic Poet in Pompei. *
i. What different types of masks can you see?

There is the mask of a type of animal on the top of one man's head; one man is holding against his face the mask representing Dionysus, with ivy growing out of the top. A tragic white mask and the mask of an old man are lying in a box at the bottom of the picture.

ii. What do you think is going on in this scene?

The characters on the left could be rehearsing for a play, while the boy on the right is being dressed by another boy before starting the rehearsal.

*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?*

On the vase, the masks are much more realistic and like a real human. On the vase they have a large amount of beard and a crown-like thing on the head. In the frescos, the masks are more melodramatic and less like real people. They look as if they are meant to convey the meaning and point of the emotion, but not necessarily in a realistic way.

ii. Why might the masks be different?

The fresco and the vase could have been painted at very different times, or one could be Roman and one could be Greek. They could also just be open to interpretation, so the different artists working on the fresco and vase coulkd have interpreted or remembered the masks from the plays differently.

iii. Why do you think the ancient artists (and viewers) might have been so interested in depictions of actors and masks?

Theatre was a massive part of Greek culture and life, and was central to the life of the city of Athens, so was important enough to be depicted by all artists; it summed up Athenian culture, and inspired the Romans so much that they also felt the need to depict the plays and dramas they saw.

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? *


October 22, 2004

Natalie's Blog

Writing about questions from Natalie's blog

I think Nat has made some good points about the Greek vases; I agree that they are more likely to be based on myths. As she says, the women on the vases are cayying live snakes and have snakes in their hair; it is highly unlikely that this would have happened onstage, so it is therefore more likely that the vase is depicting a Greek myth.

October 16, 2004

Visual Resources : Staging the Eumenides

Writing about web page http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/theatre_s/ug/courses/th106/ancient/theatrontasks/

i.The 4th century B.C.E. Phlyakes vases from the south of Italy show temporary wooden stages which we believe are similar or identical to those that would have been used for comic performance in the 5th century B.C.E. How adequate or appropriate would such a stage have been for the performance of tragedy in the 5th century B.C.E., in particular the Eumenides?

I think the Phylakes stage looks quite small and restricting, especially for a play such as the Eumenides. The chorus of Furies would have been acting extremely dramatically, and I imagine they would need quite a large space to act in. Also, the stage is needed in the 3rd part of The Oresteia to represent Apollo's temple at Delphi, and also Athens (where Orestes flees to Athene's image). I think the very plain wooden stage, with pillars across the back, would be hard to imagine as such different settings. However, the stage is raised up on a level above the audience; this would appear to give the Furies more power and status as they are on a higher level.

ii. Where could Klytemnestra, Apollo and Orestes have performed in the opening scene of the play?

The Ghost of Clytemnestra could start speaking from behind the stage, or possible under it; this could be effective as the audience would not be able to see her. Apollo should be placed high up, as he has the high status of a God; we also respect him in this part of the play when he shows sympathy for Orestes. Orestes should be on the normal part of the stage, but probably kneeling down, as he has come to Apollo's temple for help.

iii. Where could the chorus have performed?

I think it would be effective to have the chorus of Furies standing at the front of the stage; they would then be closer to the audience, which would make them more terrifying. They would also be at the same level as the audience, showing that normal people, the people in the crowd, are the ones who can be punished by the Furies if they commit an act worthy of their vengeance.

3. In Theatron, explore the model of the Theatre of Dionysos, which represents the theatre as it may have been during the Lycurgan period (338 - 326 B.C.E.). Compare and contrast its stone skene with the wooden Phlyakes stage.

i.What possibilities and limitations for performance does each type of scene building allow or impose?

ii.The action of the Eumenides is set in three locations. What are they?

1 – Outside the Temple of Apollo at Delphi
2 – Inside the inner shrine of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi
3 – the Temple of Athene in Athens

iii.How might these scene changes have been staged?

An image of Apollo could signify the Temple of Apollo; whereas an image of Athene could be used for Orestes to hide behind in Athens – a screen at the back with a view of Athens could help the audience to understand where the scene takes place for the second half of the play.

To show the differences between the interior of the exterior, there can simply be no one on stage when the priestess makes her first speech, then she could 'enter' the temple simply by walking to the back of the stage, then running to the front again in shock. When the priestess leaves and we see the inner shrine, the Furies, Orestes and Apollo need to enter and the Furies must lie on the floor asleep to show we are in the shrine.

4. Traditionally, it has been assumed that the theatrically 'strongest' position for an actor was directly in front of the central doors of the skene. Recently, however, in Tragedy in Athens, David Wiles has argued that, for Athenians, the most symbolically potent position was the centre of the orchestra. Explore both of these theories by considering the 'binding scene' in the Eumenides:

i. What kinds of spatial and choreographic relationships between theatre, spectators, actors and chorus, could have been established in each case?

ii.How might different spatial relationships have affected the meaning of the scene, or the characterisation and status of the characters and chorus?

Relationships between actors in plays are echoed in their spatial relationships onstage; for example, Orestes' fear of the furies would be demonstrated by his obvious wish for distance between him and the women; similarly they would continually be moving towards him threateningly, wishing to carry out their revenge for Clytaemnestra's death.

Orestes' respect for the God Apollo would be shown in a position of reverence and pleading as he would kneel to the God in the temple. The chorus would always be grouped together, as they share an opinion, a place and a status in the play. Apollo and Athene would both be placed high up, as they are gods and have the highest status of anyone in the play.

5. Where are the best and worst seats in the 4th century theatron? Why?

The central kirkede, or wedge in the theatre, would be the best place to view the stage, as the view is straight-on. The outer wedges, where other people (not the demes) sat, would have a very side-on view and various characters would be blocked from that view, I imagine. Being at the front of the semicircular seating area would be preferable to being at the back, as you would have been more likely to hear everything that was said (despite the fantastic acoustics). For this reason, it was the front seats that were reserved for the most important people – the prohedria.

i. How did the physical conditions of spectatorship for ancient Athenian audiences differ from the usual conditions of spectatorship in a conventional theatre building today?

The audience were packed very close together in their seats, so that emotions would have passed throughout the crows in reaction to the action on the stage. There was also no obligation to watch the play in silence; the audience would have shouted out at the play's action, and talked throughout the performance. The huge numbers of spectators would have led to a completely different mood throughout the audience, and there would have been a massive feeling of national pride and unity, as nearly all the spectators would have been Athenian citizens.

ii. Do these differences suggest a fundamentally, or merely superficially different theatrical experience?

Because of these specific conditions, the playwright would actually have been affected in his writing of the play; whereas most conventional plays today are performed as a text, and the audience or theatre just happens to differ according to the specific production, the Greek playwrights knew exactly who they were writing for, and the specific performance conditions of their play. For this reason, I think the differences would have been fundamentally different.

Our performance conditions today for a Greek drama would be so different; I think the conventional theatre today is much more a personal than a group experience – we are much more restrained in our reactions and emotions, and our feelings generated by the action do not reflect back to the actors and/or the rest of the audience in the same way as would have happened in the ancient Greek theatres.

iii. Read the short note on Greek Audiences, and the longer text by Csapo and Slater. How might a style, or styles, of performance have evolved in response to the scale and sight-lines of the theatre, and the nature of the spatial and emotional relationship between Athenian spectators and performers?

iv. Might different parts of the theatre have demanded different styles of performance?

v. How might the style of choral performance have differed from that of the character actors?

Obviously parts of the chorus speeches would have been said at the same time by all the chorus members, whereas the individual character lines are said simply by the specific character. The choral performance would have had parts of it set to music, and to dance; the sections are long and include poetic descriptions, and comment on the action of the play. The chorus speeches do not add to the action of the play, they merely reflect on what we have seen and give us a chance to think about it; we do not need to focus on each word to follow the plot of the play, so using dance, music and other devices to make the speeches more aesthetically pleasing to watch, are particularly effective in choral sections.

6. Taking into account your findings in the above explorations, suggest one or more ways in which the voting scene, and the final hymn by the Women of Athens have been staged in the Eumenides.

October 15, 2004

Csapo and Slater (from Hugh)

Writing about web page http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/theatre_s/ug/courses/th106/ancient/theatrontasks/csapo/

IVB. The Audience
IVBi. The Athenian Audience in the Fifth and Fourth Centuries B.C.
Extract from E. Csapo and W.J.Slater (eds) The Context of Ancient Drama (Ann Arbor: U. of Michigan Press, 1995) 286–290.*

Plato estimated the size of the theater audience in Athens at 30,000, but modern estimates of the capacity of the Theater of Dionysus vary between 15,000 and 20,000. This figure is roughly five to seven percent of the total population of Attica, which for 431 B.C. is estimated at 310,000, including 110,000 slaves and 28,500 metics. Not surprisingly, a number of sources attest fierce competition for seats. If Athenians were always the avid theatergoers Herakleides claims, then it is so much the more remarkable that we have no record of any attempt to restrict attendance. On the contrary, attendance at the theater was not only considered a right and privilege of Athenian citizenship (see on the theorikon, below), but the sources give ample evidence for the participation of all Athenian residents, whether metics or slaves, as well as large numbers of foreigners.

From 1796 to the present day, several classical scholars have argued for the exclusion of women and children from the festival. In our opinion, the testimony of ancient authors shows clearly that women (and boys) were present in the audience. The contrary argument rests mainly upon the comic poets' habit of addressing the audience as "gentlemen." This fails to distinguish physical from ideological forms of exclusion. Addresses to "gentlemen" show only that the notional audience was composed of male citizens. Athenian rhetoric was developed in the Assembly and the law courts, where the audience was entierly composed of adult males. When comic characters address the audience as "gentlemen," this is only a social and rhetorical reflex. The fact that the Assembly often met in the theater or that a mock trial (agon) usually lies at the heart of an Old Comic plot no doubt did much to reinforce this linguistic habit. Something more can be made of the habit of addressing the crowd as "men of Athens"; this reflects the speaker's desire to appeal to the segment of the audience that was generally deemed capable of formulating or influencing a judgment. The most comprehensive address to a Greek audience is "men and boys": evidence only of the conceptual invisibility of women in the theater, not of their actual exclusion. Possibly the number of women in the audience was disproportionately small, and [some texts] are frequently cited to show that "respectable" women normally stayed at home, but [other texts] contradict this view.

Some important developments affected the composition of the audience in the 5th and 4th c. B.C. The Athenian Dionysia grew in international prestige and popularity until it became a major Greek festival, by the late 5th c. second only to the Olympics. The increasingly international character of the audience at the Dionysia and (to some extent also) the Lenaea contributed to the gradual obsolescence of the political satire that dominated Old Comedy from ca. 430 to 410 B.C. The anecdote preserved by Aelian, though doubtless fiction, nevertheless illustrates the difficulty foreigners had in appreciating its parochial references. More important in the late 4th c. B.C. was the Macedonian support for the oligarchic faction in Athens, which culminated in the restriction of Athenian citizenship to the wealthier classes in 322 and 317 B.C. The new oligarchy dismantled several democratic institutions, among them the choregia and the festival fund (theorikon), through which the lower clases were ensured a place in the theater both as participants and spectators. The bourgeois character of New Comedy amply reflects the values of the dominant constituency in the late 4th-c. B.C. theater.

The origin of the festival fund is highly controversial. No ancient sources before 343 B.C. refer to the festival fund, but some of these trace the institution back as far as Pericles's democratic reforms before 449 B.C. The theorikon was a dole of money given to all Athenian citizens for the purpose of paying the cost of tickets to the theater, allegedly to give poorer citizens an equal opportunity to attend the theater. But there is also controversy over the function and nature of the theorikon. The ancient sources allege that seats were first sold in order to quell disturbances that erupted in the fierce competition for seats and that the dole was then introduced to allow poor citizens an equal chance of getting theater tickets. If this was its sole function one might have expected a distribution of tickets rather than the cash dole indicated by the texts, since this would simply have moved the site of disturbances from the theater to the ticket booth. Moreover the real obstruction to accessibility to the theater was limited space, not the high cost of tickets, which seems never to have exceeded two obols. It could hardly have been expected that all recipients would use the money to buy tickets, when the number of adult male citizens alone was at least twice the theater's seating capacity. It is clear however that the money was intended for use at the festival since the law restricted the theorikon to citizens actually present in Athens at the time of distribution. Doubtless the money could be used for general festivities and was not specifically tied to the theater ([some texts] allow for wider usage). The sum distributed is normally given as either 2 obols or 1 drachma (6 obols = 1 drachma). But by the late 4th c. B.C. the amount was 5 drachmas, an increase that cannot be entirely due to inflation. Perhaps the most important consequence of the institution of the theoric fund was to give the state a direct interest in stabilizing admission costs, and this was probably more important than the dole itself in guaranteeing universal eligibility, though the theater's size denied universal accessibility.

The practice of leasing the theaters to management corporations probably predates the introduction of the theorikon, since the latter seems to presuppose admission charges paid to a third party: the system would make little sense if the state merely collected the cash at one end that it distributed at another. Ulpian's reference to the theater manager (architekton) seems to point to this conclusion. Possibly the leasing arrangements and the theorikon were introduced simultantously. One ancient account associates the origin of the theorikon with the first attempt to sell seats in the theater. If this connection is sound, then the references to theater lessees would support an early date for the theorikon. Of great interest is a fragmentary inscription recording the details of a contract for the lease of the theater of Piraeus for a sum of 3,300 drachmas, which we are told is 300 drachmas more than the deme expected from the contract. Unfortunately, we do not know how long the lease was for. It appears that the cost of seats was stipulated, doubtless 2 obols. The contract further stipulates that the lessees are to build benches for the audience and give free admission to all those granted prohedria [seats of honour]. From 330 B.C. frequent reference is made to an official called the architect (architekton). His full title is the "architect in charge of sanctuaries." Inscriptions show that he is an elected magistrate by 270 B.C. His appearance seems to indicate direct assumption of the management of the theater by the state, a possible consequence of the construction of a permanent stone auditorium under Lycurgus. Leasing arrangements continued at Piraeus because it was a wooden theater and the auditorium, if not the stage house, had to be reconstructed for each festival, but by 307/6 B.C. an inscription attests an architekton for the theater at Piraeus. This perhaps reflects the increase in direct state control of the theater under Demetrius of Phaleron (the regent imposed by the Macedonians in 317–307 B.C.) rather than the rebuilding of the Piraeus theater in stone.

Seating arrangements also appear to have been regulated directly by the state. They reflect Athens' most important political and social divisions. The firt few rows bordering the orchestra were reserved for various officials, foreign dignitaries, and such public benefactors and culture heroes as victorious generals or athletes. The privilege, called prohedria ("front-seating" – the term is used both of the provilege and the place), could be a perquisite of public office or a special honor conferred by a vote of the Assembly. The marble prohedria of the theater of Lycurgus can still be seen in the theater today. At the center of the first row is the highly ornate throne of the priest of Dionysus Eleuthereus with marble seats for other sacerdotal figures on either side. This arrangement doubtless carries on the tradition of the earlier theater where the priest of Dionysus was easily accessible to the actors. Literary sources attest permanent sections of the theater reserved for the members of the Council, young men on military service (epheboi), the archons, the nomophylakes ["guardians of the law"], and the generals. Apparently nothing prevented ordinary citizens from occupying seats in the front rows. Prohedria only conferred the right to oust other occupants from front-row seats, though exercising that right could sometimes be problematic. Honorary grants of prohedria sometimes involved an escort by state officials.

Behind the prohedria the common people sat on wooden benches until Lycurgus. From Roman times three statue bases dedicated by the tribes Erechtheis, Akamantis, and Oineis were found at the foot of the first, sixth, and eighth wedges of the thirteen kerkides [wedge-shaped seating sections] of the Theater of Dionysus, and these correspond to the traditional order of the ten tribes if the central wedge is given to the Council and ephebes and the outer wedges to noncitizens and perhaps also citizen women. This can be taken together with epigraphic evidence for tribal seating at other Greek theaters and Athenian tokens, identified as theater tickets, stamped with tribal names, to argue that an ideal tribal division was maintained at the Theater of Dionysus. This would have been particularly useful to stimulate rivalry for the tribal dithyrambic competition; perhaps also to control excessive rivalry. There is, however, no reason to think that this division was ever strictly maintained or even voluntarily observed for drama, which had no tribal basis, though even here partisanship could run high.

The sources all depict Athenians as a demanding, unruly audience, and anything but passive in expressing approval or disapproval. The festival atmosphere did not have the polite tone of modern theater audiences. Part of the expense incurred by a comic choregos went to the distribution of food and wine to the spectators. A much underestimated part of the Old Comic poet's art was to keep the audience actively participating in the performance and to cue it continually for outbursts of approval not only to impress the judges but also to control its energy and prevent it from overtaking the performance. Tragedy stood in a much more precarious position: the slightest awkwardness could result in outbursts of disapproval, shouting, hissing (or whistling), clucking, heel banging, and, possibly, food throwing. Prolongued disturbances were frequently resolved only when the actors and chorus abandoned the performance, a calamity that befell even the best tragedians of the age. Crowd control appears to have necessitated a special force of theater police, called "rod holders" (rhabdouchoi).

  • Editorial changes for web-publication: numerical references to source texts published in the volume have been omitted, and explanatory annotations have been added within square brackets. Permission to reproduce on this website granted by U. of Michigan Press (letter on file: 27 October 2003). HD

Greek Audiences (from Hugh)

Writing about web page http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/theatre_s/ug/courses/th106/ancient/theatrontasks/stanford/

In the context of fifth-century Athens, the sheer scale of the theatrical event must have had a strong impact upon the least impressionable spectator; heightening the significance of the events in the performance-space 17,000-fold and charging the excitement and emotion up to and beyond fever pitch. Imagine this raw energy channelled into an intense and climactic work of art – add to this the powerful drug of national pride and identity when all the citizens of the capital city of a great empire gather together in one space to affirm and consolidate their common heritage and identity through the re-telling of their myths and the celebration of the best of their poets, and consider in this light how very different the theatre-experience of the fifth-century Athenian audience was to ours.

We have no similar experience of mass-crowd dynamic at work on this scale in our theatres. In Greek Tragedy and the Emotions, W.B. Stanford makes the point that unlike today's safely segregated theatre seats, the Greeks would have been tightly packed together:

"If someone beside you sobbed or shuddered or trembled, you would feel it directly, and a wave of physical reaction could pass like an electric shock through all your neighbours . . mass emotionalism flourishes in compact crowds of that kind."

We hear from Plutarch of audiences spontaneously standing up in terror at a (lost) play by Euripides. Herodotus tells us that Phrynichus was fined for having distressed the city excessively with The Sack of Miletus, and that the play banned from further performances.

Rich & Kate's Vases Analysis

Writing about web page http://www.blogs.warwick.ac.uk/shimonastarling/gallery/toga_party/

. Is it possible to determine whether the ancient vase paintings are depictions of theatrical performances, or of the myths upon which the plays are also based?

Can't remember if women were allowed in plays, get the feeling they weren';t though, so their presence on the vase would indicate that it represents the myth rather than the play. Natalie says so too. Good old natalie :D

Kate thinks that Orestes' costume is very theatrical, especially the helmet, I think if I was going to make a vase, I'd give him a pretty helmet too, if it was the myth or the play.


Snakes appear on several of the vases especially with Erinyes, it is doubtful whether the furies onstage would have carried around live, poisonous snakes.

ii. In the light of your response to i. above, how significant may ancient vase paintings be as evidence for ancient theatre practice?

If they really are based on theatrical performances they may be slightly useful, they provide information on costume and props. However we doubt it.

October 13, 2004

Toga Party Pictures!

Writing about web page http://www.blogs.warwick.ac.uk/shimonastarling/gallery/toga_party/

Loads of pictures of Monday's (11th) amazing toga party, ending up in Top B. Thanks to everyone who came, you are amazingly cool and it was the funkiest night yet :-)

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