). An actor.
The steps by which ὑποκρίνομαι, ὑποκριτής
their dramatic meaning have been variously traced. The primitive sense of
“answering” (i. e. of the quick repartee of dialogue between the actor
and the chorus—ὑποκρίνεσθαι
implying a more ready
and instantaneous reply than ἀποκρίνεσθαι
) seems quite
sufficient for the purpose (Poll.iv. 123
It is shown in the articles Chorus
that the Greek drama originated in the chorus
which at the festivals of Dionysus danced around his altar, and that at first one person
detached himself from the chorus and, with mimetic gestures, related his story either to the
chorus or in conversation with it. If the story thus acted required more than one person,
they were all represented in succession by the same choreutes. Thespis , who was regarded in
antiquity as the inventor of tragedy, was the first to employ an actor distinct from the
chorus; the latter still took the most important part in the performance, but lost something
of its original character by becoming an interlocutor in the dialogue. Aeschylus therefore
added a second actor, so that the action and the dialogue became independent of the chorus,
and the dramatist at the same time had an opportunity of showing two persons in contrast with
each other on the stage (Aristot.
). Sophocles took the final step by adding a third actor
(Aristot. l. c.); and towards the close of his career, Aeschylus found it necessary to follow
the example of his younger rival, and to introduce a third actor, as is seen in the
, and Eumenides
). This number of three actors was also adopted by
Euripides, and remained the limit scarcely ever exceeded in any Greek drama, at least in
tragedy. In comedy a somewhat greater license was taken; and though Cratinus kept to the
regular three performers, Aristophanes sometimes, and notably in the
, employed a larger number.
Some real or apparent exceptions to this rule in tragedy have been keenly discussed, and
demand a short notice. For instance, the Prometheus
is a piece for two actors,
yet in the opening scene there are four persons upon the stage—Prometheus,
Hephaestus, and the allegorical Κράτος
. But Βία
does not speak, and
mute actors were unquestionably not reckoned; while Prometheus himself, there can be no
doubt, was represented by a gigantic lay figure, “so contrived that an actor
standing behind the pictorial mountain could speak through the mask. No protagonist could
have been expected to submit to the restraint of such an attitude throughout the whole of the
play, to say nothing of the catastrophe at the end, when the rocks fall asunder, and
Prometheus is dashed down into Tartarus” (Donaldson, Theatre of the
, 7th ed. p. 286). In the Choëphori
Aeschylus had three
actors, but in 900 foll. a fourth seems required, where Pylades, who has been present most of
the time as a mute actor, begins to speak. The notion of the Scholiast that the οἰκέτης
, who has only just quitted the stage, reappears as Pylades,
is rejected by A. Müller on the ground that the actor has not had time to change his
dress. It may be remarked, however, that the Greek tragic actor, in order to assume another
character, had only to change an upper garment, a mask, and perhaps a wig. There were none of
the minute toilet accessories of the modern “make-up,” and the operation
may have been got through with much greater rapidity. Once more, in the Oedipus at
, a fourth actor must be assumed unless the part of Theseus is divided among
all three performers. The former alternative is supported by C. O. Müller
(Diss. on Eumen.
p. 127) and A. Müller (p. 175, n. 4); the latter by
K. F. Hermann (De Distributione Personarum inter Histriones in Tragoediis
, Marburg, 1840, p. 42) and Donaldson, who observes that “the mask
and the uniformity of tragic declamation would make it as easy for two actors to represent
one part as for one actor to sustain several characters” (p. 268 n.). The terms
here come in for explanation. The usual meaning of παραχορήγημα
is of course a subordinate chorus or ἕτερος χορός
; but the statement that the word was also applied to
the part taken by a fourth actor rests only on the authority of Pollux (iv. 109, 110), where
there is almost certainly some confusion in the text. It is more likely that a supernumerary
who spoke a few words only, such as the children in the Medea
, or the above
cases of a fourth actor being required, was called παρασκήνιον
The three regular actors were distinguished by the technical names of πρωταγωνιστής, δευτεραγωνιστής
, and τριταγωνιστής
, indicating the more or less prominent part each had to play in the
drama. Certain conventional means were also devised, by which the spectators, as soon as an
actor appeared on the stage, were enabled to judge which part he was going to perform; thus
the protagonist regularly came from a door in the centre, the deuteragonist from one on the
right, and the tritagonist from a door on the left-hand side (Poll.iv.
). The protagonist naturally undertook the character in which the interest of the
piece was intended to centre; not always the title-rôle, unless it were that of the
real hero or heroine. It is true that, in six out of the seven extant plays of Sophocles, the
title-rôle is also the leading part; but in the
of Euripides the
titlerôle was only a third-class part, and as such was taken by Aeschines (Dem. De Cor. p. 288.180
). The conjecture is also
unfounded that the protagonist was always the principal messenger (ἄγγελος
), or again that the narrative of a death (e. g. of Hippolytus or
Pentheus) was necessarily assigned to the actor of the dead man's part (K. F. Hermann, op. cit.
p. 33). It is an ingenious but rather fanciful notion of K. O.
Müller's (Griech. Lit.
ii. 57) that the deuteragonist regularly took
sympathetic parts as a friend of the hero or heroine, whereas the tritagonist was generally
“an instigator who was the cause of the sufferings of the protagonist, while he
himself was the least capable of depth of feeling or sympathy;” in popular
language, that he was the “villain of the piece.” This is supported by
the recorded fact that Creon in the Antigone
was a tritagonist's part, and by
an arrangement of the characters in the Orestean trilogy of Aeschylus which gives the part of
Clytaemnestra throughout to the tritagonist. It is a fact not without significance that the
thirty-two extant tragedies contain no “hero” who is also a
“villain,” like Macbeth
or Richard the
but the titles of lost plays show an Ixion
of Aeschylus, an
and an Atreus
of Sophocles; and it would seem that
the villainhero, though rare, was not altogether unknown. It is safer to say with Donaldson
that the second and third performers “seem to have divided the other characters
between them, less according to any fixed rule than in obedience to the directions of the
poet, who was guided by the exigencies of his play.” As on the modern stage, parts
were written for particular actors; a proof that the author, notwithstanding the many
conventional restrictions imposed by the sacred character of the Attic drama, had some
influence over the choice of his actors.
The number of supernumeraries was unlimited. They were usually silent, but sometimes spoke
a few words, especially when a fourth interlocutor was required as above; in which case the
speaker was occasionally placed behind the scenes, or sheltered from view by the chorus, that
the limit of three actors might not be obtrusively violated. Persons of rank and dignity
always came upon the stage suitably attended, just as no Athenian lady or gentleman in real
life went out without at least one slave: the body-guards of royal personages were a
conspicuous feature, so that δορυφόρος
became an equivalent to κωφὸν
, and in one or two instances (the opening scene of the Oedipus
and probably that of the Acharnians
) we have a regular
“stage-mob” of citizens like those in Julius Caesar
The acting of female characters by men was greatly assisted by the use of masks; there was
no need to assign such parts to beardless youths, as in England in the Shakespearian times.
In early days the dramatic poets themselves acted in their own plays, and doubtless as
protagonists. Of Aeschylus it is further recorded that he was his own ballet-master, and
trained his choruses to dance without the aid of a professional ὀρχηστοδιδάσκαλος
(Ath. i. 21
appeared only twice on the stage; as Thamyris in the play of that name, accompanying a song
on the cithara
, and as Nausicaa playing at ball, in the Πλύντριαι
: he then gave up acting on account of the weak
Green-room of an Ancient Theatre.
ness of his voice. After his time it became exceptional for the poet to be also an
actor. Aeschylus, who seems to have been usually protagonist in his own plays, employed
Cleander as his deuteragonist, and subsequently (after the introduction of a third actor)
Mynniscus as tritagonist (Vit. Aesch.
p. 3, l. 75 Dind.). Cleidemides and
Tlepolemus were similarly associated with Sophocles, and Cephisophon with Euripides. Actors
sometimes received enormous salaries, occasionally as much as a talent ($1180) for two or
even one day's performance (Gell. xi. 9.2
No social stigma attached to the actor's calling (Corn. Nep. Praef.
Distinguished Athenian citizens appeared on the stage as amateurs, and the rôle of
, notwithstanding the scurrilous and
exaggerated invectives of Demosthenes, did not detract from Aeschines' position as a soldier
and orator. Bad actors, however, to whatever station in life they belonged, were not, on that
account, spared; displeasure was shown by whistling or hissing (συρίττειν
, Demosth. De Cor.
p. 315.265); another word is θορυβεῖν
, probably denoting uproar against the author rather than
the actor. For the throwing of fruit or nuts in theatres, and sometimes even of stones, cf.
[Andoc. ] c. Alcib.
20; Demosth. De Cor.
p. 314.262. On the
other hand, the practice of encoring (αὖθις
) is inferred
At a later time, when Greece had lost her independence, we find regular troops of actors,
who were either stationary in particular towns of Greece, or wandered from place to place,
and engaged themselves wherever they found it most profitable. They formed regular companies
or guilds (σύνοδοι
) with their own internal organization,
with their common officers, property, and sacra. There are a number of inscriptions belonging
to such companies. They can be traced at Athens, Thebes, Argos, Teos, Cyprus, and Rhegium.
But these actors are generally spoken of in very contemptuous terms; they were perhaps in
some cases slaves or freedmen, and their pay was sometimes as low as seven drachmas ($1.25)
for a performance (Lucian, Icaromen.
29). The language of Lucian must,
however, be received with caution. He has evidently confused the old Greek estimate of the
profession with the much lower Roman one of his own time; and in one passage (
) writes as though Polus and Aristodemus, free Greeks of the
highest consideration, had been liable to the ius virgarum in histriones.
On Greek actors in general, cf. Müller, Gr. Lit.
Donaldson, Theatre of the Greeks
, 7th ed., book iii. chaps. 1, 2;
, iii. 195-200; and especially Alb.
in HermannBlümner. 14, pp.
170-188: on the “guilds of the artists of Dionysus,” 26, pp. 392-414.
The word histriones
, by which the Roman actors were called, is said to
have been formed from the Etruscan hister
, which signified a ludio
or dancer (Livy, vii. 2
). The origin of
scenic representations at Rome has been related under Comoedia
. The name histrio
thenceforward lost the signification
of a dancer, and was now applied to the actors in the drama. Only the Atellanae (q. v.) and
were played by freeborn Romans, while the regular drama was left
to the histriones, who formed a distinct class of persons.
In the times of Plautus and Terence we find the actors gathered into a company (grex, caterva
), under the control of a manager (dominus
, also called actor
in a technical sense, though actor
is of course also a synonym of histrio
). It was
through the manager that a magistrate who was giving games, of which stage-plays formed a
part, engaged the services of a company. Brutus, who was praetor in the year of Caesar's
death, tried to regain the popularity he had lost through the murder by giving the Ludi
Apollinares with unusual splendour; and he went all the way to Naples to negotiate with
actors, who seem to have been Greeks, besides getting his friends to use their interest in
his behalf (Plut. Brut. 21
). So in imperial
times a public singer is said vocem vendere praetoribus
). The pay (merces
) was on as varied a
scale as in modern times. In the first century of the Empire an ordinary actor seems to have
received five denarii and his food (Plin. Ep.
); while at an earlier period “stars” like Roscius and
Aesopus, the contemporaries and friends of Cicero, made ample fortunes. Cicero tells us that
Roscius could have honourably made 6,000,000 sesterces ($240,000) in ten years had he chosen
to do so (Pro Rosc. Com.
8.23); and Pliny gives half a million ($20,000) as
his annual earnings. The tradition preserved by Macrobius (
Sat. iii. 14.11
-13) is that Roscius alone received 1000 denarii ($175)
for every day's performance; while Aesopus left a fortune of 20,000,000 sesterces ($800,000),
acquired solely by his profession. This was afterwards squandered by his son (Hor. Sat. ii. 3, 239
It is clear from the words of Livy (vii. 2) that the histriones were not citizens; that
they were not contained in the tribes, nor allowed to be enlisted as soldiers in the Roman
legions; and that, if any citizen entered the profession of histrio, he, on this account, was
excluded from his tribe. The histriones were therefore usually either freedmen, foreigners,
or slaves; the latter specially educated for the stage to their master's profit. Even if ingenui
, they were legally infames
3, 2, 1; cf. De Rep.
Aug. De Civ. Dei
, ii. 13), and socially in low
estimation (Pro Arch.
5.10; Corn. Nep. Praef.
4; Suet. Tib. 35
). Aesopus seems to have been a
freedman of the Claudian gens; but Roscius, the amor et deliciae
Cicero, was certainly ingenuus
, and probably of good birth. Sulla gave
him the gold ring of equestrian rank. Towards the close of the Republican
period, a few men of position and Greek culture raised themselves above the prejudices of
their countrymen, and valued the person no less than the genius of great artists. When Caesar
(q.v.), a knight advanced in
years, to appear on the stage in his own mimes, he was thought to have exceeded the powers
even of a dictator, and his victim took a dignified revenge (Macrob.
Sat. ii. 7.3
foll.). Under the emperors men of equestrian rank often
appeared, with or without compulsion (Suet. Aug.
; Dio Cass. liii. 31; Suet. Tib. 35
and this circumstance, together
Comic Actor. (From an Engraved Ring.)
with the increasing influence of Greek manners, tended to improve the social
position of the actors. At the very beginning of the reign of Tiberius it had become
necessary to check the extravagant compliments paid them (Tac.
Ann. i. 77
). Their legal status remained the same as regards infamia
and exclusion from office; even provincial honours are denied them
in the Lex Iulia Municipalis of B.C. 45, where they are coupled with gladiators (C. I.
p. 123); thoughinscriptions show that the rule was not always enforced (Orelli,
2625). But the old law was now somewhat modified, by which the Roman magistrates were
empowered to coerce the histriones at any time and in any place, and the praetor had the
right to scourge them (ius virgarum in histriones
). Augustus entirely
did away with the ius virgarum
, and limited the interference of the
magistrates to the time when, and the place where (ludi et scaena
actors performed (Suet. Aug. 45
). But he
nevertheless inflicted, of his own authority, very severe punishments upon those actors who,
either in their private life or in their conduct on the stage, committed any impropriety.
After these regulations the only legal punishments that could be inflicted upon actors for
improper conduct seem to have been imprisonment and exile (Tac.
Ann. iv. 14
; Tac. Ann. xiii. 28
The competition of the actors for public favour was carried to extraordinary lengths, and
stirred up factions like those of the Circus. If not as early as the time of Plautus himself,
yet at the time when the existing Plautine prologues were composed (probably about B.C.
150-100), we find partisanship (ambitio
) in full operation (Plaut.
prol. 37 foll.). At first palms and inexpensive crowns of gold or
silver tinsel were the reward of popularity (Pliny , Pliny
H. N. xxi. 6
); afterwards, under the Empire, presents of money and
rich garments (Juv.vii. 243
with Schol.). There was a regularly
organized and paid claque
(the theatrales operae
of Tac. Ann. i. 16
; cf. Mart. iv. 5, 8
); and over and above that the backers (fautores
resorted to actual violence and even bloodshed. Hence Tiberius on one occasion found himself
obliged to expel all histriones from Italy (Tac. Ann.
); but they were recalled and patronized by his successor. The emperors as a
rule tolerated, sometimes encouraged, and occasionally checked the excesses of the stage. We
read of the emperor's private companies who performed during dinner-time (Suet. Aug. 74
), and were sometimes allowed also to
play in the theatres before the people. The practice of giving immoderate sums to
actors was restricted by Tiberius (Tac. Ann. i.
; Suet. Tib. 34
); again by M.
Aurelius, and by Alexander Severus. Aurelius ordained a maximum payment of five aurei
($25.50) to each actor, and that no editor
should exceed the sum of ten
aurei ($51); this must mean that there were to be editores
equal to half the actors, for it cannot be thought that he reduced the actors to two for each
performance. The restrictions of the Greek stage as to the number of actors never prevailed
upon the Roman.