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PANTOMI´MUS (παντόμιμος) was the performer in that kind of dramatic piece in which a story was represented by mere dancing and rhythmical movement by a single dancer. The word pantomimus is never, like mimus, applied to the piece represented, but only to the performer. The custom of pantomimic dancing is almost entirely confined to the time of the Roman Empire.

When the public lost interest in the full acting out of tragedies, the separate parts of those dramas used to be acted, especially those parts which were cantica, i.e. what were not mere iambic dialogues (diverbia), and among the cantica chiefly monologues and choruses. Here by increase of the expression in two directions the action became dancing and the speech became song; with the necessary result that the two performances could not be combined by a single actor, but had to be separated (Lucian, de Salt. 30). The result was artistically absurd, that one person should sing and the other dance (not more absurd, however, than say the chorus of bathers in the Huguenots); but none the less the practice became fashionable, especially when Pylades of Cilicia and Bathyllus of Alexandria, both very skilled dancers, about 22 B.C. (cf. Roth's Suetonius, p. 301, 25; Lucian, op. cit. 35) succeeded in making this kind of dancing (called afterwards Ἰταλικὴ ὄρχησις) a fully recognised species of amusement at Rome. It was honestly enjoyed by the cultivated of all classes: the rhetorician Seneca (Contr. excerpt. iii. praef.) calls it his “weakness” (morbum meum); Lucian (if it is Lucian) has an enthusiastic encomium on it (op. cit. § 35 to end), and Libanius has a long treatise on it. Lucian finds all excellences in this kind of dancing, even that it makes the spectators know themselves better and leave the theatre with clearer ideas of what to do and what not to do; in fact, altogether morally improved (op. cit. 69, 72, 81)--but this is the judgment of an advocate, not of a sober critic.

We hear (Ath. 1.20: cf. Plut. Quaest, Conviv. 7.8, 3 = 711, 44; Senec. l.c.) that the style of Pylades was of a sedate and tragic nature,, but that of Bathyllus more joyful (ἰλαρωτέρα), representing a kind of ὑπόρχημα [CHORUS], which was a generic name for any expressive dance (Ath. 1.15; 14.628): and so not without reason we may in a measure infer with Sommerbrodt (De triplici genere pantomimorum, in his Scaenica, p. 49) that the different styles of dancing in the Greek theatre were further developed by these performers (Lucian, op. cit. 26 ff.), the tragic ἐμμέλεια by Pylades, and the satyric σίκιννις and possibly the comic κόρδαξ by Bathyllus; the art of the latter being, as Plutarch (l.c.) says, more commonplace (πέζαν) and not so pretentious (ὀγκώδη) as that of Pylades. But probably the κόρδαξ was not acted by the pantomimes; it would rather belong to the mimes, for the pantomimes, though very licentious, do not appear to have been coarse, and the subjects of the art of Bathyllus are mostly satyric subjects. Even in the passage from Plutarch the subjects are satyric, and he only says that the comic style of dancing is related to the cordax (τοῦ κόρδακος ἁπτομένην). The striking scenes in the dramas came then to be acted for the most part by mere dancing. This required on the part of the spectator a considerable degree of knowledge in the first place, so as to be fairly [p. 2.335]familiar with the story acted, and in the second place a certain power of imagination to piece the scenes together and a fineness of taste to appreciate the refinements of the art, which was nothing if not refined and full of delicate points. So that this pantomimic dancing, and especially the dancing of subjects from tragedy, became the fashionable exhibition for the upper and more cultivated classes to frequent, the lower classes preferring the coarser mimes when they went to the theatre at all. The rage for exhibitions of dancing that arose about the time of the Empire cannot be better exemplified than by the fact that poems of Ovid's, not written for the theatre at all, were “pantomimised” (just as our second-rate novels are dramatised), and actually orations were set to music and adapted for dancing (Ov. Tr. 2.519, 5.7, 25; Plin. Paneg. 54; Tac. Dial. 26).

But the best poets wrote pieces specially for the pantomimes--fabulae salticae, as they were called; e. g. Silo (Senec. Suas. 2.19), Lucan (Vit. Vaccae, in Teuffel, § 298, 4), Statius (Juv. 7.92), which artistically were probably about on a level with the libretti of our Italian operas. The subjects were most various, but were generally love adventures--Mars and Venus (Lucian, op. cit. 63), Jupiter and Leda (Juv. 6.63), Cinyras and Myrrha (Joseph. Antiq. xix. 1, 3), Phaedra and Hippolytus (Lucian, 49), Seleucus and Stratonice (ib. 58); but sometimes others, Hercules Furens (ib. 41), Isis and Osiris (ib. 59), Polycrates (ib. 54), Turnus (Suet. Nero 54), Glaucus (Vell. 2.83). Lucian (37-61) indeed says that all mythical and historical subjects, from Chaos to the death of Cleopatra, were fit subjects for pantomimes; and he gives in immense detail a number of appropriate stories. The dancing was performed by a single actor; it was only very rarely that there was a second (cf. Quint. 6.3, 65). The actor would appear successively as (say) Atreus, Thyestes, and Aegisthus or Aerope--all in the one piece (Lucian, op. cit. 67). There were sometimes as many as five characters to be acted (ib. 66). A chorus sang cantica, accompanying the various dances. The text to bind together the various scenes consisted probably in a sort of recitative (Friedländer says, like that of our oratorios) sung by the chorus, while the actor had time to change his dress. When there was no change of dress, the actor was said palliolatim saltare (Fronto, p. 157, 3, ed. Naber), in which the dancer with a single cloak used to represent the most varied things--caudam cygni, capillum Veneris, Furiae flagellum, &c. Friedländer compares the shawl-dancing of Lady Hamilton, as described by Goethe in his Italienische Reise (at Caserta, March 16, 1787). The accompaniment to the dancing and the chorus was performed by an orchestra (which Pylades introduced instead of the single flute accompaniment), consisting of pipes and cymbals, harps and zithers (Lucian, 68; Ov. Rem. Am. 753 ff.: cf. Macrobius, Macr. 2.7, 18, where Pylades is said to have declared that the music suited to dancing was αὐλῶν συρίγγων τ̓ ἐνοπὴν ὁμαδόν τ̓ ἀνθρώπων, Hom. Il. 10.13). The music appears to have been of a florid and showy description (Lucian, op. cit. 2). The time was given by scabillarii, who beat with their feet a kind of wooden or iron instrument, called scabillum or scabellum (κρούπεζα): cf. Lucian, ib. 2, 68, 83; Suet. Cal. 54; Poll. 7.87; Liban. 3.385, 13. There is a celebrated statue of a Satyr with cymbals beating the scabillum in the Tribune of the Uffizi Gallery at Florence. In the absence of any definite evidence to the contrary, we may assume that the scenery of the pantomimes was much the same as that of the Greek tragedies.

The real charm lay in the performance of the dancer. The art of dancing has sunk to such a low level with us, and we are naturally so incapable of appreciating the meaning of slight looks and gestures, that it is only when very forcibly brought before us that we can get a faint idea of what “the poetry of motion” means, and understand.what the Romans implied by “speaking hands” (manus loquacissimae, linguosi digiti, Cassiod. Var. 4.51: cf. Lucian, op. cit. 63, 69) and “the eloquence of dancing” (saltare diserte, Tac. Dial. 26). But the value of action is great to the Southern nations; to them it can signify most things without words (Quint. 11.3, 65). How important it was to the orator we know from the story of Demosthenes, who said that action was the first, second, and third requisite of an orator; and Quintilian (l.c.) devotes a great many pages to the subject, full of injunctions which at times cannot be appreciated by us, though we are not on that account to accuse Quintilian of pedantry. But the pantomimi in some cases aimed at representing even the very words of their texts, a practice justly reprobated by Quintilian (ib. 88, 89) and the better pantomimi themselves (cf. Macr. 2.7, 13 ff.). The whole art, however, came to be as conventional as possible, neither performer attempting nor audience desiring originality of treatment, but only excellence of execution. This is shown by the story in Lucian (op. cit. 80) of an actor who had to dance the devouring of his children by Cronos, and danced the traditional steps of the eating of the children of Thyestes, misled by the similarity of the subject; another danced the steps for the burning of Glauce by Medea's poisoned robe when representing the burning of Semele. But with all the artificiality the effect of the performances of the pantomimi on the audience was most powerful; “so fascinating is the dancing,” says Lucian (op. cit. 79), a passage well worth reading, “that the lover seeing the bitter end of love is cured of his passion, and one who enters the theatre in depression leaves it brighter and happier just as if he had drunk Homer's nepenthe.” Splendid robes (ib. 2, 63), attractive masks (which had the mouth shut, not the huge gaping things the actors in the drama had to wear, ib. 29; see illustration in Baumeister's Denkmäler, fig. 1351, 1352), generally splendid dress, the tunica talaris and the palla (Suet. Cal. 54), all the grace and beauty of youth which necessarily attached to the most famous of the performers (their form, says Lucian, op. cit. 75, should be that of the canon of Polycletus), and which were enhanced by careful training; the movements of the dance, now soft, delicate and voluptuous, presently rising into wild passionate outbursts, must have made the whole exhibition most sensuously seductive and intoxicating; and we can well believe the many stories of the passions inspired in the Roman ladies by the pantomimi, and of the disastrous [p. 2.336]effect the exhibitions had on the morals of the community (cf. Juv. 6.63 ff.; Plin. Nat. 7.184; D. C. 57.21). The introduction of the pantomimes at the commencement of the Empire was the beginning of the moral corruption of the world, according to Zosimus (1.6); and St. Augustine considered the pantomimes a far more insidious and destructive disease sent by Satan than the more savage pest of the circus (de Civ. Dei, 1.32).

But it was not on this ground that the law generally proceeded against the actors, though it was sometimes (Dio Cass. l.c.) put forward; it was owing to the disorder caused by the rival factions of the different performers. The actors (in Imperial times histrio virtually means one who acts pantomimes) were banished from Italy by Tiberius and Nero, and Domitian only allowed them to perform in private (Suet. Tib. 37; Nero, 16; Dom. 7). But for the most part the emperors were wise enough to let the people busy themselves with the actors (Macr. 2.7, 19), and thereby be kept clear of politics. As to the legal position of the actors, they were always infames (Cic. Rep. 4.10; Nepos, Proem. 5; Tert. Spect. 22; Vopisc. Car. 16, 7; Dig. 3, 2, 1); in the municipalities they were not eligible to magistracies (Lex Jul. Munic. 50.125). Their children could not form legal marriages with members of the senatorial families (Dig. 23, 2, 42, 44). The soldier who became an actor was punished with death (ib. 48, 19, 14). For further on this point, see Mayor on Juv. 8.188; Marquardt, Staatsr. 3.516 ff. Augustus only allowed the magistrates power to scourge the actors during the games and inside the precincts of the theatre (Suet. Aug. 45; Tac. Ann. 1.77), though any violation of public morals he visited on them most severely. The actors were mostly slaves or freedmen, and, if free-born, foreigners; and the nominal feeling of the age as to the meanness of their calling may be seen from the scathing satire of Juvenal (8.183 ff.) on the Roman nobles who became actors: it was much as if one in high circles were to become a professional jockey. But still the celebrated pantomimi were flattered and petted (Senec. Q. N. 7.32, 3; Ep. 47, 17). Flowers and perfumes were strewn over the place where Paris lay murdered (D. C. 67.3), and Martial composed (11.13) a beautiful epitaph for him. They became men of considerable wealth and influence (Plut. Tranquill. Anim. 13 = 473, 10), especially when they were court favourites like Mnester (Suet. Cal. 56), Paris (Dig. 12, 4, 3, 5; Tac. Ann. 13.19-22, 27), another Paris (Juv. 7.87), Apolaustus, and Pylades (D. C. 68.10). A very noticeable feature about the noms de theâtre of these pantomimi (and indeed of many other kinds of artists also) is that they were assumed from those of famous predecessors; see Friedländer, ii.3 608 ff. It is needless to say that in the clubs and guilds of the actors celebrated performers obtained the highest positions, and were supported at the common expense (Wilmanns, 2619 ff.); but also, at least in later times, we find an actor made a decurio (e. g. Acilius at Lanuvium in 187 A.D., Wilm. 2625), another set over the army in Armenia (D. C. 77.21), a third made praefectus praetorio (Lampr. Heliog. 12, 1)--though, to be sure, this was only by the worst emperors. The pay given to the performers, even in the time of Tiberius, was thought too high, and M. Aurelius had to fix a maximum (Capit. M. Aurel. 11, 4): yet Pylades, in the time of Tiberius, made so much money that he was able to give games on his own account (D. C. 55.10, 11), and Pliny (Plin. Nat. 7.128) says that slave actors with their gains often bought their liberty for considerably over 700,000 sesterces (more than £7,000). There do not appear generally to have been regular competitions of pantomimi, their art forsooth being, according to Lucian (op. cit. 32), too high for rivalry. But the jealousies and squabbles of the actors were very great (Tac. Ann. 1.54; D. C. 57.14, 10). The wealthy Romans (e. g. Quadratilla in Plin. Ep. 7.24) used to keep troops of pantomimi and pantomimae (Senec. ad Helv. 12) for private exhibitions; but pantomimae did not appear on the public stage till later times, e. g. in Justinian's time an actress Helladia danced the Hector (cf. Anthol. Pal. 4.75, ed. Jacobs), though even then the performance was mostly by men (Liban. iii. p. 372, 31, ed. Reiske).

The chief works to consult on the pantomimes are Salmasius on Vopiscus, Carinus, 100.19 (= Hist. Aug. Script. 2.828-844); Sommerbrodt in his Scaenica, 35-50; Arnold in Baumeister's Denkmäler, s. v. Pantomimus, pp. 1158-1160; and especially Friedländer, Darstellungen aus der Sittengeschichte Roms, ii.3 427-442.


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