) 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
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
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,
35) succeeded in making this kind of
dancing (called afterwards Ἰταλικὴ
) 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.
81)--but this is the judgment of an advocate, not of a sober critic.
We hear (Ath. 1.20
: cf. Plut. Quaest,
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
], which was a generic name
for any expressive dance (Ath. 1.15
): and so not without reason we may in a
measure infer with Sommerbrodt (De triplici genere
in his Scaenica,
49) that the different styles of dancing in the Greek theatre were further
developed by these performers (Lucian, op. cit.
ff.), the tragic ἐμμέλεια
by Pylades, and
the satyric σίκιννις
and possibly the comic
by Bathyllus; the art of the
latter being, as Plutarch (l.c.
) says, more
) and not so pretentious
) 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]
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
54; Tac. Dial. 26
But the best poets wrote pieces specially for the pantomimes--fabulae salticae,
as they were called; e. g. Silo
2.19), Lucan (Vit.
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.
), Cinyras and Myrrha (Joseph. Antiq. xix.
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
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
(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,
Friedländer compares the shawl-dancing of Lady Hamilton, as
described by Goethe in his Italienische Reise
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
, 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.
2). The time was given by scabillarii,
who beat with their feet a kind of wooden or iron
instrument, called scabillum
Lucian, ib. 2, 68, 83; Suet. Cal. 54
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,
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
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
), 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
). 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,
But it was not on this ground that the law generally proceeded against the
actors, though it was sometimes (Dio Cass. l.c.
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
7). But for the most
part the emperors were wise enough to let the people busy themselves with
the actors (Macr. 2.7
), 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
22; Vopisc. Car.
16, 7; Dig. 3
); 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
). 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.
Augustus only allowed the magistrates power to scourge the actors during the
games and inside the precincts of the theatre (Suet.
; Tac. Ann. 1.77
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.
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.
), Paris (Dig. 12
; Tac. Ann. 13.19
another Paris (Juv. 7.87
), Apolaustus, and
Pylades (D. C. 68.10
). A very noticeable
feature about the noms de theâtre
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
), 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
32), too high for rivalry. But the
jealousies and squabbles of the actors were very great (Tac. Ann. 1.54
; D. C.
). The wealthy Romans (e.
g. Quadratilla in Plin. Ep. 7.24
) used to
keep troops of pantomimi
(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.
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,
100.19 (= Hist. Aug. Script.
2.828-844); Sommerbrodt in his Scaenica,
Arnold in Baumeister's Denkmäler,
s. v. Pantomimus,
pp. 1158-1160; and especially
Friedländer, Darstellungen aus der Sittengeschichte