A mask; an artificial covering for the face worn among many peoples in all ages of history and
for different purposes, but more frequently in Greece and Italy
for covering the faces of the dead and
by actors in theatrical performances.
Death-masks of gold have been found in tombs at Mycenae and elsewhere; at Carthage masks of
clay were also similarly used. In Egypt they were placed upon the case containing the mummy.
See also Imagines
Mask from Mummy-case of Rameses II.
For theatrical purposes, masks were made of linen, of bark, of leather, and sometimes of
wood. Their introduction in dramatic performances is ascribed to Choerilus
(q.v.) of Samos about B.C. 500, and to Aeschylus
(q.v.); but their use really goes back to the mummery in
honour of Dionysus, at whose festivals in early Greece the face was painted with the lees of
wine or covered with leaves. The opening for the eyes was not larger than the pupil of the
actor's eyes behind the mask. The masks themselves sometimes merely covered the face, like
masks in modern times; but sometimes, also, they covered the whole head down to the
shoulders. The wig worn by the tragic actors
was usually if not always a part of the mask. Phrynichus is said by Suidas (s. v.) to
have first made comic masks. The varieties of masks were very numerous, representing every
possible sort of character, age, sex, and condition. Pollux (iv. 133, etc.) enumerates
twenty-eight typical kinds of mask, six for old men, eight for young men, eleven for women,
and three for slaves. Gellius thinks that the mouth of the mask was arranged so as to
intensify the sound of the actor's voice (v. 7); but this is doubtful.
Masks in British Museum.
At Rome masks were not used in early times, but only wigs. They were probably first
introduced in B.C. 110 by Roscius, who was homely and had a squint. When the audiences hissed
an actor he was obliged to remove his mask, except when acting in the Atellanae
Sat. ii. 7
See the articles Drama
and Satyrica Fabula.