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HI´STRIO (ὑποκριτής), an actor.


The steps by which ὑποκρίνομαι, ὑποκριτὴς acquired 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 our purpose; as in the gloss of Hesychius, ὑποκριτὴς ἀποκρινόμενος πρὸς τὸν χορόν: and in Pollux 4.123, ἐλεὸς δ᾽ἦν τράπεζα ἀρχαία, ἐφ᾽ ἣν πρὸ Θέσπιδος εἷς τις ἀναβὰς τοῖς χορευταῖς ἀπεκρίνατο. In the passages quoted by Sommerbrodt (Rhein. Mus. 22.510) in favour of the meaning “interpret” (Hom. Il. 7.406, 12.228; Od. 15.169;--Thuc. 7.44.5), the simple notion of answering suits equally well. (Cf. L. and S., s. v. ὑποκρίνομαι: Alb. Müller, p. 170, n. 2.)

It is shown in the articles CHORUS and DIONYSIA 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 ([Plat.] Min. 321 A; Hor. A. P. 275), 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. Poet. 4.16). Sophocles took the final step by adding a third actor (Aristot. l.c.; D. L. 3.56; Suid. s. v. Σοφοκλῆς): 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 the case in the Agamemnon, Choëphoroe, and Eumenides (Pollux, 4.110). 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 Thesmophoriazusae, 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 and Βία. But Βία does not speak, and κωφὰ πρόσωπα 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 [p. 1.966]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 Greek's, ed. 7, p. 286). This was first pointed out by Welcker (Trilogie, p. 30), and is accepted by almost every scholar from G. Hermann to A. Müller (see his references, p. 175, n. 2). In the Choëphoroe Aeschylus had three actors, but in 5.900 ff. a fourth seems required, where Pylades, who has been present most of the time as a κωφὸν πρόσωπον, 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 Colonos, 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 Graecis, 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 παρασκήνιον and παραχορήγημα here come in for explanation. The usual meaning of παραχορήγημα is of course a subordinate chorus or ἕτερος χορός (see L. and S. s. v.); but the statement that the word was also applied to the part taken by a fourth actor rests only on the authority of Pollux (4.109, 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. A. Müller (p. 178) gives full details, but pronounces the question obscure. This sense of παρασκήνιον is not noticed in L. and S.

The three regular actors were distinguished by the technical names of πρωταγωνιστής, δευτεραγωνιστής, and τριταγωνιστής (Suidas, s. v. τριταγωνιστής: Dem. de Cor. p. 315, § § 265, 267;--de F. L. p. 344.10; 403.200), 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 (Pollux, 4.124). The protagonist naturally undertook the character in which the interest of the piece was intended to centre; not always the title-role (as O. Müller thought), unless it were that of the real hero or heroine (A. Müller, p. 182). It is true that, in six out of the seven extant plays of Sophocles, the title-role is also the leading part (in the remaining one, the Trachiniae, the part of Deianira is assigned by common consent to the protagonist); but in the Cresphontes and Oenomaus of Euripides the title-role 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; Donaldson, p. 269; on the other side, Lachmann and A. Müller, l.c.). It is an ingenious but rather fanciful notion of O. Müller's (Griech. Lit. 2.57) 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 (Dem. l.c.), 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 Third; but the titles of lost plays show an Ixion of Aeschylus, an Acrisius 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 (with whom Alb. Müller is substantially in agreement) 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 (Vit. Soph. in Dindorf's Poetae Scenici, p. 11, 35); 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 “supers” was unlimited: they were usually silent, but sometimes spoke a few words, especially when a fourth interlocutor was required (see above): in this 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 or δορυφόρημα became an equivalent to κωφὸν πρόσωπον (see L. and S. s. vv.); and in one or two instances (the opening scene of the Oedipus Tyrannus and probably that of the Acharnians) we have a regular “stagemob” of citizens like those in Julius Caesar and Wilhelm Tell.

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 [p. 1.967]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. 1.21 e). Sophocles 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 weakness 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, 50.75 Dind.). Cleidemides and Tlepolemus were similarly associated with Sophocles, Cephisophon with Euripides. Among a long list of famous actors during the great period of the Athenian drama, the most conspicuous names are those of Polus and Aristodemus, the latter a political character as well, from having twice been sent on embassies to Philip (Dem. de F. L. p. 343.12, and often in the Embassy Speeches of both orators). Both of these received enormous salaries: sometimes as much as a talent for two or even one day's performance ([Plut.] Vitt. X. Oratt. p. 848 B; Gel. 11.9.2; Boeckh, P. E. p. 120=Sthh.3 1.153). There was also a younger Mynniscus, contemporary with the comic poets Plato and Menecrates: it must be this Mynniscus, and not the one who played for Aeschylus, who is mentioned in an inscription as protagonist in a comedy (Μενεκράτης ἐδίδασκεν: ὑποκριτὴς Μυννίσκος, C. I. A. 2.971 b). Another inscription records the fact of Antiphanes appearing in one of his own plays (ib. 972; Thessalus and Athenodorus, contemporaries of Alexander, ib. 973; cf. Plut. Alex. 10, 29). Each of these inscriptions notices only a single actor, of course the protagonist.

No social stigma attached to the actor's calling (Corn. Nep. Praef. 5); distinguished Athenian citizens appeared on the stage as amateurs, and the role of a τριταγωνιστής, 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, Dem. de Cor. p. 315.265; de F. L. p. 449.337: cf. c. Mid. p. 586.226); another word is θορυβεῖν, probably denoting uproar against the author rather than the actor (Becker-Göll, Charikles, 3.199). For the throwing of fruit or nuts in theatres, and sometimes even of stones, cf. [Andoc.] c. Alcib. § 20; Dem. de Cor. p. 314.262; Athen. 6.245 d, e, ix. p. 406 f. On the other hand, the practice of encoring (αὖθις) is inferred from Xen. Symp. 9, § 4.

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 τῶν περὶ τὸν Διόνυσον τεχνιτῶν), with their own internal organisation, with their common officers, property, and sacra. We possess a number of inscriptions belonging to such companies, and can trace them at Athens (C. I. A. 2.551, 552), Thebes (C. I. G. 1600), Argos (C. I. G. 3068 C, and more in A. Müller, p. 393, n. 7), Teos (C. I. G. 3067), Cyprus (C. I. G. 2619, 2620), Rhegium (C. I. G. 5762). 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 for a performance (Lucian, Icaromen. 29; cf. Nigrin. 8, Necyom. 16; Theophrast. Char. 6). 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 (Apol. 5) writes as though Polus and Aristodemus, free Greeks of the highest consideration, had been liable to the jus virgarum in histriones.

(On Greek actors in general, cf. Müller, Gr. Lit. ch. 22; Donaldson, Theatre of the Greeks, ed. 7, book iii. cc. 1, 2; Becker-Göll, Charikles, 3.195-200; and especially Alb. Müller, Bühnenalterth. in Hermann-Blümner, § 14, pp. 170-188: on the “guilds of the artists of Dionysus,” § 26, pp. 392-414).

2. Roman

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 (Liv. 7.2, V. Max. 2.4.4; cf. Plut. Quaest. Rom. 107). The origin of scenic representations at Rome has been related under COMOEDIA p. 521 b. The name histrio thenceforward lost the signification of a dancer, and was now applied to the actors in the drama. Only the Atellanae [COMOEDIA p. 522 b] and EXODIA 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 gregis, also called actor in a technical sense, though actor is of course also a synonym of histrio). A manager named T. Publilius Pellio (or Pollio) is mentioned by Plautus (Bacch. 2.2, 35-37), and was apparently not in favour with the dramatist: during the short career of Terence his manager was the well-known L. Ambivius Turpio. 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 Ludi Apollinares of 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 (Juv. 6.379). The pay (merces: for the distinction between merces and lucar see LUCAR) 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 (Senec. Ep. 80.7; cf. the seven drachmas of Lucian, Icaromen. 29, already cited); while at an earlier period “stars” like Roscius and Aesopus, the contemporaries and friends of Cicero, made ample fortunes. Cicero [p. 1.968]tells us that Roscius could have honourably made 6,000,000 sesterces (HS. sexagies, about £48,000) in ten years had he chosen to do so (pro Rosc. Com. 8.23); and Pliny (H.N. 7.128) gives half a million (£4000) as his annual earnings. [We have no doubt that Pliny's HS. D annua is to be read quingena sestertia; the adverbial form quingenties ( [Dmacr] ) introduces an absurdity, £400,000 a year, too great even for him.] The tradition preserved by Macrobius (Macr. 3.14, § § 11-13) is that Roscius alone received 1000 denarii for every day's performance; while Aesopus left a fortune of 20,000,000 sesterces (HS. ducenties, or £160,000), acquired solely by his profession; this was afterwards squandered by his son (Hor. Sat. 2.3, 239).

It is clear from the words of Livy (7.2) 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 ( “infamia notantur--qui artis ludicrae pronuntiandive causa in scaenam prodierit,” Edict. Praet. ap. Dig. 3, 2, 1; cf. Cic. de Rep. iv. fr. 10 ap. Aug. de Civ. Dei, 2.13), and socially in low estimation (Cic. 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 of Cicero, was certainly ingenuus, and probably of good birth (Cic. de Div. 1.3. 6, § 79); Sulla gave him the gold ring of equestrian rank. We see that, towards the close of the republic, 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. (Macrob. l.c.) When Caesar forced Laberius, an eques 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 (Macr. 2.7.3 ff.; the scene is described at length in Dict. Biogr. s. v. Laberius). Under the emperors men of equestrian rank often appeared, with or without compulsion (Suet. Aug. 43; D. C. 53.31; Suet. Tib. 35, Calig. 30, Nero. 4, 11; D. C. 60.7, 61.17; Tac. Ann. 14.14, Hist. 2.60); and this circumstance, together 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; “ne domos pantomimorum senator introiret; ne egredientes in publicum equites Romani cingerent” (Tac. Ann. 1.77; cf. Senec. Ep. 47.17; Plin. Nat. 29.9; Juv. 7.88). Their legal status remained the same as regards infamia and exclusion from office; even provincial honours are denied them in the Lex Julia Municipalis of B.C. 45, where they are coupled with gladiators ( “queive lanistaturam artemve ludicram fecit fecerit,” C. I. L. p. 123); though inscriptions show that the rule was not always enforced (Gruter, Inscr. 1089, 6 = 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 (jus virgarum in histriones). Augustus entirely did away with the jus virgarum, and limited the interference of the magistrates to the time when and the place where (ludi et scaena), the actors performed (Tac. Ann. 1.77; 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 (Suet. l.c.). 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. 4.14, 13.28). The jus virgarum is indeed said to have been restored to the praetor by a law of Augustus himself (Paul. Sent. v. tit. 26), not expressly, but by the interpretation put upon this law by the jurists. But this interpretation cannot have become valid till after the reign of Tiberius, of whom it is clearly stated that he refused to restore the jus virgarum, because it had been abolished by his predecessor (Tac. Ann. 1.77).

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. Poen. prol. 37 ff.; cf. Amphitr. prol. 65 ff.). At first palms and inexpensive crowns of gold or silver tinsel were the reward of popularity (Varro, L. L. 5.178; Phaedr. Fab. 5.7, 34; Plin. Nat. 21.6); afterwards, under the empire, presents of money and rich garments (Juv. 7.243 with Schol.; Capitolin. M. Ant. Phil. 11; Lamprid. Al. Sev. 33). There was a regularly organised and paid claque (the theatrales operae of Tac. Ann. 1.16; Orelli ad loc.: cf. Mart. 4.5, 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. 4.14; D. C. 57.21); but they were recalled and patronised by his successor (Dio Cass. lix. cc. 3, 5). The emperors as a rule tolerated, sometimes encouraged, and occasionally checked the excesses of the stage. We read of the emperor's private companies (histriones aulici, Spartian. Hadr. 19; Capitolin. Verus, 8) who performed during dinner time (Suet. Aug. 74), and were sometimes allowed also to play in the theatres before the people (publicabantur). The practice of giving immoderate sums to actors was restricted by Tiberius (Tac. Ann. 1.77; Suet. Tib. 34); again by M. Aurelius (Capitolin. M. Ant. Phil. 11), and by Alexander Severus (Lamprid. l.c.). Aurelius ordained a maximum payment of five aurei to each actor, and that no editor should exceed the sum of ten aurei; this must mean that there were to be editores in number 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. (Cf. Marquardt, Staatsverw. 3.516-521.)

[L.S] [W.W]

hide References (28 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (28):
    • Homer, Odyssey, 15.169
    • Thucydides, Histories, 7.44.5
    • Xenophon, Symposium, 9
    • Homer, Iliad, 12.228
    • Homer, Iliad, 7.406
    • Cicero, For Archias, 5
    • Suetonius, Tiberius, 35
    • Tacitus, Annales, 14.14
    • Tacitus, Annales, 13.28
    • Tacitus, Annales, 1.16
    • Tacitus, Annales, 1.77
    • Tacitus, Annales, 4.14
    • Suetonius, Divus Augustus, 43
    • Suetonius, Divus Augustus, 45
    • Suetonius, Divus Augustus, 74
    • Suetonius, Tiberius, 34
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 21.6
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 29.9
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 7, 2
    • Cicero, De Divinatione, 1.3
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 11.9.2
    • Plutarch, Brutus, 21
    • Plutarch, Alexander, 10
    • Plutarch, Alexander, 29
    • Athenaeus, of Naucratis, Deipnosophistae, 1.21
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 4.5
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 4.8
    • Valerius Maximus, Facta et Dicta Memorabilia, 2.4.4
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