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SALTA´TIO (ὄρχησις), dancing. The dancing of the Greeks as well as of the Romans had very little in common with the exercise which goes by that name in modern times. It may be divided into two kinds, gymnastic and mimetic; that is, it was intended either to represent bodily activity, or to express by gestures, movements, and attitudes certain ideas or feelings, and also single events or a series of events, as in the modern ballet. All these movements, however, were accompanied by music; but the terms ὄρχησις and saltatio were used in so much wider a sense than our word “dancing,” that they were applied to designate gestures even when the body did not move at all (Plat. Legg. vii. pp. 814, 816; Ovid, Ars. Am. 1.595, 2.305; saltare solis oculis, Apul. Met. x. p. 251; cf. Grote, Hist. of Greece, vol. iv. p. 114).

We find dancing prevalent among the Greeks from the earliest times. It is frequently mentioned in the Homeric poems (il. 9.186; 13.637): the suitors of Penelope delight themselves with music and dancing (Od. 1.152, 421; 18.304); Ulysses is entertained at the court of Alcinous with the exhibitions of very skilful dancers, the rapid movements of whose feet excite his admiration (Od. 8.265); and from Od. 23.134 we may gather that the dancing of the guests was then an ordinary part of a wedding festival.

But a broad distinction must be made between the custom of the heroic age in this particular and of later times, especially as regards Attica. In Sparta, and probably in Doric states generally, the dance was regularly taught both as a gymnastic training and with a view to religious festivals, and boys and girls danced together (see below, ὅρμος); but even in Doric states we do not gather that it was, as in the Homeric poems, an ordinary amusement in domestic life, or that it took the place which dancing now does. At Athens, in the age of Pericles and afterwards, we find dances used in certain religious festivals and in the drama [DIONYSIA; CHORUS]; but as regards dancing for amusement in private houses the custom differs altogether from that of the older and simpler times described in the Homeric poems. The dancers are hired to amuse as a spectacle, and when the guests dance themselves it is a sign that they are excited by wine (cf. Alex. ap. Athen. 4.134 a; Theophrast. Char. 9; Xen. Hier. 6, 2). Social dances of men and [p. 2.593]women together were wholly precluded by the customs regulating the appearance of women in society [MATRIMONIUM p. 137]; and, when Plato advocates the dancing of young men and maidens together (Legg. vi. p. 771), we must notice that he is expressing a desire, not describing what existed. It seems, however, that women in private houses danced together at family festivals such as the Amphidromia (Eubul. ap. Athen. 15.668; cf. Aristoph. Lys. 408). Still, there was even in this restricted amount of dancing a difference between Greek and Roman habits, which is noticed by Cornelius Nepos (Epam. 1), and moreover, as time went on, dancing for mere amusement (though still with separation of the sexes) became commoner again in Greece than it had been in the time of the great Greek writers (cf. Athen. 14. 628 c).

The lively imagination and mimetic powers of the Greeks found abundant subjects for various kinds of dances, and accordingly the names of no less than 200 different dances have come down to us. (Meursius, Orchestr.; Athen. xiv. pp. 627-630; Pollux, 4.95-111; Liban. ὑπὲρ τῶν ὀρχ.) It would be inconsistent with the nature of this work to give a description of all that are known; only the most important can be mentioned, and such as will give some idea of the dancing of the ancients.

Dancing was originally closely connected with religion: Plato (Legg. vii. pp. 798, 799) thought that all dancing should be based on religion, as it was, he says, among the Egyptians. The dances of the Chorus at Sparta and in other Doric states were intimately connected with the worship of Apollo, as has been shown at length elsewhere [CHORUS; HYPORCHEMA]; and in all the public festivals, which were so numerous among the Greeks, dancing formed a very prominent part. All the religious dances, with the exception of the Bacchic and the Corybantian, were very simple, and consisted of gentle movements of the body with various turnings and windings around the altar: such a dance was the γέρανος, which Theseus is said to have performed at Delos on his return from Crete (Plut. Thes. 21). The Dionysiac or Bacchic and the Corybantian were of a very different nature. In the former the life and adventures of the god were represented by mimetic dancing [DIONYSIA]; the dance called Βακχικὴ by Lucian (de Salt. 79) was a Satyric dance, and chiefly prevailed in Ionia and Pontus. The most illustrious men in the state danced in it, representing Titans, Corybantians, Satyrs, and husbandmen; and the spectators were so delighted with the exhibition, that they remained sitting the whole day to witness it, forgetful of everything else. The Corybantian was of a very wild character: it was chiefly danced in Phrygia and in Crete; the dancers were armed, struck

Corybantes, from a relief. (Krause.)

their swords against their shields, and displayed the most extravagant fury; it was accompanied chiefly by the flute. (Lucian, ib. 8; Strab. x. p.473; Plat. Crit. p. 54 D.) The preceding woodcut, from the Museo Pio Clementino (vol. iv. pl. 2), is supposed to represent a Corybantian dance. Respecting the dances in the theatre, see CHORUS

Dancing was applied to gymnastic purposes and to training for war, especially in the Doric states, and was believed to have contributed very much to the success of the Dorians in war, as it enabled them to perform their evolutions simultaneously and in order. Hence the poet Socrates (Athen. 14.628 f) says: “ οἳ δὲ χοροῖς κάλλιστα θεοὺς τιμῶσιν, ἄριστοι
ἐν πολέμῳ.

There were various dances in early times, which served as a preparation for war: of such dances the most celebrated was the Pyrrhic ( Πνῤῥίχη), of which πρύλις was said to be the name in Crete. For a full account of the Pyrrhic dance in Greece and at Rome, see PYRRHICA

Another important gymnastic dance was performed at the festival of γυμνοπαιδίαι at Sparta, where the chief object, according to Müller (Dor. 4.6.8), was to represent gymnastic exercises and dancing in intimate union. Respecting the dance at this festival, see GYMNOPAEDIA

There were other dances, besides the Pyrrhic, in which the performers had arms; but these seem to have been entirely mimetic, and not practised with any view to training for war. Such was the Καρπαία peculiar to the Aenianians and Magnetes, which was performed by two armed men in the following manner: one lays down his arms, sows the ground, and ploughs with a yoke of oxen, frequently looking around as if afraid; then comes a robber, upon which the other snatches up his arms and fights with him for the oxen. All these movements are rhythmical, accompanied by the flute. At last the robber binds the man and drives away the oxen, but sometimes the husbandman conquers. (Xen. Anab. 6.1, § § 7, 8; Athen. i. pp. 15 f, 16 a; Maxim. Tyr. Diss. 28.4.) Similar dances by persons with arms are mentioned by Xenophon on the same occasion. These dances were frequently performed at banquets for the entertainment of the guests (Athen. 4.155 b). At banquets likewise the κυβιστητῆρες or tumblers were frequently introduced. These tumblers, in the course of their dance, flung themselves on their heads and alighted again on their feet (ὥσπερ οἱ κυβιστῶντες καὶ εἰς ὀρθὸν τὰ σκέλη περιφερόμενοι κνβιστῶσι κύκλῳ, Plato, Symp. p. 190 A). We read of κυβιστητῆρες as early as the time of Homer (Hom. Il. 18.605; Od. 4.18). They were also accustomed to make their somersault over knives or swords, which was called κυβιστᾶν εἰς μαχαίρας (Plato, Euthyd. p. 294 D; Xen. Mem. 1.3, § 9, Symp. 2.14; Athen. 4.129 d; Pollux, 3.134). The way in which this feat was performed is described by Xenophon, who says (Symp. 2.11). that a circle was made quite full of upright swords, and that the dancer εἰς ταῦτα ἐκνβίστα τε καὶ ἐξεκνβίστα ὑπὲρ αὐτῶν: and it is well illustrated by the following cut taken from the Museo Borbonico, vol. vii. tav. 58. (Becker-Göll, Charikles, 1.164; Baumeister, Denkmäler, p. 584 f.) We learn from Tacitus (Germ. 24) [p. 2.594]that the German youths also used to dance among swords and spears pointed at them.

Tumbler. (
Museo Borbonico.

An even more remarkable performance is represented on a vase-painting (Bull. Napol. v. tav. 7 = Baumeister, fig. 631), where the performer in a similar position is shooting an arrow with her feet, and another (Tischbein, 1.60= Baum. 632) is filling from a large amphora a cup which she holds in her foot by means of a cyathus which she holds in the other. It may be noted that Krause in his representation of this last vase-painting wrongly gives three distinct scenes as if they were connected in one whole.

Other kinds of dances were frequently performed at entertainments, in Rome as well as in Greece, by courtesans, many of which were of a very indecent and lascivious nature (Macr. 2.10; Plaut. Stich. 5.2, 11). The dancers seem to have frequently represented Bacchanals: many such dancers occur in the paintings found at Herculaneum and Pompeii in a variety of graceful attitudes. (See Museo Borbonico, vol. vii. tav. 34-40; vol. ix. tav. 17; vol. x. tav. 5, 6, 54.)

Among the dances performed without arms one of the most important was the ὅρμος, which was danced at Sparta by youths and maidens together: the youth danced first some movements suited to his age, and of a military nature; the maiden followed in measured steps and with feminine gestures. Lucian (de Salt. 12) says that it was similar to the dance performed at the Gymnopaedia. (Compare Müller, Dor. iv. 6.5.) Another common dance at Sparta was the Bibasis (βίβασις), which was much practised both by men and women. The dance consisted in springing rapidly from the ground, and striking the feet behind; a feat of which a Spartan woman in Aristophanes (Aristoph. Lys. 28) prides herself (γυμναδδομαί γα καὶ ποτὶ πνγὰν ἅλλομαι). The number of successful strokes was counted, and the most skilful received prizes. We are told by a verse which has been preserved by Pollux (4.102), that a Laconian girl had danced the bibasis a thousand times, which was more than had ever been done before. (Müller, Dorians, 4.6.8.)

In many of the Greek states the art of dancing was carried to great perfection by females, who were frequently engaged to add to the pleasures and enjoyment of men at their symposia. These dancers always belonged to the hetaerae. Xenophon (Symp. 9.2-7) describes a mimetic dance which was represented at a symposium where Socrates was present. It was performed by a maiden and a youth, belonging to a Syracusan, who is called the ὀρχηστοδιδάσκαλος, and represented the loves of Dionysus and Ariadne.

Dancing was common among the Romans in ancient times in connexion with religious festivals and rites, and was practised, according to Servius (ad Verg. Ecl. 5.73), because the ancients thought that no part of the body should be free from the influence of religion. The dances of the Salii, which were performed by men of patrician families, are spoken of elsewhere. [SALII] For the Pyrrhic dance at Rome, see PYRRHICA There was another old Roman dance of a military nature, called Bellicrepa Saltatio, which is said to have been instituted by Romulus, after he had carried off the Sabine virgins, in order that a like misfortune might not befall his state (Festus, s. v.). Dancing, however, was not performed by any Roman citizen except in connexion with religion; and it is only in reference to such dancing that we are to understand the statements that the ancient Romans did not consider dancing disgraceful, and that not only freemen but the sons of senators and noble matrons practised it (Quintil. Inst. Orat. i.> 11.18; Macr. 2.10). In the later times of the Republic we know that it was considered highly disgraceful for a freeman to dance: Cicero reproaches Cato for calling Murena a dancer (saltator), and adds, “Nemo fere saltat sobrius, nisi forte insanit” (pro Muren. 6, 13; in Pison. 10, 22; pro Deiot. 9, 26; cf. Hor. Od. 3.621).

The mimetic dances of the Romans, which were carried to such perfection under the Empire, are described under PANTOMIMUS Respecting the dancers on the tight-rope, see FUNAMBULUS (Meursius, Orchestra; Burette, De la Danse des Anciens; Krause, Gymnastik und Agon. d. Hell. p. 807; Schömann, Antiq. p. 58; Becker-Gö11, Charikles, 1.166; Blümner, Privatleben, p. 505; Marquardt, Privatleben, p. 109.)

[W.S] [G.E.M]

hide References (16 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (16):
    • Aristophanes, Lysistrata, 28
    • Homer, Odyssey, 18.304
    • Homer, Odyssey, 1.152
    • Homer, Odyssey, 1.421
    • Homer, Odyssey, 23.134
    • Homer, Odyssey, 3.621
    • Homer, Odyssey, 4.18
    • Homer, Odyssey, 8.265
    • Xenophon, Anabasis, 6.1
    • Xenophon, Memorabilia, 1.3
    • Homer, Iliad, 13.637
    • Homer, Iliad, 18.605
    • Homer, Iliad, 9.186
    • Aristophanes, Lysistrata, 408
    • Cornelius Nepos, Epaminondas, 1
    • Plutarch, Theseus, 21
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