As the Greek drama sprang from the choral dances
round the altar of Dionysus, so the architectural form of the Greek theatre
was developed from the circular dancing-place, the ὀρχήστρα.
At first there was no chorus distinct from the
general body of worshippers, all of whom were free to join in the dance. As
soon as a regular Chorus was instituted,
Fig. 1. Dionysiac Theatre.
it became necessary to reserve a circular space of ground for it.
A ring of stones sufficed to mark off this circle. The altar of Dionysus was
placed at its centre. The spectators stood around it, and watched the dance.
So long as the dramatic element was limited to a dialogue between the Chorus
and one actor, that person could stand on a raised place in the middle of
the Chorus, and address himself to various points of the circle in turn. But
when Aeschylus added a second actor, it became necessary that the. actors
should play towards some one side. It was no longer possible that the
spectators should form a complete circle. They were now arranged in a
semicircle, or something like it. But the whole circle of the dancing-place
was still, as of old, kept clear for the Chorus. The actors stood facing the
spectators, not within the circle of the dancing-place, but on the further
side of it. Behind them was the tent. [p. 2.812]
) in which they dressed. It was
an easy improvement to conceal this tent from the spectators by a wooden
screen, which could represent the front of a house, or such other background
as suited the play. This screen was the προσκήνιον
--that which masked the σκηνή.
In the matured theatre the term was retained, though its
primitive sense may have been forgotten. The “proscenium” was
the background visible to the audience, whether this was a temporary wooden
structure, or, as in later times, a permanent wall. Then σκηνὴ
came to denote that part of the theatre
which belonged to the actors, as distinguished from ὀρχήστρα,
the place of the Chorus. Thus the κομμός,
a lyric dialogue between Chorus and
actor, is defined by Aristotle as θρῆνος χοροῦ καὶ
12): and he uses the
phrase ἐπὶ σκηνῆς
where we should say,
“on the stage” (ib. 24).
The oldest theatre of which we have any knowledge is the Dionysiac theatre at
Athens. It has generally been supposed that a permanent stone theatre
existed in the Λήναιον,
or precinct of
Dionysus, from the early years of the 5th cent. B.C. This belief rested on a
passage in Suidas (s. v. Πρατίνας
states that “in the 70th Olympiad” (500-496 B.C.) Pratinas was
exhibiting tragedy, in competition with Choerilus and Aeschylus, when
“the wooden benches (ἴκρια
which the spectators were standing happened to fall; and, in consequence
of this (ἐκ τούτων
), a theatre was
built.” But the history of the Dionysiac theatre has been placed
in a new light by the recent researches of the German Archaeological
Institute at Athens. The excavations, begun in 1886, have yielded the
following results, according to Dr. W. Dörpfeld:--(1) In the 5th
cent. B.C., and down to about 330 B.C., the precinct contained no permanent building
for scenic purposes. There were in it two temples of Dionysus (Fig. 1,
), both to the south of the present theatre. The
older of these (D
), which was the more northerly, dated from
a time before Peisistratus. Close to it, on the N.E., was a circular
about 78 feet in diameter,
of which traces have been found under the buildings erected by Lycurgus.
was then the only permanent
provision for drama. All scenery, therefore, was temporary; and the
spectators sat on wooden benches. It is observed that Andocides, in the
speech on the Mysteries (399 B.C.), speaks of the conspirators whom he
observed within the precinct of Dionysus as ἀπὸ τοῦ
ὠδείου καταβαίνοντας εἰς τὴν ὀρχήστραν,
not εἰς τὸ θέατρον
( § 38): and the
latter word, when used by Aristophanes, always means “the
spectators.” (2) The first permanent building for drama in the
was that completed by
Lycurgus, about 330 B.C. It consisted of a stone wall with two small wings,
like towers, projecting from it on right and left (A,
); the length of the wall between them was about 65 ft. 7 in. The
temporary decorations (of wood, with linen hangings) were erected in front
of this wall, and supported by the wings. Behind the wall was an oblong
room, extending somewhat beyond the wings, and serving for the use of the
actors. A portico (C, C
), opening on the precinct of
Dionysus, ran along the south side of it. The new orchestra was to the north
of this building. Dr. Dörpfeld supposes that it formed, like, the
older one, a complete circle, and that there was no raised stage; the actors
stood on the same level with the Chorus. Rows of stone seats for the
spectators were now constructed. After the time of Lycurgus no change,
except of detail, took place in the auditorium. (3) At some later date,
which cannot be fixed, a permanent stone proscenium (B
), adorned with columns, and about 10 or 12 ft. high, was built
in front of the wall with projecting wings which Lycurgus had erected. As
the wings no longer served a practical purpose (in supporting the temporary
scenery), they were annexed to the new proscenium, a part being cut off the
front of each, so as to bring them more nearly into line with it. (4) An
architrave-inscription found in the theatre shows that it was modified and
embellished in the reign of “Claudius,” by whom Nero seems to
be meant. It was probably at this time that the orchestra received its
present pavement of Pentelic and Hymettos marble; the significance of the
diamond-shaped figure traced in the centre is uncertain. To this period also
is referred the erection of a raised stage, supported in front by a
sculptured wall. (5) The latest recorded changes in the Dionysiac theatre
are associated with the name of a certain Phaedrus, and took place probably
in the 3rd cent. (C. I. A.
3.239). To these belong the
existing front wall of the stage, adorned with sculpture of an earlier
period; also the balustrade which now separates the auditorium from the
orchestra, and the partial covering of the orchestra-canal with marble
It is maintained by Dr. Dörpfeld that, not only in the Dionysiac
theatre, but in all theatres of the Greek type, the actors stood on the same
level with the Chorus; a stage raised above the orchestra was a Roman
invention; and where such a stage occurs in a theatre of Greek origin, it is
a later addition, made under Roman influence. The Roman raised stage, he
thinks, was developed, when a Chorus was no longer used, by depressing the
level of the circular orchestra in that part of it--the part furthest from
the actors--where the Chorus formerly stood. This startling theory is based
chiefly on the nature of the proscenium as it appears in the remains of some
Greek theatres. The theatre of Epidaurus (Fig. 2), built about the middle of
the 4th century B.C., is the best-preserved
example of the Greek type; excavations have lately been made in it by the
Greek Archaeological Society (1883).
The orchestra forms a complete circle, defined by a ring of flat stones.
Beyond this circle, on the side furthest from the audience, are remains of a
wall, about 12 ft. high, adorned with Ionic half-columns, and flanked by
slightly projecting wings; there was one door in it, at the middle point.
This wall must have been either the background of the scene, or the front of
a raised stage. It is argued that it must have been the background, because
(a) 12 ft. would be too great a height for a stage; (b) the width of the
stage--about 8 ft.--would have been too small; (c
there is no trace of steps leading from the top of the wall to the
orchestra. A similar wall occurs in the theatre at Oropus, and is identified
as the προσκήνιον
by an inscription which
it bears. The theatre in the Peiraeus affords another example. [p. 2.813]
On the other hand, several considerations tell in favour of the received
view, that Greek actors, at every period, had a raised stage. (1) The
statements of the architect Vitruvius, who wrote about 20 A.D., is decisive, so far as the Roman period is
concerned. He states that the Greek theatre had a raised stage, about 10 or
12 ft. high, but narrower than the Roman; the Greeks, he says, called
Vitruvius uses the-word
to describe this stage; and the
same use of the term occurs in other writers, both Roman and Greek (cf. A.
Müller, Gr. Bühnenalterthümer,
54, n. 2). Dr. Dörpfeld is therefore reduced to assuming that
Vitruvius has made a mistake,--confusing the background of the scene in a
Greek theatre with the front of a raised stage. But it is absurd to suppose
that Vitruvius should have made such a blunder about the Greek theatres of
his own day; and that, having accurately described a raised stage which did
not exist, he should also have invented a name for it, λογεῖον.
(2) The theatre at Megalopolis in Arcadia has just
been excavated by members of the British School at Athens (see an account by
Mr. W. Loring in the Report
of the School for 1890). The date
of the theatre may be placed in the second half of the 4th century B.C. Here
there is a raised stage, of which the height was originally about 6 ft., and
the width about 18 ft. A flight, of steps, extending from end to end of it,
led down to the orchestra. That it was a stage, and not a background, is
) by these steps, (b
) by the fact, that access was given to it by three doors in
the wall behind it. There is no reason to doubt that this stage is of the
same date as the auditorium. A later Roman stage has been found in front of
it. By this example, then, the existence of a raised, stage in a Greek
theatre of the 4th century B.C. is placed beyond doubt.
Fig. 2. Theatre at Epidaurus.
(3) With regard to the 5th century B.C., it was not
to be expected that any remains of a raised stage should be found; temporary
wooden structures would leave no trace. The Greek plays do not supply any
literary evidence which can be deemed conclusive. There are some passages
which indicate that the place where the actors stood was accessible to the
Chorus (e. g. Soph. Oed. Col. 836
);--as would be the case, if we supposed a stage with steps
leading up to it, as at Megalopolis. Among the passages which seem to imply
a raised stage, we may notice Ar. Vesp.
Philocleon says, ἀτὰρ καταβατέον γ᾽ ἐπ᾽
This may, indeed, be rendered, “I must enter the lists
against them;” but it
also implies some change of position, more marked than such as would consist
in moving merely from one spot in the orchestra to another, and would be
most naturally explained by a descent into the orchestra from the stage.
Some vases of Lower Italy, referable to the period 300-100 B.C., depict scenes from the Old Attic Comedy
acted on a raised λογεῖον
pp. 1750 ff.). Plato (Symp.
A) speaks of the tragic poet Agathon as ἀναβαίνοντος
ἐπὶ ὀκρίβαντα μετὰ τῶν ὑποκριτῶν.
refers, not to a performance in the theatre, but to the προάγων
cf. A. Müller, p. 365, n. 3). Still, it shows that the idea of
placing actors on a raised platform was familiar to Athenians of the 5th
century B.C. Even in the days before Thespis, when one member of the Chorus
held a dialogue with the rest, he was mounted, we are told, on a kind of
: Pollux, 4.123). A recent
writer suggests that the source of this story may have been a Comedy in
which the beginnings of Tragedy were burlesqued (Hiller, Rhein. Museum,
xxxix. p. 329). If this were so, it would only
show that some sort of raised stage was conceived as necessary for even the
most primitive [p. 2.814]
form of drama. Lastly, there is a
strong a priori
objection to the theory that
actors and Chorus stood on the same level. The Chorus were usually drawn up
in ranks facing the actors. With his cothurnus and mask, a tragic actor
would still not overtop the Chorus by more than a head. Hence, a view of the
actors would have almost been wholly denied to spectators whose seats were
in the middle part of the lowest row. But those were the seats assigned to
the most distinguished persons. This argument cannot be met by saying, as
Dr. Dörpfeld does, that the Chorus was “usually”
divided into ἡμιχόρια
(leaving the actors
visible between the two groups). Such an arrangement was not usual, but very
exceptional. It may be allowed that, when the stage came to be as high as 12
ft., permanent means of communication between stage and orchestra cannot
have existed, though temporary wooden steps might be employed at need. But
before stages of that height came into use, such communication had ceased to
be requisite, since the Chorus had no longer an active part in drama.
Vitruvius gives the ground-plan of a Greek theatre as follows. Describe a
circle for the orchestra, and in it inscribe three squares. One side of one
of these squares will represent the front line of the stage (A B). A parallel tangent to the circle will be the
back wall of the stage (C D). The stage (pulpitum,
) must be not less than 10, or more
than 12 feet high. Next, parallel with A B, draw a diameter of the circle,
E F. It will be seen in the diagram that at
E and F the
semicircle is so continued as to make a horse-shoe, ending at G H. The curves which thus continue it are
segments of circles described from E and F as respective centres, with E F as radius. This is known as “the
construction from three centres,” viz., E,
F, and the centre of the orchestra. The auditorium is shut in by
lines which bisect the right angles at I and K. The space between G H
and C D is a raised stage.
Fig. 3. Greek Theatre of Vitruvius.
The 4th century B.C. was the period at which stone theatres became usual in
Greece. We may now proceed to consider their characteristics more in detail.
--It has been seen that, even in
the matured theatre, the “dancing-place” was still a complete
circle, as in the old days of the cyclic choruses. Its central point was
sometimes marked, either by a small pit (as at the Peiraeus), or by a stone
(as at Epidaurus). Such marks probably indicate the spot on which the altar
of Dionysus was to be placed. The word θυμέλη,
“a place of sacrifice,” means in classical poetry either
“a shrine,” or, more specifically, “an altar.”
Lexicographers and scholiasts often mention a θυμέλη
in connexion with the theatre; but they do not agree as
to what it was, nor do they furnish any certain clue. The most probable
conclusion is that the θυμέλη
was the altar
of Dionysus, in the centre of the orchestra. Another view is that the name
was transferred from the altar
to a platform in the orchestra on which the altar was placed, and that this
platform was the station of the Chorus,--connected by steps with the lower
level of the orchestra (κονίστρα
) and with
the higher level of the stage (λογεῖον
is true that the use of θυμέλη
to denote a
kind of stage was current in later times, when thymelici,
“music-hall artists,” were distinguished from actors proper
18.47). But this use arose under Roman
influences, and cannot be assumed for the Greece of the 5th or 4th century
B.C. A channel, to carry off rain-water, often surrounded the orchestra,
being bridged by stones at the points from which the stairways led up to the
--In default of a special term
this is sometimes called θέατρον
: though that word, when it does not mean
the whole building, more often denotes the spectators (as we speak of
“the house” ). In the older Greek theatres the public
entered by the side-passages (πάροδοι
between the proscenium and the orchestra,--the same which the Chorus used.
Sometimes, indeed, we find an alternative mode of access, viz. by a path
traversing high ground, and leading directly to one of the upper tiers: [p. 2.815]
this was the case at Athens, but it was
exceptional. A crowd entering by the πάροδοι
would find the pressure greatest at the mouths of the
semicircular passage between the orchestra and the lowest row of
seats,--before the spectators had distributed themselves to the several
parts of the house. This fact helps to explain a peculiarity of
construction. The lowest row of seats is not, as a rule, completely
concentric with the orchestra, but is usually so contrived as to leave a
wider space at the points just mentioned. A further advantage of this
arrangement was that it afforded a better view to those who sat at each end
of the semicircle.
Flights of steps ascending from the orchestra to the highest tier of seats
divided the auditorium into wedge-like segments. The Greek word for such a
segment was κερκίς,
which properly meant
“radius;” the Latin term was cuneus.
A further division into upper and lower zones was
effected by passages called διαζώματα,
ran completely round the semicircle. At Epidaurus there is only one διάζωμα,
which is not half-way between the
lowest and highest tier, but nearer to the latter; and, while the lower zone
(between the διάζωμα
and the orchestra) is
divided into only twelve κερκίδες,
upper contains twenty-two. At Athens only one διάζωμα
can now be traced, but there may have been another: the
number of κερκίδες
is thirteen. The word
can denote, not only the
passage itself, but the zone which it marks off: thus “the eleventh
row in the upper zone” is expressed by τὸ
ἑνδέκατον τοῦ δευτέρου διαζώματος βάθρον
is also used in
that sense. Above the highest tier, another open passage ran round the
house. The term ἴκρια
properly denoted the
wooden benches on which, in the earlier times, the spectators sat (cf. Ar.
24 f.: ὠστιοῦνται . . .
περὶ πρώτου ξύλου
). When stone seats were
introduced,--which at Athens does not appear to have occurred before the
time of Lycurgus (100.330 B.C.),--such seats were founded, where it was
possible, on the natural rock of the slope. At Athens, as at Megalopolis,
artificial substructions were required in several parts, and this must
almost everywhere have been the case, more or less. The material used for
the seats varied much. Sometimes it is marble, as at Iassus in Caria and
Perga in Pamphylia; at Athens and in the Peiraeus, it is (for the ordinary
seats) a white limestone, finely wrought; while the smaller provincial
theatres were often content with coarser stone and workmanship. The tiers of
seats were called βάθρα
At Athens the space allotted to one
person was indicated merely by a line engraved on the stone (as at Sparta by
a groove): it is described as ἕδρα, τόπος, χώρα,
or simply θέα
(θέαν ἀγοράζειν, καταλαμβάνειν
The privilege of προεδρία
in the theatre was
given chiefly to four classes of persons: (1) certain priests and
priestesses, among whom the priest of Dionysus was foremost: (2) certain
magistrates: (3) foreigners who were honoured in an official character, as
: (4) citizens or foreigners who were honoured in
their personal capacity, as benefactors of the state. For such persons
special seats were provided, like armchairs, called θρόνοι
Athens these chairs, made of Pentelic marble, occupy the whole of the lowest
row, while others are placed in different parts of the house, though in no
case higher up than the twenty-fourth row; those assigned to priests or
officials bear their titles; thus the central chair of the semicircle is
inscribed, ΙΕΡΕΩΣ ΔΙΟΝΥΣΟΥ
According, to one recent view, the
chairs in the lowest row date from the time of Lycurgus; it has more
generally been supposed that all these chairs are of the Roman age,--as all
the present inscriptions certainly are. At Epidaurus several rows of seats
with backs and arms were assigned to those who enjoyed προεδρία.
Elaborate ornament was often applied to such
chairs,--the feet being shaped like lion's claws,--the front or back carved
with mythical subjects in relief, etc.
The acoustic properties of a Greek theatre would be naturally good, since the
actors had a high wall behind them and a rising slope in front. Vitruvius,
indeed, says that artificial aid was sought from “brazen vessels,”
“which the Greeks call ἠχεῖα,
” so placed in the auditorium as to reverberate
the voices of the actors. He even speaks of these “resonators”
as being nicely adapted to the required musical pitch (2.1, 9). The theatre
at Aizani in Cilicia has a series of niches above the διάζωμα
: and similar niches exist elsewhere. According to
one view, these niches held the ἠχεῖα,
while another connects them merely with the substructions of seats. The
statement of Vitruvius leaves no doubt that ἠχεῖα
were used, at least sometimes, in the theatres of his own
day: but it remains uncertain whether such a device was employed by the
Greeks of an earlier time.
The outer wall enclosing the auditorium ordinarily followed the curve of the
semicircle, unless the nature of the ground caused some deviation. At Athens
the auditorium was partly bounded on the N. by the steep rock of the
Acropolis, while the rest of its boundary was formed by strong walls of
conglomerate. Where the external appearance of these walls became important,
viz. in the S. and S.W. portions, they were cased with finely-wrought
limestone. The general outline at Athens was that of a large segment of a
circle, described from a centre considerably N. of the point which served as
centre of the orchestra: for a small distance at the S.W. corner the curve
passed into a straight line. Examples also occur in which the walls
enclosing the auditorium were rectangular, as at Cnidus, and in the smaller
theatre at Pompeii. The walls flanking the seats at each end of the
semicircle were either carried in a single sloping line from the topmost
tier to the orchestra, or built in a series of steps corresponding with the
tiers. In the best Greek period such walls were not exactly parallel with
the line of the proscenium, but started inwards a little, towards the centre
of the orchestra. This was the case at Athens and at Epidaurus.
--The testimonies on this subject are of two
classes. (1) Notices in writers chiefly belonging to the Roman age,
especially lexicographers and scholiasts. Among these the most important is
the grammarian Julius Pollux (flor.
in his Onomasticon,
book iv., sections 128-132 (περὶ ὑποκριτῶν σκευῆς
). As has lately been
shown by Rohde (De Iulii Pollucis in apparatu scaenico enarrando
Leipsic, 1870); the source principally: used by
Pollux was a work by Juba, a writer of the later Alexandrian age, entitled
in at least
seventeen books; while Juba, in his turn, had sources going back to
Aristophanes of Byzantium (200 B.C.), but not further. The besetting fault
of Pollux, in abridging from this ample material, seems to have been an
omission to distinguish between the normal and the occasional resources of
the stage. (2) The second kind of evidence is that derived from the Greek
dramatic texts themselves. This source, scanty as it is, is the principal
one on which we have to rely in regard to the practice of the 5th and 4th
centuries B.C. Not long ago it was the custom to treat the notices. in
Pollux and the other late authorities as if they could be applied without
reserve to the great age of Athenian Tragedy and Comedy. A more critical
study has shown the. need of greater caution in this respect. It is not
difficult to suppose that, when dramatic poetry had; culminated, the art of
scenic decoration may still have been very rude, while it is probable that
much of the apparatus described by late writers had its origin under the
Diadochi or the Empire. The history of our own stage could show a similar,
course, from the triumphs of poetry to those of mechanism.
In the extant plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, and Aristophanes, the
action most often takes place in front of a house, with a
“practicable” door; sometimes in front of a temple, a cottage,
a tent, a cave, or a rock. Painted linen hangings, erected on a wooden
frame, would have sufficed for such a background. Aristotle, in sketching
the growth of Tragedy, says that Aeschylus added the second actor, and made
the dialogue predominate over the choral part, while Sophocles introduced
the third, actor and the use of scenen-painting
). Now, this last fact must
have stood out clearly in Athenian tradition, which Aristotle had every
means of knowing, when he thus coupled it with the other novelty as an
invention distinctive of Sophocles. It is usually assumed, even by recent
writers, that Aristotle is here irreconcilable with Vitruvius, who ascribes
the introduction of scene-painting to Aeschylus. Such an assumption is not,
we think, necessary. The words of Vitruvius (vii. praef.
11) are: “primum Agatharchus Athenis, Aeschylo docente tragoediam,
scaenam fecit et de ea
commentarium reliquit:” and he then goes on to say how the
stimulus given by Agatharchus. led Democritus and Anaxagoras to develop
principles of perspective. The phrase, “while Aeschylus was exhibiting
tragedy,” merely describes Aeschylus as contemporary with the
innovation. Sophocles first exhibited in 468 B.C.,
twelve years before, the death, of Aeschylus. Aristotle and Vitruvius are
reconciled if we suppose that Sophocles introduced σκηνογραφία
the early days of his career; a fact which will
also help us to understand why that improvement was peculiarly associated
with this name. Even before Agatharchus had made a beginning of artistic
some ruder kind of drawing
may have been used. Thus in the Persae
Aeschylus (472 B.C.) the palace was probably indicated. In the Ion
of Euripides (circ.
B.C.), where the scene is laid at Delphi, the Chorus of Athenian maidens
point with admiration to the sculptures which adorn the front of the temple.
We may suppose that some, representation of these, though not perhaps a very
elaborate one, appeared on the proscenium.
With regard to “massive” decoration, as distinguished from a
painted background, the objects required by the texts are simple, such as
altars, statues of gods or, heroes, rocks, and seats. But the texts further
prove that certain mechanical appliances were available at need. (1) The
was a small movable stage on
wheels, which could be rolled forward through the door in the proscenium.
There was room on it for three or four persons, and it was low enough to
allow of an actor stepping off it with ease. The most frequent use of the
was when the corpse of a
person slain within the house was to be shown to the audience,--sometimes
with the murderer standing beside it. The moment at which the ἐκκύκλημα
was pushed forward is often, though
not always, marked in the text by a reference to the opening of the door.
Examples are:--in Aesch. Ag.,
Clytaemnestra is thus shown
standing by the corpses of Agamemnon and Cassandra; in Cho.,
Orestes with the corpses of Aegisth us and Clytaemnestra: in Soph.
Orestes and Pylades with the corpse of
Clytaemnestra; in Ant.,
the corpse of Eurydice: in Eur.
Heracles with the corpses of
his wife and children; in Hippol.,
the corpse of Phaedra.
But this was not the only case in which the
appliance was used: it could also be employed for any tableau
in the interior of a house. Thus in Aesch. Eum.
the Pythia speaks. the prologue in front of the
temple, and then the ἐκκύκλημα
is used to
show Orestes at the omphalos within. Similarly in Soph. Ai., when Tecmessa
opens the tent, this machine serves to display Ajax prostrate amid the
slaughtered cattle. As appears from some passages, the ἐκκύκλημα
could be pushed far enough forward to admit of an
actor entering, or making his exit, at the door behind it. It should be
noted that the use of the ἐκκύκλημα
merely an inference from later writers and from hints in Tragedy, but is
proved by the two parodies in Aristophanes, where Euripides and Agathon are
wheeled out, and are then once more withdrawn fiom view (Ach.
408 ff., ἐκκυκλήθητ᾽ . . . ἐκκυκλήσομαι
). The exact nature of the ἐξώστρα
is uncertain, but it was evidently akin to the
differing from it,
possibly, only in the mode of propulsion. (2) Machinery for showing persons
in the air was required by the appearances of the gods, and in some other
cases,--as when Medea is, seen above the palace in the chariot given to her
by the Sun (Eur. Med. 1319
), or when
Trygaeus soars aloft on his beetle (Aristoph.
). Two different contrivances seem to have been used:
both were, of course, concealed by the proscenium. One was an apparatus
worked by a wheel (τροχὸς
) and ropes.
), and called αἰώρημα,
--which was used when the person was to
be seen gradually rising into the air, or descending from above. As Trygaeus
rises into the air, he begs the operator to be carefult: ὦ μηχανοποιέ, πρόσεχε τὸν νοῦν ὡς ἐμἑ
(Aristoph. Peace 174
). So in
fragment 3 of the Daedalus
the machinist is
thus directed,--ὁ μηχανοποιός, ὁπότε βούλει τὸν
τροχὸν ι ἐλᾶν ἀνεκάς, λέγε,
[p. 2.817]χαῖρε, φέγγος
The other device was a sort of platform, projecting from
the wings at the back of the proscenium, close to its upper edge. This was
the so-called θεολογεῖον,
used when the
apparition of a god or hero was to be sudden,
is in Soph. Phil.,
and in Eur. I. T., Helen.,
Socrates is suspended (Aristoph. Cl. 218
is a burlesque of the tragic appliances. (3) Akin to the θεολογεῖον
must have been the contrivance used
when a person is to appear on the roof of a palace (as the watcher in Aesch.
Antigone and the paedagogus in Eur.
etc.). A wooden platform, high up behind the
proscenium, would have sufficed: according to Pollux, it was called a
These seem to be the only forms of decoration or mechanism which can
certainly be inferred from the texts of the tragedians and of Aristophanes.
They are all compatible with a temporary wooden structure, and with a
comparatively simple phase of scenic art. When, in the course of the 4th
century B.C., permanent stone theatres became
usual in Greek lands, the general character of scenic decoration was perhaps
not at first affected thereby. Behind the proscenium there was now a
permanent wall, forming the front of the building assigned to the actors.
But the proscenium itself probably continued, for a time, to be
temporary,--a wooden structure, with painted hangings. In the Dionysiac
theatre, as Lycurgus left it, two small tower-like wings project from each
end of the permanent back wall. These, it is conjectured, were designed to
facilitate the erection of the wooden proscenium.
It may have been at this period that περίακτοι
were first introduced. These were triangular wooden
prisms, revolving on a pivot (whence the name), with scenery painted on each
of their three faces. One περίακτος
placed at the left wing, and another at the right. They took the place of
modern side-scenes, and also served to indicate changes of scene, according
to a regular conventional method. The περίακτος
on the spectator's right hand represented the locality
in which the action was taking place. The περίακτος
on his left hand represented a region outside of that
locality. If, for instance, the scene of the play was laid at Delphi, the
would illustrate that
place, while the other might represent the road leading to Athens. The same
rule governed entrances and exits: a Delphian would come on from the right,
a stranger from the left. If the scene was to be changed from one spot near
Delphi to another in the same vicinity, the lefthand περίακτος
would be turned so as to present a new face, but
the right-hand one would be left unaltered. If the scene was shifted from
Delphi to Athens, both περίακτοι
turned. The first case was technically a change of τόπος
: the second, of χώρα.
There are only two Greek plays in which it is necessary to assume a chance of
scene. In the Eumenides
the action is
transferred from Delphi to Athens: in the Ajax,
from the front of the hero's tent to a lonely place on the sea-shore. It is
probable that, in the first of these examples, the change was merely
symbolised, by substituting the βρέτας
Athena for a statue of Apollo; while the building painted on the background
was identified, first with the Delphian temple, and then with the
Erechtheum. In the second example, if the background was a landscape,
nothing was required, but to remove the hangings which represented the tent.
The use of περίακτοι
in the 5th century
B.C. cannot be proved from the dramatic literature. On the other hand, they
would have been found peculiarly convenient when the old wooden proscenia,
with painted hangings, were replaced by stone proscenia adorned with
sculpture. At Epidaurus there is such a proscenium, with Ionic half-columns,
which is probably of a later date than the rest of the building; and the
small wings which slightly project from it at each end may have served,
according to a probable conjecture, for the reception of περίακτοι.
In the Dionysiac theatre a permanent
proscenium was similarly introduced, after the time of Lycurgus. The
projecting towers of his scene-building (noticed above) then became wings of
the new structure, like those at Epidaurus. There is no evidence that, in
addition to revolving scenery, the Greek theatre had scenes which could be
shifted on grooves; though the Roman stage, as Servius tells us, had both
(scaena versilis--scaena ductilis:
Entrances for the actors.
--Pollux speaks of three doors in the
proscenium, the central one being called θύρα
because the chief persons of the play used it.
Vitruvius confirms this statement. Ruins of the Hellenistic or Roman age
show sometimes three doors, sometimes five. In the latter case, the two
extreme doors may have opened, not on the stage, but on spaces at either
side of it (παρασκήνια
), used by actors
waiting for their turns, or by officials. In the theatre at Megalopolis (4th
cent. B.C.) there were three entrances to the stage. Only one entrance is
traceable in the remains at Epidaurus, Zea, and Oropus respectively. It is
on a level with the orchestra; hence those who disbelieve in a raised stage
regard it as the entrance for the actors. But it may have passed beneath a
raised stage, serving to give the employés
of the theatre a direct access to the orchestra.
How many doors there may have been in the painted hangings of the old wooden
proscenia, we cannot tell. The 5th century texts show that, besides the door
or doors in the proscenium, there were also entrances for the actors from
the sides, right and left.
Pollux says that when ghosts appeared on the scene they came up either by
“trap-doors” ), or by the χαρώνιοι
It has generally been supposed that these κλίμακες
led from the orchestra to the stage.
This is the case at Megalopolis, where the steps extend along the whole
front of the λογεῖον.
Another theory is
that they connected the stage with a passage beneath it, invisible to the
No curtain was used in the Greek theatre. When a play opened with a group in
position (such as the suppliants in the Oed. Tyr.
actors must have simply walked on to the scene, and assumed that position.
When one play followed another, and the background had to be changed, that
change took place before the eyes of the spectators. In such matters we
cannot judge the feelings of Athenians, assembled at the Dionysia, by the
requirements of modern playgoers. [p. 2.818]
dramatic idealism went hand in hand with scenic simplicity.
The Administration of the Theatre.
--A Greek theatre was the
property of the state, and the performances in it were acts of public
worship, under state control. At Athens, in the 5th and 4th centuries B.C., drama accompanied two Dionysiac
festivals,--the Lenaea, in January, and the Great Dionysia, in March. (We
are not here concerned with the Rural Dionysia, in December,--at which,
during this period, no new
pieces seem to have been
acted.) At each festival, both Tragedy and Comedy were produced; but the
Lenaea was peculiarly associated with Comedy, and the Great Dionysia with
Tragedy. There was a period, indeed, of some fifty years, dating from the
first institution of the Great Dionysia (circ.
B.C.), during which Comedy alone appears to have been produced at the
Lenaea. The cost of the performances at each festival was defrayed from
three sources. (1) The theatre was let by the state to a lessee, who
received the money paid for admission, and in return undertook certain
charges. One of these, as appears from an extant document (C. I.
2.573), was the maintenance of the building in good repair. Hence
the classical name for the lessee, ἀρχιτέκτων
(Dem. de Cor.
§ 28): later writers call him θεατρώνης
(Theophrastus), or θεατροπώλης
(Pollux). He was also bound to provide a certain
number of free seats (as for the persons entitled to προεδρία
): but for these he was probably reimbursed by the
Treasury. The provision of scenery, and of costume for the actors (excepting
the choreutae), appears also to have devolved upon the lessee. He was
certainly charged with the custody of the scenery and of all the theatrical
dresses and properties. He also paid the cashiers, the persons who showed
spectators to their places, and all other employés
of the theatre. (2) The second source of
contribution was the choregia. For each festival the Archon Eponymus
appointed as many choregi as there were competing poets; at the Great
Dionysia the number was usually three for Tragedy and three for Comedy. The
choregi were chosen from men nominated by the ten Attic tribes in rotation.
The duty of the choregus was to furnish one chorus of fifteen persons for
Tragedy, or of twenty-four for Comedy. He provided a suitable place for
their training (χορηγεῖον
), and maintained
them till the festival was over. If the poet did not train them himself, the
choregus had to find a χοροδιδάσκαλος.
had also to supply the flute-player (αὐλητὴς
) who preceded the Chorus on entering or quitting the
orchestra, and played the occasional music. He purchased the costumes,
masks, etc., for the Chorus. But his task was not finished when the Chorus
was trained and equipped. He had also to supply any mute persons (κωφὰ πρόσωπα
) that might be required for the
piece. (3) The third contributor was the state. When a poet had applied to
the Archon for a Chorus, and his application had been granted, the Archon
next assigned to him three actors, who were paid by the state. It did not
rest with the poet to decide which of these three should be πρωταγωνιστής,
etc.: he received them from the
state already classified according to merit, as actors of first, second, and
third parts. This classification rested ultimately on special ἀγῶνες
in which actors were directly tried
against each other, and which were distinct from the performances at the
festivals. If a poet ever required a fourth actor (probably a very rare
case), he could only go to the choregus, who might make an “extra
). The state
also paid the marshals (ῥαβδοῦχοι
kept order in the theatre, and who were stationed in the orchestra. Lastly,
a certain honorarium
(distinct from the
festival-prizes) was paid by the Treasury to each of the competing poets,
according to the order in which they were placed by the judges.
The character of the dramatic contests as solemnities conducted by the state
was strongly marked in the forms of procedure. A few days. before the Great
Dionysia, the ceremony called the προάγων
“prelude” ) was held in the old Odeion near the
Enneacrunos. The competing poets, with their respective choregi, were then
formally presented to the public; the actors and choruses were also present,
in festal, but not in scenic, attire; and the titles of the plays to be
produced at the approaching festival were officially announced. When the
first day of the Great Dionysia arrived, the dramatic contests were preceded
by the transaction of some public business in the theatre. It was then that
crowns of honour were awarded for public services, and that the orphans of
Athenians slain in war were presented to the citizens. In due course a
public herald summoned the first on the list of competing poets. He entered
the orchestra, attended by his choregus and chorus) and poured a libation at
the thymele to Dionysus. His procession then withdrew; the orchestra was
once more empty (until the Chorus should make its dramatic entrance); and
the play began. One prize for Tragedy and one for Comedy were awarded by ten
judges, taken by lot from a large number of persons whom the senate (with
the choregi) had chosen from the tribes. At the close of the contests, five
judges (taken from the ten by a second ballot) announced the awards. The
successful poets were then crowned, before the audience, by the archon.
Shortly after the festival, a public meeting, for business connected with
it, was held in the theatre. Any complaints of misconduct which might have
arisen were then heard; and officials who had distinguished themselves
received public commendation.
--According to a recent estimate, the Dionysiac
theatre was once capable of seating about 27,500 persons. It must be
remembered that all the upper tiers have been destroyed, and that the
ancient capacity was enormously greater than it would appear from the seats
which still exist. Plato was using round numbers when he spoke of
“more than 30,000 Greeks” as present in the Dionysiac
theatre at the tragic contests (Symp.
175 E), but it is quite
conceivable that the number was sometimes nearer to 30,000 than to 20,000.
The vast theatre at Megalopolis could hold, according to one modern
computation, no fewer than 44,000 persons. Such numbers become intelligible
when we consider that the Greek drama was essentially a popular festival, in
which the entire civic body was invited to take part. Evenyoung boys were
present, both at Comedy and at Tragedy. Women were certainly present at
Tragedy; and a fragment of Alexis shows that, in the 4th cent. B.C., they were [p. 2.819]
to the performances of Comedy also. This, however, was the
“Middle” Comedy--very different, in some respects, from the
“Old” Comedy of Aristophanes. It would be a natural
inference from the seclusion in which Athenian women lived that they were
not admitted to the Old Comedy. But against this a
argument may be set another,--viz. that, at the Dionysia,
Tragedy and Comedy were merely different sides of one ἀγών
: those who could participate in one were entitled to
share in the other. A line drawn on grounds of decorum would dissever
elements which, in the Dionysiac idea, were inseparable. There is no
conclusive literary evidence. But one passage in Aristophanes (Aristoph. Peace 964
ff.) cannot be
naturally explained except on the supposition that women were present.
Another passage in the same play (Pax
speaks, it is true, of males only: but that is, obviously, because the
speaker, a slave, is describing his δεσπότης
to actual, or future, δεσπόται.
At Athens the μέτοικοι
were admitted to the theatre. (Their exclusion fiom the
Lenaea is not proved by Aristoph. Ach.
f., even if 5.508 be sound.) Foreigners were also admitted,
whether officials or private persons.
In the earliest days of Athenian drama, admission was doubtless free of
charge; payment may have been introduced after the expulsion of the
Peisistratidae, when the city began to find the cost too heavy. In the 5th
and 4th centuries B.C. the price of admission for one day was two obols, or
not quite 4d.
Pericles introduced the system by
which the state paid two obols to each citizen for each day of the Dionysiac
festivals, in order that he might attend the theatre. This θεωρικὸν
was partly defrayed from the tribute of
the allies, and probably began about 454 B.C. It was distributed by the
demarchs in the several demes; and, though it was first devised in the
interests of the poor, the only condition of obtaining it seems to have been
inscription on the ληξιαρχικὸν γραμματεῖον
of the deme. The number of persons receiving the θεωρικὸν
in 431 B.C. has been computed at 18,000. In its
later and wider form (as extended to non-dramatic festivals) the θεωρικὸν
became an abuse: in its original form
it was substantially a state-grant in aid of education. All seats were of
the same class, except those reserved for persons who had the right of
and who paid nothing. (Cf.
Dem. de Cor.
§ 28.) The places of
payment were probably in the πάροδοι
leading to the orchestra. Specimens of ordinary Greek theatre--tickets are
extant. These are small leaden coins, bearing on one side some emblem of the
theatre, such as a Dionysus with a tripod, or an actor's mask; and on the
obverse, the name of an Attic tribe, or a numeral. Many examples have been
published by Benndorf (Zeitschr. f. d. österr. Gymn.
xxvi.). Another kind of theatre-ticket also occurs. This is a small round
mark of bone or ivory, bearing on one side some artistic device (such as the
head of a deity), and on the other a number (never higher than 15), in both
Greek and Roman figures. These were tickets, of the Imperial age, for
persons who had προεδρία.
probably indicate divisions of the house.. How far such division was carried
is uncertain. It is a probable conjecture that at Athens a certain portion
of the house (perhaps a whole segment, κερκὶς
) was allotted to each of the Attic φυλαί.
This is confirmed by the occurrence of tribal names
on the leaden tickets noticed above; also by the fact that the choregia was
organised on a basis of tribes; and, lastly, by the analogy of Roman
colonies in which certain cunei
of the theatre
were assigned to certain curiae.
The members of
the senate sat together in a definite part of the Dionysiac theatre
Aristoph. Birds 794
). For youths
between the ages of 18 and 21, a space was similarly reserved (τὸ ἐφηβικόν
The performances began in the morning, and lasted till evening; but it is
attested by the comic poet Pherecrates--who gained his first prize in 438
B.C.--that the spectators had usually taken the morning meal (ἄριστον
) before they came (Ath. 10.464
e). In the next century, however, we
hear of performances beginning at daybreak (Aeschin. in Ctes.
§ 76). The older Athenian custom was for all the spectators to wear
wreaths (as at a sacrifice); but this had perhaps gone out before 350 B.C.
As the whole day was spent in the theatre, the visitors brought light
) with them. Choregi
sometimes courted popularity by a distribution of cakes and wine: and
Aristophanes has pilloried those rival poets who employed slaves to throw
nuts about the house. An Athenian audience was closely attentive,--detecting
the slightest fault of speech,--and highly demonstrative. Loud clapping of
hands, and shouts of applause, expressed their delight; disapproval found
vent in stamping with the feet, hissing, and hooting (κλώζειν
). Never, probably, has the ordeal for an actor been
more severe than it was at Athens. Persons of note who entered the house
were recognised with frank favour, or the reverse. Indeed, the whole
demeanour of Athenians at the Dionysia appears to have been marked by a
certain sense of domestic ease, as if all the holiday-makers were members of
From the latter part of the 4th century B.C. onwards, it became usual to
produce drama, not merely at the Dionysia, but on any occasion of special
rejoicing; a result partly due to the personal taste of Alexander the Great
for theatrical shows of every kind. Hence the theatres gradually lost that
sacred character which had been theirs so long as they were set apart for
the worship of Dionysus. A further consequence was that they began to be
used for various entertainments which had nothing to do with drama, such as
the exhibitions of conjurers or acrobats, and, in the Roman age.
gladiatorial shows, or combats with wild beasts. Even in the 5th century B.C., indeed, cockfighting had been held on one
day of the year in the Dionysiac theatre,--a custom which legend connected
with an omen seen by Themistocles in the Persian wars: but this--unlike the
later innovations--was consistent with the religio
since the cult of Asclepius had points of contact with that
of Dionysus. Thus the προάγων
Dionysia (noticed above) was held on the day, and near the place, of the
sacrifice to Asclepius.
Mention has been made of the meetings for public business held in the
Dionysiac theatre just before and after the Great Dionysia. In the latter
part of the 5th century we hear of [p. 2.820]
convening the ecclesia in the theatre at Munychia, and in the Dionysiac
theatre itself, when, under the Four Hundred, the Pnyx was not available
f.). By 250 B.C. it had become
usual to hold ordinary meetings of the ecclesia in the Dionysiac theatre;
though the elections of magistrates (ἀρχαιρεσίαι
) continued to be held on the Pnyx. From the 5th
century B.C. the theatre had been the regular place for the bestowal of
public honours, such as crowns. In later times a theatre was often also the
scene of an exemplary punishment. One of the earliest instances is the
execution of Hippo in the theatre at Messana, of which place he had been
Plut. Tim. 34
). Sepulchral inscriptions, of
the Roman age--sometimes commemorating Christians--have been found both in
the Dionysiac theatre and in the Odeum of Herodes Atticus; whence it has
been conjectured that, in late times, burials occasionally took place within
those precincts. As statues of Themistocles and Miltiades stood in the
Dionysiac theatre, so, at every period of Greek antiquity, such places were
adorned with monuments of statesmen and soldiers, no less than of poets,
musicians, and actors. This was in accord with the true idea of the Greek
theatre, which was not merely the home of an art, but also a centre of civic
THE ROMAN THEATRE.
Rome possessed no theatre of stone till 55 B.C. Just a century earlier such
an edifice had been in progress, when P. Cornelius Scipio Nasica procured a
decree of the senate for its destruction (Liv. Epit.
). The spirit of the Roman veto on permanent theatres was one
which refused to regard the drama except as a passing frivolity. Wooden
theatres were erected, and pulled down when the occasion was over. But
before the middle of the 1st century B.C. these temporary structures had
already begun to show a high elaboration. The building put up by the aedile
M. Aemilius Scaurus in 58 B.C. contained
Fig. 4. Roman Theatre of Vitruvius.
80,000 seats; the proscenium was adorned with pillars of marble and statues
of bronze; and the whole work seems to have possessed every element of
grandeur except permanence. The old interdict had already lost its meaning;
and three years later Pompeius was allowed to erect, near the Campus
Martins, the first theatre of stone. The model is said to have been the
theatre of Mitylene, and the number of seats 40,000. The theatre of
Marcellus, built by Augustus, and named after his nephew, was also of stone,
and could hold 20,500 persons. A third such building, with a capacity of
11,510, was completed in 13 B.C. by L. Cornelius Balbus. These are the
of Suetonius (Suet. Aug. 45
). Meanwhile many provincial towns
in Italy and elsewhere had long possessed stone theatres, built or altered
under Roman influence.
The Roman type of theatre is simply the Greek type modified in certain
particulars. The ground-plan is thus described by Vitruvius. In a circle, of
the same diameter which the orchestra is to have, inscribe three equilateral
triangles. Take one side of any triangle, and let this be the back wall of
the stage, scaenae frons
(A B). A diameter of the circle, drawn parallel with A B, will represent the line dividing the stage
from the orchestra (C D). The seats for the
spectators are arranged round the orchestra in semicircles concentric with
it. The five points above the line C D, where the
angles touch the circumference, are the points from which five flights of
steps lead up to the seats, dividing them into six cunei.
Above the first zone, or semicircular passage (praecinctio
), the seats are divided into twelve
by eleven stairways. Just above the
points C and D, access
is given to the orchestra by two vaulted passages which pass under the upper
rows of seats (E, F). The platform of the stage is
prolonged right and left, so that its total length (G
H) is equal to twice the diameter of the orchestra. In the back wall of
the stage there are to be three doors, the positions of which are marked by
the points I, K, L. Thus the distinctive features
of the Roman theatre are these two:--(1) The [p. 2.821]
orchestra is not, as in the Greek theatre, a circle (or the greater part
of it), but only a semicircle. The diameter of the orchestra is now the
front line of a raised stage. Consequently the auditorium, also, forms only
a half-circle. The primary cause of this change was that the old Dionysiac
chorus had disappeared; the orchestra, therefore, had no longer a dramatic
use. (2) In the Greek theatre the auditorium and the scene-buildings were
not architecturally linked. The πάροδοι
were open passages between them. In the Roman theatre the side-walls of the
scene-building were carried forward till they met the side-walls of the
auditorium. By this organic union of the two main parts the whole theatre
was made a single compact building.
These two main differences explain the other points in which the Roman
theatre varied from its Greek original. Thus: (i.) Having closed the
openings afforded by the πάροδοι,
Romans needed some other access to their semicircular orchestra. Here the
arch served them. By cutting off a few seats in the lower rows at the angles
right and left of the stage, they obtained height enough for vaulted
passages, which ran under the auditorium into the orchestra. (ii.) The solid
unity of the Roman theatres lent itself to the Roman taste for decoration of
a monumental character. The permanent Greek proscenia, though usually
adorned with columns, had been simple. But the richest embellishments of
architecture and sculpture were lavished on the Roman proscenia, in which
two or more stories were usually distinguished by carefully harmonised modes
of treatment. (iii.) A similar magnificence was shown in the external
facades. Greek theatres had usually been erected on natural slopes. A Roman
theatre was more often built on level ground. The auditorium rested on
massive substructions, of which the walls were connected by arches. From the
open spaces thus afforded, numerous wide staircases ascended, beneath the
auditorium, to the several rows of seats. Corridors, opening on these
staircases, ran along the inner side of the semicircular wall which enclosed
the auditorium. The exterior of this wall was adorned with columns, having
arcades between them, and rising in three or more successive stories,
divided by architrave and cornice. Thus, while the architectural
significance of a Greek theatre depended wholly on the interior, a Roman
theatre had also the external aspect of a stately public building.
With regard to the internal arrangements of the Roman theatre, the following
points claim notice. (1) The raised stage (pulpitum,
) is in some instances on a level
with the lowest row of seats behind the orchestra, as at Aizani in Cilicia
and Aspendus in Pamphylia. Sometimes, again, the stage is rather higher, but
the (originally) lowest tow of seats has been abolished, leaving the stage
still level with those seats which are actually lowest: this is the case at
Pergamnum and Assus. In a third class of examples, the stage is higher than
the lowest row of seats,--as it is at Orange. The Roman stage in the
Dionysiac theatre at Athens is of this class. (2) Awnings were spread over
the theatre to protect the spectators from sun or rain.: These were usually
the term velaria
occurs only in Juv.
. Pliny, who describes them as carbasina
(made of linen), says that they were introduced by Q.
Catulus, in 78 B.C. (19.23). They were supported by masts (mali
), fixed to the outer walls of the theatre by
massive rings or sockets, which can still be seen at Orange or Pompeii.
Between the masts were cross-beams (trabes
for greater convenience in unfurling the vela.
Such awnings were of various colours, as yellow, red, darkblue (Lucr. 4.75
ff., where see Munro). (3) Until the
play began, the stage was concealed by a curtain; which was then lowered.
The place into which it sank, just inside of the front line of the stage,
can be seen in the larger theatre at Pompeii. At the end of the piece the
curtain was drawn up. Hence, where we say, “the curtain rises,”
the Romans said, aulaeum mittitur
“the curtain is up,”
“the curtain falls,”
The word siparium
(from the rt. of σίφαρος,
a folding screen. Apuleius (150 A.D.) describes a kind of, ballet as
beginning “when the curtain had been lowered, and the screens folded
up” (sipariis complicitis, Met.
10, p. 232; cp.
ib. 1, p. 7). If these screens were within the curtain, the reason for using
them along with it may have been to heighten the effect of a tableau by
disclosing it gradually. In the later parts of the piece, they may have
served to conceal sceneshifting. Another use is also possible. Theatres of
the Macedonian and Roman period sometimes had two stages, the higher being
used by the regular actors, the lower by mimes or dancers; and the latter
may have been concealed by the siparium,
other by the aulaeum.
,The word siparium
is regularly associated with comedy or
mimes. (Seneca, de tranq. An.
100.11.8; Juv. Sat.
8, 186.) (4) Allocation of seats. The orchestra
was reserved for senators. As a special mark of distinction, foreigners
(usually ambassadors) were occasionally admitted to it (see Tac. Ann. 13.54
). The rest of the auditorium
was called cavea.
The Lex Roscia, proposed by
the tribune L. Roscius Otho in 67 B.C., provided
that the fourteen rows of seats in the cavea nearest to the orchestra should
be reserved for the equites--excluding any who should have become bankrupt
(Cic. Phil. 2.44
). Owing to the large
number of equites who had been ruined by the civil wars, Augustus decreed
that the privilege given by the Lex Roscia should be enjoyed by any eques
who had at any time possessed, or whose father had possessed, the amount of
the equester census,
viz. 400,000 sesterces (Suet. Aug. 40
). This is probably the Lex Julia
Theatralis meant by Pliny (33.8
farther assigned special portions of the cavea to (1) women; (2) praetextati,
i.e. boys who had not yet assumed the
toga virilis, and their paedagogi; (3) soldiers; (4) married men belonging
to the plebs. This was a premium on marriage, like others provided in the
Lex Julia et Papia Poppaea. In some provincial theatres the town-councillors
) had seats of honour (bisellia
) on the rows next the orchestra.
Corresponding to the “royal box” in a modern theatre was the
immediately over the stage on the
spectator's left. This was occupied by the emperor, or by the president of
the performance. A corresponding [p. 2.822]
on the left side was assigned to
the Vestals, among whom the empress sat. Thus, from the Augustan age
onwards, the contrast between a Greek and Roman theatre was extended to the
arrangements for the audience. Instead of the simple Greek distinction
between those who had or had not προεδρία,
the Roman auditorium exhibited an elaborate classification by sex, age,
profession, and rank.
The term ᾠδεῖον,
denoting a species of
theatre appropriated to musical performances, occurs first in a fragment of
the comic poet Cratinus (circ.
450 B.C.), with
reference to the Odeum of Pericles (Θρᾷτται,
1); but it may have been in use from a much
earlier time. The oldest recorded example is the Σκιὰς
at Sparta, which is said to have been round, and to
have been named from the resemblance of its top to a sunshade (σκιὰς
: Etym. Magn.
). It was said to have been
built by the architect Theodorus of Samos (circ.
B.C.). On its walls the Spartans hung up the cithara of the famous musician,
Timotheus of Rhodes (circ.
400 B.C.),--not as an
honour, but as a stigma, because he had marred the ancient simplicity of the
instrument by increasing the number of its strings. In the latter part of
the 2nd century A.D. the Σκιὰς
used as a place for public assemblies (Paus.
). No traces of it remain. The
circular brick building of which ruins still exist near the Eurotas seems to
have been originally an Odeum, modified perhaps, with a view to other than
musical performances, in the Roman age of Sparta. (See Leake,
vol. ii. p. 553; Curtius, Pelop.
Athens possessed three ᾠδεῖα.
oldest of these stood near the fountain Enneacrunus by the Ilissus. Its
origin is uncertain, but has been conjecturally referred to Peisistratus, or
even to Solon. The most probable inference from the notices concerning it is
that it was a semicircular building, arranged on the general plan of a Greek
theatre, but with a roof. It was in this Odeum that the προάγων
was held before the Great Dionysia, as
described above. This, too, is the Odeum to which Aristophanes refers as
being used for a law-court (Vesp.
1109); the scholiast on
that passage identifies the place with the scene of the προάγων.
The same building must be understood
when we read of the Odeum as a rendezvous or a lodging for troops (Xen. Hell. 2.4
, § § 9, 24),
and as place for the distribution of corn (Dem. c. Phorm.
§ 37: [Dem.] in Neaer.
§ 52). It appears to
have been restored, or built anew, by Lycurgus (circ.
330 B.C.); for the words of Hypereides (fr.
32, ᾠκοδόμησε δὲ τὸ θέατρον, τὸ
) cannot well refer to the Periclean building,--then
little more than a century old.
(2) The Odeum of Pericles stood a little S.E. of the Acropolis and N.E. of
the Dionysiac theatre: modern houses cover its probable site. Plutarch
preserves a tradition that the shape of the building was intended to recall
the tent of Xerxes (Per.
13). The fact that the
top rose to a peak--like that of the Spartan Σκιάς,
as we may suppose--apparently prompted the joke of
Cratinus, when he described Pericles, “the Zeus with peaked
), as τᾠδεῖον ἐπὶ τοῦ κρανίου ἔχων
1). These notices at least prove that
the form was round, and such as to suggest a tent. In the conception of
Pericles, the new Odeum, like the new temple of Athena, was associated with
the Great Panathenaea. As the final act of the festival was celebrated in
the Parthenon, so the Odeum was the place for the performances with which
the festival began,--contests of flute-players, singers, and rhapsodes. The
Odeum of Pericles was completed about 444 B.C. It was burnt down in 86 B.C.
by Aristion, the tyrant of Athens, when he fled before Sulla to the
Acropolis. The restoration of the building by Ariobarzanes II. (Philopator),
king of Cappadocia, about 60 B.C., is the last
recorded incident in its history. It is remarkable that Pausanias speaks as
if, at the time of his visit (circ.
155 A.D.), the
old Odeum by the Ilissus was the principal building of its kind in Athens
(1.14.1). He refers to the Odeum of Pericles merely as “a
“said to have been built in imitation of the tent of
Xerxes,” and does not even name its founder (1.20.4).
(3) The third Odeum at Athens was built by the eminent rhetorician Herodes
Atticus, in memory of his second wife, Appia Annia Regilla, who died before
161 A.D. It had not been commenced when Pausanias described Athens; but he
mentions it in speaking of the Odeum at Patrae, which was, he says, second
only to that of Herodes (7.20.6). The Odeum of Herodes stood on the south
slope of the Acropolis, W. of the Dionysiac theatre. Considerable remains
still exist. It was not a round building, but a theatre of the ordinary
Roman type, with a roof superadded. Hence Philostratus describes it as
τὸ ἐπὶ Ῥηγίλλῃ θέατρον
2.1, 5, cf. 8), and Suidas (s. v. Ἡρώδης
) as θέατρον
--the Latin theatrum
It was distinguished by the great splendour of the
internal decoration. The ceiling was of cedar,--with probably an open space
for light in the middle. The seats in the cavea
were cased with marble, and divided into an upper and lower zone by a
The floor of the orchestra was
inlaid with marble mosaic-work. The proscenium, which had three doors, was
decorated with columnar arcades, in four successive storeys, and with
statuary. A similar mode of decoration, though less elaborate, was applied
to the external facade. Behind the proscenium spacious accommodation was
provided for the performers. Philostratus mentions a smaller theatre in the
Cerameicus at Athens, called, after its founder, the Ἀγριππεῖον,
which seems to have been used for rhetorical
declamations rather than for music or drama (Vit. Soph.
3 and 8, 2).
The building of Pericles and that of Herodes Atticus illustrate the twofold
relation of the ancient Odeum to the ancient theatre. (1) The circular
Odeum, such as that of Pericles, was the place for music or recitation, as
the Greek theatre for drama or chorus. From an artistic point of view, it
was the supplement of the Greek theatre. (2) The semicircular Odeum, such as
that of Herodes, was merely a roofed Roman theatre; and, as such, it was
used not only for music, but for other entertainments also, such as mimes,
or even regular drama. In the Roman period the first type continued to exist
along with the second. Trajan built a [p. 2.823]
at Rome (Paus. 5.12
, θέατρον μἕγα κυκλοτερές
by Dio Cassius (69.4). In
many instances where an Odeum is mentioned, the type to which it belonged
In conclusion, it may be useful to enumerate some of the more important Greek
and Roman theatres of which remains exist. The following list is mainly
based on that given by Dr. A. Kawerau in Baumeister's
pp. 1746 ff. A fuller enumeration,
with references to the topographical and archaeological literature in each
case, will be found in Dr. A. Müller's Lehrbuch der
I. GREECE PROPER.--Attica.
1. The Dionysiac theatre at Athens. Excavated in 1886 by
the German Archaeological Institute. 2. Theatre at Zea in the Peiraeus.
Excavated in 1880 and 1885 by the Greek Archaeological Society. The
orchestra was surrounded by a canal, like that in the Dionysiac theatre. 3.
Theatre at Oropus. Excavated in 1886 by the Greek Archaeological Society.
The proscenium, with one door, remains. 4. Theatre at Thoricus. Excavated in
1886 by the American School. Remarkable for the irregular curve of the
orchestra, which recedes more than anywhere else from the form of a
semicircle, and approaches that of a semiellipse.--Epeirus.
Theatre at Dramyssus. The cavea
It had two διαζώματα.
2. Theatre at Elatria
(now Rhiniassa). A great part of the cavea
Theatre at Sicyon.
Excavations begun in 1887 by the American School.--Argolis.
1. Theatre at Epidaurus. Excavated in 1883 by the
Greek Archaeological Society. The best-preserved and finest example of a
Greek theatre of the classical age. It was built about 350 B.C. by the
younger Polycleitus (Paus. 2.27
). 2. Theatre at Argos. The central part of the
was hewn from the rock; sixty-seven
rows of seats remain, separated by two διαζώματα.
The two ends of the cavea
were formed by substructions of rude masonry.--Arcadia.
1. Theatre at Mantineia. Notable as an
exception to the rule that Greek theatres were built on natural slopes. Here
rested on an artificial mound
supported by polygonal walls. 2. Theatre at Megalopolis. The largest known
to Pausanias (2.27
). The site was a natural slope, but recourse was had also to an
artificial embankment at each horn of the auditorium. Excavations begun here
in 1889 by members of the British School at Athens have disclosed the stage
and the lowest portion of the seats.
II, ISLANDS OF THE AEGEAN SEA.--The older theatre
at Delos is that in which the segment of a circle formed by the curve of the
most largely exceeds a semicircle.
The Cretan theatres at Gortyna, Hierapytna, and Lyctus are among those which
have the niches intended, as some have supposed, for ἠχεῖα
III. ASIA MINOR.--Among the theatres of the later
Greek or Hellenistic age, those at the following places show a peculiarity
in the curve of the cavea
like that noted above
at Delos:--Sidè (Pamphylia), Myra (Lycia), Telmissus (do.),
Iassus (Caria), Aizani (Cilicia). The last-named theatre affords another
example of the niches mentioned above. Other interesting theatres of the
same period are those of Pergamum (excavated in 1885 by the German
Expedition) and Assus (excavated in 1883, for the American Archaeol.
Institute, by Mr. J. P. Clarke). The Roman theatre at Aspendus (Pamphylia)
is the best-preserved ancient theatre in existence. The proscenium has five
IV. ITALY.--1. The two theatres at Pompeii. The
larger shows a peculiarity in the four lowest rows of seats, which are
separated from those above, and appear to have been the places of honour.
The stage is also of interest. The smaller theatre was roofed. 2. Theatre at
Falerii. One of the best preserved. It was finished in 43 B.C.
V. SICILY.--Theatres at Syracuse, Acrae, Catana,
Tauromenion, Tyndaris, and Segesta. The general characteristic of the
Sicilian theatres is that they were founded in Greek times and afterwards
modified, or reconstructed, under Roman influences.
VI. FRANCE.--The Roman theatre at Orange (Arausio)
is well preserved. The reconstruction of it by A. Caristie (Monuments
antiques à Orange,
Paris, 1856) conveys a probably
just idea of its original beauty. In one respect it forms an exception to
the ordinary Roman rule; for use was made of a natural slope to support the
(Göttingen, 1851), and art. “Griechisches Theater” in
Ersch and Gruber, vol. lxxxiii. (1867), pp. 159-256, where will be found a
full account of the authorities on the subject up to that date. Among recent
publications it must suffice to mention the following:--Dr. Albert
Müller, Lehrbuch der griechischen
(Freiburg, 1886), pp. 432. A
work of practically exhaustive research. Gustav Oehmichen,
(Berlin, 1886). Baumeister's
“Theatergebäude” by Dr. A. Kawerau, and
“Theatervorstellungen” by Dr. Bernhard Arnold (1887). A. E.
Haigh, The Attic Theatre
(1889). For the Greek theatre of the
5th century B.C.: Wilamowitz-Möllendorf,
“Die Bühne des Aeschylos” in Hermes,
xxi. pp. 579 ff.; Sommerbrodt, De
Aeschyli re scaenica
(Berlin, 1876); J. Höpken,
De Theatro Attico saeculi a. Chr. quinti
For the Roman theatre, J. Marquardt, Röm.
vol. iii. (2nd ed., 1885).