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Noisy Scene In A Roman Theatre

Lucius Anicius, who had been praetor, after his victory over the Illyrians, and on bringing Genthius
Triumph of L. Anicius Gallus over the Illyrians at the Quirinalia, February 17, B. C. 167.
prisoner to Rome with his children, while celebrating his triumph, did a very ridiculous thing. He sent for the most famous artists from Greece, and having constructed an immense theatre in the circus, he brought all the flute players on the stage together first. Their names were Theodorus the Boeotian, Theopompus and Hermippus of Lysimacheia, the most celebrated of the day. He placed them on the proscenium with the chorus, and bid them all play at once.
A scene in a Roman theatre.
But on their beginning to play the tune, accompanied by appropriate movements, he sent to them to say that they were not playing well, and must put more excitement into it. At first they did not know what to make of this, until one of the lictors showed them that they must form themselves into two companies, and facing round, advance against each other as though in a battle. The fluteplayers caught the idea at once, and, adopting a motion suitable to their own wild strains, produced a scene of great confusion. They made the middle group of the chorus face round upon the two extreme groups, and the fluteplayers, blowing with inconceivable violence and discordance, led these groups against each other. The members of the chorus meanwhile rushed, with a violent stamping which shook the stage, against those opposite them, and then faced round and retired. But when one of the chorus, whose dress was closely girt up, turned round on the spur of the moment and raised his hands, like a boxer, in the face of the fluteplayer who was approaching him, then the spectators clapped their hands and cheered loudly. Whilst this sort of sham fight was going on, two dancers were brought into the orchestra to the sound of music; and four boxers mounted upon the stage, accompanied by trumpeters and clarion players. The effect of these various contests all going on together was indescribable. But if I were to speak about their tragic actors, I should be thought by some to be jesting.1 . . .

1 From Athenaeus, xiv. 4, p. 615. It seems to be part of some strictures of Polybius on the coarseness of the amusements of the Romans. This noisy and riotous scene in a theatre would strike a Greek as barbarous and revolting; and may remind us of the complaints of the noise and interruption to their actors so often found in the prologues to the plays of Plautus and Terence. Though the substance of this extract is doubtless from Polybius, Athenaeus has evidently told the anecdote in his own language.

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  • Commentary references to this page (1):
    • Titus Livius (Livy), Ab urbe condita libri, erklärt von M. Weissenborn, book 45, commentary, 45.26
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