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θέατρον). The architectural form of the Greek theatre was developed from the circular dancing-place, the ὀρχήστρα, used by the Bacchic dancers. 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, however, as a regular Chorus was instituted, 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 then no longer possible that the spectators should form a complete circle, but they were now arranged in a semicircle, or something like it, though 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 dancingplace, but on the farther side of it. Behind them was the tent or booth (σκηνή) in which they dressed. It was an easy improvement to conceal this tent from the spectators by a modern screen which could represent the front of a house or anything else that suited the requirements of the play. This screen was the proscaenium (προσκήνιον), i. e. that which masked the σκηνή. The term was retained in the later history of the theatre, though its primitive sense was lost. The proscaenium was the background visible to the spectators, whether it was a temporary screen or a permanent wall. Then σκηνή came to denote that part of the theatre which belonged to the actors, as distinguished from ὀρχήστρα, the place of the Chorus. Aristotle ( Poet. 24) uses the phrase ἐπὶ σκηνῆς where we should say “on the stage.”

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 fifth century B.C., a belief resting on a passage in Suidas (s. v. Πρατίνας). 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. Its excavations, begun in 1886, have yielded the following results:

  • 1. In the fifth century B.C., and down to about B.C. 330, the precinct contained no permanent building for scenic purposes, but there was near it a circular ὀρχήστρα, about seventy-eight feet in diameter, of which traces have been found under the buildings erected by Lycurgus. This ὀρχήστρα was then the only permanent provision for drama. All scenery, therefore, was temporary, and the spectators sat on wooden benches.
  • 2. The first permanent building for the drama in the Λήναιον was that completed by Lycurgus, about B.C. 330. It consisted of a stone wall with two small wings, like towers, projecting from it on right and left (a, a); the length of the wall between them was about sixty-five feet seven inches. 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 ten or twelve feet high, was built in front of the wall with projecting wings

    Dionysiac Theatre at Athens.

    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 Hymettus marble. 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 third century (C. I. A. iii. 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 flags.

It is maintained by Dr. Dörpfeld that, not only

Marble Sculptures on Front Wall of Stage, Dionysiac Theatre.

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 farthest 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, built about the middle of the fourth century B.C., is the best-preserved example of the Greek type; excavations were made in it by the Greek Archaeological Society in 1883.

The orchestra forms a complete circle, defined by a ring of flat stones. Beyond this circle, on the side farthest from the audience, are remains of a wall, about twelve feet 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) twelve feet would be too great a height for a stage; (b) the width of the stage—about eight feet—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 proscenium by an inscription which it bears. The theatre in the Piraeus affords another example.

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 statement of the architect Vitruvius, who wrote about A.D. 20, is decisive, so far as the Roman period is concerned. He states that the Greek theatre had a raised stage, about ten or twelve feet high, but narrower than the Roman; the Greeks, he says, called it λογεῖον. Vitruvius uses the word proscaenium to describe this stage; and the same use of the term occurs in other writers, both Roman and Greek. 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 lately been excavated by members of the British School at Athens (see the report of the School for 1890). The date of this theatre may be placed in the second half of the fourth century B.C. Here there is a raised stage, of which the height was originally about six feet, and the width about eighteen feet. 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 proved (a) 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 fourth century B.C. is placed beyond doubt.
    3. With regard to the fifth 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. Oed. Col. 836 foll.); 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 Suet. Vesp. 1514, where Philocleon says, ἀτὰρ καταβατέον γ̓ ἐπ̓ αὐτούς. 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 B.C. 300-100, depict scenes from the Old Attic Comedy acted on a raised λογεῖον (cf. Baumeister, Denkmäler, pp. 1750 foll.). Plato (Symp. p. 194 A) speaks of the tragic poet Agathon as ἀναβαίνοντος ἐπὶ ὀκρίβαντα μετὰ τῶν ὑποκριτῶν. This shows that the idea of placing actors on a raised platform was familiar to Athenians of the fifth 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 table (ἐλεός). 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 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 was 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 he 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 twelve feet, 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, λογεῖον) must be not less than ten or more than twelve 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 horseshoe, 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,

Greek Theatre, after Vitruvius.

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.

The fourth 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.

The Orchestra

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 Piraeus), 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.” 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 θυμέλη 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). It 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 (Isidore, Orig. xviii. 47). But this use arose under Roman influences, and cannot be assumed for the Greece of the fifth or fourth 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 seats.

The Auditorium

In default of a special term like cavea, 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: 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, “girdles” (praecinctiones), which ran completely round the semicircle. The word διάζωμα can denote, not only the passage itself, but the zone which it marks off (C. I. G. 4283). 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. When stone seats were introduced (cir. B.C. 330), 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 Piraeus, it is 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 or ἀναβαθμοί. At Athens the space allotted to one person was indicated merely by a line engraved on the stone: it is described as ἕδρα, τόπος, χώρα, χωρίον, or simply θέα.

The privilege of free seats (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 πρέσβεις or θεωροί;
  • 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 or καθέδραι. At 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. At Epidaurus several rows of seats with backs and arms were assigned to those who enjoyed προεδρία.

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 (ii. 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 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 north 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 south and southwestern portions, they were cased with finely wrought limestone. Examples 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 Epidaurus.

Scenic Decoration

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 Iulius Pollux (flour. A.D. 170), in his Onomasticon, book iv. 128-132. As has lately been shown by Rohde, the source principally used by Pollux was a work by Iuba, a writer of the later Alexandrian Age, entitled Θεατρικὴ Ἱστορία, in at least seventeen books; while Iuba, in his turn, had sources going back to Aristophanes of Byzantium (B.C. 200), 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 fifth and fourth 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, but a more critical study has shown the need of greater caution in this respect.

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

Remains of Greek Theatre at Tauromenium. (From a photograph.)

of scene-painting (σκηνογραφία). 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 con temporary with the innovation. Sophocles first exhibited in B.C. 468, twelve years before the death of Aeschylus. Aristotle and Vitruvius are reconciled if we suppose that Sophocles introduced σκηνογραφία in the early days of his career; a fact which will also help us to understand why that improvement was peculiarly associated with his name. Even before Agatharchus had made a beginning of artistic σκηνογραφία, some ruder kind of drawing may have been used. Thus in the Persae of Aeschylus (B.C. 472) the palace was probably indicated. In the Ion of Euripides (cir. B.C. 421), 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.

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 ἐκκύκλημα 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 ἐκκύκλημα 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. 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 Eumen. 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 Aiax, when Tecmessa opens the tent, this machine serves to display Aiax prostrate amidst 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 is not 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 thence once more withdrawn from view ( Ach. 408 foll., ἐκκυκλήθητ̓ . . . ἐκκυκλήσομαι: Thesm. 265, ἐσκυκλησάτω). The exact nature of the ἐξώστρα is uncertain, but it was evidently akin to the ἐκκύκλημα, 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. Pax, 80). Two different contrivances seem to have been used: both were, of course, concealed by the proscenium. One was an apparatus worked by a wheel (τροχός) and ropes (αἰῶραι), and called αἰώρημα, which was used when the person was to be seen gradually rising into the air, or descending from above. 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 socalled θεολογεῖον, used when the apparition of a god or hero was to be sudden. The κρεμάθρα in which Socrates is suspended (Nub. 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 Ag.; Antigoné and the paedagogus in Eur. Phoen. etc.). A wooden platform, high up behind the proscenium, would have sufficed: according to Pollux, it was called a διστεγία.

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 fourth 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.

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 was 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 right-hand περίακτος 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 left-hand 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 would be turned.

There are only two Greek plays in which it is necessary to assume a change of scene. In the Eumenides the action is transferred from Delphi to Athens; in the Aiax, 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 symbolized by substituting the βρέτας of Athené 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 fifth 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. 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 (ad Georg. iii. 24).

Entrances for the Actors

Pollux speaks of three doors in the proscenium, the central one being called θύρα βασίλειος, 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 (fourth century 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 fifth-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 ἀναπιέσματα (our “trap-doors”) or by the χαρώνιοι κλίμακες. It has generally been supposed that these κλίμακες led from the orchestra to the stage. This is the case at Megalopolis. Another theory is that they connected the stage with a passage beneath it, invisible to the spectators.

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.), the 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.

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 fifth and and fourth centuries B.C., drama accompanied two Dionysiac festivals—the Lenaea, in January, and the Great Dionysia, in March. At each festival both Tragedy and Comedy were produced; but the Lenaea were peculiarly associated with Comedy, and the Great Dionysia with Tragedy. 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. A. ii. 573), was the maintenance of the building in good repair. Hence the classical name for the lessee, ἀρχιτέκτων. 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. He had also to supply the flute-player (αὐλητής) 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 grant” (παραχορήγημα). The State also paid the marshals (ῥαβδοῦχοι) who kept order in the theatre, and who were stationed in the orchestra. Lastly, a certain honorarium, distinct from the festivalprizes, 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 the choregus and Chorus, and poured a libation at the thymelé to Dionysus. His procession then withdrew; the orchestra was once more empty, 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.

The Audience

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. 175E), 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. Even young boys were present both at Comedy and at Tragedy. Women were certainly present at Tragedy; and a fragment of Alexis shows that, in the fourth century B.C., they were admitted 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 priori 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. At Athens

Theatre at Segesta. (Restoration.)

the μέτοικοι were admitted to the theatre. 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 Pisistratidae, when the city began to find the cost too heavy. In the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. the price of admission for one day was two obols, or not quite $0.08. 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 θεωρικόν was partly defrayed from the tribute of the allies, and probably began about B.C. 454. 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 enrollment on the register of the deme. The number of persons receiving the θεωρικόν in B.C. 431 has been computed at 18,000. All seats were of the same class, except those reserved for persons who had the right of προεδρία, 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. The numbers probably indicate divisions of the house. How far such division was carried is uncertain. The members of the Senate sat together in a definite part of the Dionysiac Theatre (τὸ βουλευτικόν). For youths between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one, 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 B.C. 438—that the spectators had usually taken the morning meal (ἄριστον) before they came (Athen. x. 464 e). In the next century, however, we hear of performances beginning at daybreak (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 B.C. 350. As the whole day was spent in the theatre, the visitors brought light refreshments (τραγήματα) 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 recognized 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 one family.

From the latter part of the fourth 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

Remains of Greek Theatre at Syracuse.

wild beasts. Even in the fifth century B.C., indeed, cock-fighting had been held on one day of the year in the Dionysiac Theatre.

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 fifth century we hear of the citizens convening the ecclesia in the theatre at Munychia, and in the Dionysiac Theatre itself, when the Pnyx was not available (Thuc.viii. 93 foll.). By B.C. 250 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 fifth 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 ( Timol. 34). 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 reunion.

Rome possessed no theatre of stone till B.C. 55. 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 (Livy, Epit. 48). 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 first 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 B.C. 58 contained 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 Martius, the first theatre of stone. The model is said to have been the theatre of Mitylené, 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 B.C. 13 by L. Cornelius Balbus. These are the trina theatra of Suetonius ( 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

Roman Theatre, after Vitruvius.

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 cunei 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 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 sidewalls 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: (a) Having closed the openings afforded by the πάροδοι, the 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. (b) 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 harmonized modes of treatment. (c) A similar magnificence was shown in the external façades. Greek theatres had usually been erected

Small Theatre at Pompeii. (Overbeck.)

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, λογεῖον) is in some instances on a level with the lowest row of seats behind the orchestra. Sometimes, again, the stage is rather higher, but the (originally) lowest row of seats has been abolished, leaving the stage still level with those seats which are actually lowest. In a third class of examples, the stage is higher than the lowest row of seats—as it is at Orange in France. 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 called vela: the term velaria occurs only in Juv.iv. 122.Pliny , who describes them as carbasina vela (of linen), says that they were introduced by Q. Catulus, in B.C. 78 (xix. 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 and Pompeii. Between the masts were cross-beams (trabes), for greater convenience in unfurling the vela. Such awnings were of various colours, as yellow, red, dark-blue (Lucr.iv. 75 foll.).
    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 or subducitur; “the curtain is up,” aulaeum premitur; “the curtain falls,” aulaeum tollitur. The word siparium (from the base of σίφαρος, topsail, supparum) meant a folding screen. Apuleius (A.D. 150) describes a kind of ballet as beginning “when the curtain had been lowered, and the screens folded up” (sipariis complicitis [ Met. 10, p. 232]). If these screens were within the curtain, the reason for using them along with it may have been to heighten the effect of a tablean by disclosing it gradually. In the later parts of the piece, they may have served to conceal scene-shifting. 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, as the other by the aulaeum. The word siparium is regularly associated with comedy or mimes (Seneca, De Tranq. An. 11.8; Juv.viii. 186).
    4. Assignment 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. xiii. 54). The rest of the auditorium was called cavea. The Lex Roscia, proposed by the tribune L. Roscius Otho in B.C. 67, 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

    Restoration of the Scena Stabilis at Herculaneum. (Overbeck.)

    (Cic. Phil. ii. 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 Iulia Theatralis meant by Pliny (Pliny H. N. xxxiii. 8). Augustus further assigned special portions of the cavea to (a) women; (b) praetextati —i. e. boys who had not yet assumed the toga virilis, and their paedagogi; (c) soldiers; (d) married men belonging to the plebs. This was a premium on marriage, like others provided in the Lex Iulia et Papia Poppaea. In some provincial theatres the town-councillors (decuriones) had seats of honour (bisellia) on the rows next the orchestra. Corresponding to the “royal box” in a European theatre was the tribunal, immediately over the stage on the spectator's left. This was occupied by the emperor, or by the president of the performance. A corresponding tribunal 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 a 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 Odeum

The term ᾠδεῖον, denoting a species of theatre appropriated to musical performances, occurs first in a fragment of the comic poet Cratinus (cir. B.C. 450), with reference to the Odeum of Pericles, but it may have been in use from a much earlier time. The oldest recorded example is the Σκιάς at Sparta, which is said to have been round, and to have been named from the resemblance of its top to a sunshade (σκιάς or σκιάδειον: Etym. Magn.). Athens possessed three ᾤδεια:
  • 1. that near the fountain Enneacrunus by the Ilissus, conjecturally referred to Pisistratus or Solon;
  • 2. the Odeum of Pericles, a little to the northeast of the Dionysiac Theatre;
  • 3. the Odeum built by Herodes Atticus in memory of his wife, on the south slope of the Acropolis. This was built later than A.D. 161. Considerable remains of it still exist. The Odeum may best be regarded as the supplement to the Greek theatre.


Wieseler, Theatergebäude (Göttingen, 1881); Oemichen, Griechischer Theaterbau (Berlin, 1886); Höpken, De Theatro Attico, etc. (Berlin, 1884); Donaldson, The Greek Theatre (largely antiquated), 7th ed. (London, 1875); Haigh, The Attic Theatre (Cambridge, 1889); Müller, Lehrbuch der griechischen Bühnenalterthümer (Freiburg, 1886); Capps, Vitruvius and the Gk. Stage (Chicago, 1893); Marquardt, Röm. Staatsalterthümer, vol. iii. (2d ed. 1885); and papers by Wilamowitz-Möllendorf in Hermes, xxi. pp. 579 foll.; and by Kawerau and Arnold in Baumeister's Denkmäler, s. v. “Theatergebäude” and “TheatervorstelIungen”; also Chorus; Comoedia; Drama; Tragoedia.

hide References (14 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (14):
    • Aristophanes, Peace, 80
    • Aristotle, Poetics, 1459b
    • Euripides, Medea, 1319
    • Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus, 836
    • Thucydides, Histories, 8.93
    • Aristophanes, Acharnians, 408
    • Cicero, Philippics, 2.44
    • Ovid, Metamorphoses, 10
    • Vergil, Georgics, 3.24
    • Suetonius, Divus Augustus, 40
    • Suetonius, Divus Augustus, 45
    • Tacitus, Annales, 13.54
    • Lucretius, De Rerum Natura, 4.75
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 33.8
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