The following essay was originally published in Manual of Greek Literature from the Earliest Authentic Periods to the Close of the Byzantine Era. Charles Anthon. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1853. pp. 160-174.
If the Greek plays themselves differed essentially from those of our times, they were even more dissimilar in respect to the mode and circumstances of their representation. We have theatrical exhicitions of some kind every evening throughout the greater part of the year, and in capital cities many are going on at the same time in different theatres. In Greece, however, the dramatic performances were carried on for a few days only in the spring; the theatre was large enough to contain the whole population, and every citizen was there, as a matter of course, from daybreak to sunset. With us, a successful play is repeated night after night, for months together; in Greece the most admired dramas were seldom repeated, and never in the same year. The theatre with us is merely a place of public entertainment; in Greece it was the temple of the god, whose altar was the central point of the semicircle of seats or steps from which some 30,000 of his worshippers gazed upon a spectacle instituted in his honor. Our theatrical costumes are intended to convey an idea of the dresses actually worn by the persons represented, while those of the Greeks were nothing but modifications of the festal robes worn in Dionysian processions. Finally, the modern playwright has only the approbation or disapprobation of his audience to look to, whereas no Greek play was represented until it had been approved by a board appointed to decide between the rival dramatists.
Theatrical exhibitions formed a part of certain festivals of Bacchus. In order, then, to ascertain at what time of the year they took place, we must inquire how many festivals were held in Attica in honor of that god, and then determine at which of them theatrical representations were given. There have been great diversities of opinion in regard to the number of the Attic Dionysia, or festivals of Bacchus. It appears, however, to be now pretty generally agreed among scholars that there were four Bacchic feasts, in the sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth months respectively of the Attic year. These were the "country Dionysia," the "Lenæa," the "Anthesteria," and the "great Dionysia."
The "country Dionysia" were celebrated all over Attica in the month of Poseideon, which included the latter half of December and the first half of January. This was the festival of the vintage, which is still in some places postponed to December. The Lenæa, or festival of the wine-press, was held in the month of Gamelion, which corresponded to part of January and February. It was, like the rural Dionysia, a vintage festival; but it differed from them in being confined to a particular spot in the city of Athens, called the Lenæon, where the first wine-press was erected. The Anthesteria, were held on the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth days of the month Anthesterion, corresponding to part of February and March. This was not a vintage festival like the former two. The new wine was drawn from the cask on the first day of the feast, and tasted on the second day: [on] the third day ... the banqueting went on. The great Dionysia were celebrated between the eighth and eighteenth of the month Elaphebolion, corresponding to part of March and April. This festival is always meant when the Dionysia are mentioned without any qualifying epithet.
At the first, second, and fourth of these festivals, it is known that theatrical exhibitions took place. The exhibitions at the country Dionysia were generally of old pieces; indeed, there is no instance of a play being acted on those occasions for the first time, at least after the Greek drama had arrived at perfection. At the Lenæa and the great Dionysia, both tragedies and comedies were performed; at the latter, the tragedies, at least, were always new pieces; the instances in the didascaliæ, which have come down to us, of representations at the Lenæa are indeed always of new pieces, but from the manner in which the exhibition of new tragedies is mentioned in connection with the city festival, we must conclude that repetitions were allowed at the Lenæa, as well as at the country Dionysia. The month Elaphebolion may have been selected for the representation of new tragedies, because Athens was then full of the dependent allies, who came at that time to pay the tributes; whereas the Athenians alone were present at the Lenæa. It does not appear that there were any theatrical exhibitions at the Anthesteria; it is, however, at least probable that the tragedians read to a select audience at the Anthesteria the tragedies which they had composed for the festival in the following month, or perhaps contests took place then, and the intervening month was employed in perfecting the actors and chorus in their parts.
In considering next the means of performance, we must recall to mind the different origins of the two constituent parts of a Greek drama--the chorus and the dialogue. Choruses were originaly composed of the whole population. When, however, in process of time, the fine arts became more cultivated, the duties of this branch of worship devolved upon a few, and ultimately upon one, who bore the whole expense, when paid actors were employed. This person, who was called the Choragus, was considered as the religious representative of the whole people, and was said to do the state's work for it. It was the business of the choragus to provide the chorus in all plays, whether tragic or comic, and also the lyric choruses of men and boys, cyclian dancers, etc...; he was selected by the managers of his tribe for the choragy which had come round to it. His first duty, after collecting his chorus, was to provide and pay a teacher, who instructed them in the songs and dances which they had to perform, and it appears that the choragi drew lots for the first choice of teachers. The choragus had also to pay the musicians and singers who composed the chorus, and was allowed to press children, if their parents did not give them up of their own accord. He was obliged to lodge and maintain the chorus till the time of performance, and to supply the singers with such aliments as conduce to strengthen the voice.
In the laws of Solon, the age prescribed for the choragus was forty years; but this rule does not appear to have been long in force. The relative expense of the different choruses, in the time of Lysias, is given in a speech of that orator. We learn from this that the tragic chorus cost nearly twice as much as the comic, though neither of the dramatic choruses was so expensive as the chorus of men, or the chorus of flute-players. The actors were the representatives, not of the people, but of the poet; consequently, the choragus had nothing to do with them. If he had paid for them, the dramatic choruses would surely have exceeded in expensiveness all the others; besides, the actors were not allowed to the choragi, but to the poets; and were, therefore, paid either by these, or, as is more likely, by the state.
When a dramatist had made up his mind to bring out a play, he applied, if he intended to represent at the Lenæa, to the king-archon, and if at the greater Dionysia, to the chief archon, for a chorus, which was given to him if his piece was considered worthy of it. Along with this chorus he received three actors by lot, and these he taught independently of the choragus, who confined his attentions to the chorus. If successful, he chose his own actors for the following year. When the day appointed for the trial came on, they united their efforts, and endeavored to gain the prize by a combination of the best-taught actors with the most sumptuously dressed and most diligently exercised chorus. That the exertions of the choragus and the actors were often as influential with the judges as the beauty of the poem, can not be doubted, when we have so many instances of the ill success of the best dramatists.
The judges were appointed by lot, and were generally, but not always, five in number. The archon administered an oath to them; and, in the case of the cyclian chorus, partiality or injustice was punishable by fine. The successful poet was crowned with ivy (with which his choragus and performers were also adorned), and his name was proclaimed before the audience. The choragus who had exhibited the best musical or theatrical entertainment generally received a tripod as a reward or prize. This he was at the expense of consecrating, and in some cases built the monument on which it was placed. Thus the beautiful choragic monument of Lysicrates ... was undoubtedly surmounted by a tripod, and the statue of Bacchus, in a sitting posture, which was on the top of the choragic monument of Thrasyllus, probably supported the tripod on its knees. Such, at least, seems to have been the intention of the holes drilled in the lap of the figure. The choragus, in comedy, consecrated the equipment of his chorus. The successful poet commemorated his victory with a feast. As, however, no prize drama was permitted to be represented for a second time (with an exception in favor of the three great dramatists, which was not long in operation), the poet's glory was very transient. The time allowed for the representation was portioned out by the clepsydra, and seems to have been dependent upon the number of pieces represented. What thus number was is not known. It is probable, however, that about three trilogies might have been represented on one day.
The place of exhibition was, in the days of the perfect Greek drama, the great stone theatre erected within the Lenæon, or inclosure sacred to Bacchus. The building was commenced in the year 500 B.C., but not finished until about 381 B.C., when Lycurgus was manager of the treasury. In the earlier days of the drama, the theatre was of wood, but an accident having occurred at the representation of some plays of Aeschylus and Pratinas, the stone theatre was commenced in its stead. The student who wishes to acquire an adequate notion of the Greek theatre must not forget that it was only an improvement upon the mode of representation adopted by Thespis, which it resembled in its general features. The two original elements were the ... altar of Bacchus, round which the cyclic chorus danced, and the ... stage, from which the actor spoke; it was the representative of the wooden table from which the earliest actor addressed his chorus. But in the great stone theatres, in which the perfect Greek dramas were represented, these two simple materials for the exhibition of a play were surrounded by a mass of buildings, and subordinated to other details of a very artificial and complicated description.
In building a theatre, the Greeks always availed themselves of the slope of a hill, which enabled them to give the necessary elevation to the back rows of seats, without those enormous substructions which we find in Roman theatres. If the hill was rocky, semicircles of steps, rising tier above tier, were hewn out of the living material. If the ground was soft, a similar excavation of certain dimensions was made in the slope of the hill, and afterward lined with rows of stone benches. Even when the former plan was practicable, the steps were frequently faced with copings of marble. This was the case with the theatres of Bacchus at Athens, which stood on the southeastern side of the rocky Acropolis. This semi-circular pit, surrounded by seats on all sides but one, and in part filled by them, was called ... in Latin, cavea, and was assigned to the audience. At the top it was inclosed by a lofty portico and balustraded terrace.
Concentric with this circular arc, and at the foot of the lowest range of seats, was the boundary line of the orchestra, or "dancing-place," which was given up to the chorus. If we complete the circle of the orchestra, and draw a tangent to it at the point most removed from the audience, this line will give the position of the scene, or "covered building," which presented to the view of the spectators a lofty facade of hewn stone, susceptible of such modifications as the different plays rendered suitable. In front of this scene was a narrow stage, called, therefore, the proscenium. It was indicated by the parallel side of a square, inscribed in the orchestral circle, but extended to the full length of the scene on both sides. Another parallel, at a greater distance behind the scene, gave the portico, which formed the lower front of the whole building.
The cavea, was divided into two or more flights of steps or seats by the præcinctiones ... which were broad belts, concentric, and which served both as lobbies and landings. The steps or seats of the cavea were again subdivided transversely into masses called cunei, or "wedges," by stairs running from one præcinctione to another, and converging to the centre of the orchestra. Different parts of the theatre received different names from the class of spectators to whom they were appropriated. Thus the lower seats, nearest the orchestra, which were assigned to the members of the senate and others who had a right to reserved seats ... the young men sat together [in a separate area]. The spectators entered either from the hill above by door-ways in the upper portico, or by staircases in the wings of the lower facade.
The orchestra was a levelled space, twelve feet lower than the front seats of cavea, by which it was bounded. Six feet above this was a boarded platform, which did not cover the whole area of the orchestra, but terminated where the line of view from the central cunei was intercepted by the boundary line. It ran, however, to the right and left of the spectators' benches till it reached the sides of the scene. The main part of this platform, as well as an altar of Bacchus in the centre of the orchestral circle, was called the thyméle. The segment of the orchestra not covered by this platform was termed the arena, or "place of sand." In front of the elevated scene, and six feet higher than the platform in the orchestra (that is, on the same level with the lowest range of seats), was the proscenium, already mentioned, and called also, in Latin, pulpitum, or "speaking-stage." There was a double flight of steps, from the arena to the platform in the orchestra, and another of a similar description from this orchestral platform to the proscenium, or real stage.... There were also two other flights of steps leading to the orchestral platform from the chambers below the stage. These were called "Charon's stairs," and were used for the entrance of spectres from the Lower World, and for the ghostly apparitions of the departed. The regular entrances of the chorus were by the broad passages, on each side, between the projecting wings of the stage and the seats of the spectators.
It does not appear that the stage extended farther to the right or left than the scene or elevated centre of the facade. The walls of the facade on either side of the stage were not liable to change of decoration, but were constantly adorned with statues and other architectural adjuncts. The scene itself was altered to meet the emergencies of the case. As a general rule, it represented a public building with three entrances. That in the centre belonged, as we have already remarked, to the principal personage of the play; that on the right introduced the second personage; while the inferior characters entered by the door on the left hand. Behind [these three entrances] was a chamber, which might be opened to the spectators view. Thus the actions or spectacles which belonged to the interior of the house were sometimes openly exhibited. For example, in the Agamemnon of Aeschylus, Clytemnestra was seen standing over the body of her murdered husband; and in the Acharnians of Aristophanes, Euripides was discovered in his study.
Before the broad passages between the projecting wings on either side of the stage, stood a triangular prism, or side-scene, which moved on a pivot, and not only indicated the different regions supposed to lie in the neighborhood of the scene, but was also made use of as a machine for introducing suddenly sea and river gods, and other incidental appearances. The theatre at Athens, being built on the southeastern side of the Acropolis, was so situated that a person standing on the stage saw the greater part of the city and the harbor on his left, and the country of Attica on his right. Hence a man who entered on the right by the parascenia was invariably understood to come from the country, or from afar; on the left, from the city or the neighborhood. As the right-hand passage, therefore, represented the road to the country, and the left-hand one that which led to the city, the changes of scene effected by the revolutions of the right-hand side-scene were distant views painted in perspective; while those on the left were pictures of single objects supposed to be close at hand. Changes of scene were very seldom necessary in ancient tragedy. The Greek tragedies are so constructed, that the speeches and actions of which they are mainly composed might with perfect propriety pass on one spot, and, indeed, ought generally to pass in the court in front of the royal dwelling. The actions to which no speech is attached, and which do not serve to develop thoughts and feelings (such as Eteocles' combat with his brother; the murder of Agamemnon; Antigone's performance of the obsequies of Polynices, etc...), are imagined to pass behind or without the scene, and are only related on the stage. Hence the importance of the parts of messengers and heralds in ancient tragedy. The poet was not influenced only by the reason given by Horace, namely, that bloody spectacles and incredible events excite less horror and doubt when related, and ought, therefore, not to be produced on the stage; there was also the far deeper general reason, that it is never the outward act with which the interest of ancient tragedy is most intimately bound up. The actions which forms the basis of every tragedy of those times is internal and spiritual; the reflections, resolutions, feelings, the mental or moral phenomena, which can be expressed in speech, are developed on the stage. For outward action, which is generally mute, or, at all events, can not be adequately represented by words, the epic form--narration--is the only appropriate vehicle. Exceptions, such as the chaining of Prometheus, and the suicide of Ajax, are rather apparent than real, and, indeed, serve to confirm the general rule; since it is only on account of the peculiar psychological state of Prometheus when bound, and of Ajax at the time of his suicide, that the outward acts are brought upon the stage. Moreover, the costume of tragic actors was calculated for impressive declamation, and not for action. The lengthened and stuffed-out figures of the tragic actors would have had an awkward, not to say a ludicrous effect in combat or other violent action. From the sublime to the ridiculous would here have been but one step, which ancient tragedy carefully avoided risking.
The theatre at Athens was well supplied with machinery calculated to produce startling effects. Besides the [apparatus] which was used occasionally to introduce a sea-deity on his fish-tailed steed, or a river-god with his urn, there was a platform surrounded by clouds, and suspended from the top of the central scene, whence the deities conversed with the actors or chorus. Sometimes they were introduced near the left paradus, close to the periaktus, by means of a crane turning on a pivot. [There was also] a contrivance for snatching up an actor from the stage and raising him [to this platform], and, by means of an arrangement of ropes and pulleys, Bellerophon or Trygæus could fly across the stage. Then there was a contrivance for imitating the sound of thunder. It seems to have consisted of bladders full of pebbles, which were rolled over sheets of copper. Again, the appearance of lightning was produced by means of a periaktus, or triangular prism of mirrors. it may be inferred, too, that the orchestra near the stage was occasionally supposed to represent water. Thus in the Frogs, Bacchus rows to the melodious croakings of the chorus which swims around his boat. From the enormous size of the theatre at Athens, which is said to have contained 30,000 spectators, it became necessary to employ the principles of acoustics to a considerable extent. All round the cavea were bell-shaped vessels of bronze, placed in an inverted position, and resting on pedestals, which received and distributed the vibrations of sound. In some theatres, though not in that of Athens, these were placed in niches excavated for the purpose. The difficulty of hearing must have been greatly increased by the want of a roof to the cavea.
The chorus was supposed to be a lochus of soldiers in battle array. In the dithyrambic or cyclic chorus of fifty, this military arrangement was not practicable; but when the original choral elements had become more deeply enrooted in the worship of Bacchus, and the three principal Apollonian dances were transferred to the worship of that god, the dramatic choruses became, like them, quadrangular, and were arranged in military rank and file. The number of the tragic chorus for the whole trilogy appears to have been 50; the comic chorus consisted of 24. The chorus of the tetralogy was broken into four sub-choruses, two of 15, one of 12, and a satyric chorus of 8, as appears from the distribution in the remaining trilogy.... The same military origin explains the fact that the anapæstic measure was generally, if not always, adopted for the opening choral song; for this metre ... was also used in the Dorian marching-songs. The muster of the chorus round the Thymele shows that the chorus was Bacchic as well as military; the mixture of lyric and flute music points to the same union of two worships; and in the strophic and antistrophic form of most of the choral odes we discern the traces of the choral improvements of Stesichorus.
In the life of antiquity, every thing great and important, all the main actions of family or political interest, passed in the open air and in the view of men. Even social meetings took place rather in public halls, in market-places and streets, than in rooms and chambers; and the habits and actions, which were confined to the interior of a house, were never regarded as forming subjects for public observation. Accordingly, it was necessary that the action of the drama should come forth from the interior of the house; and tragic poets were compelled to comply strictly with this condition in the invention and plan of their dramatic compositions. The heroic personages, when about to give utterance to their thoughts and feelings, came forth into the court in front of their houses. From the other side came the chorus, out of the city or district in which the principal persons dwelt; they assembled, as friends or neighbors might, to offer their counsel or their sympathy to the principal actors on the stage, on some open space; often a market-place designed for public meetings; such as, in the monarchical times of Greece, was commonly attached to the prince's palace. Far from shocking received notions, the performance of choral dances in this place was quite in accordance with Greek usages. Anciently these market-places were specially designed for numerous popular choruses; they even themselves bore the name of chorus. As regards the chorus itself, considered in the light of an element of the drama, we must conceive of it, with Schlegel, as the personification of the thought inspired by the represented action; in other words, it often expresses the reflections of a dispassionate and right-minded spectator, and inculcates the lessons of morality and resignation to the will of heaven, taught by the occurrences of the piece in which it is engaged. Besides this, the chorus enabled the poet to produce an image of the "council of elders," which existed under the heroic governments, and under whose advice and in whose presence the ancient princes of the Greek tragedy generally acted. This image was the more striking and vivid, inasmuch as the chorus was taken from the people at large, and did not at all differ from the appearance and stature of ordinary men; so that the contrast or relation between them and the actors [was striking]. Lastly, the choral songs produced an agreeable pause in the action, breaking the piece into parts, while they presented to the spectator a lyrical and musical expression of his own emotions, or suggested to him lofty thoughts and great arguments. As Schlegel says, the chorus was the spectator idealized.
The great size of the theatre gave occasion to another remarkable difference between the exhibitions of the ancients and our own. Every one of the actors in tragedy wore the thick-soled cothrunus or hunting-boot. This gave additional height to the person, while his body and limbs were also stuffed and padded to a corresponding size, and his head was surmounted by a colossal mask suited to the character which he bore. Masks appear to have originated in the taste for mumming and disguises of all sorts prevalent at the Bacchic festivals. In the earlier periods of the drama, as we have already seen, the actors smeared their faces with the lees of wine, then substituted a species of pigment, and subsequently adopted a mask of linen. The regular mask was introduced by Aeschylus, and still farther improved by Sophocles. With regard to the material of which it was composed, a difference of opinion exists. According to some, it was made of bronze or copper. This, however, is scarcely credible, since, when taken in connection with the other parts of the mask, which actually covered the whole head and came down as far as the shoulders, it would make the entire apparatus too unwieldy. According to others, the part which covered the face was of a light kind of wood, which seems the more reasonable opinion. Others are in favor of thin pipe-clay or terra cotta. One thing is pretty certain, that such metallic specimens as have come down to us are rather to be regarded simply as model masks, or as works of art, designed by the artist as mere ornaments.
The ancient mask was so constructed as not only to add to the height of the actor, but also to give greater power to the voice. The first of these objects was effected by means of a species of top-knot, forming a prolongation of the mask, the hair being arranged in a pyramidal form, like the roof of a house ... and having sometimes a bonnet superadded. For the purpose, again, of giving more power to the voice, the mask was connected with a tire or periwig, which covered the whole head, and left only one passage for the voice, indicated by the half-opened mouth, and answering, in fact, all the ends of a speaking-trumpet, whence the Latin name for a mask, persona a personando.
The mask not only concealed the individual features of well-known actors, and enabled the spectators entirely to forget the performer in his part, but it gave to his whole aspect that ideal character which the tragedy of antiquity demanded, the tragic mask was not, indeed, intentionally ugly and caricatured, like the comic, but the half-open mouth, the large eye-sockets, the sharply-defined features, in which every characteristic was presented in its utmost strength, the bright and hard coloring, were calculated to produce the impression of a being agitated by the emotions and the passions of human nature in a degree far above the standard of ordinary life. The unnatural effect which a set and uniform cast of features would produce in tragedy of varied passion and action like ours, was much less striking in ancient tragedy, wherein the principal persons, once forcibly possessed by certain objects and emotions, appeared throughout the whole remaining piece in a state of mind which was become the habitual and fundamental character of their existence. It is possible to imagine the Orestes of Aeschylus, the Ajax of Sophocles, the Medea of Euripides, throughout the whole tragedy with the same countenance, though this would be difficult to assert of Hamlet, or any other character in a modern drama. But, in truth, there is no necessity for supposing that the actors appeared throughout a whole play with the same countenance, for, if circumstances required it, they might surely change masks during the intervals between the acts of a piece. Thus, in the tragedy of Sophocles, after King Oedipus knows the extent of his calamity, and has executed the bloody punishment upon himself, he appeared in a different mask from that which he wore in the confidence of virtue and of happiness.
Not only, however, were the masks intended to personify historical or mythological personages, designed in imitation of some well-known type, handed down through the ages by the poets, painters, and sculptors, but every age and condition of life, from youth to decrepitude, or from the hero to the slave, was represented by an appropriate mask, the characteristics of which were sufficiently well known for the quality and condition of the personage represented to be immediately recognized by the spectators on his appearance upon the stage ... each particular mask [even] had a settled style of coiffure, as well known as the features it accompanied. The color of the hair, also, was fixed in each particular case. No wonder, therefore, that the greatest possible care was bestowed upon the manufacture of masks. Julius Pollux divides the tragic masks into twenty-six classes; the comic masks, however, were much more numerous.
The performers wore long striped garments reaching to the ground, which were serviceable also in concealing a portion of the cothurnus. Over these were thrown upper robes of purple, or some other brilliant color, with all sorts of gay trimmings and gold ornaments, the ordinary attire of Bacchic festal processions and choral dances. Nor was the Hercules of the stage represented as the sturdy athletic hero, whose huge limbs were only concealed by a lion's hide; he appeared in the rich and gaudy dress we have described, to which his distinctive attributes, the club and the bow, were merely added. The dress of the chorus was not different in kind from that of the actors, and the choragus took care that it was equally splendid. But as the actors represented heroic characters, whereas the chorus was merely a deputation from the people at large, and in fact stood much nearer to the audience, the mask was omitted, and moreover, while the actors wore the cothurnus, the chorus appeared in their usual sandals. The comic actors, for the same reason, were content with the soccus, or thin-soled shoe. They often, too, wore harlequinade dresses, with trowsers fitting close to the leg.
Aristotle, or the grammarian by whom his treatise on Poetry has been interpolated, informs us that every Greek tragedy admitted of the following subdivisions: the prologue, the episodes, the exode, which applied to the performance of the actors, and the paradus and stasima, which belonged to the chorus. The songs from the stage, and the dirges, are peculiar to some tragedies only. Besides these, it seems that there was occasionally a dancing song or canzonet of a peculiar nature. The proper entrance of the chorus, as already remarked, was from the parascenia, by one of the parodi. The parodus was the song which the choreutæ sang as they moved, probably in different parties, along the side entrances of the orchestra. It was generally either interspersed with anapæsts, as is the case in the Antigone; or preceded by a long anapæstic march, as in the case of the Supplices and Agamemnon. Sometimes this anapæstic march was followed by a system of the cognate Ionics a minore. This we find in the Persæ. In some tragedies there was no parodus, but the opening of the play found the chorus already assembled on the thymele, and prepared to sing the first stasimon. Such is the case in the Oedipus Tyrannus. It seems probable that they then entered by the passage under the seats.
The stasima were always sung by the chorus when it was either stationary or moving on the same limited surface around the altar of Bacchus, and with its front to the stage. The places of the choreutæ were marked by lines on the stage. The comic chorus sang its parodus and its stasima in the same manner as the tragic; but they were, as pieces of poetry, much less elaborate, and generally much shorter. The main performance of the chorus in comedy was the parabasis. It was an address to the audience in the middle of the play, and was the most immediate representative of the old trochaic or anapestic address by the leader of the phallic song, for which the personal lampoons of Archilochus furnished the model, and to which the old comedy of Athens was mainly indebted for its origin. This parabasis, or "countermarch," was so called because the chorus, which had previously stood facing the stage, and on the other side of the central altar, wheeled about, and made a movement toward the spectators, who were then addressed by the coryphæus in a short system of anapæsts or trochees ... and this was followed by a long anapæstic system, termed "suffocation," or "long," from the effort which its delivery imposed upon the reciter. The parabasis is often followed by a lyric song in honor of some divinity, and this by a short system, properly of sixteen trochaic tetrameters, which is called "supplement." It contains some joking addition to the main purport of the parabasis.
There were regularly never more than three actors, who were designated as respectively the first, second, and third actor. The third actor in tragedy ... was first added by Sophocles, an addition which Cratinus was the first to make in comedy. Any number of mutes might appear on the stage. If children were introduced as speaking or singing on the stage, the part was undertaken by one of the chorus, who stood behind the scene.... It has been concluded by Müller, that a fourth actor was indispensable to the proper performance of the Oedipus Coloneus, an opinion which, though opposed by some eminent scholars, seems extremely probable.
The narrowness and distance of the stage rendered any grouping unadvisable. The arrangement of the actors was that of processional bas-relief. Their movements were slow, their gesticulations abrupt and angular, and their delivery a sort of loud and deep-drawn sing-song, which resounded throughout the immense theatre. They probably neglected every thing like by-play, and making points, which are so effective on the modern stage. The distance at which the spectators were placed would prevent them from seeing those little movements, and hearing those low tones which have made the fortune of many a modern actor. The mask, too, precluded all attempts at varied expression, and it is probable that nothing more was expected from the performer than was looked for from his predecessor the rhapsodist, namely, good recitation.
The rhythmical systems of the tragic choruses were very simple, and we may conclude that the music to which they were set was equally so. The dochmiac metre ... would admit of the most inartificial of plaintive melodies. The comic choral songs very frequently introduce the easy asynartete combinations, which were so much used by Archilochus; and we find in Aristophanes a very curious form of the antispastic metre, the invention of which is attributed to Eupolis.
We shall conclude with a few observations on the audience, and on the social position of the actors. For the first few years after the commencement of theatrical performances no money was paid for admission to them; but after a time (probably about B.C. 501) it was found convenient to prevent the crowds and disturbances occasioned by the gratuitous admission of every one who chose to come. The charge was two oboli; but lest the poorer classes should be excluded, the entrance-money was given to any person who might choose to apply for it, provided his name was registered in the book of the citizens. The lowest and best seats were set apart for the magistrates, the members of the senate, and all such persons as had acquired or inherited a right to front seats. It is probable that those who were entitled to reserved places at the theatre had also tickets of admission provided for them. The entrance money was paid to the lessee of the theatre, who paid the rent and made the necessary repairs out of the proceeds. The distribution of the admission money out of the public funds, was set on foot by Pericles, at the suggestion of Demonides of Œa; its application was soon extended, till it became a regular largess from the demagogues to the mob at all the great festivals; and well might the patriot Demosthenes lift up his voice against a practice, which was in the end nothing but an instrument in the hands of the profligate orators, who pandered to the worst passions of the people.
The lessee sometimes gave a gratuitous exhibition, in which case tickets of admission were distributed. Any citizen might buy tickets for a stranger residing at Athens. The question whether in Greece, and more especially at Athens, women were present at tragedies, is one of those which have given rise to much discussion among modern scholars, as we have scarcely any passage in ancient writers in which the presence of women is stated as a positive fact. But Jacobs and Passow have placed it almost beyond a doubt, from the various allusions made by ancient writers, that women were allowed to be present during the performance of tragedies. This opinion is now perfectly confirmed by a passage in Athenæus, which has been quoted by Becker in corroboration of the conclusion to which the above-mentioned scholars had come. We have, however, on the other hand, every reason to believe that women were not present at comedies, while boys might be present both at tragedy and comedy. The seats which women occupied in the Greek theatres were in the highest row of benches, and separated from those of the men.
Theatrical representations at Athens began early in the morning, or after breakfast; and when the concourse of people was expected to be great, persons would even go to occupy their seats in the night. The theatres had no roofs. The sun, however, could not be very troublesome to the actors, as they were in a great measure protected by the buildings surrounding the stage, and the spectators protected themselves against it by hats with broad brims. When the weather was fine, especially at the Dionysiac festivals in the spring, the people appeared with garlands on their heads; when it was cold, as at the Lenæa in January, they used to wrap themselves up in their cloaks. When a storm or a shower of rain came on suddenly, the spectators took refuge in the porticoes behind the stage, or in those above the uppermost row of benches. Those who wished to sit comfortably brought cushions with them. As it was not unusual for the theatrical performances to last from ten to twelve hours, the spectators required refreshments, and we find that, in the intervals between the several plays, they used to take wine and cakes.
The Athenian performers were much esteemed all over Greece; they took great pains about their bodily exercises, and dieted themselves in order to keep their voices clear and strong. They appear to have been generally paid by the state.... The salary of actors was often very high, and Polus, who commonly acted with Tlepolemus in the plays of Sophocles, sometimes earned a talent by two days' performances. The histrionic profession was not thought to carry with it any degradation. The actor was the representative of the dramatist, and often the dramatist himself. Sophocles, who sometimes performed in his own plays, was a person of the highest consideration; the actor Aristodemus went on an embassy, and many actors took a lead in the public assembly. In some cases, the actors were not only recognized by the state, but controlled and directed by special enactments. Thus, according to the law brought forward by the orator Lycurgus, the actors were obliged to compare the acting copies of the plays of the three great tragedians with the authentic manuscripts of their works, preserved in the state archives; and it was the duty of the public secretary to see that the texts were accurately collated.
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