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ASCI

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Originally appearing in Volume V26, Page 731 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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ASCI.EPIEION ee, Ar'" 41E41 9 a INirew A GREEK theatre was planned according to Vitruvius. 730 orchestra, which may be supposed to have been used for the appearance of actors (e.g. as ghosts) in the orchestra: they do not exist, however, at Athens or Epidaurus, so that no general argument can be founded on their remains. The stage buildings of the earliest Greek theatres have been destroyed save for the foundations and architectural fragments, and the interpretation of their remains presents a difficult problem. Whether built on level ground or (as at Sicyon and elsewhere) excavated in rock or earth they consisted of a rectangular structure two stories high, usually with projecting side wings (aapaoin'vca). Between these wings was the irpooxiwcov (stage), which at Athens and indeed in all early theatres was built of wood, but was after-wards reconstructed in stone, with a front formed by a row of columns from 10 to 13 ft. high; its depth varied from 8 to toe ft. It has been argued by Dorpfeld that the arpos n)vcov was not a stage, but a background, which could be characterized as a palace, temple, &c., by means of painted insane-s set up in the intervals between the columns, and that throughout the history of the Greek drama actors as well as chorus performed in the orchestra. This theory has been supported by arguments drawn from passages of the classical dramatists, which seem to imply that actors and chorus were on the same level, and by a priori considerations regarding the unfitness of so high and narrow a platform, unconnected with the orchestra by stairs (except such temporary wooden steps as may have left no trace in extant remains), for a stage. But these arguments are outweighed by the positive testimony of ancient writers and inscriptions that the actors in the Greek drama mounted on a platform (or:pidas) which was also called the XoyeIov (" speaking-place "), and the description of the Greek theatre by Vitruvius, who tells us that the Xoysiov (Lat. pulpitum) was narrower than that of the Roman theatre, and was from 10 to 12 ft. high. Moreover the background afforded by the Hellenistic irpoo-in i' a would have been diminutive in its proportions—it must be remembered that Greek actors stood some 6 ft. 6 in. high when wearing the cothurnus and tragic mask—and quite unlike a palace or temple. They never have more than one doorway in the centre, though Vitruvius prescribes three, and in some theatres (where the stage-buildings were partly excavated) there are no rooms at the back of them, but either virgin rock or earth. We may therefore dismiss Dt'rpfeld's theory: but it is more than probable that the wooden stage of the 5th century B.C. was much lower than that of Hellenistic times, when the chorus had either disappeared from dramatic performances or performed musical interludes unconnected with the action of the play. Horace, in fact, says of Aeschylus: " Aeschylus . . . modicis instravit pulpita tignis," and doubtless preserves a fragment of genuine tradition. When chorus and actors came into contact, wooden steps could be used, and that such were employed even in the later drama is proved by the evidence of South Italian vase-paintings which represent the Phylakes or burlesques popular at Tarentum. The facade of the O-KnVii furnished an architectural background, and this was supplemented by painted scenery, which, according to Aristotle, was introduced by Sophocles: Vitruvius, however, tells us that the first scene-painter, Agatharchus, worked for Aeschylus. In their days the oKojv$ was, of course, a mere booth. Changes of scene were very rare—there are only two in the extant classical tragedies—and were brought about by the use of revolving prisms (irepiaKroc). Other appliances used in the Greek drama were the iK,< Xt0p.a, a low platform on rollers which was pushed forward in order to show an action supposed to take place in the interior of the oKTpii (the scene in a Greek play was always laid in the open air), and the p,7Xavii, a crane by which an actor representing a god could be suspended in mid-air (hence the phrase dens ex machina). In the upper part of the eKrwit was a balcony called the SeoTEyia (" second story "), and at the top a narrow platform called the OeoXoyeiov, upon which gods supposed to be stationary in heaven could appear. Ghosts ascending from the underworld mounted the Xapwcoc KXiµasES, whose position is uncertain. The ,Spovrddov was a machine for imitating thunder by means of stones rolled in metal jars. It is far from certain whether a drop-scene was used in the classical period of the Greek drama; in later times and in the Roman theatre a curtain (at), aia, Lat. aulaea, siparium) was let down into a narrow slit in front of the stage before the play began and drawn up at the end. It has been mentioned above that in the later Hellenistic theatres the stage was made broader, lower and deeper, and in the Roman theatre, the principle of whose construction, as explaided by Vitruvius, is illustrated by fig. 3, the orchestra is reduced to a semi-circle (acd). The line of is that of the background (scenae irons) and its limits are those of the caved or auditorium. The Romans, by their use of the arch in construction and also of concrete for vaulting, were enabled to erect theatres on level ground, such as the Campus Martius at Rome, where an elaborate structure, usually in three stories of arcades,' took the place of Vitruvius prescribes for the Roman theatre a portico running round the interior of the auditorium on the level of the topmost row of seats; remains of such a portico (or, as at Aspendus, of a series of arcades) can sometimes be traced.the natural hill-slope of Greek theatres. The Roman theatre thus became an organic whole; the auditorium and stage-buildings were structurally connected, and the orchestra was entered from the wings, not by open passages (irapo oi) as in Greece, but by vaulted corridors. The orchestra was no longer used for the performances (whether dramatic, musical or merely spectacular), but was reserved for senators and other persons of distinction. Hence (as Vitruvius points out) arose the necessity for lowering and enlarging the stage. It is hard to say when this change was made' or at what date it was first introduced into Italy (if it did not originate in the west). The larger of the two theatres at Pompeii dates from the Hellenistic period, but was thrice reconstructed, and it is not clear to what date we are to assign the low stage of Roman pattern; possibly it belongs to the earliest period of the Roman colony at Pompeii founded by Sulla (B.c. 8o). The theatre of Pompey (see below) is said by Plutarch to have been copied from that of Mytilene, which suggests that the Roman theatre was de-rived from a late Greek model; and this is made probable by the existence of transitional forms. During the Republican period the erection of permanent theatres with seats for the spectators was thought to savour of Greek luxury and to be unworthy of the stern simplicity of the Roman citizens. Thus in 154 B.C. Scipio Nasica induced the senate to demolish the first stone theatre which had been begun by C. Cassius Longinus (" tanquam inutile et nociturum AMbb& ARM& ROMAN theatre was planned according to Vitruvius. publicis moribus," Liv. Epit. 48). Even in 55 B.C., when Pompey began the theatre of which remains still exist in Rome, he thought it wise to place a shrine to Venus Victrix at the top of the cavea, as a sort of excuse for having stone seats below it—the seats theoretically serving as steps to reach the temple: This theatre, which was completed in 52 B.C., is spoken of by Vitruvius as " the stone theatre " par excellence: it is said by Pliny to have held 40,000 people .2 It was also used as an amphitheatre for the bloody shows in which the Romans took greater pleasure than in the purer intellectual enjoyment of the drama. At its inauguration 500 lions and 20 elephants were killed by gladiators. Near it two other theatres were erected, one begun by Julius Caesar and finished by Augustus in 13 B.C., under the name of his nephew Marcellus,3 and another built about the same date by Cornelius Balbus (Suet. Aug. 29; Pliny, H. N. xxxvi. 59). Scanty remains exist of this last theatre, but the ruins of the theatre of Marcellus are among the most imposing of the buildings of ancient Rome. A long account is given by Pliny (H. N. xxxvi. 5 and 114) of a most magnificent temporary theatre built by the aedile M. Aemilius Scaurus in 58 B.c. It is said to have held the in-credible number of 8o,000 people, and was a work of the most costly splendour. Still less credible is the account which Pliny gives (H. N. xxxvi. 116) of two wooden theatres built by C. Curio in 50 B.C., which were made to revolve on pivots, so that the two together could form an amphitheatre in the after-noon, after having been used as two separate theatres in the morning. All Roman provincial towns of any importance possessed at least one theatre; many of these are partly preserved. On 2 Huelsen has shown that this statement is exaggerated, and estimates the number of spectators at 9000 to 10,000. 3 According to Livy (xl. 51), the theatre of Marcellus was built on the site of an earlier one erected by A.emilius Lepidus. P1. II. will be found reproductions of two of the most important —that of Aspendus in Pamphylia, which illustrates the Eastern type showing Hellenistic influence, and that of Arausio (Orange) in South Gaul. Covered theatres were sometimes built, whether on account of climatic conditions (as at Aosta) or more commonly for musical performances. These latter were generally called Odea (Gr. r,A€lov, a place for singing). The best preserved is the Odeum of Herodes Atticus, at the south-west angle of the Athenian Acropolis, which has a semicircular orchestra. It was built in the reign of Hadrian by Herodes Atticus,' a very wealthy Greek, who spent enormous sums in beautifying the city of Athens, in honour of his wife Regilla. Its cavea, which is excavated in the rock, held about 6000 people; it was connected with the great Dionysiac theatre by a long and lofty porticus or stoa, of which considerable remains still exist, probably a late restoration of the stoa built by Eumenes II. of Pergamum. It was also a common practice to build a small covered theatre in the neighbourhood of an open one, where performances might take place in bad weather. We have an example of this at Pompeii. The Romans used scenery and stage effects of more elaboration than was the custom in Greece. Vitruvius (iii. 7) mentions three sorts of movable scenery:-(1) for the tragic drama, facades with columns representing public buildings; (2) for comic plays, private houses with practicable windows and balconies; 2 and (3) for the satyric drama, rustic scenes, with mountains, caverns and trees.
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