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The Embodied Space: Performance and Visual Cognition at the Fifth Century Athenian Theatre

Nina C. Coppolino, editor
New England Classical Journal 39.1 (2012) 3-46
The Embodied Space: Performance and Visual
Cognition at the Fifth Century Athenian Theatre
Peter Meineck
New York University
Over the past twenty to thirty years there has been a major shift in
scholarly opinion regarding the form of the fifth century Athenian
theatre. New appraisals of epigraphic, archaeological and literary
sources have seriously challenged the prevailing view that the theatre space
of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes was a large (16,000
seats plus) venue that bordered a circular playing space. Available evidence
instead indicates that the theatre was a temporary wooden structure of no
more that 5000-6000 seats with a rectilinear orchestra.1 These arguments
are by now well known to specialists in the field with the debate about the
shape of the orchestra dating back to the work of Carlo Anti in 1947 and
Elizabeth Gebhard in 1974 and forming an important part of the work of
David Wiles in 1997.2 Despite this, most people still imagine the Greek
theatre space as a vast stone, beautifully proportioned edifice—an “inward
facing circle”3 where the demos could all gather to watch productions and
each other, with the dramas performed there part of a great self-conscious
display of what Simon Goldhill famously termed “civic ideology.”4
Most have viewed the Athenian performance space in modern terms—
as a playhouse—a structure built to house audiences watching plays rather
than a viewing place (theatron) erected at the terminus of a great ritual
1 Most recently see Eric Csapo, “The Men Who Built the Theaters: Theatropolai,
Theatronai, and Arkhitektones” in P. Wilson, ed., The Greek Theatre and Festivals:
Documentary Studies, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007; David Roselli, Theater
of the People: Spectators and Society in Ancient Athens, Austin, TX: University of Texas
Press, 2011; Jessica Paga, “Mapping Politics: An Investigation of Deme Theatres
in the Fifth and Fourth Centuries B.C.E,” Hesperia 79, 2007, pp. 351-84; and G. K.
Bosher, Theatre on the Periphery: A Social and Political History of Theater in Early Sicily,
Ph.D. thesis, The University of Michigan, 2006.
2 Carlo Anti, Teatri greci arcaici da Minosse a Pericle, Le Tre Venezie: Padova,
1947; Elizabeth Gebhard, “The Form of the Orchestra in the Early Greek Theater,”
Hesperia, vol. 43, no. 4, 1974, pp. 428-40; David Wiles, Tragedy in Athens: Performance
Space and Theatrical Meaning, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
3 Joshia Ober, Democracy and Knowledge: Innovation and Learning in Classical
Athens, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008, pp. 199-20.
4 Simon Goldhill, “The Great Dionysia and Civic Ideology” in The Journal of
Hellenic Studies, cvii, 1987, pp. 58-76.
procession, for spectators to watch performances of dance, music and
spoken word. Consequently, attending performances at the City Dionysia
in the fifth century was nothing like being seated in a modern theatre,
where the audience is normally completely removed from any external
visual or audible distraction, and placed in a darkened auditorium with its
gaze focused on a stage manipulated by artificial lighting. On the contrary,
Athenian fifth century drama was a multisensory experience set within
the context of a major festival incorporating the physical open-air setting
that overlooked the Sanctuary of Dionysos, the southern city, country,
sea and sky beyond. This setting was not the design of an architectural
plan, but rather the result of the development of pre-existing choral and
processional performance forms which were incorporated into a new civic
festival, the City Dionysia, around 530 BCE. At that time, the Sanctuary of
Dionysos Eleuthereus was deliberately established on the southeast slope
of the Acropolis in Athens as an environmental “seeing place” (theatron)
where large numbers could observe the performances and sacrifices held
to honor the god. But their view was not restricted to the events staged in
the performance space and sanctuary. Instead the spectator who had come
to this new state sanctioned theoria (“spectacle festival”) was placed in a
direct visual relationship with the topography of Athens and the landscape
of Attica—a place where the religious, political and personal were
dynamically embodied by the dance, music and drama presented there.
The purpose of this paper is to define the fifth century performance
space within the wider contexts of its visual and festival environments.
By applying new research drawn from the affective sciences, particularly
those focused on visual cognition, I also re-examine the constituent
parts—theatron, orchestra, eisodoi, skene—to analyze how they functioned
in performance from the perspective of the spectator. With the reception
of masked performance in mind, I am suggesting that this theatre space
created a frontal relationship between audience and actor that was essential
for the successful transmission of intense emotionality and detailed
narrative action and provided the spatial elements necessary for the
masked, movement-based performance of music, speech and song. These
components set in this space powerfully provided an embodied cognitive
relationship between performer and spectator.
A recently reconstructed plan by Goette provides an excellent model
of how the fifth century performance space might have appeared (Fig. 1).5
We see a temporary wooden theatron forming a pi-shape on three sides
bounding a rectilinear orchestra that extends no further up the hill than the
rock cutting unearthed by Dorpfed in the 1890’s and two wells beyond.
Goette suggests a capacity of around 5-6000.
5 Hans R. Goette, “Archaeological Appendix” in P. Wilson, ed., The Greek Theatre
and Festivals: Documentary Studies, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.
1-3: late Archaic terrace wall: 1: wall SM4; 2: wall SM2; 3: wall SM1
4: water channel (drainage for the orchestra)
5: prohedria
6: Odeion of Pericles
7: rock cutting for theatre access (or foundation for back wall of theatre)
8: two wells belonging to a house
9: ancient road (later Peripatos)
10: reconstructed theatron of the Classical theatre
11: reconstructed skene of the Classical theatre
12: outline of the ‘Lykurgan’ theatron
13: entry points of the Peripatos
14: choregic monument of Thrasyllos (320/19 BC) at the ‘katatome’
Fig.1. Reconstructed plan of the Classical Theatre of Dionysos
suggested by Hans Goette. Courtesy of Oxford University Press.
There are some problems, however, with Goette’s reconstruction. He lays
his rectilinear theatron directly over the site of the later Lycurgan curvilinear
stone structure, placing the audience on three sides of a rectangular
orchestra 78 feet wide and 65 feet deep, bordered by a large skene on the
southern edge. This seems too small, at least to accommodate the 50 strong
choruses of the Dithyramb. We can be almost certain that if the orchestra
was not circular then the Dithyramb itself was a circle dance—and fifty
adult dancers each need at least five feet of space each in order to dance,
either linking hands or not, but at least not knocking into each other. This
gives us a circumference of 250 feet and a diameter of 80 feet-larger than
the size suggested Goette.6 These dimensions for an orchestra could be
achieved if the theatron had more of a frontal aspect, which would better
suit masked performance, and the skene was smaller and sited adjacent to
the retaining wall, facilitating cover for actors entering and exiting off-stage
from audience sight lines. This arrangement, with far fewer, if any, seats
on the two sides would provide the kind of orchestra space necessary for
a Dithryrambic circle dance.7 We should also take into consideration the
difficulty of building up ikria (benches) out from the gentle curve of the
Acropolis southeastern cavea, and the fact that the site has been reworked
so many times that we are unable to know what the hillside actually
looked like around 530 BCE. To be sure, flanking bleachers would have
required considerable support, perhaps too much to render them both solid
and temporary, and we do hear of ikria collapsing in several late sources.
Certainly all the other fifth century remains of Attic deme theatres such as
the Theatre at Thorikos (Fig. 2) follow a similar plan with predominantly
frontal seating, as does the sixth century performance space at Argos, (Fig.
3) the oldest surviving theatre in Greece.
Without the evidence of fifth century post-holes built to receive the
timbers for the erection of the wooden benches (ikria) that comprised
the theatron, we may never know the exact relationship between actor
and audience, but the fact that all of the plays were performed in masks
certainly supports the theory that until the introduction of curvilinear stone
theatres in the late fourth century, theatres were predominantly frontal. All
tragedy, comedy and Satyr drama was performed in masks, and masked
acting favors frontal engagement.8 This is important when considering the
effectiveness of the mask in performance: when manipulated properly the
Greek mask was capable of displaying at least the six “basic emotions” as
defined by Ekman—fear, joy, sadness, disgust, surprise and anger—and
many more when coordinated with words and music. 9 Of course, the mask
itself does not alter. It is the visual cognitive process of the viewer that
perceives that the mask’s facial expression is changing. All of this emotional
range from a mask is possible if the actor wearing it faces the front most of
6 Alan H. Sommerstein (Aeschylean Tragedy. Second edition, London: Duckworth,
2010, p. 36) has suggested that an orchestra would need to be around 50 feet deep
to be able to accommodate a dithyrambic chorus. I think he is underestimating the
space needed for each individual chorus member to move.
7 For the origins of the Dithyramb and its roots in processional drama see
Matthias Steinhart, “From Ritual to Narrative” in Eric Csapo and Margaret C.
Miller, edd., The Origins of Theater in Ancient Greece and Beyond: From Ritual to Drama,
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007, pp. 196-220.
8 Peter Meineck, “The Neuroscience of the Tragic Mask,” Arion, 19.1, 2011, pp.
9 Paul Ekman and Wallace V. Friesen, Unmasking the Face: a guide to recognizing
emotions in the human face, Emotion in the human face, Los Altos, CA: Malor Books,
Fig. 2. The Theatre at Thorikos in Southern Attica.
Note the frontal aspect of the theatron. Photo by the author.
Fig. 3. The Theatre at Argos. Note the frontal aspect of the seats. Photo by the author.
the time, since studies have shown that it is extremely difficult to perceive
the features of a human face at more than a three quarter turn.10 I have
found, however, that a masked actor can completely remove the mask-face
from view, but it can be only for a matter of seconds before it must again
emerge within the spectator’s visual field, and even then the body must
retain a tension implying that the character is still involved in the action.
Detailed experiments were carried out with masks made by David
Knezz based on my research for a production of Pirandello’s Six Characters
in Search of Author by Aquila Theatre in 2010 where the titular six characters
are masked. The production played a variety of theaters in the United
States, most large stages with auditoriums between 500-2000 seats. While
not the staging conditions of the fifth century space, in many places the
distance between actor and audience would have been similar to the 80-
100 feet between an actor before the skene and a spectator seated in the
theatron. And yet, it has recently been suggested that a mask cannot be
clearly seen in the open air at these kinds of distances and that only the
most basic of features such as gender, age, hair color, shape and skin tone
are apparent.11 On the contrary, in working with masks at ancient theaters
at Epiduaros, Delphi, Athens and Argos, I have found that a mask that
has been constructed based on evidence from fifth century vase painting
works exceptionally well.12 For the tragic mask to be effective in this
environment it does need to have certain features such as a high forehead,
large bottom lip, ambiguous smooth facial features around the eyes and
mouth, a precise paint job and expertly crafted head and facial hair. (Similar
features are found in traditional Japanese Noh masks although rendered in
a different aesthetic form). However, if the masked actor moves too quickly
the spectator’s perception of the mask as changing its emotional state is
completely lost. Equally, if it remained out of sight for too long (a matter of
5-7 seconds) then the character becomes “off-stage” and no longer engaged
in the action or “embodied” by the spectator. Conversely, the more bulbous,
extreme features of the comic mask seem to work differently, and rapid,
jerky movements actually enhance its expressiveness. Something of this
diversity in mask styles can be noted on the Pronomos Vase (Fig. 4) from c.
420-400, which depicts tragic actors and a satyr chorus. The actor identified
as Herakles holds a superb example of a fifth century tragic mask and
stands opposite Pappasilenos, whose mask is aged, deeply furrowed and
highly expressive. The satyr masks held by the chorus members are akin
to their tragic counterparts in size and form but possess some of the same
10 See Michael Spivey, The Continuity of Mind, New York: Oxford University
Press, 2007, pp. 214-15, fig. 8.5, “When a face or object is partly rotated away from
a canonical or frontal view, recognition or matching will generally take longer as a
function of how far it is rotated.”
11 Angeliki Varakis, “Body and Mask in Aristophanic Performance” in Bulletin of
the Institute of Classical Studies, 2011, p. 36.
12 See Meineck, 2011, in note 8, p. 118, fig. 5.3.
exaggerated features found on comedy masks. These distinct mask forms
give us some indication of the different performance and movement styles
among the three dramatic genres.
Fig 4. Detail of the Pronomos vase showing the Herakles and Papposilenos
performers, faces of two chorus members, and a female mask. Attic red-figured
volute krater by the Pronomos Painter, 425–375 bce. Museo Archeologico
Nazionale, Naples (NM 81673). Photo permission, Museo Archeologico
Nazionale Napoli.
The mask does not work in isolation. It is its relationship to the
performer’s body and the space it moves in, combined with the spectator ’s
own visual cognitive process, that can seem to bring it to startling life.
With this in mind, Giovanni Caputo has performed experiments where
participants observed a disembodied mask and then observed themselves
in a mirror while wearing it to establish at what point they reported a
sense of an “apparent life” in the mask. All those tested reported strongly
experiencing “apparent life” while looking at the worn mask, with a much
weaker or no response to the disembodied mask. Caputo posits that the
reason for this is that “binding between embodied-self (proprioceptive,
kinesthetic action, and motion information from the observer’s body)
and visual information (reflected-mask) can produce a temporary global
representation of the worn-mask as a living-self.”13 In effect, Caputo’s
participants became disembodied from themselves whilst wearing the
mask, and their cognitive systems began to interpret the entire masked
13 Giovanni B. Caputo, “Mask in the Mirror: The Living Mask Illusion” in
Perception, vol. 40, 2011, pp. 1261-64.
form shown in the mirror as another personage; they then cognitively
embodied what they perceived was a distinct persona from themselves. In
the same way, a spectator seated in the ancient theatron would have engaged
with the masked actor by perceiving his entire body in motion. Prompted
by gesture, blocking, narrative, music and the facial emotionality of the
mask, viewers would have had a fully “embodied” relationship with that
The affective sciences are currently developing models of dynamic
systems theories suggesting that embodiment is a key factor in human
cognition. Of particular interest has been the relationship of audiences to
live art forms involving empathy, emotionality, proprioception, speech,
music and visual perception. Michael Spivey has advanced a theory of
“continuity of mind” suggesting that the mind is in a state of perpetual
motion; rather than receiving individual stimuli and computing individual
interpretations, the brain embodies images, engaging its motor functions
as part of the entire cognitive process.14 Likewise, research into facial
processing of emotions reveals that humans mirror the expressions that
they perceive in others via micro expressions in their own faces and this
translates into physiological changes in temperature depending on airflow
to certain part of the brain and cognitive changes of mood.15 Such research
coming from the fields of neuroscience and cognitive psychology has
recently begun to be applied to performance studies in the works of Bruce
McConachie and Rhonda Blair who have both combined work on mirror
neurons, empathy and embodiment to explore audience reception and
acting techniques. 16 Additionally, for at least the past decade neuroscientists
have been probing the effects of music and brain activity, studies that might
reveal much about how the ancient audience responded to the music and
speech patters of drama. For example, Robert Zattore has recently identified
a close coupling of both auditory and motor channels in the brain while
it processes meter and rhythm, and has linked this with the process of
working memory.17
For all the excitement generated by these new studies, data from
the cognitive sciences are not unproblematic. As Spivey points out, “the
only non-dynamic retinal images in the world are ones concocted in the
cognitive psychologist’s laboratory.”18 These are not the ideal conditions to
14 Michael Spivey, 2007, see note 10.
15 Tom F. Price, Carly K. Peterson and Eddie Harmon-Jones, “The Emotive
Neuroscience of Embodiment” in Motivation and Emotion, Online First, November
10th 2011.
16 Bruce McConachie, Engaging Audiences, New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2008.
R. Blair, The Actor, Image and Action: Acting and Cognitive Neuroscience, New York:
Routledge, 2008.
17 Robert J. Zatorre, Joyce L. Chen and Virginia B. Penhune, “When the Brain
Plays Music: Auditory–motor Interactions in Music Perception and Production” in
Nature Reviews: Neuroscience, 8, July 2007,pp. 547-58.
18 Spivey, 2007, p. 209, see note 10 above.
evaluate the totally immersive experience of watching a play in the theatron
overlooking the Sanctuary of Dionysos Eleuthereus in the open air as part
of a huge public festival. Recent approaches, however, in perception studies
have sought to view the scientific data within a wider social context as
Ken Nakayama points out: “there is no doubt that vision is important for
our social life and it is clear that researchers have opened the door to get
some first glimpses of pertinent psychological and neural mechanisms.
We could be at the threshold of a new scientific adventure, part of a larger
effort to understand human beings, making full use of the natural and
social sciences.”19 If we add the study of humanities to this list, particularly
cultural studies, literature, material culture and anthropology, we may also
develop some new theoretical frameworks for investigating the ancient
The fifth century performance space was particularly attuned to the
creation of an embodied experience of drama by its dependence on the
mask, by the frontal orientation of the spectator’s space, by placing dance in
a privileged visual position supported by music and by fully incorporating
the surrounding physical environment on view. Due to the frontal
conditions of masked acting and the need to project the voice, scenes would
have been played on the “split-focus” where two actors faced out even
when engaged in character-to-character dialogue. (This also helps explain
the construction of agonal scenes where each character delivers a long
speech connected by a short choral comment and the line of line structure
of stichomythia). It is important to note that Greek masks at this time did
not have empty eye-sockets but contained whites (sclera) with small holes
that appeared as pupils to the observer. The masked character was therefore
in direct non-verbal, frontal, even eye-to-eye communication with each
and every spectator that gazed down from the theatron (viewing place).20
Gregory Nagy has compared this spectator-mask relationship to the inter-
subjectivity of language writing:
Just as subjectivity can be analyzed in terms of the person in grammar,
it can also be analyzed in terms of the persona in theater. When I say
persona, I mean not only a dramatic character . . . I mean also the
19 Ken Nakayama, “Vision Going Social” in Reginald B. Adams, Nalina
Ambady, Ken Nakayama and Shinsuke Shimojo, edd., The Science of Social Vision,
Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 2011, p. xxvii. See also Hyekyung Park
and Shinobu Kitayama (“Perceiving Through Culture: The Socialized Attention
Hypothesis” in Adams, Ambady, Nakayama and Shimojo, 2011, pp. 75-89, see this
note above) who set out a theoretical framework for socially embedded visual
cognition called the socialized attention hypothesis, where a variety of antecedent
conditions such as cultural traditions, ecology and settlement patterns influence
the degree of independence or interdependence which fosters differing attention
strategies that then necessitate a variety of perceptual consequences.
20 On gaze direction and the tragic mask, see Meineck, 2010, pp. 139-41, note 8
mask worn by the actor . . . In Latin the noun persona actually means
‘theatrical mask.’ And in Greek, the noun πρόσωπον (prosōpon)
likewise means ‘theatrical mask.’ More than that, Greek πρόσωπον
(prosōpon) refers not only to the persona in theater but also to the
person in grammar, whether it be the first or the second or the third
person. And the Greek theatrical mask, as indicated by the word
πρόσωπον (prosōpon), is a subjective agent, an ‘I’ who is looking for
a dialogue with a ‘you.’21
Nagy also points out that Dionysos is often portrayed in vase painting
as looking directly out at the observer, creating a one-to-one subjective
relationship (Fig. 5). The theatrical mask worked in a similar way. It is
noteworthy that the one form of performance at the City Dionysia that was
not masked, the Dithyramb, was staged in a circle with dancers probably
facing inward, thus direct frontal engagement does not seem to have been a
requirement of the Dithyrambic art form.22
Certainly, early dance-drama forms with far simpler narratives
performed for smaller audiences did not need a frontal space, e.g., venues
for early forms of Korean or Chinese masked performance were open-
air and involved audiences on all sides or in a circle. We can track the
development of a more complex narrative drama in certain masked drama
traditions that are still alive in India, China and Japan, where we see that
the performance spaces became frontal. The Kathakali space in India is a
raised stage before an audience seated entirely in front. In the Japanese Noh
theatre the raised square stage area is connected to a diagonal bridgeway
upstage house left called the Hashigakari. The main seating area, the
Shõmen, places the bulk of the audience directly in front of the stage where
they have the best view of the mask effects. A smaller section of seating,
called the Waki Shõmen, to the house left side of the stage, before the
bridgeway, affords a view of the back stage activity of the performance
and is a place where people connected with the production or those who
wished to be on view sat. In the Kabuki playhouse including the Kabuki-
Za Theatre in Tokyo the audience sits in the front and along the sides of the
auditorium in balconies, although not encroaching the sides of the stage.
Here, even from the side seating, there is a frontal engagement with the
characters on stage, except when they travel on the bridges that run into the
auditorium. Similarly, even when the Greek theatre developed into large
21 Gregory Nagy, “The Subjectivity of Fear as Reflected in Ancient Greek
Wording” in Dialogues 5, 2010, p. 37.
22 This is not to say the tragic, comic and satyr choruses always faced the front,
for they could offer a multiplicity of viewing opportunities to the entire audience
depending on how they were blocked or choreographed. Tragic choruses are
described as dancing in rows perhaps suggesting to the front engagement was
just as important when the chorus performed. See Claude Calame, Choruses of
Young Women in Ancient Greece: Their Morphology, Religious Role, and Social Function,
Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, New Revised Edition, 2001, pp. 34-5.
stone curvilinear spaces in the late fourth century the skene was still placed
upstage of the orchestra offering a frontal view of the masked actors who
performed there to all those seated in the three-quarter round of the circular
Fig. 5. Attic black figure column-krater 520-510 BCE depicting a mask of Dionysos
between two large eyes. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund
1906. 06.1021.101. Photo Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Locating the mask at the focal point of the ancient spectator’s visual
field has helped advance an argument for a frontal theatron in the fifth
century. Another key to analyzing the dramatic functionality of the Theatre
of Dionysos in the fifth century lies in understanding its development. In
fact it may be misleading to describe this performance space as “the Theatre
of Dionysosat all. The term applied to the Eleutherian space is not found
in fifth or fourth centuries. We do have an overt fifth century reference
to the orchestra at least from Andocides, who uses the term “Dionysio”
(the Dionysos place) to describe what is known today as “the Theatre of
Dionysos.”23 When there is a reference to “the theatre” in Aristophanes,
his characters say “before the theatron” (πρὸς τὸ θέατρον) and always
when they are directly addressing their spectators (Peace 735). This
strongly implies that when the Athenians and their guests attended the
performances staged at the City Dionysia or Leneaea, which I believe were
both held in the same space, they were sitting in a stand erected above the
sanctuary rather than visiting a separate “theatre” in the modern sense of
the term.24 Yet, even though the theatron looked directly over the sanctuary
the spectators were connected to a much wider environment present in
their wider visual field. Rehm has suggested that this performance space be
viewed in terms of “landscape architecture” in that it is composed of three
basic elements: the hillside of the Acropolis; a flat area (the orchestra); and
the skene.25 I would add one more essential element and suggest that the two
long wing entrances (the eisodoi) are vital to the form and function of the
plays, reflecting the influence of the procession on the structure of drama,
facilitating fluidity of action and connecting the performance space with its
surrounding environment and its views. Thus what we term “the Theatre
of Dionysos” was initially regarded in the fifth century more as a temporary
grandstand for gathering to watch a development of processional dramas
that had been “halted” to perform in the orchestra. The Sanctuary of
Dionysos is the terminal point of the procession; instead of comprehending
Greek drama as scenes interrupted by choral songs, we should in fact
reverse this polarity and envision scenes “erupting” from the processional
movement form provided by the chorus.26
The Sanctuary of Dionysos Eleuthereus was located at the foot of
a slight natural bowl (cavea) in the southeast slope of the Acropolis (Fig. 6),
though as stated above, this is now hard to determine as the rock face was
hollowed out in the Hellenistic period to accommodate more seats.
23 Andocides, On the Mysteries 38. The report of some 300 conspirators standing
in the orchestra has led some to consider this evidence for its size and shape. We
should, however, consider that the Mutilation of the Herms happened in the
summer, and if the theatron were still a temporary structure at this point, it would
have been long gone. Thucydides (8.93.1) does mention a “theatron of Dionysos” (τῇ
Μουνιχίᾳ Διονυσιακὸν θέατρον) but it is at Munychia, a hill in the Piraeus, not the
Acropolis in Athens.
24 The theatron may have been regarded as part of the sanctuary itself at this
time. Rush Rehm (The Play of Space: Spatial Transformation in Greek Tragedy, Princeton,
NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002, pp. 41-4) argues that there was a clear
separation between theatre and sanctuary, but he overestimates the need to use the
theatrical space for rehearsal prior to the festival, since its basic staging conditions
could easily be replicated elsewhere.
25 Rehm, 2002, pp. 37-8, see note 24 above.
26 On processional theatre and performance ‘eruptions” see Richard Schechner,
Performance Theory, New York/London: Routledge, Second Revised Edition, 2003,
pp. 153-86.
Fig 6. The Sanctuary of Dionysos Eleuthereus in Athens.
Photo by Fingalo. (Creative commons license)
The site was excavated and surveyed by Dörpfeld and Reisch in 1896,
and the earliest structure that has been found there is the small archaic
temple of Dionysos now generally dated to around 530 BCE. This temple
was fairly small (44’x26’) and consisted of a cella and pronaos with two
or four columns and it probably housed the cult statue of Dionysos.27
There is considerable debate as to the date of the other extant remains at
the site, which it has been generally agreed, all relate in some fashion to
a performance space. These are very small sections of walls; one of them
seems to arc in a slight curve. Dörpfeld believed that it formed part of the
retaining wall of a circular orchestra dating to the early fifth century, and
this identification became the prevailing view for much of the twentieth
century.28 In the late 1970’s Travlos challenged this theory and reconstructed
27 Ernst Robert Fiechter, Das Dionysos-Theater in Athen, III, Einzelheiten und
Baugeschichte Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer, 1936, pp. 66-7; John Travlos, Pictorial
Dictionary of Ancient Athens, New York: Praeger, 1971, p. 537; Manolis Korres,
Archaiologikon Deltion 37, 1982, “Chronika” pp. 15-18.” (1989), pp. 15-16.
28 J. C. Moretti (“The Theater of the Sanctuary of Dionysus Eleuthereus in
Late Fifth-Century Athens,” Illinois Classical Studies, 2000, vol. 24-5, pp. 392-95)
summarizes the arguments. For both Dörpfeld’s and Fiechter’s plans of the site see
Scott Scullion, Three Studies in Athenian Dramaturgy, Stuttgart: G.B. Teubner, 1994, p.
137, fig. 1 and p. 138, fig. 2.
SM1 (see Fig. 1) as part of a more gently arching curvilinear retaining wall,
and he still suggested, with no physical evidence at all, that a circular
orchestra was situated within it.29 More recently, the entire notion that SM1
has anything to do with a circular orchestra has been seriously challenged.30
So far no other remains have been identified as belonging to the sixth
century, although we might posit that there would also have been an altar
and some kind of boundary wall or markers that established the perimeter
of the sanctuary. There was probably not a sanctuary in this location prior
to the mid-sixth century, though the presence of natural springs in the area
(one of them significantly included in the design of the Asclepieion in the
420s) may be an indication that the area was long considered a “sacred”
We do not know if the southeast slope of the Acropolis was regarded
as sacred to Dionysos prior to the building of the temple there c. 530
BCE. Pausanias regarded the site as the “oldest shrine to Dionysos (τοῦ
Διονύσου δέ ἐστι πρὸς τῷ θεάτρῳ τὸ ἀρχαιότατον ἱερόν) in Athens but
was referring to the archaic temple of Dionysos, which in his day stood
next to a larger fourth-century structure.31 Demosthenes speaks of an older
shrine of Dionysos ἐν Λίμναις (of the marshes),32 and Thucydides places
this in the old southern city stating, ἐν Λίμναις Διονύσου, ᾧ τὰ ἀρχαιότερα
Διονύσια, that the “older Dionysia” was still celebrated there (in the last
quarter of the fifth century).33 Pollux is our only source that refers to another
Dionysian theatre and calls it the Lenaean; this may be too late to be of any
significant use and he may be simply confusing two different Dionysian
festivals, the Lenaea and the Dionysia with two distinct theatre spaces.34
Perhaps Dionysos’ association with “the marshes” is an expression of his
affiliation with liminal regions, borderlands, mountains, unsettled areas
and the countryside. The question remains open, although at some point it
seems as if both the Lenaea and the Dionysia were held at the sanctuary of
Dionysos Eleuthereus.35
Mountainsides and wild places are closely associated with the cult
of Dionysos, himself a god of marginal places. In Euripides’ Phoenissae
(227-235) the chorus sings of ὑπὲρ ἄκρων βακχειῶν Διονύσου, “the
frenzied heights of Dionysos,” and νιφόβολόν τ᾽ ὄρος ἱερόν “the sacred
29 Travlos, 1971, p. 537. See note 27 above.
30 Gebhard, 1974, pp. 428-40, see note 2 above; E. Pöhlmann, “Die Proedrie des
Dionysostheaters im 5. Jahrhundert und das Bühnenspiel der Klassik,”Museum
helveticum: Schweizerische Zeitschrift für klassische Altertumswissenschaft, 1981, vol. 38,
pp. 129-46; Moretti, 2000, see note 28 above; Goette, 2007, see note 5 above.
31 Pausanias 1.20.3.
32 Demosthenes Against Neaera 76.
33 Thucydides 2.15.4.
34 Pollux 4.121. On a possible Lenaean theatre see Carlo Ferdinando Russo,
Aristophanes, an Author for the Stage, London: New York: Routledge, 1994, pp. 1-32.
35 Niall W. Slater, “The Lenaean Theatre,” Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und
Epigraphik, 1986, vol. 66, pp. 255-64.
snow-capped mountain.” The mountainside is also invoked in Sophocles’
Antigone (1115-1154) where the chorus sings “σὲ δ᾽ ὑπὲρ διλόφου πέτρας
στέροψ ὄπωπε λιγνύς, of seeing Dionysos in the haze or torches on the
twin-crested rock or καί σε Νυσαίων ὀρέων κισσήρεις ὄχθαι χλωρά τ᾽ ἀκτὰ
πολυστάφυλος πέμπει, sent on by the ivy covered slopes of the Nysian
Mountains, pleading with Dionysos μολεῖν καθαρσίῳ ποδὶ Παρνασίαν
ὑπὲρ κλιτὺν, “to come with cathartic foot over the Parnassian slope.” And in
Euripides’ Bacchae, it is the mountain itself that becomes the extra-theatrical
stage for the wild ecstatic rites that Pentheus becomes obsessed with
witnessing. Dionysos is also closely associated with the mythical Mt. Nysa
in Asia Minor in the Iliad (6.130-135) and the Homeric Hymn to Dionysos
(1.1). While Dionysos is not the only god associated with the mountain and
shrines located on high points, the idea of the mountainside as a place of
isolation totally separate from the life of the polis or organized community
is particularly Dionysian. This certainly makes sense when looking for
Dionysos on the banks of the Athenian river Ilissos, since marshlands
can also be regarded as liminal places as strange and disorientating
environments that seem quite “otherworldly.” In a marsh even the ground
one walks on can give way to water at any moment.36 But what of a
sanctuary located in the heart of the polis in one of the most continually
inhabited parts of the city, the southeast slope of the Acropolis, in what way
could this space be described as liminal or “Dionysian?”
The architectural plan of the theatre space was far less important to
the original audience than its physical relationship to the hillside of the
Acropolis and the stunning views it offered the spectators who gathered
there. The Sanctuary of Dionysos Eleuthereus was always intended to be a
“seeing place” and was purposely sited there because it visually connected
the heart of civic and religious Athens with the Attica countryside beyond,
placing audiences within the extra-personal ambient space of distant
countryside, mountains, horizon and sky. Although it is difficult to get a
clear sense of the topography of the southeastern slope due to the many
earthworks that have been undertaken there, it is clear that there was
a shallow, natural cavea which offered some protection from the low
frequency ambient wind noise and provided a place where the slope of
the hillside could be raked to accommodate a large number of wooden
benches. Today it is still possible to get a sense of the vista offered from the
cavea by visiting the site; however, extensive modern urban development,
including the striking new Acropolis Museum and the planting of a row
of trees across from it, between the theatre and sanctuary, has severely
obscured the view from the lower seats. Yet, a photo of the Acropolis taken
36 The eponymous chorus of Aristophanes’ Frogs evokes the mystical qualities of
the marshes in their famous song as Dionysos and Xanthias cross the Styx (209-21).
For the division between city and country associated with the worship of Dionysos
see Albert Henrichs, “Why Should I Dance?: Choral Self-Referentiality in Greek
Tragedy,” Arion, 1990 vol. 3, no. 1, pp. 56-111.
from the southeast by Félix Bonfils dated to between 1868-1875 (Fig. 7)
shows how the Acropolis slopes would have offered incredible views across
southern Attica, even from the front row. Even with the use of the skene,
and assuming that the Lenaea festival was also held in this space, the view
provided the setting for nearly all the tragedies and comedies produced in
the fifth century.
Fig. 7. A photo of the Acropolis taken from the southeast by Félix Bonfils dated to
between 1868-1875. Brünnow Papers, Manuscript Division, Princeton University.
Public domain image.
The notion that this area was intended to represent a liminal space
is also evidenced by its name: the Sanctuary of Dionysos Eleuthereus.
Eleutherai was a town located on the border between Attica and Boeotia
some 27 miles to the north. There have been several attempts by scholars
to explain the connection with Eleutherai but the very nature of Greek
aetiological myths means that any precise explanation is bound to fail.37 A
sense of sacredness and age-old practice is created by attaching myths to
37 In particular see W. R. Connor, (“City Dionysia and Athenian Democracy”
in W. R. Connor, M. H. Hansen, K. A. Raaflaub, and B. S. Strauss, edd., Aspects of
Athenian Democracy, Copenhagen: University of Copenhagen Press, 1990), who
argues for a date of around 500 BCE; however, Paul Cartledge, (“’Deep plays’:
Theatre as Process in Greek Civic Life” in P. E. Easterling, ed., The Cambridge
Companion to Greek Tragedy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997, pp. 23-4)
is probably right in finding much to admire in Connor’s arguments but still placing
the date of the foundation of the City Dionysia at around 530 BCE.
certain visible physical locations and local customary practices and is often
enacted by means of performance.38 The name “Dionysos Eleuthereus” has
led some to believe that it is a political reflection of the annexation of the
previously Theban town of Eleutherai into Attica.39 It is far more likely that
the name was intended to serve an aetiological function in that Eleutherai
was said to have been a mythical birthplace of Dionysos, or at least a town
that was founded by the god.40 Eleutherai stands over the fortified pass of
Gyphtokastro, which leads to Mt. Cithaeron, especially sacred to Dionysos
and the place where Pentheus was torn apart by the Bacchae (Fig. 8).
Fig. 8. The Attic fortifications at Eleutherae. Photo: Elisa Atene.
(Creative Commons license)
One of the myths associated with the foundation of the festival of Dionysos
explains how a man named Pegasos, whom Pausanias associated with
King Amphiktyon (c. 800 BCE),41 brought a wooden image of Dionysos
38 Barbara Kowalzig, Singing for the Gods: Performances of Myth and Ritual in
Archaic and Classical Greece, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007, pp. 24-32. See
also Christiane Sourvinou-Inwood (Tragedy and Athenian Religion, Lanham, MD:
Rowman & Littlefield, 2003, pp. 22-5), who describes the perceptual frame of Greek
drama as “zooming” between the mythic past and contemporary religious practices.
39 Connor, 1990, see note 37 above.
40 Diodorus 3.66.1 and 4.2.6.
41 Pausanias 1.2.5.
to Athens from Eleutherai in order to establish the god’s worship. The
Athenians refused to observe this new god and so Dionysos caused a
disease to strike at the men’s genitals. Once the god was duly worshipped
the terrible affliction cleared up and the Athenians paid homage to the god
with phalloi.42 Likewise, the procession of the eisagoge (“introduction”) that
saw the cult statue of Dionysos carried into the city from the Academy that
lay outside the city walls was a ritual embodiment of this aetiological myth
that performed a representational connection between one of the innermost
parts of the city of Athens and one of its most outlaying, mountainous
districts. Thus, as Dionysos was the god of wild places, mountainsides
and borderlands with mythological connections to Greece via Thebes, so
Eleutherai stood on the border between Athenian and Theban territories. In
this way, the site of the sanctuary and its theatron encapsulated the liminal
spirit of Dionysos and connected its spectators to both the city it stood in
and the wider—and wilder—countryside of Attica.
At some point in the mid to late sixth century the city of Athens
established a new festival of Dionysos based on the old Rural Dionysia, a
processional festival that was held in December. This was a deliberate act on
the part of the regime of Pisistratus that established this new City Dionysia
with the intention of creating a pre-eminent pan-Attic festival that placed
the city of Athens at the center of Attic cultural activity, one that was offered
to both the members of the demos and theoroi visiting from foreign states;
hence the decision to hold the festival in late March once the sailing routes
had opened up. Though the City Dionysia still included a large procession
and animal sacrifices, competitive performances grew in importance
as the leading citizens of Athens increasingly used them as vehicles for
the expression of public prestige by serving as choregoi (“producers”).
The “eruptive” performances that grew out of the old processions of the
various rural Dionysian festivals were now staged at the new Sanctuary
of Dionysos Eleutheus that could accommodate a much larger pan-Attic
and foreign audience and still provide the kind of environmental visuality
that was an essential part of processional performances. The first Temple of
Dionysos and the retaining wall were built around the mid-sixth century
BCE, a time of urbanization in Athens, when the temple of Athena Polias
on the Acropolis became the cult center of all of Attica and was adorned
with new pedimental sculptures, the Panathenaea festival was reorganized
and enlarged and the Acropolis saw the first marble sculptures placed
there as dedications. The traditional date for the legendary founder of the
theatre, Thespis, is also placed around this time.43 Therefore, taking into
42 The story is found in the Scholion to Aristophanes’ Acharnians 243.
43 The Marmor Parium (Parian Marble), which dates from 264/3 BCE, sets
out events from the reign of Kekrops (supposedly 1581 BCE) down to 299 BCE.
Here, Thespis is credited with bringing a drama with spoken dialogue into the city
sometime between 538-528 BCE. See M. L. West,The Early Chronology of Attic
Tragedy,” The Classical Quarterly, 1989, vol. 39, no. 1, pp. 251-54.
consideration the general growth of Athens at this period as a center of
power, prestige and cult practice to the wider community of Attica, a date
for the founding of the City Dionysia of around 530 BCE makes a great deal
of sense.
In spite of this evidence, an old fashioned notion of the development
of the theatre space stubbornly remains, i.e., the theory that the theatre
space was moved from the Agora around 500 BCE, because the ikria
(benches) there collapsed. During the excavations in the 1890s, Dörpfeld
found potsherds in upper parts of the hillside that had been used to help
create a gentle regular slope over the bedrock, suitable for seating. He
dated them to around 500 BCE; this date has often been combined with
a misinterpretation of lexicographic material relating to the use of ikria,
performances in the Agora and a collapse of the ikriaall suggesting the
following diachronic series of events: (1) dramatic performances were once
held in the Agora, where ikria were set up and there was an area called
the orchestra; (2) around 499 BCE there was a collapse of the ikria; (3) as a
direct result of this collapse, performances were moved to the sanctuary of
Dionysos Eleuthereus around 499 BCE. There are many problems with this
theory which is still held by many.44 These include: some highly spurious
dates; a probable tendency on the part of the lexicographers to assume that
theatres were built of stone, whereas the evidence strongly suggests that
wooden ikria were used at least until 411 BCE;45 and a general confusion
between processional, athletic and performance viewing in the Agora and
performances staged at the sanctuary of Dionysos.
Most scholars have adopted a diachronic interpretation assuming that
the ikria set up in the Agora were a precursor of the theatron established at
the Sanctuary of Dionysos Eleuthereus. However, both archaeological and
literary evidence indicate that ikria were in use in the Agora well into the
fourth century, if not beyond.46 In 1946, Pickard-Cambridge collected the
evidence of both scholiasts and lexicographers on the subject of the ikria and
concluded, “there is a general agreement that a collapse of the ikria led to
44 Recently these include Moretti (2000, pp. 397-8, see note 28), who
suggests that the theatre moved from the Agora and a new structure had to be
accommodated within the existing sanctuary; Rehm (2002, pp. 43-4, see note 24
above), who suggests that the festival moved around 500 BCE; and T. Holschen,
“Urban Spaces and Central Places” in Classical Archaeology, edd. Susan E. Alcock and
Robin Osborne, Malden, MA, 2007, p.165. Roselli ( 2011, p.73, see note 1 above) also
points out that ikria were erected in both the Agora and the Sanctuary of Dionysos.
45 Aristophanes’ Thesmophoriasuzae 395. Also Cratinus PCG F 360. Csapo, 2007,
p. 98, see note 1 above.
46 Postholes dating to the fifth and fourth centuries BCE have been found in
the Athenian classical Agora along both sides of the Sacred Way; see J. M Camp
The Athenian Agora: Excavations in the Heart of Classical Athens, London: Thames
and Hudson, 1986, pp. 45-7. Athenaios tells us that a horse commander in the third
century set up ikria in the Athenian Agora so his mistress could have a grand view
of the cavalry display (Athenaios 4.167e-f).
the construction of a theatron,” despite the fact that of his 13 cited sources
he identified only 2 (Suda s.v. Pratanas and Aeschylus) that mention the ikria
collapsing, and these do not refer to the Agora at all.47 Reflecting Pickard-
Cambridge, Dinsmoor wrote in 1973, “In fact, the reason for the transfer to
the precinct of Dionysus appears to have been the collapse of the wooden
scaffolding, which had been erected around the orchestra in the Agora
during a performance at about 498 BCE.” He adds, “Both Photius and
Eustathius state emphatically that the accident occurred in the Agora before
the building of the theatre of Dionysus; and Hesychius and Suidas, while
not mentioning the Agora, to be sure, assert that the event occurred before
the building of the theatre and that the erection of the theatre of Dionysus
was the direct consequence of the accident.”48 Yet Photius and Eustathius
mention nothing of the sort; both say only that people used to watch the
“Dionysian contests” in the Agora before the theatron of Dionysos was
built.49 Hesychios does have a number of entries and descriptions of ikria as
being planking on ships and benches for spectators, but there is no mention
of any kind of collapse, just the oft-repeated phrase that the Athenians sat
on such benches before the theatre of Dionysos was built.50
All in all, we have three strands of information from these sources
relating to the ikria. (1) Before the theatron of Dionysos was built, people
sat on ikria in the Agora and watched performances at the Dionysia as
described by Photius, Eustathios and Hesychios. There is no mention of a
collapse in any of these sources.
ἴκρια τὰ ἐν τῇ ἀγορᾷ, ἀφ’ ὧν ἐθεῶντο τοὺς Διονυσιακοὺς
ἀγῶνας πρὶν ἢ κατασκευασθῆναι τὸ ἐν Διονύσου θέατρον.
Benches: Those in the Agora from which they used to watch the
Dionysian contests before the theater in the sanctuary of Dionysus
was built.
(Photius Lex. s.v. ikria.)
τὰ ἐν τῇ ἀγορᾷ ἀφ’ ὧν ἐθεῶντο τὸ παλαιὸν τοὺς Διονυσιακοὺς
ἀγῶνας πρὶν ἤ σκευασθῆναι τὸ ἐν Διονύσου θέατρον. ὅτι δὲ τὰ
τοιαῦτα θέατρα θάλασσα κοίλη ἐλέγοντο, Παυσανίας δηλοῖ.
Those in the Agora from which they used to watch the Dionysian
contests before the theater in the sanctuary of Dionysus was built,
47 Arthur Pickard-Cambridge The Theatre of Dionysus in Athens, Oxford:
Clarendon Press, 1946, pp. 11-13.
48 W. B. Dinsmoor, & W.G Anderson, The architecture of ancient Greece; an account
of its historic development, New York: Bilblio and Tanen, 1973, pp. 109-10.
49 Photius, Lex. s.v. aigeiros thea and s.v. ikria. Eustathios Commentarii ad Homeri
Odysseam. 1.132.44.
50 Hesychios Lex. s.v. aigeirou thea and s.v. par’ aigeiron thea. See Scullion, 1994,
pp. 53-4, note 28 above.
such as the wooden theatre mentioned by Pausanias.
(Eustathios Commentarii ad Homeri Odysseam. 1.132.44)
Hesychios’ various entries and descriptions of ikria have been collected
by Scullion.51 Here again there is no mention of any kind of collapse just
the oft-repeated phrase that the Athenians sat on such benches before the
theatre of Dionysos was built. (2) There was a collapse of the ikria in 499
BCE when people were watching a performance by Pratinas. These sources
do not mention the Agora.
Πρατίνας· ἐπιδεικνυμένου δὲ τούτου συνέβη τὰ ἰκρία, ἐφ’ ὧν
ἑστήκεσαν οἱ θεαταί, πεσεῖν, καὶ ἐκ τούτου θέατρον ᾠκοδομήθη
Pratinas: When he was giving the performance, the scaffolding on which
the spectators were sitting fell down, and as a result a theater was built in
(Suda, s.v. Pratinas)
(3) There was a collapse of the ikria that led Aeschylus to flee to Sicily.
Αἰσχύλος· φυγὼν δὲ εἰς Σικελίαν διὰ τὸ πεσεῖν τὰ ἰκρία
ἐπιδεικνυμένου αὐτοῦ.
Aeschylus: fled to Sicily because the stands for his performance
(Suda S.V. Aeschylus)
Not one of these sources connects the collapse of the ikria with a move
from the Agora to the Acropolis slope. The Agora may well have been the
site of earlier choral performances that predated the City Dionysia, and
it continued to be utilized as a temporary performance space for other
festivals in the fifth century. Athletic contests were likely to have been
staged there for several different festivals throughout the year as the Sacred
Way passed through this area, which acted as the main marketplace and
town-square for the city of Athens. Ikria were likely erected as viewing
platforms for the passing processions, foot races and standing performances
that occurred there. We must also consider that when the sources tell of
performances in the “Agora” prior to the Theatre of Dionysos being built
we cannot know if this was the classical Agora to the west of the Acropolis
or the archaic Agora to the north.52 Additionally, we must also not assume
that the term “Dionysian contests” (Διονυσιακοὺς ἀγῶνας) necessarily
51 See Scullion, 1994, pp. 53-4, note 28 above.
52 D. Harris-Cline, “Archaic Athens and the Topography of the Kylon Affair,”
The Annual of the British School at Athens, 1999, vol. 94, pp. 309-20.
refers to the City Dionysia or even dramatic performances. Procession,
choral song, torch races, dance and dithyramb all predated tragedy as
dramatic forms presented in honor of the god.
While it cannot be ruled out that a section of ikria may have collapsed
at some point, this event, if it happened at all, almost certainly did not
result in the sanctuary of Dionysos suddenly being placed into service as a
performance space around 500 BCE. The dates from the Suda are confused;
while 499 BCE may work for Pratinas it is far too early for Aeschylus.
Most important, this scenario would also assume that the cavea on the
southeast slope of the Acropolis, by far the best naturally occurring place
to accommodate spectators, was not used prior to this date and that it was
merely topographical serendipity that placed the sanctuary directly beneath
it. There does seem to have been a reorganization of the festival and an
enlargement of the theatron around 500 that may have coincided with the
reforms of Cleisthenes, which includes the provision that the newly formed
ten tribes of Attica each sent 2, 50 strong choruses (1 boy and 1 adult) to
the Sanctuary of Dionysos Eleuthereus.53 This amounts to 1000 performers
actively participating in the Dithyrambs alone; if we then imagine the
family members and fellow demesmen that wanted to see them perform,
it becomes not only plausible but imperative that the theatron would
be expanded around that time to accommodate this new audience. The
available archaeological evidence from the potsherds found by Dörpfeld,
suggests that the seating area was increased up the slope, expanding the
number of people who would have had a frontal view.
I hope we might once and for all lay the notion to rest that there was an
evolutionary progression of theatre performances in the Agora, collapsing
stands, then a new theatre on the Acropolis slope. Instead I propose that
the Sanctuary of Dionysos Eleutherus was deliberately established around
530 BCE to accommodate the new City Dionysia and was intended right
at the outset to be a viewing place for ritual ceremony and performance.
Thus, the relationships between performance space, sanctuary, surrounding
environment and view were essential components of the entire theatrical
experience and exerted an enormous influence over the form and content of
the plays themselves. Here we might borrow a term applied to the works of
Gertrude Stein, langscape, to describe language that seeks to create the mood
of place rather than narrativity. In Attic drama, choral songs frequently
refer to both the actual topography in the visual field of the spectators and
mythic landscapes invoked by the natural setting. A beautiful example of
Greek langscape in action can be found in Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonus
53 See David Pritchard, “Kleisthenes, Participation, and the Dithyrambic
Contests of Late Archaic and Classical Athens,” Phoenix, 2004, vol. 58, no. 3/4, pp.
(668-719).54 The choral song begins with a description of the “beautiful
meadows” of Colonus echoing to the trill of nightingales, an aural reference
that incorporates the sensory capabilities of the blind Oedipus. Then the
focus of the song gradually expands from the grove of the Eumenides,
where Oedipus sits, to the wider landscape of Colonus threaded by the
river Cephissus which runs from the Saronic Gulf through the Attic plain
that lies to the west of the city. Although Colonus and the Cephissus could
not be seen from the theatre, its sights and ritual places would have been
embedded in the memories of most of the Attic spectators as the focus
of the song expands to encompass Athens and Attica as a whole with
references to fertile fields, abundant crops and the sacred olive, all of which
could be clearly seen from the theatron in the countryside outside the city
walls to the south. Thus, the wild horses of Poseidon are imagined on the
roads of Attica, while the song ends with a reference to the sea, visible to the
south and a chorus of nymphs dancing, a divine version of the chorus in the
orchestra performing this song.55
The Athenian performance space around 500 BCE was then simply a
level playing area, probably rectilinear rather than circular, just above the
temple and altar of Dionysos. The natural slope of the hillside provided
terracing for wooden benches which were either frontal or brought the
theatron around on two shallow sides to form a low pi-shape with two long
54 For an account of the use of choral language to create imaginary landscapes
that evoke a sense of “the escape fantasy” in Euripides see Laura A. Swift, “The
Symbolism of Space in Euripidean Choral Fantasy (“Hipp.”732-75, “Med.” 824-
65, “Bacch.” 370-433),” The Classical Quarterly, 2009, vol. 59, no. 2, pp. 364-82. She
writes: “To connect the idealized locations with the action onstage, Euripides draws
on the connotations that space holds in Greek thought . . . space is symbolically
charged, and the locations the odes describe are overlaid with a deeper significance”
(364). Swift cites Euripides’ Bacchae 370–433; Helen 1451–1511; Hippolytus 732–75;
Iphegenia in Taurus 1089–52; Medea 824–65; Ion 1074–89 and Trojan Women 197–229.
See also Ruth Padel “’Imagery of the Elsewhere’ Two Choral Odes of Euripides,”
The Classical Quarterly, 1974, vol. 24, no. 2, pp. 227-41. See K. Clinton, “Apollo,
Pan, and Zeus, Avengers of Vultures: Agamemnon, 55-59,” The American Journal of
Philology, 1973, vol. 94, no. 3, pp. 282-88, for the relationship between the parados of
Aeschylus’ Agamemnon and the caves of Apollo, Pan and Zeus on the Acropolis.
Robin Mitchell-Boyask (Plague and the Athenian Imagination: Drama, History, and
the Cult of Asclepius, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008, pp. 172-77)
has suggested that physical elements of the performance space could be tied
to imaginary places in the play’s narrative such as the theatron representing the
mountain slopes of Mt. Cithaeron or Mt. Oeta. See also Wiles (1997, pp. 177-79, note
2 above) who suggests a similar idea. G. T. W. Hooker (“The Topography of the
Frogs,” The Journal of Hellenic Studies, 1960, vol. 80, pp. 112-17) traced the fictional
journey of Dionysos to the underworld in Aristophanes’ Frogs with cult places and
the physical landscape within the audience’s visual field.
55 The chorus of Clouds in Aristophanes’ Clouds (299-213) bring the heavens
down to earth with their song that imagines them looking down on a city of
processions, sacrifices and choruses.
wing entrances (paradoi) running left and right of the orchestra. In addition
to the seating provided by the ikria, people may have stood to watch
performances in an area behind on the upper slope.56 The use of a doorway
and upper level in Aeschylus’ Oresteia indicates that the skene (stage
building) must have been in use by 458 BCE and perhaps earlier.57 The
ikria wooden benches, and probably the skene were temporary structures
erected specially for the festival and removed soon after its closure; there is
evidence that with wood being a valuable commodity the ikria were placed
into service elsewhere between festivals.58 At some point in the fifth century
stage machinery such as the ekkyklema (theatrical “truck”)59 and the mechane
(stage crane) was introduced. There may have also been a low wooden
stage that was placed before the skene with a set of wooden “treads” (steps)
leading to the orchestra. This theatre may have been much smaller than
scholars once thought, seating around 5-6000 and possibly even fewer.60 It is
likely that this was the form the theatre took in the fifth century. Apart from
possible adaptations to the skene and machinery, it was the performance
space used by all the Athenian tragic and comic dramatists during the fifth
The plan of this performance space also strongly reflects the influence
of processional chorality on drama of the fifth century. Two long wing
entrances (eisodoi - also called parodoi) ran from the orchestra beyond the
eye-line of those seated in the theatron on the left and right side of the
playing area. The eisodoi were the places for exits and entrances prior to the
establishment of the skene (although of course they continued to be used
throughout the fifth century in tandem with the skene). Two eisodoi appear
to have been in use in the earliest extant tragedies, Aeschylus’ Persians and
Suppliant Women. It is still sometimes thought, based on a comment from
Pollux (4.126-127), that the right eisodos indicated the direction of the city
while the left headed in the direction of more rural areas (there is confusion
as to whether Pollux meant the spectator’s left and right or the “stage left”
56 See Roselli, 2009, pp. 5-30, note 1 above.
57 R. Hamilton (“Cries within and the Tragic Skene,” The American Journal of
Philology, 1987,vol. 108, no. 4, pp. 585-99) has questioned this general acceptance
promulgated by Taplin after Wilamowitz and has suggested that we might want
to consider that we are severely limited in making any determination based on the
dearth of surviving plays and useful fragments from this period.
58 Csapo, 2007, see note 1 above. William Slater (“Theaters for Hire,” Philologus
2011, vol. 155.2, pp. 272-91) has recently cautioned against assigning evidence from
other theatres to the City Dionysia.
59 I have argued elsewhere that the ekkyklema was used in the Oresteia and
was an expected stage device by the time of Sophocles’ Ajax (c. 440 BCE). See
Peter Meineck, “Ancient Drama Illuminated by Contemporary Stagecraft: Some
Thoughts on the Use of Mask and ‘Ekkyklema’ in Ariane Mnouchkine’s ‘Le Dernier
Caravansérail’ and Sophocles’ ‘Ajax,” The American Journal of Philology, 2006, vol.
127, no. 3, pp. 453-60.
60 Goette, 2007, see note 5 above.
and “stage right” of the actors, in effect the opposite). Despite this notion
being roundly debunked by the evidence of the texts as far back as 1911, it
exists as a “convention” of Greek drama.61 Hourmouziades surveyed the
use of the eisodoi in the plays of Euripides and found that there seemed to
be no conventional designation of the left and right entrances; rather, the
playwright could allocate each one at will depending on the needs of the
particular play.62
The eisodoi connected the world of the play presented in the visual
realm of the spectators with a wider world of far-away places, just as the
theatre itself was visually connected to both its surrounding environment
and the city, country and sea via its panoramic southeasterly view. Thus,
the movement created by the eisodoi is not only used for the propulsion of
narrative but also keeps the performance space constantly connected to an
exterior world “outside.”63 This facilitates a dynamic flow of kinesthetic
energy in performance across the orchestra suggesting both imaginary
off-stage locations and establishing the orchestra as a movement space.
Performance theorist, Kinneret Noy, describes the dual eisodoi intersected
by the orchestra as a “loop configuration” where the flow across the
playing area is determined by the oppositional effect of the two eisodoi
creating a sense of circularity even within a rectilinear space.64 The eidodoi
provide the means of movement through the sight lines of the spectators
and the orchestra provides a “halting point” for the movement flow.
The introduction of the skene created the ability for this loop flow to be
suddenly punctuated by the rapid introduction and removal of actors in
the performing area. Yet, the onstage movement dynamics via the eisodoi
continued to exert a powerful dramatic effect on the physical form of
ancient drama especially for the chorus and those specific entrances (of
messengers, for example) that took advantage of the dramatic capabilities
they offered. Such entrances and exits via the eisodoi were based on
movement and direction. The point where a performer is “off-stage” or “on-
stage” was always fluid and ambiguous.
This dramatic dimension of the eisodoi and its dynamic relationship
with the spectator’s differing fields of vision is in marked contrast to most
61 On Pollux and the eisodoi see Oliver Taplin, The Stagecraft of Aeschylus: the
Dramatic Use of Exits and Entrances in Greek Tragedy, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977,
p. 450.
62 N. C, Hourmouziades, Production and Imagination in Euripides: Form and
Function of the Scenic Space, vol. 5 of Hellenike Anthropistike Hetaireia, Athens, 1965,
pp. 128-36.
63 For excellent discussions of the use of the eisodoi, see Oliver Taplin,
“Sophocles in his Theatre” in J. de Romilly, ed., Sophocle, Sept exposés suivis de
discussions, Entretiens Hardt 29, Geneva, 1983, pp. 155–83; and Rush Rehm (2002, pp.
20-5, see note 24 above) who is influenced by the work of James J. Gibson and his
theories of ecological space.
64 Kinneret Noy, “Creating a Movement Space: the Passageway in Noh and
Greek Theatres,” New Theatre Quarterly, 2002, vol. 18, no. 2, pp. 176-85.
modern theatres where the performer can appear suddenly from a wing
entrance created by the “masking” of a box set with flats or curtains. The
actor is either seen or unseen, with no in-between status. On the other hand,
the eisodoi offered the spectator “successive observation,” as the performer
or performers using these long entrances could be both seen and yet still
remain “off stage.” Entrances via eisodoi also suggested spatial transference
from an unseen off-stage territory to the on-stage realm of the play in
process. The effect of the gradual revelation of the performer to different
sections of the audience created a dynamic momentum that was also
reflected in how the visual information of that entrance was communicated.
This visually successive use of the eisodoi is connected with masked
performance and human cognitive perception. The theatrical mask
provided a locus for visual attention. It has been shown that humans,
when scanning a scene, will always look to identify faces first and even
look for faces where there is none in the places that we might expect to see
them.65 Also, eye tracking experiments have also shown how humans will
at first seek out figures in a landscape and then look at the other defining
features, constantly returning to the figure.66 This may be why theatrical
costuming in the fifth century emphasized the silhouette of the performer
with tragic costume bordered with strong patterns along the arms and
edges and comic dress exaggerating the stomach, buttocks and limbs of
the actor. Satyr choruses wore trunks with a phallus allowing their bodies
to be emphasized, and dancers and are often depicted on vase painting
with highly expressive poses and dance steps, with elongated fingers and
pronounced hand gestures.
Recent theories of cognitive embodiment have proposed that humans
actually “see” the world around them ever so slightly in the future.
Visual cognition is anticipatory, and visual neurons in the parietal cortex
reorient their retinal receptive field before an eye movement takes place,
anticipating input from the visual field.67 According to Spivey, an important
part of how humans visually recognize other people’s actions “is to induce
partial activation of the motor representations we might use to imitate
those actions.”68 This is not the passive receipt of visual images but a fluid
dynamic process involving memory, empathy, social conditioning; as
Spivey states, “visual perception continuously pursues its interpretations
rather than waiting to be given them.”69 Lloyd Llewellyn Jones has made
65 H. Jhuang, T. Serre, L. Wolf and T. Poggio, “A Biologically Inspired System for
Action Recognition,” IEEE 11th International Conference on Computer Vision, ICCV,
66 Margaret Livingstone, Vision And Art, New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2002, pp.
67 J. R. Duhamel, CL Colby and M.E. Goldberg, “The updating of the
Representation of Visual Space in Parietal Cortex by Intended Eye Movements,”
Science 1992, vol. 255, no. 5040, pp. 90-2.
68 Spivey, 2007, p. 235, see note 10 above.
69 Spivey, 2007, p. 236, see note 10 above.
similar observations about gestures on the ancient Greeks stage suggesting
that we understand them not as “start and stop actions” but in terms of
fluidity of continual actions that emphasize different emotional states,
a kind of gestural anticipatory perception.70 This is why magicians can
continue to trick our eyes, even though we know we are about to be tricked.
The role of anticipation in visual cognition is central to experiencing drama.
Audiences must continue to need to know what is going to happen next,
otherwise they may become disengaged, passive viewers. Aristotle made
much the same point in Poetics (1450a34-39):
πρὸς δὲ τούτοις τὰ μέγιστα οἷς ψυχαγωγεῖ ἡ τραγῳδία τοῦ μύθου
μέρη ἐστίν, αἵ τε περιπέτειαι καὶ ἀναγνωρίσεις.
And furthermore, two of the most important elements in the
emotional effect of tragedy, “reversals” and “discoveries,” are parts
of the plot.
ἀρχὴ μὲν οὖν καὶ οἷον ψυχὴ ὁ μῦθος τῆς τραγῳδίας.
The plot then is the first principle and as it were the soul of tragedy.
Aristotle knew how important visual cognition was to drama. In Poetics
he names opsis as the mode that is the “manner” of realizing tragic mimesis
(1450a10-15), the way in which it is organized/displayed (kosmos) and
a necessary part of tragedy, πρῶτον μὲν ἐξ ἀνάγκης ἄν εἴη τι μόριον
τραγῳδίας ὁ τῆς ὄψεως κόσμος (1449b31-33). His later commentators
may have done him a disservice to translate and interpret opsis merely as
“spectacle”—a term used to describe a low form of mass entertainment that
aims to merely titillate and not engage on any kind of deep emotional and
personal level.71 For Aristotle opsis is ἀτεχνότατον (Poetics 1450b16-20).
Malcolm Heath translated this as “very inartistic” and Richard Janko as
“very artless,”72 yet the word can also mean intrinsic,” the kind of simple
rudeness that is associated with important objects of cult such as the tiny
statue of Pallas Athena—the bretas, a simple small wooden idol that was
said to have fallen from the sky, yet was one of the most precious religious
objects the Athenians possessed. In the same passage Aristotle also states
that opsis has the power “to move the soul” (ἡ δὲ ὄψις ψυχαγωγικὸν) and
advises dramatists to create their plays while performing movements and
70 Lloyd Llewellyn Jones, “Body Language and the Female Role Player in Greek
Tragedy and Japanese Kabuki Theatre” in D. L Cairns, ed., Body Language in the Greek
and Roman Worlds, Swansea: Classical Press of Wales, 2005, p. 75.
71 For example, Richard Janko (Aristotle, Poetics, Indianapolis: Hackett
Publishing, 1987, p. 8) has “the ornament of spectacle.”
72 Malcolm Heath, Aristotle Poetics, Penguin: London/New York, 1996; and
Janko,1987, see note 71 above.
gestures so they might visualize the action and πρὸ ὀμμάτων τιθέμενον
“keep the play before their eyes” (Poetics 1455a21-30). We can note the
power of opsis by watching the McGurk effect in action. Here a participant
mouths a simple syllable such as “ba” over and over again, yet when he
mouths the “fa” to the same soundtrack of “ba” we actually hear “fa.” Our
eyes trump our ears.73 Similarly we watch the actions of gestures of other
people very closely and process them via our own motor action receptors.
We anticipate where they are going to move and where their action will
resolve based on information stored in our memories. Thus, we sometimes
misinterpret another’s movement and process the wrong response, which
is why we might flinch at what ends up being a harmless gesture. The
ambiguous fluidity of the eidodoi works in a similar way: the spectators
would have anticipated the arrival of characters along these long wing
entrances, projecting their own predispositions onto the scene being staged
before them.
A good example of the eisodoi in action is the entrance of Eteocles after
the parados of the chorus of women of Thebes in Aeschylus’ Seven Against
Thebes (78-181). Eteocles first speaks at 182, but, as it seems no skene was
used in this play, he must have entered by an eisodos and become ever
increasingly visually present to the spectators as he emerged into their
view. This entrance creates a visual dovetailing of choral ode and the
speech of the entering protagonist. The image of the chorus of terrified
women lamenting what they perceive as an almost inevitable end, the
sack of their city, jars with the bravado of Eteocles who has just charged
the men of Thebes to man their posts and boldly rebuff the invaders. The
women conjure images of city walls, battle clashes at the gates and invasion
by an “enemy of alien speech” (169), all of which must have conspired to
prompt the memories of the spectators to recall the sack of Athens by the
Persians in 480 BCE just 13 years earlier. The effects of which, including the
ruined Acropolis, were all around in the bodily eyes of the spectators as
they looked out over their own city walls and gates. When he does finally
“arrive,” Eteocles’ condemnation of the actions of the chorus indicates that
Aeschylus may well have used the visual effect of the gradual entrance via
the eisodos to create tension between chorus and protagonist. At this point in
the play there are three narrative dimensions operating to offer a synoptic
viewing of the work, in an emotional whole: the first is the live experience
of the actions of the Theban women who are physically and emotionally
responding to their present situation within the world of the play; the
second is the cognitive emotional response of the spectators to both the
staged lamentation and allusions to the Persian Wars when their own city
was sacked; and the third is the anticipatory image of Eteocles advancing
along the eisodos creating a sense of impeding conflict. All of these multi-
sensory devices—memory, landscape, verbal narrative, the music, meter,
73 Harry McGurk and John MacDonald, “Hearing Lips and Seeing Voices,”
Nature 264, 1976, pp. 746-48.
song and dance of the chorus and the visual anticipation of Eteocles’
return—would have produced the kind of embodied cognitive response
which was essential to the emotional effect of ancient tragedy and due in
large part to the way in which the performance space was utilized.
The eisodoi were situated on the periphery of the spectator’s visual field
and yet this was in many ways the reason why they proved so effective
dramatically, even after the introduction of the skene. Margaret Livingstone
has applied the way the human eye constantly oscillates between peripheral
and foveal (or focused) vision to Leonardo’s “Mona Lisa.” Her famous
smile seems to change because our eye is being constantly drawn to the
beguiling landscape behind and then back to her face in a cognitive process
of face recognition and visual landscape mapping.74 The mask worked
in the same way because its appearance in the visual field immediately
stimulates the parts of the brain that seek to define the human face. The
eisodoi exploited this aspect of human perception, as did the chorus who
entered and exited along the eisodoi but also were a physical manifestation
of this bi-modal form of visual experience, taking focus during choral songs
and then merging into the periphery during actor scenes, a constantly
reactive on-stage presence, and another layer of visual processing that
cannot be appreciated merely by reading the plays. Thus, the eisodoi
created a sense of movement, connected both the fictive world of the
locales embodied on stage and the physical confines of the theatre with a
wider external worlds of myth and reality, and actively exploited the bi-
modal visual mechanism between peripheral and foveal vision. It must
have been thrilling suddenly to see a messenger, or Agamemnon on his
wagon, or Jason returning from the carnage at the palace, or Tiresias slowly
approaching Thebes, out of the corner of the eye and eagerly anticipating
the action that was to come.
Since the excavation of the theatre at Epidauros with its beautifully
proportioned circular orchestra by Kavvadias and Stais for the Athenian
Archaeological Society in the latter part of the nineteenth century, the idea
of a circular playing space has dominated thinking about the form of the
orchestra in the Greek theatre. Built around 330 BCE and encapsulating
Pythagorean concepts of harmony and scale, Epidauros was described by
Pausanias as unrivalled in beauty with its large orchestra circle 24.65m in
diameter made of beaten earth edged by a stone border (Fig. 9).75 Since then
the belief that a circular orchestra was an original and essential element of
Greek drama was enhanced by the work of the Cambridge ritualists who
advanced the theory that the orchestra developed from the circular threshing
74 Livingstone, 2002, pp. 68-74, see note 66 above; and Meineck, 2011, pp. 121-24,
see note 8 above.
75 Pausanias 2.27.5. For the Theatre at Epidauros see A. V. Gerkan Das Theater
von Epidauros, Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer Verlag, 1961.
floor which was put into service as a dancing place at harvest festivals.76
Dörpfeld’s excavations of the theatre of Dionysos in Athens from 1885-
1895 seemed to prove, once and for all, that the orchestra in the fifth century
was circular, when he attributed the remains of what he thought was a
retaining wall (the above mentioned“SM1”) to the perimeter of a circular
performance area. Since then, the idea of a circular orchestra has been widely
accepted, most influentially by Pickard-Cambridge.77
Fig. 9. Audience seated around the orchestra at the Theatre at Epidauros for a 2009
production of Women of Troy. Photo: El Groo. (Creative commons license)
Travlos’ plan of the theatre which placed a circular orchestra within the
confines of the non-circular retaining wall was adopted by Taplin is his
1978 work Greek Tragedy in Action, still widely used by theatre practitioners
as a handbook for understanding the staging of ancient drama. This
76 Despite Pickard-Cambridge’s rejection of this theory (in Dithyramb: Tragedy
and Comedy, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1927, pp. 126-29), the idea of the threshing
floor is found in the work of Peter D. Arnott, 1989, Public and Performance in the Greek
Theatre, London/New York: Routledge, 1989, p. 2; Thomas. G. Rosenmeyer, The Art
of Aeschylus, University of California Press: Berkeley, 1982, p. 54; and Erika Simon
The Ancient Theatre, London/New York: Routledge, 1982, p. 3. See also Rehm, 2002,
pp. 39-41, note 24 above.
77 Pickard-Cambridge, 1946, pp. 5-9, see note 47 above. For surveys of the
history of the scholarship concerning the orchestra see Scullion, 1994, pp. 3-66, see
note 28 above; and Clifford Ashby, “The Case for the Rectangular/Trapezoidal
Orchestra,” Theatre Research International, 1988, vol. 13, pp. 1-20.
concept of the circle as a key element of Greek drama underpins the work
of Wiles, who wholeheartedly takes up the idea of a circle and promotes
“the traditional idea of a democratic Athenian community gathered in a
circle in order to contemplate itself in relation to the fictive world of the
play.”78 Of eight known fifth-century theatre spaces (Aixone, Argos, Athens,
Chaeronea, Ikaria, Thorikos, Trachones and Sparta) only one is known to
be circular and that is the sanctuary of Artemis Orthia at Sparta, which
may have had a function in cult other than the performance of drama.79 The
general consensus now amongst scholars is either to accept the premise
of a rectilinear orchestra or to at least place it alongside opinions relating
to a circular space. Some scholars have cited the ancient references to the
dithyrambic kuklios choros (“circular chorus”) as an indication of a circular
playing space.80 Anyone, however, even vaguely familiar with the circular
folk dances of modern Greece knows that most of these are frequently
performed in town squares, and that the circular form of the dance has
absolutely no bearing on the space in which it is performed.81
In the modern theatre, circular playing spaces can be quite
disorientating for the performer, particularly the dancer, and require
a special kind of blocking where the actor must keep shifting his
onstage position in order that the audience either seated in the round
or three-quarter round is afforded a good view and not “shut out” of
the performance by spending long periods of time watching an actor’s
back. This is why many theatres in the round today, such as the Bolton
Octagon Theatre in Greater Manchester, England, opened in 1967, make
use of vomitorium entranceways (“voms”) that are cut into the raked
seating areas and correspond to places on stage where the actor may
stand without blocking fellow actors or shutting out the audience for their
visual relationship with the actor’s face. The Olivier Theatre at London’s
National Theatre was built in an open-plan style with the plan of the theatre
of Epidauros in mind, although, because it is an interior space, serious
problems have been encountered with the acoustical qualities of voice
projection from the stage, particularly when the actor faces across the stage
78 Wiles, 1997, p. 52, see note 2 above.
79 Bosher, 2006, pp. 151-60, tables 6.1, 6.2 and 6.3, see note 1 above.
80 Schol. to Aeschines’ Against Timarchus 10. According to Proculus
(Chrestomathy. 12) Aristotle said that Arion invented the Dithyramb and led a
“circular chorus.” On circularity in Greek dance, see Calame, 2001, pp. 35-8, note 22
above; and Graham Ley (The Theatricality of Greek Tragedy: Playing Space and Chorus,
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007, pp. xi-xiv), who follows Scullion and
Wiles and accepts a circular orchestra.
81 There has been a long held notion that an altar stood at the center for the
orchestra. While altars certainly feature in comedy and tragedy these may have been
temporary props rather than any king of permanent fixture. See J. P. Poe, “The Altar
in the Fifth-Century Theater,” Classical Antiquity, 1989, vol. 8, no. 1, pp. 116-39.
rather than directly facing the direction of the auditorium.82 Although not
impossible to surmount, the evidence from modern theatre practice is that
round stages require specific blocking and staging and acoustical attention
that may not have been best suited to the ancient conditions of masked
frontal drama.
John Senseney has recently advanced an intriguing theory that the
orchestra found its first circular form in the last quarter of the fifth century.83
He combines archaeological evidence from the Pnyx with the exchange
between Meton and Peisetairos and in Aristophanes’ Birds (993-1020) and
posits that Meton’s references to compasses and circular architectural
design suggest that the performance space was not only circular at this time
but that this renovation had recently been completed in 414 BCE. While
Senseney accommodates the view that the earlier space had been rectilinear,
he proposes that the kind of configuration familiar to us from the fourth
century Lycurgan Theatre of Dionysos, and the theatres at Epidauros and
Delphi, was originally established by a wooden precursor, within which
Birds was performed. To be sure, the staging of Old Comedy calls for a more
dynamic skene with multiple doors, windows, and a far greater use of the
upper level and stage machinery, but nothing in the texts of the plays from
this period nor the archaeological record indicates that the performance
space underwent such a fundamental change. Additionally, Meton’s use
of the convoluted technical verbiage of “cutting edge” town planning was
surely intended to be comic, and it is telling that Senseney has decided to
translate only Meton’s dialogue without the several dismissive comments of
Peisetairos. We must also consider that Meton is one of several interlopers
that arrive in the new city to try to ply their respective trades, and each
one is thrown off Peisetairos’ cloud with a witty retort and a great deal of
violence. This must have elicited a great deal of pleasure from the original
spectators as it still does today with any audience members who know the
frustrations of dealing with petty bureaucrats and their stifling red tape.84
Meton was of course a well-known Athenian astronomer who had built
a sundial at the Pnyx in the 430’s, and the language of the Aristophanes
character is reminiscent of a description of such a dial with its rays beaming
out from a semi-circle. Senseney’s theory is certainly attractive and his
work on the influence of the new craft of technical drawing upon Hellenstic
and Roman architecture is important and fascinating. While he is right to
question where the form of the great fourth century theatres came from,
it seems a stretch to claim that Aristophanes’ Meton offers us the first
82 Michael Barron, Auditorium Acoustics and Architectural Design, New York:
Routledge, 1993, pp. 282-85.
83 John R. Senseney, The Art of Building in the Classical World: Vision,
Craftsmanship, and Linear Perspective in Greek and Roman Architecture, Cambridge/
New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011, pp. 88-99.
84 Aquila Theatre staged my translation of Aristophanes Birds on a national
American tour in 1996 and 1997.
glimpse of a circular theatre. After all, we should remember that when
Meton says γεωμετρῆσαι βούλομαι τὸν ἀέρα ὑμῖν διελεῖν τε κατὰ γύας (“I
wish to geometricize the air and for you and divide it into sections”),85 he
is referring to a fictitious place of complete impossibility that Aristophanes
named “Cloudcuckooland.”
I suggest that the circular form of the orchestra developed in the
late fourth century for several interconnected reasons. (1) Size. Theater
grew in popularity and spread along with Greek culture throughout the
Hellenistic world. Touring companies proliferated and theatre became
professionalized as a money-making industry. Therefore, a much larger
theatre was needed to accommodate many more spectators, and one simple
solution was to extend the seating on all three sides of the orchestra. Stone
construction made this possible without the fear of collapse. (2) Aesthetics.
Drama became less community focused, while the chorus diminished in
importance. Actors became internationally famous; as the status of actors
grew, so did the skene and the stage they performed on. Costumes became
more elaborate with high-soled boots and much larger, less expressive
masks. The role of the chorus diminished to either serving the purpose
of providing musical interludes or having none at all. Thus, the orchestra
ceased to be the focus of visual attention. (3) Theatre became an institution
performing older fifth century “classics” alongside new works based on
similar themes. Just as Lycurgus ordered the works of the three major
tragic dramatists to be written down and lodged in a state library so the
theatre structure itself became a memorial in stone to a more glorious and
creative past. (4) Acoustics. The new configuration of the theatre fits with
the stylistic changes of the Hellenistic theatre where the actors performed
on a high raised stage, upstage center of the orchestra. This greatly enhanced
the acoustic properties of the theatre. Acoustical tests of existing Greek
theatres and computer models of those that have not survived have shown
that the vocal quality and output diminishes the closer a performer moves
into the orchestra nearer to the seats (something similar is described as
occurring at the Olivier Theatre at London’s National Theatre).86 The three-
quarter in the round audience configuration found in theatres dating from
the fourth century and later, where the spectators are wrapped around an
orchestra circle, provides a less-than-satisfying view of any actors working
in the orchestra unless a viewer was seated in the two central tiers of seats.
This configuration, however, does provide excellent sightlines for actors
confined to platform upstage center.
Greek drama was always a theatre of speech and song, though the
visual aspects of masks, movement, dance and environment were equally
85 Aristophanes Birds 995. Senseney translation.
86 On this acoustic occurrence, see N. F. Declercq, & C. S. A. Dekeyser, “Acoustic
Diffraction Effects at the Hellenistic Amphitheater of Epidaurus: Seat Rows
Responsible for the Marvelous Acoustics,” Journal of the Acoustical Society of America,
vol. 121, no. 4, 2007, pp. 2018-19.
important. Such an art form demands to be heard. As audiences grew so
did the need for better acoustics. In this sense Senseney is right—just as
the Pnyx was renovated to accommodate more citizens in late fifth century
Athens with a circular retaining wall enveloping the speaker’s bema, so
theatre spaces began to do the same, but not until the late fourth century.
The question of acoustics has not been considered in previous studies
on the shape of the orchestra in these larger stone theatres. We know,
however, that the surface of the orchestra in stone theatres such as Epidauros
acts as a sound reflector helping to project the actor’s voice into the theatron.
Decibel measurements of the impulse responses to a generated sound from
the skene area in computer models of ancient theatres show how the sound
reflection generated by the orchestra is almost as strong as the original
source and is produced very quickly after it is first generated. Therefore,
the orchestra almost doubles the ability of sound projection at virtually
the same frequency. A third noticeable sound reflection is generated by
the skene but this is considerably later and much smaller and at a lower
frequency.87 Second, the tiered seating and pitted surface of the risers help
“baffle” low-frequency sounds such as ambient noise and wind, further
enhancing the higher frequency of the human voice. As theatres strove
to accommodate much larger audiences, so the cavea was extended and
seating wrapped around the orchestra, which was now (late fourth century
onwards) primarily being used to amplify the voices of the actors on
the larger Hellenistic skene, the larger surface of which also aided vocal
projection. Stone reflects sound far more efficiently than wood, and though
the spectators would also absorb low-frequency sound, the stone risers
would enhance the actor’s vocals.88 By placing these risers in high-pitched
rakes (inclines) around a circle, all the various sound-enhancing elements
of the open-air theatre came into play: the reflective properties of the
skene; the sound “bounce” generated by the beaten earth of the orchestra;
the properties of the circle that distributed this bounce evenly around
the auditorium; and the high steep stone seating enhancing the natural
properties of the cavea to “shelter” the sound projected directly into it.89
In such a space the preservation of the orchestra as an essential acoustical
aid as well as an aesthetically pleasing design element made sense. It is
noteworthy that Vitruvius credited the development of theatre design to
87 A. Fametani & N. P. Prodi, R. Pompoli, “On the Acoustics of Greek and
Roman Theaters,” Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, vol. 124, no. 3, 2008,
pp. 1557-67. Vitruvius (De Architectura 5.5.7) mentions the same acoustical qualities
of the stage floor and walls, although he was incorrect in assuming that wood
resonates more efficiently than stone and proposes that bronze “sounding vessels”
be erected to help project the acoustics.
88 Declercq and Dekeyser, 2007, pp. 2011-22, see note 86 above.
89 This can still be experienced at the theatre at Epidauros. A person speaking
while standing in the center of the orchestra circle will hear his own voice reflected
back at them, while one standing upstage of the circle near the remains of the skene
can be clearly heard anywhere in the theatron.
investigations of the ascending voice by ancient architects using musicians
and the application of harmonics (Ergo veteres architecti naturae vestigia
persecuti indagationibus vocis scandentis theatrorum perfecerunt gradationes).90 It
could be said then that by the Hellenistic period the theatron had grown to
such a size that it also needed to be an effective auditorium.
We must accept the simple fact that no curvilinear orchestras have
been identified prior to the theatre of Epidauros built around 330 BCE (and
closely followed by the stone Lycurgan Theatre of Dionysos, which also
had a curvilinear orchestra). Also, though we do not know why the stone
theatre of Epidauros was built with a circular orchestra we might speculate
that this was to help facilitate the view of a large audience who were placed
in the three-quarter round to be brought as close as possible to the actors
on the skene and benefit from the proven acoustical qualities of the circular
orchestra in this environment, which efficiently projected sound around
the entire enlarged theatron. There is still an old tenet taught to apprentice
lighting designers working in the theatre today: if the actors can’t be seen
then they can’t be heard, however loudly they speak.91 This provides
another important argument for frontality, since vocal projection is seriously
diminished or completely lost if the masked actor turns away from the
audience when speaking.
The question of the shape of the orchestra is an architectural one and
has little or no bearing on how choral dance and drama were actually
staged. In this sense the long-standing debate over the shape has distracted
attention from far more important questions as to the orchestra’s dramatic
functionality and its relationship to theatron and skene. It has always been
assumed that the sole reason for situating orchestras next to hillsides was
simply a matter of providing a convenient seating area, but this could have
been achieved far more easily by erecting a large temporary raised stage
and keeping the audience on level rows of seats beneath looking up. Raked
seating is termed “stadium style” because it shares a close affinity with the
tiered rows of the sports stadium in that it offers a far better view of the
human body in motion, whether competing in a sporting event or dancing
in a dramatic chorus. By looking down on the orchestra the audience gained
a clear view of the dance.
Fred Previc created a model of human interaction with three-
dimensional space that extended the bimodal structure of peripheral and
foveal vision into four main areas of visual processing—peripersonal, focal
extrapersonal, action extrapersonal and ambient extrapersonal—and these
can be applied to a spectator sitting in the Dionysian theatron.92 Peripersonal
space is used for holding and manipulating objects within physical reach of
90 Vitruvius, De Architectura 5.3.8.
91 This was told to me by Martin Godfrey, technical director of the Bloomsbury
Theatre in London and head of the technical department at the National Theatre.
92 Fred Previc, “The Neuropsychology of 3-D Space,” Psychological Bulletin, vol.
124 (2), 1998, pp. 123-64.
the body. This visual mode is involved in the processing of actions, which
depend on body-centered orientation. Simply put, when one watches the
movements of others a personal cognitive frame of reference is created
based on one’s bodily relationship to one’s own limbs in space. This is
related to concepts of proprioception—the feelings of one’s own body and
limbs in space, and kinesthetic empathy—the way in which the observer’s
body cognitively “mirrors” the movements of those under observation.
The action in the orchestra was the nearest visual element of the staged
production, which for most of the time the members of the chorus would
have occupied. Choral dance and collective movement were an enormously
important part of Greek culture, with which every member of the audience
would have been very familiar both as a spectator and a participant. In
Athens choruses performed at the very many festival occasions throughout
the year and privately at weddings and local celebrations. In addition to
the 1000 performers recruited exclusively from the population of Athenian
males for the Dithyrambs, the tragedies also involved a chorus of 10-15
and the comedies 24, placing around 165 dramatic chorus members in each
Dionysia, not to mention another 150 or so in the Lenaea. It is small wonder
that in Laws Plato has the Athenian pronounce that the uneducated man is
ἀχόρευτος “without the dance” (654a).93 The orchestra was the “dancing-
place” of the chorus, and the centrality of the chorus to Greek drama cannot
be in doubt. With this in mind Helen Bacon described the dramatic chorus
as a “social reality” for the Athenian audience rather than the artistic oddity
it can so often seem for us.94
Several recent neuroscience studies have shown that the mirror neuron
systems of people trained in dance fire when they watch familiar dance
and activate the parts of the brain concerned with action representation,
almost as if they were moving themselves. 95 Therefore, “biological motion
perception is influenced by observers’ familiarity with the observed
action.”96 This kinesthetic empathy also involves the stimulation of the
parts of the brain involved in memory and emotional processing. One’s
93 For pronouncements on the virtues of collective dance, see Aristophanes’
Frogs 729 and Plato Laws 7.814e-817e.
94 Helen Bacon, “The Chorus in Greek Life and Drama,” Arion, vol. 3.3.1,
1994/95, p. 6.
95 C. Jola, S. Ehrenberg and D. Reynolds, “The experience of Watching
Dance: Phenomenological–neuroscience Duets,” Phenomenology and the Cognitive
Sciences, Online First, 2011, pp. 1-21; B. Calvo-Merino, D. E. Glaser, J. Grezes, R. E.
Passingham, and P. Haggard, “Action Observation and Acquired Motor Skills: an
FMRI Study with expert dancers,” Cerebral Cortex, vol. 15, no. 8, 2005, pp. 1243-49;
B. Calvo-Merino, J. Grezes, D. E. Glaser, R. E. Passingham, and P Haggard, “Seeing
or doing? Influence of Visual and Motor Familiarity in Action Observation,” Current
biology, vol. 16, no. 19, 2006, pp. 1905-10.
96 B. Calvo-Merino, S. Ehrenberg, D. Leung and P. Haggard, “Experts See it All:
Configural Effects in Action Observation,” Psychological Research, vol. 74. 4, 2011, pp.
emotional engagement with a performance is dramatically enhanced if
the movements performed are part of a known and felt style. In this sense
the chorus in the orchestra communicated directly and viscerally with the
audience on a deep, cognitive, non-verbal level. Music and words also
contributed immensely to the total effect and the cognitive and emotional
embodiment of both has been well researched.97
Focal extrapersonal space refers to the area where eye movements
are used for visual scanning and object recognition. This is a stable,
focused, high-resolution process limited to around 30 degrees of the visual
field. It is akin to foveal vision, which has already been discussed, but
applied specifically to the orchestra we see that it occupies the spectator’s
extrapersonal visual field as does the skene, which was situated on its far
edge opposite the theatron. There is an important cognitive distinction,
however, between objects viewed in peripersonal space (within reach) and
those in extrapersonal space (out of reach but foveal). I have discussed
above how dance placed the chorus in peripersonal space through
kinesthetic empathy and how the mask created a locus for foveal vision,
but action placed in extrapersonal space might also be perceived as “other”
or occurring in a space and time distinct from the one occupied by the
spectator. Therefore although music, dance and speech patterns could
produce close personal emotional cognition, the orchestra and skene could
also easily be perceived as occupying a very distinct time and place. The
spectator could therefore fully accept that a play is set in a far off city, long
ago, and yet still be drawn in emotionally and empathetically. Thus, a play
could be set in Argos, Thebes, Susa, The Plain of Troy, Aulis or Tauris and
even in the mythological past and performed by elaborately costumed
actors in masks. This all creates an objective aesthetic experience, which is
blended with the subjective experience of the emotionality of the feelings
perceived in the peripersonal space.
Action extrapersonal space is used for orientating oneself within
topographically defined space. This is the way in which we use landmarks
and familiar buildings to navigate and place ourselves within the wider
spatial context of what we perceive in peripersonal and focal extrapersonal
space. This process is closely linked with memory recall for locations and
events and the emotions evoked by them. Head movements predominate
as they anticipate future body movements and facilitate the amalgamation
of auditory, somatosensory and visual inputs. This applies to the
environmental context of the Dionysian theatron, on the southeastern slope
of the Acropolis – the spiritual heart of the city, described by Aeschylus in
Eumenides as ὄμμα γὰρ πάσης χθονὸς Θησῇδος—“The eye (heart) of the
whole land of Theseus.” The importance of the view from the theatron has
already been stated, but the notion of action extrapersonal space helps us
to further understand the significance of the relationship of the audience
97 A detailed study of the cognitive processing of music and dance in ancient
drama by the author is forthcoming.
to the monuments, cult places, topographical features and landscape
that lay in their wider (foveal) visual field, especially if we consider that
humans constantly use this facility to create a sense of personal scale and
dimension.98 The langscapes created by words and movement from the
skene and orchestra, also increased the audience’s awareness of their action
extrapersonal space, a visual dimension that as we have seen is usually
denied to the spectator in modern interior theatres, or even the Roman stage
where the scaenae frons blocked this view of the wider environment beyond.
Ambient extrapersonal cognition is the way in which vertical postural
control is maintained despite the movement of the visual field during
motion. In terms of the body this might be orientating one’s entire visual
field to the horizon, or a dancer “spotting” one physical location in order
to be able to stay in place during a turn. It is one’s relationship to this
concept of distant space where one can experience “out of body” feelings,
disorientation, dizziness and, according to Previc, a sense of the divine:
“Dreams and hallucinations represent the triumph of the extrapersonal
systems over the body-oriented or peripersonal systems.”99 He notes how
spatial language such as “on high” and “exalted” are frequently used to
describe the divine with language of “highness” being generally held as
positive (ὥστ᾽ οὐρανῷ στηρίζον εὑρήσεις κλέος— “the fame you will find
will rise up to heaven”),100 whereas the opposite of this vertical axis is
more often negative (Ἀραὶ δ᾽ ἐν οἴκοις γῆς ὑπαὶ κεκλήμεθα— “we are called
curses under the earth”).101 A vertical spatial dichotomy is found in Greek
literature where Olympian gods are placed above while darker, primordial
deities are associated with the underworld. This is illustrated by the symbol
of the healing god, Aesclepius, which depicts the chthonic symbol of the
snake, lifted upwards and coiled around a staff, representing the ability
to save one from death and is still a highly recognizable medical symbol
today. Previc thus concludes his seminal article on religious experience and
ambient extrapersonal space:
A review of the neuroanatomy and neurochemistry of dreaming,
hallucinations, and religious beliefs, practices and experiences
in normal humans indicates that there may be a common neural
substrate of all behavioral phenomena that reflect a predominance
of extrapersonal brain system activity and a reduction of bodily
(self-oriented) activity.102
98 T. Higuchi, K. Imanaka, A. E. Patla, “Action-oriented Representation of
Peripersonal and Extrapersonal Space: Insights from Manual and Locomotor
Actions,” Japanese Psychological Research, vol. 48.3, 2006, pp. 126–40.
99 Fred Previc, “The role of the Extrapersonal Brain Systems in Religious
Activity,” Consciousness and Cognition 15, 2006, p. 510.
100 Euripides, Bacchae 972.
101 Aeschylus, Eumenides 417.
102 Previc, 2006, p. 518, see note 99 above.
For the spectators seated in the Dionysian theatron the horizon and sky
dominated their ambient extrapersonal visual field, and this is one of the
most significance differences between the modern stage and ancient Greek
stage. The sense of religiosity and spiritually that pervades Greek drama
was enhanced not only by the orchestra’s relationship to the sanctuary
below, the festival atmosphere and the visual relationship of the audience to
places of cult significance, but also by the predominance of the sky in their
visual field—a concept readily exploited by Euripides in a pivotal moment
in the Bacchae when Pentheus emerges dressed as a female bacchant
accompanied by Dionysos.
καὶ μὴν ὁρᾶν μοι δύο μὲν ἡλίους δοκῶ,
δισσὰς δὲ Θήβας καὶ πόλισμ᾽ ἑπτάστομον:
καὶ ταῦρος ἡμῖν πρόσθεν ἡγεῖσθαι δοκεῖς
καὶ σῷ κέρατα κρατὶ προσπεφυκέναι.
ἀλλ᾽ ἦ ποτ᾽ ἦσθα θήρ τεταύρωσαι γὰρ οὖν.
ὁ θεὸς ὁμαρτεῖ, πρόσθεν ὢν οὐκ εὐμενής,
ἔνσπονδος ἡμῖν: νῦν δ᾽ ὁρᾷς ἃ χρή σ᾽ ὁρᾶν.
τί φαίνομαι δῆτ᾽ οὐχὶ τὴν Ἰνοῦς στάσιν
ἢ τὴν Ἀγαύης ἑστάναι, μητρός γ᾽ ἐμῆς
Look, I seem to see two suns in the sky? [ambient extrapersonal] The
seven gated City of Thebes – I see two of them! [action extrapersonal]
And you seem to be goading me as a bull, and horns seem to have
sprouted upon your head! [focal extrapersonal] Were you an animal
before now? Certainly now you have changed into a bull.
The god has made a truce and is with us now, though before he was
our enemy. And now you see as you ought to see.
What do I look like? Do I not have the carriage of Ino or my mother
Agave? [peripersonal]
(Euripides Bacchae 918-926 Tr. David Kovacs)
As the role of the actor developed and became more central to the entire
experience of drama so the skene (stage building) was located in the
strongest visual position in the performance space, the far center edge of
the orchestra (upstage center). The location created another opportunity
for the presentation of entrances and exits, one that seems to have been an
innovation of the theatron at the Sanctuary of Dionysos and not an element
derived from earlier choral or processional performances. The skene was
placed upstage of the orchestra because it offered the best frontal sight lines
to those seated anywhere in the theatron. It has been generally accepted
that the introduction of the skene can be dated to some time shortly before
Aeschylus’ Oresteia in 458 BCE; to be sure, the appearance of the Watchman
on the roof, opening the trilogy by bellowing the first word “God!” into
the cavea, would have been an impressive coup de théâtre if this was indeed
the case.103 If we cannot pinpoint the precise moment the skene came into
use in the tragic playing space, we might assume that the idea of a tent,
hut or “tiring house” belonged to the realm of the stationary performance
area that was set up specifically with the staging of a fixed performance
in mind, rather than the transitory and temporary nature of the squares,
market places and areas before temples occupied by performers as part of
larger processional events. For much of the fifth century the skene remained
a temporary structure built of wood and probably removed at the end of
each festival. What we see in Greek drama from the Oresteia onwards is the
skillful combination of the motional dynamics created by the eisodoi and the
dramatic qualities offered by the skene with roof, door and later, ekkyklema
(moving platform). We also do not know the dimensions of the skene or
how far it extended left and right towards the eisodoi. It must have been tall
enough to accommodate a doorway—around 20 feet, and this doorway
was wide enough to have a wheeled ekkyklema emerge—so at least 10 feet in
depth, which would be just enough room for a wheeled platform capable of
accommodating 2-4 people to be staged inside and then revealed.
The word skene is derived from the term for tent or small temporary
structure suggesting that its main function was to provide a doorway
and a place for the actors to change. There is also evidence of leather
curtains being used in comedy that may have led to the use of the term.104
There must also have been a “stage door” that the actors used to leave
the structure out of sight of the audience. This is shown by the casting of
three actors in the Oresteia; whatever way the parts are divided among the
three, at some point at least one of them is going to have to exit the skene
unseen and make a new entrance from one of the eisodoi as a different
character.105 So, the skene doorway offered a key focal point that would
103 On the skene in general and the use of its roof in is performance see Donald,
J. Mastronarde, “Actors on High: The Skene Roof, the Crane, and the Gods in Attic
Drama,” Classical Antiquity, vol. 9, no. 2, 1990, pp. 247-94.
104 For the ancient references, see Jeffrey Rustin (ed.) The Birth of Comedy,
Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 2011, p. 402.
105 C. W. Marshall (“Casting the Oresteia,” The Classical Journal, vol. 98, no.
3, 2003, p. 260) provides a handy casting chart showing how several different
commentators have proposed how the roles were divided in the Oresteia. If the
columns for Agamemnon are examined, there is no possibility that at least one actor
will not be required to leave the skene unseen and return in another role from one of
the eisodoi.
“upstage” any other happening that was arranged in the performing
area including the eisodoi. I do not believe the skene was painted. Rehm is
surely right to stress the importance of the “natural perspective” of the
Athenian theatre “where the ambient optic array comes directly from the
world to the eye.”106 The skene also had to serve the scenic purposes of three
tragedies, one comedy and a Satyr play within the time-span of a single
day and sometimes represent different locations within the same play (for
example in Aeschylus’ Eumenides and Sophocles’Ajax). Despite Aristotle’s
claim that Sophocles invented skenographia ((Poetics 1449a18) and Vitruvius’
statement that Aeschylus hired a certain Agatharchus, who was a trailblazer
in rendering perspective, we have no evidence from the period that the
skene was painted.107 If it was, it does seem strange that Aristophanes’
meta-theatrical comedies are silent on the subject when so much comic
mileage is derived from textual and visual references to the eisodoi (Clouds
327 and Birds 297), skene (Wasps 317-32 and 352-462), doorways (Frogs
460-78), upper level (Wasps 143), ekkyklema (Acharnians 403-9), mechane
(Clouds 252, Thesmophoriazusae 1098), prohedria (Frogs 297), orchestra (Wasps
248), altar—temporary or not (Thesmophoriazusae 695, Knights 147-49), ikria
(Thesmophoriazusae 395, Knights 163) and theatron (Peace 735).
Entrances from the skene door introduced the element of sudden visual
revelations into the performance space; whereas anyone entering via an
eisodos was clearly seen prior to his arrival in the orchestra, the skene could
produce an interruption or a reversal of what the spectators might have
been expecting to see. It has been shown that in cognitive terms doorways
create “event boundaries”; when people pass through doorways their
experience of location is updated: as they enter a new location, they forget
more information than if there had been no such shift. Similar studies into
text comprehension have shown that memory also declines where there has
been a shift in location. The cognitive shift experienced by crossing an event
boundary creates the need to refresh personal understanding of ongoing
events.108 In a similar fashion watching a character enter via a doorway
forces the mind of the spectator into present, on-stage action creating a
dramatic event boundary that visually and cognitively propels the narrative
of the play. In Aeschylus’ Agamemnon the opening of the doors and the
entrance of Clytemnestra from within abruptly curtails the previous on-
stage action allowing her to seize the visual focus, create a cognitive event
horizon, and dominate the following narrative. We see this in operation
106 Rehm, 2002, p. 18, see note 24 above.
107 On skenographia, see J. Davidson, “Theatrical Production” in Justina Gregory,
ed., A Companion to Greek Tragedy, Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell, 2005.
108 G. A. Radvansky, S. A. Krawietz, and A. K. Tamplin, “Walking through
Doorways Causes Forgetting: Further Explorations,” The Quarterly Journal of
Experimental Psychology, vol. 64. 8, 2011, pp. 1632-45. J. M. Curiel and G. A.
Radvansky, “Mental Maps in Memory Retrieval and Comprehension,” Memory, 10,
2002, pp. 113–26.
at 587 when she enters into the middle of the messenger scene and shifts
attention from Agamemnon’s action’s at Troy to her own predicament
while she waited for her husband at home. Her abrupt dismissal of the
messenger’s purpose at 598-99 is a textual marker of the cognitive impact
of this kind of boundary crossing entrance. Not only does Clytemnestra
enter the stage, she also disrupts and usurps the messenger scene. This
new usage of the central doorway of the skene provided far more than a
convenient method of allowing an actor to enter the space rather than
walking along a long eisodoi—it framed the actors in the strongest visual
place on the performance space, upstage center, and provided the ancient
dramatist with the means to focus the audiences’ attention on the here and
now of the narrative and to raise their anticipatory and emotional stakes in
the play. If we also comprehend the use of the ekkyklema in these terms we
might begin to understand the theatrical coup de theatre such an entrance
would have created.
The skene had an enormous effect on the stagecraft of ancient drama not
only by creating a frontal visual focal point and a narrative event horizon
but also by heightening the importance in the role of the actor above and
beyond the dramatic functionality of the chorus. There were many factors—
financial, social, artistic—that contributed to the lessening of the role of
the chorus in drama after the fifth century, but once the eisodoi lost their
primary function as facilitators of movement in and out of the performance,
and the skene became the high stage of the Hellenesitic theatre, the chorus
lost much of its visual impact. The sense of dynamic movement and
sweeping visuality of earlier Greek drama was severely diminished.109
Perhaps in front of the skene there existed a low wooden raised stage
(3-4 feet high and deep enough to display the ekkyklema). David Wiles is
adamant that there was never a stage in the fifth century theatre and calls
the whole idea “another important twentieth century chimera.” For Wiles,
it is the center of the orchestra that is the strongest place on stage.110 This
view, however, makes the assumption that a circular orchestra existed in the
fifth century Athenian space, and this has now been seriously challenged.
Whatever the size of the playing area, the upstage center positionthe
site of the skene—will always dominate any other area “on stage,” unless
it is visually blocked, attention is momentarily pulled away from it, or it is
left vacant of any performers. A raised platform would do much to solve
the blocking problems caused by a chorus of 12-15 actors inhabiting the
109 As theatre in the fourth century became more actor-centered so we hear of
various performers known for creating their own distinctive visual effects, such
as Callippides who Aristotle claims was called “a monkey” and Pindarus, both of
whom are accused of using “excessive movement” and “whirling around like a
discus” (Poetics 1461b 28-36). Timotheus of Zacynthus was apparently famous for
playing Ajax and falling on a trick sword in full view of the spectators (school. on
Sophocles’ Ajax 864).
110 Wiles, 1997, pp. 63-86, see note 2 above.
space downstage of the skene doorway. Those who have thought that the
steep rake of the theatron would have negated the need for a raised stage,
as the spectators would be looking down on the playing area, are both
overestimating the size of the seating area and forgetting that the judges
and dignitaries sat in the first few rows.111 Taking this into consideration,
without a low raised platform the prohedria would have possibly been the
worst seats in the house.112 Also, the fact that there is no evidence for a
raised stage from the fifth century should not exclude positing that one
existed. Like the skene it fronted it would have been made of wood and
been temporary, two features that would preclude it lasting for 2500 years.
Furthermore, there is evidence of performers standing on raised platforms
found on Attic vase paintings where a kitharode (lyre player) might be
depicted on a bema—a small raised platform, performing for an audience.113
There is one tantalizing piece of vase painting evidence for a raised
stage in the fifth century theatre. This is an Attic red-figured chous called
the Perseus Dance Vase, which is dated to around 420 BCE.114 This depicts
what appears to be a comic Perseus dancing on a low stage with a short
ladder leading to a lower level where an older bearded man, wrapped
in a cloak, sits on a chair with a younger male figure seated next to him
holding either a pipe, a stylus or a reed for an aulos. The vase is badly
damaged but on the right of the scene, next to the stage, is what looks like
the representation of stiff canvas like fabric with three seams. Could this
be some kind of masking flat, a curtain, or a scene dressing of some sort?
As Csapo has recently observed, the set-up of the stage is very similar to
the representations of comic stages we see on South Italian vases in the
fourth century, and while this scene may not have anything at all to do
with the Athenian theatre space, in that it may represent a performance at
any number of Athenian festivals, it is indeed contemporary evidence for a
stage being used in the fifth century.115
The performance space at the Sanctuary of Dionysos Eleuthereus in
Athens was an environmental venue, deliberately situated on the southeast
slope of the Acropolis to take full advantage of the spectacular views over
the old southern city, the Attic hills and countryside and the sea (Fig. 10).
Festival, sanctuary and performance space were all conceived of at the same
time, around 530 BCE. By the mid-fifth century the place where dithyramb,
tragedy, comedy and satyr drama was staged consisted of a predominantly
111 Wiles, 1997, pp. 176-77, see note 2 above.
112 Rehm, 2002, p. 38, n. 9, see note 24 above. Rehm is tentative about a raised
stage and cites a list of those for and against.
113 For example, on an Attic red-figure calyx krater in the manner of the Peleus
Painter dated 430-20 BCE showing a victorious kithara player mounting a bema,
London, The British Museum (E 460): Fig 99 in S. D. Bundrick, Music and Image in
Classical Athens. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005, p. 169.
114 For an image and a good description, see Eric Csapo, Actors and Icons of the
Ancient Theater, Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell, 2010, pp. 25-7, fig. 1.10.
115 Eric Csapo, above note 114.
frontal, temporary wooden theatron overlooking a rectilinear orchestra that
was connected to the external environment by two eisodoi which facilitated
movement in and out of the space.
Fig. 10. Speculative reconstruction of the theatron at the Sanctuary of Dionysos
Eleutherus in 458 BCE - the year of Aeschylus’ Oresteia. (Desiree Sanchez
Meineck) Note the still ruined Acropolis from the Persian destruction in 480/79
and the brand new statue of Athena by Pheidias completed around this time.
There may have been houses standing behind the theatron and the plan shows the
location of the later Odeon of Pericles erected in the 440’s. The theatron as shown
could accommodate 6000 people. Capacity is based on International Building
Code guidelines 2009, section 1004.7 which stipulates that seats without dividing
arms are designed for 18’’ per person with a minimum of 12” from seat to seat
front to back.
At some point prior to 458 BCE the skene was established on the strongest
visual position, upstage center of the orchestra, further emphasizing the
importance of frontality in a theatre of the mask. Despite no evidence for
a circular dancing place in the fifth century, the orchestra was the focus of
the spectator’s embodied experience of experiencing live drama, though
viewers were also optically connected to the sky, landscape, monuments,
roadways and cult places in their visual field. By setting what we know of
the form of the fifth century theatre alongside some of the latest research
from the affective sciences, I hope to have offered a greater understanding
of how this unique theatre space functioned in performance and was beheld
by the spectators who gathered there at least twice a year to watch and feel
the power of their live theatre.
... Due to the 1940s style costuming and music used in the production, this could also be read as referencing the London Blitz. 35 For scholarship on the former, see Meineck (2011Meineck ( , 2012, and on the latter see Budelmann (2010) and Budelmann and Easterling (2010). ...
... Due to the 1940s style costuming and music used in the production, this could also be read as referencing the London Blitz. 35 For scholarship on the former, see Meineck (2011Meineck ( , 2012, and on the latter see Budelmann (2010) and Budelmann and Easterling (2010). ...
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Scholars frequently debate the applicability of contemporary theatre theories and acting techniques to Greek tragedy. Evidence both for and against such usage, however, is usually drawn from textual analyses which attempt to find support for these readings within the plays. Such arguments neglect the performative dimension of these theories. This article demonstrates an alternative approach by considering a case study of a Stanislavskian-inspired production of a Greek tragedy. Taking Katie Mitchell’s 2007 Royal National Theatre production Women of Troy as a paradigmatic example, the article explores the application of a Stanislavskian approach to Euripides’ Troades. I argue that Mitchell’s production indicates that modern theatre techniques can not only transform Greek tragedy into lucid productions of contemporary relevance, but can also supplement the scholarly analysis of the plays. The Stanislavskian acting techniques are seen to work like a domesticating translation, recreating themes and emotions from the extant tragedy in a powerful way that enhances the performative dimensions of the play and counters the idea of a fixed Euripidean meaning. The article concludes that a performative methodology is essential for reception scholars and performance historians who debate the applicability of a Stanislavskian approach to Greek tragedy.
... Through an approach that aims to recognise and investigate the religious and public spaces of the past as "embodied spaces" and "sensory artefacts" [4,5], we can raise hypotheses on the sound experience in the ancient world and on the complex relationship between spaces and social interactions, making use of the potential provided by the application of 3D technology to virtual acoustics. Furthermore, taking into account sound features and the way sound was propagated in spaces, 3D technology applied to virtual acoustics can provide a broader perspective on the use of spaces in the past, allowing us to explore the connection between auditory space and acoustic space [6] and opening up new scenarios in research. ...
... Through an approach that aims to recognise and investigate the religious and public spaces of the past as "embodied spaces" and "sensory artefacts" [4,5], we can raise hypotheses on the sound experience in the ancient world and on the complex relationship between spaces and social interactions, making use of the potential provided by the application of 3D technology to virtual acoustics. Furthermore, taking into account sound features and the way sound was propagated in spaces, 3D technology applied to virtual acoustics can provide a broader perspective on the use of spaces in the past, allowing us to explore the connection between auditory space and acoustic space [6] and opening up new scenarios in research. ...
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This paper aims to investigate digital heritage and acoustical techniques for exploring sonic heritage of archaeological sites and performative spaces. Through the analysis of case studies in Greece and in Italy, this paper intends to highlight a new approach to the development of the relationship between space, sound, and environment and a novel method in deciphering the sonic heritage of ancient spaces thanks to digital technology.
... Technology provides a variety of tools to help students actively participate and engage with peers and supports their actions to interact with tools and artefacts situated in the community (Wilson & Myers, 1999). The theatre space provides powerful embodied cognitive relationships between the audience and performers who work as a medium for transmitting emotionality, detailed dramatic movements and other spatial elements of the drama (Meineck, 2012). Therefore, technology affordance is beneficial in connection with the theatre space only if it is appropriate enough to provide effective dramatic experience for the student performers and make it more engaging for the audience (Dettori, 2007). ...
In this study, the transformational play approach was further used to deploy drama‐based situational learning in the classroom through the Digital Learning Theatre (DLT) by engaging drama performers and the audience collaboratively. This study analysed the learners' learning effectiveness based on translation and sentence‐construction abilities, and their perception by focussing on concentration, and comprehension of dialogues before and after the drama‐based activity. The experimental results were based on both the DLT including tablet PCs to enable audience participation in drama performances, and the DLT for drama performances in which the audience can participate through traditional open discussion sessions with the narrator of the drama. Sixty‐five students were selected randomly as participants from the English as a Foreign Language academic program at the junior high school level. The application of the DLT including the tablet PCs approach showed considerable improvement in students' learning effectiveness as well as a significant positive effect on classroom learning, outperform the effectiveness of the DLT with traditional open discussion sessions for the audience. Accordingly, to improve students' learning effectiveness, their engagement in the learning process can be advanced through situational learning activities using educational technologies that combine with collaborative learning mechanisms for classroom learning. Practitioner notes What is already known about this topic The transformational play proposed by Sasha Barab is designed based on situated cognition theory to position persons, content, and context together through digital games. Dorothy Heathcote proposed a drama‐based learning approach for learning in the classroom, and learners can play various roles in the drama to learn in a situational learning setting. The teacher, too, plays a role to guide the students and engage them in the situational learning setting. Integration of immersive educational technologies supports learning by reducing obstacles to adoption in the learning process and improve learning effectiveness. Within a rich contextual learning environment, learners can be placed in different situational learning tasks that allow them to apply existing knowledge and experiences. What does this paper add This study introduces a manner of applying the transformational play approach in drama‐based situational learning activities suitable for collaborative learning in a classroom setting. It introduces a practical and simple method to transform a regular classroom into a digital version of the learning theatre, including a virtual stage to drama performances. The drama‐based situational learning approach facilitates the audience as well as the performers to transform themselves into protagonists in the learning context by collaboratively following the learning content and learning with their peers. The technology‐enhanced drama‐based situational learning approach is introduced based on the transformation play approach that allows the students to learn situationally through different script instances, and improves their learning effectiveness by helping them understand the learning content through performing, participating, watching, and interacting in the learning context. Implications for practice and/or policy Learners can apply their prior knowledge and experiences creatively through drama‐based learning activities, and interactive engagement allows the audience to participate in the learning process equally as drama performers. Educators and learning system developers can implement this approach to facilitate situational practice and discuss learning content. The learning process supports the reinterpretation of the learners' experiences and reflects on how to procure/adopt new knowledge and apply it to real‐life situations. Drama performance is a collaborative/group learning task and it is performed for the audience. Students with higher achievements will help students with lower achievements so that everyone can contribute in the learning process to achieve their learning objectives.
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The present paper puts into discussion the aspect of stage aurality from multiple perspectives. In this regard, stage aurality is treated in conjunction with the visual aspect of the performance. At the same time, the study focuses on the aural and semiological analysis of the dimension of stage speech. Considering the role of the director in creating the aural architecture of the performance, the study investigates also the narrative aspects of stage aurality. In conclusion, the analysis undertaken notices the way in which the aurality contributes to the unfolding of the scenic actions from the perspective of the spectator considered witness to the scenic events.
This dissertation is an interdisciplinary study of the politics of theatrical culture at Pergamon during and after the Attalid dynasty. Hellenistic theater survives only in fragments and is underrepresented in research on ancient performance; I seek to fill this gap with a comprehensive history of the performing arts at Pergamon. The questions driving this work are threefold. First, I aim to chronicle what performance was like at Pergamon, its role in society, and how theater at Pergamon compared to other places, or to our amalgamated understanding of Hellenistic theater as a general phenomenon. Next, because theater emerged in the context of democratic Athens but flourished across the Mediterranean, and because Pergamon was not a democracy but a royal capital, we must ask how its status as a monarchial stronghold affected the civic experience of drama for its subjects. Third, I seek to understand the role of Dionysos in the Attalids’ dynastic ideology and to disentangle the web of political and religious relationships among the royal family, the performers, and the worshippers of both Dionysos and the kings. In the royal capital, the theatrical institution and its participants were all subject to the watchful oversight of the dynasts. Likewise, performers at Pergamon served not a generic Dionysos, but the specific aspect of him tied to the Attalid royal family: Dionysos Kathegemon, the ‘leader.’ Literary, epigraphic, material, and archival evidence illuminates the relationships among performers, local government, and the dynasts, which shaped not only performance practices and royal benefactions, but also the cult of Dionysos as the god of performance and of disseminating royal ideology, participation in ruler cult, and, later, political stunts using over-the-top theatrics. I argue that the monarchy promoted theater as a key component of an ideological program of royal Dionysism which served to legitimize and maintain its authority. In the first three chapters, after an overview of the development of Hellenistic theater, I identify features specific to Pergamon, using as evidence the archaeology of Pergamon’s theater, inscriptions concerning actors and festivals, and the monarchy’s ties to the cult of Dionysos in the second to first centuries BCE. Next, an excursion to nearby Teos assesses the relationship between the monarchy and the actors’ association under its patronage. The final chapter extends the narrative to the post-Attalid period. While Pergamon continued to maintain its own theatrical tradition for centuries, increasingly theatrical political displays refracted through the Pergamene tradition by Mithridates VI and Roman politicians created an independent concept of an exportable, Anatolian-tinged theatricality most visible in Pompey’s third triumph and his construction of the first permanent theater in Rome.
In Greek mythology, the Muses are Memory's daughters. Their genealogy suggests a deep connection between music and memory in Graeco-Roman culture, but how was this connection understood and experienced by ancient authors, artists, performers, and audiences? How is music remembered and how does it memorialize in a world before recording technology, where sound accumulated differently than it does today? This volume explores music's role in the discourses of cultural memory, communication, and commemoration in ancient Greek and Roman societies. It reveals the many and varied ways in which musical memory formed a fundamental part of social, cultural, ritual, and political life in ancient Greek- and Latin-speaking communities, from classical Athens to Ptolemaic Alexandria and ancient Rome. Drawing on the contributors' interdisciplinary expertise in art history, philology, performance studies, history, and ethnomusicology, eleven original chapters and the editors' Introduction offer new approaches for the study of Graeco-Roman music and musical culture.
Theaters are among the most ubiquitous structures of ancient Greece, populating the urban centers and countryside of mainland Greece, Asia Minor, and southern Italy and Sicily. This chapter examines both the evolution of the form of the Greek theater and its changing uses and purposes. New areas of scholarship on the theater are highlighted in order to provide direction for future research and indicate questions or problems that continue to deserve attention. The three distinct parts of the general theater form are canonized by their abundant representation in the later Classical and Hellenistic periods: the cavea, also known as the koilon; the circular orchestra, or performance area (dancing place); and the skene (or scaenae frons), the scene building. Theaters were places where tragic and comic plays, as well as dithyrambic poetry, were performed. The chapter also highlights the economy, geometry and multiple uses of the Greek theater.
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  This paper reviews behavioral evidence demonstrating that space is accurately represented in the brain in relation to action capabilities. We initially review intriguing neuropsychological findings that show that space is differentially represented depending on whether the area is in reach of the hand (peripersonal space) or out of reach of the hand (extrapersonal space). We then review the literature on the characteristics of locomotor actions for avoiding obstacles to show that the relative dimensions of obstacles to relevant body parts are accurately represented at least one step before the obstacles are reached, i.e., while the obstacles are present in the extrapersonal space. The findings obtained from a number of studies on manual and locomotor actions will yield tentative conclusions: (a) the representation of one's body (body schema) is deeply involved in one's representation of space; (b) the representation of space is modified in response to alteration of action capabilities, although this is likely to occur only for well-learned actions, irrespective of the type; and (c) representation of space centered on the hand somewhat differs from that centered on the whole body.
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This paper discusses possible correspondences between neuroscientific findings and phenomenologically informed methodologies in the investigation of kinesthetic empathy in watching dance. Interest in phenomenology has recently increased in cognitive science (Gallagher and Zahavi 2008) and dance scholars have recently contributed important new insights into the use of phenomenology in dance studies (e.g. Legrand and Ravn (Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 8(3):389–408, 2009); Parviainen (Dance Research Journal 34(1):11–26, 2002); Rothfield (Topoi 24:43–53, 2005)). In vision research, coherent neural mechanisms for perceptual phenomena were uncovered, thus supporting correlation of phenomenology and neurophysiology Spillmann (Vision Research 49(12):1507–1521, 2009). Correspondingly, correlating subjects’ neurophysiological data with qualitative responses has been proposed as a means to research the human brain in the study of consciousness (Gallagher and Zahavi 2008), with similar issues in clinical psychology Mishara (Current Opinion in Psychiatry 20(6):559–569, 2007) and biology Kosslyn et al. (American Psychologist 57:341–351, 2002). Yet the relationship between neuroscience and qualitative research informed by phenomenology remains problematic. How qualitative research normally handles subjective experiences is difficult to reconcile with standard statistical analysis of objective data. Recent technological developments in cognitive neuroscience have inspired a number of researchers to use more naturalistic stimuli, outside the laboratory environment, such as dance, thereby perhaps helping to open up the cognitive sciences to more phenomenologically informed approaches. A question central to our research, addressed here, is how the phenomenal experiences of a dance audience member, as accessed by qualitative research methods, can be related to underlying neurophysiological events. We outline below some methodological challenges encountered in relating audiences’ first-person accounts of watching live dance performance to neurophysiological evidence of their experiences. KeywordsDance audience–Kinesthetic empathy–Phenomenological experience–Cognitive neuroscience–Qualitative audience research
Conference Paper
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We present a biologically-motivated system for the recognition of actions from video sequences. The approach builds on recent work on object recognition based on hi- erarchical feedforward architectures (25, 16, 20) and ex- tends a neurobiological model of motion processing in the visual cortex (10). The system consists of a hierarchy of spatio-temporal feature detectors of increasing complexity: an input sequence is first analyzed by an array of motion- direction sensitive units which, through a hierarchy of pro- cessing stages, lead to position-invariant spatio-temporal feature detectors. We experiment with different types of motion-direction sensitive units as well as different system architectures. As in (16), we find that sparse features in in- termediate stages outperform dense ones and that using a simple feature selection approach leads to an efficient sys- tem that performs better with far fewer features. We test the approach on different publicly available action datasets, in all cases achieving the highest results reported to date.
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Previous research using virtual environments has revealed a location-updating effect in which there is a decline in memory when people move from one location to another. Here we assess whether this effect reflects the influence of the experienced context, in terms of the degree of immersion of a person in an environment, as suggested by some work in spatial cognition, or by a shift in context. In Experiment 1, the degree of immersion was reduced by using smaller displays. In comparison, in Experiment 2 an actual, rather than a virtual, environment was used, to maximize immersion. Location-updating effects were observed under both of these conditions. In Experiment 3, the original encoding context was reinstated by having a person return to the original room in which objects were first encoded. However, inconsistent with an encoding specificity account, memory did not improve by reinstating this context. Finally, we did a further analysis of the results of this and previous experiments to assess the differential influence of foregrounding and retrieval interference. Overall, these data are interpreted in terms of the event horizon model of event cognition and memory.
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Every eye movement produces a shift in the visual image on the retina. The receptive field, or retinal response area, of an individual visual neuron moves with the eyes so that after an eye movement it covers a new portion of visual space. For some parietal neurons, the location of the receptive field is shown to shift transiently before an eye movement. In addition, nearly all parietal neurons respond when an eye movement brings the site of a previously flashed stimulus into the receptive field. Parietal cortex both anticipates the retinal consequences of eye movements and updates the retinal coordinates of remembered stimuli to generate a continuously accurate representation of visual space.
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When we observe someone performing an action, do our brains simulate making that action? Acquired motor skills offer a unique way to test this question, since people differ widely in the actions they have learned to perform. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging to study differences in brain activity between watching an action that one has learned to do and an action that one has not, in order to assess whether the brain processes of action observation are modulated by the expertise and motor repertoire of the observer. Experts in classical ballet, experts in capoeira and inexpert control subjects viewed videos of ballet or capoeira actions. Comparing the brain activity when dancers watched their own dance style versus the other style therefore reveals the influence of motor expertise on action observation. We found greater bilateral activations in premotor cortex and intraparietal sulcus, right superior parietal lobe and left posterior superior temporal sulcus when expert dancers viewed movements that they had been trained to perform compared to movements they had not. Our results show that this 'mirror system' integrates observed actions of others with an individual's personal motor repertoire, and suggest that the human brain understands actions by motor simulation.
When does democracy work well, and why? Is democracy the best form of government? These questions are of supreme importance today as the United States seeks to promote its democratic values abroad.Democracy and Knowledgeis the first book to look to ancient Athens to explain how and why directly democratic government by the people produces wealth, power, and security. Combining a history of Athens with contemporary theories of collective action and rational choice developed by economists and political scientists, Josiah Ober examines Athenian democracy's unique contribution to the ancient Greek city-state's remarkable success, and demonstrates the valuable lessons Athenian political practices hold for us today. He argues that the key to Athens's success lay in how the city-state managed and organized the aggregation and distribution of knowledge among its citizens. Ober explores the institutional contexts of democratic knowledge management, including the use of social networks for collecting information, publicity for building common knowledge, and open access for lowering transaction costs. He explains why a government's attempt to dam the flow of information makes democracy stumble. Democratic participation and deliberation consume state resources and social energy. Yet as Ober shows, the benefits of a well designed democracy far outweigh its costs. Understanding how democracy can lead to prosperity and security is among the most pressing political challenges of modern times.Democracy and Knowledgereveals how ancient Greek politics can help us transcend the democratic dilemmas that confront the world today.
There have been numerous attempts to understand the role and importance of the Great Dionysia in Athens, and it is a festival that has been made crucial to varied and important characterizations of Greek culture as well as the history of drama or literature.1 Recent scholarship, however, has greatly extended our understanding of the formation of fifth-century Athenian ideology–in the sense of the structure of attitudes and norms of behaviour2–and this developing interest in what might be called a ‘civic discourse’ requires a reconsideration of the Great Dionysia as a city festival. For while there have been several fascinating readings of particular plays with regard to the polis and its ideology,3 there is still a considerable need to place the festival itself in terms of the ideology of thc polis. Indeed, recent critics in a justifiable reaction away from writers such as Gilbert Murray have tended rather to emphasize on the one hand that the festival is a place of entertainment rather than religious ritual, and on the other hand that the plays should be approached primarily as dramatic performances. This results in the following type of description. © 1987, The Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies. All rights reserved.
Biological motion perception is influenced by observers' familiarity with the observed action. Here, we used classical dance as a means to investigate how visual and motor experience modulates perceptual mechanism for configural processing of actions. Although some ballet moves are performed by only one gender, male and female dancers train together and acquire visual knowledge of all ballet moves. Twenty-four expert ballet dancers (12 female) and matched non-expert participants viewed pairs of upright and inverted point light female and common dance movements. Visual discrimination between different exemplars of the same movement presented upright was significantly better in experts than controls, whilst no differences were found when the same stimuli were presented upside down. These results suggest expertise influences configural action processing. Within the expert group, effects were stronger for female participants than for males, whilst no differences were found between movement types. This observer gender effect could suggest an additional role for motor familiarity in action perception, over and above the visual experience. Our results are consistent with a specific motor contribution to configural processing of action.