The Roman Stage: A Short History of Latin Drama in the Time of the Republic

By W. Beare | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXI
SEATS IN THE ROMAN THEATRE

LET US now imagine ourselves present at a performance in the time of Plautus or Terence, and look about us in the theatre. The theatre consisted of two main parts, the scaena and the cauea, the scaena for the actors, the cauea for the spectators. Let us take the cauea first and ask ourselves what sort of accommodation was provided for the spectators, and what can be known about the spectators themselves.

A difficulty meets us at the outset. Were seats provided for the spectators? Ritschl denied this on the authority of a passage in Tacitus ( Ann. xiv. 20), and consequently regarded all references in the prologues to seats as proof that these prologues could not have been written before the year 145 B.C. Ritschl's view is now generally abandoned. (See Appendix (a).)

We may consider at this point a number of references in Livy to seats in the first half of the second century B.C. In 194 special seats were, according to Livy, assigned to the senators. In 179 the consul Lepidus ordered the construction of a 'theatre and stage' near the temple of Apollo (theatrum et proscenium ad Apollinis); here the word theatrum denotes, as in Greek, the auditorium -- what the Romans called the cauea. In 174 the censors undertook the construction of a stage which was to be of use to magistrates giving shows in the future (scaenam aedilibus praetoribusque praebendam), but this again seems to have been only a temporary structure. In 155 a stone theatre was planned and its building begun near the Palatine, but Puritanical opposition, led by the consul Publius Cornelius Nasica, not only secured the destruction of this theatre but prevented for some time the customary erection of tiers of seats for the spectators, who were therefore forced to stand ( Livy Epit. xlix). No permanent stone theatre was erected until the building of the theatre of Pompey in 55 B.C. In the light of these records we can perhaps understand why Tacitus makes the diehards of Nero's day claim that in the good

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