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

By W. Beare | Go to book overview

APPENDIX A
SEATS IN THE GREEK AND ROMAN THEATRES

( Classical Revue, Vol. liii. pp. 51-5.)

THERE are several passages in ancient authors1which, taken together, seem to imply that the spectators of Roman drama during its productive period were forced to stand. This view was readily accepted by nineteenth-century scholars, eager to find as many differences as possible between Greek and Roman practice; it is, of course, incompatible with the frequent references to a seated audience in the prologues of Plautus' plays;2such references were therefore regarded as proof that the prologues themselves were post-Plautine.3 We may, indeed, agree that a prologue is the part of a play which is most liable to modification at the hands of later producers;4 and with the prologues we might be willing also to sacrifice the concluding words of the Truculentus:

spectatores, bene ualete, plaudite atque exsurgite.

There are other references to seats, however, within the body of the plays (Aul. 719, Curc. 644-7, Poen. 1224); and these passages set us a pretty dilemma: are we to regard them as examples of somewhat mechanical translation from the Greek, or as post-Plautine insertions?

The supposed evidence against the existence of seats seems to imply further that the spectators were forced to stand not merely from lack of accommodation but because of decrees designed to check luxury and idleness.5 Such legislation must have been singularly unpopular with the theatre-goers who had to remain on their feet throughout long plays, the actors and playwrights who were handicapped by the discomfort thus inflicted on their public, and even the magistrates who gave the shows in order to win the favour of the electorate. Every one present would, of course, be aware that in Greek theatres no farther away than Pompeii seating accommodation was provided for all. In Poen. 1224 a character remarks 'in pauca confer: sitiunt qui sedent', 'Cut it short: the

____________________
1
Given in P. -W., s.v. theatrum.
2
Amph. 65; Capt. 12; Poen. 10; Pseud. 1.
3
This view is still upheld, e.g. by Wight Duff, Literary History of Rome, 1927, p. 157.
4
Cf. the prologue to the Casina, which refers expressly to a revival performance.
5
Cf. Tac. Ann. xiv. 20: stantem populum spectauisse, ne, si consideret theatro, dies totos ignauia continuaret.

-233-

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