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

By W. Beare | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III
LIVIUS ANDRONICUS AND THE COMING OF LITERARY DRAMA TO ROME

BY THE middle of the third century B.C. we find theatrical activities established in various parts of Italy. In Etruria public taste seems to have been satisfied with music and dance, athletic, gladiatorial and equestrian performances. In Rome the merry banter of the harvest-home had developed under foreign influence into a professional. but mainly improvised performance consisting of song, dance and buffoonery. On Latium's southern frontier there had existed from early times the Atellane farce, a kind of Punch and Judy show, which displayed such stock types as the Clown, the Guzzler and the Gaffer in ridiculous situations. In the Dorian settlements of southern Italy and Sicily there were rude performances akin to the mime, in which actors in a dress like that of Old Comedy performed the so-called 'Phlyax' farces, burlesques of mythological themes, showing the gods in various undignified situations -- Zeus on a love-adventure, equipped with a ladder, his path lit by Hermes, while his fair charmer gazes from a window; Apollo climbing the temple-roof at Delphi to escape from Heracles, and the like; such performances were not far removed from mime, which was itself not easy to distinguish from the activities of jugglers, acrobats and mountebanks of all kinds. The special interest of the phlyax-farces is that, as the vase-paintings show, the actors stood on a stage. Here we have a contrast with classical Greek tragedy and comedy, in which the centre of interest was the orchestra, where the chorus danced and where, as it is now coming to be held, the actors stood.1

At the beginning of the third century the mythological burlesque (hilarotragoedia) had been given a literary form by Rhinthon of Tarentum. We may be sure that the Tarentines

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1
But I cannot suppress a doubt as to how far the vase-paintings represent actual stage performances. Some of the scenes depicted on them seem to violate the conventions of ancient drama. They are essentially pictures of momentary

-15-

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