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

By W. Beare | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XVIII
THE MIME

OF ALL the forms of entertainment which come within our survey, the mime was at once the most primitive and the most permanent. In its earliest form it cannot be classed as drama at all. All over the ancient world there were jugglers, acrobats and public entertainers of all kinds, male and female, who displayed their skill in the market-place, at festivals or wherever and whenever they could secure patrons. Among these nameless mountebanks there were some with a special gift for mimicry. They could imitate with their voices the neighing of horses, etc. ( Plato Rep. 396 b); they had still greater skill in gesture, an art which was carried to a high pitch in the ancient world and which involved the use of every limb -- the mimi were akin to the acrobats -- as well as of facial expression. We have been considering them so far as solo performers, but assistants were required when the chief mime. wished to represent such everyday scenes as fruit-stealing or the arrival of a quack doctor. These were stock subjects for the deikelistai, little companies of players (probably masked) who were popular among the Dorian Greeks. We also hear of the autokabdaloi ('improvisers'), whose name. reminds us that the performers of farce often depend a good deal on the inspiration of the moment. The social status of such performers was low, and their performance was of a simple kind. A rough platform served to raise them above the heads of the crowd; for scenery a portable curtain was sufficient. The actors were concealed behind the curtain till their turn came; then, parting the folds in the middle, they stepped into the public view. While they performed a colleague might be collecting coins from the spectators, as we see in a Roman wall-painting.1 Xenophon gives us a capital description of a performance by a boy and girl, the property of a Syracusan dancing-master, who by means of dance, gesture and words represented the love of Dionysus and Ariadne. This performance was given in a

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1
Reich, Mimus, p. 540.

-141-

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