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

By W. Beare | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXIV
COSTUMES AND MASKS

IN THIS chapter my object is (1) to describe the costumes worn by actors in Republican times, (2) to show how these costumes were turned to account by the dramatists. The evidence used will be that of the extant plays and fragments. It is usual to supplement this evidence by reference to the statements of Pollux, Donatus and other late writers and to Campanian reliefs, wall-paintings, terra-cottas and the illustrations in certain medieval manuscripts of Terence. Unfortunately all of this material is of doubtful value, interesting when it is supported by the evidence of the plays, but otherwise only too likely to give a wrong impression.

Costume on the Roman stage evidently varied according to the type of drama, for it was used as the basis of classification of the different types of drama. Our complete plays belong to what Donatus (De Com. vi §§ 1 and 6) calls the palliata, comedy in which the characteristic dress was the pallium or Greek mantle of everyday wear. The Roman actors of the palliata, like the Greek actors of New Comedy, wore the ordinary Greek dress of contemporary life, with certain modifications which will be described. I shall begin by summarising the essential features of ordinary Greek dress, most of which are mentioned in the plays.

The undergarment was the Ionic chiton (Latin tunica), a linen or woollen shirt with holes for the neck and arms. Sometimes it had sleeves. It was drawn on over the head, and fastened with a girdle by which it could be tucked up if necessary. Sometimes the chiton was the only garment. But it was usual to wear outside the chiton the himation (Latin pallium), a woollen wrap, rectangular in shape, which was drawn round the body and adjusted in various ways. It was usually fastened with a clasp over one shoulder. Sometimes the pallium was the only garment. As the ordinary pallium was somewhat cumbrous, we find that where freedom of

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