01 Ancient Greek Theatre and Ancient Roman Theatre
The oldest construction for performing a play, built about 2500 years ago
The theater worshipped Dionysius, the god of wine and fertility, and held a dramatic festival
The Theatre of Dionysius is a Greek theater built by utilizing the slope of the foot of Mount Acropolis in Athens. It is said that a circular space with a diameter of 24m where a chorus was performed and the sloping tiers of audience seats had been already constructed by the 6th century B.C. A stone-built theater started to be constructed by the 5th century B.C., and it is believed that the current form was completed from around 340 B.C. to 319 B.C.
Tragedians such as Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, and comedy writers such as Aristophanes took an active role in the dramatic festival held in this theater. It can be said that the theater was yet to reach its perfection back then. The now-existing theater went through a renovation thereafter to a form similar to that of a Roman theater.
In Greek theater, there were a logeion (a stage where the actors perform), a circular orchestra (earthen floor where the chorus stood) in the anterior of the logeion, and the fan-shaped audience seats that surrounded the orchestra from an angle of more than 180 degrees. This is a unique shape, where the stage faced the audience and the chorus was surrounded. There is basically a large structural difference with Roman theater, where the stage and semicircular audience seats faced one another (see Figure A on the bottom left of the panel).
It will be interesting to look at a theater by comparing such difference of shape and the difference in the structure of a theatrical play. The logeion (stage) was raised higher and higher over time, and also a high stone wall called the skené was built at the back of the stage. Regarding stage sets, it is suggested that triangle poles called the periaktoi that were set up to the side of the stage rotated to change the backdrop, or devices to cause the emergence of deus ex machina, or a god from the machine, but the details are unknown.
01 Theatre of Dionysius
02 Ancient Theatre at the Asclepieion of Epidaurus
03 Roman Theatre of Orange
How are the Greek theater and Roman theater different?
Originally, Greek plays were performed by a chorus, who served a priestess-like role. Then, in the 6th century B.C., a man named Thespis appeared, and introduced an actor in addition to the chorus. In the 5th century B.C., along with the appearance of playwrights, such as Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, who composed excellent dramas, multiple actors started to take part.
Actors mainly acted on the stage called logeion (Figure A-c), while the chorus occupied the orchestra, which is the circular space lying anterior to the logeion (Figure A-b). In terms of spatial structure, the chorus served a role like the facilitator of the play, and also confronted the actors, representing the feelings of the audience. Further, the audience was arrayed in such way that it enclosed the chorus. The spatial relationship between the chorus and the audience worked in a way that concentrated the energy on the orchestra (where the chorus stood) at the center, and confronted the stage together. This structure made all the audience members in the fan-shaped seats (Figure A-a), either along the center line or at both ends, confront the stage mentally via the chorus despite their different angles of viewing the stage. Thus, it can be imagined that the spatial heterogeneity was replaced with mental homogeneity.
In contrast, in Roman theater, the chorus disappeared and the audience seats (Figure B-a) directly confronted the stage (Figure B-c). Here, the angles of the orchestra (Figure B-b) and the surrounding audience seats were both semicircular-shaped, and the audience seats and the stage faced each other squarely, so it became more similar to the format of modern theater.
Although Greek and Roman theaters are often lumped as one, it would be more correct to understand that there is a large difference between the two in terms of the nature of the theatrical space.
Text by SHIMIZU Hiroyuki