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Queen's University

Supporting Materials for Lectures

Lecture 2: Space and Time


  1. The Architecture of the Theatre
    Discuss the old acting-area in the agora and the collapse circa 499 B.C. of the bleachers (ikria) that led to its abandonment. Discuss various features of the fifth-century theatre: the skene (where was it located? Did it move around from play to play? Did it have one front-door or three? Did it/they open inward or outward? [outward according to Eur. Or. Menelaus tells his servants to swing the doors outwards] were there inner doors as well as outer ones? [Mooney 11])

    Discuss the back-door: Greek houses ought not to have back doors, but that of the skene is useful and its existence is acknowledged in Soph. Phil. 19 and Eur. Cycl. 706), orchestra (was it circular, polygonal [Dinsmoor], or rectangular [Gebhard])? Did it originate out of a threshing-floor for which the Classical Greek is halos hence English "halo", Mod. Greek aloneia [Gardiner]?, raised stage or logeion (did it exist? How high was it?, formal thrones, the passageway (diazoma), entrance ramps (eisodoi, parodoi), the altar in the orchestra (thymele) at which Aeschylus had to seek refuge after divulging the secret of the mysteries, ekkuklema, mechane, roof or theologeion, seating-capacity (circa 14,000-20,000, less than Plato's "thirty thousand" [Symp. 175e6], acoustics, etc.; discuss the curtain (siparium, aularia) in the Roman theatre and the lack of a Greek equivalent apart from choral songs to mark the division of episodes. Discuss the scenae frons and scene-painting.


    • J. W. White, "The Stage of Aristophanes," Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 2 (1891) 165-72.
    • E. Capps, "The Greek Stage According to the Extant Dramas," Transactions of the American Philological Association 22 (1891) 64-5.
    • E. A. Gardner, Ancient Athens (New York 1902) 123.
    • W. W. Mooney, The House-Door on the Ancient Stage (Baltimore 1914).
    • F. Robert, Thymele (Paris 1939).
    • D. A. W. Dilke, "Details and Chronology of Greek Theatre Caveas," Annual of the British School at Athens 45 (1950) 21-62.
    • W. B. Dinsmoor, "The Athenian Theater of the Fifth Century," in Studies Presented to D. M. Robinson (St. Louis 1951-1953).
    • O. Broneer, "Odeion and Skene," American Journal of Archaeology 56 (1952) 172.
    • A. M. Dale, "Interior Scenes and Illusion in Greek Drama," Collected Papers (Cambridge 1969) 259-71.
    • H. Petersmann, "Philologische Untersuchungen zur antiken Bühnentür," Wiener Studien 84 (1971) 91-109.
    • J. Travlos, A Pictorial Dictionary of Ancient Athens (London 1971).
    • F. Bader, "The Psophos of the House-Door in Greek New Comedy," Antichthon 5 (1971) 35-48.
    • N. G. L. Hammond, "The Conditions of Dramatic Production to the Death of Aeschylus," Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies 13 (1972) 387-450.
    • S. Melchinger, Das Theater der Tragödie (Munich 1974).
    • E. Gebhard, "The Form of the Orchestra in the Early Greek Theatre," Hesperia 43 (1974) 428-40.
    • W. W. Wurster, "Die neuen Untersuchungen am Dionysostheater in Athen," Architectura 9 (1979) 58-76.
    • A. L. H. Robkin, "That Magnificent Flying Machine: On the Nature of the 'Mechane' of the Theatre of Dionysus at Athens," Archeaological News 8 (1979) 1-6.
    • E. Simon (C. E. Vafopoulou-Richardson trans.), The Ancient Theatre (London and New York 1981).
    • E. Pöhlmann, "Die Prohedrie des Dionysostheaters im 5 Jahrhundert und das Bühnenspiel der Klassik," Museum Helveticum 38 (1983) 129-46.
    • G. Ley and M. Evans, "The Orchestra as Acting Area in Greek Tragedy," Ramus 14 (1985) 75-84.
    • J. F. Davison, "The Circle and the Tragic Chorus," Greece and Rome 33 (1986) 38-46.
    • R. Hamilton, "Cries within the Tragic Skene," American Journal of Philology 108 (1987) 585-99.
    • D. J. Mastronarde, "Actors on High: The Skene Roof, the Crane and the Gods in Attic Drama," Classical Antiquity 9 (1990) 247-94.


  2. The Left-Right Distinction
    The left parodos stood for exit to the city, the right for exit to the country (Pollux 4.126-7, Vitruvius 5.6.8).


    • K. Rees, "The Significance of the Parodoi in the Greek Theatre," American Journal of Philology 32 (1911) 378ff.
    • W. Beare, "Side Entrances and Periactoi," Classical Quarterly 32 (1938) 209.
    • M. Bieber, "Entrances and Exits of Actors and Chorus in Greek Plays," American Journal of Archaeology 58 (1959) 278ff.


  3. Dramatic Illusion and Metatheatricality
    The invisible "fourth wall" that separated the acting area from the spectators in the theatre was more or less respected in tragedy, but often broken for humorous effect in comedy. Scholars have dubbed the breaking of this fourth wall "metatheatricality".


    • B. M. Sifakis, Parabasis and Animal Choruses (London 1971) 7-14.
    • R. Crahay and M. Delcourt, "Les ruptures d'illusion dans les comédies antiques," Mélanges Henri Gregoire IV (= Ann. Phil. Hist. 12 [Brussels 1953]) 83-92.
    • Abel, Metatheatre (1963).
    • F. Muecke, "Playing with the Play: Theatrical Self-Consciousness in Aristophanes," Antichthon 11 (1977) 52-67.
    • A. M. Wilson, "Breach of Dramatic Illusion in the Old Comic Fragments," Euphrosyne 9 (1978-79) 145-50.
    • G. A H. Chapman, "Some Notes on Dramatic Illusion in Aristophanes," American Journal of Philology 104 (1983) 1-23.
    • D. Bain, "Some Reflections on the Illusion in Greek Tragedy," Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies 34 (1987) 1-14.


  4. The Motif of the Single Day and Other Aspects of Time:
    "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof," said Jesus (Matthew 6.34) and this may be taken in many ways as an epigraph for all Greek tragedy. The Greeks spoke of man as "ephemeral" (Pindar Pythian 8.95) by which they did not mean so much "short-lived" as "subject to what each day brings," e.g. one day a person may be a king and the next enduring his "day of slavery" (Eur. Hecuba 56), or one day be a wanderer and yet hope to see his "day of homecoming" (Odyssey 1.9). This is what they mean by saying that a "rhythm" governs human life (Archilochus fr. 128 West) and by the phrase, "count no man happy until he is dead" (Solon apud Herodotus 1.32.9, Soph. OT 1527, El. 651). In keeping with these views many plays of Sophocles and Euripides are explicitly tied to the course of a single day, e.g. Soph. Oedipus the King 438, 615, Ajax 131-2, 753-5, Philoctetes 82-5, Eur. Medea 340 = Sen. Medea 294. In the myth of Jason, Medea's drugs rendered him invulnerable to iron or fire for one day only. Ghosts must leave before daybreak: Thyestes in Sen. Ag. and Hamlet père in Shakespeare Hamlet. Consider these and other aspects of time in Greek tragedy.

    One important aspect of time is the idea of "the nick of time" (kairos) and of being "too late" (cf. Admetus in Eur. Alc. 940, Deianira's recognition-scene, and Aeneas' in Vergil Aen. 6. and St. Augustine's line quoted by W. B. Yeats, sero te amavi, o pulcritudo tam nova et tam antiqua).

    It may be worth considering some later manifestations of similar concerns, e.g. the Roman notion of the dies fastus and the dies nefastus as well as the "seize the day" Epicureanism of Horace; and Castelvetro's "three unities" along with their influence on French classical drama.

    The regular alteration of episode and choral song gives the plays a particular rhythm that tends to defeat time, especially in that the songs often deal either with the past or with gnomic propositions that act to generalize the lesson pointed by the previous episode.


    • L. Carney, "Father Time," Classical Philology 23 (1928) 187-8.
    • H. Fränkel, "Man's Ephemeros Nature," Transactions of the American Philological Association 77 (1946) 131-45.
    • B. A. Van Groningen, In the Grip of the Past (Leiden 1953).
    • H. Meyerhoff, Time in Literature (Berkeley 1955).
    • T. G. Rosenmeyer, "Ajax: Tragedy and Time," The Masks of Tragedy (Berkeley 1961) 155-98.
    • S. Accame, "La Concezione del tempo nell'età omerica e arcaica," Rivista di filologia e d'istruzione classica 37 (1961) 359-94.
    • R. A. Santiago, "Observaciones sobre algunos usos formularios de emar en Homero," Emerita 30 (1962) 139-50.
    • J. Pepin, "Le temps et le mythe," Études Philosophiques 17 (1962) 55-68.
    • D. E. Gerber, "What Time Can Do," Transactions of the American Philological Association 93 (1962) 30-33.
    • I. M. Linforth, "Electra's Day in the Tragedy of Sophocles," University of California Publications in Classical Philology 19 (1963) 89-126.
    • F. Kermode, The Sense of an Ending (Oxford 1967) 46-50.
    • J. de Romilly, Time in Greek Tragedy (Ithaca, New York 1968).
    • J. Palm, "Lag die Zukunft der Griechen hinter ihnen?" Annales Academiae Regiae Scientiarum Upsaliensis 13 (1969).
    • P. Vivante, "On Time in Pindar," Arethusa 5 (1972) 107-31.
    • P. E. Ariotti, "The Concept of Time in Western Antiquity," 69-80 in J. T. Fraser and N. Lawrence edd., The Study of Time II (New York, Heidelberg and Berlin 1975).
    • M. W. Dickie, "On the Meaning of Ephemeros," Illinois Classical Studies 1 (1976) 7-14.
    • A. H. Komornicka, "La notion du temps chez Pindare," Eos 64 (1976) 5-15.
    • J. F. Callahan, Four Views of Time in Ancient Philosophy (Westport, Conn. 1979).
    • J. R. Wilson, "Kairos as Due Measure," Glotta 58 (1980) 181-3 and 199-200.
    • W. H. Race, "The Word Kairos in Greek Drama, Transactions of the American Philological Association 111 (1981) 197-213.
    • R. Sorabji, Time, Creation and the Continuum: Theories in Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages (London 1983).

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