Sunday, November 23, 2014


Eric Csapo, Hans Ruprecht Goette, J. Richard Green, Peter Wilson (ed.), Greek Theatre in the Fourth Century B.C.. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2014. Pp. xi, 578. ISBN 9783110337488. $126.00.

Reviewed by Georgia Xanthaki-Karamanou, University of the Peloponnese ( )

Version at BMCR home site

An age-old prejudice against fourth-century tragedy for decline and loss of vitality is plausibly challenged in this collective volume, which provides a learned and useful tool for further research in post-Euripidean drama. This impressive volume of 578 pages, including 16 plates, a bibliography of 59 pages and indices (Museum, Locorum, General), offers a global approach to the most important aspects of fourth-century theatre: locations, new buildings, vase paintings, theatre expansion beyond Athens, new trends in the production, organization and funding of performances.

The collected material is divided into four sections. Section A: Theatre sites, Section B: Tragedy and comedy, Section C: Performance outside Athens, Section D: Finance and records in Athens.

In Chapter 1 of Section A, Christina Papastamati-von Moock offers new archaeological data on the Theatre of Dionysus in Athens. She points out that in its so-called 'Lycurgan phase', with the pre-existing form but also with a new unified plan based on the circle of the orchestra, the canonical elegant form of ancient Greek theatre was constructed and established, offering a well-functioning architectural model for the Greco-Roman world.

In Chapter 2 Hans Rupprecht Goette, using well-documented literary and epigraphical sources (fully cited in a catalogue at the end of this chapter), examines extensively the topography and the evidence related to the stone theatres at the 'Rural' Dionysia in Attica (Rhamnous, Ikarion, Piraeus, Evonymon, Thorikos, Aixone, Acharnae and the recently excavated theatre in Halimous, the modern Alimos), and the ways in which theatres were shared by Attic demes and organized in the framework of the deme system, with the prime roles of Piraeus and Eleusis. He also explores the inscriptional evidence on possible 'Rural' Dionysia at Eleusis, Sphettos and Aixone.

In Chapter 3 Jean-Charles Moretti provides a large-scale presentation of the fourth-century development of theatre buildings outside Athens, especially in the Peloponnese, but also in Central and Northern Greece and beyond (Asia Minor, Cyprus, Cyrene, South Italy and Sicily). In the second half of this century theatres were significantly transformed, becoming stone public buildings of monumental architecture, better adapted to massive audiences, though no single theatrical type became dominant. By the end of the fourth century the new forms of theatre were widespread in both East and West, acquiring distinctive traits in South Italy and Sicily, where a different model was adapted from that of Greece and the Greek East.

In Chapter 4 of Section B, Oliver Taplin re-evaluates fourth-century tragedy on the basis of papyrus texts and vase paintings of the stories of Medea, Telephus, and the childhood of Hippolytus which follow, with deviations, in the footsteps of Euripides. He also discusses, considering to some extent earlier treatments, vases that seem to be linked with papyrus fragments and refer to known fourth-century plays: the Hector of Astydamas and Chaeremon's Achilleus. The assumption of a two-part tragedy (at Corinth and at Eleusis), regarding Carcinus' Medea, is interesting but may require, as the author himself admits, further confirmation. Nevertheless, Taplin highlights the significance and the artistic qualities of these vase paintings.

In Chapter 5 Sebastiana Nervegna extensively explores the fourth-century canonization of the three great fifth-century tragic poets, which reveals the vitality and the expansion of the era's dramatic production, focusing on the relationship between actors' activities and the tragic canon from the fourth century to Republican Rome. There were many plays of Euripides to be seen, while Aeschylus' plays were selected according to their affinity with later drama. Only a small percentage of the production of canonical playwrights survived on later stages.

In Chapter 6 Johanna Hanink also regards the classicism of the three great tragic poets as an indication of fourth- century tragedy. Citations of both fifth- and fourth-century tragedy in the Poetics and Rhetoric of Aristotle, in comic fragments and in Athenian oratory point to a wide audience of tragedy and to the dynamic theatrical industry of that era.

Andrew Hartwig's survey, in Chapter 7, shows that the fourth century was an innovative and creative period for comedy. Old Comedy, though popular in the Greek West, was largely ignored in Athens and had very limited influence on the era's comic production. The fourth-century comic genre, encouraged by the spread of theatre and the many foreign poets competing in Athens, developed new trends in themes, characters, situations and values, such as the Panhellenic idea, which endured in the plays of Menander and beyond.

In Section C, Chapter 8, Eoghan Moloney shows how Greek theatre, sponsored by Macedonian Kings such as Archelaus and Philip II, facilitated their rule and strengthened their power. Kings and their entourages were fascinated by dramatic performances, and this elite welcomed in Pella Euripides, Agathon and theatre performers. Macedonia is explored in terms of cultural standing and of creating its own non-canonical regional style. Euripides' Archelaus shows the Heraclidae's spread to Macedonia and the establishment of Archelaus' Hellenic heroic heritage.1 Philip's preference for spectacular performances contributed to the importance of actors in the fourth century. The king's court theatre was a multi-purpose space for performances and for religious and political gatherings. On the whole, the history of the kingdom of Macedonia offers significant evidence for fourth-century dramatic production.

In Chapter 9 Brigitte Le Guen deals with the expansion of theatrical activity in the Middle East, West Asia and Egypt during Alexander's expedition, which contributed to cultural Hellenization and the increase of theatres and performances in the Hellenistic period. In this era dramatic competition acquired a political, cultural, and religious role. Competitions retained their cultic connections with divinities, albeit Alexander used theatre for highlighting his royal ideology: the king was seen as a warrior, a saviour or as a generous ruler. The historical information about all artistic competitions and athletic contests held at Alexander's travelling royal court is carefully tabulated.

In Chapter 10 Vayos Liapis argues that Rhesus was a typical fourth-century play with many Aeschylean and Euripidean elements as well as some traces of Sophocles. Liapis shows that the Rhesus author reproduces Euripidean style by adopting characteristic locutions of Euripidean plays, by imitating lines or half-lines and using individual words typical of Euripides. The similarities between Rhesus and Euripidean target-passages in terms of dramatic situation are shown to be sometimes superficial. All these cases suggest, according to Liapis, an "eclectic plagiarizer" rather than Euripides as the author of Rhesus. The play's verbosity and its penchant for linguistic rarities also point to an imitator's inflated diction. The author also assumes a Macedonian audience for this play.

Zachary Biles and Jed Thorn, in Chapter 11, focus on the cross-cultural reinterpretation of Athenian theatre via a thorough exploration of choregic iconography in the non-Greek communities of Southern Italy. They conclude that the role of this iconographic tradition was dictated by factors of marketing and the beliefs of its end-users. Thus, the Pronomos Vase, joining choregic and funeral motifs, pairs the shape of a volute-krater with an exceptional scene of a satyr-play's cast and seems to have been commissioned for export to a non-Greek elite, while bell-kraters were designed to appeal to a regional market.

In this direction Edward G.D. Robinson, in Chapter 12, investigates expansion of theatres in non-Greek Apulia, aptly pointing out that theatrical subjects were mainly confined to volute-kraters, amphorae and loutrophoroi found in the chamber tombs of the elite. Perspectives on Macedonian theatre, such as production mainly for elite audiences and the potential for theatre to enter the public sphere, help to explain theatrical developments in South Italy. Due to a social and linguistic gap, performances in Greek seem not to have been easily accessible to a wider audience.

J. Richard Green, in Chapter 13, fully explores for the first time the iconographic evidence for Greek regional theatre, especially in Boeotia, Corinth, and Cyprus, defining the style of comic performers in terracotta figurines and assessing their similarities as well as possible degrees of their independence from the Athenian model. He observes that the manufacture of vases with comic scenes in both Corinth and the West as well as the comic figurines taken directly from Corinthian models, especially in Sicily and Lipari, show Corinth's traditional role in transmitting materials and ideas. Cypriot theatrical figurines, like those in Corinth and Boeotia, had their own character and were not imitations of Athenian products.

Similarly, in Chapter 14, David Braund and Edith Hall survey the diverse available evidence and scholarship on the almost neglected fourth-century theatre culture of the non-Greek- speaking Black Sea. Local performances, possibly by troops of Greek actors on the Macedonian model, or mimicry are likely to be the aspects of theatre reception in this area.

Finally, Chapters 15-16 of Section D deal with finance and records in Athens.

Eric Csapo and Peter Wilson, in Chapter 15, discuss organization of the theatre in the time of Eubulus and Lycurgus, highlighting their financial innovations, as well as the potential value of culture and cultural industry, which became the mainstay of the Athenian economy.

In Chapter 16 Benjamin W. Millis examines inscribed public records for Athenian dramatic contests (IG II2 2318-2323a and IG II2 2325), such as the Fasti, the Didascaliae and the Victors Lists, which represent monuments concerning related material, though, as the author remarks, erected on separate occasions and with remarkable divergences. The antiquarianism is evident in these inscriptions, their content seems to derive from state archives, and the message provided is that only Athens had a long and prestigious dramatic history.

In this significant volume fourth-century theatre is presented by contemporary scholars in its own light. The fourth century was not a period of decay and decline of dramatic production, but the age of expansion, diversity and vitality of the theatre. All the essays, based on original and well-documented research, contain innovative aspects, offer new information and establish this volume as an important work of reference for a holistic approach to fourth-century drama. Special attention can be paid on the new data on theatre buildings, the full exploration of evidence for the tragic canon, the dramatic production in Macedonia from Archelaus and Philip to Alexander's expedition, the organization of the theatre, and its expansion outside Hellas. The printing is excellent, and the texts are complemented by high quality figures, informative tables, rich bibliography, and carefully composed indices. The consensus expressed throughout this collective work, that the fourth century was not a period of decline but an age of dynamic dramatic production, theatrical development and innovations concurs with the view occurring in the first monograph on fourth-century tragedy that the theatre of this period shows a vital change of direction with novel handling of plots and expression of motifs as a result of new emotional and intellectual developments.2

In conclusion, this important work offers one of the best contributions to the dramatic production of the fourth century B.C. It fills a significant gap in bibliography and, therefore, deserves a very good place in current scholarship.


1.   More information about the reconstruction and motifs of this interesting play can be traced in Greek Drama IV (D. Rosenbloom and J. Davidson eds, Oxford 2012, pp. 108-126).
2.   G. Xanthakis-Karamanos, Studies in Fourth-Century Tragedy, Athens, 1980.

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