Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.07.16

Brigitte Le Guen, Les Associations de Technites dionysiaques à l'époque hellénistique. Vol. 1, Corpus documentaire; vol. 2, Synthèse (= Études d'Archéologie Classique XI-XII).   Nancy:  Association pour la Diffusion de la Recherche sur l'Antiquité (Distribution: De Boccard, Paris), 2001.  Pp. 355; 224.  ISBN 2-913667-03-1,  2-913667-04-X.  

Reviewed by Eric Csapo, University of Toronto
Word count: 2597 words

In the Hellenistic period musicians, actors and other theatre professionals banded together to form the enormously powerful synodoi of "Dionysiac Artists." "Associations" is a better translation than the more usual "trade unions," "guilds," or "colleges," but all these words fall short of signalling the astonishing range of their activities. Unlike our faculty associations, whose competence and interests rarely stretch beyond the negotiation of salaries and pensions, Kraton Zotichou's Association of the Dionysiac Artists of Ionia and the Hellespont organized international festivals, exchanged gifts and honours with cities and monarchs, sent embassies to the far corners of the world, secured free passage, tax-exemptions and front row theatre seats for all members, invented divine or quasi-divine cults for patrons and benefactors (including Kraton), and even gave low-interest loans. The documents show us the headquarters of the major associations variously serving as banquet halls, banks, larders, archives, assemblies, courthouses, lodges, clubs, travel bureaus, churches, consulates... maybe also music schools and libraries. The complex activities of these powerful corporations, once the preserve of a handful of hardened epigraphers, are now for the first time fully accessible to anyone interested in the political, religious, economic, or cultural history of the Hellenistic period. This is no small advance. Most of this evidence for the Artists' Associations comes from a random collection of their own public self-representations, more often designed to misrepresent or conceal the true circumstances and motives behind their enunciations. Le Guen (henceforth LG) deserves profound thanks for making this material accessible and high praise for the considerable light she throws upon this usually bewildering material. Her magisterial study, Les Associations de Technites dionysiaques à l'époque hellénistique (henceforth ATD) is a continuous display of shrewd judgment, good method, and a superb command of the historical and epigraphic sources.

A burst of interest between 1873 and 1914 saw nine book-length works fully or largely devoted to the Technitae. All of these studies had, in different ways, a limited focus. They were also based on a much smaller corpus (the corpus of inscriptions has grown by almost 40% since the time of Poland).1 Since that time most relevant scholarship has been dedicated to specialized studies and the publication and study of particular inscriptions. General synthesis was confined mainly to summary chapters in a very few broad-ranging studies in the history of the theatre.2 Not surprisingly, given the new interest in exploring the economic and social background of high culture, others have also felt the need to revisit this material: a second, independent, study of the Hellenistic Artists' Associations by Aneziri is advertized as imminent.3

The work is divided into two volumes. The first collects the evidence, the second the interpretive essays. (Ideal readers are encouraged to keep Volume 1 open on their desks while reading Volume 2.) Volume 1 collects nearly one hundred epigraphic texts (= TE, pp. 39-328), including decrees, letters, dedications, honorific and funerary inscriptions, and even poems. These are followed by twenty "literary texts" (= TL, pp. 329-349), mainly short excerpts from Greek historians and philosophers. Each section is arranged by Association (there are six, including the little known Association of Dionysiac Artists of Magna Graecia and Sicily and the Dionysiac Artists of Rhodes), then by date (some thematic juxtapositions depart unobtrusively from rigid chronological order). For practical reasons the latest closely datable inscription is ca. 45 BC. LG is keenly aware of continuities, especially in the religious and political functions of the Associations, and later material is not ignored. (She promises a future work on the Artists' Associations under the Empire [1.34]). A further concession to both practicality and method is the restriction to inscriptions which specifically name an association of Dionysiac artists. This removes a large number of inscriptions (especially competitors' and victors' lists, many of which probably, but do not certainly, list members of an association).4 Neither monuments nor squeezes were consulted in editing the epigraphic texts (1.24, n. 70 "le but premier de notre travail n'était pas de proposer une réédition de textes, mais une réflexion historique sur les corporations d'artistes"), but the texts are accompanied with full apparatus and up-to-date bibliography. All but very fragmentary texts are regularly accompanied by translations (though translations have fallen out for TE 24A-G). The commentaries extend well beyond philological and chronological problems to prepare the discussion of the many matters of historical interest, which are more fully explored in Volume 2. The literary texts are, unfortunately, not presented with the same meticulous care: the best texts are not always used, nor are editions always reported; there is no reporting of variants; and the referencing systems are also inconsistent (e.g. Athenaeus sometimes referred to by Casaubon pages, and sometimes by book and chapter). But all receive the same high-quality (though generally shorter) historical commentary.

Volume 2 offers a fundamental reassessment of all major facets of the Associations' activities in six discursive sections (followed by five indices and a concordance). The first section (5-40) reassesses the historical development of the various Artists' Associations. The second section (41-82) examines the internal organization and functioning of the Associations, with a special focus on the regions and types of specialization represented by the membership of the various Associations, the names and attested functions of their officers, rights and responsibilities of members, contracts and salaries, the locations of Association headquarters, the function of Association assemblies, and the various ways in which the Associations mimicked the political machinery and diplomatic protocols of independent states. Section three (83-94) examines the religious and cultic activity of the Associations. Section four (95-104) is a much needed study of the financial substructure of the Associations, including a section studying the Attalid arbitration of the (mainly economic) dispute between the city of Teos and the Ionian-Hellespontine Association, and the Roman arbitration between the Athenian and the Nemean-Isthmian Associations. The fifth section (105-132) asks what the inscriptions tell us about the cultural life of the Hellenistic period. The specializations of known Association members are examined for information about contemporary dramatic and musical performances. Several pages (125-130) are devoted to discussion of some 47 possible or certain cases where artists are known to have two or more specializations. A short section is devoted to political propaganda in the festivals and performances organized by Technitae (on this there is much more discussion spread throughout both volumes). Section five ends with a discussion of the possible role played by the Associations in the professional formation of musicians and dramatists, and in the diffusion of theatrical culture through the Hellenistic world. A short "Conclusion" (133-135) gathers some general themes and high-points.

ATD is a wide-ranging and encyclopedic work, and the following discussion is necessarily selective. LG manages to produce a reasonably clear picture of the relationships and differences between the various associations, an excellent account of their individual relations to the political powers of the day, and several fascinating glimpses into their religious and economic activities. The four main Associations (Athenian, Isthmian-Nemean, Ionian-Hellespontine, and Egyptian) appear to have been completely independent of one another. Within each association, however, there are frequently semi-independent subdivisions or branch organizations, like the Cypriot chapter of the Egyptian Artists, or the Association of Synagonistai which formed a special interest group within the Ionian-Hellespontine Association. There are also parallel associated groups like the Artists of Dionysus Kathegemon, a specifically Pergamene group, who frequently ride in tandem with the Ionian-Hellespontine Artists. Only the Athenian Artists seem to recruit from a fixed geographical and ethnic base, namely Athenian citizens, while membership in the other Associations seems unlimited (and might even include Athenians). Nor is it very clear just how territorial the Associations were, since some festivals, like the Delphic Soteria or the Mouseia of Thespiae, were attended by artists from all the major Associations, even in cases where one association had a role in organizing the festival.

LG is at her best in discussing the political manoeuvering of the Associations. She makes a special target of the enduring canard that Hellenistic theatre and Hellenistic society generally represent a period of decadence when the religious inspiration, civic spirit, and political engagement which first gave birth to drama lapsed into an insular, profane professionalism (cf. 1.34-35, 2.91).5 This view, promoted by the literary sources, with their elite leisure-class prejudice against working professionals, survives in modern times as a "vision romantique" (2.91), according to which one is either inspired or paid. But the literary representations are completely at odds with the representations of the documents, which declare the Artists to be "the most pious of the Greeks" (2.83-84) and are otherwise full of cultic concerns and endless politicking. To take the latter point first, politics appear to have everything to do with the creation and continuing prosperity of the Associations (esp. 2.8-11). The Attalids, Ptolemies, and Seleucids cultivated them as an essential mass-media link to their subjects. Here politics are hardly separable from religion (esp. 2.65, 88-90). In Egypt and Cyprus, for example, the royal line was included in the nomenclature of the association, "artists concerned with Dionysus and the Gods Adelphoi (TE 60, 61) / Epiphanes (TE 62) / Euergetai (TE 69, 70)." The collocation of Dionysiac worship and Herrscherkult was much facilitated by the multiple connections with the god elaborated by dynastic propaganda, especially by the Ptolemies' claims to be descended from Dionysus, and by the rather high incidence of incarnations of Dionysus in the Lagid line (2.88-93), where we even find a penchant for playwriting and piping in the lineage (possibly even tragic acting, see TE 61, 1.300). Something like the political theatre, mass-media management, and image-conjuring we readily associate with postmodern politics served these Hellenistic autocrats as basic tools, but tools largely in the hands of the Dionysiac Artists. The documents give revealing glimpses of the artists wrapping Dionysus' triumphal and soteriological glamour about the image of their patrons (e.g. TL 17).

It is easy to see why the Associations flourished in Hellenistic kingdoms. A strong case can be made for Egypt "giving birth" to the first Association, especially, if, as LG suggests, the organizations were imposed from the top by governments and not created by the artists in pursuit of their mutual interests (2.11, 16, 29). But it is not easy to see how the same dynamics could have produced or maintained the Associations on the mainland. Here the cities and sanctuaries must have counted the benefits of their local Associations in economic, rather than strictly political, terms. Ancient festivals, no less than today's World's Fairs and Olympics, had as much to do with commerce as culture. Hellenistic Athens particularly traded on a cultural heritage of which the Artists were the custodians. (More general use might have been made of the evidence for festival economics -- most is concentrated on the discussion of TE 47, also 2.100-102.) But even in the Athenian Association one sees the familiar truck in publicity, though in this case with foreign kings. TE 5 shows the Athenian artists decreeing a cult statue, fumigation with incense, sacrifices, free shows and annual musical and dramatic contests in honour of their benefactor Ariarathes V of Cappadocia (and his wife). It is clear that the Athenians repaid Ariarathes' (unfortunately lost) benefactions not just with publicity in Athens, but with a guarantee that Athenian stars would praise Ariarathes to his people at home (cf. 2.16). TL 8 shows the Athenian Artists similarly greasing the propaganda machine for Mithridates (yet another "New Dionysus"). The links between Artists and civil administration was so close in Athens (at best a sort of semi-independent diplomatic corps [2.15-17]) that they showed no reticence in promising to reward their benefactors with proclamations at the Athenian festivals (1.73-74, 2.79). Politics are even inscribed in the membership of the Associations: a number of Artists held offices in both the Association and in the civic or royal administration (esp. 2.64-65); the Egyptian Artists included in their numbers philotechnitai, honorary members, doubtless benefactors and men with influence in the court (TE 61).

This is real political engagement, even if in the mainly obsequious idiom of the hierarchic Hellenistic world (the Associations, incidentally, were completely democratic in their institutional structure [2.69, 80]). As for the religion ... it takes just a little historical imagination to see that faith can be sincere, even when it is profitable (and Dionysus was just as generous a patron as any Eumenes or Ptolemy, bringing his "Dionysokolakes" wealth, prestige, power and a relative independence). There is no reason to doubt the Artists capable of belief in the good opinion of their self-representations. The documents repeatedly proclaim their piety and religious devotion. They also show us a full and busy ritual calendar including a lot of cultic activity with no immediate cash benefits, but undertaken for the god, such as the regular sacrifices, the organization of his processions and festival, dedications of unpaid performances (2.91, n. 443), and embassies to, and possibly performances at, the mysteries at Eleusis and Samothrace (2.87, 92-93). The fact that other gods are often added to Dionysus in the nomenclature of the Associations does not show, as some assume, that the essential connection between Dionysus and theatre was somehow diluted. The gods included in the titulature are all traditional gods of music (and one must recall that the Associations included musicians of every stamp, not just dramatists) such as Apollo and Muses, or other mystery gods (Demeter, Kore, and the Theoi Megaloi), or monarchic patrons (whose connections with Dionysus I have already mentioned).6 The link with mysteries turns out to be rather central to the Artists' choice of Dionysus as their principal patron: the Artists' deployment of triumphal and soteriological imagery in the glorification of their divine patrons played an incalculable role in the diffusion and popularity of Dionysian mystery cult through the Hellenistic world (2.91-93).

One expects a scattering of errors in a work of this complexity, and this work has a fair share of typos, omissions (the most frustrating being the lost "]" in the epigraphic texts, or missed cross-references), lapses (1.82-93 has hypochrema for hyporchema in text, apparatus, and translation, 2.81 conflates two associations in the "Association of the Isthmus and the Hellespont") and other minor inconcinnities (the inscriptions relating to the Aetolian Soteria get a number in the catalogue, TE 25, only to give the author a place to explain why she has not included them). The very last chapters of Volume 2 (2.130ff.) should have been much fuller. Evidence of a final rush detract a little in the final presentation of what, notwithstanding, is manifestly the product of the patient and meticulous labours of many years. Actual factual errors are few: I noticed only two, both in the notes, and both related to reperformances of Old Comedy (the claim that we have evidence of the reperformance of Aristophanes and Eupolis in the Hellenistic period (1.64 n. 246), and the claim that "phlyax" vases show reperformances of Attic Middle Comedy and perhaps also scenes from Old Comedy (2.113, the evidence would require switching "Middle" and "Old").

ATD is an indispensable work. It adds new inscriptions, new questions, and new insights. The author brings precisely the right skills for a topic so long, but briefly and sporadically studied, and so heavily reliant on a scattering of often hard-to-access epigraphical sources: LG brings an exact attention to terminology and contextual information, an ability to evince what is missing or hidden, a willingness to ask the right questions even where the evidence is slight, ambiguous, or absent, and complete frankness in admitting non liquet as an answer. Best of all LG has an eye for catching previous scholarship's ill-founded clichés and a priori assumptions.


1.   F. Poland, De collegiis artificum Dionysiacorum, Dresden, 1895, whose lists are updated in "Technitai," RE V A2 [1934], 2473-2558.
2.   A. Pickard-Cambridge, Dramatic Festivals of Athens, 2nd ed. rev. by J. Gould and D.M. Lewis, Oxford, 1968 (with supplement 1988), 279-305; G. Sifakis, Studies in the History of Hellenistic Drama, London, 1967, esp. 99-103, 136-146; P. Ghiron-Bistagne, Recherches sur les acteurs dans la Grèce antique, Paris, 1976, ch. 5, 180-184, 203-206. Special mention should also be made here of the proceedings of a Table Ronde held at the French School in Rome published in 1986 under the title L'association dionysiaque dans les sociétés anciennes.
3.   S. Aneziri, Die Vereine der dionysischen Techniten im Kontext der hellenistischen Gesellschaft, Stuttgart. Some of Aneziri's findings receive an advance summary in J.-C. Moretti, Théâtre et société dans la Grèce antique, Paris, 2001, 250-266.
4.   The restriction to sources which specifically name artists' associations is happily lifted in the case of TE 1, the very important Euboean festival decree. IG XII,9 207. One might have wished similar elasticity in admitting other sources that crop up repeatedly in the discussion, such as the comparable decree from Corcyra, IG IX,1 694, which is referred to at least seven times, or in admitting documents which (at least) implicitly mention the associations, or provide valuable context for their privileges, such as the unmentioned PHal 1.260-65, which grants an exemption on the salt tax to all "writing teachers, athletic trainers, τ[οὺς ............] τὰ περὶ τὸν διόνυσον and victors in the Alexander-contest, the Basileia and the Ptolemaia."
5.   See also Le Guen, "Théâtre et cités à l'époque hellénistique. 'Mort de la cité - Mort du théâtre?'," REG 108 (1995) 59-90.
6.   The only surprise is Aphrodite (standing alone, and not in addition to Dionysus) in two decrees from Syracuse. In the latter case I am not convinced that these inscriptions belong here or that the artists mentioned belong to the same category as the Dionysiac Artists (Jory thought them prostitutes). Dionysus is attested as patron of the Association in Syracuse a little earlier, and the connection LG establishes with the obscure genre of hilarotragodia or hilarodia rests on nothing but the epithet hilara being applied to Aphrodite.

Read Latest
Index for 2002
Change Greek Display
Books Available for Review

HTML generated at 13:28:02, Friday, 03 April 2009