Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2004.12.24

J. Fugmann, M. Janka, U. Schmitzer, H. Seng, Theater, Theaterpraxis, Theaterkritik im kaiserzeitlichen Rom.   Munich/Leipzig:  K.G. Saur, 2004.  Pp. 192.  ISBN 3-598-73019-5.  €69.00.  



Reviewed by William Slater, McMaster University (slater@mcmaster.ca)
Word count: 1194 words

This slim volume is the result of a Colloquium held on the 70th birthday of Peter Lebrecht Schmidt on 24/25 July 2003 at the University of Konstanz. It contains 8 essays by 8 hands on very different themes, which I summarize. Latin and Greek are not always translated.

1. B. Zimmermann, defying the book's title and most of the monstrous bibliography accumulated by Manuwald in Lustrum 2001, discusses the relation of Roman republican tragedy to Greek tragedy in 11 pages, 'notwendigerweise mit Hypothesen arbeitenden Ueberlegungen' [23]. Classical Greek tragedy dealt with 'real potential conflicts and basic problems of coexistence in society' [16] which were made relevant or useful 'as a model for the present'. The Romans appreciated the social utility of Greek festivals and of associated drama and chose material that could be related to Roman history [18]. The Eumenides of Ennius is an example of a tragedy that has been adapted in that Orestes is a paterfamilias displaying pietas by killing his mother; the ending is possibly turned into a lustratio; and social unity would be a popular idea in Rome at the time [23].

2. M. Janka deals with Seneca's Phaedra, buttressed by massive footnotes, diagrams, and a modern dramatic 'Methodenarsenal' [28], which consists here of structure analysis (elegiac-monologic frame with dramatic centre), cross-generic intertextuality (collections of parallels and Quellenkritik) and narratology. These modern methods enable Janka in a running description to detect associations, references, echos, topoi etc. in the usual way. As typical one can cite the suggestion that Hippolytus at the end of the Phaedra may remind us of Hector at the end of the Iliad [56], an 'associative diversion' indicating a 'metapoetic consolation' that Hector may not be the greatest fighter but is nonetheless a literary 'Musterheld'.

3. U. Schmitzer interestingly tries to evaluate Macrobius and Servius as critics of theater in an essay entitled 'Theatre without a stage', i.e. at a time when drama had become a literary subject. There are some good observations on scattered remarks, e.g. [79] he points out that the ancient scholars precisely did not make the deductions about mythical echoes that are so beloved of modern critics. However, one cannot treat Pylades and Hylas as if they were tragedians, or suggest that pantomime was incompatible with Christianity. Grammarians had long developed their own critical methods, which were from the beginning largely philological and without relevance to the stage save where the text demanded such explanation. It would have been necessary to consider these late authors as standing at the end of their own long tradition.

4. M. Deufert discusses the Vita Ambrosiana of Terence. He shows how it was derived from the Suetonius-Donatus life by rearranging the data and deleting anything objectionable. He gives good arguments for regarding it a product of late antiquity rather than mediaeval and, finally, follows its history down to its printing. A more detailed version of this article is to be found in the Nachr.Akad.Wiss. Goettingen, phil.hist Kl. 2003,6.

5. J. Blaensdorf has published useful articles on the theatre history of Rome. Here he offers a quick but ambitious review of imperial theatre in the light of the relevant inscriptions, which he prints. While it too is useful, he seems not to know Hartmut Leppin's book Histrionen (Bonn 1992), where many of these can be found, often with detailed discussion. It would have saved him from a considerable number of errors, such as confusing the two mimes called Sorex [106]; nor did any mime also play tragic and comic roles [107]. He misinterprets several details of the military mimes of CIL 6.1063-4 [107-8]. The pantomime Marcus at Severus' ludi saeculares cannot be the same as M. Aur. Agilius Septentrio. Texts are not always up to date, and so misleading, as is CIL 14.2299 [114]. Likewise some of the inscriptions regarding the actual buildings and games are obviously wrong as is AE 1976. 351 [128] cf. CILA III 84. This survey is to be used with caution.

6. C. Moreschini enquires into the authority of tragic quotes in the church fathers, employed without regard to context. They can be used simply to attest the confusion of the pagans, to show their idolatry[139], as ideas to refute. But Clement and to a lesser extent Athenagoras use them also to demonstrate that there was a community of thought with Christianity, especially about divinity, and Clement argues that these ideas derive from Hebrew; he is using a Hebrew gnomologium of classical quotations [144]. Other quotations are used to illustrate free will, pathos, existential vanity, matrimony and other themes dear to Christianity. Euripides is especially popular in the gnomologies used, but there are many spuria.

7. R. Klein tackles all too briefly the often discussed theme of the battle of the church against theatre and circus, the alleged bastions of paganism, and asks how three different fathers of the church, Gregory of Nazianzus, Chrysostom, and Isidore of Pelusium dealt with the problem. Gregory, offended by the mockery of Christianity on the stage, nonetheless is fond of theatrical metaphors, which functions as an antithesis to the reality of Christian faith, to describe the vanity of human follies but also to attack the superficial theatralization of liturgy[161]. Chrysostom's violent attacks on theatre and circus were sincere but ineffective; indeed he was further outraged that his audience behaved like a theatre audience [164], and his rage in the Contra ludos of 399 was the result of his audience being at the games. His greatest detestation is mime, and everything theatrical is to be shunned, though some elements of his rhetoric are themselves theatrical [173]. Isidore seems to have started from the premise that the theatre and circus were designed to solve the problem of otium, which can now be solved by the church.

8. W. Weismann offers an antiquarian study about what the very late writers of antiquity such as Isidore of Seville have to say about now non-existent drama. Like many scholars today, they confused pantomime and mime, histriones with cinaedi, taking their cue from Lactantius. Isidore was the main source for the middle ages on dramatic matters. Weismann follows the studies of mime and pantomime through the renaissance polymaths and commends the works especially of the learned Jesuit Boulenger and the Padua professor Ferrari, neither appreciated by Hermann Reich in his book on mime.

In a book like this there must be contradictions even about basic axioms: Schmitzer [80] asserts that Roman drama never acquired a social function like Greek drama; Zimmermann argues the opposite. There will be offhand remarks that should be better founded, as when Blaensdorf supposes that graeci mimi are not in the Greek language, but this is almost certainly wrong, and the issue of how much was available in Greek in Rome never arises. The Vorwort [6] presents the Bildmotiv of the placard advertising the Kolloquium, the 'mime on a fresco (from Pompeii) of the first century, who is sunk in contemplation of the mask offered him' which we are told 'kann als Sinnbild fuer das hier Gewollte dienen'. Regrettably the subject is obviously a tragedian, who sheds a gloomy light on what must otherwise have been a merry occasion.

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