BMCR 1995.02.12

Response: Lonsdale on Sansone on Lonsdale

Response to 1994.05.16

Response by

The editors have generously invited me to respond to a review of my book, Dance and Ritual Play in Greek Religion (1993) that appeared in this journal. David Sansone, author of Greek Athletics and the Genesis of Sport (1988), summarizes the contents of the chapters of my book and points out the similarity of arrangement of material to an earlier book, Animals and the Origins or Dance (1981). The remainder of the review focuses on my handling of evidence and arguments in several areas, including 1) the connection between dance and play ( paizo) reflected in the title of my book; 2) the mimetic character of dance; 3) the exclusion of dramatic choruses from a book on ritual dances; 4) the use of Homeric evidence to argue for an overlap between “ritual movements and gestures” and dance; 5) observations about pyrrhic dancing.

1) Sansone asks what is the relationship between dance and play and observes that if dances could be of a playful nature, there must have been dances that were not of a playful nature. I would agree with that observation but not with his assertion that I attribute a playful nature to Greek dance in general. (See, for example, my chapter eight: “The Dance of Death.”) The interesting linguistic ambiguity between Greek dance and play ( paizo : dance/play; pais child) led me to investigate the implications of this connection. The playful nature of dance is a dominant connection in Greek, as in many cultures, but this observation does not imply that playfulness pervades Greek dance in general. Nor does Sansone take into account, as my title “and ritual play” implies, that I am interested both in the nature of dance as well as the rituals in which they appear and their sometimes playful nature. (See my discussion of the Anthesteria in Ch. 4.)

2) When the reviewer inquires about the mimetic character of dance, he fails to distinguish between my summary of Plato’s views on the subject in the Laws and my own (31-33). As for what is being imitated in dance, it could be so varied as to include Sansone’s example of tying a weaver’s hitch, or attempts to represent different kinds of character ( tropoi, Plato). In Chapters Two (“Dance as an Ordering Force”) and Three (“Dance as a Disruptive Force”) I attempt to show how various types of ritual play are projections of prototypes of divine dances, whence Chapter Four “Divine Protoypes and their Human Realizations.”

To answer Sansone’s question “what exactly is it that the dancer imitates?” he may be referred to Pollux or Athenaeus, but I doubt that these late sources will satisfy him. My response to his question is that dances, in a more general way, imitated the divine choruses that the Greeks imagined the dance-like gods to have engaged in, and that in imitating them, they were convinced that they were worshiping their divinities. There may be a certain amount of circularity in this approach, but I find the projection of dance as an attribute onto societies of gods such as the Muses, satyrs, and maenads highly suggestive, especially for choral dancing.

3) Sansone objects to my exclusion of dramatic dances from ritual dances. For him, as for students of Greek culture, the Greek chorus is what most readily comes to mind when the subject of dance arises. Of course, dramatic dances are by definition ritual and must reflect them on stage in recognizable ways; but the dramatic requirements of the plot and considerations of staging shape the dances, not the larger ritual context. As Pickard-Cambridge ( DFA 250) states, “little is known of the history of dancing in the drama after the earliest period.” (He is referring to passages quoted by Athenaeus about Phrynicus and Aeschylus.) Beyond this evidence, the sources for dramatic dancing take us to the texts themselves, and the subject becomes more properly a literary study than a religious one.

4) The reviewer questions my assertion that there is a relationship between ritual movement and gestures and dance. This question seems to be related to the definition of dance and to the boundaries established by dance and other types of movement, including ritual lamentation. In general I am inclined to treat these and other interactive spheres in a more fluid manner than Sansone. An interaction between lamentation and dance is noted in an anthropological study of mourning by M. Alexiou, The Ritual Lament in Greek Tradition (1974), p. 6. In an iconographic study by H. A. Shapiro, “The Iconography of Mourning in Athenian Art,”AJA 95 (1991), the male figures on a skyphos (figures 5 and 6) perform, for example, a formal dirge or threnos. Shapiro observes that the arrangement of the male mourners in neat pairs “suggest that the men form a kind of chorus.”

In discussing the funeral of Hector (or Patroclus) in Chapter 8, I wished to point out the structural resemblance between those who lead the lament and the mourners and the choregos and the choros, sc. (ex)archos and (ex)archein, the technical terms for leading a group of singers or dancers, or of leading a group of mourners. But there are more specific suggestions that dance and funerary ritual overlap. When Andromache begins the lament ( goos) for Hector at Iliad 22.460-61, she is said to beat her breasts ( pallomene kradie) and, probably without any allusion to ecstatic dancing (!) she is compared in a short simile to a maenad. Sansone rejects this as evidence of dance-like movement and gestures by which the lament over the corpse is accompanied on the grounds that beating the breast has no affinity with dance. He takes out of context a summary sentence from the beginning of the concluding passage of my Chapter 8 on dance and funerary ritual (258) that “dance implies motion … expressed through the body, the whole body.” In context, this sentence about the living human body is meant to contrast with the next sentence about the lifelessness of the “still polluting corpse,” nor should it be taken as a blanket statement that all Greek dance must involve the whole body. Cheironomia (dancing with the hands 30, 221) was regarded as a form of dancing appropriate for the symposium and elsewhere. There are many possible overlapping categories of movement and non-movement and it is incumbent on a modern interpreter to draw attention to iconographic documents or literary texts demonstrating fluid boundaries between gesture and dance, as in the in sphere of lamentation.

5) Sansone questions aspects of my interpretation of the pyrrhic or weapon dance, especially in an Athenian context. A well-known fourth-c. inscription attests that the pyrrhic was a choral competition for boys, adolescents, and men in the Great Panathenaia. Lysias shows that sponsoring a pyrrhic chorus was a form of public liturgy. I postulate that, in addition, the pyrrhic was a qualification rite for ephebes on the grounds that ephebes, like choral dancers, were grouped in lochoi or bands under the direction of a lochagos (cf. choroi, choregos). (Sansone’s objection that, if the pyrrhic was a qualification rite for ephebes, why was there competitive weapon dancing for boys and men as well at the Panathenaic Games, does not make sense to me: one does not exclude the others.)

Aristotle, in a passage in the Constitution of the Athenians on the qualifications, responsibilities, and privileges of the ephebeia states that during their service ephebes were given their weapons and instructed by a paidotribes in the handling of the spear, shield, and javelin, the weapons that figure in Plato’s description of the pyrrhic. It is possible to infer from the hiring of the trainer that various gymnastic rites, including the pyrrhic, served as a coming-out rite that qualified the ephebes for full military service. The possibility that ephebes in lochoi performed a qualification dance proving agility in the manipulation of weapons can be strengthened by aitiological myths for the pyrrhic. These pertain to divinities and heroes, and the actual birth of and handing over of weapons accompanied by a dance motif, as well as the idea of emerging from a covert place ( lochos : ambush/womb). An example from theogonic myth is Zeus (Hes., Th., 174-87, cf. pp. 152- 155). An example from iconography is Athena’s “leaping” birth from the head of Zeus (151-52). (Sansone is right to recall that this choreographic interpretation is an hypothesis, not a generally accepted fact.)

These and other examples involving emerging from a lochos led me to postulate that by the fourth century the pyrrhic was a coming-out rite in which the ephebe was awarded his armor after a year’s training and required to show to an Athenian audience how the weapons should be manipulated through paramilitary exercises, including the pyrrhic (pp. 163-64). Some would see this as a far leap, but it is not implausible, and someone has to take it if we are to make any progress in understanding the fragmentary evidence for dance and associated phenomena in ancient Greece.