BMCR 2007.04.66

Diccionario del Teatro Latino. Léxico, dramaturgia, escenografía

, Diccionario del teatro latino : léxico, dramaturgia, escenografía. Madrid: Ediciones Clásicas, 2004. xxi, 334 pages ; 24 cm. ISBN 8478825193

This book is the publication, in a more elaborated form, of the doctoral thesis of Carmen González Vasquez (hereafter G.V.), which was prepared under the auspices of her advisor, Benjamín García Hernández, who writes the preface. After a few lines praising the enthusiasm, dedication and perseverance of G.V. in carrying out such a difficult but rewarding task, García Hernández develops an outline of theatrical and linguistic semiotics. Taking as a starting point the structural semantics of Greimas,1 he considers the theater as a whole according to the rectangular scheme of the actantial functions: Helper > Subject > Opponent; Sender > Object > Receiver. But in its application he prefers to turn it into a horizontal or vertical structure with four basic functions: Author (Sender), Actor (Subject), Drama (Object) and Spectator (Receiver). Concerning the roles of Helper and Opponent, he affirms that they are not complementary, but rather helper and opponent of the relationship between Subject and Object.

Perhaps the title of the book is misleading if it leads the reader to expect a conventional “dictionary” of the theater. In both the preface and the introduction, we are advised about the purpose of this book, a first-time compilation of all the words concerning theatrical creation (p. xix). For this reason, G.V. takes into consideration not only specifically dramatic or theatrical aspects, but also architectonical, scenic, sociological, political, literary, philological, artistic and musical ones. Theater is seen as a complete process of communication, beginning with the dramatist and ending with the spectators and their reactions. The lexicon intends to embrace words connected with Roman theater in any of its manifestations: comedy, mime, pantomime, fabula atellana, tragedy, from the fourth century BC to the fifth century AD.

Obviously this is a dictionary and the entries are organized from A to Z, but they are of varying length — some much longer than others — and also of varied content, depending on the perspective chosen for explaining each word. Most entries begin with the etymology of the word — whether it comes from a Latin root or has its origin in the Greek language, followed by the definition or description, which forms the nucleus of the research. In some entries, the reader is directed to other related words in italics or bold type; and sometimes a bibliography or list of suggested readings is included. At the end of every entry, there is a selection of Latin texts used to support the definition or description. G.V. advises that these sources are listed in the same order as they were used for writing the definition. The same rule presumably applies to the order of the books in the bibliography, where the authors are listed neither alphabetically nor chronologically. G.V. also points out that the textual sources are not generally contemporaneous with the dramatic plays. It seems to me that an index locorum listing all these sources would have been helpful.

It is not easy to review a book that is essentially a collection of words in alphabetical order, but I shall try to highlight the most significant themes. 1) Theoretical explanations of concepts such as tragedy, katharsis, hamartía, comedy, argumentum beginning in the Poetics of Aristotle and then applied in Roman theater and beyond to later Western theater. 2) Extensive study of terms related to the actor, such as histrio (the entry almost amounts to an article). G.V. makes a distinction between the words actor and histrio, and examines the meaning of the latter when it appears with comoedus and tragoedus. G.V. also deals with other important subjects: the social status of the actor in Rome, the training of the actors and their artistic capacities. 4) Study of the difficult word persona from three perspectives: lexical, usage of the mask in Roman theater and dramatic function of the mask. 5) Exposition of the origin, development, organisation and enactment of the ludi, ending with a diagram that lists, accroding to the different periods of Roman history, the nomenclature of the ludi, the days of celebration and the presiding magistratus. 6) Study of the receiver of the spectacle, the spectator, is based on his/her relationship with the actor and the performance, and includes the nomenclature and function of the spectator, the nature of the spectator in Roman theater (focusing on the intellectual level and social class of the actors), and the places assigned to the audience in the theater. On all these points G.V. both discusses the status quaestionis (with an astounding 62 footnotes outlining the experts’ opinions on some controversial issues) and explains her own conclusions. 7) Study of the characters of comedy according to their roles: adulescens, virgo, senex, servus, parasitus, coquus, etc., with a detailed literary analysis of the different types found in Plautus and Terence.

The end of the book includes the following appendices: 1) a list of Latin words which do not have their own entry but are found under related words; 2) a lexicon2 of Greek words, with their translation into Latin; 3) an index of the titles of surviving scripts of palliata comedies; 4) an index of the names of the characters in palliata; 5) an index of Seneca’s tragedies; 6) an index of the names of the characters in those tragedies; 7) a Spanish-Latin theatrical lexicon; and finally, the most noteworthy of these appendices, 8) a Spanish-Latin lexicon organized by subject matter.3 Its purpose is to provide the reader with the appropriate tools for a more profitable use of the dictionary, by giving a formal coherence to the very extensive and varied material presented in the book. Such a general overview would have been useful in the introduction, not only to guide the reader to preliminary and fundamental notions of the theatrical phenomena, but also to motivate them to consult and explore the vast material and the different approaches to the subjects discussed.

The bibliography is extensive, but, due to the date of publication, does not include books or articles after 1998.4 Its presentation causes some perplexity since it begins with a Section I on Dictionaries, Lexica, Bibliographical Indexes and Editions of Grammatici, but then continues as a general bibliography, with no other sections. I have noticed that some of the authors mentioned in the entries are missing from the bibliography.5

This book will be consulted with profit by undergraduates with previous knowledge of literature and Roman theater and also by graduates interested in going further in their studies of theater with special emphasis on Roman comedy.


1. A. Greimas, Semántica Estructural. Spanish translation (Madrid: Gredos, 1971). García Hernández does not mention A. Greimas and J. Courtes, Sémiotique. Dictionnaire raissonné de la theorie du langage (Paris, 1979), or the second volume (1986).

2. G.V. uses the words index and lexicon indiscriminately.

3. The subject matters are: 1. The theater, with four divisions (Nomenclature, The scene, The theater design, and Related buildings); 2. Ornamentation, scenery; 3. Workers related to the theater, with two divisions (Directly related to the actors and Others); 4.The actor, with four divisions (Nomenclature, Related adjectives, Classification, The performance of the actor); 5. Other artists of the theater, with two divisions (Nomenclature, Related Adjectives); 6. Actor’s clothing, with five divisions (Disguise, Dress, Head, Shoes, Accessories); 7. The author, with three divisions (Nomenclature, Mention of the author in the play, The author and his play); 8. The spectator, with three divisions (Nomenclature, Theatrical interplay with the audience, Attendance and attention to the performance, and Facilities for the audience); 9. Spectacle: Promotion, Organization; 10. Musicians; 11. Musical instruments; 12. Music, Metre, Singing, Declamation; 13. Dancers, with two divisions (Nomenclature, Related adjectives); 14. Dance. Dancing; 15. Theatrical play, Theatrical genres. Scenic Action, with three divisions (Nomenclature, Related Adjectives and adverbs, Scenic Action—structural parts and functional dramatic resources); 16. Scenic Art (Definition); 17. Success/Failure of the play; 18. Characters, including a list of characters of palliata. The characters are not listed in alphabetical order, but appear to be grouped according to roles or professions. The only characters listed from tragedy are the nuntius and the nutrix.

4. An excellent recent publication is Frank Sear, Roman Theatres: An Architectural Study (Oxford 2006), reviewed in BMCR 2007.02.16.

5. E.g., Gaiser, 1972 (p.8); Hölz-Wölfflin, 1896 (p.5); Spies, 1930 (p.13); Domínguez is quoted on p.17, but the date does not agree with that given in the bibliography.