B. Lukács

President of the Matter Evolution Subcommittee

of the

Geonomy Scientific Committee

of the

Hungarian Academy of Sciences

CRIP RMKI, H-1525 Bp. 114. Pf. 49., Budapest, Hungary



An interesting book on the evolution of Theatre in Ancient Ages is reviewed and discussed.


There is a commonplace that the European theatre is a direct descendant of the so called Greek theatre (although see my note at the end of this study). Now, because of lots of written records and archaeologic finds from Classical Antiquity we have the impression that we know everything about this origin and a lot about evolutionary steps. And still, I think two facts are rather ignored when reconstructing the evolution leading at the end to Euripides, Aeschylus & Aristophanes: that

1) Classical Greek civilization neither jumped from Zeus' head, nor evolved from pure barbarism, but had a precursor Greek high civilisation, the Mycenaeans; and

2) Classical Greek culture developed still at least along 5 parallel stems, irreducible to any of them and independent in the imaginable past.

Chapter 2 recapitulates the old reconstructions which were simple but not sufficiently detailed. Chapter 3 reviews a recent, much more detailed reconstruction. Then the next 4 Chapters enumerate the remaining problems. Chapter 8 is a summary & outlook.


For beginning let us recapitulate the story going back to at least Rinascimento, or even in its strictly scholarly form to the second half of XVIIIth century (of course, with ample corroboration from Classical texts). It goes as follows.

Dramatic performances were in close connection with the cult of Dionysus, god of merriment, wine &c. They evolved from community festivities and then forked into tragedy & comedy. "Originally" the performance was a community deed and had no fixed text: the leaders of the chorus made some speeches and the chorus consisted of indefinite number of male members of the festiviting community. Maybe the chorus represented the god's male half-animal companions, the satyrs. After an evolution of indefinite time the anarchic rambling became more serious and differentiated: first myths were performed (but the name: tragoedia or goat-song remained) and happy, anarchic and erotic "satyr-play" or satyre remained for the end of the festival.

With this phase we arrive at written history. From Athens reports go back to the 560's. We do know about performances of tragedies from that decade; from 534 we know the name of the author, Thespis, and from that time the tragedy performance is annual at the City Dionysia.

In this time there is the collective chorus of fixed size with its leader, the coryphaeus; and a single individual actor interpreting the acts of the chorus, the hypocrites. All males.

Note that this is the time of the tyranny of Pisistratus & Sons. With serious simplification we may say that against individual aristocratic families Pisistratus chooses "the people". But if he wants to rule Athens on the shoulders of many smallholders, he must give some popular ideology to them. Faceless chorus is just good for this.

Later some performances are held also at the Rural Dionysia. After ousting the Pisistratids, from 509 upwards, there are also choral songs on the City Dionysia. Aeschylus in the first half of the Vth century introduces a second actor, since 442 a third Dionysus festival, Lenaia, accepts comedies (later tragedies too), and "finally" Sophocles introduces a third actor. With this step the classical evolution of tragedies is ready. As for the comedy, we will return to it in due course.

Here I did not give references so far. However Aristotle wrote a whole book, Poetics [1]. Aristotle, knowing certainly more written records than extant now and also a lot of tradition, and who was not Athenian at all, tells that:

Drama classifies into Tragedy and Comedy (Bk N° 1448a16).

Dorians claim the invention of both kinds of drama: comedy by Sicilian Megarans and tragedy by some Peloponnesian Dorians. Aristotle gives some etymologies for support. (Bk N° 1448a19 - b1.)

Both tragedy and comedy started as improvisations, the first originating from the dithyramb, the second from phallic songs (Bk N° 1449a10 - 11).

Then he tells later tragedy inventions of Aeschylus & Sophocles, while he admits that for comedy the story is more obscure. Comedy plots were invented in Sicily, but the Athenian Crates invented something important about their "general nature" (Bk N° 1449b5 - 8).

Also, he repeatedly mentions similarity between tragedy and epics.

As we can see, the old picture is conform with Aristotle, and from extant drama texts & fragments we can find out how many actors were employed and what was their roles. Surely in Athens the tragedies had more or less fixed texts at least from 534, since we know names of authors, and from the middle of Vth century some texts were written down in booklets.

However nothing definite is told for times before the Pisitratids. Earlier grades of evolution were unknown even for Aristotle. Modern historians try and try to reconstruct them, according to political opinia. Since the Dionysian connection seems to be sure, aristocratic Nietsche tried to give at least half parentage to the aristocratic Apollonian viewpoint of Hellenes, while leftist historians, as e.g. G. Thomson, generally refer to the "people", agricultural fertility rituals, collective village festivities & such.

Now, Apollo, Dionysus, fertility rituals and people are all much more ancient than Pisistratus or Thespis. So earlier phases of evolution may need new views. In the 90's an old professional stageman (decorator, stagehand, actor & director in his carreer), A. Degaine, tried with a new reconstruction [2]. While he also could not have direct information about the beginnings, as a professional theatrical he could avoid sillinesses of the writing table. Let us see this reconstruction.


Degaine's scheme contains 6 phases before Aeschylus, and only the last, Phase F, can have any hope to check by archaeologic methods. Phase F had been reached about 500 BC; then already the places for the spectators, the dancers and the players were well separated. However let us go back to the beginnings. Texts in bold italics are my immediate comments.

Degaine, as many other authors, starts from Dionysian orgies. In Phase A the whole village celebrates for the honour of the god of wine (&c.). They erect an altar (of course), the thymele. The villagers drink a lot, then sacrifice a goat to the god. After the sacrifice, they are already drunken enough (they have not eaten too much; one goat for a whole village...), they are either happy or sad drunkards. If sad, they may sing stories about the suffering Dionysus (remember; his mother Semele was killed by Zeus' lighting when he was in her womb, later there were beasts, and so on...). If happy, they ride on donkeys and carry big wooden phalluses. But in both cases they dance in a chaotic circle around the altar.

I, as a Central European, lack the women from a fertility festival. Also, where are the Bacchean maenads of the god? Or sexes are strictly separated, maenads tear men they met into tiny bits (as it happened with Theban King Pentheus) and men rape any woman walking among them (as some kings & heroes tried with Princess Atalanta at the Kalydon Hunt)? Anyway, we are in this reconstruction on the Balkan.

After some time people got the impression that more fun comes out by specialising. Par excellence performers danced and sang, the others simply enjoyed and drank. (You may observe: in dancing events much males do not dance, or at least try to avoid it. Also, rational people, even if drunken, cannot get much fun by personally carrying big pieces of wood, or even by sitting on donkeys.) Degaine guesses 40 or 50 active players. (The others were simple observers and still the god was honoured by the whole village, and fertility was as guaranteed as possible for next year.) Among these 50 there were some more ingenious, they improvised (songs, dances, pantomimes & such) and the other players repeated them. This was Phase B; spectators' role is already separated and their place too, but the latter is still circular. But still everybody not spectator is in the chorus.

In Phase C, after some time, an inspired chorist (surely, with the biggest self-esteem) stood onto the altar. He improvised there, was clearly seen by the other chorists, so they could easily repeat his acts. Then Degaine tells that during the acts of the leader on the top of the altar everybody stopped, then he stopped and the others danced cyclically. Let us believe; anyway, now we have spectators outside, a cyclic chorus, and a coryphaeus.

Another stage of higher civilisation is reached sometimes in the VIIth century (Phase D): a great invention. The villagers placed a very table besides the altar, and the coryphaeus went on top of the table. (Clearly, his movements were freer there, which may improved the artistic quality.) The coryphaeus also improvised less and less and rather sang dithyrambs. (If they were not too drunken, or at least the coryphaeus was not. If they were, they sang simpler things, satyres or such.)

At Phase E (cca. 600) the table is far removed from the altar. So the coryphaeus stands on the table, looking at the altar. The chorus is dancing around the altar, and the spectators are standing (or sitting, if drunken) in a cca. 3/4 circle, whose remaining arc is just the table. All topologic parts of the theatre of Phase F exist already at least in rudiments: the theatron will be the place of the spectators, the scene (and the proscenion) is the table, and the orchestra is the circular place around the altar where the chorus performs.

According to Degaine Phase F arrived at cca. 500. For architecture the transition may have been quite smooth. E.g. you look for two appropriate low hills, fill the space between on one side, on the other you construct a dais, and Phase F is ready. There is a problem, but for that wait for the next Chapter. Obviously the oldest Athenian theatre on the Agora was already more substantial than this construct. In the Vth century on the City Dionysia the statue of the god first was carried to the fanum of Academus heros. There a bull was sacrified for the god, then the people feasted. Eveningtime the statue was carried into the theatre, and it was erected in the center of the orchestra. Now, that is the original place of the altar of Dionysus, the thymele, so indeed the proper place.

Then comes Aeschylus &c., everything is quite documented. Still, there remain problems, and this study has been written to call the attention to them.


Sometimes in 1900 Lord Kelvin, the famous physicist, elaborated an article to announce the new century of Physics [3]. As it is well known, he wrote that on the clear sky of Physics there was still 2 cloudlets to clean away in the new century: the problem with the energy distribution of blackbody radiation, and the surprising negative result of the Michelson interferometry. Now, the first was indeed explained still in 1900: on Dec. 14, in a lexture of Planck, published in some months [4]; and read immediately by Einstein. Einstein and Marity started about the problem in the spring of 1901 [5] and in 1905 it led to the energy quantum, the photon [6]. The other cloudlet was cleaned away in an even more straightforward way: Einstein was already working on it, although there Marity was uninterested [7], and in 1905 the solution led to Special Relativity [8]. So small cloudlets on the otherwise clear sky may be useful. But we are farther from Synthesis as expected on 1st January, 1901.

Not every cloudlet leads to new disciplines (altough any may). Still here I mention two small problems, and the bigger ones will come later.

Cloudlet 1: where comes the goat? Degaine reconstructs a goat sacrifice, but in the fanum of Academus a bull was sacrified. But some goat would help the scholars. If "tragoedia" is "goat-song", somewhere should be some goats in the ritual. Of course, the goaty legs of the satyrs might suffice. But, say the scholars, in Attica the satyrs had horse legs. (Appropriate: while Attica is mainly the country of Athene, it has also Neptunic connection, and Neptune likes horses.) So in Hellenic times a theory tried with the hypothesis that the winner's prize on the dramatic competition was a goat. So far no proof...

Cloudlet 2: the doubling of the coryphaeus. Let us go back to reconstructed Phase D. The leader of the chorus, the coryphaeus, is standing in the center of the chorus, on a table, and acts. Good, parsimonious reconstruction. At Phase E of the reconstruction, about 600, table & coryphaeus are removed from the circle, but of course both chorus and spectators can watch the coryphaeus. But let us look at the plays of Thespis. The literature tells that (surely from at least 534) there was a single individual actor, the hypocrites, who made dialogues with "the chorus". Now, this is still late Phase E. Degaine's reconstruction gives the chorus minus the choryphaeus around the thymele, and the choryphaeus outside the circle, on the table (the precursor of scene & proscenion). But at the end of Phase F on the proscenion we shall have the hypocrites, and the coryphaeus will be in the orchestra, together with the chorus!

Either something nontrivial happened between Phases E & F, or the evolution was more complicated than the minimal and parsimonious Degaine reconstruction. I am waiting for an explanation. Maybe something really new will come out of this cloudlet...


The Degaine reconstruction is minimal from a second viewpoint too. It explains the evolution of Athenian theatre solely from Athens.

In the XIXth century this would have been natural. Then the discovery of the Mycenian culture would have been complicated the story; however one could have argued that in Attica Greek civilisation was autochtonous, not a reflection of Crete.

However after the decipherment of Mycenian tablets in Mycene, Pylos, Thebes (!) and Crete (!) made the original picture, that Greek civilisation gradually rose from natural primitivity through barbarism into Archaic Ages about 700, completely untenable. Now the situation is as follows.

In the Classical Ages we find cca. 5 bigger groups of dialects/traditions. Namely:

1) Achaean. On Cyprus (!) and at some parts of the Peloponnesus, and also a small group in Middle Greece. Very probably the remnants of the Southern Mycenean culture on the Peloponnesus; the Cypriots are emigrants.

2) Dorians. In an unknown time but surely after the Bronze Age Migration in XIIth century they invaded the greater part of the Peloponnesus, and thence they went to Crete and to the southern Aegean islands, finally to Southernmost Asia Minor. Plus a small state Doris in Middle Greece, the Urheimat?

3) Ionians. Their origin is rather obscure, and just after the collapse of Mycenian civilisation much of them migrated to the middle Aegean and to the shores of Middle Asia Minor. However Greek mythology states them the sister nation of Achaeans, and Athenian traditions speak about their Peloponnesian origin. According to both Athenian tradition and archaeology Attica was not overran in the Bronze Age Migration.

4) Aeolians. The dialect shows some similarity to Achaean. Much Aeolians just after the collapse of the Bronze Age ("Mycenean") culture migrated to the shores of Northern Asia Minor + the adjacent islands. The Boiotian & Thessalian Aeolians somewhat later were subjugated to Northwestern groups.

5) Northwesterners. Very probably barbarians arriving at the cultured "Northern Mycenian" territory (e.g. at Thebes) after the Bronze Age Migration.

So the original barbarism holds only for 2 groups of the 5: Dorians and Northwesterners. Achaeans were the inheritors of the Peloponnesian Mycenean cities, but they were overran by Dorians or retreated to hilly Arcady. North Greek Aeolian and Middle Greek emigrants (XIth century) carry the memory of good old Bronze times to Westernmost Asia Minor, and very probably Homer was Aeolian; the two most probable places of his birth are Cyme and Smyrna in tradition. So it is not surprising if Homer in the VIIIth (?) century writes about Achaean leaders; but Athenian Aeschylus & Euripides in the Vth one compose tragedies also about the ancient leaders of Achaeans! Also, Thebean civilisation broke down in the XIIth century but great heroes as Cadmus, Laeus, Oedipus, perhaps Heracles himself do not belong to Barbarism before the Archaic Ages (say, IXth & Xth century), but surely to the civilised XIIth and XIIIth ones. The corresponding Bronze Age cities show substantial royal palaces, commerce, abundance of bronze tools & weapons, and, finally, written administration!

And if we accept the Athenian tradition, then Athens had a Bronze Age civilisation too, e.g. with Kings Aegeus & Theseus. It is a pertaining tradition that King Theseus occupied or demolished Cnossus, main city of Minoan Crete. While this might be an unfounded Athenian claim, some Greeks did take Cnossus in the XVth century.

Of course, I am not arguing against serious cultural backdrop in the XIth century in Mainland Greece. That did happen, the Submycenean Period at the turn of XIIth and XIth centuries with its archaeological finds shows the decline of the culture, and then at the beginning of the Iron Age many cities are given up. But not Athens!

Now, there were no theatres in the Greek Bronze Age; at least no signs of them have been excavated up to now. However in the "Southern" (Mycene, Tiryns, Pylos &c.) and "Northern Mycenean" (Thebes, Orchomenus &c.) royal courts epic poetry, genealogy, catalog poetry &c. must have flowered. To be sure, we do have only the inventary texts of palace economies. But genealogies and deeds of Menelaus, Agamemnon, Atreus & Oedipus were transmitted to the present, it is absurd to assume that the great Bronze Age kings would have not made the deeds of ther ancestors recited, and Homer sings about his colleagues in the XIIth century royal courts.

OK, epics existed but no theatres. In some sense this is certain: no theatres were found in Bronze Age layers. But the Degaine reconstruction assumes primitive, primordially stateless villagers at the beginning of the Athenian theatres, not too much before 700. This is impossible for Attica, maybe for all Ionia!

Of course, we may save the merits of the scenario by assuming that Phases A-D happened not in Attica! Maybe some culture hero, or an outstanding priest of Dionysus imported the art from elsewhere in Phase E. For any case: who and whence?

By the way, in the first half of the XXth century it was a commonplace (supported by the very Greek mythology!) that Dionysus had been a newcomer, either from Thrace, or from Lydia or from Phrygia. The god himself seemed outlandish, maybe with a major social unrest behind him. Such an unrest would be quite natural at the breakdown of the Mycenaean civilisation, indeed. However Dionysus is mentioned at Mycenaean tablets [9], [10]. And in the mythology he is from Thebes.


The sources tell and retell that the chorus of a tragedy always consists of 15 men. The only freedom is that the author may create two half-choruses, 7+7+Choryphaeus, to tell strophes & antistrophes [2]. This is a rather strict rule. Anyway, it has hardly a cause. Then Thespis (?) introduced the hypocrites in addition to the choryphaeus (?). Aeschylus introduced another actor, and Sophocles a third; that all was possible but not to change the size of the chorus? Why?

In biology such uniformities in (seeemingly?) random properties generally indicate that the change happened only once, and the uniformity is the consequence of the close kinship. One of the simplest such properties is the number of neck vertebrae in mammals. In living birds & reptiles the number of neck vertebrae strongly varies. In extinct reptiles of long neck it might have gone up to 140, while in mammals, extinct & extant (except for a small and highly errant group Edentata) it is always 7, independently of the length of neck. So all mammals have a common ancestor; as for Edentata, either a mutation happened later in their common ancestor diverging from all other mammals, or maybe Edentata are not true mammals and we see a convergent evolution. (The first explanation is much more popular.)

Then: do all tragedy-playing traditions have a common ancestor, a troup first playing tragedy, and was the first play so near to 534 that the size of chorus could not yet change? And where operated this proto-troup?

Note that Aristotle answered the last question, only nobody believes him: Tragedy came from Doric Peloponnesus to Athens. Of course nobody believed such an absurd claim (being all Science, Scholarship and Art Athenian, except for, perhaps love songs to females; Athenians could imagine that the ancestors did not do that). For any case Aristotle was a bad Athenian metic; look, Eurymedon, Demeter's priest accused him immediately after the death of Alexander III of Macedon for a poem written 18 years ago. Obviously Aristotle was not only the paid agent of the Macedonians but surely of Sparta too.

However after having seen that indeed tragedy-playing could not have evolved in Athens, maybe we may believe in Aristotle's data. And indeed: Dorian villages in the Xth century may have been generally similar to Phase A of Degaine [2]. Uncouth barbarians settled the half-deserted Achaean estates. (The second half was killed or, as in Sparta, subjugated.) The victorious Dorians did not need the stone cities or higher art; but they needed the goodwill of gods and liked Dionysus' gift, the wine. So they drank and drank at their Dionysias, and it is well known that the Peloponnesus knew goat demons, so the tragoedia may even mean goat song as well. Of course 2 questions still remain:

1) who imported the goat-singing in Phase E about 600? (Not too easy to answer even in the future, but see: Aristotle knows the importer of comedy.) And

2) what happened elsewhere?

When the Classic Period starts with its abundant texts, theatres, proto-theatres and para-theatres are not reported from anywhere outside Attica. Has the tradition died out on the Peloponnesus? Maybe. E.g. Spartans in Classical Ages were interested only in warfare. But what about Thebes? They preserved the Theban epics. They honoured Dionysus, son of the Theban Princess Semele. They preserved (?) the memory (?) of King Pentheus, enemy of the Dionysian mysteries killed by his own mother (or aunt?) in Dionysian frenzy. They preserved the memory of the sons of Oedipus killing each other, and of Princess Antigone executed for burying them. Also they remembered the large-scale deeds of the son of the Theban Princess Alcmene, Heracles, who at the end got the divine status (as Dionysus, earlier). Still they did not import proto-theatre to play the stories.

Why not? Or, if they imported, why we do not hear about Athenian tragedies with a chorus of 13 and Theban ones with, say, 21?

If somebody tells that that is absurd, now it is time to speak about comedies. Aristotle tells that the idea came from Sicilian Megara, that the name comes from the Doric name for "hamlet", "come" or "coma" (observe the difference from Attic "deme"), and he tells that a certain Crates imported the idea.

And the comic chorus had 24+1 members [2]. Obviously comedy's origin is different from tragedy's one. What is, however, strange: we do not hear about comedy either outside Athens.


In the IVth century theatres start outside Athens. Among the first ones in Delphi and Assus. Maybe Assus imports the idea because the local tyrant, Hermeias, was student at Academus' fanum, already Plato's school, and became the father-in-law of Aristotle. And in 240 Greek theatre is introduced to Rome [2]. T\his is an important step, because later European theatre is a direct descendant of Roman, not Athenian theatres. Remember that Middle Ages monks copied much more Latin than Greek manuscripts. (Graeca non leguntur. Remember too that in Roman Pannonia even the ghost of Apollonius of Thyana must have spoken to an Emperor in Latin to be understood [11].)

Now, Romans tell that their traditions were not pure Athenian but had multiple origin. E.g. originally young soldiers often showed the loot to their fellow citizens, which is not too artful but without doubt interesting. Then, in 364 some plague started in Rome and the state thought: maybe some Etruscan trick could help. (Etruscans are tricky.) Came some Etruscan "personae" (Latin "persona" comes from Etruscan "phersu" meaning a masked person) and played something. The plague went away, who knows why, and this "street theater" became popular. And then they imported the real Athenian theater, but immediately imported the "fabula Atellana" as well, the plays of Atella, from Campania. They were omnivorous.

And to the end of the Republic, the Roman theatre as the new form, is ready. It is almost as the Athenian. But there are seats where the orchestra was! So whither goes the chorus? And there is no place for the statue and altar of Dionysus! OK, these places are the best. But could they risk the wrath of Dionysus/Bacchus?

Now, look. Bacchus is a rather dangerous god, under heavy control of the Senate. I am not joking, and I am sure Titus Livius did not do this either. He did not joke about religious matters, not about state matters. Still the story is half unintelligible. Obviously what is extant, is garbled, and somewhat was kept secret. Maybe experts of modern political scandals will sometime help historians; until that I tell the story after Livy [12]. His story is a strange hybrid of a Courts-Mahler and a de Sade story.

The story starts in the year of consuls Sp. Postumius Albinus & Q. Marcius Philippus (185), although the roots were older by some years, when an anonymous Greek priest (certainly of Dionysus) arrived at Etrury. There he organised communities for the cult. Modest Livy in the atmosphere of the court of modest August does not go into details of the activity, but even his pure catalog is something: Orgies including pederasty, pedophily, false witnesses, false wills, false seals & false accusations, poisonings and other murders. And this "remained secret, because the shouting, the sounds of drums and cymbals made the cries of raped and murdered unheard".) That was something indeed.

And then the plague arrived at Rome. As Livy tells us, the story had been unmasked by two young lovers, P. Aebutius, young son of a deceased squire with a bad stepfather, T. Sempronius Rutilus, and the young prostitute, Hispala Faecenia, ex-slave, liberated (as Livy tells: she would have deserved a more honourable profession, but she learned this as slave, and then continued), and by an excellent stateman, the consul Postumius.

Family matters about young Aebutius were not nice (although he did not know it at the beginning): his mother was completely under the influence of the new husband, which is in itself good, but the new husband spent some part of the money of young Aebutius. This in itself did not hinder the happiness of the young lovers because Hispala regularly visited the young fellow without cost. Of course they could not marry because Hispala was a freedwoman and marriage rights of first-generation freed slaves were seriously curtailed, and young Aebutius' father had had a state horse. However they were happy enough.

And then T. Sempronius Rutilus tells his wife Duronia: "Darling, I spent the paternal heritage of your son; if he finds it out, our happiness will be endangered. I would like be in a situation when he cannot ask me about the money." Or something such.

And mother Duronia answers: "Do not worry. I solve the problem. Young Aebutius, my son, will be initiated into the rites of Bacchus and then we can falsify documents or seals or you can rape or kill him, as you need."

"Darling, it is a great idea indeed!"

And then mother Duronia tells to son Aebutius: "My dearest son, recently you were ill."

"Yes, Mother, indeed I was."

"You recovered, because I, your loving mother, praised to god Bacchus."

"That was indeed nice of you, Mother. One's best friend is one's mother."

"Just so, dearest son. I promised to Bacchus that if you recover, you will be initiated into His holy rites. Now I start to organise the initiation. One of the holy priestesses is my close friend."

"Of course, then it is our duty. But also it will be good to have a new guardian god too. Is He from Etrury or Greece?

"From Greece, via Etrury. You are a good son. So now ten days of abstinence is needed, then a bath, and we go to the shrine. I wonder what your Hispala will say."

"Mother, it is not easy to serve the gods. But of course one must be pure in every way for a proper Bacchanal."

Or something such; Livy did not keep the details. But he preserved the general scheme of the dialog of Aebutius & Faecenia, which then can be reconstructed as:

"Darling, I am happy that you have come, but from holy reasons I must perform abstinence for 10 days."

"So you will have red Lesbia. I do not recommend her; she has a bad odour and steals tiny silver things."

"No, no, dearest. A promise to the gods. Now I am going to a holy act."

"Well, gods are gods. Which god? I perform daily for Venus."

"The Etrurian god, Bacchus."

"The gods save us! This is worse than death. Be damned and dead who caused this for us!"

"Darling, it was Mother, with the consent of his husband."

"Yes, your mother never liked me. But maybe the idea was your stepfather's one, it is too much for a mother. Darling, your stepfather so will undo your morals, honour, hopes and finally your life!" (The last 3 speeches are directly from Livy; my own translation, into English & direct speech.)

"But how, darling? What do you mean?"

"I ask for the graces of all gods and goddesses! My lips are sealed and should remain so. But my love for you commands me to neglect the danger for me. I will speak; may the gods & goddesses spare you if not me. I was in the shrine as the slave girl of my mistress, and I saw... and I heard... Oh you gods & goddesses... Horrible!"

"What, Hispula? What happened?"

"I did not really see. You know, it was only once. I never went back, believe, I did not. But I heard later... Who enters thither, abandon any hope. The priests grab him as an animal to be offered... He will be carried to a place where echoes of shouting and sounds of drums & cymbals prevent to hear the cries of raped! Promise me you will not go there! Please thwart the base plans against you! Darling, please, do not go into a situation where first you would be forced to suffer, then to commit ignomities! Promise me!

"I promise!"

"You see. If you do not go to the holy Bacchanal in ten days, then you do not have to perform abstinence."

"Now that you tell this; indeed I do not have to..."

Later, next day, Aebutius, Duronia & Rutilus:

"O Mother! I changed my mind and will not go to the holy Bacchanal."

"What, son? But I promised to the god!"

"I know, mother. But He is a foreign god. Also, some omens are equivocal. Also, my head aches... Maybe some other times..."

"This is surely the malevolent influence of impudent Hirsula, the malodorous whore who sells her dirty body in the cemetery for two asses to Campanian muleteers! What could I say if I were not a lady! But my honoured Husband, T. Sempronius Rutilus, what is your opinion?"

"Boy, will you fulfil your mother's devoted offer to the god, or will not?"

"O Paterfamilias, T. Sempronius Rutilus, as I told, now the omens are equivocal and, in addition, my poor head is aching. Also, I heard strange rumours about the Bacchanals and I must get information. As you know, I must be careful about my honours. My late father, as you know, served the army on a state horse..."

"Out of my house, dirty sacrilegous son of a bitch!"

At this point mother, stepfather and 4 slaves put out young Aebutius, who goes to his aunt (of course) Aebutia. Incidentally, Aebutia was the friend of a Sulpicia, mother-in-law of consul Postumius. So she told to the young fellow to go to the consul. Next day Aebutius told the consul what he heard about the holy Bacchanals. The consul told him the go back in 3 days, and then asked Sulpicia. "Yes, yes. I indeed do not know Aebutius; but Aebutia is my good friend. Her honours are rigid."

Then Sulpicia invited Aebutia, the consul came in, and they chatted about young Aebutius. "Yes, O Consul! Imagine, my poor nephew! His mother, the bitch, spent his money and put him to the street; and why? Because he was against to be initiated into some secret mysteries which are said anyway immoral!"

Next step: the consul asks his mother-in-law to call for Hispula. Hispula comes, is terrified, and tells that she, when abject slave, had to follow thither her mistress, but after being freed never, never..."

"My girl, it is good that you confessed to see something. And the details?!"

"Consul, I know nothing more!"

"You see, we know everything; and if you are accused by somebody, I cannot help."

"O noble Sulpicia! Be merciful to young lovers! I do not know anything; I told stories to young Aebutius to frighten him away from the Bacchanal!"

"Look, Sulpicia, this lowborn whore speaks as if I were Aebutius! Am I? No, I am the consul acting in state matters!"

"Look, Postumius, the poor chick is now terrified and cannot speak. Give her a minute!"

"O noble Sulpicia, you show maternal care for a lowborn, driven by Fate. I will speak."

"O Consul, Guardian of honour, supporter of rightful poor! I as obedient daughter of Rome, speak as ordered. I speak, although I know that the gods & goddesses will punish me for divulging their secrets. But if not they, guilty men will tear my members from my body for the same! But I speak because that is my duty. Please send me away, far from Italy, where they cannot put their dirty hands on me, lowborn obedient daughter of State!"

"Look, Sulpicia, give her a room where she cannot be reached from the street."

And then Hispula Faecenia, freed slave & prostitute, starts to divulge the secrets. Of course, sexual orgies, men and women, but even more between men. Men on pulleys, men carried into secret caves. Men butchered if not active enough. (This is not a ballad; this is historian Livy and I cannot give a clear translation if his meaning is veiled.) And they are already too many! As another nation!

I do not know exactly what they did (except of course the orgies and falsified documents.) But they did undefined dirty things and they were too many. So the Senate ordered the consuls to find out the details. The authorities arrested lots of mystes of Bacchus. The Assemply assembled, and consul Postumius made a great speech whose meaning was somewhat veiled even at the Assembly and even less clear at Livy. Still:

There are cries in the City.

Thousands perform Bacchanals.

But the majority is women.

The men are no better.

Fanatics, confused by staying up, wine and howling.

There is no danger now, but the movement is growing.

This activity would degenerate the future soldiers!

& so on. The Senate made some decisions (later), and the Assembly decided, how to accuse, how to detain & such. 7 thousand people were arrested. the greater part were sentenced to death, but of them the women were, of course, given to their relatives for punishment.

P. Aebutius and Hirsula Faecenia both got hundred thousand asses. Aebutius got the right not to bother with state horse if does not want to. Faecenia got the right to marry freeborn citizens, plus the Senate declared that her future husband is honoured. I have a guess about the husband, although Livy does not tell anything. Also, he does not tell if T. Sulpicius Rutilus was among the executed, but young Aebutius could anyways start with two hundred thousand asses.

As for the god, Romans were tolerant for foreign religions, but the Senate decided that Bacchanals must be supervised. So:

as a rule, nobody can organise Bacchanals;

however some people may feel that his religious duty is to perform Bacchanal (otherwise god Dionysus would be angry with him); if so, then

he must ask the license from the praetor;

the praetor then asks the Senate;

if the Senate consents, the citizen may organise a Bacchanal;

with no more than five (5) participants;

with no high priest or treasurer.

Now, this is a rather boring Bacchanal.

Of course, Rome is not a Puritan country. Everybody has the right to drink wine, but without maenads and other Dionysiac orgies. Drink for good old Latin Liber Pater; and of course you may hire any number of slave girls with or without flutes or anything else. But no raw meat eating in the hills or separate-sex orgies. Dionysus, then, is against the Roman virtues, so will not get any goat. And why to erect his statue in a Roman theatre?

Almost 2200 years later we, seeing and learning about mock trials, religious persecutions & such, may doubt Livy's story. But nothing was found out about this purge in 2200 years, and Romans as a rule avoided the provocation of gods & goddesses. The story is rather mysterious. But anyways, there is no thymele in our theatres.


Here I summarize the major problems; the 2 cloudlets may be cleaned away in due course in any time.

Obviously tragedy originated not in Athens. Aristotle knew this, and surely he was right. Also note that Ionians seem to have had a tradition of their origin from North Peloponnesus. But the problem is that lots of Greeks had more or less direct ties to the heroic Achives.

Practically all Greeks in Classical times knew about the greatness, struggles, losses and heroism of the Achive leaders. Somebody preserved the tradition, and surely Argos, Sparta & Thebes did not learn the stories from Athenian tragedies after 534.

OK, on Peloponnesus only backward Arcadia remained Achive-dominated. While Greek Cypriots were direct descendants of emigrant Achives, one may argue that in the quest of New Lands they more or less forgot the stories. However we do know that Dorians in Sparta & Argos considered themselves the rightful successors of pre-Doric, Achaean, Sparta & Argos, even in Classical times. So the stories were told & retold.

By any chance, the Aeolians of Northwestern Asia Minor + adjacent islands (so Cyme, Mytilene &c.) were the uprooted inheritors of the "Northern Mycenaean" culture (so of Thebes, Gla or Orchomenus). We would expect them to remember stories about (at least) Oedipus and/or Heracles. Indeed, the frontispiece of the "Athena" temple of Assus shows Heracles shooting at centaurs.

And we may not know if Archaic and Classical Age Thebes was led by the inheritors of the Mycenaean local leaders, or by their local opposition, or by Northwestern invaders; but it seems that they regarded themselves as inheritors. Instead of detailed arguments look at the Shield of Heracles of Hesiod. OK, his father was Aeolian; but his consumers were Boeotians.

Also, there is Homer. He remembered the Achive times.

So the stories & plots were preserved. Still, the form is par excellence Athenian; no tragedies elsewhere until other Hellenes adopt Athenian tragedies including the exactly 15 members of a chorus.

This strict Athenian existence of tragedy would need an explanation even if Tragedy were not to have been imported from the Doric Peloponnesus (see this study & Aristotle).

OK, Aeolians liked better lyric songs and Spartans maybe dithyrambs (or military marches). Still why they never played old stories in dialogs of actors or of half-chorus to half-chorus? Historians with sociologic interest tell that Pisistratids fighting individualist aristocrats liked collective types of plays (see the chorus); and when the Athenian People ousted the Pisistratids, the tendency of the faceless chorus became even stronger. So, maybe democratic transition was the trigger for transition from proto-tragedy into true Tragedy, while proto-tragedy died out elsewhere.

However, there is a trivial problem. Athens was not the first state introducing tyranny instead of aristocracy, and also not the first ousting the tyrant. While Aristotle’s big compilation about the constitutions of 158 (!) states is lost, except for Athenian Constitution (in [1]) and some small fragments, we know, e.g., that some Ionian cities were ahead Athens, we definitely know the influence of Sicyon, and, finally, we know that Sparta was already as strict democracy in the VIth century. Sparta went much farther against aristocratic individualism than Athens. While Spartan democracy was not optimal for sciences & aqrt, it seems ideal for half-choruses to recite historic events.

So why do we not find proto-tragedies evolving independently in Sparta, Argos & Thebes, at least?

And there is another, disjoint, mystery. The anti-Dionysian persecutions during the consulship of Sp. Postumius Albinus & Q. Marcius Philippus seem faked. E.g. the strict Roman moral is preserved via the civil virtues of a prostitute freedwoman and a lazy playboy (who then gets the right not to serve in the Army). The story is as if a parody. Now, was the story true? Was Rome’s liberatrix really Hirsula Faecenia, the jealous prostitute? Or, if not, can anybody reconstruct the true story behind?



[1] Aristotle of Stageira: Poetics. In: J. Barnes (ed.): The Complete Works of Aristotle. Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1995. The Bekker numbers for Poetics are 1447a10 - 1462b19.

[2] A. Degaine: Histoire du théâtre dessinée. Nizet

[3] Lord Kelvin: Phil. Mag. 2, 1 (1901).

[4] M. Planck: Annln. Phys. 4, 553 (1901)

[5] Albert Einstein – Mileva Maric’: The Love Letters. Eds. J. Renn & R. Schulmann, Transl. by Syhawn Smith. Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1992; Letter N° 27. (Note that the lady’s name is misspelled, in accordance to Illyrian Idea.

[6] A. Einstein: Annln. Phys. 17, 132 (1905)

[7] Albert Einstein – Mileva Maric’: The Love Letters. Eds. J. Renn & R. Schulmann, Transl. by Syhawn Smith. Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1992; e. g. Letters N° 8, 10 & 11, and the lack of answers in 9 & 13

[8] A. Einstein: Annln. Phys. 17, 891 (1905)

[9] J. Chadwick:The Decipherment of Linear B. Cambridge University Press, 1958

[10] Major Greek Gods and Goddesses. Classical Dictionary, 3rd Edition. Oxford

[11] Fl. Vopiscus Siracuseanus: Divus Aurelianus. In: Historia Augusta

[12] Titus Livius: Ab urbe condita libri, Teubner, Leipzig, 1902-1930, Book XXXIX, Chaps. 8-19

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