Δευτέρα 30 Απριλίου 2012

Orphism an Ascetic rule of life

Historically the cult most nearly related to that of Dionysus was the philosophico-religious system bearing the name of Orpheus. It is not possible to pronounce with certainty whether such a man as Orpheus ever really existed or not. He may have been a purely mythical figure. If he was a real man he was a religious leader of mark and deserving of admiration: a prophet, reformer, and martyr. Whether mythical or real, Orpheus was the antitype of the flushed and maddening wine-god Dionysus. He was a sober and gentle musician who charmed savage men and beasts with his music, an exact theologian, the prophet of reform in religion, who was martyred for his efforts.The difference between Dionysus and Orpheus was the difference between the two religious systems which bore their names. The cult of Dionysus was more simple, primitive, elemental, spontaneous, and emotional. That of Orpheus was more elaborate, developed, controlled, and intellectualistic. Still, when all is said, the two systems had much in common. Both centered in the same god, Dionysus. Both aimed at the same goal, immortality through divinity. Both sought to attain that goal by prescribed rites and ceremonies. Both made a strictly individualistic appeal and were highly developed along the lines of personal experience. But Orphism fostered an ascetic rule of life that was the exact opposite of Dionysian license, and developed an elaborate theology of a highly speculative character. In brief, Orphism represented a reformed Dionysianism, and the practices it could not or did not reform it sought to explain and justify by its mythology.

Our sources of information concerning the Orphic movement are unusually authoritative and accessible. They include chiefly a reputable group of classical writers together with a singular collection of Orphic tablets found in south Italy and Crete. The list of classical witnesses to the Orphic cult is headed by the name of Pindar. In his "Dirges," or choral lyrics intended to be chanted at funerals, he offered consolation to mourners by telling them of the Orplic promise of immortality. He further detailed the Orphic doctrine of reincarnation which he represented as a scheme of preliminary purgation by means of triple earthly lives, preceding the final bliss. Again he described with pleasing detail the delights of the Elysian land where the final beatification was to be realized, and in the second Olympian Ode he told of the future of the wicked as well as of the pure. Another important classical witness to Orphism was Plato. Though affecting to despise the system, he was actually much influenced by it. In Cratylus, for example, he made use of the characteristic Orphic idea of the body as a prison house of the soul (soma-sema). In the Republic he described the missionary methods of the Orphics in terms that were not complimentary, yet revealed the vigor of the movement. He told of zealous propagandists who besieged the doors of the rich and persuaded them by a parade of Orphic scriptures that they could provide deliverance and purgation from sin, both for the living and the dead, by means of initiation. Plato also made reference to the idea of the transmigration of souls and to the Orphie rule of life. The dramatist Euripides included an all-important Orphic confessional in his Cretans, and in his admirable Hippolytus he drew a character sketch of a typical and consistent Orphic. Even the comedian Aristophanes bore favorable testimony to the influence of the Orphic mysteries. He had the glorified Aeschylus, the "grand old man" of Attic tragedy, commend Orpheus for teaching mystic rites to mortal men. This torch of reverence, however, did not prevent Aristophanes from giving a lively parody of Orphanic initiation in telling of old Strepsiades' visit to Socrates' "thinking shop." These four names, Aristophanes, Euripides, Plato, and Pindar, include the bulk of classical testimonia to the Orphic mysteries.

Quite as revealing as these literary refernces, however, are the so-called Orphic tablets from tombs in southern Italy and Crete. They are eight in number and are all of very thin gold. According to a consensus of scholarly opinion, they contain the mutilated fragments of a ritual hymn composed for members of the Orphic sect is early as the fifth century B.C. In their present form they may be dated roughly from the fourth century B.C. to the second century of our era. Their purpose is self-evident. Buried with the dead they were intended to give instructions concerning conduct in the next world, formularies and confessionals to be repeated, and directions as to postmortem ceremonial observances. Their ritualistic character and the tone of conviction that pervades them give them peculiar value as sources of information concerning Orphic experience and practice. These remarkable tablets, though they are few in number, constitute our most valuable source materials for the Orphic cult.For an expansive expression of Orphic theology, however, one must turn to the corpus of so-called Orphic literature. We know that as early as the time of the Pisistratidae there were in existence at Athens various poems attributed to Orpheus. They were quoted by Plato and later writers, but their genuineness was challenged by Aristotle and Herodotus. Under the hands of the Orphics a vast literature grew up around this nucleus, but for our purpose the hymns only are of special importance. They are of late compilation and uncertain date, although Professor Dieterich would locate their original composition between 200 B.C. and the beginning of the Christian era. In their present form they represent the developed state of Orphic theology, their general tone being that of mystical monotheism. Of the eighty and more extant hymns, all but nine carry in their headings specifications concerning the particullar perfume to be burned while they were being stung. Most of them also conclude with an invocation to the deity addressed to bless the mystics in the fulfilment of their rites:

The sacred rites benevolent attend
And grant a blameless life, a blessed end.
Propitious to thy mystics' works incline
Rejoicing come, for holy rites are thine.
So runs the slightly varied refrain at the conclusion of almost every hymn. These formulas make it practically certain that this collection of hymns was made for liturgical use in Orphic brotherhoods.In comparison with these major sources of information, classical writers, Orphic tablets, and Orphic hymns, other sources are distinctly of less significance. For the sake of completeness, however, there should be mentioned the "Apulian" vase paintings which depict the blessed dead in the society of the gods. These paintings are particularly significant in that they show the influence of Orphic ideas in Magna Graecia, south Italy especially, during the Hellenic era. Similarly, Greek sepulchral art and grave inscriptions of the Hellenistic and Roman periods are important. There are also casual references to Orphism in later pagan writers, Strabo, Pausanias, and Plutarch, which prove the vigorous persistence of Orphic ideas and practices through the early imperial period. Later Christian notices of Orphism are distinctly secondary to these pagan sources and are chiefly valuable in showing the later persistence of Orphism in its active competition with Christianity.

One of these Christian sources, however, deserves specific citation because it preserves in convenient mythological form a bit of fundamental Orphic theology. The passage in question is found in the "Exhortation to the Greeks" by Clement of Alexandria, and it includes a detailed narration of the myth of Dionysus Zagreus. Undoubtedly Clement's rendering of the legend was based upon a lost Orphic poem or poems--at least in the passage itself Clement made two quotations from Orphic literature. According to his version of the myth, Persephone bore to Zeus a son "who had the form of a bull." To quote "a certain mythological poet":

The bull begets a snake, the snake a bull. This divine son was Dionysus Zagreus, or "the hunter." He was the favorite of his father, and Zeus destined him to become the ruler of the universe. Even while he was a child, the father of gods and men entrusted him with thunderbolts and allowed him to sit on his throne. But the malignant Titans, stung by jealousy and urged on by the vengeful Hera, sought the young child's life. Though he was carefully guarded by the warlike Curetes, the Titans succeeded in luring him away with childish toys, which were carefully enumerated in a quotation from "Orpheus of Thrace, the poet of the initiation." Having gained possession of the divine child, the Titans savagely tore him to pieces, and cooked and ate the pieces. Athena, however, preserved the heart of Zagreus and carried it away to Zeus who, in his anger, blasted the savage Titans with his thunderbolts. Clement omitted one item of the myth which formed an interesting connection with the Theban legend of Dionysus. Zeus, having received the heart of Zagreus from Athena, swallowed it. So when Semele bore Dionysus to Zeus the new god was but Zagreus reborn.The Cretan provenance of the Zagreus legend was expressly stated by Diodorus. In his account of the various forms assumed by Dionysus, he said: "They allege that the god (Zagreus) was born of Zeus and Persephone in Crete, and Orpheus in the mysteries represents him as torn to pieces by the Titans." The relationship of this legend to the Cretan rite of eating raw flesh already described in connection with the Dionysus cult is obvious. It was an aetiological myth through and through. The worshippers of Dionysus were familiar with the ritual fact that a sacrificial animal, which in a sense embodied the god, was torn to pieces and eaten. They sought the sanction of antiquity and divinity for their ritual and posited the dismemberment of their god by the ancient Titans. Shocked at the thought of the brutal murder of a god, they had the bad Titans blasted by Zeus for their wickedness. Thus from the ritual fact of a feast of raw flesh, there grew up the myth of Dionysus Zagreus, the god on whom the Orphic cult was focused.

The importance of this myth lies in the fact that in Orphic thought it was connected with a peculiar theory concerning the origin and nature of man, and so ultimately with the thought of man's eternal destiny. From the ashes of the blasted Titans, the Orphic said, man was created. But these Titans had already consumed the god Dionysus, and their ashes contained the vitality of a divine being. Hence man by his very constitution was believed to be a compound of two natures, one Dionysian and immortal, the other Titanic and mortal. His soul was divine, but while in the body it was confined in a charnel house. Plato made full use of this Orphic conception, and in his Gorgias he quoted "a certain philosopher," who said, "We are dead and the body is a tomb." Pindar earlier stressed the divine origin and nature of the human soul in contradistinction to the mortality of the human body. "While the body of all men is subject to over-mastering death, an image of life remains alive, for it alone comes from the gods," he affirmed. This sharp dualism of soul and body appears again and again in the Orphic tablets, though it is not always clear that the myth of the origin of man from the ashes of the Titans was in mind. On the Petelian tablet (south Italy, third century B.C.) the soul is represented as asserting its divine nature thus:

I am a child of Earth and of Starry Heaven;
But my race is of Heaven.
Similarly, on three Cretan tablets the soul answers the challenge "Whence are you?" with a reiterated declaration of its dual origin, "I am son of Earth and of Starry Heaven." On the Compagno tablets found near Sybaris the soul makes a like affirmation to the "Pure Queen of Them Below . . . .," "I avow me that I am of your blessed race." The dualism thus fixed between body and soul was fundamental in Orphic theology. Though the body was an evil thing, the soul was divine and immortal.In its first analysis, therefore, the Orphic process of salvation was a process of purification from bodily taint. The problem, however, was not such a simple one as these words would indicate. It was not merely from the evils of a single existence that the Orphic sought deliverance, but from the evils of a long series of bodily existences. The Orphic first, and the Pythagorean later, believed in the transmigration of souls from body to body. On leaving the corpse at death, the soul was normally doomed to inhabit the bodies of other men or of animals even, passing on through a chain of physical existences until finally purified. An Orphic fragment preserved by Proclus reads: "Therefore the soul of man changing in the cycles of time enters into various creatures; now it enters a horse, again it becomes a sheep . . . . or as one of the tribe of chill serpents creeps on the sacred ground." Reincarnation, like dualism, was an important item in Orphic theology.

What the Orphic did with the idea of transmigration was to moralize it into a cycle of purgations intended to free the soul from bodily taint and leave it in the end a pure heavenly essence. According to Pindar, the soul had to undergo three such periods of purification in as many different incarnations before the process would be complete. Only those who "thrice had been courageous in keeping their souls pure from all deeds of wrong" could pass by the highway of Zeus into the tower of Cronus where the ocean breezes blow around the Islands of the Blest." In Plato the series of three incarnations was magnified to three periods of a thousand years each, during which the process of purgation might be completed. At the close of each thousand-year period, the souls drew lots, thus choosing the manner of their next incarnation. One of the most striking scenes depicted in any of Plato's writings was the eschatological vision of Er, son of Armenius, recounted in the tenth book of the Republic. At the place of judgment, Er saw mortal souls allotted to a new cycle of life choosing their several destinies.
"He saw the soul which had once been Orpheus choosing the life of a swan out of enmity to the race of woman . . . . He beheld also the soul of Thamyras choosing the life of a nightingale. Birds on the other hand, like the swan and other musicians, wanting to be men . . . . After making choice and drinking of the waters of Lethe, these souls shoot away like stars, to birth."
Empedocles announced three transmigration periods of ten thousand years each ere the soul could be considered eligible for heavenly bliss.The technical Orphic expression for the transmigration of souls and their reappearance in human bodies was "rebirth" (palingenesia). These physical rebirths, however, were what the Orphic least desired, and to escape this weary round of reincarnation was the goal of all his endeavor. According to Proclus, the salvation offered by this system was the freeing of the spirit from the wheel of physical rebirths. In his commentary on Plato's Timaeus, he said, "This is what those who are initiated by Orpheus to Dionysus and Kore pray that they may attain:

'To cease from the wheel and breathe again from ill.'" Undoubtedly this was an Orphic formula for the salvation process. By Simplicius it was attributed to Orpheus himself. Appropriately, therefore, the purified Orphic soul was represented on the Campagno tablets as having escaped from the cycle of necessity and attained to the seats of the hallowed. Its joyful affirmation to the "Pure Queen of Them Below" was:

I have flown out of the sorrowful weary Wheel;
I have passed with eager feet to the Circle desired.
Thus, while the view of human existence fostered by Orphism was essentially pessimistic in its dualism and its theory of successive reincarnations, it did hold out the possibility of escape to weary mortals. It posited one great spiritual rebirth at the time of death which should put an end once for all to the series of physical rebirths that were so much dreaded. The question remains, How was this great deliverance from the cycle of physical existences to be accomplished?

The Orphic answer to this problem was, in the first instance, by participation in certain prescribed rites of initiation. Orphism came to the seekers for salvation in the Greek world not merely as a philosophy of life but as a religious cult with divinely authenticated rites which must be fulfilled, else there, could be no guaranty of deliverance. To those only who had "by happy fortune culled the fruit of the rite that releases from toil," was there assurance of salvation, the rite in this instance being initiation into the Orphic mysteries. The mendicants who, according to Plato, harassed the rich, exhibiting scriptures by Orpheus, sought to persuade people that they might obtain purification in life and release from suffering after death by the observance of their ritual. Initiation into an Orphic cult was the first step toward deliverance.In general the prescribed Orphic ritual was a modification of the rude Bacchic rites we have already examined. The persistent representation of Orpheus in antiquity was that of a reformer of Dionysiac rites. Diodorus affirmed that "Orpheus being a man highly gifted by nature and highly trained above all others, made many modifications in the orgiastic rites; hence they call Orphic those rites that took their rise from Dionysus." From the standpoint of ritualistic observance, therefore, there was much in common between Dionysian and Orphic practices. On the very threshold to the Orphic cult stood the omophagy, or feast of raw flesh, which was so prominent a Dionysian rite. In the remaining fragment of Euripides' Cretans an initiate tells of certain ritual acts which he performed in the process of becoming a "Bacchus" and the one he stresses particularly is the eating of raw flesh.For the Orphic this "red and bleeding feast" had two important meanings. It was, first of all, a communion service. Already he had within himself the spark of divinity which came from the ashes of the Titans. This divine life within him, however, was weak, very weak. It needed nourishment. In the sacrificial bull his god Zagreus was ritualistically incarnate; hence, in eating the raw flesh of the torn bull, be partook of a divine substance that nourished and strengthened the immortal life within himself. Just as the life of Zagreus entered the devotee physically when he partook of the flesh of the bull, so the man's soul entered more fully into the spiritual life of Zagreus by this very physical process. In a mystical sense God and man became one by the communion.

But the feast of raw flesh was also a memorial service to the Orphics. With the legend of the divine child Zagreus in mind, they looked upon their own ritual as a re-enactment of the ancient tragedy in which their god was done to death by the Titans. Just as they tore to pieces the flesh of the sacrificial bull and ate it, so the Titans of old had dismembered the child Zagreus. According to Nonnus, it was customary for Orphic initiates to daub themselves with white clay or gypsum as the Titans did in order to conceal their identity. One of the technical expressions for the ritual act of bedaubing with clay was apomattein (literally, "to smear off"). Harpocration has the following note on this word:
"Others use it in a more special sense, as for example when they speak of putting a coat of clay or pitch on those who are being initiated. In this ceremony they were mimetically enacting the myth told by some persons, in which the Titans, when they mutilated Dionysus, wore a coating of gypsum in order not to be identified."
In this comment the mimetic character of the Orphic ritual is definately asserted.
The real inwardness of this act of daubing with gypsum, however, lay in another direction. It was an act of purification--strange as it may seem. The terms perimattein and apomattein ("to besmear" and "to smear off") were used interchangeably to mean "to purify." In the Orphic rite of initiation, just as in the Sabazian rite at which Aeschines assisted, the candidates for initiation were "purified and wiped clean with mud and pitch." They were not purified from mud and pitch but rather with mud and pitch. Since it was not a physical cleansing that was sought but rather a spiritual cleansing, clay and pitch served the purpose quite as well as water. Yet Plutarch, with all his sympathy for Orphism, protested vigorously against purifications in this manner, calling them "unclean purifications, filthy cleansings and bemirings." Orphic initiation, then, in addition to the rite of communion, featured a strange ceremonial of cleansing intended to rid the candidate of the stains inherent in his physical nature.
For the Orphic, however, mere initiation with its prescribed rites, its mysticizing of crude Dionysian ritual, its communion service, and its purifications, was not sufficient as a guaranty of salvation. Initiation, while it was the beginning of a process that eventuated in complete salvation, was but the beginning. The salvation process itself continued as an arduous self-discipline and it lasted a lifetime. The initial sacraments of communion and purgation were supplemented by the austerities of the "Orphic life"--an expression that became proverbial. So the "Bacchus of the Mailed Priests" in Euripides' Cretans ends his confession thus:

Robed in pure white I have borne me clean
From man's vile birth and coffined clay,
And exiled from my lips alway
Touch of all meat where life has been.
In general the disciplinary prescriptions of Orphism were almost identical with those of Pythagoreanism. Herodotus characterized the Orphic way of life as at once Egyptian and Pythagorean. Diogenes Laertius, in his life of Pythagoras, has given a convenient and comprehensive statement of the main items in the Pythagorean ascesis. His list of prescriptions is as follows:
"Purification is by means of cleansings, and baths and aspersions. A man must also keep himself from funerals and marriages and every kind of physical pollution, and abstain from all food that is dead or has been killed, and from mullet, and from the fish melanurus, and from eggs, and from animals that lay eggs, and from beans, and from the other things that are forbidden for those who accomplish the holy rites of initiation."
The Orphic, like the Pythagorean, lived a life of ceremonial cleanliness and holiness. By washing and aspersions, at once symbolic and sacramental in character, he sought to purge away the taint of his bodily nature, the "ancient woe" inherited from the Titans. He kept himself rigorously from all defilement of physical contacts with human or animal bodies, from human births especially, and from dead bodies; for in a corpse the evil Titanic matter was left without any vital Dionysian element. Both in life and in death certain clothing regulations were strictly observed. In life the Orphic wore garments of pure white. In death the initiated were never buried in woolen wrappings.
Not only were rules concerning cleanliness and clothing strictly adhered to, but certain food regulations were also carefully followed. Having once partaken of the sacrament of raw flesh, the Orphic fasted forever thereafter from animal food. This was the most familiar of all the prohibitions observed by the Orphics, and Plato defined the Orphic manner of living in terms of this observance. "Orphic lives, as they are caIled," he said, "were led by those of our race who adhered to the use of all inanimate things, but abstained from every thing wherein is life." This abstinence from animal food was a main item in the discipline of the tragic Orphic Hippolytus, whose asceticism was the object of Theseus' bitter invective in Euripides' drama. In his rage the old king cried out against his own son:

Now vaunt, ay now!--set out your paltry wares
Of lifeless food: ....
.... I warn all men to shun
Such hypocrits as you.
These words, from the mouth of a sadly mistaken father, should not be taken as proof of priggishness on the part of the Orphics, but at least they serve to emphasize the rigor of the Orphic discipline in the matter of abstinence from animal foods. By fasting and purifications, the disciple of Orpheus sought to purge away the evil which he had inherited with his physical nature. Only after a whole lifetime of such purgation could he affirm, in the terminology of the Compagno and Caecilia Secundina tablets,

Out of the pure I come, Pure Queen of Them Below. The question naturally suggests itself, whether or not the Orphic ideal made any moral demands on these who were initiated. Since personal purity, even though it was of a ceremonial and ritualistic character, stood at the very center of Orphism, the way was open for the development of morality. The very will to observe its rigid prescriptions was itself a moral attitude. Moreover, there is valuable testimony among ancient writers to show that Orphism did have an elevating effect on the moral life. Pindar, for example, based his Orphic eschatology on moral conditions and assumed that knowledge of the lore of Orphism would help men lead good lives. Aristophanes, who did not hesitate to poke fun at Orphism, paid a serious tribute to in The Frogs when the tragedian Aeschylus said of the poet Orpheus: "He made known to us mystic rites, and to abstain from slaughter." Certainly this last statement had reference to something more than mere abstinence from animal food. At the very least it meant that Orpbic ritual laid stress on the necessity of purification from blood, and at most it meant that Orphism came with a gospel of abstention from murder and of peace on earth. Horace doubtless had much the same thought in mind when he declared that Orpheus not only tamed fierce animals but savage men as well. The author of the speech against Aristogeiton also spoke reverentially of Orpheus "who instituted for us the most holy mysteries and declared that Justice is seated on the throne of God watching all the actions of mankind."

At one point especially the moral influence of Orphism was clear and indubitable: that was in its protest against suicide. Since the body was the soul's place of penance a man had no right to take his own life. If he did he was a fugitive prisoner trying to escape before God had released him. Here Plato found Orphic thought peculiarly congenial to his own. In the Phaedo he represented Socrates as saying, shortly before his death, "There is a doctrine whispered in secret that a man is a prisoner who has no right to open the door and run away; this is a great mystery which I do not quite understand. Yet I too believe that the gods are our guardians and that we are a possession of theirs." In view of all this array of literary evidence, certain moral obligations must be added to the ritualistic requirements which characterized the Orphic life.But participation in rites of initiation and a life of ascetic observance, even, were not sufficient to guarantee full and final salvation for the Orphic. There were certain postmortem rules of conduct to be observed as well. The Orphic tablets bring this out most clearly. They chart the geography of the next world for the initiate, acquaint him with the divine beings who have the determination of future weal or woe, prescribe certain ritual acts to be observed, and instruct him in formularies and confessions to be repeated under certain circumstances.
The Petelia tablet told of a nameless well-spring situated at the left of the House of Hades. This the soul must avoid. Since it was contrasted specifically with the Well of Memory in the following verses, the forbidden spring was probably Lethe, or Forgetfulness. Because the Orphic had spent a lifetime in purification he had no need of forgetfulness. The well-spring of which he must drink was the one flowing from the Lake of Memory. This was the Orphic counterpart of the "well of water springing up unto everlasting life." The Petelia tablet also served to inform the soul what formula to use in asking for a drink from the Well of Memory. It was an avowal of divine origin: "I am a child of Earth and Starry Heaven." According to the tablet, this declaration would be sufficient to gain the boon desired from the guardians of the Lake of Memory.

Of themselves they will give you to drink,
From the holy Well-spring,
And thereafter among the other Heroes,
You shall have lordship.
The Eleuthernae tablets represented much the same situation in the lively form of a dialogue between the soul and the well itself.On the Compagno tablets, certain additional declarations were placed in the mouth of the initiate. Here the soul came as a suppliant to the holy Persephone herself, and the prescribed words were addressed to her as the "Pure Queen of Them Below." As in the other tablets, there was the assertion of divine origin. "I avow me that I am of your blessed race." In addition, however, there was the further declaration of purity attained by the observance of Orphic practices.

Out of the pure I come . . . . .
I have flown out of the sorrowful weary wheel,
I have passed with eager feet to the circle desired.
These, affirmations on the part of the soul were an "open sesame" to immortal bliss for they brought the final assurance, "Happy and Blessed One, you shall be God instead of mortal." In this climactic fashion the postmortem ritual as recorded on the Orphic tablets was completed.On the basis of Dionysian practice and experience, therefore, Orphism built up an elaborate theological construction with refined and extended ritualistic observances. Faced by the problem of the dual constitution of man, his soul Dionysian, divine and immortal, and his body Titanic, evil and mortal, Orphism found the solution of the antimony in two very different directions. On the one hand there was the prospect of a natural process of purification through a series of physical rebirths in animal or human form. This was a gloomy prospect, however--a remedy that was worse than the disease. On the other hand there was a way of salvation provided by the Orphic cult itself, an extended process of self-discipline ending in a spiritual regeneration that would break, once for all, the chain of successive physical births. It was a long and arduous process beginning with a rite of initiation which marked the formal entrance upon a new way of living. There were prayers to be repeated and sacrifices to be fulfilled. There were sacraments of communion and purification. Following the initiatory rites was the rigid discipline of a life-long asceticism that included purgations, fastings, and freedom from bodily contamination, as well as certain elementary moral requirements. All this, even, was not deemed sufficient. It had to be supplemented by a postmortem ritual. The Orphic imagination pictured the future, charted the next world, and prescribed the formulas and confessions to be repeated under given circumstances. Thus the final goal of ultimate assimilation to deity was to be attained. Thus the initiated, having lived a life of Orphic purity, finally became "God from man."

Admittedly Orphic practice did not offer a new birth experience as a single catastrophic event to be realized in one's lifetime, unless initiation itself is considered that event in a proleptic way. But Orphism did furnish the possibility for a long regenerative process, beginning at initiation and ending after the death of the physical body--a development that eventuated in happy immortality. As an extended process, therefore, rather than as a single event, Orphism fostered the experience of regeneration.It is certainly pertinent to inquire whether or not the Orphic type of religious experience had real significance in the Graeco-Roman world at the beginning of the Christian era. Of the influence of Orphism in the Greek world during classical times, we have found ample testimony by writers of the highest repute. It is more difficult to trace the influence of Orphism as a distinct religious movement during the Hellenistic and later periods. Still the discovery of the important private Orpheum in the recently excavated Villa Item at Pompeii, leads one to anticipate similar finds elsewhere that may illustrate the distinctive functioning of the Orphic cult in first-century life. If when Pompeii was overwhelmed by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D. an Orphic brotherhood was operating under private patronage in this charming villa, similar groups were certainly to be found elsewhere in the Roman world maintaining their peculiar cult practices. Aside from such independent functioning, however, Orphism continued to influence the world through systems other than its own. Like Pythagoreanism in this as in much else, it merged readily with other movements. Its ideas were adopted by popular philosophies and its practices were taken over by popular religions. Orphism became very influential at ancient Eleusis particularly, and with the influx of foreign gods and goddesses into the Greek world it captivated them also. In these secondary forms the Orphic view of life and the Orphic way of living continued to influence thought and action even where Orphic brotherhoods as such had ceased to exist.

There is plenty of direct literary evidence as to the power of Orphic ideas and practices, however institutionalized, during the Hellenistic and Graeco-Roman periods. One of the characteres of Theophrastus, for example, was a man who every month repaired to the priests of the Orphic mysteries to partake of their rites. Usually he was accompanied by his wife. But if she was too busy, his children and their nurse went along with him. Perhaps the most notable example of a prominent man who shared the Orphic hope in the first Christian century was Plutarch. Both he and his wife were initiated into an Orphic thiasus. Though he strongly criticized certain Orphic practices, and refused to be frightened by the terrors of their Hell, and depreciated the morbid type of self-examination fostered by their manner of life, yet he and his wife found the Orphic hope a real consolation to themselves in the time of trouble. Strabo and Pausanias, as well as Plutarch, made casual reference to Orphism as a feature of contemporary religion, while Lucian, in his irresponsible manner, reflected Orphic ideas here and there. The Latin poet Statius praised the widow of a certain Lucan for not deifying him as Bacchus and consecrating to him "a deceitful thiasus"--a testimony that the Orphic practice of deifying the dead was not infrequent in the Graeco-Roman world.Of more concrete significance is the archaeological evidence furnished by sepulchral art and grave inscriptions. According to the Orphic scheme of things, the soul entered upon the status of divinity after death. Among the monuments there are a number--quite apart from royal or imperial memorials--which actually represented the dead as gods. At Guthaeum, for example, a first-century (A.D.) statue representing a youth was found near a sarcophagus. It was obviously intended to be a portrait statue; but a panther stands by the side of the youth, a grape cluster is in his hand, and a vine crown is on his head. Here is a clear memorial of the process of apotheosizing a youth after death and of representing him as the god Dionysus.

Among the grave inscriptions there are parallels to this sculptural representation of a deceased youth as a god. A priest of Thasos dedicated an inscription to his dead wife as "an incarnate goddess," and a man by the name of Lucius consecrated a monument to his child of four years with these words: "To my sweetest child and personal God who hearkens to my prayers." More clearly reminiscent of certain characteristic Orphic ideas is a second-century (A.D.) inscription found in a Sabine village. "The soul is immortal for it came from God. The body is the garment of the soul. Honor the God in me." This was good Orphic doctrine throughout.Here and there also among grave inscriptions are to be heard the echoes of Orphic ritual. On a tombstone in Cnidus was engraved this affirmation, "I have not drunk of the water of Lethe that ends all things." Immediately one is reminded of the Petelia tablet with its description of a nameless well-spring at the left of the House of Hades with a white cypress standing near--a well-spring by all means to be avoided. There are other inscriptions which recall the cool waters of Memory flowing from the well-spring on the right, from which the parched soul may drink and find new life for itself. Two epitaphs of the third century (A.D.) found at Rome contain prayers that are reminiscent of the Orphic tablets. "May Aidoneus, the king of the dead, give you the cold water" is the petition of one, while the second inscription repeats the same request in the first person, "May he give the cold water to my thirsting soul." Most peculiar of the Orphic inscriptions is one from Abydos, dated roughly at the beginning of our era. It stood originally on the grave of a Lycian Greek buried near the reputed tomb of Osiris. The inscription expressed the conviction that since the tomb of the god was near, the soul of the dead would escape Hades: "Hermes gathers me with the sons of the gods, and I have not drunk the water of Forgetfulness." Here the Arcadian Hermes makes his appearance in the role of Psychopompos, as in classical mythology and the Hermetic literature, and the inscription as a whole memorializes the blending on Egyptian soil of Orphism, Hermetism, the Osiris cult, and local tradition.

Altogether, therefore, the grave monuments of Graeco-Roman times strongly reinforce the literary evidences that Orphic ideas were still very influential in the life of paganism when Christianity first emerged. Hence, among the new-birth experiences of paganism contemporary with early Christianity the extended Orphic process of regeneration must not be ignored.

Ο Πάπυρος Του Δερβενίου

Δυόμισι χιλιόμετρα νότια από ένα πέρασμα που ενώνει την κεντρική με την ανατολική Μακεδονία, και εννιάμισι χιλιόμετρα βόρεια από τη σημερινή Θεσσαλονίκη, κοντά στο Δερβένι, ανακαλύφθηκε τον Ιανουάριο του 1962 μια ομάδα εφτά τάφων που χρονολογούνται στα τέλη του 4ου και στις αρχές του 3ου αι. π.Χ. Οι τάφοι, πέντε από τους οποίους ήταν ασύλητοι και περιείχαν κτερίσματα εξαιρετικής τέχνης, βρίσκονται αρκετά μακριά από το νεκροταφείο της αρχαίας Λητής (στα βόρεια του περάσματος), κοντά σε ένα ιερό της Δήμητρας και της Περσεφόνης. Ο Πέτρος Θέμελης, ο αρχαιολόγος που επιστατούσε στις σωστικές ανασκαφές, αντιλήφθηκε έγκαιρα ότι ένα από τα κάρβουνα της νεκρικής πυράς του τάφου Α΄ (εκεί όπου είχε καεί η σoρός ενός πλούσιου πολεμιστή που ίσως καταγόταν από τη Θεσσαλία) ήταν στην πραγματικότητα ο πρώτος παπύρινος κύλινδρος που ανακαλυπτόταν σε ελληνικό έδαφος. Αντίθετα με τη στεγνή άμμο της Αιγύπτου, το υγρό χώμα της Ελλάδας δεν προσφέρεται για τη διάσωση αντικειμένων από φυτικές ύλες, και ο πάπυρος διατηρήθηκε ανέπαφος για είκοσι τρεις αιώνες ακριβώς επειδή είχε μετατραπεί σε μια συμπαγή, απανθρακωμένη μάζα.

Ο κύλινδρος μεταφέρθηκε στο Αρχαιολογικό Μουσείο της Θεσσαλονίκης, όπου δέχτηκε την ειδική φροντίδα ενός αυστριακού συντηρητή, που κατάφερε να σταθεροποιήσει το εύθραυστο υλικό και να αποκολλήσει τα στρώματα του παπύρου. Σώθηκαν 266 κομμάτια, το μέγεθος των οποίων κυμαίνεται από αυτό ενός μεγάλου γραμματοσήμου έως αυτό μιας φακής, τα οποία στη συνέχεια τοποθετήθηκαν ανάμεσα σε γυαλιά περιμένοντας την ανασύνθεσή τους. Η ανασύνταξη του βιβλίου υπήρξε επίπονη και χρονοβόρα: τα εύθρυπτα σπαράγματα δεν ήταν δυνατόν να αγγιχτούν και να τοποθετηθούν το ένα δίπλα στο άλλο, ενώ η τελική εικόνα που θα ερχόταν στο φως ήταν εντελώς άγνωστη. Τελικά, τα περισσότερα από αυτά τοποθετήθηκαν στη σωστή τους θέση, δημιουργώντας έναν κύλινδρο μήκους περίπου τριών μέτρων και μέγιστου ύψους 9,5 εκατοστών που περιείχε 26 στήλες κειμένου. Το επόμενο έργο των ερευνητών ήταν να διαβάσουν τα σωζόμενα σπαράγματα, να συμπληρώσουν τα χάσματα και να ερμηνεύσουν το κείμενο. Από τον κύλινδρο όμως έχει σωθεί μόνο το επάνω μισό, και έτσι το κείμενο προχωρεί με συνεχή άλματα, που συχνά προκαλούν αμηχανία στον αναγνώστη: από κάθε στήλη σώζονται περίπου 15 γραμμές (σπάνια πλήρεις), ενώ σχεδόν άλλες τόσες μοιάζει να περιλάμβανε το χαμένο κάτω τμήμα της.

Η γλώσσα του κειμένου (η ιωνική διάλεκτος με ισχυρές δόσεις της αττικής, ή το αντίστροφο), το ύφος και το περιεχόμενο χρονολογούν τον συγγραφέα του έργου στα τέλη του 5ου αι. π.Χ., δηλαδή περίπου την εποχή του Πελοποννησιακού Πολέμου και του ώριμου Σωκράτη. Η γραφή του παπύρου χρονολογεί τον γραφέα που το αντέγραψε στο τελευταίο τέταρτο του 4ου αι. π.Χ., δηλαδή περίπου την εποχή του θανάτου του Αριστοτέλη και του Μ. Αλεξάνδρου και πολύ κοντά στη χρονολογία της καύσης του βιβλίου στην πυρά του τάφου Α΄. Η παλαιογραφική χρονολόγηση του κυλίνδρου τον καθιστά τον αρχαιότερο πάπυρο με ελληνικό φιλολογικό κείμενο, πράγμα που σημαίνει ότι είναι και το αρχαιότερο σωζόμενο ευρωπαϊκό βιβλίο. Ακόμη πιο σημαντικό όμως είναι το περιεχόμενό του. Για τα νέα στοιχεία που μας παρέχει σχετικά με τον Ορφισμό και άγνωστες πτυχές της προσωκρατικής φιλοσοφίας, έχει χαρακτηριστεί «η σημαντικότερη νέα μαρτυρία για την αρχαία ελληνική φιλοσοφία και θρησκεία που εμφανίστηκε από την εποχή της Αναγέννησης», αλλά παράλληλα και «η πιο δύσκολη στην κατανόησή της».

Οι πρώτες εφτά στήλες, που δυστυχώς σώζονται πολύ αποσπασματικά, μας εισάγουν στον κόσμο των οπαδών μυστικιστικών δοξασιών και λατρειών (των μυστών) αλλά και του περσικού ιερατείου (των μάγων). Ο συγγραφέας αναφέρεται σε όσους δεν πιστεύουν στα δεινά που πρόκειται να αντιμετωπίσουν μετά τον θάνατό τους και περιγράφει θυσίες και σπονδές που γίνονται στις Ερινύες και τις Ευμενίδες, που γι’ αυτόν δεν είναι θεότητες αλλά οι αναρίθμητες ψυχές των νεκρών. Οι οντότητες αυτές δεν τιμωρούν μόνο τα ανομήματα των ανθρώπων αλλά και κάθε παράβαση των φυσικών νόμων του σύμπαντος. «Ο ήλιος», υποστηρίζει ο Ηράκλειτος, τον οποίο παραθέτει ο συγγραφέας, «έχει εύρος ενός ανθρώπινου ποδιού και δεν επιτρέπεται να το υπερβεί. Αν το κάνει, θα τον ανακαλύψουν οι Ερινύες, οι βοηθοί της Δίκης, και θα τιμωρήσουν την υπέρβασή του».
Όπως μας πληροφορεί στη συνέχεια το κείμενο, ο Ορφέας είχε συνθέσει ύμνους για να τους ψάλλουν οι ιερείς κατά τη διάρκεια των θυσιών, ύμνους όμως που απευθύνονται στους μυημένους και είναι γραμμένοι με τέτοιον αινιγματικό τρόπο που γίνονται αντιληπτοί μόνο σε όσους διαθέτουν σύνεση και ικανότητα να αντιληφθούν το κρυμμένο νόημά τους. Στο σημείο αυτό ο συγγραφέας αρχίζει την ερμηνεία ενός τέτοιου ορφικού ύμνου, μιας θεογονίας που αρχίζει με τη φράση «Απευθύνομαι σε όσους αντιλαμβάνονται, οι αμύητοι να βάλουν πόρτες στ’ αφτιά τους» και που διαφέρει σε πολλά σημεία από τη θεογονία του Ησιόδου, σαν να επρόκειτο για έναν μυστικό κώδικα που μόνο ο ίδιος μπορεί να αποκρυπτογραφήσει.

Από τους διάσπαρτους στίχους που παραθέτει ο συγγραφέας μπορούμε να αποκαταστήσουμε ένα μεγάλο μέρος αυτού του ορφικού ύμνου, που δεν μας ήταν γνωστός μέχρι τώρα παρά μόνο από μεταγενέστερες παραλλαγές του. Ο Δίας παίρνει τη βασιλεία από τον πατέρα του Κρόνο, που κι αυτός την είχε πάρει εξίσου βίαια από τον δικό του πατέρα, τον Ουρανό. Απόλυτος πλέον άρχοντας, ο Δίας καταπίνει το σύμπαν, συμπεριλαμβανομένων και των άλλων θεών, για να το εξεμέσει στη συνέχεια αναδημιουργώντας το στη μορφή που έχει σήμερα. Γεννά/δημιουργεί τους θεούς, τη γη, τον ήλιο, τη σελήνη και τα άστρα, και τέλος επιθυμεί να σμίξει με την ίδια του τη μητέρα. Εδώ τελειώνει το κείμενο του παπύρου, αλλά ο ύμνος πρέπει να συνέχιζε με άλλα κατορθώματα του Δία (όπως τη γέννηση της Περσεφόνης και του Διόνυσου και τη δημιουργία του γένους των ανθρώπων) που τα γνωρίζουμε από υστερότερες πηγές. Για τον συγγραφέα όλα αυτά δεν είναι παρά αλληγορικές αλήθειες κρυμμένες πίσω από ένα παραπέτασμα λέξεων την πραγματική έννοια των οποίων μόνο ο ίδιος αντιλαμβάνεται και, με πλήρη αυτοπεποίθηση, ερμηνεύει και αποκαλύπτει προκειμένου να προφυλάξει τους μύστες από τσαρλατάνους και αγύρτες που κοροϊδεύουν τον κόσμο με ακατανόητες τελετές και μυστήρια. Επηρεασμένος από τη σκέψη διάφορων προσωκρατικών φιλοσόφων, όπως του Εμπεδοκλή και του Δημόκριτου, αλλά κυρίως του Αναξαγόρα και του Διογένη του Απολλωνιάτη, ερμηνεύει ευφάνταστα τον ορφικό ύμνο στον Δία, τον κυβερνήτη των πάντων, ως αλληγορία της εξέλιξης του σύμπαντος από μιαν αρχική υπέρθερμη και χαοτική κατάσταση σε έναν κόσμο, με την αρχαία σημασία της λέξης, δηλαδή σε ένα εύτακτο σύστημα. Όλα όσα υπάρχουν στο σύμπαν όπως το ξέρουμε σήμερα απαρτίζονται από μικροσκοπικά σωματίδια (τα όντα, δηλαδή «αυτά που υπάρχουν»), τα οποία δεν δημιουργήθηκαν σε κάποια δεδομένη στιγμή από κάποιον δημιουργό αλλά υπήρχαν πάντοτε. Αρχικά όλα αυτά τα όντα ήταν αναμεμειγμένα και αιωρούνταν μέσα στον αέρα που τα περιέκλειε, έναν αέρα όμως που διέθετε νόηση (γι’ αυτό και ο συγγραφέας τον ονομάζει Νουν) και που όρισε πώς πρέπει να δημιουργηθεί το παρόν σύμπαν. Αντιλαμβανόμενος ότι η θερμότητα είναι αυτή που δεν αφήνει τα όντα να συσταθούν και να συμπαγούν, ο νοήμων αήρ απομάκρυνε έναν μεγάλο αριθμό πύρινων σωματιδίων, δημιουργώντας έτσι τον ήλιο. Τότε τα υπόλοιπα σωματίδια άρχισαν να συγκρούονται το ένα με το άλλο, έως ότου οι συνεχείς συγκρούσεις έφεραν σε επαφή όμοια όντα και προκάλεσαν τη συνένωσή τους, δημιουργώντας έτσι τα νυν όντα, δηλαδή όλα όσα βλέπουμε στο τωρινό σύμπαν.

Ο συγγραφέας δεν έχει καμία αμφιβολία ότι αυτό ακριβώς διηγείται ο Ορφέας. Σε ένα κείμενο που αποτελεί την αρχαιότερη σωζόμενη αλληγορική ερμηνεία ενός ποιήματος, μας εξηγεί ότι οι διαδοχικές βασιλείες των θεών δεν είναι παρά τα διαδοχικά στάδια της δημιουργίας του παρόντος κόσμου. Έτσι, όταν ο Ορφέας αναφέρει τον Ουρανό, εννοεί τον Νου που ορίζει τη δημιουργία - Κρόνος είναι και πάλι ο Νους που κρούει τα όντα - Αφροδίτη και Αρμονία δεν είναι παρά ονόματα για τη συνεύρεση και τη συναρμογή των όντων - δεν υπάρχουν θεότητες όπως η Γη, η Μήτηρ, η Δήμητρα, η Ρέα, η Ήρα: όλα αυτά είναι ονόματα του αέρα, της μητέρας από την οποία έρευσαν τα πάντα, του Νου που οι άνθρωποι ονόμασαν Δία, και γι' αυτό νόμισαν ότι κάποτε γεννήθηκε. Ο αήρ/Νους όμως ποτέ δεν γεννήθηκε αλλά υπήρχε πάντοτε, όπως πάντοτε υπήρχαν, και θα υπάρχουν εσαεί, τα όντα που βρίσκονται μέσα του και των οποίων είναι ο απόλυτος κυρίαρχος. Αυτή την επιστημονική αλήθεια εκφράζει και ο Ορφέας όταν λέει, λόγου χάρη, ότι «ο Δίας είναι κεφαλή, ο Δίας είναι μέση, όλα δημιουργήθηκαν από τον Δία». Έτσι, ο Δίας που καταπίνει το σύμπαν δεν είναι παρά ο αέρας που περικλείει τα πάντα, ο ίδιος αέρας που με τη φρόνησή του προχώρησε στη δημιουργία του παρόντος κόσμου.Ο πάπυρος, ως προς το περιεχόμενο του, μπορεί να διαιρεθεί σε δύο μέρη. Το πρώτο αποτελούν οι στήλες 1-6, που είναι και οι περισσότερο αποσπασματικές. Περιέχουν αναφορές στις Ερινύες (1,4), σε δαίμονες που είναι «θεών υπηρέται» (2,3), σε μαντεία και χρησμούς (5), σε θυσίες (6), ενώ στη στήλη 4 μας σώζεται ένα άγνωστο απόσπασμα του Ηράκλειτου.


Για τους συνετούς θα τραγουδήσω -στους βέβηλους
κλείστε τις θύρες-
του παντοκράτορα Διός, του άνακτα, τα έξοχα έργα,
όσα με τις συμβουλές της μέλαινας Νυκτός  εκτέλεσε,

και των νεώτερων μακάριων το γένος, θεών παντοτινών
που απ' τον Δία γεννήθηκαν τον ισχυρό βασιλέα.
Γιατί ο Δίας απ' τον πατέρα του έχοντας θεία εξουσία,
στα χέρια έμελλε να πάρει ένδοξο σκήπτρο.
Και τα εξήγησε πολύ καλά όλα όσα απ' το άδυτο η θεά του είπε,

η μάντισσα όλων. Νύκτα που με αμβροσία τρέφει τους θεούς.
Αυτή του τα φανέρωσε όλα όσα ήταν θεμιτό να γίνουν, καθώς
βασίλευε στο όμορφο παλάτι του χιονοσκέπαστου Ολύμπου.
Κι αφού ο Ζεύς απ' τη θεά άκουσε τους χρησμούς τους άρρητους,
έλαβε δύναμη στα χέρια και του θεού καταβρόχθισε το λαμπρό

φαλλό, του θεού που πρώτος στον αιθέρα πρόβαλε.
Εκείνος βέβαια γέννησε τη Γαία και τον πλατύ Ουρανό
ενώ η πελώρια Γαία τον Κρόνο έκανε που μεγάλο κακό έπραξε
στον Ουρανό Ευφρονίδη, που πρώτιστος βασίλευσε.
Απ' αυτόν έπειτα ο Κρόνος κι ύστερα ο συνετός Δίας,

κατέχοντας σοφία και βασιλική τιμή ανάμεσα στους μακάριους.
Και τότε λοιπόν του θεού καταβρόχθισε, όπως ήταν θεμιτό,
το φαλλό του Πρωτογόνου βασιλιά. Και εξαιτίας αυτού, όλοι
οι αθάνατοι γεννήθηκαν, θεοί μακάριοι και θεές και
ποταμοί κι όμορφες πηγές και όλα τα άλλα, όσα τότε έγιναν,

ενώ ο ίδιος είναι μονογενής. Βασιλέας των όλων είναι τώρα,
μα κι έπειτα θα είναι. Ο Ζεύς πρώτος γεννήθηκε, ο Ζεύς
ο ύστατος Αστραποβρόντης. Ο Ζεύς είναι η κεφαλή,
ο Ζεύς η μέση, απ' τον Δία όλα πλάστηκαν. Ο Δίας ο ίδιος
ορίζει το τέλος όλων η κραταιή μοίρα είναι ο Δίας. Ο Ζεύς

είναι βασιλιάς, ο αστραποβρόντης Δίας είναι ο άρχοντας όλων.
Γιατί αφού τα έκρυβε όλα, στο χαρωπό φως
πάλι απ' την ιερή καρδιά έβγαλε, εκπληρώνοντας δύσκολα έργα.
Και πρώτη βέβαια απ' τους θεούς στη χρυσή Αφροδίτη,
τη χαρωπή Ουρανία, έφτιαξε θρόνο

κι αμέσως έπειτα στην Αρμονία και στην εράσμια Πειθώ.
Τη γη έφτιαξε και τον πλατύ Ουρανό ψηλά
και τη δύναμη έδωσε του μεγάλου Ωκεανού που ρέει πλατιά
και βάθυνε τις ρίζες του αργυροστρόβιλου Αχελώου.
Έφτιαξε κι άλλη γη απέραντη, που Σελήνη

οι αθάνατοι ονομάζουν και Μήνη οι κάτοικοι της γης,
που πολλά βουνά έχει, πολλές πόλεις και πολλά μέλαθρα
και στη μέση είναι, σε ίση απόσταση από όλα,
που και ανθρώπους πολλούς φωτίζει στην απέραντη γη.
Μα και το μέγα ήλιο έφτιαξε, πολύ ωφέλιμο για τους θνητούς,

και τα λαμπρά άστρα με τα οποία ο ουρανός στεφανώνεται.

Ορφικό Κείμενο

Είναι ένα παράξενο κείμενο καθώς θα διαβάσατε, που προφανώς περιέχει κωδικοποιημένη γνώση και δεν είναι ολόκληρο. Άγνωστο είναι αν έχουν σωθεί και άλλα τμήματά του. Κάτω από αυτό το κείμενο υπάρχουν δύο ακατανόητοι στίχοι οι οποίοι προφανώς είναι νόθοι και εμβόλιμοι.

Οι στίχοι είναι οι εξής:

Και όλα αυτά επινόησε κι έφτιαξε ο σοφός Δίας,
γιατί ερωτικά ήθελε με τη μητέρα του να σμίξει.

Κυριακή 29 Απριλίου 2012

Η τελειότερη και αρχαιότερη γλώσσα

Η τελειότερη και αρχαιότερη γλώσσα και γραφή σ’ όλο τον κόσμο είναι η Ελληνική. Οι ρίζες της γενέσεως της επιστήμης της γλωσσολογίας θα πρέπει να αναζητηθούν στην εποχή, κατά την οποία έζησε ο Πλάτων. Με το έργο του «Κρατύλος η Περί Ονομάτων Όρθότητος», ο μέγας φιλόσοφος θέτει τον προβληματισμό σχετικά με το εάν η γλώσσα είναι «φύσει» η «έθει», δηλαδή εάν είναι φυσικό δημιούργημα, οπότε η γνώση των πραγμάτων καθίσταται αντικειμενική η δημιούργημα του ανθρωπίνου πνεύματος, οπότε μόνον υποκειμενική γνώση είναι δυνατή. Επομένως η δημιουργία του αλφαβήτου και η προέλευση των ονομάτων είχε απασχολήσει και τους Αρχαίους Έλληνες. Η ουσία των ονομάτων είναι αυτή που έχει πλάσει η ίδια η φύσις για το κάθε αντικείμενο. Αυτό έχοντες κατά νου οι πανάρχαιοι Έλληνες έπλασαν τη Ελληνική γλώσσα για να αποδίδει την αντικειμενική γνώση. Έτσι κατόρθωσαν να δώσουν σε κάθε λέξη αιτιώδη σχέση και συνάρτηση με την έννοια του αντικειμένου ή του πραγματικού ονόματος. Διότι, σύμφωνα με τον Πλάτωνα, για να είναι ένα όνομα ορθό, πρέπει να είναι τέτοιο, που να φανερώνει την ουσία του πράγματος. Η γραφή των ονομάτων είναι μια πράξη μιμήσεως με γράμματα της ουσίας του αντικειμένου . Τα δε ονόματα τα χρησιμοποιούμε ως όργανα με τα οποία καθορίζουμε την φυσική υπόσταση των πραγμάτων. Το ίδιο συμβαίνει και με τα στοιχεία του αλφαβήτου:. Τα εκφωνούμε με ονόματα(λ.χ Αλφα, Βήτα, Γάμα κ.ο.κ) και δεν τα προφέρουμε αυτά τα ίδια σαν φθόγγους, εκτός από τέσσερα δηλαδή το Ει , το Ι-ώτα , το Ο-μικρόν και το Ω-μέγα. Στα άλλα φωνήεντα και τα άφωνα, αφού προσθέσουμε κι άλλα γράμματα τα προφέρουμε κάνοντας τα έτσι ονόματα. Αλλά, έως ότου εκφράσωμε την δύναμη, που φανερώνει αυτό, δηλαδή κάθε στοιχείο, είναι ανάγκη να προσθέτωμε γράμματα, ώστε να σχηματισθεί το όνομα, που θα μας φανερώνει την ουσία του καθαρά. Λόγου χάριν στο «βήτα» ενώ προσετέθησαν σε αυτό τα γράμματα Η, Τ, Α, καθόλου δεν έβλαψαν ώστε να μη φανέρωση με ολόκληρο όνομα την φύση του στοιχείου αυτού την οποίαν ήθελεν ο νομοθέτης να εκφράσει. Έτσι κατωρθώθη με επιτηδειότητα να δοθούν στα γράμματα ονόματα.

Σύμφωνα με τον καθηγητή Αρβανιτόπουλο, γράφοντας σήμερα εις την Έλληνικήν γλώσσα μεταχειριζόμεθα τα εκ μακραίωνος παραδόσεως γνωστά 24 γράμματα του Ελληνικού αλφαβήτου, τα οποία οι αρχαίοι Έλληνες ωνόμαζαν ως εξής: άλφα, βήτα, γάμμα, δέλτα, ει, ζήτα, ήτα, θήτα, ιώτα, κάππα, λάμβδα, μυ, νυ, ξει, ου, πει, ρω, σίγμα, ταυ, υ, φει, χει, ψει, ω. Τέσσερα από αυτά τα γράμματα, μετωνομάσθησαν αργότερα από τους αρχαίους γραμματικούς, προκειμένου να γίνουν σαφέστερα. Το ει έγινε ε ψιλον, το ο, ο μικρόν, το υ, υ ψιλόν, και το ω, ω μέγα. Οι ονομασίες αυτές ευρίσκονται ήδη στα Σχόλια εις την Γραμματικήν Τέχνην του Διονυσίου του Θρακός και χρησιμοποιούνται μέχρι σήμερα αναλλοίωτες.Τα τελευταία χρόνια αρχαιολόγοι από όλο τον κόσμο διατυπώνουν θέσεις , απόψεις και αποδείξεις πως οι Έλληνες ανακάλυψαν τα διάφορα συστήματα γραφής και οι άλλοι λαοί απλώς τα δανείσθηκαν και τα προσάρμοσαν στις γλωσσικές τους ανάγκες. Γράφοντας λοιπόν σήμερα εις την Έλληνικήν Γλώσσαν, διατηρούμε ζωντανή μία γραμματική 2.406 ετών (2003 + 403/2), επειδή το 403/2 π.Χ. -όταν επώνυμος άρχοντας των Αθηναίων ήταν ο Ευκλείδης - ο ρήτωρ, πολιτικός, συγγραφεύς και στρατηγός Αρχίνος υπέβαλε πρόταση με την οποία καθωρίζοντο τα 24 γράμματα του αλφαβήτου για την συγγραφή των επισήμων κειμένων και την διδασκαλία των παιδιών. Η πρόταση έγινε τότε αποδεκτή στην Εκκλησία του Δήμου και καθιερώθηκε ως νόμος. Όταν λοιπόν γράφουμε σήμερα με κεφαλαία γράμματα Ελληνικά, είναι σαν να χρησιμοποιούμε την κεφαλαιογράμματη γραφή του Αρχίνου, ηλικίας 2.406 ετών.

Οι Ελληνικές επιγραφές διαιρούνται σε Προευκλειδείους (προ του 403 π.Χ.),και σε Μετευκλειδείους (μετά το 403 π.Χ.). Η ομάδα των προευκλειδείων επιγραφών διακρίνεται σε τοπικά αλφάβητα, το Αττικονησιωτικόν ή Αττικόν, το Ιωνικόν, το Κορινθιακόν και το Χαλκιδικόν η Δυτικόν λόγω της εκτεταμένης διαδόσεως του στην Δύση μέσω των εκεί Ελληνικών αποικιών (Μ.Ελλάς, Ιταλία, Σικελία, Κάτω Ιταλία). Ιδιαιτέρως σπουδαία θέση για την εξέλιξη της Ελληνικής γλώσσης στην σύγχρονη γεωπολιτική κατάσταση έχει η διάδοση του Χαλκιδικού αλφαβήτου κατά την διάρκεια των υστέρων γεωμετρικών και αρχαϊκών χρόνων. Σύμφωνα με τον Αρβανιτόπουλο, η γραφή του χαλκιδικού αλφαβήτου, μετεδόθη πρωϊμώτατα στους ντόπιους Ιταλικούς λαούς και δη στους Τυρρηνούς (Έτρούσκους), Λατίνους, Οϋμβρίους, Όσκους, Φαλίσκους και κυρίως στους Ρωμαίους. Έτσι ανεπτύχθη από το Χαλκιδικό αλφάβητο το Λατινικό. Αυτό μετέδωσαν αργότερα οι Ρωμαίοι στους λαούς της Δυτικής Ευρώπης και έτσι και αυτοί οι άποικοι τους το μεταχειρίζονται μέχρι σήμερα.Η πρώτη μεγάλη παγκοσμιοποίηση της Πελασγικής Γλώσσης-εκ της οποίας προήλθεν η Ελληνικής - έγινε μερικές χιλιάδες χρόνια πριν. Η Πελασγική ομιλείτο σχεδόν σε όλο το χώρο της Ανατολικής λεκάνης της Μεσογείου και ιδιαίτερα στην Βαλκανική και την Μικρά Ασία  Η δεύτερη παγκοσμιοποίηση της Ελληνικής Γλώσσης έγινε και κατά τους Κλασσικούς χρόνους. Η Ελληνική γλώσσα έγινε για μια ακόμη φορά παγκόσμια, μέσα από τα μεγάλα εξερευνητικά ταξίδια και τις εκστρατείες του Μεγάλου Αλεξάνδρου και των διαδόχων του. Και η Ελληνική Λαλιά έφθασε ως μέσα στην Βακτριανή και ως την Ινδία. Οι Ρωμαίοι κατακτητές των Ελλήνων, μαγεμένοι από το υψηλό επίπεδο του Ελληνικού πολιτισμού, θα υποταχθούν με την σειρά τους σε αυτόν αντί να τον υποτάξουν, όπως είπε ένας Γάλλος ιστορικός του προηγουμένου αιώνος. Η χαριστική βολή για την Ελληνική γλώσσα υπήρξε η εισβολή του Ανατολικού Ιουδαιοχριστιανικού δόγματος το οποίο κατέστρεψε όλα τα φιλοσοφικά συγγράμματα και τις βιβλιοθήκες , καθώς και όλα τα μνημεία του Ελληνικού πολιτισμού προκειμένου να επιβληθεί δια της βίας στον Ελληνικό Κόσμο.

Χάρη στις μεταφράσεις από τα Αραβικά των αρχαίων κειμένων των Ελλήνων συγγραφέων θα έλθει κατά την Αναγέννηση το πραγματικό πνευματικό φως για να διαλύσει το μεσαιωνικό πνευματικό σκοτάδι. Σ’ αυτό βοήθησαν και οι Έλληνες λόγιοι που μετέφεραν στη Δύση τη διδασκαλία τους μετά την Αλωση της Κωνσταντινουπόλεως . Έτσι διασώθηκε η Ελληνική γραφή και μέσω της αντιγραφής των κειμένων πολλών αρχαίων Ελλήνων συγγραφέων. Κι’ αν δεν είχε καταστραφεί το μεγαλύτερο μέρος του πνευματικού πλούτου των αρχαίων Ελλήνων και ιδιαιτέρως η Βιβλιοθήκη της Αλεξανδρείας με 1.000.000 τόμους βιβλία, σήμερα η διεθνής γλώσσα θα ήτο αμιγώς η Ελληνική αντί της Αγγλικής

Σάββατο 28 Απριλίου 2012

Cleopatra the Last Pharaoh of Ancient Egypt

Cleopatra has been called a shameless temptress who used blatant sexuality to maintain her grip on the throne of Egypt. The truth is much more complex and fascinating for if she had offered nothing else she could scarcely have lasted beyond a few weekends. Cleopatra was Greek, not Egyptian. Her ancestor, the first Ptolemy, acquired Egypt when the empire of the deceased Alexander the Great was divided among his chief generals. The first three Ptolemies were reasonably competent rulers. There was never any doubt that the rulers were Greek and until Cleopatra VII did not even bother to learn the native language, but they employed enough Egyptian tradition to gain a grudging acknowledgement of legitimacy. More territory was acquired, including the whole of the eastern Mediterranean coastline. Alexandria became one of the greatest of the old cities; its two harbors presided over by one of the ancient world’s seven wonders, the Pharos lighthouse, were together capable of holding twenty-four hundred ships at a time. The city’s library held some 700,000 scrolls and was home to many of the greatest thinkers of the age. Egypt had always had autocratic government, though most pharaohs realized that their personal well-being and that of the nation as a whole were inextricably linked. While Ptolemaic rule began well, it was not long before greed, indolence, ineptitude, and internecine struggles began to take their toll. The country continued to produce great wealth but the benefits went disproportionately to the Greek ruling class. The Nile’s harvest was generous as long as a centralized bureaucracy existed to co-ordinate the required water control systems, but Upper Egypt seemed too remote to interest the lazy Ptolemy’s and scant attention was paid to developments in the rest of the world.

When Ptolemy XII, nicknamed Auletes, came to the throne in 80 BCE he took the view that it was too late to stem the tide of the Roman advance. Egypt had the money, but Rome had a massive army and seemed poised to take over the world. Auletes made the avoidance of a quarrel with Rome the centerpiece of Egyptian policy. His fellow Greeks felt this was misguided and worked with the Egyptians to overthrow him in favor of his daughters, Cleopatra VI and Berenice IV. Auletes had always expected trouble and had agreed to pay two Roman triumvirs, Pompey and Caesar, six thousand talents in return for a Roman guarantee of his throne. Although Auletes had to borrow the money from a Roman businessman, the Romans did deliver and the king was restored to his throne. When he died the crown and the debt passed to Cleopatra VII and her ten year old brother Ptolemy XIII. The Ptolemies were foreign interlopers who usurped the throne of Egypt. To reduce the number of competitive claims they began a policy whereby the pharaoh would marry a sister to ensure that their progeny had nothing but Ptolemaic blood in their veins. Brother and sister would share the throne, but there was always the assumption that the brother was the senior monarch. When Cleopatra ascended the throne her brother, Ptolemy XIII, was only ten years old and too young to take an active part in government, but his regency council contained several very competent men and it was not long before they demanded a more prominent role for their charge.

Cleopatra’s reign began well. She went to Thebes to preside over the ceremonies inaugurating a new sacred bull. The animal was believed to contain the earthly spirit of the great god Amun-Re and its consecration was one of the most important moments in Egyptian religious life. It was the first time a Ptolemy had traveled that far south and her visit was well received. The capital city presented a different picture, however. A quarrel with the Gabinians, the ragtag remnant of a Roman legion based in Alexandria, a disastrous harvest, and the gift to the Roman general Pompey of sixty ships and a large quantity of grain galvanized the opposition and she was driven from the throne in 49 BCE. The following year Julius Caesar, having defeated Pompey in battle, arrived in Alexandria hoping to collect the balance of the loan and raise a little extra for his next campaign. Cleopatra had been able to organize a small army in Thebes but by itself this was not enough to regain the throne. Her father had used Rome to recover power when he had been driven out; perhaps she could do the same if she could find a way to visit Caesar without risking capture and probable death at the hands of her brother’s supporters. One of her close advisors disguised himself as a servant, wrapped his mistress in a blanket roll, threw the bundle over his shoulder and walked boldly into Caesar’s room. This dramatic entrance certainly captivated Caesar, but its effect would have died quickly had she not had the wit and personality to go with it. Caesar quickly proclaimed Ptolemy and Cleopatra joint rulers but the Roman general found himself trapped in the palace with a small army of some 4,000 well-disciplined troops. The much larger Egyptian army was too ill-trained to mount an assault but it was good enough to keep the Romans bottled up. Cleopatra’s younger sister, Arsinoe, escaped the palace, proclaimed herself Queen of Egypt and tried to lead a full-scale rebellion against Roman occupation. It was several months before reinforcements arrived and Caesar could break out of the siege and formally capture Alexandria.

Ptolemy XIII died in the battle. The victorious Caesar installed Cleopatra and another brother, Ptolemy XIV on the throne. History does not tell us how the Queen felt about successfully driving one brother from the throne only to have him replaced by another. In any event he was quite young and very little is ever heard of him after the coronation. After a trip up the Nile with Cleopatra in her luxurious 100-meter royal barge Caesar went home, taking in chains the disgraced Arsinoe and leaving behind a pregnant Cleopatra. Their son, Caesarion, was born in June 47 BCE. Apparently popular enough in the rest of Egypt, Cleopatra was hated by all classes in Alexandria and held on to the throne only with the aid of three Roman legions. The following year she went to Rome where she lived on an estate owned by Julius Caesar. The Romans regarded her presence with a curious mixture of fascination and revulsion. None could deny her understanding, scholarship and wit, but Egypt, especially the Hellenistic city of Alexandria, was thought to be especially depraved, Cleopatra’s assumption of divinity was sacrilegious, and her unforgivable influence was leading Caesar to contemplate becoming king. Caesar built in Rome a gilded statue to honor Cleopatra and never denied fathering her child. It was even rumored that he would marry her and move his capital to Alexandria, but there is no evidence that they ever resumed their affair, and on the Ides of March 44 BC the would-be emperor was struck down by republican assassins. Low flood levels, royal neglect and a visitation of bubonic plague meant much work for Cleopatra when she returned home. Alexandria had never liked her and there was a danger the rest of Egypt could drift away as well. Rebuilding the agricultural industry and the royal bureaucracy was easy enough; hanging on to the throne for herself and her heir had to be an all-consuming passion. Ptolemy XIV disappears from the record at this point and is replaced as co-ruler by the three-year old Caesarian.

In Egyptian mythology the pharaoh is seen as the reborn Horus, son of Isis and Osiris. Several inscriptions picture Cleopatra and Caesarian as divine. A sandstone relief outside the temple of Hathor at Denderah shows Cleopatra as Isis standing beside Caesarian as Horus. In this case, of course, Julius Caesar was the Osiris father and Caesarian Caesar is poised to become ruler of a united Rome and Egypt. The idea would not sit well in Rome, but Egyptians might be prepared to accept it as a justification for her apparently pro-Roman policy Caesar’s assassination settled nothing in Rome: the assassins, Brutus and Cassius, Octavian, Caesar’s adopted son and heir, and Marc Antony were simply the most prominent of the combatants for power; Cleopatra was unprepared to participate until she felt more certain that she would be backing a winner. Many years of civil war had weakened Rome’s hold on its empire. Antony was sent to the east where he had some success but failed in his quest to take Parthia. Desperate for cash to rebuild his army he summoned Cleopatra to meet him in Tarsus. She delayed enough to demonstrate that her visit was voluntary, and then arrived on a magnificent, gold encrusted royal barge whose splendor was too much for the masses to miss. Antony expected Cleopatra to come to his palace but he was forced to go to the Queen once her barge had docked. Romans were convinced that poor Antony was a victim of Cleopatra’s charms and any reading of documents from the period must keep that prejudice in mind. They undoubtedly had a very hot affair from the beginning, but within a year of its start Antony went back to Rome and cemented an alliance with Octavian by marrying his sister, Octavia. She was pregnant by her deceased husband and Antony’s mistress was pregnant with his twins. By 35 BCE both the marriage and the alliance were in tatters. They were probably doomed from the start. Rome was fated to have a single ruler and it was just a question of deciding who would fill that role: the endgame was about to begin. There is no reason to doubt that they were very much in love, but each also offered the other the best chance to ward off defeat at the hands of the Romans. He had a large army and she a large navy and money enough to finance a major war.

Antony and Cleopatra were married in 33. The marriage was illegal under Roman law, but that was no longer relevant: he had severed once and for all his ties with Rome. In an age where few people could read and write, fairly complex ideas could be compressed into simple symbols whose meaning would be clear to everyone. She was Isis, he adopted the guise of Dionysus and their heads appeared together on the coins of both empires. He would acquire land not for Rome but for the revived empire of Alexander the Great. In the Donation of Alexandria, Antony proclaimed Cleopatra as Queen of Egypt, Cyprus, Libya and Syria. Caesarion, Julius Caesar’s son, was her consort. To the Egyptians this was simply following Ptolemaic tradition: Cleopatra had no surviving brothers so she would share the throne with her son. To everyone else, however, this seemed very much like an attempt to bypass Octavian and have Caesarion take over his father’s empire. The remainder of the eastern portion of the Roman empire was divided among the three children of Antony and Cleopatra. Some of the land so divided had not yet been conquered and the rest of it already had client kings in place so this was a theoretical not a real transfer of power. No mention was made of Antony’s role in all of this, but no one inside or out of Rome could have had the shadow of a doubt: all the land east of the Adriatic had been severed from the Roman empire, restored to Alexander the Great’s Empire and was Antony’s to dispose of as he saw fit. It was a challenge that Octavian could not ignore: it was to be a fight to the finish with the winner taking it all---compromise would be impossible.

The end was an anticlimax. The two sides met at Actium on the northwest coast of Greece and Octavian was the clear winner, though mopping up operations meant another year before Octavian arrived to claim Alexandria. Cleopatra and Anthony ended it all by committing suicide. The evidence would suggest that Cleopatra had no other lovers and was thus celibate for more than half her adult life an exceptional state considering her social class and the age in which she lived and therefore it would be unfair to call her, as the Romans did, a wonton whore. There is no way to tell if someone is really in love or merely faking it, especially over two thousand years, but Cleopatra and Antony had an equal relationship. Their vision of an empire that combined Egypt and the Roman lands to the east of the Adriatic was not unreasonable and each would need the other’s resources to turn that dream into reality. Their defeat at Actium marked a significant moment in the development of western civilization. Cleopatra’s relationship with Julius Caesar is more problematic. Did she turn to him simply to get rid of a brother and rule alone, or did she honestly believe that Egypt’s continued independence required working out a suitable alliance with Rome? Her brother, his advisors and the majority of Alexandria wanted to simply ignore Rome and carry on as they always had in the past. If Cleopatra sought to avoid a future defeat at the hands of Rome by negotiating a reasonable and fair compromise she would have had no choice but to get rid of the young Ptolemy. Either way, she was a remarkable woman!

The Lycurgus Cup

A dichroic glass cup with a mythological scene

This extraordinary cup is the only complete example of a very special type of glass, known as dichroic, which changes colour when held up to the light. The opaque green cup turns to a glowing translucent red when light is shone through it. The glass contains tiny amounts of colloidal gold and silver, which give it these unusual optical properties.The cup is also the only figural example of a type of vessel known as a 'cage-cup'. The cup was made by blowing or casting a thick glass blank. This was then cut and ground away until the figures were left in high relief. Sections of the figures are almost standing free and connected only by 'bridges' to the surface of the vessel.The scene on the cup depicts an episode from the myth of Lycurgus, a king of the Thracians (around 800 BC).The figure of Lycurgus, bound by the vine and naked apart from boots, is flanked on the left by a crouching Ambrosia, at a considerably smaller scale. Behind her one of Dionysus's satyrs (shown with a normal human form) stands on one foot as he prepares to hurl a large rock at Lycurgus. In his other hand he holds a pedum or shepherd's crook. To the right of Lycurgus comes first a figure of Pan, then at his feet rather canine-looking panther, the traditional companion of Dionysus, whose face is missing but was presumably snapping at the king, and then the god himself, taunting him with his right arm extended in an angry gesture. Dionysus carries a thyrsus, the special staff of the god and his followers, and his dress has an Eastern, perhaps Indian, flavour, reflecting what the Ancient Greeks generally believed about the origins of his cult. The calf section of one leg has been lost. A streamer hanging behind him from his thyrsus overlaps the raised foot of the satyr with the rock, completing the circle of the cup

It has been suggested that this not very common scene was a reference to the defeat in 324 by the Emperor Constantine I of his co-emperor Licinius, who was killed in 325 after a period under close guard.Another suggestion is that the colour change from green to red was understood as evoking the ripening of red grapes, so that there was a particular suitability in depicting a scene with the god of wine. The cup may have been intended for use at Bacchic cult celebrations, still very much a feature of Roman religious life around 300. A letter suppposedly from the Emperor Hadrian (d. 138) to his brother-in-law Servianus, quoted in a biography in the Historia Augusta, records the gift of two dichroic cups, which the 4th century author had seen: "I have sent you particoloured cups that change colour, presented to me by the priest of a temple. They are specially dedicated to you and my sister. I would like you to use them at banquets on feast days."
Other depictions of the story tend to either depict Lycurgus attacking Ambrosia, often with a double-headed axe, while her companions rush to her aid, or Lycurgus alone, entangled in the vine. The closest parallel to the scene on the cup is one of the apse mosaics in the triconch triclinium at the Villa del Casale, Piazza Armerina, which may also refer to Licinius. There is also a mosaic at Antioch on the Orontes, and a group on a 2nd century sarcophagus at the Villa Parisi in Frascati.There is also a floor-mosaic from Vienne, now in the museum at Saint-Romain-en-Gal, with Lycurgus alone inside the vine.The preceding scene of Lycurgus attacking Ambrosia, is on a floor-mosaic at Brading Roman Villa on the Isle of Wight.Of this and similar mosaics, Martin Henig says: "In cases such as this, we are not concerned with simple, popular paganism but with recondite knowledge. This is the sort of esoteric religion which the Emperor Julian, Symmachus, Praetextatus, Macrobius and Proclus relished. The religious thought behind these floors is probably deeper and more complex than contemporary Christianity and many of the keys to understanding it have been lost."

The dichroic effect is achieved by making the glass with tiny proportions of minutely ground gold and silver dust. To a conventionally composed Roman glass flux 330 parts per million of silver and 40 of gold were added: "These particles were precipitated as colloids and form a silver-gold alloy. When viewed in reflected light the minute metallic particles are just coarse enough to reflect enough of the light without eliminating the transmission. In transmitted light the fine particles scatter the blue end of the spectrum more effectively than the red end, resulting in red transmission, and this is the colour observed. Since it is impossible that the Roman artisans managed to add these incredibly low levels of silver and gold to the volume of the glass used to make the vessel deliberately, the levels were probably added at higher levels to a larger volume of glass-melt, and increasingly diluted by adding more glass." The particles are only about 70 nanometers across, and embedded in the glass, so they cannot be seen by optical microscopy, and a transmission electron microscope is needed instead.At this size they approach the size of the wavelengths of visible light, and a surface plasmon resonance effect takes place.The interior of the cup is mostly smooth, but behind the main figures the glass has been hollowed out, well beyond even the main outer surface, so that they are of similar thickness to the main outer surface, giving an even colour when light passes through. This is a feature unique among surviving cups; Harden suggests they were an "afterthought".An area around the torso of Lycurgus is a rather different colour from the rest of the glass; perhaps an accident of manufacture, but one exploited by the glass-cutter "so that he could make Lycurgus's rage glow even more strongly".After the very lengthy cutting stage the fine polished appearance was achieved by a process called "flame polishing" that risked the complete loss of the object.A suggestion in 1995 that in fact this and other cage cups used a mixture of moulding and cutting has met with little acceptance.
Like the British Museum's other spectacular work in Roman glass, the cameo glass Portland Vase, the cup represents to some extent the extension of skills developed by cutters of engraved gems, or the larger hardstone carving of vessels in semi-precious stones, which were luxury arts with enormous prestige in ancient Rome. No carved gemstone vessels directly comparable to either work are known, but the general taste behind these extreme exhibitions of glass-making skill is one formed by objects in natural stones like the Coupe des Ptolémées or the Rubens Vase. Indeed it was not until the first full studies of the cup in 1950 that it was established for certain that the material was glass and not a gemstone, which had previously been in question.It seems likely that as many of three separate workshops or factories will have been involved in the whole process, perhaps not in the same part of the Empire. The glass may have been initially made in a large block of standard clear glass, perhaps in Egypt or Palestine, which both exported great quantities of glass for forming, and sometimes colouring, elsewhere. The thick "blank" dichroic vessel was probably made by one specialist workshop and passed to another consisting of specialist cutters. This would certainly have been a rare and highly expensive object, and the secrets of its manufacture, possibly not well understood even by its makers, seem only to have been used for about a century.There are various small losses, of which face of the panther is the most significant, and the cup is cracked; the British Museum has never removed the metal rim for this reason. The base or foot of the cup is damaged, and the original form of the base uncertain. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York has a fragment measuring 2 3/16 x 3 in. (56 x 76 mm) of a satyr from a dichroic cage cup that turns from olive green to "reddish amber".

The cup was probably designed for drinking from at feasts, or more specifically Bacchic cult celebrations,where the lack of a foot, also a feature found in other cage-cups, may mean it was passed around, as elaborate cups often were in medieval cultures. Alternatively other cage cups were almost certainly used, suspended, as oil lamps, where the dichroic effect of this cup would show to advantage.

Πέμπτη 26 Απριλίου 2012

The Greek Drama , Mythos and the Theatrical performance

 The history of Western drama begins in the mid-sixth century at Athens.The high period of Greek drama runs from the sixth to the mid-third century, with special attention paid to the fifth century, when most of the plays that we possess were produced.Drama is action. According to Aristotle (Poetics 1448a28), dramatic poets “represent people in action,” as opposed to a third-person narrative or the mixture of narrative and direct speech as done by Homer. We begin, then, appropriately enough with a Greek word, dra ma (drama), which means “action,” “doing,” “performance.”According to Aristotle, the verb dran was not an Attic term (“Attic” being the dialect spoken at Athens), Athenians preferring to use the verb prattein and its cognates (pragma, praxis) to signify “action” or “performance.” Whether this was true or not does not matter here – that dran is common in Athenian tragedy, but not in the prose writers, may support Aristotle’s assertion. For both Plato and Aristotle, the two great philosophers of the fourth century, drama is an example of mimesis, “imitation” or “representation,” but each took a different view of the matter. (Mimesis is not an easy word to render in English. Neither “imitation” nor “representation” really gets the point. We have left it in Greek transliteration.) For Plato mimesis was something to be discredited, something inferior, which the ideal ruler of an ideal state would avoid. It meant putting oneself into the character of another, taking on another’s role, which in many Greek myths could be a morally inferior one, perhaps even that of a slave or a woman.Plato would have agreed with Polonius in Hamlet, “to thine own self be true.”But Aristotle found in mimesis not only something natural in human nature but also something that was a pleasure and essential for human learning (Poetics 1448b5–9) to engage in mimesis is innate in human beings from childhood and humans differ from other living creatures in that humans are very mimetic and develop their first learning through mimesis and because all humans enjoy mimetic activities.Drama then is “doing” or “performance,” and in human cultures performances can be used in all sorts of ways.Drama and performance will often keep historical events alive – here “legend” is a better term than “myth,” for legend is based on some real “historical” events, elaborated admittedly out of recognition, but real nonetheless. Greek tragedy falls partly
into this category, since its themes and subjects are for the most part drawn from the heroic age, an idealized time about a thousand years before the classical age.Aristotle (Poetics chapter 6) will insist that mythos (“plot”) is the most important part of a Greek tragedy. For the Greeks drama (performance) came
later than the purely narrative relation of a story. The sequence would seem to have been purely oral narrative by the bards; the Homeric epics (eighth century), which, as Aristotle points out (Poetics 1448a21), do not provide pure narration, but a mixture of narration and direct speech; finally actual dramatic performance.

Another crucial term is “theater.” Thea- in Greek means “observe,” “watch” (related also to “theory” as the result of mental contemplation), and while we speak of an “audience” and an “auditorium” (from the Latin audire, “to hear”), the ancients talked of “watchers,” “spectators,” and the “watching-place.” The noun theatron (“theater”) refers both to the physical area where the plays were staged, more specifically
here to the area on the hillside occupied by the spectators, and also to the spectators themselves, much as “house” today can refer to the theater building and the audience in that building. Comedy, which was fond of breaking the dramatic illusion, refers directly to theatai (“watchers”) and a related term theomenoi (“those watching”).In modern critical discussions a distinction is made between the academic studies of “drama” and “theater.” A university course or a textbook on “Drama” tends to concentrate more on the text that was performed, that is the words of the text that are recited or read. This approach takes the plays as literature and subjects them to the various sorts of literary theory that exist, and often runs the risk of losing the visual aspect of performance in an attempt to “understand” or elucidate the “meaning” of the text. The reader becomes as important as the watcher, if not more so. Greek drama becomes part of a larger literary approach to drama, and can easily become part of a course on world drama, in which similar principles of literary criticism can be applied to all such texts.But the modern study of  “Theater” goes beyond the basic text as staged or read and has developed a complex theoretical approach that some text-based students find
daunting and at times impenetrable.Mark Fortier writes well: Theater is performance, though often the performance of a dramatic text, and entails not only words but space, actors, props, audience, and the complex relations among these elements . . . Theater, of necessity, involves both doing and seeing, practice and contemplation.Moreover, the word “theory” comes from the same root as “theater.” Theater and theory are both contemplative pursuits, although theater has a practical and a sensuous side which contemplation should not be allowed to overwhelm.* The study of “theater” will concern itself with the experience of producing and watching drama, before, during, and after the actual performance of the text itself.Theatrical critics want to know about the social assumptions and experiences of organizers, authors, performers, judges, and spectators. In classical Athens plays were performed in a public setting, in a theater placed next to the shrine of a god and as part of the worship of that god, in broad daylight where spectators would be conscious of far more than the performance unfolding below of the city and country around them and of their very existence as spectators.

This is meant to be a guide to Greek Drama, rather than to Greek theatrical practice.There have been many first-rate studies over the past twenty years that have called our attention to much more than the words on the stage (or page) to be understood.Our principal concern will be the texts themselves and their authors – and, although such an approach may be somewhat out of date, to the intentions of the authors themselves.
But we do not want to lose sight of the practical elements that Fortier speaks of, especially the visual spectacle that accompanied the enactment of the recited text, for a picture is worth a thousand words, and if we could witness an ancient production, we would learn incalculably more about what the author was doing and how this was received by his original “house.” Knowing the conventions of an ancient theatrical experience can also assist with understanding the text, why certain scenes are written the way they are, why certain characters must leave and enter when they do,why crucial events are narrated rather than depicted.

Drama and the poets

Homer (eighth century) stands not just at the beginning of Greek poetry, but of Western literature as we know it. His two great epic poems in the heroic manner, Iliad (about Achilles, the great Greek hero of the Trojan War) and Odyssey (the return of Odysseus [Ulysses] from that war), did much to provide standard versions of the myths of both gods and men. Homer is the great poet of classical Greece, and his epics (along with those that we call the “epic cycle” – in addition to Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, which we possess, there were several other poems [certainly later than Homer] that completed the story of the Trojan War as well as another complete cycle relating the epic events at Thebes) formed the backdrop to so much later Greek literature,including the dramatists. They would take much of the language, characters,and plots from Homer – Aeschylus is described as serving up “slices from the banquet of Homer,” and the dramatic critic needs to have one eye on Homer at all times, to see what use the poets are making of his seminal material. For example, Homer created a brilliantly whole and sympathetic, if a somewhat unconventional, character in his Odysseus, but for the dramatists of the fifth century Odysseus becomes a onesided figure: the paragon of clever talk and deceit, the concocter of evil schemes, and in one instance (Sophokles’ Ajax) the embodiment of a new and enlightened sort of heroism. Homer’s Achilles is one of the great explorations of what it means to be a truly “tragic” hero, a man whose pursuit of honor leads to the death of his dearest
friend and ultimately his own, but when he appears in Euripides’ Iphigeneia at Aulis,we behold an ineffective youth, full of sound and fury, unable to rescue the damsel in distress. Of the surviving thirty-three plays attri-buted to the tragedians, only two directly overlap with Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey (Euripides’ satyr-drama Cyclops and Rhesos of doubtful authenticity), but we know that several of the lost plays did dramatize Homeric material. Homer may be three centuries earlier than the tragedians of the fifth century, but his influence upon them was seminal. Homer himself was looking back to an earlier age, what we call the late Bronze Age (1500–1100), a tradition which he passed on to the dramatists. Both Homer and the tragedians depict people and stories not of their own time, but of an earlier, lost, and idealized age of heroes.In the seventh and sixth centuries, heroic epic began to yield to choral poetry (often called “lyric,” from its accompaniment by the lyre). These were poems intended to be sung, usually by large groups in a public setting. Particularly important for the study of drama are the grand poets Stesichoros (ca. 600), Bacchylides (career: 510–450),and Pindar (career: 498–ca. 440), who took the traditional tales from myth and retold
them in smaller chunks, with an effort to vary the material that they had inherited.And they used a different meter from Homer, not the epic hexameter sung (chanted?) by a single bard, but elaborate “lyric” meters, intended to be sung by large choruses.None of Stesichoros’ poems has survived intact, but we know of a poem on the Theban story, one of the favorite themes of tragedy; an Oresteia (with significant points of contact with Aeschylus’ Oresteia); and a retelling of the story of Helen that Euripides will take up wholesale in his Helen. One poem by Bacchylides tells the story of Herakles’ death at the hands of his wife in much the same fashion that Sophokles dramatizes in his Trachinian Women (it is not clear whether Bacchylides’ poem or Sophokles’ tragedy is the earlier work) and Pindar in Pythian 11 (474) will anticipate Aeschylus’ Agamemnon (458) by speculating about the various motives of Klytaimestra for killing her husband.

Drama and Athens

We shall be concerned principally with the dramas that were written and performed at Athens, for us the best-known city of the ancient Greek world. But theaters were not exclusive to Athens. A reasonably sized theater of the fifth century can be seen at Argos, and Syracuse, the greatest of the Greek states on Sicily, certainly had an elaborate theater and a tradition of comedy in the early fifth century. In the fourth century a theater was a sine qua non of every Greek city-state, however small, and the production of plays was an international practice throughout the Greek, and later through the Roman world. During Alexander’s great expedition to the East, we know of theatrical performances staged for the entertainment of his army. But it was at Athens in the late sixth and early fifth centuries that the three genres of drama were first formalized
in public competitions.Why did formal drama develop at Athens and not, say, at Corinth or Samos, both
major city-states of the sixth century and centers of culture? It is important to remember that during the sixth century Athens was not the leading city of the Greek world,politically, militarily, economically, or culturally, that she would become in the fifth century. The leading states of the sixth century in the Greek homeland were Sparta,Corinth, Sikyon, and Samos. Athens was an important city, but not really in the same league as these others. By the early sixth century Athens had brought under her central control the region calle “Attica” – the actual Greek is “the Attic land .” This is a triangular peninsula roughly forty miles in length from the height of land that divides Boiotia (dominated by Thebes) from Attica to the south-eastern tip of Cape Sounion,and at its widest expanse about another forty miles. Athens itself lies roughly in the center, no more than thirty miles or so from any outlying point – the most famous distance is that from Athens to Marathon, twenty-six miles and change, the distance run by the runner announcing the victory at Marathon in 490 and that of the modern Marathon race today. Attica itself was not particularly rich agriculturally – the only substantial plains lie around Athens itself and at Marathon – nor does it supply good grazing for cattle or sheep. But in the late sixth century Athens underwent an economic boom, through the discovery and utilization of three products of the Attic soil: olives and olive oil, which rapidly became the best in the eastern Mediterranean; clay for pottery – Athenian vase-ware soon replaced Corinthian as the finest of the day;and silver from the mines at Laureion – the Athenian “owls” (figure 1.1) became a standard coinage of the Eastern Mediterranean.Coupled with this economic advance was the political situation in the late sixth century. The Greeks of the seventh and sixth centuries experienced an uneasy mix of hereditary monarchy, factional aristocracy, popular unrest (at Athens especially over debts and the loss of freedom), and what they called “tyranny.” To us “tyrant” is a pejorative term, like “dictator,” but in Archaic Greece it meant “one-man rule,”usually where that one man had made himself ruler, often rescuing a state from an internal stasis (“civil unrest”). In some versions of the “seven sages” of ancient Greece,the traditional wise men, as many as four tyrants were included. At Athens the tyrant Peisistratos seized power permanently in the mid-540s. He ruled to his death in 528/7, and was succeeded by his son Hippias, who was expelled from Athens in 510 by an alliance of exiled aristocrats and the Spartan kings.

In the fifth century “tyrant” was a dirty word, used in political in-fighting as an accusation to pillory an opponent, and the first use of the practice of ostracism (a state-wide vote to expel a political leader for ten years) in 487 was to exile “friends of the tyrants.” But in the fourth century the age of the tyrants (546–510) was remembered as an “age of Kronos,” a golden age before the defeat of Athens during the democracy. The tyrants in fact set Athens on the road to her future greatness in the fifth century under the democracy. They provided political and economic stability after a period of particularly bitter economic class-conflict in the early sixth century, attracted artists to their court at Athens, including the major poets Anakreon, Simonides, and Bacchylides, inaugurated a building program that would be surpassed only by the grandeur of the Acropolis in the next century, established or enhanced the festival of the Panthenaia, the great celebration of Athene and of Athens, and instituted contests for the recitation of the Homeric poems, establishing incidentally the first “official” text of Homer. What the tyrants did was to quell discontent and
divisions within the state and instill a communal sense of ethnic identity that paved the way for Athens’ greatness in the next century. One other act of the tyrants was the creation of a single festival of Dionysos at Athens, the City Dionysia, which overrode all the local festivals and created one official celebration for the people of Attica.It was at this festival that tragedy was first performed.In this place and against this background drama develops, tragedy first of all, traditionally dated to 534 and thus part of the cultural program of the tyranny, later satyr-play, and finally comedy. We shall see that drama evolved from some sort of choral performance, a melding of song and dance, allegedly the dithyramb for tragedy,dancing satyrs for satyr-drama, and perhaps animal-choruses, phallic dancers, or padded dancers for comedy. The exact details of this development remain obscure, and we can give no firm answer to the question: why Athens? Corinth, for example,was an even more prosperous city in the sixth century and had flourished under its
tyranny. Samos under the tyrant Polykrates in the 520s enjoyed a brilliant artistic life,
but it was at Athens that drama first emerged as a distinct art-form.

The time-frame : The traditional date for the formal introduction of a dramatic form (tragedy) is give as 534 and linked with the shadowy figure of Thespis. For some the evidence for this date is not compelling and a rather lower date (ca. 500) is preferred – the matter will be discussed more fully later. Clearly tragedy was not “invented” overnight and we should postulate some sort of choral performances in the sixth century developing into what would be called “tragedy.” Thus we begin our study of drama in the sixth century, even
though the first extant play (Aeschylus’ Persians) belongs to 472. Like any form of art, drama has its periods, each with its own style and leading poets. The period we know best is that which corresponds with Athens’ ascendancy in the Greek world (479–404), from which we have thirty tragedies, one satyr-drama, one quasi-satyr-drama, and nine comedies, as well as a wealth of fragments and testimonia about lost plays and authors.But drama continued through the fourth century and well into the third. New tragedies continued to be written and performed in the fourth century, but along with the new arose a fascination with the old, and competitions were widened to include an “old” performance. In the third century tragic activity shifted to the scholar-poets of Alexandria, but here it is uncertain whether these tragedies were meant to be read rather than performed, and if performed, for how wide an audience.The evidence suggests strongly that satyr-drama is a later addition to the dramatic festivals; most scholars accept a date of introduction of ca. 501.  Thus satyr-drama is not the primitive dramatic form from which tragedy would develop. In the fifth
century satyr-drama would accompany the performance of the three tragedies by each of the competing playwrights, but by 340 satyr-drama was divorced from the tragic competitions and only one performed at the opening of the festival. Thus at some point during the fourth century satyr-drama becomes its own separate genre.Comedy began later than tragedy and satyr-drama, the canonical first date being the Dionysia of 486. The ancient critics divided comedy at Athens into three distinct chronological phases: Old Comedy, roughly synonymous with the classical fifth century (486 to ca. 385); Middle Comedy (ca. 385–325, or “between Aristophanes and Menander”); New Comedy (325 onward).We have complete plays surviving from the first and third of these periods. The ancients knew also about comedy at Syracuse in the early fifth century and about something from the same period called “Megarian comedy.”

Dates in the history of Greek drama

ca. 600 – Arion “invents” the dithyramb
534 – first official performance of tragedy at Athens (Thespis)
ca. 501 – reorganization of the festival; first official satyr-drama
498 – début of Aeschylus
486 – first official performance of comedy
468 – début of Sophokles
456 – death of Aeschylus
455 – début of Euripides
ca. 440 – introduction of dramatic competitions at the Lenaia
427 – début of Aristophanes
407 – death of Euripides
406 – death of Sophokles
ca. 385 – death of Aristophanes
ca. 330 – building of the stone theater at Athens
325 or 321 – début of Menander
290 – death of Menander

The evidence : We face two distinct problems in approaching the study of Greek drama: the distance in time and culture, and the sheer loss of evidence. In some instances we are dealing with texts that are nearly 2,500 years removed from our own, in a different language and produced for an audience with cultural assumptions very different in some ways from our own. “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there,” wrote L. P. Hartley, and we should not react to reading (or watching) an ancient Greek drama in the same way that we approach a modern “classic” such as Shakespeare or a contemporary drama. The actual evidence is of four sorts: literary texts, literary testimonia, physical remains of theaters, and visual representations of theatrical scenes. The manuscript tradition and discoveries on papyrus have yielded to date as complete texts: thirty-one tragedies, one satyr-drama, one quasi-satyr-drama, and thirteen comedies. But these belong to only five (perhaps six or seven) distinct playwrights, out of the dozens that we know were active on the Greek stage. We would like to think that Aeschylus,Sophokles, and Euripides (for tragedy), and Aristophanes and Menander (for comedy) were the best at their business, but were they representative of all that the Athenians watched during those two centuries? Within these individual authors we have six or seven plays out of eighty or so by Aeschylus, seven out of 120 by Sophokles, eighteen
out of ninety by Euripides, eleven comedies out of forty by Aristophanes, and only two comedies by Menander out of over a hundred. On what grounds were these selections made, by whom, for whom, and when? Are these selected plays representative of their author’s larger opus? In the case of Euripides we have both a selected collection of ten plays and an alphabetical sequence of nine plays that may be more
indicative of his work as a whole.We do not possess anything at all resembling the folios and quartos of Shakespeare, nor anything remotely close to the scripts of the original production or to the “official” texts that were established by Lykourgos ca. 330 and which then passed to the Library in Alexandria.We have some remains preserved on papyrus from the Roman period (most notably Menander’s The Grouch, virtually complete on a codex from the third century AD), but the earliest manuscripts of Greek drama belong about AD 1000.

Dionysos in Frogs (405) talks blithely of “sitting on his ship reading [Euripides’] Andromeda” and we do know of book-stalls in the fifth century, but these would not have been elaborate “books” in our sense of the word, but very basic texts allowing the reader to re-create his experience in the theater. The manuscripts and papyri present texts in an abbreviated form, with no division between words, changes of speaker often indicated (if at all) by an underlining or a dicolon, no stage directions – almost all the directions in a modern translation are the creation of the translator – and very frequent errors, omissions, and later additions to the text. But they are what we have, and we must make the most of them.In addition to the actual play texts, we have a considerable amount of literary testimonia about the dramatic tradition generally and about individual plays and personalities.Most important is Aristotle’s Poetics, a sketchily written treatise dating from ca. 330, principally on tragedy and epic, but with some general introductory comments on drama. Aristotle was himself not an Athenian by birth, although resident or many years there, and was writing a hundred years after the great period of Attic tragedy. The great question in dealing with Poetics is whether Aristotle knows what he is talking about, or whether he is extrapolating backwards in much the same manner as a modern critic. He did see actual plays performed in the theater, both new dramas of the fourth century and the old dramas of the masters, and he did have access to much documentary material that we lack. An early work of Aristotle’s was his Production Lists, the records of the productions and victories from the inception of
the contests ca. 501. He would have known writers on drama and dramatists, the anecdotes of Ion of Chios, himself a dramatist and contemporary of Sophokles,Sophokles’ own work On the Chorus, and perhaps the lost work by Glaukos of Rhegion (ca. 400), On the Old Poets and Musicians. Thus his raw material would have been far greater than ours. But would this pure data have shed any light on the history of the genre? Was he, at times, just making an educated guess? When Aristotle makes a pronouncement,
we need both to pay attention but also to wonder how secure is the evidence on which he bases that conclusion. His Poetics is partly an analytical breakdown of the genre of tragedy into its component parts and partly a guide for reader and playwright, and contains much that is hard to follow and also controversial: the “end” of tragedy is a katharsis of pity and fear, one can have a tragedy without character but not without plot, the best tragic characters are those who fall into misfortune through some hamartia.(Hamartia is another battleground. When mistranslated as “tragic flaw,” it tends to give Greek tragedy an emphasis on character. It is better rendered as “mistake,” and as such restores Aristotle’s emphasis on plot.) Other useful later sources include the Attic orators of the fourth century, who often cite from the tragic poets to make a rhetorical point. For example, Lykourgos, the fourth-century orator responsible for the rebuilding of the theater at Athens ca. 330, gives us fifty-five lines from Euripides’ lost Erechtheus. The fourth book of the Onomasticon (“Thesaurus”) by Pollux (second century AD) contains much that is useful about the ancient theater, especially a list and description of the masks employed to designate certain type characters of comedy. The Roman architectural writer, Vitruvius (first century AD), has much to say about theatrical buildings especially of the Hellenistic period. Much of what we possess of the lost plays comes in quotations from a wide variety of ancient and mediaeval writers. Two in particular are useful for the student of drama: the learned Athenaios (second century AD), whose Experts at Dining contains a treasury of citations, and Stobaios (fourth–fifth century AD), a collector of quotable passages. The first-century AD scholar, Dion of Prusa, has shed light on the three tragedies on the subject of Philoktetes and the bow of Herakles, by summarizing the plots and styles of all three – we possess only the version by Sophokles (409).

Inscriptions provide another source of written evidence. The ancients loved to post publicly their decrees, rolls of officials, and records of competitions. One inscription contains a partial list of the victors at the Dionysia in dithyramb, comedy, and tragedy (IG ii2 2318), while another presents the tragic and comic victors at both festivals in order of their first victory (IG ii2 2325), and a Roman inscription lists the various
victories of Kallias, a comedian of the 430s, in order of finish (first through fifth).Another group of inscriptions gives invaluable details about the contests at the Dionysia for 341, 340, and 311, including the information that satyr-drama by 340 was performed separately at the start of the festival. Another inscription from the second century records a series of productions starring an individual actor. On the purely physical front, remains of hundreds of Greek and Roman theaters are known, ranging from the major sites of Athens, Delphi, Epidauros, Dodona, Syracuse, and Ephesos to small theaters tucked away in the backwoods and barely known. The actual physical details of a Greek theater will be discussed later, but some general comments are appropriate here. Most of the theaters are not in their fifthcentury condition – major rebuilding took place in the fourth century, in the Hellenistic period (300–30), and especially under Roman occupation. When the tourist or the student visits Athens today, the theater that he or she sees (figure 1.2) is not the
structure that Aeschylus or Aristophanes knew. We see curved stone seats, individual “thrones” in the front row, a paved orchestra floor, and an elaborate raised structure in the middle of the orchestra. The theater of the high classical period had straight benches on the hillside, an orchestra floor of packed earth (an orchestra that may not have been a perfect circle), and a wooden building at the back of the orchestra. We have been spoiled by the classical perfection of the famous theater at Epidauros. At Athens and Syracuse the new theater replaced the old on the same site, while at Argos the impressive and large fourth-century theater was built on a new site, the fifth-century theater being more compact and straight rather than circular. The theaters that we do have, from whatever period of Greek antiquity, do,however, shed invaluable light on the mechanics of production. Audiences were large and sat as a community in the open air – this was not theater of the private enclosed space. Distances were great – from the last row of the theater at Epidauros a performer in the orchestra would appear only inches high. Thus theater of the individual expression was out – impossible in fact since the performers wore masks. But acoustics were superb and directed spectators’ attention to what was being said or sung. Special effects were limited – the word and the gesture carried the force of the drama. The prominence and centrality of the orchestra reflect the importance of the chorus – Greek audiences were used to seeing more rather than fewer performers before them. Most of the visual representations are found on Greek vases. This particular form of Greek art begins to reach its classical perfection with the black figure pottery of the late sixth century (figures appear in black against a red background), and continues with the exquisite red figure (the reverse) of the fifth and fourth centuries. About
520 we start to get representations of performances, usually marked by the presence of an aulos-player, and later scenes from tragedy, satyr-drama, and comedy. There are not many scenes showing a self-conscious performance of tragedy; one vase ca. 430 does show a pair of performers preparing to dress as maenads But from 440 onward vases depict scenes clearly influenced by tragedy: the opening-scenes of Libation Bearers, a series of vases depicting Sophokles’ early tragedy Andromeda, another series reflecting Euripides’ innovative Iphigeneia among the Taurians , the Cleveland Medea , and a striking fourth-century tableau illustrating the opening scenes of Eumenides.One or two of these do show a pillar structure, which some interpret as an attempt to render the skene front. But these are not depicting an actual tragic performance. The characters do not wear masks, males are often shown nude (or nearly so) instead of wearing the elaborate costume of tragedy, and there is no hint of the aulos-player, a sure sign of a representation of performance. For satyr-drama there is the superb Pronomos Vase  from the very end of the fifth century, the equivalent of the modern movie poster, the performers of a satyr-drama by Demetrios in various degrees of their onstage dress, accompanied by the aulos-player, Pronomos.

For comedy the vases show various sorts of performers of something which may have been the predecessor to what would become comedy, principally padded dancers in a celebration (komos) and men performing in animal-choruses. There is not much direct evidence from the fifth century. A vase (ca. 420) showing a comic performer on a raised platform before two spectators may or may not reflect a performance in the theater; it might equally well reflect a private performance at a symposium. But there is a wealth of vases from the fourth century, principally from the south of Italy, which show grotesquely masked and padded comic performers with limp and dangling phalloi in obviously humorous situations. For a long time these were thought to be representations of a local Italian low comedy called “phlyakes,” but it is now accepted
that these reflect Athenian Old Comedy which, contrary to established belief, did travel and was reproduced in the Greek cities of southern Italy. Some of these vases show a raised stage with steps and the double door of drama, and are plainly illustrating an actual stage performance. The most famous of these are the Würzburg Telephos, a vase from about 370 which depicts a scene from Aristophanes’ Women at the Thesmophoria (411); a vase by Assteas (ca. 350) showing a scene from Eupolis’ lost comedy, Demes (417); and the Choregoi vase, which seems to show figures from both comedy and tragedy. Sculptural representations of drama are much less common, but we do have a relief from the late fifth century featuring three actors holding masks before Dionysos and consort – some have conjectured that this is the cast of Euripides’ prize-winning Bacchae. One rich source of visual evidence is terracotta masks from various periods that shed valuable light on the nature of comic masks. Scenes from the comedy of Menander (career: 325–290) were often part of the decoration of ancient houses, most notably the so-called “House of Menander” in Pompeii (destroyed in AD 79 by the eruption of Vesuvius) and a third-century AD house in Mytilene on Lesbos, where eleven mosaics remain, with named characters that allow us to identify the exact scene in at least two comedies.