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This first general history of Greek theatre from Hellenistic times to

the foundation of the modern Greek state in 1830 marks a radical
departure from traditional methods of historiography. We like to
think of history unfolding continuously, in an evolutionary form,
but the story of Greek theatre is rather different. After traditional
theatre ended in the sixth and seventh centuries, no traditional drama
was written or performed on stage throughout the Greek-speaking
world for centuries because of the Orthodox Church’s hostile attitude
toward spectacles. With the reinvention of theatre in Renaissance
Italy, however, Greek theatre was revived in Crete under Venetian
rule in the late sixteenth century. The following centuries saw the
restoration of Greek theatre at various locations, albeit characterized
by numerous ruptures and discontinuities in terms of geography,
stylistics, thematic approaches and ideologies. These diverse develop-
ments were only ‘normalized’ with the establishment of the Greek
nation state.

WALTER PUCHNER is an emeritus professor in the Department of

Theatre Studies at the University of Athens. He has published more
than eighty books and about 400 articles in academic journals.
His research interests include the history of theatre in the Balkan
Peninsula, the comparative folklore and ethnography of the
Mediterranean and Southeast Europe, Byzantine and Modern Greek
studies, as well as the theory of drama and theatre.

A History of Reinvention from the Third
Century BC to 1830

University of Athens, Greece

assisted by
Stratford University, Virginia
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DOI: 10.1017/9781107445024
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: Puchner, Walter, author. | White, Andrew Walker, 1958–
Title: Greek theatre between antiquity and independence: a history of reinvention
from the third century BC to 1830 / Walter Puchner, University of Athens,
Greece; assisted by Andrew Walker White, Stratford University, Virginia.
Description: Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2017. |
Includes bibliographical references and index.
Identifiers: LCCN 2017004894 | ISBN 9781107059474 (hardback : alk. paper)
Subjects: LCSH: Theater – Greece – History.
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Preface page vii

Acknowledgements xvii
Notes on the Text xix

Introduction: Imagined Continuity? 1
1 The Long Twilight of Ancient Theatre and Drama 16
2 Byzantium: High Culture without Theatre
or Dramatic Literature? 52
3 Re-Inventing Theatre: Renaissance and Baroque
Crete under Venetian Rule (1500s–1600s) 112
4 Shaping a Theatre Tradition: The Ionian Islands from
Venetian to British Rule (1500s–1800s) 173
5 Jesuit Theatre in Constantinople and the
Archipelago (1600–1750) 196
6 Drama without Performance: The Greek Enlightenment
and Phanariot Literature 246
7 Rehearsing the Revolution: Theatre as Preparation
for the Uprising of 1821 (Bucharest, Jassy, Odessa) 269
8 Outlook: Theatre in the Nation-State versus Theatre
in the Diaspora 301
Epilogue 315

Index 325



If the story of Greek theatre from Hellenistic times to Independence,

also known as the period of National Romanticism (third century
BC–AD 1830), has not yet been told it is because it is utterly unique. It is
not a conventional master narrative with the evidence organized in a con-
venient, self-developing evolutionary scheme because it must in some ways
be a study in discontinuities. This may disappoint some readers’ expecta-
tions because even though European theatre histories usually admit to a
gap in the evidence between the seventh and tenth centuries AD, there is
still a general consensus that there was some sort of continuous evolution
in Western theatre from the early Middle Ages to our own times. There
have been efforts recently to bridge this centuries-long gap methodologi-
cally, but the case of Greece is different. For although there is ample evi-
dence for continuity of Greek as a spoken language, and to some extent of
Greek-speaking culture from antiquity to the modern era, there is no hard
evidence of continuity in traditional theatre. Accordingly, this study will
serve to demonstrate why evolutionary theory has lost its prominence, and
recommend a new approach to cultural historiography based on a closer,
contextual analysis of the evidence.
Claims of continuity in Greek theatre and Greek culture have their
roots in the appropriation of the Classical past for purposes of Greek state
ideology in the nineteenth century – an appropriation that has attracted
a lot of criticism. But the counter-theory, set up in its place, of complete
cultural discontinuity ignores the fact that the culture of the Byzantine
Empire (AD 330–1453) was rooted almost exclusively in Greek Antiquity.
The present study will include a broader discussion of the issues underly-
ing the concept of cultural continuity, which lies at the heart of evolution-
ary cultural theory. This study will also discuss the methodologies used
in theatre historiography in general, because discontinuities like the ones
addressed here should serve as an opportunity for reflection on our work.


viii Preface
With this in mind, the present study has two chief purposes:  a) to
explore the fate of Greek theatre between antiquity and the foundation of
the Greek state in 1830, interrupted as it is by ruptures and discontinui-
ties; and b) to create a solid framework for theoretical discussion of the
continuity issue in the Greek cultural tradition. The goal will be to empha-
size the exceptional nature of theatre and drama, which are seemingly not
among those cultural sectors which can claim continuity down through
the centuries. The history of Greek theatre after antiquity simply cannot
be told using the traditional evolutionary methodology; rather it must be
narrated by focusing on discrete, independent times and places, each of
which operates along its own unique lines.
The point of departure for this study, the Hellenistic period, may in
fact be a unique case in that we can observe how a theatrical tradition
begins to fall into a state of decline. It is perhaps ironic that the period
when Greek power and influence were at their height also represents a
phase of cultural decay, and contradicts the chief assumption of evo-
lutionary theory:  that all cultural phenomena develop from primitive
origins to perfection, from simplicity to sophistication. Upon closer
examination, after a period of initial development the ancient theatre
seems to head in the opposite direction, or at the very least develop differ-
ently: for although there is evidence of improvement in opsis (spectacle)
and hypocrisis (the art of acting), the same does not necessarily hold true
for dramatic poetry.
To establish where and how to post the chronological milestones in the
present study, it begins by tracing the gradual dissolution of traditional
Greek theatre and drama, followed by a description of its re-invention and
complex, disjointed re-development from the Renaissance and Baroque
eras to the nineteenth century. For it is only in the nineteenth century that
Greek theatre history acquires a more ‘normal’ status, resembling that of
other national theatre histories in Europe.
A precise date for the ultimate ‘decline and fall’ of traditional theatre,
which occurs in the early centuries of the Byzantine Empire, is difficult to
confirm. There is evidence of decline in civic euergetism and an increased
reliance on imperial funds for local festivals – funds which could be easily
withdrawn for political purposes. By this time the administration of thea-
tre shows was largely in the hands of the Factions, politically connected
organizations whose vast bureaucracy kept the stages and hippodromes
running. It is clear that at some point, most likely in the early sixth cen-
tury AD, funding for public games disappears – possibly as a cost-cutting
measure under Emperor Justinian, who decimated the imperial treasury

Preface ix
with foreign wars and massive construction projects such as the cathedral
of Hagia Sophia.
The consolidation of Modern Greek theatre, comparable to what happens
in other European countries, is easier to fix chronologically:  the founda-
tion of the Greek nation as an independent state with its own territory and
autonomous administration in 1830 is a significant milestone, coinciding as it
does with the creation and publication of two highly influential dramas: The
Wanderer by Panayotis Soutsos, a chief exponent of the ‘Athenian’ school of
Greek Romanticism, which uses a more erudite language; and Vasilikos by
Antonios Matesis, exponent of the Heptanesian, or ‘Ionian’ school (so called
because of its origins in the Ionian islands), which used a less-sophisticated,
demotic language. The uniqueness of Modern Greek theatre history lies in
its geographical dispersion, thematic variety, stylistic shifts and diverse lin-
guistic registers; these features, together with Greek theatre’s diverse modes
of organization, would remain characteristic of Greece for much of the nine-
teenth century.
The chapters unfold in rough chronological order, but because of the
diverse geographical locations involved, the content and structure of the
chapters will be quite different. The Introduction, ‘Imagined Continuities’,
discusses the concept of cultural continuity in the context of Greek state
ideology in the nineteenth century, when Modern Greece presented itself
as the heir of its ancient glory, giving it a position that was a priori superior
to that of its Balkan neighbours as well as every other nation in Europe.
Academic and political support for this concept was provided through
folkloric studies and historiography, as well as the Philhellenism move-
ment that swept through much of Europe. This ideological abuse of the
past has been criticized severely, primarily by scholars in the field of social
anthropology; their critiques, however, fail to consider Greece’s unique his-
torical position, together with the political instability of this small, newly
created nation, dependent as it was on the great powers for its survival.
Moreover, the ideological use of mythical origins and glorious pasts was
common to all European nation-states, and was practiced by all the Balkan
countries during this period of national awakening. Still the fact remains
that of all these national myths, Greek Antiquity was a reality recognized
by everyone.
Criticism of Greece’s claims of cultural continuity has led to counter-
claims of absolute discontinuity, which fail to account for the unique
character of the Greek tradition in Europe. The orientation of Byzantine
culture towards the Greek past and the absence of major cultural changes
during the subsequent centuries of Ottoman rule contributed to a
x Preface
situation in which numerous practices described in our sources from the
nineteenth century onward – Greek folk culture, customs, institutions,
magical practices, superstitions and Weltanschauung – actually had their
roots in the first millennium AD if not before. Another unique feature
of Greek cultural dynamics is the stability of the Orthodox Church,
which (apart from the Iconoclastic crisis of the eighth and ninth centu-
ries) endured without any Reformation or Counter-Reformation, let
alone any of the reforms or restrictions on folk culture that are associated
with the European Enlightenment. In fact, among the Greek community
the Enlightenment was not as hostile to clerics or the church as it was in
Catholic and Protestant countries. Evidence of Greek culture’s uniqueness,
its divergence from Western norms, is not taken seriously enough by the
critics of Greece’s nationalistic assertions of continuity. Although a critical
re-examination of Modern Greece’s arts and sciences is imperative, even
within the context of nineteenth century state ideology it need not degen-
erate into counter-assertions of absolute discontinuity, since such asser-
tions can be easily refuted.
There must be a critical survey of continuity theory and a differentia-
tion of its modes, in order to understand the controversy over whether
Byzantine culture  – the vital link between the Hellenistic and National
periods – had a theatre and a drama. In spite of continual efforts to con-
vince readers of these genres’ continuity, the lack of hard evidence in the
primary sources argues strongly to the contrary. And yet, in spite of evi-
dence for discontinuity in these specific genres, there is evidence that other,
related aspects of Greek culture – i.e. language, eschatological imagination
(i.e., visions of the underworld or afterlife), funeral rites, proverbs, etc. –
survived intact both before and after Byzantine times.
The wide gap in evidence for traditional theatre, much longer than that
in Western Europe, raises questions about our methodology and especially
our concept of continuous evolution in theatre history. Greece offers a new
paradigm of non-evolutionary theatre historiography, an approach made
necessary in part because of our lack of evidence. This situation has conse-
quences for cultural historiography in general, because in situations where
there is a less significant gap in evidence, continuity is still either assumed
or constructed, in order to justify an evolutionary theory that we regard,
for some reason, as essential to telling the ‘history’ of anything.
Chapter  1 highlights different aspects of Greek theatre from the
Hellenistic period to its gradual disappearance, which coincided with the
condemnation of the Fathers of the early church. The process is a long one,
but in the end it was not Christianity that succeeded in closing the public

Preface xi
theatres; rather, the cause can be traced to a fundamental restructuring of
the institutional framework for festivals and performances. These changes
reflected a radically changing cosmopolitan environment marked by,
among other things, a change from polis to empire; a change from ama-
teur citizens as actors to professional and itinerant ‘Artisans of Dionysus’;
from once-only productions to repertory theatre; and last but not least,
the change from tragedy and comedy to less-sophisticated and less literary
forms of popular theatre such as mime and pantomime. Meanwhile there
is ample evidence for an awareness of the theatricality of public life from
the Hellenistic period onward, for this was the period when the metaphor
of the world as a theatre and life as a drama was first articulated.
Chapter 2 addresses the issue of Byzantine theatre and drama, provid-
ing a detailed analysis of the various reasons, theological and otherwise,
for a decline of ancient theatre and its diminishing significance. If the
ecumenical councils can be taken as evidence of theatrical activity, long
after Justinian’s closure of state-funded theatres a certain class of artists
continues to flourish – on the streets and possibly in private venues – until
at least the Quinisext Council, also known as In Trullo (691 BC–AD 2).
During the early church’s struggles, show business and theatrical perfor-
mances were positioned as the last bastion of paganism, and were therefore
attacked mercilessly. But beyond these theological issues, the question of
theatre and drama’s existence in Byzantine times is complicated by seman-
tic shifts in the usage of basic theatre vocabulary – theatron, drama, skēnē,
etc. The epigraphic evidence for the decline of show business in the first
centuries AD is substantial: for centuries, no real drama was written in
Greek, and even dialogic cento poems like the Christos Paschōn have little
relation to stage production. There is evidence for a variety of forms of
performativity in other cultural sectors, but there is no trace of organized
public theatre performances.
The re-invention of Greek theatre can be credited to Crete under
Venetian rule at some point during the sixteenth century, the subject of
Chapter 3. It begins with a brief analysis of this complex society situated
at the crossroads of East and West, a bilingual and bi-confessional culture
which nurtured artists and scholars such as the painter El Greco, the musi-
cian Nikolaos Leontaritis, the philologist Francesco Porto, the dramatist
Georgios Chortatsis, and the poet Vincenzo Cornaros. Theatre and drama
were imported to Crete from the Italy of the late Renaissance and early
Baroque, along with some elements of the Mannerist school. Although
the way in which they were imported remains unclear, from the end of the
sixteenth century to 1669 (when Crete fell to the Ottoman Empire after

xii Preface
the twenty-four-year siege of Candia, modern-day Iraklio), a large number
of plays were written and produced. The list includes tragedies, comedies,
pastoral dramas, religious dramas and even interludes. Only eight plays
from this period are extant, and they constitute the most important legacy
of Cretan literature. Some of these plays had important after-lives in the
oral tradition, but evidence for their performances is rare and both theatre
performances and dramatic literature ended with the fall of Crete to the
Ottomans in 1669. Still, because of their literary qualities these surviving
plays have been the subject of significant scholarship.
The Ionian islands are the subject of Chapter 4; they were in some way
the heirs of Cretan theatre, and there is possible evidence for theatre there
in the sixteenth century. This leads us to assume that there was theatrical
activity in this seven-island region (hence their other name, ‘Heptanesos’)
contemporaneously with Crete, both being under Venetian rule. After the
fall of the Cretan capital of Candia in 1669 many refugees travelled to
the Ionian islands and settled there, taking their theatrical traditions with
them. The islands of Corfu, Zante and Cefalonia are the only places in
Greece with a stable local theatre tradition from the sixteenth century until
the eve of World War II. Here the Venetian influence is even more intense
because the islands of the Ionian Sea were never a part of the Ottoman
Empire. Although their beginnings are uncertain, dramatic literature and
theatrical performances seem to be well established by the seventeenth
century and are linked to Carnival time, along with folk theatre and per-
formative rites and spectacles such as the giostra. In the eighteenth century,
performances of Italian opera and Commedia dell’Arte were added. All of
these forms of theatre and drama continued under British rule beginning
in the nineteenth century, with the Ionian drama being part of the second
important school of Greek Romanticism, and with Corfu being a more
important centre for Italian opera than Athens.
Other Greek communities that saw significant theatrical activity were
the islands of the Archipelago and Ottoman Constantinople. This recently
discovered episode in theatre history, as well as in Modern Greek literature,
is the subject of Chapter 5. It is unique in that both the French mission in
Constantinople (as well as the Cyclades islands) and the Italian mission in
Chios used Modern Greek, as opposed to the ecclesiastical Greek of the
Orthodox Church. Jesuit theatre, established in as many as 500 colleges
throughout Europe in the second half of the sixteenth century, was both
an instrument for pedagogy and a means of producing public testimonials
of the high quality of the school. In the peripheral regions of the Catholic
world, religious plays performed by students were not written in Latin

Preface xiii
but in the local vernacular; hence on the islands of the Aegean Sea and in
Constantinople, where the targets for conversion were Orthodox Greeks,
they were written in Modern Greek. Through the texts of ten newly dis-
covered Baroque era dramas we now have a wealth of information about
these school performances and their participants. One performance of par-
ticular interest was in Constantinople in November 1623, when the son of
the French ambassador played the leading role in a play about the young
(St.) John Chrysostom. Among the spectators were the ambassadors of the
great powers; Ecumenical Patriarch Kyrillos I Loukaris wanted to see the
performance as well, but was not allowed. Because of the decline of
the Jesuit order and Catholicism in general during the first half of the
eighteenth century, little has survived from this later period apart from a
few plays and reviews.
Constantinople’s influence continued into the eighteenth century, but it
was during this period that other centre of Hellenism now played a pivotal
role in Greek theatre history, although distant from Greece itself; Chapter
6 discusses the Transdanubian Principalities of Valachia and Moldavia,
ruled by Phanariot courts in Bucharest and Jassy. The Phanariots, so
called because they were residents of the Phanar district in Constantinople
(where the Ecumenical patriarchate is still located), consisted of a dozen
old and extended Greek families who held important positions in the
Ottoman hierarchy; they were designated by the sultan to serve on the
throne as Hospodars (‘lords’) in Valachia and Moldavia. These families
established an elite Greek-speaking culture during the eighteenth century,
known in Romanian history as epoca fanarioților, ‘the Phanariot Age.’ It
was also fashionable for the local boyars there to speak and write Greek,
and both Bucharest and Jassy became centres of Hellenic culture in the
eastern Balkans. The chief focus during this period was on translating
Western dramas by figures such as Molière and Goldoni, who were of
interest to Enlightenment thinkers for their potential role in moral edu-
cation. Metastasio was also prized for his classicized tragedy, as well as
Voltaire and later Alfieri, and for political reasons: to contrast the glorious
past with the miserable present. The humorous nature of comedy was not
accepted without resistance, for laughter in this milieu both had to teach
and to correct. Accordingly satiric dialogues on clerical, political, social
and mythological themes held prominent positions in Phanariot literature,
which used a more sophisticated idiom of Greek than both the Cretan
writers and the demotic authors of the Ionian school.
In the first decades of the nineteenth century, before the outbreak of the
Greek Revolution in 1821, some of these Phanariot tragedies were staged

xiv Preface
in amateur theatres in Bucharest, Jassy and the Russian harbour city of
Odessa. This is the subject of Chapter 7, which begins with a description of
the arguments during the Greek Enlightenment for and against theatrical
performances: although they were acceptable as a didactic tool, there were
concerns about the corporality of the actors and their incitement to sen-
suality (female roles on the Phanariot stage were usually played by men).
In all three cities, amateur performances are linked to Greek-language
schools; but now, in addition to translations of French and Italian drama,
original Greek plays are produced as well. Most of these plays were based
on ancient themes, with tyrannicide their favourite subject. Under the
influence of members of Filiki Etairia (‘Society of Friends’), a secret
political organization that was preparing for the revolution, school per-
formances were transformed rapidly into political and patriotic demon-
strations against Ottoman rule. The theatre played a significant role in
preparing audiences mentally and psychologically for the military uprising
against the Ottoman Empire, as seen by the participation of these amateur
players in the ‘holy troupe’ that started the revolution in Moldavia and was
defeated immediately in Drăgășani. One actor was killed there, another
wounded, a third imprisoned; others managed to escape. Playwrights,
actors, and theatrical performances played an important role throughout
the years of the uprising. Episodes from the revolution were transformed
immediately into patriotic dramas, featuring its heroes as protagonists, and
these plays remained popular with Greek audiences throughout the nine-
teenth century.
Lastly, Chapter 8 offers an overview of later developments: in 1830 Greece
became an absolute monarchy like all other European nations on the con-
tinent, whose royal families had been restored with the fall of Napoleon
and whose hold on power had been strengthened further by the Congress
of Vienna in 1814/1815. This new Greek nation was small, shaky, weak, and
heavily dependent on the policies of Europe’s major powers – who viewed
Greece not as an equal but as a figure on the geographic chessboard that
was the Eastern Question, the question of the fate of the Ottoman Empire
and its European subjects. Most Greeks at this time still lived outside the
new nation’s borders, and so the better part of theatrical activity was out-
side the country. Communities in Corfu, Syra, Smyrna, Constantinople
(after 1860), Alexandria, etc., became more important theatre centres
than the capital of Athens itself. The historic Diaspora of the Eastern
Mediterranean, the Black Sea and the Balkans (after 1860) witnessed the
re-creation of theatre as a public institution and the development of a class

Preface xv
of professional actors; these communities also formed an emerging market
for itinerant ensembles that travelled throughout the Mediterranean to
perform plays in Greek for Greek-speaking communities outside the coun-
try. Thanks to its policy of re-unification of Greek-speaking territory, and
the increasing weakness of the Ottoman Empire, the ‘Free Kingdom’ grew;
but with it a clash between Helladism (the culture and ideology of the new
kingdom) and Hellenism (the culture and ideology of the Greek-speaking
Diaspora). By the beginning of the twentieth century there was a marked
decline in the historical Diaspora, brought on by the revolution of the
Young Turks; the Balkan Wars; the Russian Revolution, culminating in
the disastrous Greek military campaign in Asia Minor which led to the
expulsion of more than one million Greeks from ancient Ionia in 1922.
Taken together the history of Modern Greek theatre in the nineteenth
century represents, on the one hand, a gradual development of a ‘normal’
European-style theatre scene; on the other hand, this process of normaliza-
tion was complicated by the decentralized nature of the theatre scene and
its audiences. Creating a professional class of performers had its challenges,
and equally challenging was the language question:  by this time Greek
functioned at two distinct registers, the elite katharevousa (‘purified’) used
by the educated classes and the demotic Greek of folk culture, used by the
less educated.
The Epilogue, ‘Implications for Theatre Historiography’, Tries to sum-
marize this book’s findings and identify what they imply for theatre histo-
riography in general. Traditional scenarios may be possible for the Classical
and Hellenistic periods, and from the late nineteenth century onwards – in
both cases, with Athens as its centre. But for more than one thousand years
in between not only is it methodologically hazardous to assume continu-
ity: the lack of evidence makes such an assumption impossible. Even after
the sixteenth century, there are numerous ruptures and discontinuities in
Greek theatre: geographical, thematic, stylistic and linguistic, not to men-
tion the organizational challenges and lack of consistency from one theatre
scene to the next. These ruptures render the application of a simple sce-
nario even more problematic.
Greek theatre history demonstrates the need for an alternative to the
current model of master narrative, which relies on our ability to assem-
ble the evidence in the most agreeable and integrated manner possible.
Because there is no single narrative of this history to date we have an
opportunity to avoid constructing it as a single continuous unit – the con-
tinuity of Greek as a spoken and written language notwithstanding. This

xvi Preface
does not diminish the uniqueness and fascination of Greek theatre and
drama – to the contrary, it helps us to understand the artificiality of other
theatre histories that adopt this evolutionary narrative conceit. Although
the history of Greek theatre remains largely unknown internationally, this
book offers a broad array of evidence and reflects on the critical methods
that have been applied to it.


This book, based on numerous studies of specific aspects of the Greek

theatrical tradition, has passed through numerous stages of re-structuring
and elaboration. I must express my gratitude to many for their support
and inspiration – beginning with my family, to whom I must apologize for
being such an absent-minded father and husband. I also wish to extend a
special thanks to my colleagues in the Department of Theatre Studies at
the University of Athens: for the past twenty years I have been immersed
in their ongoing, inspiring discussions, the scholarly atmosphere they have
created and nurtured, and their dedication to research on the history of
Greek theatre and drama; they have been a limitless reservoir of spiritual
strength and intellectual innovation.
I also wish to thank my many foreign colleagues in the field of theatre
history and theory, Classics, Byzantine and Modern Greek studies, Balkan
studies etc., and the many audiences I have encountered at their universi-
ties, for their stimulating questions and their interest in the Greek tradition.
I am deeply obliged to my editor at Cambridge University Press, Michael
Sharp, for his patience and encouragement, in helping me develop the
right shape and structure for this unusual study, as well as the anonymous
reviewers for their constructive suggestions, and their proposed solutions
for particular problems. The reviewers also helped me to strike a balance
between scholarly chapters focused on specific topics and the general over-
view of two thousand years of cultural development which is embedded
in my discussion of the questions of continuity in Greek culture and the
tricky question of discontinuity of Greek theatre. Last but not least I am
deeply obliged to Andrew Walker White for ‘de-teutonizing’ my English
during all the stages of elaboration, but also for introducing common sense
into my intellectually complex work, and lightening my tendency towards
erudite expression with an eye towards the general reader, without los-
ing the essence of the narrative. He has also made some contributions to
Chapters 1 and 2 (additional footnotes are marked with AWW).

Notes on the Text

The names of Greek authors are transliterated phonetically, but ancient

names are written in the conventional way. Quotations in Greek that were
written prior to AD 1453 use the polytonic system familiar to Classicists,
while texts after 1453 use the monotonic system, which has been the official
method for writing Greek since the 1980s.
In addition, because the chapters of this book are independent of each
other, scattered as they are over a wide geographical area and a time span of
some two thousand years, I have provided separate bibliographies at the end
of each chapter instead of organizing the references at the end of the book.
It is hoped this arrangement will make it easier for the reader to follow, and
I have tried to keep repetitions in the bibliography to a minimum. At the
end of nearly every chapter there is also a section ‘Scholarship and Further
Readings’, designed for those interested in special topics and providing access
to more sources and bibliography than given in the footnotes.


Imagined Continuity?

Before focusing on the problem of Greek theatre history after antiquity as a

story of discontinuities, we first have to look into the more general issue of
the specific question of continuity in Greek culture from antiquity to the
foundation of Greece as a nation-state in 1830. The publication of influ-
ential works including Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities (1983,
1991) and Eric Hobsbawm’s The Invention of Tradition (1983) inspired a
wave of studies analyzing the construction of nationalist ideologies, modes
of rewriting the past, and the manipulation of history. Subsequent studies
identified and critiqued a variety of methods used to promote nationalism
through the arts and sciences; only a few, however, recognized that there
can be a legitimate need for this approach, or that the nation-state can in
some instances play a positive role in shaping and developing modern soci-
ety.1 In the Balkan Peninsula during the period of national awakening, but
also in recent history, there are numerous examples of fictionalized con-
nections with a glorious past, the most recent example being the linkage
of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) with Alexander
the Great. The arts and sciences, literature and theatre are often appro-
priated as a part of an overall strategy for reconstructing the past along
ideological lines, creating fictive models of the nation-state as an indig-
enous, homogeneous ethnic group. This pattern is especially prominent
in countries of the former Habsburg monarchy and Ottoman Empire,
which were both dissolved in the end by nationalist movements, beginning
with Slovenia and Croatia, Hungary and Romania, and culminating with
Albania, Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece.2

Among them the interesting comparative study of Jusdanis 2001.
Puchner 1993, 1994.

2 Introduction

Criticism of Continuity in Greek Culture as a Construction

of Nineteenth Century Nationalistic Ideology
Greece, however, is a special case because the culture of Ancient Greece is a
reality, not an imaginary construction crafted for nationalist purposes. The
link between the Modern Greek state and Ancient Greece is a given, primar-
ily because of their common language. But this made the language question
a prominent political issue throughout the nineteenth century3: The prefer-
ence for katharevousa (‘purified’) and dēmotikē (‘common’) Greek, instead of
more erudite varieties of Greek rooted in the Attic dialect of Ancient Athens,
was strongly influenced by political considerations. Moreover the small,
weak nation-state desperately needed recognition and aid from the great
powers to survive. And the powerful Philhellenism movement, together
with the renown of Greece’s ancient Humanistic traditions, were helpful
in generating public sympathy for this newly created country. As a result,
Jacob Philipp Fallmerayer’s theory that not a drop of Ancient Greek blood
remained in the veins of contemporary Greeks met with often-vehement
criticism.4 Critiques like Fallmerayer’s, however, were themselves a response
to an exaggerated, romantic Philhellenism, based on a grandiose vision of
historical philosophy, coupled with concerns that the nineteenth century
Panslavist movement might present a new strategic threat for all of Europe.5
Fallmerayer’s theory, published the same year Greece gained its inde-
pendence, presented a clear challenge to official state ideology and to Greek
political interests. It promoted in a most decisive way the concept of discon-
tinuity, and a whole series of treatises and studies opposed to Fallmerayer’s
ideas were published by Greek scholars and foreign Philhellenists alike.
The main goal of this academic activity, however, was the rehabilitation
of the concept of continuity by means of scientific and pseudoscientific
arguments, culminating some decades later in the official National History
of Ioannis Paparrigopoulos (1860–74). This last study laid the groundwork
for a history of the Greek genos as a kind of triptych: Antiquity, Byzantium,
and Modern Greece.

Philhellenism and Antiquity

Philhellenism was arguably the most popular mass movement throughout
much of Europe during the Restoration period, between the Congress of
There is a huge bibliography on the history of the language question in modern Greece; for an over-
view see Hering 1995 and for linguistic analysis see Niehoff-Panagiotidis 1994.
Veloudis 1970, 1982.
Skopetea 1997.

Philhellenism and Antiquity 3

Vienna 1814/15 and the revolutions of 1848.6 That three traditions – religious,
Humanistic and political  – inspired this movement explains why it
appealed to people of nearly all social classes. The first tradition attracted
followers because of the Turkish question; the Ottoman Empire had
been a religious enemy of Christianity for centuries, and much of central
and Eastern Europe had suffered from Ottoman attacks since the four-
teenth century.7 Secondly, the Greek Humanistic tradition had formed
the foundation of European education since the Renaissance,8 and by the
eighteenth century the importance of Greece had been further enhanced
by historians of art, even at the expense of Rome. Last but not least
Philhellenism was also a crypto-democratic movement, with Philhellenic
committees organizing cultural events and gathering aid and money for
the ‘Greek cause’. Students and intellectuals left their native countries
to fight side by side with the Greeks, seeing in this revolution of a small
country against one of the great powers, the Ottoman Empire, an act of
resistance against tyranny and absolute monarchy and a blow for political
freedom and self-determination. Philhellenic literature was dominated by
the concept of indebtedness: it was Europe’s obligation to help the Greek
uprising because of the ideals, culture and knowledge Greece had given
to Europe. This idea was inevitably linked with the concept of continu-
ity, and with the even grander concept that the old and new Greece were
essentially the same.
The Philhellenic movement had its zenith in the 1820s, with an enor-
mous outpouring of literature – dramas, epics, poems, pamphlets – not
to mention performances of operas, ballets, folk plays, panoramas etc.9
If you created any piece on Greek themes, it seemed, you were guaran-
teed success. Never again would Greece have so many friends throughout
Europe; and this brand-new, Lilliputian state had to make good use of
this widespread sympathy. Greeks had cultivated a consciousness of their
glorious past down through the centuries, through their arts and litera-
ture. This helps to explain why the Philhellenistic concept that Ancient
and Modern Greece were identical was accepted without any difficulty,
the tradition of the Orthodox Church being the sole exception to this

The bibliography of European and American philhellenism is extensive. See Quack-Eustathiades
1984 for German philhellenism; for drama and theatre see Puchner 2007: 133–68.
There was even a whole genre of popular religious prophecies, which reflected the fear that the Turks
were a punishment from God for the people’s sinfulness (Goellner 1961–78).
Pfeiffer 1968.
See also Puchner 1996.
Sherrard 1971: 13–77, 293–323.
4 Introduction

The Search for Surviving Traditions in Greek Folklore

The shock caused by Fallmerayer’s theory was also a vital spur for numerous
disciplines in the humanities, including historiography, linguistics and
especially the study of Greek folklore (ethnography). To enhance the
perceived identity between old and new Greece a sort of archaeological
approach to folk culture developed, gathering evidence for traditions that
appeared to have survived from antiquity and discovering parallels between
the old and new cultural praxis. A series of studies were eventually pub-
lished along the lines of J. C. Lawson’s Modern Greek Folklore and Ancient
Greek Religion (1910).11 The quest for evidence of surviving traditions was
actually an international practice at that time, with Great Britain’s folklor-
ists collecting evidence that their own medieval and Renaissance customs
had survived in modern, popular culture.
This retrospective approach, using the past to support the dogma of cul-
tural continuity to modern times, was not the sole motivation for studying
traditional folk culture. The nineteenth century also saw the publication
of a whole series of collections of Greek folk songs, at a time when collect-
ing and editing them were explicitly political acts. Gottfried Herder, in his
influential Die Stimmen der Völker in Liedern (Leipzig 1778/9), had estab-
lished a basic concept of political Romanticism: that the existence of oral
folk poetry in a country is direct proof of the existence of an independent
ethnic group; that it is distinguishable from other neighbouring peoples;
and that as such it has a right to political independence and administrative
self-rule. Herder’s ideas were highly influential in the Balkans,12 hence the
long line of publications collecting Greek folk songs throughout the nine-
teenth century both before and during the revolution.13 These collections
had a strong sense of political raison d’état, testifying to the Greek people
as a distinct entity in their small nation-state, and they served to justify
subsequent irrendentist movements.
Given these circumstances, it is understandable that favourite subjects
in these collections included burial rites and lamentations (threnoi), visions
of the underworld and afterlife, and similar areas where it would have been

Early German-language volumes on the same theme would include E.  Bibilakis, Neugriechisches
Leben, verglichen mit dem altgriechischen, zur Erläuterung beider, Berlin 1840; F. Suckow, Der Beweis,
daß die heutigen Griechen die echten Söhne der alten Hellenen sind, Stralsund 1841; G. Wachsmuth,
Das alte Griechenland im neuen, Bonn 1864; and B. Schmidt, Das Volksleben der Neugriechen und das
hellenische Alterthum, Erster Theil, Leipzig 1871, to name but a few.
Sundhaussen 1973.
Politis 1984.

The Criticism of Continuity as Dogma of Social Anthropology 5

easy to draw parallels with Classical antiquity. Another subject was proverbs:
ancient collections of proverbs and sayings were copied in Byzantine scrip-
toria and monasteries, but were also circulated through the oral tradition
via sermons, catechisms and other ecclesiastical instruction, so that mod-
ern folk proverbs were not only seen as similar to the ancient ones, but as
the same, albeit expressed in a different linguistic register and style. Fairy
tales, too, were collected mainly with an eye towards demonstrating their
similarity with ancient myths14 and performances of customs such as the
kalogeros in Thrace were interpreted as surviving examples of a phase in the
development of ancient theatre before Thespis.15

The Criticism of Continuity as Dogma of Social Anthropology

Distrust for theories of cultural longue durée is, to some degree, justified;
folklorists in many countries have tended to rely on sentimental gener-
alizations, stretching back to their imagined distant origins in prehistory
without sound archaeological, linguistic or even historical evidence.16 But
as mentioned before, Greece’s case is different and altogether unique. In
1982, the American anthropologist Michael Herzfeld published Ours Once
More: Folklore, Ideology and the Making of Modern Greece,17 in which he
examined the prefaces for numerous collections of Greek folk songs and
confirmed that most of them were used for nationalistic purposes. As we
have seen, the goal of such collections is self-evident, since folk songs
were collected and published elsewhere in Europe for the same purpose.
Herzfeld takes his title from a verse in the prophecy of Panagia, the ‘All-
Holy’ Mother, in the traditional ‘Song of Hagia Sophia’. In this verse,
Mary comforts the Greek people on the day of the Fall of Constantinople,
saying that in time the Church of Hagia Sophia will again be theirs.
Herzfeld sees a deliberate attempt at manipulation in this verse when
the pronouns change between ‘yours’ and ‘ours,’ as in Nikolaos Politis’
version of the song published in 1914.18 Herzfeld then charges Politis,
the founder of Greek ‘laografia’, with inserting a nationalistic emenda-
tion into an orally transmitted lyric, a change that pointed towards the

For the fate of the different categories of folk culture in this quest for survivals see Puchner 1999,
2009: 621–36.
The work of Georgios Vizyinos (1888) and Richard Dawkins (1906) came to be cited by ethnologists
and classical philologists worldwide (Puchner 2002).
See the critical contributions in Bausinger/Brückner (eds.) 1969.
Herzfeld 1982.
Politis 1914.
6 Introduction
irredentist megali idea, or ‘great idea’, which dominated Greek foreign policy
throughout the nineteenth century:  the re-conquest of Constantinople
and the restoration of the Byzantine Empire. This turns out to be an over-
interpretation: the Panagia is speaking to her ‘chosen’ people19 and the pro-
nouns ‘ours’ and ‘yours’ are used interchangeably through all the variants
of the song, depending on who is giving the prophecy, and whether the
speaker is using direct or indirect speech.20 For Herzfeld, however, this is
just the starting point in an extended criticism of how Politis manipulated
his oral source material,21 a criticism that extends to alleged ideological
manipulations by folklorists in general.22
Many accusations of this kind, centred on methodology, have given way
to more objective treatment and re-evaluation today. Politis, for exam-
ple, was also a principal exponent of comparative ethnology; he was well
acquainted with the methods folklorists practiced internationally, as a dis-
cipline that preserved traditions and drew parallels between contemporary
practices and the past.23 Most criticism of this ‘archaeological’ approach
to folklore in the nineteenth century, however, is based on a lack of real
knowledge of cultural history as well as an ignorance of specific conditions
in the Balkans during this period of national awakening. Characteristic
of the problem is the question of how the Greeks referred to themselves:
as ‘romios’ (Roman or Byzantine) or ‘hellene’ (Greek). Herzfeld is of the
opinion that the name Hellas was an import of the Philhellenes and that
‘hellen(as)’ was only the official mode of national identification, with the
more private and familiar one being ‘romios’. But the formula ‘Romios is
to Ellinas as inside is to outside, as female is to male, as self-knowledge is
to self-display’24 cannot begin to describe the controversy over the national
name of the Greeks that erupted around 1900;25 Herzfeld’s theory has no
solid basis in terms of Greece’s historical consciousness and it was vehe-
mently rejected by other social anthropologists.26
Field data without historical verification usually cannot create models
to explain some of the more vexed questions of traditional cultures like
this; and in any case, the folk culture of the historic peoples of Europe is

On the idea of the ‘Romans’ (Byzantines) as the chosen people of God see Ivanka 1968.
For detailed criticism see Puchner 1996a: 223–94, esp. 252–7 and 2004–6: 305–14.
See also Beaton 1980: 1 ff., Kyriakidou-Nestoros 1978: 111 ff. and 148 ff., Sifakis 1988: 135 ff.
Danforth 1984, Kyriakidou-Nestoros 1986, Alexiou 1984/85.
Avdikos 2009: 61 ff., Nitsiakos 2008: 13 ff.
Herzfeld 1987: 113, in less abstract form 1982: 18 ff. For criticism see Puchner 1996a: 253 ff.
See the bibiography on the topic by Mantouvalou 1983.
Sant Cassia/Bada 1992.

Ignoring the Retrospective View of Byzantine Culture 7

too complicated for such abstract formulas.27 Modern Greek folklore, for
example, cannot be analyzed without considering Byzantium; in fact, the
eminent Byzantinist Peter Schreiner has recently made an argument for
creating a distinct Byzantine ‘Volkskunde’.28

Ignoring the Retrospective View of Byzantine Culture

As noted previously, the Greek tradition cannot be compared with the
rest of Europe; nor can it be restricted to the territory of the nation-state
of Greece. Greek culture survived three empires: it was highly valued in
the Roman Empire, it dominated the Byzantine Empire and it survived
even the Ottoman Empire. In spite of the vast scope of its dissemination
throughout the historical Diaspora, its dynamic is distinct from the West’s
latinitas, which endured from the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment
(via the Reformation and Counterreformation). Central to this unique
dynamic is an understanding that Byzantium was primarily a retrospective
culture, to some extent imitative, struggling with a consciousness of inferi-
ority because of its status as merely an heir and descendent of Antiquity.29
Byzantium was not identified by Western scholars and positioned as
a field of study that bridged Greek antiquity with Modern Greece until
the mid-nineteenth century; even then it was widely used as an argument
in favour of continuity. The nationalistic use (and abuse) of Byzantium,
however, cannot overshadow the historical reality of an empire which
lasted more than one thousand years and had Greek language and cul-
ture as its hallmark. Likewise, criticizing Modern Greek arts and sciences
because they support a national ideology is a historical; it ignores the
nature and function of Byzantine culture, which was oriented towards
the past, and it fails to account for the role that Ottoman administra-
tion played in preserving Greek culture; this is why numerous issues in
Modern Greek folk culture actually have their roots in the Hellenistic or
even the Classical period. As Margaret Alexiou pointed out in her bril-
liant monograph on Greek lamentation, there is a continuous tradition
from antiquity onward in the lament’s eschatology; its concept of Hades;
its mourning rituals; its graveside customs, images and other rites which
could not be extinguished or even absorbed by Christian eschatology and

This understanding is practiced today, for instance at the School of Historical Anthropology of the
Balkans at the University of Graz (Kaser et al. 2003).
Schreiner 2001. See also my review in Laografia 40 (2004–6) 813–26.
This is marvellously demonstrated by Hans-Georg Beck in his monography of Theodoros
Metochites (Beck 1952: 50–75 and pass.).
8 Introduction
church traditions.30 Byzantium’s images of the afterlife are not lighted by
the hope of anastasis for all mankind, but by Charos (a transformation
of ancient Charon), the archon of the underworld.31 The same holds true
for wedding rituals and symbols, but also for a whole series of motifs
in Byzantine and post-Byzantine religious iconography.32 Christ, in his
descensus ad inferos, has to descend to the dark underworld to free Adam
and mankind from death, an apocryphal motif immediately linked to the
many heroes of katabasis in antiquity.33 Judas Iscariot, in his apocryphical
biography, performs the same crimes as Oedipus, killing his father and
marrying his mother; this transformation into a double figure, Oedipus/
Judas, took place during Byzantine times.34

A Counter-Ideology in the Making:

Nothing to Do with Antiquity?
As fashionable as it may be to reject the concept of continuity in Greek
culture as an invention of national ideology, there is an equal tendency to
create a diametrically opposite construction of absolute discontinuity. As
can be easily demonstrated, however, with the long evolution of the Greek
language and the development of distinct registers and levels of style, the
Greek cultural tradition and its dynamics are unique and cannot be evalu-
ated using theoretical models designed for other countries and cultures.
Some Modern Greek practices from the nineteenth century may have dif-
ferent ages and origins, but to deny any connection with the Hellenistic
period (or earlier) because other countries have appropriated the past for
their own nationalist agenda would ignore a number of basic facts.
Consider animal sacrifices, for example, which are practiced to this day
for religious and secular purposes and with the blessing of the church;
these can clearly be traced back to Antiquity.35 Blood brotherhood (adop-
tio in fratrem), officially banned by the Codex Iustinianus, was practiced
as a special ecclesiastical ceremony with a specific akolouthia throughout
the Byzantine millennium and survived, in spite of numerous patriarchal
decrees, in the Orthodox countries of the Balkans up to the twentieth
century.36 The week before Whitsuntide, called ρουσάλια, is linked to the
Alexiou 1974, 2002.
Beck 1979.
Puchner 2009a: 301–41.
Diels 1922, Kroll 1932, Puchner 1979, 2006: 191–226.
Puchner 1991, 1994a.
Aikaterinidis 1979.
Puchner 1994b.

The Special Case of Theatre in Continuity Theory 9

Roman rosalia through a complex tradition, in which the terminology
(rhodismos, the fairies rusalki, rosaliile etc.) and rites (symposia at the graves
of martyrs, processions with icons decorated with flowers, masquer-
ades, etc.) may develop in different directions, but can all be traced from
Antiquity down through the centuries.37
In other words, not every claim to continuity can be dismissed as a fic-
tional, nationalistic construct; charges of ideological manipulation and mis-
use of the past should yield to hard evidence, and to the critical examination
of specific historical sources. For many years social anthropology was not par-
ticularly interested in history; this was a legacy of the imperialistic past of the
discipline, coupled with the fact that the historicity of aboriginals in many
countries was unknown. So on the question of ‘European anthropology’ or
‘anthropology at home’, the methods of fieldwork have to be combined with
historical methods, especially in regions along Europe’s periphery.38
The question of continuity in the Greek cultural tradition requires
that we differentiate among specific practices, and avoid falling into the
trap of arguing over the alleged manipulation of evidence in service of
ideologies, pro or con. Certain cultural practices may have different ages
and origins which develop in diverse ways within the tradition, and as a
result – being subject to different modes of change – their unique history
is self-evident. What may be harder for scholars outside the disciplines of
Classics, Byzantine and Modern Greek studies to understand, however, is
that this is a unique European tradition; Greek culture cannot be treated
adequately using models and concepts stemming from other cultures.
Categorical, a priori doubts about continuity may be useful insofar as they
help us to avoid committing acts of hermeneutical malpractice or ideologi-
cal abuse of our sources; but these doubts are more appropriate for cultures
with a shorter history and a less complex past. To analyze the Greek tradi-
tion requires a more nuanced approach because so many ages, dynamics,
and cultural forces of various origins coexist simultaneously. There is an
overwhelming richness and fascinating complexity to Greek culture which
complicates every step of our research.

The Special Case of Theatre in Continuity Theory

The preceding discussion about the continuity question in the Greek
tradition is necessary, in order to understand the uniqueness of the history

Nilsson 1951, Puchner 1987.
Puchner 2009: 19–46, 2009a: 42–97.

10 Introduction
of Greek drama and theatre – which points in the opposite direction. In
spite of clear evidence of continuity in many areas, certain phases of the
Greek theatre’s history are clearly marked by discontinuity. It is impos-
sible to make ideological use of Greek drama and theatre for nationalis-
tic purposes, although numerous scholars down through the years have
attempted to do so.
As shall be discussed in Chapter 2, arguments for continuity in Greek
drama begin with Constantine Sathas, who was the first modern scholar
to propose a direct line of cultural transmission from Antiquity, through
Byzantium to Venetian Crete. His theory had its critics, and was soon sup-
planted by George la Piana’s Darwinian, ritual-to-theatre model of cultural
development. The confusion generated by both approaches led, by the
mid-twentieth century, to the creation of a ‘shadow chapter’ on Byzantine
theatre which assumed continuity in Greek dramatic and theatrical prac-
tice in spite of a yawning gap in the evidence.39
The contrasting theory, discontinuity, is rooted primarily in a centuries-
long lack of evidence for traditional theatre and dramatic literature in
Greek culture; it is also rooted in the lack of evidence for their durabil-
ity or for any traceable line of evolution. It must be stated at the outset
that despite the enormous diversity of definitions we have for theatre and
drama, for the purposes of this study these terms are understood as fol-
lows:  theatre is an organized public event involving a scenic enactment
or performance in front of an audience of spectators, where actors play
roles based on a prepared text that is either written or established through
improvization. This event is understood to be embedded within a given
culture as an institution, and performed with a certain regularity. Drama
is a text with dialogue, either written or developed through improviza-
tion, which is usually (but not always) intended for scenic presentation
and enactment. The dramatic text is understood to have a dual status: a)
as a genre of literature, it can be seen as an autonomous literary text; but
simultaneously, b) it represents the verbal part of a theatrical performance,
which is more or less encoded in the text (Puchner 2011).
What further strengthens the arguments for discontinuity is the fact
that, in contrast to the traditional criteria of a culture rooted in a specific
geographical location and based on stylistic and ideological consistency,
in this case we find a widely dispersed and diverse population using the

For continuity theory see Sathas 1878 and Cottas 1931; for criticism of this theory see for example
Krumbacher 1897. For Darwinian theory see La Piana 1912, 1936. For more on this ‘ghost chapter’
see Puchner 2002a, 2006a. See also chap. 2 (‘A Short Account of a Long Controversion’).

The Methodological Problems of Theatre Historiography 11

same language but with a variety of registers and styles. As a result, we
have evidence of theatrical mimesis that uses various models of drama-
turgy, performed by different kinds of sacred and secular organizations in
the context of artistic institutions formed in widely diverse fashions. This
latter phenomenon is especially characteristic of Greek theatre from the
sixteenth to the nineteenth century, while the former applies to the Middle
and Late Byzantine periods.40
The lack of stability in Greek theatrical culture is more complex and
harder to understand, concerning as it does a very long period that stands
in stark contrast to other sectors of Greek culture, most notably the text
tradition of Greek tragedies and comedies. Beyond any discussion about
the ideological dimension of Byzantium as the bridge between Ancient
and Modern Greece, it is obviously hard to admit that the most sophis-
ticated culture of the Middle Ages did not have an equally sophisticated
form of theatre and drama, whether compared to those of Antiquity, or to
those of medieval Western latinitas.
So it appears that Byzantium did not function as a bridge to Antiquity
in this area; this is true in spite of the fact that the texts of ancient tragedies
were well known and were routinely copied, memorized, commented on
and translated into Byzantine koine in scriptoria and monasteries. The lack
of continuity in traditional theatre and the implications this has for general
discussions of continuity in Greek culture were not realized at first. Early
studies either stressed the survival of theatre in Byzantine literature and the
survival in usage of theatrical language or applied the Western theory of
modern drama evolving out of the Christian liturgy in the Middle Ages.
The inability of these traditional methods to account for the peculiarities
of Byzantine culture adequately has resulted in a longstanding controversy
over the question of Byzantine ‘theatre’ with the strongest criticism, deny-
ing the existence of drama and theatrical performances, originating with
Byzantinists themselves. This controversy was not always purely academic,
however, and in some cases had ideological connotations as well.41

The Methodological Problems of Theatre Historiography

This situation creates obstacles for the adoption of conventional ‘master
narratives’ of theatre history and points towards the need for further
reflection. The usual scheme of cultural history as a succession of facts

Puchner 2010.
Puchner 1990, 2002a, 2006a: 20–56.

12 Introduction
and periods along a linear time continuum does not apply; Greek theatre
history cannot be told as an organic, self-developing evolutionary story.
This supports recent reflections on how to write theatre history without
inventing continuities or using imaginary constructs to create the illusion
of a coherent narrative. The Greek theatre tradition after the Hellenistic
period is a good example of how to avoid the methodological remnants of
the evolutionary model, because here we must address hard evidence for
chronological interruption, for geographical dispersion, as well as thematic
variety and stylistic instability.42

Aikaterinidis, G. N. (1979), Nεοελληνικές αιματηρές θυσίες, Athens.
Alexiou, M. (1974), The Ritual Lament in Greek Tradition, Cambridge.
(1984/5), ‘Folklore: an Obituary?’, Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies 9: 1–28.
(2002), The Ritual Lament in Greek Tradition, second edition, revised by D.
Yatromanolakis and P. Roilos, Lanham, etc.
Anderson, B. (1983), Imagined Communities, London.
(1991), Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism,
Avdikos, E. (2009), Εισαγωγή στις σπουδές του λαϊκού πολιτισμού, Λαογραφίες –
λαϊκοί πολιτισμοί – ταυτότητες, Athens.
Bausinger, H. / W. Brückner (eds.) (1969), Kontinuität? Geschichtlichkeit und
Dauer als volkskundliches Problem, Berlin.
Beaton, R. (1980), Folk Poetry of Modern Greece, Cambridge.
Beck, H.-G. (1952), Theodoros Metochites. Die Krise des byzantinischen Weltbildes im
14. Jahrhundert, Munich.
(1979), Die Byzantiner und ihr Jenseits. Zur Entstehungsgeschichte einer Mentalität,
Cottas, V. (1931), Le théâtre à Byzance, Paris.
Danforth, L. M. (1984), ‘The Ideological Context of the Search for Continuities in
Greek Culture’, Journal of Modern Greek Studies 3: 53–87.
Diels, H. (1922), ‘Himmels und Höllenfahrten von Homer bis Dante’, Neue
Jahrbücher für das Klassische Altertum XLIX: 239–53.
Easterling, P. E. / E. Hall (eds.) (2002), Greek and Roman Actors:  Aspects of an
Ancient Profession, Cambridge.
Fischer-Lichte, E. (2010), Theaterwissenschaft. Eine Einführung in die Grundlagen
des Faches, Tübingen / Basel.
(2010a), ‘Performance as Event – Reception as Transformation’, in Edith Hall /
Stephe Harrop (eds.), Theorising Performance: Greek Drama, Cultural History,
and Critical Practice, London, 29–42.

Postlewait 2009, Puchner 2010, Fischer-Lichte 2010:  101–34, Warstat/Lazardzig/Tkaczyk 2012,
Kreuder/Hulfeld/Kotte 2007. For the theoretical problems of continuation in the case of theatre
performances as unique events see also Fischer-Lichte 2010a.

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(1986), ‘Introduction to Modern Greek Ideology and Folklore’, Journal of
Modern Hellenism 3: 35–46.
La Piana, G. (1912), Le Rappresentazioni Sacre nella Letteratura Bizantina dell’
Origini al Secolo IX con Rapporti a Teatro Sacro d’Occidente, Grottaferrata.
(1936), ‘The Byzantine Theatre’, Speculum 11: 171–211.
Mantouvalou, M. (1983), ‘Ρωμαίος – Ρωμιός και Ρωμιοσύνη. Κριτική βιβλιογραφία’,
Μαντατοφόρος 22: 34–72.
Niehoff-Panagiotidis, J. (1994), Koine und Diglossie, Wiesbaden (Mediterranean
Language and Culture Monograph Series, vol. 10)..
Nilsson, M. P. (1951), ‘Das Rosenfest’, in Opuscula selecta, vol. I, Lund, 311–29.
Nitsiakos, V. (2008), Προσανατολισμοί. Μια κριτική εισαγωγή στη Λαογραφία,
Pfeiffer, G. (1968), Studien zur Frühphase des europäischen Philhellenismus (1453–1750),
Ph. D. Diss. Erlangen.
Politis, A. (1984), Η ανακάλυψη των ελληνικών δημοτικών τραγουδιών, Athens.
Politis, N. G. (1914), Eκλογαί από τα τραγούδια του Ελληνικού λαού, Athens.
Postlewait, Th. (2009), The Cambridge Introduction of Theatre Historiography, Cambridge.
Puchner, W. (1979), ‘Zur liturgischen Frühstufe der Höllenfahrtsszene Christi.
Byzantinische Katabasis-Ikonographie und rezenter Osterbrauch’, Zeitschrift
für Balkanologie 15: 98–133.
(1987), ‘Zum Nachleben des Rosalienfestes auf der Balkanhalbinsel’, Südost-
Forschungen 46: 197–278.
(1990), ‘Zum “Theater” in Byzanz. Eine Zwischenbilanz’, in G. Prinzing / D.
Simon (eds.), Fest und Alltag in Byzanz, Munich, 11–6, 169–79.

14 Introduction
(1991), Studien zum Kulturkontext der liturgischen Szene. Lazarus und Judas als
religiöse Volksfiguren in Bild und Brauch, Lied und Legende Südosteuropas,
2 vols., Vienna, Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften
(Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, philosophisch-historische
Klasse, Denkschriften, vol. 216).
(1993), H ιδέα του Eθνικού θεάτρου στα Bαλκάνια του 19ου αιώνα. Iστορική
τραγωδία και κοινωνιοκριτική κωμωδία στις εθνικές λογοτεχνίες της
Nοτιοανατολικής Eυρώπης. Συγκριτική μελέτη, Athens.
(1994), Historisches Drama und gesellschaftskritische Komödie in den Ländern Südosteu-
ropas im 19. Jahrhundert. Vom Theater des Nationalismus zum Nationaltheater,
vol. 57, Frankfurt am Main, etc. (Europäische Hochschulschriften Reihe XXX,
Theater-, Film- und Fernsehwissenschaften).
(1994a), ‘Zur Herkunft der mittelalterlichen Judaslegende’, Fabula 35: 305–9.
(1994b), ‘Griechisches zur ‘adoptio in fratrem’’, Südost-Forschungen 53: 187–224.
(1996), ‘Die griechische Revolution von 1821 auf dem europäischen Theater.
Ein Kapitel bürgerlicher Trivialdramatik und romantisch-exotischer
Melodramatik im europäischen Vormärz’, Südost-Forschungen 55: 85–127.
(1996a), Studien zum griechischen Volkslied, Vienna.
(1999), ‘Ideologische Dominanten in der wissenschaftlichen Beschäftigung mit
der griechischen Volkskultur im 19. Jahrhundert’, Zeitschrift für Balkanologie
35/1: 46–62.
(2002), O Γεώργιος Bιζυηνός και το αρχαίο θέατρο. Λογοτεχνία και λαογραφία
στην Aθήνα της μπελ επόκ. Mε τη δημοσίευση ολόκληρου του κειμένου του
διηγήματος – μελετήματος του Bιζυηνού ‘Oι Kαλόγεροι και η λατρεία του
Διονύσου εν Θράκη‘, Athens.
(2002a), ‘Acting in Byzantine Theatre: evidence and Poblems’, in Easterling /
Hall (eds.) 304–24.
(2004–6), ‘Η έρευνα για το ελληνικό δημοτικό τραγούδι 1970–2000. Τάσεις –
μέθοδοι – προβληματισμοί’, Laografia 40: 257–412.
(2006), Beiträge zur Theaterwissenschaft Südosteuropas und des mediterranen
Raums, vol. 1, Vienna/Cologne/Weimar.
(2006a) (with the advice of Nicolaos Conomis), The Crusader Kingdom of
Cyprus – a Theatre Province of Medieval Europe? Including a Critical Edition of
the Cyprus Passion Cycle and the ‘Repraesentatio figurata’ of the Presentation of
the Virgin in the Temple, Athens, Academy of Athens (Texts and Document
of Early Modern Greek Theatre, vol. 2).
(2007), Beiträge zur Theaterwissenschaft Südosteuropas und des mediterranen
Raums, vol. 2, Vienna/Cologne/Weimar.
(2009), Studien zur Volkskunde Südosteuropas und des mediterranen Raums,
(2009a), Θεωρητική Λαογραφία. Έννοιες  – μέθοδοι  – θεματικές, Athens
(Λαογραφία 1).
(2010), ‘The Historiography of Theatre after Evolutionism and Formalism. The
Greek Case’, First International Conference ‘Theatre and Theatre Studies in the
21st century’ (Athens, 28 September – 1 October 2005). Proceedings / Premier

References 15
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Quack-Eustathiades, R. (1984), Der deutsche Philhellenismus während des griechis-
chen Freiheitskampfes 1821–1827, Munich.
Sant Cassia, P. / C. Bada (1992), The Making of the Modern Greek Family, Marriage
and Exchange in Nineteenth-Century Athens, Cambridge.
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Βυζαντινών ήτοι εισαγωγή εις το Κρητικόν θέατρον, Venice (reprint
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Sifakis, G. M. (1988), Για μια ποιητική του ελληνικού δημοτικού τραγουδιού,
Skopetea, E. (1997), Φαλλερμάϋερ, τεχνάσματα του αντιπάλου δέους, Athens.
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Warstat, M. / J. Lazardzig / V. Tkaczyk (2012), Einführung in die Theatergeschichts-
schreibung, Tübingen/Basel.

The Long Twilight of Ancient Theatre

and Drama

Only once in the history of theatre can we observe how it comes to an end.
Of course there are cases when it was stopped by force, as English theatre
was by the Puritans or – as we shall see – Cretan theatre by the Turks. But
in the present case we see an eventual closure of public theatres, along with
a dissolution in the forms and functions of the theatre, as well as changes
in the institutions that produced it. These artistic and institutional changes
were hastened, in turn, by fundamental changes in political administra-
tion. Not surprisingly these changes also coincide with significant altera-
tions in the expectations and habits of the spectators. In essence we are
witnessing a change in the Greek cultural profile as a whole, with what we
might consider a degeneration of aesthetics and values – a degeneration
reflecting factors such as a changing worldview and the development of a
different form of civic life. The contraction of the theatre’s interests from
the topical and political to the family sphere and individual happiness, as
reflected in comedy’s transition from Aristophanes to Menander, is charac-
teristic of a fundamental change in mentality that accompanies the thea-
tre’s eventual ‘decline and fall’.
Although the hostile attitude of the church in the first centuries AD
functioned as a decisive catalyst, the process of dissolution and changing
performative genres had already begun long before. So although we may
divide the process of disintegration and change into a period before Christ
and a period after, in the end it was not Christianity which put an end to
ancient theatre. The changes that occurred, the abandonment of the agon
and choregia and the rise of international, cosmopolitan professionals in
particular, had already occurred in the pre-Christian period. These initial
changes coincide with profound historical and political changes from polis
to empire, from democracy to monarchy, and  – with regard to perfor-
mances – from Athens to nearly everywhere.
Given the vast bibliography on the subject it is not the goal of this
chapter to recount the whole history of ancient theatre and drama, nor

The Long Twilight of Ancient Theatre and Drama 17

to provide every piece of evidence which might serve as the basis for the
present scenario. Its function is simply to highlight some important aspects
of the process which resulted in significant changes in classical theatre and
drama from the Hellenistic period onward, and to provide an introduction
to the main genres of performative activity on the stage.1
The process begins during the late fourth and early third centuries BC: sig-
nificant events from this period which demonstrate ongoing changes during
the Hellenistic period2 begin with Athens’ abolition of the private choregia,
the system used for financing amateur performances at the Great Dionysia, at
the end of the fourth century.3 Then by 293/1 we have the death of Menander;
and with his death New Comedy loses its most prominent representative.
Although we have ample evidence for poets and dramatists long after his time
(his Roman imitators in particular), Menander would be admired for his moral
sentiments and comic characters throughout Late Antiquity.4 Meanwhile,
not only were provincial theatres built in many cities throughout the Greek
world during the fourth century BC, Alexander’s successors built theatres in
brand-new Greek urban centres throughout his empire. Theatrical festivals
were now organized on diverse occasions, and by the late fourth century the
Dionysiakoi Technitae, ‘Artists’ or, better, ‘Artisans of Dionysos’, professional
organizations of actors, musicians, dancers, etc., were created.5 Through them
a sort of repertory theatre was created, consisting of classic dramas and new
productions. But the choruses are restricted or abolished altogether and the
theatre’s connections with the Dionysus cult, through a combination of
Hellenistic syncretism and respect for localized deities, become looser and are
no longer exclusive. As a result festivals devoted to other cults take place in the
theatre, which no longer hosts dramatic festivals exclusively.
During this period we also see the development of blurred genres, with
theatre performances now given on political and historical occasions, for
weddings, etc. The dissemination of theatre in the time of Alexander the
Great reached as far as Iran and Babylon,6 but itinerant ensembles mainly
played the classical repertoire (e.g., Euripides).7 Apparently, most demoi did

For the changes in dramatic production and the expansion, diversity and vitality of the theatre in the
fourth century see now Csapo/Goette/Green/Wilson 2014.
The Hellenistic period is conventionally defined as the time span between the death of Alexander the
Great in 323 BC and the death of Cleopatra in 30 BC, or even later.
Wilson 2000 (318/7), Wilson/Csapo 2009, 2012 (304).
Nervegna (2011).
Sifakis 1967: 19 ff., 99–105, 136 ff., but mostly Le Guen 1995, 1997, 2001, 2004, and the studies of
Aneziri 2003, 2007, 2009.
Tarn 1968: 632, Mallwitz 1957.
Webster 1954.

18 The Long Twilight of Ancient Theatre and Drama

not have the ability to pay the chorodidaskalos for an amateur chorus and
for its months-long rehearsals, so we should seriously consider the possibil-
ity of the elimination of the chorika,8 as it was practised in later years. The
end of this process of devolution, from more sophisticated forms to more
popular or primitive, saw the dissolution of full-length drama into separate
scenes played with virtuosity in different genres,9 and the increased aware-
ness of the inherent theatricality or even performativity of everyday life.

The Dissolution of the Dionysiac Framework

and the Scholarly Tradition of Texts
Culturally speaking the Hellenistic period is one of secularization and
religious syncretism; intellectually it is a time of academic research, the
systematic collection and cataloguing of data, the creation of lexica and
encyclopedias – in other words the creation of a world of scholarly erudi-
tion.10 The dramatic texts of the Attic tragedians, Aristophanes and even
Menander were carefully copied, studied, commented, edited, transmit-
ted through the school tradition, and for some time were even recited
in theatre performances.11 But educated and intellectual spectators who
enjoyed more cultivated forms of entertainment were not the majority in
the theatre, and as a result we also see the emergence of new, more popular
and less demanding shows. Ancient drama and theatre were on the way
to becoming academic traditions practised in reading rooms, a topic for
erudite disputes and classes in schools, academies and universities far from
the public stage; this involved a context quite distinct from the traditional
one that had existed between actors and spectators. It can be found as a
literary remnant, as parodies in mime; its mythological topics were now
danced in pantomime, and there are also intertextual hints in Seneca’s trag-
edies. Ancient drama becomes part of a common Greek education system,
a symbol of the cultural tradition and one of the highlights of the Classical
past that could not (or would not) be achieved anymore. The conscious-
ness of epigonism, and lamentations for the ‘decline and fall’ of the genre,
are characteristic features of the Hellenistic era and of Byzantium.12 But

Blume 1984: 80.
Gentilini 1979, chap. 1.
A detailed overview by Schneider 1969.
Easterling 1997.
Consider for example (Pseudo-) Longinus’ discussion in On the Sublime 41.1–12. Contrary to some
Roman critics, who claimed that the loss of democracy is to blame, he placed the blame squarely on
the ages’ obsession with wealth and fame (AWW).

The Dissolution of the Dionysiac Framework 19

thanks to the conservative policy of preserving the Classical past, the
outstanding texts of ancient theatre were saved from oblivion.
This academic environment is one part of the now-divided world of
drama and theatre in Hellenistic times. The other part has nothing to do
with the silence of libraries and the dust of archives, let alone the painstak-
ing procedure of copying, studying and commentary. It takes place instead
in the full light of the sun and in front of huge audiences; only this time,
it is for pleasure and entertainment.13 The religious framework is not aban-
doned entirely, but this is now professional show business. In contrast to
the literary status of Hellenistic drama, which is ‘increasingly marked as
a literary product’ like Lycophron’s ‘Alexandria’,14 stage performances are
now of high niveau, professionally executed, emphasizing a more realis-
tic style of acting in addition to the traditional declamation of dramatic
poetry, singing and dancing of amateur choruses. This change is aestheti-
cally fundamental. Not surprisingly, theatre scholars are far more interested
than philologists in this performance industry.15 As Jane Lightfood pointed
out, the connection with the cult of Dionysus was not lost entirely, as is
indicated in the title of the privileged associations of stage performers and
their hybrid festivals; it was more superficial, however, and Dionysus now
shared billing with many other cults, including ruler cults, in which the
monarch used the festival for self-display.16
There is plenty of epigraphic evidence for the different organizations of
Dionysiakoi technitai,17 and the private choregos is replaced by the agono-
thetes who now uses public funds to pay for contracts with these associa-
tions. Essential for understanding this form of show business is the fact
that these professional groups toured around the Greek-speaking world in
search of work and negotiated contracts with cities, sponsors and rulers,
organizing and performing any sort of festivities requested. These guilds
had many privileges and were led by priests of Dionysus; in negotiations
over contracts and payment the associations were treated as equal and
trustworthy partners.18 As artists their members had a professional reputa-
tion; they had nothing to do with the mime actors. Their degree of artistic

Webb 2008a.
Fantuzzi/Hunter 2004: 434 (on drama 405–43).
The loss of texts should be considered as significant, mainly for the tragedy. But there is a large
body of evidence relating to the technitai of Dionysus: inscriptions, didaskaliai, fasti, as well as cor-
respondence between cities about the festivals (Lightfood 2002: 209).
Chaniotis 1995, 2003, 2007.
See the relevant inscriptions in the monumental work of Stefanis 1988.
Details in Aneziri 2003, 2007, 2009.

20 The Long Twilight of Ancient Theatre and Drama

specialization was quite high, and among the names of technitai preserved
in epigraphic sources, there is not a single woman.19
Most significant of all was the gradual dissolution of private subsidies,20
as well as the competition of individual poets and amateur choruses – a
fact which would have altered the dynamics of the spectators’ response.
The suspense was no longer which poet or chorus would win the prize,
but which guild would prevail in competition. There is ample epigraphic
evidence for the rivalry among associations of technitai; still, the profes-
sionalization of performers does not seem to have affected the continua-
tion of the festivals’ religious status; the ‘vocabulary of piety and the ritual
remain’. Many festivals were established to honour the epiphany of other
gods and were called thysiai (sacrifices): they featured processions, the sing-
ing of hymns, public prayers and ended with sacrifices in the theatre. The
city and its surroundings were still considered holy and inviolable during
the festivities, and ambassadors likewise had the sacred status of theoroi
as in classical times. So, on the one hand, the language of piety in these
inscriptions should not be interpreted as mere hypocritical devotion or
calculated propaganda.21 On the other hand, certain festivals were merely
a demonstration of royal power in which the name of Dionysus is joined
with that of the monarch.22 At any rate the public character and func-
tion of the theatre, the self-display of the community as a cohesive group
conferring honours on the performers, is preserved; the polis remains the
centre of the event, however conceived.

Popular Theatre in the Hellenistic World

By contrast the actors and performers of the most popular forms of theatri-
cal entertainment, the mimes and pantomimes, were usually not members
of the Dionysiakoi technitai. Because of their humble station, it is difficult
to draw clear distinctions in the legal and canonical status of these two
genres.23 Mime in particular is a highly elusive concept, and may in fact be
Designations include singers, instrumentalists, actors, dramatic poets, masque-makers and suppli-
ers of costumes etc. The ‘low-brow’ performers including mimes, conjurers, tight-rope walkers and
dancers are not shown as members of guilds in the Hellenistic period (Lightfood 2002: 212).
As a practical matter, funding for festivals depended on the solvency of the benefactor’s estate; and
this was by no means guaranteed. Among the agonistic inscriptions found in Aphrodisias in Caria,
we have notices from imperial curatores (financial officers) dictating when games could and could
not be held during the Antonine period, when the Roman Empire’s fortunes were at their height
(Rouché 1993: 164–5) (AWW).
Lightfood 2002: 215.
Habicht 1970: 149 f.
See the Greek and Latin texts published by Wiseman 2008.

Popular Theatre in the Hellenistic World 21

a sort of heuristic construction of modern scholars, a catch-all term under
which is subsumed everything that does not fit into the classical categories
of tragedy, comedy and satyr play. It covers a whole spectrum of ancient
performances, from solo singing and declamation to tight-rope walking,
to short farces played by small companies of actors.24 There may not even
be significant differences between Roman and Hellenistic mime;25 Plautus,
after all, was heavily influenced by the Hellenistic mime.26

There are few specific definitions of mime: descriptions from Diomedes
(μῖμός ἐστι μίμησις βίου τά τε συγκεχωρημένα καὶ ἀσυγχώρητα περιέχων –
‘Mime is the imitation of life, including both the excusable and the inex-
cusable’)27 to modern scholars such as Fantham (‘a narrative entertain-
ment in the media of speech, song and dance’)28 avoid referring to the
specific topics performed.29 This is related to the paucity of direct sources:
only a few fragments referring to mime from the fifth century BC to AD
691/2 (the Council in Trullo) are extant.30 Taken together with indirect
information (Athenaeus, the Satyrica of Petronius, the Metamorphoses of
Apuleius, the attacks and condemnations of the Greek Church Fathers, the
Συνηγορία μίμων of Choricius of Gaza) there is scant evidence for a genre
known for its great variety. For this reason the existing bibliography should
be read with caution.31 The first really consistent work with concrete results
was Wiemken’s monograph, in which he underlined the improvizational
character of mime performance as a legacy of ancient folk theatre, ana-
lyzing mostly Egyptian material from Oxyrhynchus.32 Since then many
studies have added new material, and in-depth research has served gener-
ally to widen the horizon of mime criticism without completely solving

Hunter 2002: 196.
See the conclusion of Maxwell 1993: 62; in examining extant epigraphy, ‘I believe this documentary
evidence does show that the movement of mimes was generally from east to west and not vice versa,
and is thus an important complement to the literary sources, which imply the same thing’. See also
Zanni 2010: 454 ff., Εdwards 1997.
Marshall 2006: 7 ff., Benz 1999.
Reich 1903: 263 ff, Koett 1904: 47.
Fantham 1989: 154.
Insufficient is also Wüst 1932: 1720 and the thematical categories named by Reich 1903: biological
(mimesis of life), mythological and christological mime.
Maxwell 1993.
This holds mainly for older literature, but not exclusively.
Wiemken 1972 (based on his dissertation in 1957), see also 1979. See also the following subchapter
‘Theatrical Mime (Oxyrynchos Papyri)’.

22 The Long Twilight of Ancient Theatre and Drama

the problem of its definition. The title of a chapter in Anne Berland-
Bajard’s book on aquatic mime in Rome is characteristic: ‘Les spectacles
aquatiques et les genres théâtraux: la pantomime, le mime, mimes dansés
et hydromimes’.33
If we take as a guide one of our indirect sources, Athenaeus (c. AD 200),
there were homeristai, private readings and recitations of Homer with sing-
ing and acting;34 there were also solo performers such as hilarōidoi, simōidoi,
magōidoi, lysiōidoi,35 not to mention the explicitly sexual iōnikologoi and
kinaidologoi36. These specific categories are usually subsumed under the
term ‘lyrical mime’37 and are distinct from the dialogical prose mime.38 But
these solo performances were also acted out on stage, and we get a rough
idea of such a performance from the Fragmentum Grenfellianum (second
century BC), in which a woman (most likely played by a man) complains
bitterly that she has been abandoned by her lover.39 Similar texts can be
written in dialogue for more than one actor and show the influence of
New Comedy.40
These fragments, put together by Cunningham with the Mimiambs of
Herodas, raise the question of whether there was a separate mimus drama,
with its own date of creation and its own relationship to New Comedy.
In a fragment from the peripatetic philosopher and theorist of music
Aristoxenos (fourth century BC) he speaks about mimes performing a topic
that has even been played before in comedy.41 On a lychnia (lamp) from
the end of the third century, three ‘mimologoi’ are depicted playing the
‘hypothesis’ of ‘Hecyra’, the well-known ‘mother in law’ of New Comedy.42
Plutarch also addresses the genres or ‘hypotheseis’ of mime, dividing them
into paignia (short plays) and dramata δυσχορήγητα (long and complex
play with many actors, hence ‘hard to get a choregia for’).43 But we can only

Berland-Bajard 2006: 135–48.
Athen. Deipn.XIV.620a–621f, see Husson 1993.
Maas 1927, Hunter 1995. ‘Such performers scandalise by their absence of decorum and taste, but the
hypothesised relation with “formal drama” sheds important light not only upon mime itself, but
also upon élite attitudes to it. Whatever the exact nature of this relationship, such performances are
perceived a “perversion” of classical drama’ (Hunter 2002: 197).
Tsitsiridis 2014.
Wüst 1932: 1732–3, Chaniotis 1990: 91, 100, Maxwell 1993: 24–53.
Wiemken 1972: 21–8.
Hunter 1996: 7–10. For other similar papyrus fragments Cunningham 1987: 36–61.
Cunningham 1987: no 2 and 3. See Hunter 2002: 197–8.
Aristoxenos frgm. 110 Wehrli (Athen. Deipn. XIV 621 C). See Tsitsiridis 2011.
Maxwell 1993: 215–9 with the older controversial bibliography.
Symposiaka VII 8.712 A; see also Πότερα τῶν ζῷων φρονιμώτερα 973 Α, where he speaks about μίμῳ
πλοκὴν ἔχοντι δραματικὴν καὶ πολυπρόσωπον (a mime having a dramatic content with many
persons). Discussion in Tsitsiridis 2011.

Popular Theatre in the Hellenistic World 23

guess what these plays may have looked like. The only texts that allow us
to get some idea of plot and performance are the Mimiambs of Herodas
(c. 270–260 BC) and the two plays from Oxyrhynchos papyrus 413 (AD first
or second century). But they are very different: Herodas’ seven (or eight)
short dialogues are, by virtue of their sophisticated language, obviously a
literary product; by contrast the later plays, Χαρίτιον and Μοιχεύτρια are
conceived as scripts intended for performance by a troupe of mimes, in
front of a large audience in an important city of northern Egypt.

Literary Mime (Herodas, Mimiambs)

The achievements of the Hellenistic period in drama are not insignificant,
as the text tradition indicates; but there is a growing gap between literary
production and live theatre. Dramatic elements or even dialogical forms
of communication can be found in different literary genres, philosophy
most notably. The increasing popularity of mime theatre in the last cen-
turies before Christ had also some reflections in poetry, as in the sec-
ond, fourteenth, and fifteenth Idylls of Theocritus44 and the Mimiambs
of Herodas. Scholars had hoped that literary mime might shed some
light on theatrical mime; this is why Rusten and Cunningham recently
edited the Characters of Theophrastus, the Mimiambs of Herodas, the
fragments of Sophron and the Egypt material on mime together in the
same volume.45
The question of cross-fertilization of genres is complicated because
hybridity, ‘blurred genres’ (Clifford Geertz) and syncretism are the rule in
the world of Hellenistic art. Formal conventions are relaxed, traditions are
mixed in various combinations, and this leads to an aesthetic synthesis of
previously distinct art forms. The results are complex; there are no longer
just one level of aesthetic expression and one dimension of interpretation.
Even the mimiambs, with their Realism and focus on everyday subjects, are
written in a sophisticated language and with delicate humour designed for
reception by an educated audience. Meanwhile theatrical mime with its
vulgarisms and frank scatological and sexual innuendo is performed pro-
fessionally and appreciated by lower class families and intellectuals alike.
So the intriguing idea that literary mime might have enriched the scarce
evidence for improvized theatrical mime was in the end misleading; the
influence was most likely the other way around.

Ławińska-Tyszkowska 1967 with French summary and further bibliography.
Rusten/Cunningham 2002.

24 The Long Twilight of Ancient Theatre and Drama

There is no doubt that the texts closest to theatrical performance are the
seven (or eight) Mimiambs of Herodas (third century BC, ev. 270–60).
Discovered in 1891 and edited and translated numerous times,46 the short
dialogues have stimulated scholars’ imaginations and challenged the inter-
pretative competence of many. In the beginning, they were seen mostly
as ‘Buchpoesie’ written for solo declamation, and some scholars even had
difficulty admitting that one actor could imitate the voices and gestures of
two or three characters.47 It was in 1979 that the Italian scholar Giuseppe
Mastromarco presented an argument, convincing at first sight, in favour
of a fully staged theatrical performance for these pieces.48 But there are also
many arguments against this theory, mostly concerning the lack of notes
for blocking and stage business  – the presence or absence of characters,
exits and entrances, stage blocking, whether characters actually commu-
nicated with each other – questions which conventionally are determined
within the dramatic text.49
It is not by chance that these folkloric scenes from the urban lower
classes were often examined together with the bucolic Idylls of Theocritus
(especially the dialogues),50 because they share the same characteristics of
a pseudo-dramatic structure. All of them contain dialogue, but both space
and stage business remain undefined even if they were intended for scenic
production.51 This is quite clear from the very beginning of Mimiamb I,
where the entrance of the old procuress Gyllis into the house of Metriche
and a door opened by the female slave Thrassa cause a series of unsolved
problems:  who is doing what, what can be heard by whom and who is
standing (or sitting) where in the room?52 The changes of speakers, within

The first edition was Kenyon 1891, one of the last Ζanker 2009 (with English translation). The most
widely used editions are Cunningham 1971, 1987 and Rusten/Cunningham 2002 (esp. 179–283).
Initially the chief theories were that they were for solo recitation or private reading. For the dec-
lamation of just one mime see Legrand 1898: 414 f. and especially Legrand 1902. The theory that
they were plays was forcefully rejected by Wilamowitz-Moellendorff 1899 (1962: 50 ‘Gott verzeihe
es denen, die sich das wirklich gespielt denken’). As Cunningham noted, ‘in more recent times a
consensus seemed to have been achieved, to the effect that the poems were intended to be recited
by one person, perhaps the poet himself (rather than to be read or to be acted by a company),
before a selected audience’ (I. C. Cunningham, Journal of Hellenic Studies 101, 1981, 161 f., review of
Mastromarco 1979). For more on this controversy see Puchner 1993.
Mastromarco 1979. His arguments are more fully elaborated in Mastromarco 1984, synopsis 1991.
Puchner 1993, 1995: 13–50, 2012: 15–40. See also Simon 1991: 14.
Girard 1893, Cherfils 1908, Stanzel 1998, 2010, Ypsilanti 2006, Kutzko 2008.
For nonverbal scenic action see Bettenworth 2006; for its relationship with theatrical mime see
Esposito 2010; for improvisation and their similarity with comic scenes in Plautus see Benz/Stärk/
Vogt-Spira 1995: 139–225; for possible influences on Plautus see Marshall 2006: 7–12.
See also Specchia 1952. For the figure of the procuress see Debidour 2007. The dialogue has been
compared with a similar one in Idyll II by Theocrit, the topos of praise of the ptolemaic court in
Idyll XIV 57–70 and XV 46–50 (Simon 1991: 52 ff.). See also Stern 1981.

Popular Theatre in the Hellenistic World 25

a single verse, are marked with underlines or paragraphoi but this system
is not consistent and often leads to problems determining who is speaking
what. The uncertainty about which character speaks is complicated by dif-
ferent readings of the text itself.
Analysis of the others reveal similar problems: Mimiamb II is a scene
at the court of justice:  the procurer and homosexual Battaros is trying
to convince the judges that the young prostitute under his protection,
Myrtale, has been raped but this is not at all clear at the beginning. Not
until verse 65 does he ask the girl to show to the tribunal the signs of
violation on intimate points of her (presumably attractive) body,53 but it
is unclear whether she was present during the first part of the scene. Only
two lines in the whole scene are not spoken by Battaros.54 Mimiamb III
is about the punishment of the lazy pupil Kottalos at school, where his
mother, Metrotime, has a similar long monologue followed by his teacher
In Mimiamb IV two women are sacrificing a cock in the temple of
Asclepios, proceeding into the temple hall and admiring the statues in a
very naïve manner.56 Here it is unclear what exactly is going on, because
the ‘stage space’ is unfolding, as the ladies are going from art work to art
work and commenting on the natural likeness and authenticity of sculp-
tures and paintings.57
Mimiamb V has been compared with the adultery mime in OxyP 413:58
the lascivious housewife Bitinna punishes her slave Gastron, because now
that he is engaged to another female slave, he is not willing to satisfy her
desires anymore. After a struggle, and after the slaves have bound him
with ropes and taken him outside to be whipped, Bittina orders them back
inside to punish him otherwise. Here again the stage action is entirely
unclear (who is on-stage, who is off-stage, who is doing what exactly): we
see the action through the eyes of the outrageous housewife.59

It was assumed that this strip-tease was a trick by Battaros to get the judges on his side (Housman
Most of the Mimiambs have this monologic structure. Real dialogues are met only in IV and
VI. For the theatricality of Greek court speeches see Hall 1995, 2006: 353–92, about prostitutes in
Herodas Günter 2008, about femals in general Finnegan 1992.
See also Mogensen 1977.
The whole scene reminds one vividly of Theocrit XV 80–83 (Simon 1991:  59 ff., Skinner 2001,
Zanker 2006).
Männlein-Robert 2006.
Simon 1991: 25 ff.
For the problems and inconsistencies of the action see Fountoulakis 2007, 2007a, also Schulze 1982,
Gerber 1978, Veneroni 1972. About the sadism of the scene see Hose 2009.

26 The Long Twilight of Ancient Theatre and Drama

Mimiamb VI has some structural affinities with I: it concerns two women
visiting each other and the confidential conversation between them. The sub-
ject in this case is a leather phallus, manufactured by the shoemaker Kerdon,
the protagonist in VII.60 The problems with defining the scenic actions are
similar, with the female slave carrying in a chair, wiping off the dust etc.;
concrete scenic actions are obviously not the author’s chief concern.61 The
sales scene in Mimiamb VII is similar, with Kerdon showing shoes to two
ladies while two slaves help him (carrying chairs, wiping off the dust, finding
pairs of shoes etc.), praising his own merchandise,62 with the customers then
bargaining over the price. But the sales monologue of Kerdon is dominant.63
As theatrical performances these short studies of everyday behaviour
among lower-class urbanites, lasting not much more than 100 iambic
verses each, might have less entertainment value because there is no real
plot. Aside from the fact that no clear scenic action is established, the
spoken text in some cases is largely monologic in structure and presents
the story through the eyes of the protagonist in a sort of ‘inner mono-
logue’. The sophisticated language of the poems here is decorated with rare
vocabulary that functions as kind of Verfremdungseffekt.64 Some scholars
have spoken about the ‘verismo trap’ in interpretation.65 The sardonic real-
ism66 of brutality, violence, greediness, profiteering and sexuality is pre-
sented with a distancing humour and in a language that is most likely
alien to the urban folk milieu. This poetry is addressed to an educated
audience, able to appreciate the calculated difference between plot and
style. Mastromarco spoke about ‘elite theatre’, but the text itself points in
the direction of skilled declamation by a solo mime.67
Nevertheless, Herodas does use a host of standard topoi from theatrical
mime: adultery, sexual jealousy, sexual puns, prostitution, punishment by
beating, scolding of slaves, and temple scenes with priests, etc. As the titles
of these poems indicate, their relationship with mime theatre is close and
stereotypic plot elements are used consciously.68 Herodas seems to be play-
ing around with the incommensurability of genres.

Kutzko 2006.
See Mastromarco 1976/77, Leone 1951, 1955.
For the lascivious puns see Sumler 2010.
Mimiamb VIII is a dream narration in the first person; for this reason it was omitted in Mastromarco
1984. See Herzog 1924, Knox 1925.
Schmidt 1968, Bo 1962, Ussher 1980.
Arnott 1971: 125 note 1 against Smotrić 1966.
Simon 1991: 123 ff.
See also Wiemken 1972: 22.
Puchner 2007.

Popular Theatre in the Hellenistic World 27

Theatrical Mime (Oxyrhynchos Papyri)

To get a better idea what theatrical mime was about, two extant texts,
found in a papyrus in the Upper Egyptian city of Oxyrhynchos (OxyP
413), Charition, a sketch or persiflage most likely inspired by the Euripidean
tragedy Iphigenia in Taurus, and an adultery mime conventionally called
Moicheutria,69 are illustrative. The condition of the two text fragments
written on the same papyrus is problematic and has given rise to discus-
sions about the nature and function of these texts. Nevertheless, there is
some consensus that they were most likely written for stage production.
Thanks to Wiemken’s brilliant monograph in 1972 (based on his 1957 dis-
sertation) there is a sound basis for discussions on the details of perfor-
mance. Because of the bad condition of the papyrus and the common,
koine language of the first or second century AD in which they were writ-
ten, these texts are not often edited and translated;70 there is no poetry,
only blunt realism. They do not inspire the delicate smile of an educated
audience but bursts of laughter from average people one might find in a
provincial urban centre.71
Oxyrhynchos was in imperial times an important trade town about ten
miles west of the Nile, with a bilingual population of around fifteen thou-
sand (Egyptians, Greeks, and possibly others).72 It also had a theatre of
considerable size, seating more than eleven thousand spectators;73 which
would have been essential because the Charition mime requires two cho-
ruses, musicians, musical instruments, a temple and a mimicum naufra-
gium, most likely a kind of a prop ship that could appear to pull away.
As far as the genre of song and music is concerned, it resembles some
sort of opera or comic operetta, as Reich put it.74 The text is full of signs

Both mime plays were named after their protagonists by Crusius 1904 (in 1910: 99 he added for the
second play Ἡ ἱερόδουλος). In English scholarship the second one is called usually ‘adultery mime’
(Reynolds 1946), Wiemken 1972 gave it the title after the main plot ‘Giftmischermimus’.
For translation, together with the description of the papyrus and introduction see Grenfell/Hunt
1903, Andreassi 2001a, Gammacurta 2006. For ‘Charition’ see Santelia 1991.
On audience reactions see Esposito 2002.
Alston 2002: 331–3, Turner 1952, Krüger 1990: 67–9 and mostly Parsons 2007. In Byzantine times
the population was considered to be more than thirty thousand inhabitants (Fichman 1971).
The koilon was 121,79 m and the skene 61,09 x 6,50 m (Flinders Petrie 1925: 14, Krüger 1990: 125–30,
Sear 2006: 300 f.).
Reich 1925 and Tsitsiridis 2011 compare it with vaudeville, while other scholars use terms such as
farce and music hall (Sudhaus 1906:  269–70). Hall 2010 prefers ‘burlesque’. Comparisons with
Mozart’s ‘Die Entführung aus dem Serail’, Rossini’s ‘Italian Girl in Algiers’ and other ‘escape operas’
(i.e., a Christian girl in the hand of Muslim Turks) of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries are
in my opinion just a play on parallel situations (see E. Fantham (1993) in Classical Review 43: 168,
review of Santelia 1991, Hall 2010: 399).

28 The Long Twilight of Ancient Theatre and Drama

and marks for drums, cymbals and other instruments75 but also has cues
for exits and entrances; hence it is what is called un document théâtrale
de nature technique 76 or Regie-Entwurf 77  – a ‘performance outline’ or a
prompt book.78 Wiemken argues convincingly that the rest of the text
should be improvized by the actors.79
Charition, is a persiflage drawn perhaps from Iphigenia among the
Taurians, one of Euripides’ most popular ‘escape tragedies’ (together with
Helen and Andromeda).80 Here the subject is not domestic matters or
adultery, but the daring flight of Iphigenia from the barbarian land of
the Taurians, with the characters speaking in a sort of Indian dialect. The
dramatis personae are ‘A’, Charition; ‘B’, her slave, in the central part of
the fool; ‘Γ‘, Charition’s brother; and several other roles designated simi-
larly by Greek letters.81 The model for this play is doubtless Euripides,82
with echoes of the Polyphemus episode in Odyssey book 9, a popular sub-
ject for satyr drama.83 The escape-from-barbarians topos is also evident
in Aristophanes’ Thesmophoriazusae (411), and is also found in book 3 of
the Ephesian Tale by Xenophon of Ephesus.84 It is difficult to say what the
impact of this archetypal colonial encounter, not to mention the ever-
popular shipwreck stories, might have been and how spectators might have
reacted to this spectacular show.85 It is also an open question whether the
barbarian, pseudo-Indian dialect featured here was intelligible to the audi-
ence, whether it reproduced some sort of existing dialect from India, or
whether it was nonsense designed to sound like a foreign language.86
Wiemken has suggested that the second text on the same papyrus, the
adultery mime play Moicheutria, was played in the Oxyrhynchos theatre by
the same mime troupe, consisting of seven members with the archimimus
playing the stupidus and other stereotypical roles distinguishable in the

See Skulimowska 1966.
Rostrup 1915: 79.
Wiemken 1972: 75–6.
See also Puchner 2007.
Wiemken 1972. This opinion is repeated i.e. by W. D. Furley, ‘Mimos’, Der Neue Pauly 8 (2000) 203.
Contra Santelia 1991 (full length play) and Tsitsiridis 2011 (extract of a written play).
Wright 2005, Hall 2006: ch. 6.
For the tradition of designating stage characters with letters of the Greek alphabet in the manu-
scripts of Terence see Wahl 1974. For a detailed plot summary see Hall 2010: 395 ff.
Santelia 1991: 12–34.
Crusius 1904, Winter 1906: 24–8.
It was considered by Little (1938: 211) to be closer to Charition than the Euripidean escape tragedy.
For possible sources see also Knoke 1908.
Actually, some of the tragedies of Euripides were played in the Oxyrhynchos theatre in the original
(Krüger 1990: 257, in general Pertusi 1959).
As suggested already by Hultzsch 1904. See Hall 2010: conclusion (with more bibliography).

Popular Theatre in the Hellenistic World 29

two plays.87 But these two mime dramas are very different: the adultery
mime has no choruses, no music, no spectacular scenic action, and guides
us through the familiar world of domestic quarrels, erotic jealousy and
affairs with house slaves – very similar to the plot of Herodas’ Mimiamb
V.88 Nevertheless, the text has been the subject of several studies for other
reasons.89 Here the signs and marks in the text may be linked to stage
business and action, or may indicate pauses; in the end it remains open to
The text is structured in a different manner: after a lacuna of thirty-
seven lines (and seven more which are difficult to read) we may distin-
guish seven entrances and one scene and at least five different intrigues.90
The action centres on a lustful Mistress of the house (kyria), her favoured
slave Aesopus and his lover Apollonia, among others. The Mistress, jealous
when Aesopus refuses her advances, orders the lovers murdered – only to
break into lamentations when Aesopus is taken in apparently dead. The
lamentations break off when she is consoled by another slave, Malacus.91
Together she and Malacus plot to kill the entire household, beginning with
her husband. Other intrigues ensue and when her husband is taken out,
apparently dead, the Mistress pretends to mourn him92 but is interrupted
by Malacus, who mourns him with abusive words. The Old Man then rises
in fury, and in the dénouement it turns out that Aesopus and Apollonia
were both unharmed. The play probably concluded with a song, perhaps
referring to the Mistress’ punishment.93
The text has no indications which character speaks which lines. If, as
proposed convincingly by Tsitsiridis, the lamentation is delivered by the
Mistress and not a slave, then the entire text is a ‘side’ or role excerpt
for the part of the archimima (she speaks eighty of eighty-eight lines).94
Papyrus material from Oxyrhynchos include other examples of actor

Wiemken 1972: 173–83.
Andreassi 2001a: 32 f., 2002: 33–46. For similarities with the Vita Aesopi see Andreassi 2001, with the
Metamorph. of Apuleius (X 2–12) Wiemken 1972: 139 ff., Andreassi 1997, with Xenophon of Ephesus
(Ephesiaka III 12 – IV 1–4) Andreassi 2002: 39–44.
Edited by Grenfell/Hunt 1903, Crusius 1904, Wiemken 1972: 81–8, Cunningham 1987 and Andreassi
2001a, Gammacurta 2006. See also Lyngby 1928, Andreassi 1997, 2001, 2002.
The division into seven entrances and one scene as well as the reconstruction of the plot are accord-
ing Tsitsiridis 2011: 189–91.
The accent is on the first syllable Μάλακος, which is linked to the effeminate term μαλακὸς
(Αndreassi 2000).
All editors attribute the lamentation to Spinther and the Parasite; Tsitsiridis assigns it convincingly
to Mistress.
This is assumed by Manteuffel 1930.
Tsitsiridis 2011.

30 The Long Twilight of Ancient Theatre and Drama

copies for separate parts in dramatic works.95 But this indicates that there
was a written mime drama, as appears to be the case with Charition as
well. There are good arguments for the existence of elaborate mime dra-
mas which were written down on papyri and presumably stored in librar-
ies. The papyri attest that improvization may have had a more limited
role and does account for the mime drama as a whole. The Moicheutria
from Oxyrhynchos, then, appears to be a role excerpt from a full-length
mime drama with several plots revolving around the adultery of a ruth-
less, egocentric, sexually unrestrained housewife; her old husband and a
wide variety of slaves. It features criminal behaviour, brutal punishment,
and multiple attempted murders. As other text fragments show, these are
standard elements in theatrical mime.96
In addition to these, Tsitsiridis lists intrigues, arguments, sex, eating
and drinking, stereotyped roles, with dramaturgical features such as repeti-
tion, condensed stage time and very quickly developing plots, presumably
performed with expressive gestures and an intensely physical acting style.
Small wonder, then, that the Greek Church Fathers were outraged by the
immorality and vulgarity of mime plots,97 in addition to the erotic lascivi-
ousness of pantomime. Popular theatre in Hellenistic times was not for the
faint of heart, it seems.

One of the most fascinating theatrical entertainments of Late Antiquity
was the dance pantomime, long underestimated in its cultural influence
and for years of little interest to academics.98 As a result there is a significant
dividing line between older research and more recent efforts.99 The mimetic
dance of the cheirosophistae (‘skilled hands’), usually lascivious and erotic
in character and emphasizing the movement of the hands, was not just an
elite form but was popular among all classes of society. A single masqued
dancer is all that is required to perform, through movement alone, sto-
ries usually taken from tragedy or mythology, to the accompaniment of a

For a role excerpt of Admetos with thirty verses from ‘Alcestis’ see Marshall 2004, where other
examples are listed as well.
See Bing 2002, Esposito 2005.
On the motif of adultery in mime see Reynolds 1946, McKeown 1979: 71–6, Kehoe 1969: 97–119,
1984: 89–106. See also P.Lond. 1984, P.Berol. 13876, analysed by Wiemken 1972: 111–34, the narration
of Apuleius (Metamorph. X 2–12) and a passus of Juvenal (VI 41 ff.) (ibid. 139–48).
On pantomime as ‘a Lost chord of Ancient Culture’ see the introduction in Hall/Wyles 2008: 1 ff.,
esp. the conclusion (37).
Hall/Wyles 2008 (Wyles, Wiseman, Jory, Hunt, Zimmermann, Zanobi, Hall, Lada-Richards,
Schlapbach) with the older bibliography.

Popular Theatre in the Hellenistic World 31

chorus which sang popular songs as a sort of libretto explaining the content
of the play. But it appears there may have been significant differences
between dinner entertainment and public performances in the theatre.100
All we have are indirect sources; not a single song of the accompanying
chorus has been saved.101 But the show must have been impressive, with
the dancer’s identity shifting continually from one role to another. ‘The
costume in its beauty, feminine seductiveness, and transcendental qual-
ity symbolized and represented the central characteristics of the art form
itself ’.102
As mentioned previously, it is difficult to distinguish the legal and
canonical status of pantomime from mime and other stage spectacles; it is
equally difficult to divide pantomime between the Hellenistic and Roman
schools.103 Indirect sources on pantomime include masques and inscrip-
tions, while descriptions in literature like Lucian’s Περὶ ὀρχήσεως and
Libanius’ later defence indicate that the pantomime had a stronger appeal
to intellectuals than mime.104 Epigraphic evidence for the pantomīmos
seems to begin in the mid-third century BC, with inscriptions becoming
more numerous in the first century BC; after that Bathyllus and Pylades
(both from the East) reformed the mimetic dance in Rome and took it
to its full development.105 It has been noted that Seneca, given the loose
dramaturgical structure of his tragedies, was considerably influenced by
pantomime.106 The literary evidence shows us that pantomime played an
important role in the social and aesthetic life of Late Antiquity: the mute,
masqued dancer with neutral facial expression, the beautifully costumed
body with its erotic movements, was an incarnation of theatrical corporal-
ity107 and offered an internationally recognized ‘language’ of ‘silent elo-
quence’ – a fitting genre for the cosmopolitan atmosphere of the Roman
Empire. The pantomime’s highly expressive dances treated traditional

Jory 2008: 168.
Edith Hall has published a Latin poem of 124 hexameters about Alcestis (see also Lebek 1983,
Parsons 1983) that could have functioned ultimately as a libretto for pantomime (Hall/Wyles
2008: 404–12 with English translation, according to Marcovich 1988).
Wyles 2008: 86.
Wiseman 2008, Maxwell 1993.
Most essential are the studies of John Jory: on the pantomime masques 1996, 2002, on literary
evidence 1981, for assistants 1998 for the preservation of the tradition of tragedy 2004. For Lucian
see Kokolakis 1959, Branham 1989, for Libanius R. Foerster, vol. IV. Leipzig 1908, 420–98, English
translation Molloy 1996.
It is not their invention (Robert 1930; see also Lightfood 2000, 2002). More details in Jory
2002: 240 f.
Zanobi 2008, Zimmermann 2008, Hunt 2008.
On corporality in ancient Greek theatre Griffith 1998.

32 The Long Twilight of Ancient Theatre and Drama

cultural subjects and drew from a cultural heritage reaching back to
As Lada Richards has put it:
Popular with all levels of society, pantomime became a sizzling melting pot
of social identity construction. Even on the basis of our fragmentary evi-
dence, pantomime begs to be envisaged as the vibrant, ever colourful ter-
rain where competing models of individuality could be explored, cultural
configurations (especially of gender and desire) fashioned and contested,
and important negotiations between elite and popular culture played out …
Pantomime quickened the pace of culture formations and shaped aesthetic
sensibilities, moral categories and modes of understanding of the self and
others in ways we have only very recently begun to reassess. Even the mere
‘idea’ of the pantomime dancer, with its attendant connotations of disorder
and licentiousness, eroticism and riotous passion as well as its intoxicating
play with multiple identities thrillingly fused into a single protean body,
proved polarizing with respect to issues at the very heart of Graeco-Roman
The literary evidence for pantomime begins with Xenophon’s Symposium
and its description of a dinner pantomime of an erotic encounter between
Dionysus and Ariadne, which was so exciting that all the attendees mounted
their horses to go home to their wives as quickly as possible.109 From the
first century BC onwards this admired dance form spread throughout the
Roman Empire, as the inscriptions in the theatre of Priene show,110 as well as
the testimonies of Plutarch111 and Apuleius.112 But the most detailed account
is found in Lucian, a Hellenized Syrian rhetor (c. AD 129–190), whose his
treatise Περὶ ὀρχήσεως (On dancing) is a key source for the genre.113 On the
talents of these dancers ‘with speaking hands’ he wrote: ‘He could imitate
even the liquidity of water and the sharpness of fire in the liveliness of his
movement; yes, the fierceness of a lion, the rage of a leopard, the quiver-
ing of a tree, and in a word whatever he wished’.114 He recounts how a

Lada-Richards 2008: 313.
X. Smp. 9.3-7, Hall/Wyles 2008: 378–80 (testimony [T] 1). See also Greek Anthology 11.195 (third
century BC) (ibid. 380).
Robert 1930: 114 f., Hall/Wyles 2008: 380 f. (T 3)
(AD 46–120) Sympotic Questions 7.8.3 (=Moralia 711e-f ) Hall/Wyles 2008: 384 (T 11).
Circa AD 123–180, Metamorphoses (=The Golden Ass) 10.30–4. See May 2008 and Hall/Wyles 2008,
386–90 (T 15)
Schlapbach 2008, Kokolakis 1959, Branham 1989, Vesterinen 2003, etc.
Hall/Wyles 2008: 390 (T 16) according to the translation of A. M. Harmon, Lucian, vol. IV ed.
Lieb), London/Cambridge, MA 1925. See also T 17–24 (ibid., 390–6), among them the topics of
tragedy (T 17, On Dancing 31, Hall/Wyles 2008: 390 f.), Demetrius shouting: “You seem to me to
be talking with your very hands!” (T 20, On Dancing 63).

Popular Theatre in the Hellenistic World 33

Barbarian from Pontus visited Nero, ‘and among other entertainments saw
the dancer perform so vividly that although he could not follow what was
being sung – he was but half hellenised, as it happened – he understood
everything’.115 With five different masques, ‘the dancer undertakes to pre-
sent and enact characters and emotions, introducing now a lover and now
an angry person, one man afflicted with madness, another with grief, and
all this within fixed bounds’.116 He reports the critical reaction of the people
of Antioch to dancers they did not appreciate,117 as well as the case of the
pantomime who overdid his mimicry while dancing Ajax, and went crazy.118
Lucian is an invaluable source for details about the show.
The famous Bathylus and Pylades are also mentioned by Athenaeus,119
and another source of information is Libanius, a rhetor from Antioch in
the fourth century AD.120 In his Orations he not only gives an interesting
explanation of its origins – that pantomime developed at a time when the
poetic agon had declined, as a kind of instruction for the illiterate in tra-
gedy121 – but also admires the aesthetic authenticity of the presentation of
gods like ‘living statues’.122 He admires the pantomime’s vivid art of meta-
morphosis as well: Mind you, the possibility of each of the actions being
accurately observed has been taken away by the speed of their body repeat-
edly undergoing a change to whatever you like. Each one of them is almost
Proteus the Egyptian. You would say through the wand of Athena, which
transforms the shape of Odysseus, they take on every guise; old men, young
men, the humble, the mighty, the dejected, the elated, servants, masters’.123
Pantomime was still alive in Syria at the beginning of the sixth century
AD, if Bishop Jacob of Sarugh’s Homilies on the Spectacles of the Theatre
(c. AD 500) reflect contemporary practice and are not just formulaic

On Dancing 64, Hall/Wyles 2008: 392 (T 20).
On Dancing 66 and 67, Hall/Wyles 2008: 392 and 393 (T 21 and 22).
On Dancing 76, Hall/Wyles 2008: 393 f. (T 23).
On Dancing 83–4, Hall/Wyles 2008: 394–6 (T 24).
Athenaeus (second–early third century) Deipnosophists 1.20d–e (Hall/Wyles 2008: 396, T 26).
R. Foerster, vol. IV. Leipzig 1908, 420–98, translation Molloy 1996.
‘So, up to the point where the race of tragic poets was in bloom, they continued to come into the
theatres as universal teachers of the people. But when, on the one hand, tragic poets dwindled and,
on the other hand, only the very rich could participate in the instruction offered in the schools of
art and poetry, while the majority of the people were deprived of education, some god took pity on
the lack of education of the many and, to redress the balance, introduced pantomime as a kind of
instruction of the masses in the deeds of old’ (Oration 64.112, Hall/Wyles 2008: 396, T 27).
‘And further, if looking at statues of gods makes men more self-disciplined by sight, the dancer
allows you to see portrayals of them all on the stage, not representing them in stone, but rendering
them in himself, so that even the top sculptor would yield the first places to dancers in a judgement
of beauty in this respect’ (Oration 64.116, Hall/Wyles 2008: 397 f., T 28)
Oration 64.117, Hall/Wyles 2008: 398 (T 29).

34 The Long Twilight of Ancient Theatre and Drama

condemnations of pagan and idolatrous shows – a common occurrence in
Byzantine times.124 But before addressing the fate of theatre and dramatic
texts during the Byzantine millennium we should have a closer look at
another phenomenon, characteristic of the Hellenistic age: the awareness
of the inherent theatricality of public life. As discussed previously, this
was the era that witnessed the dissolution of aesthetic forms, changes in
the context for religious festivals, as well as the creation of new (imperial)
contexts for a variety of performances. There was also a marked decline in
original dramatic productions and an increased reliance on revivals of a
much-admired canon, now promoted as a cultural heritage. These changes
gave way to a widespread diffusion of theatrical practices, whether in terms
of scenic design or ‘dramatic’ behaviour, into the public sphere, creating
a sense of generic ‘theatricality’ in a now-multiethnic and cosmopolitan
society – a quality of social interaction that has recently become the focus
of numerous theatre studies.125

The Theatricality of Everyday Life

An art historian once remarked, ‘The theater in all ages has always served
to provide a reflection of, or analogue of life, but in the Hellenistic period
one gets the impression that life was sometimes seen as a reflection of
the theater’.126 Theatricality, loosely defined, is the effort to manipulate an
observer’s impressions – usually for the benefit of the ‘actor’. This defini-
tion includes other more historically rooted phenomena such as the deg-
radation of fully vested citizens to spectators of public life, particularly in
the Diadoch kingdoms under the generals who succeeded Alexander the
Great, and who ruled with only the semblance of democracy. The found-
ing of theatres in many cities and the creation of new public festivals with
theatrical spectacles127 featuring professional actors transformed citizens
into spectators of public affairs and public figures into actors, who were
expected to perform professionally according to the expectations of the
audience.128 Reality and theatre were increasingly confused; witness Nero,
who used actors in the audience129 or performed real executions on stage

Hall/Wyles 2008: 412–9 (T 41). See the next chapter.
Postlewait/Davis 2003, Kotte 2005: 217–312 (2010), Balme 2008: 89–95, Fischer-Lichte 1995, 2004,
2008, 2010: 219–42, Puchner 2011: 133–59.
Pollitt 1986: 4.
Chandezon 2000, Köhler 1996.
Essential on this topic are the studies of Chaniotis 1997, 2003, 2007, 2009; for Rome see Dupont
1985, 2003.
Bartsch 1994.

The Theatricality of Everyday Life 35

as part of a fictional play.130 In Christian times martyrdom was sometimes
a staged spectacle for a public audience.131 In the public sphere, actors’
training was vital for students of rhetoric, and as advocates the graduates
of rhetoric schools used this training in the courts.132 The private lives of
rulers were a carefully staged sequence of scenes, in order to create the
desired impression and enhance the public image of qualified and popular
Although theatres were used for different purposes even in classical
times, by the Hellenistic age they now hosted a wide variety of events
from musical competitions and concerts to speeches by itinerant scholars,
nuptial festivities, etc. In the theatre of Delos in 145 BC a young prodigy
demonstrated his admirable abilities in both speech and song.134 Religious
rituals were still performed on the theatre’s thymele, but now the orches-
tra also hosted symposia. Judicial proceedings were held in the theatre, as
well as citizens’ assemblies and conventions of the demos.135 During these
events imperial announcements were made, people were honoured and
candidates for prohedria (who were accorded a seat of honour in the same
theatre) were elected. Festive entry processions of honourable city leaders
and institutions were a vital part of the spectacle. In this way, public affairs
were conducted in a fashion that was just as spectacular as the theatre
shows themselves.
‘Theatricality’ was also the primary mode of public rhetorical declama-
tions (hypocrisis, actio, pronuntiatio): not only were the tones and modali-
ties of the voice controlled and regulated but also gestures, facial expression
(eyes and eyebrows, lips, even the wings of the nose) and general body
language (head, neck, shoulders, steps). Extant rhetorical guidelines offer a
detailed code of behaviour, complete with exterior signs for all occasions;
public figures should be familiar, in a jovial mood and high spirits, while
the accused should appear at court in rags and tatters in order to arouse pity
and sympathy in the jury. Likewise political speeches or defences at court
had to follow an elaborate dramaturgy with special attention to highlights,
surprises, as well as the climax of the argument. Diplomatic decisions and
votes were carefully ‘staged’ texts, designed to give the desired impres-
sion of the addressee to the addressed. Statues of dignitaries were ‘staged’

Coleman 1990.
Potter 1993.
Slater 1995.
Schmitt 1991.
Kremmydas/Tempest 2013: 136.
Kolb 1981, 1989.

36 The Long Twilight of Ancient Theatre and Drama

as well, designed to give the impression of self-control, self-awareness,
decisiveness and even self-sacrifice on behalf of the citizens.
In the case of rulers and monarchs the persona of familiarity had to
be balanced with a remoteness appropriate to their god-like status. The
Hellenistic Diadoch Kingdoms were usually military states but with a
democratic façade; accordingly rules of behaviour for the privileged classes
were cultivated with care. Even the apotheosis of a ruler had a careful
mise-en-scène;136 his public appearances, often made in the theatre, were
meticulously staged and acted,137 and court ceremonies were themselves a
sort of ‘theatre’. Without doubt the most ‘theatrical’ king of this period
was Demetrios Poliorketes (337/6 BC–283/2 BC), the unsuccessful besieger
of Rhodes (305–4 BC).138
‘Hypocritical’ behaviour is evident not only in the case of ruler cults
but also in other cult ceremonies: sacrifices and processions, festivities,
oracles and augury, whether performed by priests or laity. Theatrical modes
of piety include hikesia, or humbleness; the pretence of incapacity; the
debasement of the supplicant to the status of a slave; the simulated appear-
ance of a god. All this was carefully staged so as to be truly spectacular; but
with this calculated show of piety arises the spectre of secularism. With this
sort of secularization via spectacle, the ceremony is not so much addressed
to the gods as to the spectators themselves.139 Another element is the con-
cept of ‘life-as-drama’ or the ‘world-as-stage’, as delineated in the philoso-
phy and historiography of the Hellenistic period, especially in Epictetus
and Polybius (second century BC), where history is seen in terms of trag-
edy.140 This Hellenistic idea of a world theatre would have a long Nachleben
in Byzantium and the Western Renaissance, hence its prominence in the
works of Shakespeare and Lope de Vega; it can also be linked to the seman-
tic shifts of ancient theatrical terminology in Christian literature,141 a topic
we will analyze in more detail in Chapter 2.
So how did ancient theatre and drama come to an end? In the epigonic
phases of ancient theatre during the last centuries BC, the popular forms
of mime and pantomime emerged as serious competition for traditional
forms of theatre, a phenomenon which persisted at least into the third
and fourth centuries AD.142 So although the architecture of the theatre
Buraselis/Aneziri 2004, Bremmer 1991.
Gebhard 1988, 1996.
Chaniotis 2009: 111 ff.
Chaniotis 2009: 141–70.
Walbank 1955, 1960, 1957–79. For Epictet Kokolakis 1960, 1976.
Especially Puchner 2006: 93–105.
Nervegna 2007, 2014, 2014a, Barnes 1996.

Scholarship and Further Readings 37

building was in evidence throughout the Hellenistic and Roman Empires,
the ‘architecture’ of the drama was dissolved and merged with other gen-
res. The subtle philosophy of tragedy and the sarcastic social criticism of
comedy yielded to a certain tendency towards lasciviousness, vulgarity
and farce designed for urban, lower-class audiences. Only the mystery of
masqued dancers in pantomime kept the grandeur of tragedy’s cultural
heritage in the public consciousness.
There were theatres throughout the Greek-speaking world, and with the
rise of the Roman Empire, theatromania moved further outside the theatre
and into society and public life in general. Parallel to this, extant texts of
ancient dramas were cultivated mainly for their language and poesy; they
were used both in scholarship and in the school tradition, studied, copied,
taught and critiqued, to be passed down to the Late Roman and Byzantine
Empires, and beyond.143 Such was the state of affairs when Christianity
appeared; a radically different worldview distinct from Hellenistic syn-
cretism and polytheism, it was radically opposed to the theatricality of
Hellenistic and Roman culture. In the light of divine revelation and the
knowledge of truth, any hypocrisis (play-acting) was rejected as blasphe-
mous. Christianity would put its own stamp on a process of dissolution
that had started long before; but the closure of public theatres would not
occur straightway.

Scholarship and Further Readings

A good overview of recent developments in research on Greek theatre of the
fourth century is Csapo, E. / H. R. Boette / J. R. Green / P. Wilson 2014.
For the scanty evidence on Hellenistic drama see Sifakis 1967, Xanthakis-
Karamanos 1993, Easterling/Miles 1999, Ghiron-Bistagne 1974, Lesky 1953
(Gyges drama).
The scholarship on Dionysiakoi technitai as a basic exponent of
Hellenistic show business is not that extensive. The collection of inscrip-
tions and prosopography by Stefanis 1988 is of fundamental importance,
but see also in connection with the specialization of the stage professions
Chaniotis 1990. A good overview of later show business can be found in
Webb 2008a; basic are also the monographs of Le Guen 1995, 1997, 2001,
2004, and the studies of Aneziri 2003, 2007, 2009. See further Ghiron-
Bistagne 1976:  163–71, 179–91, 205–6, more specifically Pöhlmann 1997

Müller 1909, Irmscher 1973, 1981, Marciniak 2003, 2004, 2004a, 2009.

38 The Long Twilight of Ancient Theatre and Drama

and Longo 1990; in a more general way Schneider 1969: II 237–71; and
from the older bibliography Lüders 1873, Poland 1934, and Pickard-
Cambridge 1962: 279–305. For a broader context see also the influential
book of Winkler/Zeitlin 1990. For dramatic performances in the third and
fourth centuries AD see Nervegna 2014, 2014a and Barnes 1996.
Mime The older bibliography on mime should be treated with cau-
tion. Essential was Reich 1903, but his work contains many misinterpreta-
tions; see subsequently Müller 1909, Friedländer 1920: II 124–34, Wüst
1932, Guarducci 1929, Corbato 1947, Bonaria 1955/6, 1959, 1965, Vretska
1969. There is a whole series of recent studies on mime: on pictorial graffiti
in Ephesus Roueché 2002, on mime and circus factions Cameron 1976,
on mime in Syria in the sixth century AD Cramer 1980, on females in
mime Webb 2002, on scenic masques at the propylon of Sebasteion at
Aphrodisias Jory 2002 and Chaisemartin 2006, 2007, on mime and pros-
titution Edwards 1997, on private performances at dinners Jones 1991,
on baptism and crucifixion in mimic parody Panayotakis 1997. See also,
mostly for Rome, McKeown 1979 on elegy and mime, Fantham 1989 on
mime as a missing link in Roman literary history, Csapo/Slater 1995: 369–
78 in the context of ancient drama, Leppin 1992 for histriones, Puppini
1988 on anonymous mime, Cicu 1988 on the structure of mime perfor-
mance, Zucchelli 1995 on the Latin terminology of mime, Dupont 1985 on
actors and acting in Rome (2003: 361–70 specifically on mime), Rieks 1978
on mime and atellana, Beacham 1999 about the public audiences, Gianotti
1993, 1996 on different spectacles. These studies are very different in scope,
quality and methodology. Ploritis 1990 is a sort of ‘apologia mimorum’ as
‘alternative theatre’ in antiquity.
Literary Mime Concerning the bibliography on the Mimiambs
of Herodas see ‘Herodas  – A  Hellenistic Bibliography’ http://sites
.google.com/site/ hellenisticbibliography/hellenistic/herodas; for an
older bibliography see J.  Sitzler Jahresberichte über die Fortschritte der
Classischen Altertumswissenschaften 75 (1893) 157–200, 92 (1899) 52–104,
104 (1900) 102–4, 133 (1907) 152–9, 174 (1919) 80–9, 191 (1922) 46; for
the state of research see Specchia 1979 and Arnott 1995. For scholarship
see also Mandilaras 1986:  277–96, Cunningham 1987:  XIII–XXV and
Mastromarco 1984: 5–19. Editions: Kenyon 1891, J. A. Nairn, Oxford 1904
(Paris 1960), Cunningham 1971, 1987, Rusten/Cunningham 2002:  179–
283, Gammacurta 2006, Zanker 2009 (with English translation); German
translation by O.  Crusius, Die Mimiamben des Herondas, Göttingen
1893 (1926), French by P.  Groeneboom, Les mimiambes d’Hérodas I-VI,
Groningen 1922, English in Herodas, The Mimes and Fragment with

References 39
notes by W. Headlam, edited by A. D. Knox, Cambridge 1922, an Italian
by N.  Terzaghi, Eroda. I  Mimiambi, Torino 1925, another French one
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Xanthakis-Karamanos, G. (1993), ‘Hellenistic Drama: Developments in Form and
Performance’, Platon 45, 117–33.

References 51
Ypsilanti, M. (2006), ‘Mime in Verse: Strategic Affinities in Theocritus and Herondas’,
Maia 58: 411–31.
Zanker, G. (2006), ‘Poetry and Art in Herodas, Mimiamb 4’, in M. A. Harder
et al. (eds.), Beyond the Canon, Leuven (Hellenistica Groningana 11), 357–77.
(2009), Herodas:  Mimiambs. Edited with a Translation, Introduction and
Commentary, Oxford (Aris and Phillips classical texts).
Zanni, D. G. (2010), ‘Μη Ρωμαίοι επαγγελματίες στη ρωμαϊκή κοινωνία:
προβληματισμοί περί πολυπολιτισμικότητας στη Ρώμη’, Τα Ιστορικά 53:
Zanobi, Alessandra (2008), ‘The Influence of Pantomime on Seneca's Tragedies’,
in Hall / Wyles 2008: 227–57.
Zimmermann, B. (2008), 'Seneca and Pantomime', in Hall / Wyles 2008: 218–26.
Zucchelli, B. (1995), ‘Mimus hallucinatur … Il teatro-spettacolo del II secolo', in
Storia, letteratura e arte a Roma nel secondo secolo dopo Cristo. Atti del convegno
(Mantova, 8–10 ottobre 1992), Florence (Accademia Nazionale Virgiliana di
Scienze Lettere e Arti – Miscellanea 3), 295–319.

High Culture without Theatre or Dramatic Literature?

This chapter has a question as its title, expressing the astonishment and
surprise scholars have felt down through the ages:  how is it possible to
have a sophisticated culture of Byzantium’s breadth, power, quality and
longevity without any theatre or dramatic literature? Judging from past
studies, the reputation of Rome’s eastern empire since the Enlightenment
has been quite negative, with only slight improvement since the founda-
tion of Byzantine studies at the close of the nineteenth century – but this
was accomplished primarily through the work of art historians and archae-
ologists who focused on Orthodox religious art and church architecture.
Given their extensive findings, the lack of theatre and drama leads us to
ask: 1) Are there cultural sectors in which Byzantium did not, in fact, serve
as a bridge between Antiquity and the Renaissance? 2)  Is it possible for
a high culture in Europe to survive without organized theatrical forms
and written drama? And, lastly, 3) Is it possible that in the Greek East –
where the language of classical Athens was preserved, and where tragedies
continued to be copied, circulated and taught – theatre and drama con-
tinued uninterrupted up to the period when Greek theatre was reborn in
Renaissance Italy and Venetian Crete?
Unfortunately, the answer to the first two questions is positive, and to
the third, negative. After a long and painful process of inquiry, scholars
have come to understand the peculiarity of Byzantine culture and admit-
ted that Byzantine ‘theatre’ was neither equivalent to that of Antiquity nor
comparable to Western medieval theatre. The hope that Byzantine theatre
developed along Western lines was raised by the French school of liturgi-
cal studies in the mid-nineteenth century, when the hypothesis was first
proposed that modern drama arises out of Christian ritual.1 This theory,
generally accepted today in spite of some questions about its evolutionary

See later discussion.


Introduction 53
model,2 gave rise to the theory that a similar ‘evolution’ must have occurred
in the Greek Church during the first millennium. The dramatic poem
Christos Paschōn (Latin, Christus Patiens), to be discussed in the following,
was presented as a strong argument. But this approach was based on a
misunderstanding of the Orthodox tradition and the theological impact of
the iconoclastic struggle. The twin dogmas of Philhellenism and national
continuity from Antiquity to modern times were undermined by the scar-
city of evidence. Subsequent studies had to overcome the ideological use
of these scarce materials; what made later efforts more difficult was the
fact that these investigations had to account for Byzantine Greek’s innate
complexity, with each theatrical term capable of multiple levels of interpre-
tation and possible meanings, not to mention the persistent, subconscious
notion that evidence would be found because it had to exist.3
During the last decade the discussion has shifted from ‘theatre’ to the theat-
ricality and performativity of Byzantine life.4 Without any doubt Byzantium
had a highly performative culture, but there is a great difference between
organized theatrical performances and the performativity of public events.5
The ‘performative turn’ now evident in Byzantine studies is essentially differ-
ent from the search for traditional theatre in Byzantium.6
But first, let us begin with a brief overview of Byzantine history.

Introduction: The Cultural Continuum of the

Hellenistic and Early Byzantine Periods
The history of Byzantium may be divided into four major periods. First,
there is the early Byzantine era up to the period of Iconoclasm: various
starting points have been proposed, including with the division of the
Roman Empire by Diocletian in 285; the dedication of Byzantium as
‘New Rome’ (i.e., Constantinople) in AD 330; the date when Christianity
became the official religion, 395; or Justinian’s accession to power in 527
and his closing of the Athenian Academy in 529. Culturally speaking

See the discussion in Puchner 1991: 9 ff. with bibliography.
For an overview of this chapter see Puchner 1981/2, 1984:  13–92, 397–416, 477–94, 1990, 2002,
2004: 8–58, 2006a: 20–56, Ploritis 1999, Marciniak 2007.
For the complexitiy of these terminological concepts see Warstat/Fischer-Lichte/Umathum 2005,
Fischer-Lichte/Kolesch/Warstat 2005: 234–42. Marvin Carlson stated even in 1998 that the term ‘per-
formance’ is not any more definable, because of its ample use in so many different contexts (Carlson
1998: 1–12).
Kotte 2005, 2010, Puchner 2011: 71–132.
Marciniak 2014, 2014a, Mullet 2007, 2010.

54 Byzantium
this early Byzantine era cannot be clearly separated from the Hellenistic
period.7 This was followed by the period of Iconoclasm, starting as
early as the Council in Trullo (Trullanum 691/2) and ending with the
Council of Nicaea in 787, a period that includes the development of
John of Damascus’ theology of sacred images and ends with the death of
Emperor Theophilos in 842. Next was the middle Byzantine era, in the
course of which iconographic programmes were consolidated, the liturgy
was standardized, and the synaxaria (Lives of the Saints) were rewritten
and re-edited with new redactions. This period ended with the Fourth
Crusade and the Venetian conquest of Constantinople. Finally, there was
the period of the Latin Empire and the dynasty of the Palaiologoi (1204–
1453), which was characterized by growing Western influence in both the
secular and the religious spheres.
The early Byzantine period in many ways continued the life-style of the
Hellenistic period; despite the spread of Christianity and the eventual end
of theatrical performances, decisive changes are likely to have occurred
in the so-called ‘dark’ centuries shortly before (and during) the period of
Iconoclasm.8 These years left the Eastern Roman Empire radically different
from the Hellenistic world. It is crucial to differentiate among these peri-
ods, because many of the arguments that are made about Byzantine theatre
apply only to early Byzantine times.

Accommodatio: Hellenistic Features in Early Christianity

Early Christianity, although expressed in the common koinē Greek of its
day, emerged in the midst of a Hellenistic high culture; as a result the new
religion adopted many features, symbols, artistic styles, images and even a
language of pagan origin.9 It developed a strategy of spiritualizing the form
and content of artistic mediums that had been viewed by some as idola-
trous, integrating them with the new theological worldview of a monothe-
istic religion. In opposition to the extroverted cultural profile of display
and the ‘theatricality’ of urban Hellenism, it preferred private spiritual-
ity and meditation. This strategy of amalgamating existing phenomena

See for instance Vavřínek 1985.
Mango 1981.
As the art historian A. Grabar put it, theologians and iconographers ‘expressed themselves in the
language – visual or verbal – that was used around them’ (Grabar 1968: XLVI). He goes on to point
out, ‘Continuity in this area consists in appropriating existing figurations by shifting the meaning
of repeated formulas, by taking over known iconographic formulas or composing similar ones by
analogy’ (XLVIII). See also Grabar 1967.

The Theological Question of ‘Hypocrisis’ 55

and re-interpreting them in a Christian way is called accommodatio and
involved many strategies, some more successful than others.10
There are many examples of pagan traditions transformed by Christian
spirituality:  the feast of Christmas, for example, was transposed from
Theophania day (6 January) to 25 December, in order to absorb the feast of
sol invictus, the ‘invincible sun’, which was the genius, or patron divinity, of
the house of Constantine. Integrating the Christian and Hellenistic heor-
tologion (calender of festivals) was crucial, although in some cases less suc-
cessful. In addition, there was a time when the heads of ancient statues were
removed and ‘repurposed’ by scratching crosses on them.11 The destruction
of pagan religious symbols was a systematic task; no statues were routinely
found in the temple; they were decapitated and the heads found miles away.
The ancient commonplace of nekyia (descensus ad inferos) survived in the
story of Christ’s katabasis into the underworld to free Adam and mankind
from death.12 Although not attested in canonical scripture, this episode
is detailed in the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus (second century) and
is now depicted in the traditional resurrection icon, the Anastasis, in the
Orthodox Church.13 The sacrifice of animals likewise survived in the pas-
toral practices of the church, as well as votive offerings to holy icons.14 The
list of pagan survivals that the early church could not prevent is long, and
even includes that of blood brotherhood (with the clergy’s blessing).15 Pagan
materials are prominent throughout the lives of the saints, as found in the
synaxaria; in the apocryphical life of Judas Iscariot, the betrayer of Christ,
he is even burdened with the crimes of ancient Oedipus.16
Nevertheless the strategies of accommodatio worked also in a more subtle
way, respecting the conventions and terminology of the pictorial arts but
giving them other symbolic meanings – a tactic for which there are, again,
many examples.

The Theological Question of ‘Hypocrisis’

The Church Fathers had a profound knowledge of ancient tragedy and
comedy,17 but the negative attitude of the Christian Church of the first

Puchner 1997.
Delivorrias 1991, Puchner 2010: 27–54, Lazaridou 2011: pl. 113–5.
Puchner 1979, 1988: 71–126, 2006: 191–226.
Kartsonis 1986.
Puchner 1997: 53–6.
Puchner 1994, 2010: 349–416.
Puchner 1994a: 96–128.
Vivilakis 1996: 147 ff., 283 ff.

56 Byzantium
centuries AD towards theatre as a manifestation of idolatry18 never changed
in the East: Balsamon in his comments on the 62nd Canon of the Trullan
Synod (691/2) still warned in the twelfth century against the use of comic
and tragic masques19 at a time when organized, traditional live theatre was
unknown throughout the Byzantine Empire. In the light of theological truth,
the ancient hypokrites became a metaphor for fraud; dramatopoiia for intrigue;
‘theatrical’ meant simply public. The theatre degenerated into a lie; and actors,
because their profession consisted of changing the outward appearance of
mankind, who was created in God’s image, became simply blasphemers.20
The semantic shifts in theatre terminology changed the meanings of every
single word.

Conventions of Spirituality and Form

But the ways of accommodatio, which gave the form, conventions, and termini
technici of art new spiritual meanings, were even subtler and more refined.
According to an early theological way of thinking identified with what is
now known as the ‘typology of transference’21 (the first centuries AD), the
Awakening of Lazarus is interpreted as the first victory of Christ over Hades
(death) and is a prefiguration of his Resurrection, in which the underworld
is emptied of the souls of the dead and mankind liberated from death.22
Another example is the concept that Christ was three days in the under-
world, as Jonah was three days in the belly of the whale.23 In the highly
symbolic art of the catacombs we find the optical chiffres of the hope for
Anastasis, such as the cross and the fish, but also the Awakening of Lazarus,
where the tetrahēmeros (four days dead) is portrayed in a burial aedicula
as a little mummy, whereas Christ like an ancient magician is touching

Waszink 1964, Webb 2008: 197–222.
Rallis-Potlis 1852–6: II 44 ff.
Vivilakis 2004: 125–46.
The term was introduced as a specific way of connecting theological facts (‘typologische
Übertragung’) in Stemmler 1970.
Puchner 1979, 2006: 191–226. In an Armenian homily on Lazarus this is expressed clearly: ‘Αdam
was the cause of our descending here, while with the raising of Lazarus come the tidings that if you
have ears (know) that he comes here because of you who are imprisoned, for he who freed Lazarus
from the bonds by his voice, he wishes with the same voice to free you from your bonds’. At another
point in the same sermon, typological transference is expressed in opposites: Eve in paradise and
Mary, the Mother of the Saviour. ‘But we should leave the quarrels to the adversaries and speak of
the prophetic sayings. From the beginning of the world no soul was saved from hell until Christ
came. And from the time of Adam until Christ no soul came out of hell. The beginning of the path
of our release from hell came with the raising of Lazarus, and the beginning of our blessing and
(release) from the curse of Eve came with Mary’ (Nersessian 1973: 462 ff.).
See more paradigms in Puchner 1991: 9 ff., 20 ff., 116 ff., 122 ff. and pass.

Conventions of Spirituality and Form 57

him with a life-spending virga thaumaturgica or commanding him with
out-stretched arm, pointing with the forefinger to the smaller dead to come
to life. This ‘commande imperieux’ is known from imperial iconography and
in ancient art was typical for gods and heroes; it is the same in middle
Byzantine mural painting and in icons of the Awakening.24 Christ and the
Apostles are costumed as ancient philosophers in Roman togas with papyri
in their hands; and while Christ holds the imperial sceptre or cross-sceptre,
saints and evangelists gesture like ancient rhetors.25 As victorious imperator
the Saviour is depicted in the Resurrection icon, invading the dark under-
world in triumph and placing the cross on the neck of a deposed Hades,
while raising Adam from his sarcophagus with his other hand in a gesture
of ‘imperator liberator et restitutor’ raising his suppliants from their pose of
submission and adoration (a position also known as proskynēsis).26
On the icon of the ‘suscitatio Lazari’ our friend of Christ from Bethania
is bound in bandelettes like an Egyptian mummy, but one of the slaves
unwinding the bandages (which are also called lazarōmata) holds his nose
from the smell (John 11: 39). The evangelical story, transposed into a pic-
ture, is shown with rich narrative detail.
Another case of a spiritualized survival of an ancient custom is washing
the feet of the Apostles at the Last Supper (John 13:  1–2, 13–20, lavipe-
dium, mandatum), which symbolizes the baptism of the disciples,27 and
refers to the ancient rite of philoxenia,28 which is practised in the Orthodox
Church to this day.29 Ancient, too, is the depiction of the kline (bed)30 on
which Christ and the Apostles lie during the Last Supper, sometimes with
Christ or Judas separated (in post-iconoclastic iconography, Jesus and the
Apostles are depicted sitting upright).31 This is very similar to the kline
on which Mary lies in the icon of Christ’s birth, a sort of oval mountain
cave, an iconographical chiffre of the immaculate conception.32 As a sign of

Pératé 1892: 272, Wilpert 1929/32: II 303, Neumann 1965: 30, Onasch 1954: 173.
See Weitzmann’s influential study (1977: 89).
This is the typical posture of Lazarus’ sisters as well, begging Christ to revive her brother to life.
See for example Schiller 1971: 44, for the gesture of Roman emperors in Byzantine iconography in
general Grabar 1936: 246 ff. For the raising of Adam see Loeschke 1965, for the iconography of the
Anastasis Lange 1966.
Richter 1967 (with more bibliography) and mostly Kantorowicz 1956.
Giess 1962: 14 ff.
Pétridès 1899/1900; for the special akolouthia in the monastery of St. John on Patmos see Puchner
1977: 319–31 (with special bibliography), 1991: 82 ff., 254 ff.
On kline in byzantine painting see Grosdidier de Matons 1979.
Puchner 1991: 72 ff., 222–30 (with examples and sources).
Onasch 1958: 179 ff. In hymnography the preservation of virginity despite delivery is compared,
through a typology of transference, with the intact seals of Christ’s grave despite his Resurrection
(Puchner 1979).

58 Byzantium
optical meditation and typological transference the icon of the Anastasis,
with Adam and Eve in their sarcophagi and Christ bursting open the doors
of hell and raising forefather Adam, depicts the underworld in exactly the
same form as the rock cave where Lazarus is buried in the icon suscita-
tio Lazari.33 This is the starting point for two other meditative typolo-
gies evident in hymnography: as the cave-like kline in the Nativity scene
stands (in Marian hymnography, hymns devoted to the Virgin Mary) for
the wholeness of the Theotokos’ uterus despite giving birth,34 by way of
antithetical typology it also symbolizes Paradise. As the forefathers were
thrown out of Paradise, creating for mankind death, likewise they exit the
underworld, liberating mankind from death – the opening of the doors
of Paradise and of Hades has exactly the opposite meaning. This mystical
meditation is also evident in book illuminations where Christ is shown as
a child sitting on the bosom of Holy Mary, raising Adam and Eve from
their sarcophagi in the underworld.35 Here uterus (life) and grave (death),
Paradise and Hades are interwoven in a paradoxical typology, unifying the
two components of absolute antithesis in a mystic coincidentia opposito-
rum. Paradoxical adynata (impossibilities) like these were frequent rhetori-
cal motifs in Byzantine hymnography as well.36
There are other examples of spiritualizing pre-Christian Hellenistic artis-
tic conventions into Christian meditative images of great beauty and phil-
osophical depth. Lazarus is depicted from the third century on as a child
mummy wrapped up in bandages; this was an Egyptian burial custom that
survived into Hellenistic and Roman times37 and was also used in traditional
Greek folk culture.38 The term for tying the dead body with cloth ribbons,
used in the medieval epic Digenes Akrites, is lazarōnō.39 But that is also the
way babies in traditional folk cultures are bound,40 so that the four-days-
dead Lazarus really looks like a newborn. In some early sarcophagi the life-
giving virga thaumaturgica has the form of a snake and Christ is costumed
as Osiris.41 Magic sticks and mummies were most common elements

Aurenhammer 1959–67: 252 with the sources.
Onasch 1958: 184.
Strzygowski 1906: 86 ff, pl. LX/154, Onasch 1958: 188.
Puchner 1991: 144 ff. note 204, 150 ff. note 226.
Pératé 1892: 272 ff.
For Crete see for example Chrysoulaki 1957/8: 401. For the wider Balkan area see Puchner 1978: 38.
The cloth ribbons are usually about forty centimetres wide.
Mis-translated by Trapp as 'mit dem Totenhemd bekleiden' (Trapp 1971: 389).
Bada-Tsomokou 1993: 84 ff., pl. 19 and 20.
Paulinus-Sarcophagus in Trier (Paulsen 1952/3: 158). Opening the mouth of the upright mummy
with a snake-like stick was one of the most important burial rites in Pharaonic Egypt, symbolizing
resurrection and eternal life (Hermann 1962: 60–9).

Conventions of Spirituality and Form 59

of ancient depictions of idolatrous rituals, because Hermes transferred
the souls of the dead from Hades with a stick.42 But mummies are also
the conventional way to depict souls of the dead in Orthodox iconogra-
phy, as they can be seen in the descensus ad inferos portion of the image of
the Anastasis43 or in the icon of the Dormition of the Theotokos, where
the soulless body of Mary is lying in a kline and Christ stands in front of
her and holds in his arm a doll tied in white binding strips.44 In a book
illumination from a Serbian psalter the newborns in the katabasis scene
are shown under the feet of Christ, the souls of the dead in Hades, and
among them, the soul of Christ himself (as dead after Crucifixion), identi-
fied with a special inscription.45 This may be interpreted in different ways:
Christ resurrected as a newborn, the soul of the dead Christ in the under-
world, or the image of the New Adam, rescued from death and Hades.46
The mummy, then, becomes the conventional form and optical chiffre for
a typological transference: the dead crucified/resurrected Christ and the
newborn Christ, risen to his second and eternal life. In Orthodox Easter
hymns the bandages of the dead Christ are compared with the bindings
of a newborn.47 The adoration of the three kings of the East at Christmas
is compared with the three women going to the grave of Christ after his
Crucifixion. Even in Christus Patiens Mary in her lamentations mourns
the dead Christ ἐν σπαργάνοις (‘in swaddling cloth’).48 The equalization
of the ribbons for newborns and for the dead is a typological transference
of extraordinary philosophical depth and poetic beauty: cradle and grave,
birth and death, the end of life and new life, death and resurrection are
all the same in the end, in a mystical coincidentia oppositorum. Lazarus as
a mummy – a dead ‘soul’ awakened to life and newborn simultaneously
– stands in his kline-like rock cave, which is at the same time the cave of
Christ’s birth, the immaculate uterus of the Panagia, the underworld of

Aurenhammer 1959–67: 249, for iconographic evidence Darmstaedter 1955: 9.
One of the first depictions of the katabasis, the descent of Christ into Hades, is on the ivory plate
of Salerno (second half of eleventh c.). Above the scene where Christ raises Adam from his sar-
cophagus, Eve is standing behind him in the position of adoration, while on the upper margins
of the image five ‘souls’ can be seen in line, small newborns in the shape of mummies (Belting
1962: 74 ff., Schiller 1971: 49). For the evolution of the Anastasis iconography see Puchner 1979 and
Kartsonis 1986.
See for instance the icon of steatite in the Kunsthistorisches Museum of Vienna (tenth century,
Kalavrezou-Maxeiner 1985: no 1) as well as a Greek icon from the sixteenth century in the Benaki
Museum, Athens (Felicetti-Liebenfels 1956: 103).
Strzygowski 1906: 85, pl. LIX/49.
Puchner 1978: 31.
Maltzew 1899: 691.
Tuilier 1969: v. 1464/5.

60 Byzantium
Hades, and Paradise. Small mummies representing hope for resurrection
and eternal life were held by early Christians in their mystical gatherings
at the catacombs.49 In Orthodox folk culture resurrected Lazarus is antici-
pated clearly as a newborn: the girls in the Lazarus processions from house
to house on sabbato ante palmas hold baby dolls in their hands, dressed
in baptismal clothes and rocked gently;50 in Bulgaria and on the Aegean
islands mummy-like bread puppets in the form of bound newborns are
distributed on Lazarus Saturday, for the soul of Christ’s friend.51
This is an entirely different world from the Hellenistic period. Various
forms and conventions, words and citations may have been preserved in the
Christian tradition, but their content and meanings were deepened in dif-
ferent ways, using the strategies of accommodatio and the method of typo-
logical transference. In this way spiritualism and symbolism, mysticism
and meditation were cultivated in a world of faith and prayer, all oriented
towards transcendent values, away from earthy things and ephemeral life.
This highly spiritual atmosphere was not suitable for the cultivation of the-
atre; symbolism was maintained on a high level throughout the Byzantine
millennium and as a result Realism – especially the use of a performer to
symbolize sacred matters – was strictly avoided. By contrast, Hellenistic
theatre was highly realistic, albeit in a professional manner.

A Short Account of a Long Controversy

The debate over the existence of some form of theatre and drama in
Byzantium is one of the longest and most tenacious in the humanities, and
so is interesting for epistemological reasons alone.52 This is due to a whole
series of elements – among them the slippery nature of the textual evidence,
the semantic shifts in terminology, the aforementioned ideological use of
sources, as well as the failure to differentiate among distinct Byzantine
periods. Furthermore, nearly all the participants in this debate have been
in non-theatrical disciplines, so that they employ the terms ‘drama’ and
‘theatre’ in a variety of ways themselves, from the concrete to the purely
metaphorical.53 Usage of the terms drama and theatron in Byzantine texts

Darmstaedter 1955: 9 ff., Aurenhammer 1959–67: 250.
For material on the Balkans see Puchner 1991: 48–54, 194–209.
Angelova 1960: pl. 3–5, Jordanova 1966: pl. 5–6, Megas 1956: 125.
See Puchner 1981/82 (with exhaustive bibliography), 1984: 13–92, 1990, 2002, 2006a: 20–56.
This terminological confusion is well known in scholarship on Western medieval religious theatre as
well (Puchner 1991: 12 ff.). Onasch 1968 and Schulz 1959: 62 refer to the Byzantine liturgy as ‘cultic
performance’ and ‘drama’; Wellesz 1947 describes antiphony as ‘drama’, Stričević 1967:  120 calls
the Ravenna mosaics a ‘setting for a liturgical play’; Bréhier 1920 regards the miniatures by Jacob

A Short Account of a Long Controversy 61

themselves has caused further confusion, since their range of meaning is
so broad that each instance can only be defined and determined in its own
unique context.54
When Konstantinos Sathas published his voluminous treatise on the
music and theatre of the Byzantines in 1878, he attempted to link ancient
Greek drama with the newly discovered Renaissance theatre of Crete.55
Sathas based his argument on the character of Byzantium as a bridge
between ancient and modern Greece, as well as on the insight gained in
the midst of the nineteenth century by the French school of liturgical stud-
ies that modern drama had its origins in the Western Christian liturgy.56
Karl Krumbacher was the first to raise serious doubts about Sathas’ results
by pointing out that Byzantine literature did not actually produce any
drama.57 Since then, this basic disagreement has been rehearsed for more
than a hundred years without any fundamentally new data or arguments.
Every time new evidence of a ‘dramatic’ character, especially if it is in
dialogic form, is discovered it is as if the discussion has started again from
the beginning. This was certainly the case with the theory of the existence
of a ‘dramatic homily’, promoted by George La Piana, as well as the con-
troversy over dating of the Christus Patiens, which has been interpretated
as a Christian tragedy and seen as a prototype for the development of
Western religious drama. Then came the discovery and publication of the
so-called ‘Cyprus Passion Cycle’ – which like the Christus Patiens is dialogi-
cal in character, but is more in the style of a cento-composition drawing
from religious and ancient sources (see later discussion). The ‘dramatic’
nature of certain types of iconography has also inspired much specula-
tion; witness the theory that performances of unknown (and unattested)
Byzantine Passion Plays must have influenced a collection of miniatures
on the apocryphical ‘Life of Mary’ by Jacob Kokkinobaphos (again, see
later discussion), a theory that fed into the notion that Byzantine religious
theatre must have survived until the fall of Constantinople in 1453.58
These arguments were integrated in a specific Greek interpretation
line, which according to the national ideology of the time took the direct
continuation of Greek theatre since antiquity for granted, as Byzantine

Kokkinobaphos as illustrations of liturgical performances; Tinnefeld 1974 deals under the heading
of ‘Mime’ with joculatores, histriones, traditional dances and costumes. See in detail Puchner 1981/82,
1984: 13–92, 397–416, 477–94.
See Vivilakis 1996 for the most thorough treatment of this material.
Sathas 1878, 1879. For Cretan theatre see tChapter 3.
Meril 1849, Coussemaker 1860, Gautier 1866.
Krumbacher 1897: 644, 647.
For the argumentation strategy and bibliography see the rest of the chapter.

62 Byzantium
culture functioned in so many other sectors as bridge between Antiquity
and the Renaissance.59 Those who play down or even refuse to believe in
the existence of Byzantine theatre were mostly – though not exclusively –
Byzantinists.60 Among those who have accepted the reality of Byzantine
drama the majority have been from a Greek tradition of philologists and
cultural historians, but we also find scholars in several other disciplines.61
Theatre historians were particularly eager to take up the claims made by
Vénétia Cottas in her 1931a Paris dissertation on Byzantine theatre;62 as a
consequence, a ghost chapter on Byzantine religious drama established
itself in the histories of European theatre and survived well into the

The Labyrinth of Meanings: Ancient Stage

Terminology in Byzantine Sources
One of the trickiest problems in investigating Byzantine ‘theatre’ is the
misleading terminology in Byzantine sources:  θέατρον does not necessar-
ily mean a theatre; in fact this meaning would be the exception because
the word in practice had such a wide range of meanings.64 Moreover the
survival of ancient stage terminology was not always a popular research
topic.65 It has to be said in advance that the terminology for drama and the-
atre was not as unambiguous as generally assumed: tragōidia and kōmōidia
were used, even immediately after classical times, to indicate non-dramatic
texts such as novels or bucolic poetry.66 Drāma could have referred to
any ‘dramatic’ story.67 The drama retreats from the stage to its academic

See for instance Papamichail 1916, Papadopoulos 1925 etc., but also negative voices like Voutieridis
See in particular Baud-Bovy 1938, 1975.
See especially Cottas 1931a, 1931b, Koukoules 1955: 110–4, Solomos 1964 (3rd ed. 1987).
Cottas 1931a, but see also Tunison 1907: X, who is responding to Reich 1903.
Stadler 1966: 523–8, Berthold 1968: 153–65, 1999: 210–27. There are, however, numerous theatre
historians who have questioned Cottas’ results: Laskaris 1938/9: I 32–73, Hunningher 1955: 49,
Kindermann 1966: 222–6 (see La Piana 1936: 189 ff. for bibliography). Other scholars including
Erbe 1973, Baldwin 1986, Pontani 1994, as well as some popular books on the subject (e.g., Nalpantis
1984) do not offer substantial alternatives.
On the topic see Vivilakis 1996, Puchner 1996/7, 2006b, 2006c: 19–84, Mullett 2003.
It begins with Walden’s pioneering work on stage terminology in Hellenistic romance (Walden 1894).
Yatromanolakis 1990: 725 ff. In this regard Perry made an interesting observation: ‘When ancient
writers speak of tragedy, comedy or drama, they are as likely to be thinking of the nature and quality
of a composition as of its structural pattern, which may be that of prose narrative or bucolic poetry
of some other sort of writing, as well as what we call in a narrower and more formal sense tragedy,
comedy, or drama’ (Perry 1967: 74 f.).
Drama is a ‘descriptive of action. The δρᾶμα as thus understood, then, would be a narrative or
description of any sort that told about happenings, adventures, whether those happenings were

The Labyrinth of Meanings 63

exile and becomes an object for scholarship and pedagogy, with tragedy
repositioned as part of a distinguished cultural heritage. As cultivated men
with significant erudition in philosophy and literature, the Church Fathers
had an astonishing knowledge of the texts of tragedy and Old Comedy,
though of course they rejected their content as ‘Hellenic’, i.e., idolatrous.68
This aversion to drama and theatre ran quite deep: as mentioned earlier,
the twelfth century authority Theodore Balsamon, in his commentary on
the 62nd Canon of the Synod of Trullo (691/2), warns against comic and
tragic masques even in his own day.69
The early church rejects drama and spectacles because of their partici-
pation in the allegedly shallow and lascivious entertainment of the time,
but also for deeper theological reasons. The effects of its hostility can be
traced in the further semantic development of theatrical terminology. The
ancient actor, hypokritēs, becomes a ‘hypocrite’ in the modern sense of the
word; the verb hypokrinomai (‘act’) now comes to mean ‘to pretend’ or
‘to mislead’; dramatopoiia (‘dramaturgy’) is equivalent to ‘intrigue’, and
theatrikōs (‘theatrically’) means ‘in public’. In the face of divine revelation
theatre is a lie, and the actor comes to be seen as someone who defiles the
idea of man as created in the image of God.
Theatron comes to refer to the hippodrome or any other form of public
spectacle and its audience.70 In the sermons and writings of the Church
Fathers down through the fifth century, theatron refers to a stage build-
ing, the amphitheatre, the stadium, the hippodrome, dramatic art or a
performance (ποιῶ θέατρον can also mean ‘tell a story’); theatron can
also mean ‘public display’, ‘spectacle’, ‘audience’, ‘gathering’ (including a
church gathering), ‘martyrdom’ or ‘visible world’. Sometimes it has the
negative connotations of an abode of demons, the company of the devil,
a place of non-transcendent existence, or even the opponent of Christian
life. Theatrizō can mean ‘act in the theatre’ or ‘display in public’, but also
takes on the modern meaning of ‘mock’, ‘sneer’, ‘lie’ or ‘put up false pre-
tences’.71 Most notably, in Late Antiquity but also in the twelfth century
and after, theatra are literary and rhetorical events including the reading

within the bounds of possibility and probability or not; whether they (and the πρόσωπα) were pure
inventions of the author or not’ (Walden 1894: 22).
Vivilakis 1996: 147 ff., 283 ff., Waszink 1964: 144 ff., Easterling/Miles 1999.
Rallis/Potlis 1852–6: II 449–50. For this mechanical repetition of the verdicts of the first synods, at
a time when theatre and drama did not exist any more, see Puchner 1983.
Mango 1981: 342–5, Hunger 1977/8: 210–1.
Vivilakis 1996: 197 ff. and pass., with references: the new Christian (negative) connotation can also
be found in other expressions derived from theatron, e.g., theatrizomai meaning ‘make a disgrace of
oneself ’, theatrikōs meaning ‘superficial’ and theatrismos meaning ‘making an absurd performance’.

64 Byzantium
of homilies, poems and letters, and the performance of panegyric speeches
and obituaries under the aegis of the emperor, the patriarch or a high-
ranking aristocrat; one could call them the predecessors of the academies
of Renaissance Italy.72 In the Chronographia of Michael Psellos (eleventh
century) the word ‘theatre’ almost always refers to the hippodrome,73 while
Theodoros Metochites (fourteenth century) uses the term in the meta-
phorical sense of ‘world theatre’.74
Since there is scant evidence for a dramatic genre in anything like the mod-
ern sense of the word, the term ‘drama’ comes to be used in late Hellenistic and
Byzantine times to describe romances – extant authors include Heliodorus,
Achilles Tatius and Chariton as well as Eustathios Makrembolites, who even
employs the term in his title.75 The ninth-century Patriarch Photius uses the
term to refer to the genre of Hellenistic romance as a whole.76 Generally speak-
ing, ‘drama’ refers to an adventurous or tragic story; the grammarians of the
second to fifth centuries AD describe captivating stories about real or fictional
events as ‘dramatic’.77 ‘Dramatic’ elements may therefore be found both in
historical writings (Anna Comnena, Psellos, Bryennios) and in works of liter-
ary fiction (Makrembolites). From the fifth century onwards the sense of a
‘moving event’ is predominant, with secondary terms also implying emotional
impact (e.g., ‘to became a drama’ meaning to be unhappy); some derivations
also point to a lack of reality (for example, dramatopoiia and dramatourgēma
meaning ‘intrigue,’ and dramatourgia as ‘mythical story’, or ‘invention’).78
A similar development in the meaning of words can also be seen in
other terminology concerning the theatre. For example, skēnē sometimes
means ‘outward appearance’, ‘hypocrisy’ or ‘heresy’ in addition to its more
usual meanings. In Psellos it can also mean ‘deception’, or ‘trickery’; Psellos
introduces the word skēnourgos as an analog for the term dramatourgos,
with which it shares the meaning of ‘actor’ or ‘liar’.79 Only the latter

Beaton 1996:  714. See also Magdalino 1993:  335–6, Hunger 1974, 1991:  131, 236, 255, 318–9 and
1997: 108–9, Mullet 2003 and Reinach 2007.
Puchner 1996/7: 315 ff.
See the end of this chapter.
Walden 1894, Yatromanolakis 1990:  725 ff. and 1997:  42 ff. In his comparison of Heliodorus’
Aithiopika with Achilles Tatius, Michael Psellos describes the term ‘drama’ in the novel Leukippe
and Kleitophon as ‘most theatrical’ (theatrikōtatēn) (Dyck 1986: 91–2). See also now Paulsen 1992.
Perry 1967: 74 ff., Müller 1976, Marini 1991.
Nicolai 1867, Hunger 1980: 10, Yatromanolakis 1990: 729 ff.
Puchner 1996/7: 313 ff.; Walden 1894, Yatromanolakis 1990: 292, Krumbacher 1900: 485, Vivilakis
1996: 67–77.
Vivilakis 1996: 246 ff.; Psellos Chron. 5.3.9-11, 6.141.9; Puchner 1996/7: 320–1. The mime actor is also
described as a ‘liar’ in a Syrian homily of Jacob of Sarugh (1, 25, 100 and pass.). See Cramer 1980,
Moss 1935, Frézouls 1959/61 and later.

The Labyrinth of Meanings 65

word is known in antiquity. For Psellos, too, drama has the meaning of a
dramatically acted scene, and the hypokritēs has been completely trans-
formed into a court clown. He also employs the generic term ‘tragedy’
(which the Church Fathers had already used with a broad spectrum of
meanings) in two specific ways:  in addition to denoting a misfortune
or a tragic event, it refers to a song (tragoudi) or to sketches and jibes
(Chronographia VI 110, 9–15). The shift whereby ‘tragedy’ came to mean
a ‘song’ (tragoudi) – as it does in Modern Greek – is already complete by
the sixth century with the historian John Malalas (288.10), and in ninth
century Arabic translations from Greek.80
Among the Church Fathers tragōidia can mean a dramatic work, a the-
atrical production, a story, the narration of a story, an intrigue, a trick,
a plan, a heretical doctrine, torture, misfortune, jest and even splen-
dour. Tragōideō is used in the sense of to ‘present’ something, ‘narrate’,
‘plunge into misfortune’, ‘describe’, ‘mock’, ‘reprimand’ and ‘prophesy’.
Ektragōideō means ‘present something dramatically’, ‘narrate in a tragic
manner’, ‘lament with tears’, ‘sing’ or ‘make something more tragic than
it is’; epitragōideō means ‘describe with exaggeration’; proektragōideō means
‘exaggerate like a tragic actor’ (tragikologia meaning ‘pathos’ or ‘bombast’);
tragōdēma means ‘song’, ‘tragic event’ or ‘heresy’; tragōidos signifies a tragic
poet or actor.81 Kōmōidia and kōmikos are also used commonly for romance
novels;82 in patristic texts ‘comedy’ means the work as well as the produc-
tion of a comedy, any satire or ridicule, or a joyful event; kōmōideō means
to perform a comedy, have fun, curse, tell lies, reprimand, disapprove,
condemn or describe; kōmikos can be either the poet or the actor of com-
edy as well as any ridiculous figure; in Epiphanios kōmōidopoios is used in
reference to the heretic Manes.83
The terms ‘theatre’ and ‘drama’ were also used metaphorically in
philosophical tracts, as expressed in the Hellenistic concept of totus
mundus agit histrionem and the metaphor of the world as a stage (the-
atrum mundi). This idea comes to us today mainly through Shakespeare
and Calderon de la Barca,84 but is actually of Hellenistic origin. It is
just another aspect of the ‘theatre outside the theatre’, the theatricality
of society and public life, which is projected in cynic, Stoic and gnostic

On the term hypokritēs see Puchner 1996/7: 318–9.
Vivilakis 1996:  264–300. For ‘tragedy’= tragoudi see Daiber 1968:  46–7, Schmitt 1970:  197, 202,
Niehoff-Panagiotidis 1996: 45 ff.
Walden 1894: 41.
Vivilakis 1996: 147–73.
See Curtius 1973: 148–54, König 1951, Christian 1987, Barner 1970, Pearce 1980 etc.

66 Byzantium
philosophy onto the whole of life and the world itself.85 Already Plato
speaks about the ‘tragedy and comedy of life’ (Phil. 50b) and says that
a good constitution is the imitation of the perfect life, the ‘truest tra-
gedy’, which does not need any other imperfect mimesis, as tragedy is
(Nom. 817b);86 furthermore, he compares mortals to a play, or to pup-
pets in the hands of the gods (Nom. 644d–645c, 803c–804b).87 A similar
sentiment is attributed to Plato’s contemporary Democritos (Ὁ κόσμος
σκηνή, ὁ βίος πάροδος· ἦλθες, εἶδες, ἀπῆλθες, ‘the world a stage, life an
entrance; you came, you saw, you left’).88 Also essential for the forma-
tion of the idea was Plotinos’ On Providence (Περὶ προνοίας, AD 267/
8, chap. Enneade III 2 [47]),89 where the Logos (world plan) is system-
atically compared with drama and life with theatre. Remarkably, this is
written at a time when tragedy is just a literary memory.90 But in con-
trast to the life of mortals, Logos is without end; the only sure thing in
the ‘drama of life’ is its end.91

Puchner, 2006b: 93–105, 2006c: 49–69.
There are also some hints in Heracleitus, fragments 52 and 53 in particular, about the child as actor.
In connection with theatrum mundi see also Sofer 1956: 259. For ‘alēthestatē tragōidia’ see Kargas
1998: 33–47 (‘The Laws as a new kind of drama’). See also Peponi 2013.
These two concepts greatly influenced neoplatonic thinking as well as the Church Fathers
(Rahner 1948).
This quote is perhaps unconvincing, because it presupposes the elaborate idea of world theatre; still
it anticipates the era of the cynic philosophers, and through them the metaphor can be found in a
great number of popular rhetorical handbooks and moral treatises (Helm 1906: 44–53). Democritos’
quote here is included in collections of ancient proverbs (Stamatakos 1972: 1256, see also Diehls/
Krantz 1966/7: 165 no 84 and likewise 85 [Marc Aur. 4,3 extr.]).
Reis 2000. In arguments that use a sort of typology of the theatre, the main thrust seems to be: take
an example from the stage that shows misfortunes happen usually to the rich and the powerful; play
all the roles that fortune gives you like a good actor; like a good actor, yield the stage; as an actor you
know that roles in life are constantly changing; as an actor you know that external luxury is only an
illusion (Helm 1906: 44–53). Nevertheless Plotinus’ theory is more sophisticated: for him the Logos
(world plan) is not responsible for evil; otherwise you would have to blame theatre plays for having
not only heroes but also fools and slaves (11, 13–6); death is only a change of the body, in the same
way as actors change their costumes (15, 21–7); war and death should be seen as theatre; everything
is just a change of setting and scene, fake tears and lamentations by shadows of human beings,
performing their roles everywhere the world over (15, 43–53). But if evil is only an illusion, how is
blasphemy against God possible? This would be the same if a poet presents in his drama an actor
who accuses and insults a god (16, 8–10); the world plan (Logos) is one but antithetical in his parts,
like the drama which unifies the conflicting elements by giving harmony to a succession of con-
flicts (16, 34–9). The existence of bad people, in turn, does not give them impunity; as in a drama
where the poet does not create the protagonists but merely gives them their words – they have their
characters already before the play and merely introduce themselves on-stage (17, 16–22, 27–28). It
is forbidden, moreover, for actors to say anything other than what their role requires, because then
they would be poets and degrade the drama as if it were something incomplete (18, 7–13).
There are some scholars who emphasize that Seneca’s tragedies could have been played on-stage in
imperial times (Sutton 1986, Stroh 2000: 126–30, see also Seeck 1978).
The fortunes of life are transcended, among Stoic philosophers in imperial times, through an act of
free will in public and semi-theatrical suicide rituals (Edwards 2002, Griffin 1986).

The Labyrinth of Meanings 67

The bridge between Stoic philosophy and Christian moral thinking
was the idea of life’s transitory nature,92 as well as humans being play-
ers of social roles and yet simultaneously images of God.93 Psellos com-
pares historical personalities to actors on the stage of history (minus their
biblical, transcendental status), but he differentiates between fictum and
factum (Chron. VI 22, 17); nevertheless, the historiographer uses scenic
techniques in his narration of historical events.94 He is interested not only
in the factual nature of events, but also in the aesthetic possibility of mak-
ing them effective in a dramatic way and entertaining for an audience.95
History as world theatre with dramatic episodes has to be seen in connec-
tion with the middle Byzantine treatises on tragedy, which stem in one way
or another from the lost Chrestomatheia of Proklos, which was based in
turn on the lost Poetics of Theophrastos.96 The most elaborate expression of
the metaphor of world theatre can be found in the writings of Theodoros
Metochites (fourteenth century), where terms such as ‘theatre of human
matters’, ‘world theatre’, ‘common theatre’, ‘theatre of the oecumene’,
‘biotikon theatron’, ‘living in drama’, and ‘theatre of life’ are frequent.97
These formulations are already quite similar to the theatrum mundi of the
Renaissance and Baroque eras: as Beck concluded, the author of the play
of life (both director and playwright) is an unknown power backstage,

Vivilakis 2004. Some examples: Hippolytos (second century AD) compares life’s brevity with a the-
atre performance; Chrysostomos in his homily ‘On Lazarus’ (Patr. Gr. 48: 986, 48–57) anticipates
social life and its social statuses, including poverty and wealth as mere masques which the actors
put away after performance; when the show comes to an end, everybody is judged according to his
deeds (Patr. Gr. 48: 1035, 23–31). Clement of Alexandria also uses the ekkyklema in his world thea-
tre: the function of the author is to roll out the truth live on-stage for the spectators (Protreptikos,
B, 12, 1, 5–6). Τhe metaphor of world theatre is familiar also to Origen (Περὶ εὐχῆς 20, 2, 3–6 P.
Koetschau) as well as to Basil the Great: in the orchestra of life slaves and persons of humble station
play archontes and kings (Patr. Gr. 31: 165, 18–24).
Vivilakis 1996: 34 ff.
There are some significant ‘scenes’ in Psellos’ Chronographia where the historiographer’s account is
transformed into ‘show’ of a dramatist: see for example I 27–28, III 19–20, IV 2–3 IV 20–21, V 22;
for the outstanding scene of the arrest and blinding of Michael V (V 40–51); for the comic scenes
with the court fool of Constantine IX (VI 139–49). Similar scenes can be found in the Alexiad
of Anna Comnena (Reinsch 1996:  14, 191, 418 ff.), who is in many ways dependent on Psellos
(Linner 1993).
Karalis 1992/3: I 11–35, II 469–507, Puchner 1996/7: 42–5.
This is the Περὶ τραγῳδίας by (Pseudo)Psellos, Περὶ τραγικῆς ποιήσεως by Tzetzes and Περὶ
ὑποκρίσεως by Eustathios of Thessalonica; see also the Βίων πρᾶσις ποιητικῶν καὶ πολιτικῶν by
Theodoros Prodromos. The Chrestomatheia of Proklos is only known via the Ἐπιτομὴ of Photius
(cod. 239) (Severyns 1938). See Dosi 1960, Kayser 1910, but mainly Dostálová 1982.
Müller/Kießling 1821: 740, 241, 689, 493, 281 (in order of citation). As scholars have remarked, this
terminology refers to the Second Sophistic School and especially Epictetus (Schmid 1887: 40 note
14, Kokolakis 1976, Hunger 1958, Vivilakis 2004a). For a critical edition of Metochites’s Ἠθικὸς ἤ
περὶ παιδείας see Polemis 1995.

68 Byzantium
inescapable as the ancient heimarmene, or is an incorruptible choregos and
dramatist (chronos epistatēs, chronos atreptos nomeus).98 The great powers are
acting on the stage of history as in a megas agōn, entertaining the specta-
tors of these great events; mankind is seen as players but also as a great
audience, while behind this world theatre stands its uneasy director, who
has power over the stage and the spectators as well.99 Exits and entrances
are strictly fixed; no rich man can prolong his ‘role’ and no poor man can
shorten it. And there is no sense in being angry about the cast, because
none of the roles lasts long. It is not important what role you have, but it
is important to play it well.100 At this point it is impossible not to remem-
ber ‘La Vida Es Sueño’ by Calderon, ‘Everyman’, or even ‘Jedermann’ by
In life, ‘casting’ is done by chance as personified by Fortune (tyche).101
The wheel of fortune was one of the most powerful emblems of the
Renaissance, and as we shall see, the ασυστασά τση [sic] τύχης (the fick-
leness of Fortune) appears in Georgios Chortatsis’ ‘Erofile’ published in
1600. Chortatsis, however, was already writing under Western influence;
one possible source for his imagery is from the Late Byzantine era, when
the aforementioned aphorism of Pseudo-Democritus is referenced in a col-
lection of Greek proverbs by Michael Apostoles (*1422). This collection’s
first Renaissance, print edition appeared in Basel in 1538;102 by the time it
appears in a second edition in 1653,103 this quote appears as an a posteriori
addition by an anonymous Humanist without any comment. So by then
both the theatrum mundi and ‘wheel of fortune’ metaphors were already
well known throughout the West.104

Surviving Spectacles, Verdicts of Councils and

Condemnations in Patristic Literature
Only humble remains of the ancient art of acting survived in the Early
Byzantine period:  tragedies were mainly reading material, with excerpts
Polemis 1995: 752–3.
Beck 1952: 106 f. Polemis 1995: 241, 689, 774.
Beck 1952: 107.
Gigante 1967, 1981: 217–44.
Apostoles 1538. About this collection Geisler 1908.
Apostoles 1653: 72 (εκατοντάς ιδ΄ 26). Additions of an author’s name in older collections are
not unusual (e.g., Clavis Homerica, London 1784, 287 ff. published under the name of Michael
Apostoles, with the above-mentioned proverb on p. 325).
And not only in the West. Shortly after 1653 the Greek baroque romance Καλόανδρος πιστός by
an anonymous author from the Ionian islands was published in Venice (Danezis 1989), a Greek
adaptation of an Italian romance, Calloandro Fidele von Giov. Ambrosio Marini. Here the term
‘theatron’ had a very broad spectrum of meanings as well (Danezis 1989: 51 ff.).

Surviving Spectacles, Verdicts of Councils 69

recited by rhetorical ‘tragōidoi’ or danced by pantomime; comedies were
replaced by mime.105 ‘Lascivious dancing’ was condemned by the Church
Fathers,106 but also defended by intellectuals of the time (e.g., Lucian and
Libanius).107 Pantomime was widespread throughout the Middle East108
is mentioned also in the ninth century by Arethas, bishop of Caesarea,109
and is condemned by the Seventh Ecumenical Council as a heretical prac-
tice (orchēstika lygismata were performed in the Iconoclast monasteries).110
Already forbidden by the Council in Trullo (691/92), together with pub-
lic singing, dancing and mummery, the ban remained officially in place
and was repeated in ecclesiastical sources in post-Byzantine times.111 From
the Church’s perspective there is no distinction made among pantomime,
mime, mummery, dancing, singing and other festive activities.112 As a con-
sequence, the connotations of the terms ‘mimoi’, ‘skēnikoi’, ‘thymelikoi’,
‘mousikoi’, ‘orchēstai’, etc., have a wide range of meanings: they are weak-
lings, womanly men, rotten, lecherous, superficial, singing and dancing,
disguising, and imitating other people. They performed professionally on
the occasion of idolatrous feasts, and because of their low moral standards
they belonged to the social categories of prostitutes and pimps – as did the
mimes. In the case of pantomime, it was its allegedly lascivious dancing

Müller 1909, Theocharidis 1940, Kyriakidis 1934, 1978: 169–207, 1960. The latter elaborated the
theory that the pantomime libretto was the starting point for Modern Greek ballads, based on
two etymologies:  tragōidia that turned to tragoudi (song; see earlier discussion), and parakatalogē
(recitative) that was transformed to paralogē (ballad, narrative song). For ancient parakatalogē
see Pauly-Wissowa XVIII/3, 1186 and Μεγάλη Ελλ. Εγκυκλοπαίδεια 19, 627, Gentili 1960. On
tragōidoi, levishly dressed and surrounded by silent supporting actors, see Hall 2002: 12–24. His art
had more to do with vocal and rhetorical display than with theatre.
For example by Chrysostomos, Patr. gr. 62: 386. See also Kyriakidis 1978: 343 and Sathas 1878: 209.
Kokolakis 1959.
Rotolo 1957, Pasquato 1976: 137–165, Jory 2002, etc. See also the Chapter 1.
In a scholion to Lucian’s treatise on dancing he states that even in his time a dancer of pantomime
was corrupting the young; it remains unclear, however, what exactly is meant here by ‘pantomime’
(Rabe 1906, Puchner 1983).
‘Dancers’ gyrations’: see Kyriakidis 1978: 186.
Puchner 1983, Molloy 1996, Dölger 1934.
For the ‘rosalia’ see Puchner 1987, 1994a: 11–95. A good example for the confusion of genres in
Christian polemics are the Syrian Homilies on the Spectacles of the Theatre (c. AD 500) by Bishop
Jacob of Sarugh (British Library Add MS 17158, fol. 1–48, Hall/Wyles 2008: 412–19): in Homily 2
fol. 4r he mocks the fake breasts put on dancers to look like women, the metal plate for tap-dancing
on wooden and stone stages, as well as the burning of perfume at performances. In Homily 3 fol.7v
he warns: ‘The fruits [sc. of the spectacles of the theatre] are the things which you have learned
through watching them:  dancing, amusement, music, and the miming of lying tales; teaching
which destroys the mind; choruses which are not true; troublesome and confused sounds; melodies
which attract children; carefully crafted popular tunes; skillful chants, lying canticles [composed]
according to the folly which the Greek invented’; on fol. 9v we read: ‘Do not love dancing, the
mother of all lasciviousness’. In Homily 4, fol. 18r Jacob compares the ‘true’ marvel of the resur-
rection of Lazarus with those acted in the theatres, Homily 5 fol. 19v he condemns laughter in the
theatre, in fol. 21v-22v he mocks Greek mythology.

70 Byzantium
that attracted the anger of the Church Fathers, whereas in the case of mime
it was the obscenity and primitive nature of the spectacle, their scenes of
brawls and adultery, female striptease and the parody of baptisms which
made them speak of theama satanikon. Nevertheless, even Christians did
not hesitate to frequent this sort of primitive entertainment.113
Of Byzantine mime not a single text survives, but we can get an idea
from the papyri of Oxyrhynchos of the first and second centuries AD.114
Only from Syria do we have a larger fragment from the fifth or sixth
century AD.115 The lack of sources could possibly be attributed to the
hostility of the Church, but more to the improvised character of many
mime shows. Unlike the Roman version of the Late Republic the mime
of the Early Byzantine period was played without masques or phalloi.116
The archimimus usually played the ‘bald fool’ (stupidus), being beaten by
the aggressive long-haired member of the troupe.117 Central motifs of their
simple plots included acts of adultery, their disclosure and condemnation.
As described in the Apologia mimorum (Συνηγορία μίμων) by Chorikios
of Gaza,118 the role repertoire of mime included medical doctors, rhetors,
adulterers, slaves (26), masters, shop-owners, butchers, cooks, innkeep-
ers, guests, advocates, toddlers, young lovers, the irascible man in anger
and another who tries to calm him (110), etc.119 According to Choricius
the mime had to be eloquent, otherwise he was hissed; he had to have a
good memory in order to act with self-confidence; the play of the eyes,
the sweetness of his voice and his ability in dancing were equally impor-
tant.120 Many sources emphasize the lascivious dress and trappings of the
mime actresses (e.g., in the vita of St Pelagia).121 In the Codex Theodosianus
(XV 7, 11) there is a condemnation of luxurious rings and silk dresses embroi-
dered with gold worn by the mime actresses,122 and Gregory of Nazienzus

Webb 2008. See, for example, the homily of Chrysostom Πρὸς τοὺς καταλείψαντας τὴν ἐκκλησίαν
καὶ αὐτομολήσαντας πρὸς τὰς ἱπποδρομίας καὶ τὰ θέατρα (‘Against those who abandon the
church and choose to go to the hippodrome and the theatres’) (Patr. Gr. 56:  263–70). See also
Webb 2002.
See the first chapter.
Edited by Link 1904. See also Vogt 1931a.
Reich 1903: 616 ff.
Stefanis 1986: 192 ff., Patr. Gr. 57: 426, 59: 28, Roueché 2002.
Litsas 1980, Stefanis 1986. Chorikios is cited from the edition of Foerster-Richtsteig. The treatise
is usually interpreted as a rhetorical exercise, the defence of a difficult case in front of the court of
justice; but it remains one of the most detailed sources we have on Byzantine mime. For details
see Webb 2002: 299–300. Barnes 1996, on the other hand, argues that Choricius could not, as a
Christian, have defended the theatre.
Foerster-Richtsteig 26 and 110. See also Litsas 1982, Abel 1931.
Foerster-Richtsteig 124–5.
Patr. Gr. 116: 909B, Usener 1879: 4, Reich 1903: 102, Webb 2002.
Theocharidis 1940: 13. See also Blänsdorf 1990.

Surviving Spectacles, Verdicts of Councils 71

raises objections to their sophisticated coiffure.123 In the ‘hydromime’ the
actresses were dressed in bikinis or even undressed.124 Hellenistic theatre
buildings, in Early Byzantine times, were used by the mimes in such a way
that they sometimes erected a wooden platform in the orchestra, as is evi-
dent from the synaxarion of Symeon Salos by Leontios of Neapolis in the
mid-sixth century in Emesa.125 Hence σκηνή has the meaning of a wooden
podium, even in Gregory of Nazienzus’ writings.126
The ivory reliefs of the Consular Diptychs in the sixth century127 do not
give clear evidence of what really happened in the circus arena: musicians
and mimes can be seen, but in a very stylized way and almost without
details. Moreover the pictures do not reproduce the actual celebrations in
honour of the new consul, because it can be proved that diptychs from the
beginning of the sixth century (Constantinople 515 and 517)128 are repro-
duced again in the eleventh and twelfth centuries in the same style and
with the same topics.129 This largely static artistic tradition may be com-
pared with the condemnations of mime by the Council in Trullo (691/2),
which are reinforced by Balsamon in the twelfth century. The consuls, who
changed annually up to AD 541, were responsible for the organization of
the spectacles and commissioned diptychs with animal hunts, circus spec-
tacles, mimes, musicians, etc., to commemorate them.
The diptych reliefs of Anastasios, consul in 517, for example, depict scenes
with mime actors along with animal hunting and acrobatic performances:130
the acting style appears to be one of primitive realism together with crude
satire and erotic provocation, which seems to reflect the general atmosphere
of mime performances. One of the scenes seems to be a parody of the bless-
ing of a child. The child is flanked by two bald mime actors who are tied
up and are bitten on the nose by crabs.131 We also find a dialogue scene with
three actors, which has been interpreted as an episode from tragedy on the

Vivilakis 1996: 259.
Traversari 1960, Ippolito 1962. See also the description of such spectacles by Procopios (Anekdota
9, 11 ff., about Theodora 9, 20 ff., 59, 24 ff., ed. Haury), but this information has to be used with
caution (Reich 1903: 174 ff., Stefanis 1986: 22 ff.). As for Procopius’ biased account of the former
mime Theodora, wife of Justinian, see Webb 2002: 299.
Rydén 1963: 7–19, 1970, Reich 1903: 822–6, Gelzer 1889, 1907: 1–56.
Vivilakis 1996: 252.
Delbrueck 1929, Neiiendam 1992: 94–132.
Volbach 1976:  35 f., pl. 16 and 20. Neiiendam concludes that the pictures seem conventional
(1992:  106)  and cannot function as sources of information for actual events (disputing Grabar
1968a: 245).
Bank 1977: pl. 130, 131, 134, 135 and Volbach 1976: pl. 30, 31, 34.
Puchner 2002: 315 f., pl. 56.
The remains of the relief, which was damaged during the French Revolution, can be reconstructed
from a copperplate engraving made in the seventeenth century (Wilthemius 1659). See Neiiendam
pl. 40 and 41.

72 Byzantium
basis of such characteristic elements as the onkos and the kothornos.132 Next
to it we see a parodic healing scene which involves a bald male actor and an
actress who provocatively turns to the audience;133 the healers pull at one of
the blind man’s eyelids, while the actress presents herself to the audience with
one hand resting on her waist, thus indicating that she is swaying her hips.
This may well be the sort of scene evoked by surviving papyrus fragments
from Oxyrhynchos. The ‘tragic’ characters, too, are depicted in realistic ways,
all adopting different sitting positions and gesticulating in a manner which
allows their bodies to merge in a unified composition.
The performances of mimes were revue-like farces of everyday life
(Reich’s ‘biological’ mime), travesties of mythology (‘mythological’ mime)
or parodies of baptism and other Christian rituals (‘christological’ mime).134
The last category was banned specifically in 546 (Cod. Just. Nov. 123, 44).
This ban, together with the prohibition on public funding of performances
by Justinian,135 caused the subsequent decline in the mimes’ activities: this
explains why in the fifth century Constantinople boasts four theatres, but
none by the sixth century.136 It is not clear how active mime and pantomime
were when the Council in Trullo formulated the 51st and 62nd Canons,
which represent in a sense the decisive verdict of the Church against these
kinds of shows.137 These canons would have affected the performances of
mime, hunting spectacles and dancing in the theatre. Despite all restric-
tions, until then the mime was not illegal.138 After the Trullanum, mimes are
evident as joculatores and histriones in the hippodrome and at the imperial
court. Texts of ecclesiastical jurisdiction such as the synodal commentaries
of Zonaras and Balsamon and the edicts of Chomatianos from the Middle
and Late Byzantine periods refer to ritual folk masquerades, primitive
farces and pantomimes by lower clergy, masqued processions of schoolboys
in Constantinople, carnivalesque sketches of the imperial court and a sort
of ‘feast of fools’ in the church itself.139 As tempting as it may be, it is not

Neiiendam 1992: 119–20.
Idem 120–1.
Reich 1903: 616 ff., Morfakidis 1985, Reinach 1996.
Proklos, Anekdota 26, 8 ff., 59, 8 ff., ed. Haury.
Mango 1981: 341 ff., 352.
Mango 1981: 344: ‘The mime and the pantomime may have lingered on until the end of the 7th
century when they were banned by Canon 51 of the Trullan Council. Does this mean that they
were still widespead at the time? The answer is not clear, especially in view of the fact that the same
canon also prohibits τὰ τῶν κυνηγίων θεώρια [hunting spectacles] which were, almost certainly,
extinct. I know, however, of no clear-cut evidence that would indicate the presence of a theatre in
the Byzantine Empire at a later date, apart from the occasional performance given by mummers’.
Tinnefeld 1974.
Tinnefeld 1974, Kyriakis 1973, Pitsakis 1996, Puchner 1981/2:  198–205, 1997:  34, 106–7, Mango
1981: 351. For mummery see now also Troianos (2007–9).

Surviving Spectacles, Verdicts of Councils 73

possible to construct out of this material – ritual mummery and martial
dances like the misunderstood ‘Gothic Dance’ (tenth century), etc.140 – a
continuous tradition of mime lasting until the fall of Constantinople in
1453141. Nor is it possible to link such a hypothetical Byzantine mime with
the origin of Commedia dell’Arte or Ottoman shadow puppet theatre.142
The repetition of condemnations in church documents is likewise mislead-
ing: when Balsamon in the twelfth century talks about Aristophanes and
Euripides and comic, tragic and satyric masques,143 he is displaying his
classical education and erudition rather than depicting contemporary real-
ity. The language of the synods of the first millennium is still alive in the
eighteenth century:144 in 1765, a Greek law book from Bucharest quotes the
62nd Canon of the Trullanum in order to forbid public dancing by girls in
a custom well known throughout the Balkans as ‘paparuda’, ‘perperuna’ or
‘dodole’, a ritual processional rain dance.145
Another form of public ‘performance’, perhaps occasionally with the
participation of professional mimes, are the acclamations (‘acta’) in the
hippodrome, but also at the synods, which already bore some resemblance
to a dialogue. These were rhythmic, formulaic, and often chanted acclama-
tions by the demes and factions, which were often answered in the same
style by heralds of the emperor. Using this quasi-literary form one could
influence political decisions, engage in factional conflicts or attack indi-
vidual public figures.146 The relevant material survives in the proceedings
of the synods, where it is close in character to antiphony and litany and is
seen by some scholars as having links with theatrical performance.147 We
cannot rule out the possibility that mime actors participated in public dia-
logues in the hippodrome; their role in that venue probably went beyond
Puchner 1997: 34, 106 f., Vogt 1925–50: IIa 182–86, IIb 186–91.
This is only possible, if Mime is taken in a very broad sense (as Tinnefeld 1974 did): not only as an
organized theatre form, playing a fictional story by an ensemble of actors in front of an audience,
but also clowns, jesters, acrobats, magicians, rhapsodes, singers and musicians, etc. Such manifesta-
tions of show business are evident in different written sources (Marciniak 2014a, Palágyi 2014) also
in iconography and book illumination (Kepetzi 2014, Vasilakeris 2014).
Reich 1903: 616 ff., Vogt 1931b, Cottas 1931a: 29–52, Solomos 1964: 15 ff., Ljubarski 1987. On this
error see Puchner 1997: 34, 106–7. The thesis that the Byzantine mime lies behind later genres of
theatre has been absorbed from Turkish theatre history (And 1951, 1962), criticized by Puchner
1975: 20 ff., as well as scholars from comparative folklore studies (Liungman 1937: 822, Kakouri
1963:  214). Comic figures seem to survive also in Byzantine manuscript illumination (Bernabò
Rallis/Potlis 1852–56: II 449 f. About the knowledge of Euripides in Byzantium see Weitzmann 1949.
Puchner 1983.
Zepos 1959: 43, Puchner 1982, 1996: 89–124. Similar repetition in the edicts of the Orthodox Church
can found in the case of ‘adoptio in fratrem’, the blood brotherhood consecrated by the Church,
and the edicts of the Codex Justinianus are repeated until the twentieth century (Puchner 1994).
E.g., the Akta dia Kalopodion, on which see Karlin-Hayter 1973, Irmscher 1970, Baldwin 1981.
Sathas 1878: 169 ff., 289 ff., Cottas 1931a, Solomos 1964: 131–64.

74 Byzantium
that of mere entertainers during breaks between the races; in fact, there is
one case in which their mini-dialogues can be shown to have had drastic
political consequences;148 after the sixth century, however, both the num-
ber of chariot races and the importance of the hippodrome and its factions
went into decline.149

Mime Martyrs and the Statistical Evidence

The most reliable evidence on the decline of Hellenistic show business in
early Christian times can be shown in the gradual disappearance of hard
data. Thanks to Stefanis’ monumental work, cataloguing the Greek epi-
graphic evidence for more than three thousand Dionysiakoi technītai of all
professions throughout antiquity – mimes, pantomimes, cithara and flute
players, singers, reciters as aoidoi and tragōidoi, dancers, instrumentalists,
jugglers and rhetorians, etc. – it is now possible to provide some statistical
evidence.150 Extant sources can also provide a rough chronological frame-
work for the decline of government-supported performing arts which took
place during the course of the Early Byzantine era. For example: although
sources in the third century AD still name as many as 200  ‘artisans of
Dionysus’and professionals of the show business, the number drops to 23
by the fourth to sixth century.151
Actors of mimes who become martyrs are attested until the begin-
ning of the fourth century, when Christians ceased to be persecuted: St
Ardalion under Maximianus in the East, St Babylas in Cilicia, St Gaianos
and St Gelasinos (end of the third century) in Heliopolis in Phoenicia, St
Pelagia in Antioch, St Porphyrios in Constantinople (362),152 St Porphyrios
from Ephesus in Caesarea (c. 275), and the auletes Philemon in the
Egyptian city of Antinoöpolis under Diocletian.153 The case of St Gelasinos
The performance, presented for the emperor Theophilos in the ninth century was designed to pro-
test a trick played on a widow by the chamberlain Nikephoros. The chamberlain was immediately
punished by being burnt at the stake.
Mango 1981.
Stefanis 1988, Puchner 2002: 206–7.
These include male and female dancers in the circus parties or factions in the hippodrome in AD
500; the empress Theodora as a mime actress; Memphis the Snub-Nosed (a dancer in Alexandria),
a certain Hyperechios (also a dancer), the female dancer Chrysomallo (a favourite of Theodora),
as well as an auletes Aurelios Psenymis, whose name appears on a work contract from the Egyptian
city of Hermoupolis in AD 322 (Stefanis nos. 157, 293, 465, 488, 541, 829, 830, 1149, 1156, 1386, 1593,
1639, 2014, 2026, 2122–4, 2194, 2447, 2486, 2630, 2638, 2642).
Acta Sanctorum, Sept. V (1755) 37. His martyrdom is celebrated on the 15th of Sept. (Stefanis
1988: no 2122).
Stefanis 1988: nos. 293, 504, 536, 541, 2039, 2122, 2124, 2486. On the dissemination of the legend of
Pelagia in the Middle Ages see Usener (1879) and Petitmengin/Cazacu 1981. On the martyrdom of

Dramatic Elements without Stage Production 75

is characteristic:  he was a supporting mime actor who converted to
Christianity while performing a satire of the Christian baptismal rite, per-
formed in his home town of Heliopolis. After announcing his conversion
and intention to quit the stage he was stoned to death by the audience.154

Dramatic Elements without Stage Production

In Byzantine literature there is nothing like a real drama; but there is
ample evidence for dramatic elements and dialogues, a continuation of the
ancient tradition of fictitious rhetorical exercises.155 Elements of dialogue
can be found in hymns, homilies and kontakia (sermons in verse);156 there
are quite numerous examples of this kind,157 but they are not dramas, even
though the title and prologue sometimes invoke Euripides.158 Antiphonal,
dialogue-like elements can be seen in hymns of Syrian origin as well as in
the Christmas hymns of Patriarch Sophronios (634–8),159 but they are also
in Romanos the Melode’s kontakia, some of which are marked by a truly
‘dramatic’ climax.160

St Porphyrios of Ephesus see Vorst 1910: the parody of baptism ends with a real baptism, followed
by miracles and a debate between the holy man and a town councillor. For martyrdom see also
Potter 1993 and Sallmann 1990.
Weismann 1975, Wiemken 1972: 179 ff.
Ross 1970, Hoffmann 1966. Earlier research had underlined the ‘dramatic’ (i.e., dialogic) structure
of some kontakia of Romanos Melodos (Bouvy 1886: 367) and of some homilies by St Ephraim
the Syrian (Duval 1900), dramatic elements in the ‘Praise of the Holy Virgin’ attributed to Proklos
(Kirpičnikov 1892); the dialogue between Joseph and Mary after the Annunciation has been inter-
preted by some as a first attempt at dramatization of the Bible (Norden 1909), while other scholars
saw a link between Byzantine ‘dramatized’ homilies and medieval drama (Rand 1904) and imag-
ined that they were declaimed by different voices (Mercati 1905: 17 ff.). Giorgio La Piana unified
these scattered findings in 1912 in his Italian monograph, editing the ‘Praise of the Mother of God’
ascribed to Patriarch Proclus as a religious ‘drama’ and supposing that the dramatized homilies and
sermons were acted in church (Piana 1912).
See for example Proclus’ ‘Praise of the Mother of God’ (434–47, Patr. Gr. 65: 736 ff.), which fur-
nished the main piece of evidence for La Piana’s theory (see n. 149).
Sathas 1878: ρλγ΄ ff., Krumbacher 1897: 653.
See, for example, in the text On Free Will by St Methodios (died 311); see for other examples in
Krumbacher 1897: 654–5.
As one scholar asserted, ‘The Syro-Byzantine Nativity cycle was dramatic in the same sense as the
Italian oratorio at the beginning of the 17th c.; it was never intended for representation on the
stage … It is interesting to note that the first movement towards the development of a mystery
play occurs in the Eastern church at such an early date, and yet no attempt was made to develop
the semi-dramatic form into an actual liturgy’ (Wellesz 1947: 151). See also Baumstark 1923: 101 ff.
and Mioni 1937: 27 on the hymns (kontakia) of Romanos Melodos.
For this reason they have been described as ‘la prima grande affermazione dei misteri sacri del
mondo bizantino’ (Mioni 1937: 27), an opinion rejected by Tomadakis 1965: 126 and Mitsakis 1986.
A discussion about the possibility of psalmody with different voices can be found in Hunger 1997a
and 1999.

76 Byzantium
Hans-Georg Beck has unearthed a delightful little scene in a mediocre
Byzantine sermon attributed (erroneously) to John Chrysostom. In the ser-
mon on the Annunciation of Mary, the mother of God finds it hard to believe
what the angel tells her about pure conception, while Joseph follows with
interest the gradual expansion of his spouse’s belly; he would like to shout
and affront her, but he has to hold his tongue. It is likely that the scene, with
its unexpectedly comical elements, harks back to a late Hellenistic mime
which had adultery as its theme. It is doubtful, however, that snippets of
dramatic scenes like these were ‘staged’ as part of the sermon.161 Remnants of
similar scenes from mime are also found in the Miracles of St Demetrius and
in Theophanes Continuatus, but there is no proof for Speck’s suggestion that
the Quaestiones Physicae of Theophylact Simocatta and the Verses on Adam
of Ignatius the Deacon (ninth century) served as dialogue texts for a school
end of term celebration.162 Another case of comic and ‘theatrical’ elements is
the vita of ‘St Mary the New’ († c. 903), the mother of four children, where
the text gives some indications for public reading.163 Dialogue and character
speeches belong to the rhetorical devices of Byzantine prosōpopoieia.164 The
dialogue form survives in the didactic, edifying and panegyric literature of
Byzantium down to its latest stages.165

Two Outstanding Cento Poems in Dialogue

But there are two texts which seem to be closer to Byzantine ‘drama’ and
‘theatre’:  one, the Χριστὸς πάσχων (Christus Patiens), uses quotations

Patr. Gr. 60: 756 ff., Beck 1978: 113 ff. For other examples of these Annunciation dialogues in homi-
letic and hymnological literature see Detorakis 2001. Zervoudakis (2007) offers more examples,
e.g., Theophanes Graptos, the Canon on St Nicolas, John Damascenus, Κανὼν εἰς τὴν Σύλληψιν τοῦ
Τιμίου Προδρόμου, George of Nicomedia, Canon on the Annunciation, etc.
Patr. Gr. 117: 1164–74, Speck 1996: 35 and 1996a with references. An analysis of these dialogue texts
from the perspective of theatre studies results in no compelling arguments for a theatrical produc-
tion. For the text of the Verses on Adam, with brief notes, see Baldwin 1985: 134–41. See also Speck
1996: 38 ff., 1968: 619–23, 1977/78, 1984: 192.
Laiou 1995: 245 ff., Kissas 1989, Kourilas 1957.
See Dölger 1948:  14 ff. In the Verses on Adam it is God, Adam, Eve, and the snake who treat
of the theme in inherited guilt in 143 lines of dodecasyllabic verse, each speaking three lines in
turn. A dialogue of the same kind has Lazarus and the rich man as its theme (Sternbach 1897).
In Dioptra of Philip Monotropos there is a debate between body and soul (Beck 1959:  642 ff.,
Hörandner 1964: 23–40); in the Dramation of Michael Haplucheir (twelfth to thirteenth century)
a farmer, a scholar, Tyche, the Muses and a chorus discuss the bad social position of sophos (see
the edition of Leone 1969, and also Hörandner 1972). The Cat and Mouse Battle is conceived as a
parody of tragedy (Hunger 1968), while the Ethopoiia Dramatike functions as a panegyric on John
Kantakouzenos (Hunger 1977/8: 146 ff. with more examples).
For example, the Idyll of Maximos Planoudes (Pontani 1973) or the anonymous dialogue between
the shepherds Xenophon and Philemon in the fifteenth century (Sturm 1901).

Two Outstanding Cento Poems in Dialogue 77

from ancient tragedy and the other, the so-called Cyprus Passion Cycle, is
intended (as formulated in the prologue) to be performed ‘in Euripides’
style’.166 Both dialogs are cento compositions, a term derived from the
word κέντρων, which refers to a collection of quotations from known lit-
erary sources designed to be recognized by the audience. In the first case
the sources are ancient tragedies; in the second, biblical and apocryphal

Christus Patiens
This text has been the strongest argument in favour of Byzantine theatre
and in a sense prompted the whole debate in the first place. This cento
poem in dialogue form has been published in various editions since the six-
teenth century167 and was attributed to the Greek Church Father Gregory
of Nazienzus. Some scholars, even recently, have argued in favour of his
authorship and have claimed it is ‘la tragédie chrétienne par excellence’,168
although this theory had been rejected as far back as the nineteenth century.
Dating and authorship of the Christus Patiens are among the most endur-
ing controversies in Byzantine studies.169 With 2,531 verses the poem is one
of the longest surviving examples of the cento, with citations from ancient
Greek tragedy, mainly from Euripides (Medea, Bacchae, Hippolytus, Rhesus,
Orestes, Hecuba, Trojan Women); a few verses from Aeschylus (Agamemnon,
Prometheus) and Lycophron (Alexandra); as well as quotations from the Old
and New Testament and Apocrypha.170 The technique of collating citations
from ancient and ecclesiastical sources into a sort of mosaic (κέντρων) was
a separate literary genre in Late Antiquity and Byzantium.171 Because of its
lack of ‘originality,’ this mixture of ancient and Christian quotations was
not highly regarded by the philologists of the nineteenth and twentieth cen-
turies.172 Only recently have scholars offered us a better understanding of
the game of identifying citations: for them to have their desired effect, the
presumably literate audience had to be well acquainted with both ancient
and Christian sources. Still, beyond the fun of identifying quotations there
does not appear to be any outstanding literary value in these compilations.173

See Puchner 1984a: 91–107, 1986, 1992, 1995: 51–113, 2006a, Ploritis 1999: 152–9, 189–202.
Bladus 1542.
Tuilier 1969: 19, Sakkalis 1977, Trisoglio 1996, 1996a.
See the bibliography of Trisoglio 1974, and more recently Puchner 1992: 94 note 4, 1995: 51 ff.
Hunger 1977/78: 102 ff., Pollmann 1997.
Hunger 1969, 1969/70.
Krumbacher 1897: 746, Dieterich 1902: 45–9, Creizenach 1911: 259.
Hunger 1965: 49 ff. For the Exagōgē of Ezekiel see Davies 2008.

78 Byzantium
From the viewpoint of form and plot the poem is a dialogic planctus
Mariae (Lament of the Virgin),174 since the main role is not Christ but his
Holy Mother. The rest of the speaking roles are (in order of the lines allot-
ted to them): John, Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, Mary Magdalene,
messengers, high priests, soldiers, Pilate as well as the two half-choruses of
the women following the Holy Mother and participating in the dialogue.
Messenger speeches and hints of teichoskopia (‘viewing from the wall’)
cut the dialogue, in which Mary is usually the leading figure. Twice the
messenger’s speech (angelikē rhēsis) is transformed into living scenes and
the content of the narration is acted (a dialogue among the High Priest,
Pilate and the soldiers); at this point the indirect speech is altered into
direct speech. The Threnos of the Theotokos develops subsequently into a
Passion Play with scenes after the Resurrection, when Christ appears to
different persons as in the Gospels.175 Most scholars agree that this cento
poem was not written to be performed but to be read.176
Confusion remains about the dating and authorship of the poem.
Discovering that not all the texts which survived with the name of the
Church Fathers are really of that time and that some were written much
later (‘pseudoepigrapha’), at the beginning of the nineteenth century
some scholars questioned the authorship of Gregory of Nazianzus.177
Krumbacher, writing in the 1890s, believed in a much later date,178 and
the controversy continued throughout the twentieth century.179 In his
critical edition Tuilier ascribed the text once again to the Greek Church
Father,180 but reviews by Grosdidier de Matons and Hunger expressed the
opposite opinion.181 Hunger favours the twelfth century poet Theodoros
Prodromos,182 while Cataudella argued for an earlier date.183 Early dating
is also underlined by Mantziou184 but again questioned by Hunger in his

Alexiou 1974: 64 ff., 1975.
Puchner 1992: 96 ff.
It cannot be staged without cuts; such productions have been staged in recent decades in Athens
(in the translation by G. Stavrou 1973). In Russia the poem was acted as an adaptation in church
in the seventeenth century (Stender-Petersen 1957: I 277 ff.).
For the subsequent controversy see Eichstädt 1816, Augusti 1816, Doering 1864, Klein 1866: 599–
634, Sathas 1878: ξστ΄ ff., Brambs 1883, Dräseke 1884, Hilberg 1886, Rousselière 1895.
Krumbacher 1897: 746 ff.
Horna 1929, Cottas 1931a:  253–62, 1931b, Momigliano 1932, Dölger 1934a, Tuilier 1950, Grande
1962: 253–62, 385 ff.
Tuilier 1969.
Grosdidier de Matons 1973, Hunger 1971.
Hunger 1969: 49 ff.
Cataudella s.a.
Mantziou 1974.

Two Outstanding Cento Poems in Dialogue 79

‘History of Byzantine Profane Literature’.185 Trisoglio expressly defends the
authorship of Gregory of Nazienzus186 along with other scholars,187 while
others stress the medieval nature and origin of the cento poem (Aldama,
Dostálová, Hörandner, Pollmann).188 There has been no agreement on the
question,189 and the differences in dating are enormous: most opinions
propose the fourth and fifth or the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Theatre
histories tend to re-circulate the opinions of either Krumbacher or Cottas,
emphasizing the combination of ancient and Christian elements charac-
teristic of Byzantine culture, and they classify the poem as a ‘closet’ or
‘reading’ drama which most likely never was performed onstage. Whatever
one’s position on this vexed debate, the Christus Patiens remains the most
convincing argument for the existence of a Byzantine ‘drama’.190
A close examination of the text, using the methods of dramatic analysis,191
could easily prove that the poet does indeed imitate some dramatic con-
ventions found in ancient theatre texts, but also that he is clearly unaware
of the scenic consequences of his text onstage:  he confuses teichoskopia
(a view from the ramparts) with a messenger speech (angelikē rhēsis), he inserts
acted scenes into the messenger’s speech, and he fails to mark the points in
the action at which characters enter and leave the stage. Christ appears several
times after his Resurrection before different persons, acting out the contradic-
tory narratives of all four evangelists. The poet is more concerned with quoting
all relevant passages of the Bible than producing a unified dramatic plot: par-
ticularly after Resurrection, the narrated off-stage action often contradicts the
on-stage action seen by the audience. The poem is neither a tragedy meant for
production nor a real drama as the Passion Plays are; it is a cento in dialogue
form which uses quotations from tragedy and imitates some of the dramatic
conventions of tragedy without fully understanding their implications for
stage production. Such a distinct literary form is more at home in middle
Byzantium than in the time of the Church Fathers. Moreover, the scenes of
the Crucifixion, Deposition and Lament follow specific iconographic types
which emerged only after the period of Iconoclasm.192

Hunger 1977/78: II 104.
Trisoglio 1979, 1981, 1996, 1996a. The same Italian scholar has published a series of articles on the
same poem (1978, 1979a, 1979b, 1980, 1981a, 1994, 1995).
For an early dating see also Garzya 1984, MacCoull 1985, Schwart 1990.
Aldama 1972, Dostálová 1982, Hörandner 1988 (answered by Garzya 1989), Pollmann 1997.
See the review of Trisoglio 1996 by Manfred Kertsch, Jahrbuch der Österreichischen Byzantinistik 48
(1998) 409.
See also Starowieyski 1994, 1997, Neumann 1987, Swart 1990, Lanowski 1997, Melero 1997.
Puchner 1992, 1995: 51–113.
Puchner 1992: 127–34. Any influence the other way round, from Christus Patiens to iconography
(as Cottas 1931a assumed), is impossible because of the doctrinal restriction of iconography (for the

80 Byzantium
The long series of curses which Mary pronounces against Judas points in
the same direction: they go better with the more anthropocentric medieval
attitudes towards Christ and Mary which arose after Iconoclasm than with
the high spirituality of the early Christian Church. In this way we have
some new arguments for ascribing the poem to a relatively late date. Since
the cento quotations presuppose an educated audience, we may think of
the schools and scholars of Constantinople in the eleventh or twelfth cen-
tury.193 The story of Christ’s Passion and Resurrection as the most sacred
‘plot’ of all is dressed up in the ‘authentic’ language of ancient tragedy as
the most beautiful language in the world by the standards of the time.
The Easter story, however, was not regarded as tragedy, and notwithstand-
ing the reference to Euripides in the prologue there is a colophon which
assures us that the drama’s content is ‘true and not invented’.194

The Cyprus Passion Cycle

This cento composition is different, in spite of the same topic:  only the
initial words (incipit) from biblical, apocryphal and other sources are written
down, the citations are linked together with orders to the organizer of the
performance in the imperative mode and there are no citations from ancient
tragedy. This relatively short text was composed on Cyprus before 1320,
under the rule of the Lusignans. As a provincial work, it would not have
had the influence that the Christus Patiens had. It was edited several times
in the twentieth century and was of great importance in the debates about
Byzantine ‘theatre’.195 As recent research has shown, however, the author was
not Constantin Euteles Anagnostes (whose name appears elsewhere in the
manuscript), but the copyist who is known as ‘Scribe A’ of the famous mis-
cellaneous manuscript Cod. Vatic. Palat. Gr. 367. This manuscript includes

Western church see Puchner 1979) and their strict correlation with the other media of expression of
liturgy (Puchner 1991: 23 ff., 71ff., 116 ff.).
Hörandner 1988.
Puchner 1992: 142 f.
Lampros 1916, Vogt 1931b: 37–74, Mahr 1947 restores the incipit passages and provides an English
translation, but some of his completions are doubtful and in the end the idea of an integrated pas-
sion play is misleading. Ploritis 1999: 225–56 reproduces the completed version of Mahr, Puchner
2006a offers a critical edition of the manuscript text as it is (without completion of the incipit).
This well preserved monumental codex was described by Darrouzès 1957, Turyn 1964:  117–24,
Canart 1977, and most detailed by Constantinides/Browning 1993: 153–65. The miscellaneous con-
tent was analysed by Lampros in different articles in Νέος Ελληνομνήμων 1904–22. In connection
with the Cyprus Passion Cycle see also Grivaud 1996: 1054–7 and Tsangaridis 2001; parts of the
codex were published by Lampros, Banescu 1913 and Schreiner 1975–79:  I  199–204. A  detailed
bibliography and discussion of scholarship can also be found in Puchner 2004: 71–150.

Two Outstanding Cento Poems in Dialogue 81

various Cypriot religious and secular materials, including the private archive
of a professional scribe who was probably secretary of the secrète or chan-
cellor of the ‘island of Aphrodite’.196 We do not know why or for whom he
copied this religious cento compilation, but the text is obviously intended
for production. It includes a prologue which is addressed to the director
of the performance,197 as well as ten episodes:  the awakening of Lazarus,
the arrival in Jerusalem, the meal at the house of Simon, the washing of the
feet, the betrayal of Jesus, Peter’s denials, the humiliation before Herod, the
Crucifixion, the Resurrection, and the touching of the wounds. The episodes
generally adhere to the Orthodox Easter cycle from the Saturday before
Easter (the raising of Lazarus) to the Sunday after (doubting Thomas). Each
episode quotes the opening words of passages from the Bible and some apoc-
ryphal scriptures (with some unidentified quotations from religious sources
of the time), and adds stage directions in the imperative.
While earlier scholars believed that this scenario is a typical repre-
sentative of a presumably widely performed Byzantine passion play, more
recent scholarship stresses that the text stands completely isolated within
Byzantine literature;198 it is safe to assume that what we have here is a
Greek counterpart to the Latin passion play, which first appeared under
the Lusignans, who adopted Western etiquette and maintained close links
with France.199 However, a major difficulty with this theory has been that
a Western model on this scale is not yet known from the early fourteenth
century; the only possible candidate is the twelfth century passion play
from Monte Cassino, which has a different set of episodes.200
Speculation about performances of the Cyprus Passion Cycle has cen-
tred around the prologue, in which the director is asked to prepare the
props, select the actors and ensure that they speak their lines without
making mistakes, interrupting each other or provoking laughter. While
M. Carpenter believed that there was a tradition of mime performances
among the crusaders in Cyprus, C. A. Mahr saw the play in the tradition
of Byzantine mime.201 But not only is there no evidence for professional

On the authorship now see Puchner 2006a: 125 ff. Author and date are discussed also in Baud-Bovy
1938, 1975, Turyn 1964: 117–24.
See mostly Carpenter 1936.
On the uniqueness of this work see Baud-Bovy 1938: 322 and Beck 1971: 112.
For the Western style of court life in Cyprus, the close connections to European courts and the
stream of pilgrims, going to and coming from Palestine, see Puchner 2006a: 56–66.
For possible models see Mahr 1942, 1947: 15 ff. About the passion play of Monte Cassino Inguanez
1936, Sticca 1970, Baud-Bovy 1975. Discussion of other possibilities in Puchner 2006a: 116–26.
Carpenter 1936: 37 ff., Mahr 1947: 15 ff., 82–3. ‘Interrupting and cutting-in, no less than improvis-
ing, seem to have been habits of the routine actors of mime… Apart from the general difficulty

82 Byzantium
mime in medieval Cyprus, the prologue is clearly addressed to amateur
actors.202 However, similar prologues are known from the west  – for
example, the Norman Jeu d’Adam (twelfth century)  – where the actors
involved were clearly non-professionals.203 A closer analysis of the text from
the perspective of theatre studies leads to the conclusion that the text as
we have it is unlikely to have served as a script for actual performances.
First, the play would have required an enormous cast, including six male
and three female protagonists and nine male und two female supporting
actors, making forty or fifty actors, including a group of Jews and chil-
dren who are present at Christ’s arrival in Jerusalem. Moreover, the play
involves at least ten different settings, and each episode is made up of two
or three parallel actions each requiring a different stage arrangement. More
importantly, although the rubrics of the cento are phrased in the impera-
tive and addressed to the director, they do not function as stage directions
in the usual sense. Rather, they are mere quotations from the Bible trans-
posed into the imperative: although ostensibly there to direct the action
on stage, they do not do much to clarify the manifold activities that it
involves.204 Thirdly, the description of stage paintings and props follows
the convention of the iconographic programmes of the middle Byzantine
period. Mahr adduces in support of his argument the ‘Painter’s Book from
the Holy Mountain’ (i.e., the monastic community of Mount Athos) by
Dionysios Phournas,205 a post-Byzantine compilation which shows traces
of Western influence. It would be more to the point to study the icono-
graphic programmes of Cypriot churches before 1320.
Given these obstacles it is very doubtful whether the first draft of this sce-
nario was ever staged as intended. It is possible that this cento text, copied
for unknown reasons, was composed by Greek students in a Latin school
of the Benedictines, not least because the idea of a passion play seems to
be Western while the thematic structure points to the Orthodox tradition;

in acting out the most sacred events of biblical history before an audience to whom ‘going to
the theatre’ was inevitably associated with ‘laughing,’ several scenes of the play were potential
sources of hilarity in that there existed parallel situations in stock plays of the mime’ (Carpenter
1936: 37 ff.).
This is also pointed out by Ploritis 1999: 193, who compares this with the scene where Hamlet is
instructing the actors for 'The Mouse-Trap' (III 2).
Puchner 1984a: 189–90, notes 136–7.
Scenic ‘dysfunctionality’ and the narrativity of the rubrics are not unknown to the medieval
Western theatre. Compare the Ludus Breviter from the monastery of Benediktbeuren, which is
similar in its thematic structure to the Cyprus Passion Cycle. In the case of such works contempo-
rary scholarship assumes that the stage directions may have been chanted by an ‘Evangelist’. See
Noomen 1958, Nagler 1976: 5, Greisenegger 1978: 229 ff., Roeder 1974: 24 ff.
Mahr 1947, Schäfer 1855, Hetherington 1974. See also the commentary in Puchner 2006a: 205–49.

Performativity in Church, Court and Everyday Life 83

but this is little more than speculation.206 Another cento compilation on
the Passion of Christ from the late or post-Byzantine period was recently
published,207 consisting of a sermon only half of which includes dialogue.
The Bible quotations are put in incipit form, but this text has nothing to
do with drama or theatre.208 A later attempt in a similar vein is attested on
Patmos, where the episode of the washing of the feet, performed on Holy
or Maundy Thursday, employs a similar compilation of passages from the
Bible. It charts the events of the Passion up to the moment when Christ is
arrested.209 Last but not least, there is a long allegorical play (repraesentatio
figurata) of the Presentation of Mary in the Temple, written and staged in
Avignon in 1372 by the Lusignan diplomat Philippe de Mézières. Because
we have no evidence for an Orthodox play along these lines it is highly
unlikely that Philippe would have seen anything like this during his stay
in Cyprus in 1360–8; it is far more likely that he composed it himself in
order to introduce the Orthodox festival of the Presentation of Mary to
the West.210

Performativity in Church, Court and Everyday Life

The theatricality of the Hellenistic period in terms of public life, ruler
cult, religious and secular ceremonies, etc., did not disappear in early
Byzantium; either they continued unchanged under Roman rule or they

See also the conclusion of my introduction to the new critical edition: ‘The Cyprus Passion Cycle
remains an enigmatic text as far as the motivations of its creation is concerned, but also as to the
authorship, the purpose it serves, to whom it is addressed and in the framework of what institution
it was produced. It is the only text of the Middle Byzantine period which was written by its author
for certain to be staged, but documents in itself the absolute lack of experience for this undertak-
ing. It is more than doubtful if it was really performed in medieval times. As it seems, there is no
trace of reception. We do not know why it was copied by the scribe A of the codex Vatic. Palat.
Gr. 367, a very busy notary and probably secretary of the royal secrète who handled ecclesiastical
and secular matters. The text is a religious dialogic cento, but compared with 'Christus patiens' it
not only is in prose but far from being artistic, it is a hasty compilation worked out partly from
memory. It uses the Middle Byzantine koine with a few demotic elements. Style and language as
well as the parallels in iconography point to a Middle Byzantine cultural level, in any event after
Iconoclasm and the tenth century. For codicological reasons it must have been compiled before
1320. Without any doubt the 'material' and thematic structure, theology and iconology are taken
from Orthodox tradition. On the other hand, its primitive realism, the tendency to show details,
the realistic perception of stage business are essentially incompatible with the theology of icons of
St John of Damascus and the condemnation of imitation, and with the high spirituality of homi-
letic and religious Byzantine literature’ (Puchner 2006a: 132 f.).
Tsiouni-Fatsi 2000 (Bodl. Gr. Barocci 216, 273v-376r).
The editor indulges in guesswork on ‘religious drama’ in Byzantium (Tsiouni-Fatsi 2000: 19–76);
for a response see Puchner 2000, 2001a: 60–8.
Puchner 1977: 319–31 lists the relevant literature and offers a German translation.
See Young 1911, 1933: II 244 ff., La Piana 1955, Puchner 1993, 2006a: 135–82.

84 Byzantium
were transformed by strategies of accommodatio into spiritually symbolic
acts. In terms of ritual it has been assumed that the structural remains
of Roman theatres influenced the architecture of the Byzantine Church,
as exemplified by the icon-filled wall, the templon (or eikonostasis), which
separates the naos (main body of the church) from the sanctuary in the
apse. Because of its three doors, comparable to the scenae frons with its
porta regia and portae hospitales, ceremonies like the Great Entrance of
the Orthodox liturgy have been compared to the entrance of the chorus
into the orchestra.211 Such comparisons, however, have more relation to
the desire to create a ‘religious drama’ in Byzantium comparable to the
‘liturgical scenes’ which were the starting point in the Latin Church for
the development of drama and theatre.212 Of course there are some ritual
actions particularly during the Easter cycle, such as the epitaphios cere-
mony and the Descent from the Cross, or the Finding of the True Cross
on 14 September; but these actions are symbolic in form and spiritual in
meaning. No room was left for the development of less restricted forms
of representation because of the Eastern theology of images and the strict
harmonization of all aspects of the Byzantine liturgy.213 It is misleading,
therefore, to compare the Byzantine liturgy with ‘theatre’ even in a meta-
phorical sense. Of course it does contain elements of representation, just
as we encounter such elements in courtly etiquette, among juggers and
other performers, or in parodies and the fancy dress of laymen and clerics.
Outside the church, imperial court protocol was full of rites of pagan ori-
gin that evaded the ecclesiastical tactics of absorption and re-interpretation.214
The new date of the New Year on 1 September was lately accepted in court
ceremonies: only the book of ceremonies of Pseudo-Kodinos in the four-
teenth century mentions a festive procession with the icons to the column
of Porphyrios in the forum of Constantine, where the mass was celebrated
in presence of the emperor.215 Otherwise the ancient New Year continued
to be a significant festive date, celebrated with symposia, etc. The ‘Vota’,
‘Brumalia’ and ‘Kalendae’, prohibited by the 62nd Canon of the Synod
in Trullo,216 were still observed as festivals: the ‘Vota’ were celebrated on 3

Holl 1906, 1928:  II 225–37, for a refutation see Felicetti-Liebenfels 1956:  73 ff. For the Great
Entrance see Taft 1978.
Schneider 1939: 205 ff., Schulz 1959: 62, Kalokyris 1976, 1980. For the term ‘liturgical scene’ in
Western liturgy as source for iconography, ritual and religious theatre see Puchner 1991: 9 ff.
Prokopios 1981, Skawran 1982, but mostly Puchner 1991: 22–34.
On pagan rites in the imperial court see Francescini 1995, Schreiner 1982, Tinnefeld 1995.
Verpeaux 1966: 242.
Rallis/Potlis 1852–6: II 448, Rochow 1978, Constantelos 1970, Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium 3
(1991) 2126 f.

Performativity in Church, Court and Everyday Life 85

(later 2) January with prayers and wishes for the emperor and the imper-
ium, as well as banquets and races in the hippodrome;217 the ‘Brumalia’ were
celebrated from 24 November to 17 December, each of the twenty-four days
signifying (by way of the Greek alphabet) the name day of all citizens. On
the name days of the imperial couple, from the fourth to the tenth century,
the court would organize symposia, complete with dances and honours for
palace officials.218 The early church fought bitterly against the old feast of
New Year: yet the ancient Kalendae lasted in Orthodox Constantinople for
five days, with dancing, mumming and processions.219
But there are also other festivities, not mentioned in ecclesiastic sources.
For instance the Roman ‘Lupercalia’ were celebrated in Byzantium on 15
February with games in the hippodrome; later they were observed under
the title ‘Butcher Play’ (hippodromon makellarikon).220 The birthday of the
emperor was celebrated with receptions, processions, races in the hippo-
drome and symposia at court from the time of Constantine the Great
onwards,221 and there are also guild festivals: professors and students of law
on 25 October had mummer’s processions,222 there was a feast of St Agatha
for women who worked in textiles, etc.223
There were also folk customs, panegyrics, festivities, trade markets with
spectacles, many of which had pagan origins or included pagan practices;
for example the ‘Demetria’ on 26 October in honour of the patron saint
of Thessalonica, St Demetrius, was celebrated with great magnificence
from the twelfth century on.224 The feasts of both St George (23 April)
and St Demetrius were rich with pagan practices, marking as they did the
onset of summer and winter;225 the winter period between Christmas and

Oikonomidès 1972: 178, Tinnefeld 1991: 110.
The festival of Brumalia started exactly one month before the midwinter and ended with the
Saturnalia (Crawford 1914/9:  365–70). For the festivities see Oikonomidès 1972:  222, Guilland/
Paris 1957/70: III (1965) 23 ff.
It was celebrated from 153 BC onward on 1 January; for a detailed description see Koukoules
1948–55: II 13 ff., 532 ff. Already by c. AD 400 the bishop of Amaseia in Asia Minor lamented the
disturbances caused by calendae singers, going from house to house and insisting on payment from
residents (Patr. gr. 40: 220D Sermo adversus Kalendarum Festum), a fact which Tzetzes verifies for
the eleventh century (Chiliad. XIII, 475). John Chrysostom cοndems this ‘Hellenistic’ feast, but
Balsamon in the twelfth century assures that the feast continues to be celebrated in the villages,
where different ‘immoral’ things are practiced (Rallis-Potlis 1852–6: II 450, Puchner 1984: 43).
Vogt 1925–40:  (Commentaire) II, 172–7, Guilland/Paris 1957/70:  III (1965) 31–3, Grumel
1936: 428 ff.
Oikonomidès 1972: 214 f., Vogt 1925/40 (Text) II 143–9 (Commentaire) II 158–61.
They were prohibited by Patriarch Chrysoberges (1159–69/70). See Tinnefeld 1974: 340 f.
Mentioned by Psellos (Laiou 1986).
The diataxis of the feast is published by B. Laourdas in Γρηγόριος ο Παλαμάς 39 (1956) 327–42. See
Tafrali 1912: 136 ff., Kötting 1950: 390 ff., Vryonis 1981: 202 ff. etc.
Megas 1956: 179 ff.

86 Byzantium
Theophany (Epiphany, 8 January) as well as the carnival period, not to
mention the Easter cycle, 1 March, 1 May, etc.226 There is also something
like a normal everyday theatricality, common to nearly all cultures, such as
bargaining scenes in markets with the pretence of uninterested customers
and ‘difficult’ sellers, story-telling to provide a false (but colourful) prove-
nance for goods, negotiations, etc. In this sense performativity and ‘scenic’
arrangements in communication were common to people from all walks
of life,227 a sort of Byzantine ‘presentation of self in everyday life’ (as Erving
Goffman might say), in stark contrast to the ideals of Christian asceticism,
essentialism and transcendentalism.

Iconographical Evidence Re-examined

In seeking to prove some kind of Byzantine religious dramas were per-
formed in church, some scholars have not hesitated to categorize feast-day
services (akolouthia) as ‘dramas’228 and iconography as paintings of ritu-
als staged in scenic form. Such lines of interpretation stem from an older
school of art history that misinterpreted Western sacred art, an approach
that has since been revised.229 Christus Patiens could not have influenced
Orthodox mural painting and iconography, as Venetia Cottas suggested;
it is more likely to have been the other way around, with iconography
inspiring the poem itself.230 This is due to the special theological status of
the icon in the Eastern Church, which is different from the Western tradi-
tion. Even in book illustrations, when free from dogmatic restrictions such
as the icon, the speculations of Bréhier about the influence of a Byzantine
Church play on the illuminations of the apocryphal life of Mary by Jacob
Kokkinobaphos have been rejected as spurious.231 The same holds for simi-
lar interpretations of the mosaic frescoes in the Early Byzantine churches
of Ravenna.232
This misunderstanding runs deep and relates to in part to the Iconoclast
era and the restoration of the icons after it was over. This is also one of the
main reasons why Byzantium never developed religious theatrical forms in
the proper sense, because the iconographical typus (the ‘liturgical scene’)

See Puchner 1977: pass.
Odorico 2007.
Schulz 1964, 1980: 67 f., Onasch 1968: 20, 30 ff., 36 ff.
Starting with Mâle 1904; for counter-arguments and bibliography see Puchner 1979 and
2006: 208–18.
Cottas 1931b, Puchner 1992.
Bréhier 1913, 1920, contra Lafontaine-Dosogne 1964/5: I 197–8 and Hutter 1970: 202 ff.
Stričević 1967, Guldau 1966: 165.

Iconographical Evidence Re-examined 87

was the starting point for enactment of religious scenes by clerics in the
West. The ban on pictures which Iconoclasm brought about implied a
double ban on theatre. The biblical Third Commandment, proscribing
graven images, was seen to proscribe any form of representation; the
medieval religious theatre of the Latin West was, in its early stages, closely
linked with the pictorial language of Christian iconography. When the
seventh Ecumenical Council reintroduced the worship of icons in the East
it was subject to specific dogmatic restrictions, as formulated in St John
of Damascus’ theology of images; John closely linked the representation
to its ‘original’. The icon now possessed a dynamic relationship with its
prototype; it was seen as a sacred object endowed with the power, through
prayer, to bestow blessings.233 As a result, it was radically limited in content
and form, a fact which led to the creation of painters’ books.234 The icon is
venerated – and kissed – as a token or symbol of sacred presence. Because
it is a mirror image of the transcendental real world, it cannot be produced
by human beings for the purpose of educating others in the Christian faith
as was done in the Latin Church of the West.235 The deeply symbolic char-
acter of the sacred sphere does not allow for the ‘materialistic’ and ‘realistic’
tendencies which form the basis of traditional theatre.236 Using human
beings to represent the contents of the icon, its prototypes, would already
mean a desecration of those prototypes.237
This may be demonstrated on some occasions, when the Eastern
Church met the Western Church. In the West, the desire to achieve a
more ‘vivid’ representation of sacred truth provided the basis for the
development of religious theatre. This desire was not shared in the East.
In fact the outrage which Western practices caused among Byzantine
The ‘apophatic’ relation between ‘typus’ (icon, picture) and truth is developed step by step in John
of Damascus’ three sermons against iconoclasts (Matsoukas 1988, Puchner 2004: 45 ff.). There is
a rich bibliography on this topic:  Menges 1938, Stein 1980, Ostrogorsky 1964:  39 ff., Avenarius
1999, etc. This essentially mystical relationship between sacred icon and transcendent reality is very
clearly formulated by Ouspensky 1993: 158 ff., to wit: God was transformed into man, so that man
could be able to transform himself in God (168); the pictorial presentation of Christ, the saints and
the facts of sacred history represent a higher reality, which is not allowed to be reproduced by the
fantasy of the painter or by living human beings (198 ff.). This dogmatic restriction of iconography
and this profound spirituality of the image leave no room for using human performers as religious
symbols, which was the basis for the development of religious theatre.
Onasch 1968, Ouspensky 1980, 1993, Belting 1991: 11 ff.
On the early development of the Latin medieval religious theatre see Drumbl 1981 and Schnusenberg
1981, 1988.
The border lines of this process between spirituality and ‘opsis’ are discussed today with regard to
the Orthodox liturgy; see Vivilakis 2004: 147–76 with further bibliography.
Nevertheless there are elements of performativity and palpable effects on the observer, because
observing the icon is a form of meditation (by virtue of its function as a ‘window to the other world’)
(Ouspensky/Lossky 1952: 33–41). This also was pointed out recently by Pentcheva 2006, 2010.

88 Byzantium
observers at the Council of Florence in 1438/9 shows just how divided
the opinion was. On the occasion of the festival of St John the Baptist,
processions took place featuring statues and tableaux vivants, which
prompted the horrified Byzantine spectators to speak of ‘monstrous’
miracle plays;238 they were simply shocked. We find the same reaction to
the ‘obscene’ and ‘senseless’ acts of the Latin Church in the Dialogus con-
tra haereses by Symeon, archbishop of Thessalonica; Symeon is shocked
at the Latin habit of allowing human beings to represent holy persons
and biblical episodes, including the use of animal blood for the holy
blood of Christ in enactments of the Crucifixion.239 There is no room in
traditional Orthodox teaching for realistic details or the aesthetics of a
materially based mimesis.

Liturgical Scenes and Dialogue in Mass Offices

Nevertheless, there are some symbolic ‘dromena’240 in Orthodox ritual
and ‘liturgical scenes’ comparable to the Latin West. It is claimed that
Liutprand of Cremona witnessed one such performance in the tenth cen-
tury (‘The Ascension of Prophet Elijah’)241 as did Bertrand de la Broquière
in the fifteenth century (‘The Three Children in the Furnace’),242 but the
exact meaning of the passus in both cases is not clear and the evidence is of
doubtful value.243 For example, on the basis of the evidence of five manu-
scripts it can be shown that in the late Byzantine period the akolouthia of
‘The Three Children in the Furnace’ includes some symbolic movements
of choirboys, with an icon angel descending from the central dome or
Pontani 1994: 798 ff.
Ch. 23, Patr. Gr. 155: 112A-116D (Italian translation in Pontani 1994: 806 ff.)
The term ‘dromenon’ – from the same root as the word ‘drama’ – was once defined by Jane Harrison
as ‘the thing done’ (Harrison 1912: 328). The term applies here as well, when you add ‘in a ritualistic
manner’ (for discussion Puchner 2009: 180–206).
See for the discussion Becker 1915: 191 f., Krumbacher 1897: 645, Creizenach 1911: 359 note 30, Baud-
Bovy 1938: 330. The scenic difficulties of such a performance are stressed by Solomos 1964: 160 and
Ploritis 1999: 174. Ludi scenici is also the name given to the symposia of the emperor (Schlumberger
1890: 635). The idea that Liutprand refers to an Orthodox sacred drama comparable to that of the
Latin West was rejected as early as Zampelios 1857: νε΄, note 309.
See the discussion in Schefer 1892:  154 f., Majeska 1984:  100 ff., 233 ff., Baud-Bovy 1938:  331,
Velimirovič 1962.
Baud-Bovy 1938: 332 ff., Puchner 1981/82, 1884: 235 ff. For the symbolic representation of the scene
of the three children in the furnace see Patr. Gr. 155: 113. For Russian performances of the same
scene see Velimirovič 1962; the most detailed description there dates from 1589 (Bond 1856: 137 ff.),
but the case of Russia is quite different from that of Byzantium; consider that in Russia the Christus
Patiens was twice translated and performed in church (Stender-Petersen 1957: I 277 ff.).
White 2006, Marciniak 2005.

Results: Performativity without Theatre Performance 89

Among the liturgical scenes and ecclesiastical dromena of the post-
Byzantine period, of outstanding significance are the Raising of Lazarus, as
performed in Larnaka today,245 and the feet-washing tradition (nipter, lavi-
pedium) in the Monastery of St John on Patmos.246 Only in the case of the
‘Arate Pylas’ (tollite portas, ‘Open the Doors’) – ritual,247 which symbolically
performs Christ’s descensus ad inferos, can a link to Byzantium be estab-
lished beyond doubt: it was performed evidently for the first time during
the second consecration of Hagia Sophia in the sixth century.248 Only this
scene before the closed doors of the church on Friday or Saturday night
of Holy Week can be considered theatrical in modern terms.249 The priest
outside and the deacon inside sing the dialogic David, 24:7–10; the former,
embodying Christ before the doors of Hades, the latter, Satan behind the
closed doors, while the believers are watching. In the Latin West this scene
developed in medieval times to a whole performance and was a part of the
elaborate Passion Plays; in the Byzantine East this ‘Passion Play’ in nuce
never strayed beyond the boundaries of spiritual symbolism.250

Results: Performativity without Theatre Performance

Taking all the evidence into account, the quest for ‘theatre’ in Byzantium is
to some degree pointless as is the attempt to transform everything Orthodox
that is perceived as ‘theatre-like’ or ‘drama-like’ into theatre and drama; to do
so conflicts with the very essence of the Byzantine theology of icons, as elabo-
rated from the beginning of the Middle Byzantine period. After Iconoclasm,
any form of pictorial representation was strictly controlled by theological
doctrine. As early as the era of the Church Fathers the ‘actor’ had already
become a sacrilegious ‘hypocrite’ in the light of the divine truth, someone
whose aim it was to defile the ‘image’ of God which the creator had destined
man to be. Meanwhile on-stage, by the third and fourth centuries AD the
ancient art of drama had already become amoral fiction and sacrilege.

Puchner 1977: 313–8 with bibliography.
See Krumbacher 1889: 376, edition of the Greek liturgical cento text Jerusalem 1895. There is also
evidence of the same performance in Constantinople 1675 as well as Jerusalem in 1750 and c. 1900.
The dialogic cento scenario of Patmos exists in two copies from the beginning of the 19th century,
the originals dated Venice 1714 and Bucharest 1693. It is doubtful that there is any connection with
Puchner 1979, 1988: 71–126.
Stiefenhofer 1909: 91.
This follows the widely accepted definition of Bentley 1965, where a situation can be called the-
atrical if A incorporates role B, while C is watching (for discussion Puchner 2011: 52 ff). See also
Puchner 2006: 191–226.
Puchner 1979, 1988: 71–126.

90 Byzantium
Persistent arguments for marginal ‘theatre-like’ features and doubtful
traces of drama prevent a deeper understanding of the uniqueness of
Byzantine culture. It is not a ‘disadvantage’ that Byzantine culture did
not have any sort of organized theatre as in Antiquity, the Latin Middle
Ages, the Italian Renaissance and (in Chapter  3) Crete under Venetian
rule; rather, this is precisely its chief characteristic. Theatre seems to be an
exception to the general rule of Byzantine culture, in this case refusing to
bridge the gap between antiquity and modern times on our behalf. In this
way a fundamental dogma of theatre history has to be revised, at least par-
tially: the assumption that every high culture possesses highly developed
forms of theatre. This seems to be just another Eurocentric point of view,
a Western concept that deserves greater scrutiny.
To summarize: 1) Byzantine society never developed a theatre compara-
ble to that in Antiquity or the Middle Ages in the Latin West; 2) profane
theatre can be traced up to the fifth to seventh century, but afterwards the
evidence is scarce and doubtful; 3) Byzantium did not develop religious
theatre as the West did: the reasons are mostly theological and related to
the struggle over Iconoclasm; 4)  in Byzantium the term ‘theatre’ itself,
along with its correlatives, admits to multiple possible meanings from the
direct to the metaphorical, so usage in primary sources has to be examined
in context; 5) recent Orthodox dromena are not linked, with the excep-
tion of the ‘Arate Pylas’, to Byzantine times. In this sense it is more accu-
rate to say that Byzantium, apart from the Early Byzantine period, did
not have theatre at all. On this point Byzantine culture differs from other
European cultures and constitutes an interesting separate case in the his-
tory of European and world theatre and culture. For the Greek tradition,
because of the gap in Byzantine times, this means that theatre was effec-
tively re-invented in Crete under Venetian rule and since then reliant on
Western models.

Scholarship and Further Readings

Essential for this chapter and with more details are Puchner 1981/2, 1984:
13–92, 397–416, 477–94, 1990, 2002, 2004: 8–58, 2006a: 20–56. For accom-
modatio see Puchner 1997 with more details and further bibliography.
For Byzantinists denying the existence of any theatre and drama in
Byzantine times see Marshall / Mavrogordato 1948: 344 ff., Dölger 1948: 16
ff., Beck 1952: 54, 1971: 112 f, Hunger 1969: 63 ff. 1977/8: 142 ff., Mitsakis
1986, Tinnefeld 1974, Mango 1981. See also Ploritis 1999. Former Greek
scholars in favour of Byzantine ‘theatre’ were Mistriotis 1894:  697 ff.,

Scholarship and Further Readings 91

Papamichail 1916, Papadopoulos 1925. Among philologists and historians
outside Greece, those worth mentioning include Reich 1903, La Piana 1912,
Vogt 1931a, 1931b. Among art historians see Bréhier 1913, 1920, 1950: 411–
9, Stričević 1967, and among musicologists see mainly Wellesz 1947 and
Velimirovič 1962. Among theatre historians accepting the positive results
of Cottas 1931a were Baty/Chavange 1932: 68 ff., D’Amico 1933, Ghilardi
1961: 111 ff., Niessen 1949–58: 1240 ff., Pernoud 1965: 450. These scholars
failed to test Cottas’ exaggerated findings and did not take into account
the sharp criticisms of her work published by Kyriakidis 1932, 1934–7,
Maas 1932 and La Piana 1936.
Scholarly interest in the fate of ancient stage terminology in Byzantine
sources, begun with Walden 1894, was resumed only recently by
Yatromanolakis 1990: 719–34, Woronoff 1990, Couraud-Lalanne 1998 and
Agapitos 1998 (see also Griffin 2008: 80). The use of theatre vocabulary in
Chrysostomos was analyzed by Theocharidis 1940 and Pasquato 1976, and
Vivilakis 1996 contributed a systematic study of these terms among other
Greek Church Fathers as well. On the Theatron as a rhetorical gathering
with literary declamations see especially Magdalino 1993: 335–56, Mullet
2003, and Reinach 2007. The Chronographia of Michael Psellos was exam-
ined by Puchner 1996/7; other writings of the great Byzantine historian
were analyzed by Karpozelos 2000 and even more Byzantine historiogra-
phers by Katsaros 2006.
For important evidence of mime in Syria in the sixth century see
recently Cramer 1980, Moss 1935, Frézouls 1959/61, Segal 1985–86, Kloner
1988, Hall/Wyles 2008: 412–9 etc.
On the Council of Trullanum see Rallis/Potlis 1852–56:  II 301–554,
Nedungart/ Featherstone 1995: 41–186, especially for these canons on the
ban, which concerned shows and customs, Tinnefeld 1974, Constantelos
1970, Rochow 1978: esp. 492 ff., Magulias 1971, Andrescu 1961: 254 ff. For
the hostile attitude of the Church Fathers to theatre see Jürgens 1972 and
Binder 1998. For the interpretation of the verdict text see Puchner 1983 and
Lim 1996.
On the ‘Gothic Dance’ see also Hanika 1962, Tinnefeld 1974:  136,
Massmann 1841, Müller 1882, Berthold 1968: 163 ff.
On circus acclamations see in general Tillyard 1912, Maas 1921, Dvornik
1946, Browning 1952, Guilland 1956, Guilland/Paris 1957–70, esp. 1968: 24–
33, Cameron 1976, Chaniotis 2009a.
For a bibliography on the Christus Patiens and its editions see Trisoglio
1974 and recently Puchner 2006a:  50–5. There is a provisional English
translation by Alan Fishbone but the critical edition and French translation

92 Byzantium
by Tuilier 1969 are more thorough and are widely used. For the ‘Cyprus
Passion Cycle’ see the introduction to the new critical edition Puchner
2006a: 67–133.

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Wellesz, E. (1947), ‘The Nativity Drama of the Byzantine Church’, Journal of
Roman Studies 37: 145–51.
(1956), ‘The "Akathistos", a Study in Byzantine Hymnography’, Dumbarton
Oaks Papers 9/10: 141–74.
(1957), The Akathistos Hymn, Copenhagen.
White, A. W. (2006), The Artifice of Eternity: A Study of Liturgical and Theatrical
Practices in Byzantium, Ph.D. diss., Univ. of Maryland.
Wiemken, H. (1972), Der griechische Mimus. Dokumente zur Geschichte des antiken
Volkstheaters, Bremen.
Wilpert, J. (1929–32), I sarcofagi cristiani antichi, 5 vols., Roma, (Città di Vaticano).
Wilthemius, A. (1659), Diptychon Leodiense ex consulari factum episcopale et in illud
commentarius, Leodii.
Woronoff, M. (1990), ‘Theatrical Awareness as a Deliberate Technique in
Aithiopica’, in J. Tatum / G. M. Vernazza (ed.), The Ancient Novel: Classical
Paradigms and Modern Perspective, Hanover.
Yatromanolakis, G. (1990), Ἀχιλλέως Ἀλεξανδρέως Τατίου, Λευκίππη καὶ
Κλειτοφῶν. Εἰσαγωγή, Μετάφραση, Σχόλια, Athens.
(1997), ‘Εισαγωγή’, in A. Sideris, Ἡλιόδωρος, Αἰθιοπικὰ ἤ Τὰ Περὶ Λευκίππη
καὶ Κλειτoφώντα, Athens, 15–88.
Young, K. (1911), ‘Philippe de Mézières’ Dramatic Office for the Presentation of the
Virgin’, Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 26: 181–234.
(1933) The Drama of the Medieval Church, 2 vols., Oxford.
Zampelios, S. (1857), Bυζαντιναί μελέται. Περί πηγών νεοελληνικής εθνότητος
από Η΄ μέχρι Ι΄ εκατονταετηρίδος μ. X., Athens.
Zepos, P. I. (ed.) (1959), Mιχαήλ Φωτεινοπούλου Nομικόν Πρόχειρον (Bουκουρέστιον
1765), Athens.
Zervoudakis, A. (2007) ‘Ο διάλογος στη λειτουργική ποίηση του κανόνα’,
Ariadne 13: 49–77.

Re-Inventing Theatre
Renaissance and Baroque Crete under Venetian Rule

Introduction: A Culture on the Crossroads of East and West

And so it was that in Venetian Crete, some one thousand years after the disap-
pearance of theatre and drama in the Eastern Roman Empire, the Greeks had
to re-invent the most characteristic feature of their culture from Antiquity.
The Venetians during that period imported Italian Renaissance culture in its
late phase, a mixture of Mannerism with early Baroque style; this happened
under very specific conditions and had unique results. But the process of re-
invention was not just one of imitation of Western models; on the contrary,
most of the outstanding works of Cretan literature and art during this period
are in essence transformations of Western models, created in accord with the
high quality of aesthetic norms and conventions in the kingdom of Candia
during the second phase of Venetian rule.
From that time on Greek theatre can be examined in terms of the gen-
eral model of cultural dissemination from the centre of innovation to
the periphery, taking into account such factors as ‘delays’ in timing and
duration, the acceptance or rejection of theatre and drama, modes and
degrees of adaptation, and the ways in which they are integrated with
local cultural traditions.1 The centres of diffusion during the sixteenth
and seventeenth centuries were Italy (primarily Venice), in the eighteenth
century France, and by 1790–1830 Vienna as well. In geographical terms
theatre history in south-eastern Europe can be divided into three zones:
the Venetian – mostly the islands and maritime coasts, with some hinter-
land – with its active theatre life; the zone of influence of the Habsburg
Monarchy (less important for the Greeks); and the zone of Ottoman
rule, or turkokratia, where organized theatre is traceable only on excep-
tional occasions.2 As a result, Greek theatre is evident in the maritime
Puchner 1988: 329–79.
Puchner 2006. The exceptions are shadow theatre (Puchner 2006a:  97–132), Jesuit theatre in the
Cyclades and on Chios (from 1566 onwards a part of the Ottoman Empire) (see Chapter 5), in the


Introduction: A Culture on the Crossroads of East and West 113

possessions of the Serenissima, the island of Crete (Candia), up to 1669
and the Ionian islands up to the fall of Venice in the Napoleonic wars at
the end of the eighteenth century; subsequent to Venice’s fall the Ionian
islands fall under British rule.
Byzantine Crete fell to Venice in 1211, in the aftermath of the Fourth
Crusade of 1204; when the Latins captured Constantinople, Venice laid
claim to substantial Byzantine territory. Venetian rule in Crete lasted for
more than 450 years, ending in 1669 when after 24 years of the Ottoman
siege of Candia (or Kastro, today Iraklio) the capital finally fell to the
Turks – the rest of Crete having already been occupied by 1644/45. The
period of Venetian rule is also characterized, except for the last two centu-
ries, by a series of uprisings among the local aristocracy and landowners –
rebellions which were also religious and ideological in nature – against the
colonial feudal administration of the Serenissima. Society was divided into
three strata:  the colonial Venetian nobles and feudatories (nobili veneti,
feudati) and Cretan nobles (nobili cretensi), the bourgeois (cittadini, bur-
genses)3 and the peasants (contadini).4 As the last were mostly Greeks, the
Latin element was concentrated in towns and villages nearby. Peasants were
required to provide labour (angaria, corvée) and gifts three times a year to
their lord. Given these circumstances it is understood that literature, intel-
lectual activity, theatre, music and the arts in general were matters for the
two upper classes.
The Venetian administration allowed the Orthodox to perform their
religious obligations, but a Latin archbishop was head of religious affairs;
the clergymen were paid by the state, but to be ordained they had to travel
to the Ionian islands or the Peloponnese. After the mid-sixteenth cen-
tury and under the threat of the Ottoman Empire’s expansion into the
West (especially with the loss of Cyprus in 1571), the politics of Venice
on religious matters changed radically and authorities were friendlier to
Orthodox locals. Liberalizing measures enabled Catholic and Orthodox
communities to co-exist peacefully, and there was significant de-regula-
tion of economic and trade activities. The feudal system went into decline,
and social and economic conditions in Cretan towns were comparable to

Danubian principalities of Moldova and Valachia in the second decade of the nineteenth century
(see Chapter 7).
‘a particular social group with specific obligations and rights. Public employees, merchants, notaries,
craftsmen, artists, lawyers and doctors fell into the class. The bourgeois enjoyed the privilege of tak-
ing part in embassies to Venice in defence of their interests’ (Maltezou 1991: 26).
‘who were divided into ‘unregistered’ (agrafi, literary ‘unwritten’), freemen (franchi) and paroikoi
(parici, villani). The last were further distinguished as villeins of the state, the church or the feudato-
ries’ (Maltezou 1991: 26).

114 Re-Inventing Theatre

those of the cities of Renaissance Europe;5 in addition the ports became
significant stations in the Venetian maritime trade network. Olive oil,
cheese and wine were exported, together with other Mediterranean crops,
to the West; cloth, paper, glass and other products were imported in return.
The warehouses of Candia were where Eastern and Western markets met
together, and the Cretans proved to be outstanding sailors and ship-own-
ers. With economic prosperity and a rise in urban living standards, artistic
activity also reached its peak; painters in particular were famous for their
production both in quantity and in quality, whether in terms of Byzantine,
Western Mannerist or Baroque style. Foreign travellers also admired the
luxury of women’s fashions there.6
The change of Venetian policy towards native Cretans and the improve-
ment in welfare of both communities led to a long period of peaceful
co-existence and cultural cross-fertilization, culminating in the last cen-
tury of Venetian rule, which witnessed the creation of a distinctly Cretan
civilization. One aspect of this co-existence was mixed marriages between
Greeks and Venetians, but the Cretan element in general dominated and
there is ample documentary evidence for the linguistic assimilation of the
old Venetian families,7 as well as for mutual tolerance in religious matters.
Many Catholics converted to Orthodoxy but to make a career in the West
the Orthodox had to become Catholics, as did El Greco. The memoirs of
Zuanne Papadopoli are an invaluable document of the Greek life style;
writing in the Venetian dialect after the fall of Candia in 1696, Papadopoli
describes his childhood (1630–44) in a Cretan village as a sort of Paradise.
Papadopoli also describes the cosmopolitan atmosphere of the capital.8
The Archivio di Duca di Candia hosts hundreds of thousands of notarial
documents, offering many details of the private lives of the population
(marriage contracts, wills, trades and professions, buying and selling, reli-
gious and secular festivals, etc.).9
The high aesthetic standards of this Creto-Venetian culture pro-
duced renowned painters such as El Greco,10 composers and musicians

Alexiou 1965, 1985, Panayotakis 1981: 332–8.
See for instance Hemmerdinger-Iliadou 1967: 606–7.
Maltezou 1991: 32–4.
Vincent 2007.
Maltezou 1991: 35–46. The bibliography of these studies is extensive. Crete can be considered as one
of the best documented Venetian provinces so far as everyday life is concerned, and historically one
of the best documented regions of Europe, particularly in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
When Domenicus Theotokopoulos left Crete in 1567 at twenty-seven years old, he was already a
famous painter in both the Byzantine and Western styles. For his biography on Crete see Panayotakis

Introduction: A Culture on the Crossroads of East and West 115

such as Nikolaos Leontaritis,11 such poets as Andreas Cornanos, author
of the Baroque romance Erotokritos,12 as well as the dramatist Georgios
Chortatsis. Outstanding Cretan literary works including Erotokritos, the
tragedy Erofile and the religious drama The Sacrifice of Abraham are now a
part of Weltliteratur (as Goethe put it). Most of these works have concrete
Italian models but represented their fundamental transformation.
The Western orientation of the Cretan intelligentsia began during the
early phases of Venetian rule,13 and after the fall of Constantinople Candia
became a famous centre of the humanistic tradition.14 The growing interest
in Greek scholarship resulted in a large number of Cretans’ finding work
as copyists; as one scholar indicates, these copyists ‘played a significant
role in the dissemination of classical text to the West, many of them also
functioning as teachers of Greek and as editors. Venice was the natural
destination of large numbers of Greek scholars’.15 A  significant number
of men in the Greek community were employed by publishers for the
Serenessima: even before 1500 Venice had been a centre of the manuscript
trade and the busiest area of print-book production in Europe; it is not by
chance that Aldus Manutius selected the city on the lagoon as the home for
his famous humanistic Academy and established his printing press there.
The first print book in Greek was edited in 1471, and in 1499 Zacharias
Kalliergis founded a printing house devoted only to Greek books; by 1509
the first Greek vernacular text, Apokopos by Bergadis, was published.16
Byzantine and post-Byzantine chapbooks and other popular reading mate-
rial, together with liturgical texts, were exported for years from Veneto-
Greek publishing houses over the whole Orthodox Balkan Peninsula.17

Leontaritis (c. 1518–c. 1572), called in Italian sources ‘il Greco’, was a Catholic priest, organist in the
church of St Titus in Candia, and cantore in the choire of St Mark’s Cathedral in Venice. His career
can be traced subsequently to Salzburg and Munich, before his return in 1568 to his home island.
In 1564 and 1566 he published two collections of motets in Venice; other works, including three
masses, survive in manuscript form (Panayotakis 1990, for Western music in Crete 1990a).
See now the enormous bibliography on Erotokritos in Kaklamanis 2006: 477–538.
For instance Petros Philarges, who received his basic education from the Catholic order of the
Franciscans in Crete before studying at Oxford and Padua (1357); he then taught as a professor
in the University of Paris, and at the end of his career was elected Pope Alexander V (1409–10)
(Geanakoplos 1976: 194, 201, 209).
Michael Apostoli (1420–80, see Chapter  2) has a scriptorium in Candia together with his son
Arsenios (1468/9-1535); meanwhile young Ianos Laskaris (1445–1534) stays for some time in Crete
after the halosis, or fall of Constantinople, the capital on the Bosporus (Geanakoplos 1962: 49).
Holton 1991: 4. The Cretan classical philologist Francesco Porto (1511–81) taught at the University of
Geneva; for his activity in favour of Protestantism in northern Italy and was tried by the Inquisition
see Manousakas/Panayotakis 1981, Panayotakis 1995.
Layton 1990. For philological and typographical analysis Panayotakis 1991.
Veloudis 1974, Ploumidis 1969, Vranoussis 1977, 1981, 1982.

116 Re-Inventing Theatre

The opportunity young Cretans had to study at the university in nearby
Padua was pivotal as well: although Venice did not have a university of its
own, between 1500 and 1700 more than a thousand Cretans studied there.
Half of the Greeks who studied in Padua before 1669 were of Cretan ori-
gin;18 their second choice became the College of St Athanasius in Rome,
which was founded in 1577, a third of whose pupils were from Crete.19
Educational opportunities on the island itself were more restricted: there
was a network of private tutors in the towns for basic education as well as
the school of Cardinal Bessarion in Candia, controlled by Greek Uniates
and strictly Catholic.20 Nevertheless, Crete’s cultural profile was far from
provincial:  constant communication among Crete, Venice and Italy for
study, together with trade and official travels, created a cosmopolitan
atmosphere with an intense and profound interchange between Western
and Eastern cultures.21

A Bilingual Literature and Bi-confessional Society

Our chief means for evaluating Crete’s bilateral cultural infiltrations are
the literary societies or Academies in the island’s main towns such as the
‘Vivi’ founded in 1562 in Rethymno by Francesco Barozzi, the ‘Stravaganti’
founded in 1591 in Candia by Andreas Cornaros, and the ‘Sterili’ in Chania
(Canea), first documented in 1632, but possibly founded long before.22
The literary production of their members seems to be in Italian; a num-
ber of Andreas Cornaros’ poems have been published; others remain in
manuscript form.23 It is evident that Giambattista Basile, the famous
author of Pentamerone (written in the Neapolitan dialect), was a member
of the ‘Stravaganti’ during his stay in Crete between 1600 and 1608 under

Ploumidis 1974: 72.
Tsirpanlis 1980. See also Chapter 5.
Tsirpanlis 1967. For education in general see Panayotakis 1988: 163–96. This volume on the history
and culture of Crete under the Venetian rule also contains other chapters that give an overview on
different cultural sectors: history (Chr. Maltezou, 105–62), literature (St Alexiou, 197–230), art (M.
Bourboudakis, 231–88), music (N. M. Panayotakis, 289–316).
‘Notwithstanding the lack of public educational facilities, by the sixteenth century there is evidence
of a generally high level of intellectual and cultural activity in Crete. Students returning from Padua
or Rome, Venetian officials and visiting scholars combined to create in Crete a cultural life not too
far removed from that of the Italian cities. Literary societies, or academies, eventually existed in each
of the three main cities of Crete’ (Holton 1991a: 7).
The names are, of course, ironic. For Cretan academies in relation to the Italian ones see Panayotakis
1966, 1989:  11–50 and 1998:  11–64; for the ‘Vivi’ see Panayotakis 1974 (also in 1989:  112–38 and
1998:  65–90) and Alexiou 1979; for the ‘Stravaganti’ Panayotakis 1966 and Panayotakis/Vincent
1970; for all three Bancroft-Marcus 1982/3, 1992.
See mainly Panayotakis 1966: 59–66, Panayotakis/Vincent 1970: 141–58 and Vincent 1998.

A Bilingual Literature and Bi-confessional Society 117

the mock nick-name ‘Il pigro’ (the lazy one); Basile did not neglect to
mention his membership in the Academy in Candia in some of his publi-
cations.24 This indicates that the Academy was not without some reputa-
tion, even among Italian writers. The poetic production of academies such
as the ‘Stravaganti’ in Italian has not been studied systematically, and its
full extent is still unknown. Perhaps its importance should not be overesti-
mated when compared with the originality and quality of literary produc-
tion in the Cretan dialect;25 whatever history’s ultimate verdict may be,
Italian was the official language of prestige and yet most of the poets were
(being educated men) at least bilingual.
The common knowledge and use of Italian, or better Venetian, is docu-
mented not only by archival evidence but also by the existence of three
different literary works closely linked to the theatre. Two of them are dra-
mas: 1) the tragedy Fedra, written by Francesco Bozza in 1578 when he was
a student in Padua26 and modelled on the same tragedy, which became
the prototype for Chortatsis’ Erofile: the Orbecche of Giambattista Giraldi
Cinthio; and 2) the ‘tragicommedia pastorale’ L’Amorosa Fede by Antonio
Pandimo, son of a lawyer in Candia and also a student in Padua, written
for the wedding of Calerga, daughter of Giovanni Calergi with Francesco
Quirini, count of Temenos and Dafnes, in 161927 – a conventional mythi-
cal plot about the Minotaur, probably with a few hints on contemporary
politics.28 The third text is a panegyric poem in ‘ottava rima’ by Giancarlo
Persio about a tournament in Chania for the Carnival of 1594: La nobi-
lissima barriera de la Canea posta in ottava rima da Gio: Carlo Persio,29 a

For instance Le Avventurose Disaventure: Favola Maritima di Gio. Battista Basile Il Pigro, Academico
Stravagante di Creta. in Venetia MDCXII. Aprésso Sebastiano Combi.
For a new view on this relationship see Paschalis 2008.
First mentioned in Zoras 1972; critical edition Luciani 1996. See Puchner 1980: 89 f., for similarities
with Erofile and editing problems Puchner 1991: 423–33.
It is not certain whether this bucolic drama was really performed. Its first edition was published in
Venice in 1620; it was translated into Greek by A. Vincent and staged in Athens 1994. For analysis
see Bancroft-Marcus 1991: 96–8.
‘Pandimo’s aim, however, was not really seditious; he wished to arouse pity for Crete’s plight, dis-
guising the modern reality of subjugation to Venice as a past state of servitude to the King of
Knossos (= the Duke of Candia). It is significant that the King is shown in a sympathetic light
as one bound to exact a tribute to feed the Minotaur to appease angry Neptune, but prepared to
arm Tersillo to free Ida from the monster. The Idaeans of the story stand for native-born Cretans
oppressed by taxation and military burdens imposed from Venice and exacted by the authorities in
Kastro; they long for a return to their ancient state of glorious liberty (probably the Byzantine era
which preseded the Venetian colonisation of the island). Giovanni and Calerga Calergi might well
have sympathised with Pandimo’s liberationist sentiments, in view of the historical role of their own
distinguished family’ (Bancroft-Marcus 1991: 97–8).
Edited by Luciani 1994. See also Luciani 1990, 1996a. For identification of the poet Panayotakis
1975, 1989: 174–92.

118 Re-Inventing Theatre

staged form of ‘giostra’ with many tableaux vivants and theatrical scenes,30
complete with quotations from classic Italian Renaissance literature.
The picture of a semi-secularized, well-off society, at least among the
upper classes in town and land owners, is verified by the few known
biographies of authors and poets from the sixteenth and seventeenth
centuries. The question of how widespread this was is complicated not
only by the anonymous texts we have extant, but also by the diverse
possibilities in identifying authors, assuming their names are known;
the cases of El Greco and Leontaritis (seeearlier discussion) should not
be considered exceptions. For example, if Vincenzo Cornaros is really
the brother of the founder of the Academy of ‘Stravaganti’,31 then he
was a Catholic; likewise was Markos Antonios Foskolos (c. 1597–1662),
the author of the comedy Fortounatos, a member of the feudal class
from a Venetian family but not belonging to Venetian nobility. Foskolos
retained his Catholicism, but is assimilated in language and culture to
the Greek-speaking majority.32 The case of Georgios Chortatsis is dif-
ferent; if his proposed identification  – as the son of Gianni (c. 1545–
1610) among many other candidates in the branches of the Chortatsis
family – is right, he was secretary of the Veneto-Cretan nobleman Matteo
Kallergi, and Orthodox; but this identification is uncertain.33 Ioannis
Andreas Troilos (c. 1590/1600–after 1648), author of another outstand-
ing Cretan tragedy, King Rodolinos, was also Orthodox and from a well-
known bourgeois family in Rethymno; he held a high position in the
town’s Venetian administration, and after the fall of Rethymno to the
Turks in 1646 we find him in Venice, where he published his tragedy in

‘The Chania joust of 1594 described by Persio in his ottava rima poem was preceded by a spectacular
nocturnal entrance ceremony featuring a succession of pageants or tableaux vivants including the
forest of Ardennes, the fortress of Palma, Mount Etna with Vulcan’s forge and the Cretan Mount
Ida. The future combatants presented themselves in pairs either dressed as knights or costumed as
historical or mythological personages. Sometimes one character spoke explanatory or allegorical
verses in Italian. The story of Perseus and Andromeda was performed in what seems to have been
a rather typical Italian interlude: Perseus swoops through the air with the head of Medusa; he spies
the beautiful Andromeda bound nude to a rock; the marine monster comes to devour her; he fights
it by air and sea, and finally kills it; Time and the Four Seasons array Andromeda as a bride, Time
speaking an allegorical verse. The interlude is purely pictorial and lacks the lively dialogue and
human interest of those written in the Cretan dialect’ (Bancroft-Marcus 1991a: 160–1). For the tour-
nament tradition in Crete, Cyprus and the Ionian islands see Puchner 2009: 213–52 (with sources
and bibliography).
Proposed and documented by Panayotakis 1981, 1989: 257–323, 1994 and Mavromatis 1979, 1982,
1986; doubted by Evangelatos because of later dating (Evangelatos 1981, 1985, 1989a).
Vincent 1967, 1968, 1980: ιδ΄-κδ΄.
Evangelatos 1970:  214–5, 2000, contra Mavromatis 1980 and Kaklamanis 1993:  63–83. See also
Alexiou/Aposkiti 1988:  40–7. For the many branches of the Chortatsis family see Manousakas
1956, 1962.

Observing Italian Renaissance Literature (1400s–1500s) 119

1647.34 On the other hand, the anonymous author of the religious poem
Old and New Testament, after Erotokritos the longest in Cretan literature
(the latter more than 10,000 verses, the Testament 5,423 verses), appears
to be a low-ranking Catholic cleric of Italian origin,35 who carelessly
mingles Eastern and Western traditions.

Observing Italian Renaissance Literature (1400s–1500s)

The Italian background of Cretan literature in its early phase is well
known.36 The concept of rhyme, for example, unknown in Byzantine lit-
erature, is adopted from Western practice by Sachlikis (c. 1331–after 1391),
in satiric poems written primarily in the Cretan dialect;37 this seems to
correspond to practices in contemporary northern Italy.38 Later on, multi-
lingualism will be used in some forms of commedia erudita and Commedia
dell’Arte. This innovative attitude includes adopting the use of dialogue
in poetry. Marinos Falieros (1397–1474) uses it in his love-dream poems
but also in his Lamentation of the Virgin.39 One of his two love-dream
poems, Story and Dream (Ιστορία και Όνειρο, c. 1418), takes a theatrical
form with three scenes and four dramatis personae: Falieros, narrator and
lover; Moira, a combination of Fortune and matchmaker; Athousa the
beloved; and Pothoula her servant.40 As usual in this genre the erotic dia-
logue is interrupted, in this case by the biting of a flea.41 The theatrical
form points to the influence of the contrasti, poems recited or sung at
weddings and feasts, such as the contrasti of the Venetian poet Leonardo
Giustinian (c. 1385–1446).42 The other ‘theatrical’ text is a planctus Mariae

Documentary evidence in Manousakas 1963 and Dokos 1971. See also Manousakas 1976: XV–XVIII
and Aposkiti 1987: 15–7.
This assumption is due to the numerous Italianisms in his work (Panayotakis 1993:  242–77,
Panayotakis 2004, Puchner 2009a).
See the brilliant overview Panayotakis gave in 1995 in English (Panagiotakes 1995).
Gemert 1991: 51–6. See specially Panajotakis 1987 and Gemert 1980.
Gemert 1991: 52 (1997: 64) cites Paccagnella 1983: 103–67, esp. 118–21.
On Falieros see Gemert 1977.
Scene 1, vv. 9–172, place of action: the bedroom of Falieros; characters: Falieros and Moira. Scene
2, vv. 173–394, place of action: the back-door of Athousa’s house; characters: Falieros, Moira and
Pothoula, with a short dialogue between Pothoula and Athousa within the house. Scene 3, vv. 395–
748, place of action: the window of Athousa’s house; characters: all four persons. The greater part is
a dialogue at the window, a constrasto, in which Falieros tries to persuade Athousa with words and
gestures to let him in (Gemert 1991: 58).
Edition Gemert 1973 and 1980a.
Also the second love dream (130 verses) uses dialogue between the lovers. The awakening is
achieved by the crowing of a cock. Dialogical is also another anonymous contrasto without the
dream frame: Words (or Rhyme) of a Girl and a Boy (Ριμάδα κόρης και νιου), a story in the style of

120 Re-Inventing Theatre

(404 verses) with many speaking roles (written between 1421 and 1430), a
work inspired by the Italian laude drammatiche or dialogate of the time.43
Falieros’ work, written before the fall of Constantinople in 1453, is entirely
distinct from the Byzantine tradition and relies on the early humanistic
tradition in Italy.
The caveat here is that the use of dialogue in poetry does not provide
hard evidence for written drama. For example, Nikandros Noukios’ Greek
version of the polemic treatise against papism, Tragedia del re libera arbi-
trio by Franceso Negri (Corfu 1551), uses dialogue, but it is not a drama.44
Nor is the love romance of Erotokritos, despite its five-act structure and
extensive use of dialogue, using direct speech in naming the person speak-
ing, a drama.45 On the other hand, there are some humanistic efforts to
re-establish ancient drama and language, as in the case of the comedy
Neaira by Demetrius Moschos in Mantua (c. 1475),46 but this was never
performed. Closer to theatrical practice is greghesco, the use of Modern
Greek vernacular as part of the multi-lingual Venetian dialect in comedy
and Commedia dell’ Arte, as well as the theatrical genre of poesia mac-
cheronica, where Italian dialects are used in conjunction with foreign lan-
guages including Greek, Arabic, Slavonic, and a little German.47 The most
outstanding example of this is the drama I tre tiranni by Agostino Ricchi
(1533), whose fifth act is written mostly in vernacular Greek, our first testi-
mony of written, demotic Modern Greek.48

Critical edition Bakker/Gemert 2002. The content is complicated, with the dramatic scene embed-
ded in a narration. ‘Falieros says he saw a painting with a crucifixion scene on which the words
spoken by those present came out of their mouths in Hebrew letters. At his request a Jew, Tzadok,
translates these words. The speaking characters present at the Crucifixion scene are Mary (who
delivers two-thirds of the text), John, Martha, Mary Magdalene, Christ, Prophonius, the Jews,
Longinus and a centurion. Between the Crucifixion and the Deposition there is a short interlude
(vv. 323–36) comprising a conversation between a certain Christophilos and Tzadok. In the charac-
ter of Mary her maternity, the suffering of Christ and her own suffering, and the accusations against
the Jews are strongly emphasised, while John has a generally moderating role’ (Gemert 1991: 61).
Gemert again compares with Giustinian and his Laude dialogate, intended for Good Friday (Folena
1980: 317–19, 323–6).
Panayotopoulou 1990, 1991.
Holton 1988. On the other hand, The Sacrifice of Abraham, having as model a theatrical play, dis-
plays a narrative structure (Evangelatos 1989). See later discussion; the transgression of genres is a
characteristic feature of mannerism Baroque style.
Edition Moustoxydis 1845. Ιt has been performed in a Modern Greek translation by Spyros
A. Evangelatos, in the Amphi-Theatre in Athens.
About greghesco there is a vast bibliography: Coutelle 1971, Vincent 1972, Padoan 1982: 34 ff., 154 ff.,
165 ff., etc. But there are also passages in Modern Greek vernacular in Commedia dell’Arte (Puchner
1991: 53 ff., for example Pandolfi 1957–61: I 100 ff.).
Critical edition Vitti 1966 and partly 1966a. Τhis was done by the humanist Nicolaos Sofianos,
who wrote a Greek grammar in the vernacular and translated the Paidagogos by Pseudo-Plutarch in
Modern Greek (both edited by Papadopoulos 1970). On Sofianos and his circle see Ziogas 1974.

How Theatre Was Re-invented in the Kingdom of Candia 121

How Theatre Was Re-invented in the Kingdom

of Candia: Theories and Evidence
We do not know exactly how the re-invention of theatre in Crete devel-
oped, beyond the general Italian orientation of Cretan culture. When
Georgios Chortatsis wrote his Erofile at the end of the sixteenth century, a
masterpiece of poesy and dramaturgy, he had to depend on some tradition
of dramatic literature; we have to assume there was some sort of prelimi-
nary phase before we see evidence of mature dramatic composition. There
is a gap in Cretan literature between the early and mature phases that begin
around 1580.49 The suggestions for filling this gap include the following:
1) In his prologue to Molino’s poems I Fatte e le Prodezze di Manoli Blessi
Strathioto (Acts and Deeds of the Soldier Manoli Blessi), the well-known
dramatist Lodovico Dolce discusses an outstanding personality of thea-
tre and musical life in Venice, Antonio Molino, alias Burchiella; he
claims that in his youth the author (circa 1530) began to recite ‘comedie’
in Corfu and Crete, to avoid becoming lethargic (‘che per non istare
otioso, in Corfu e in Candia cominciò a esercitarsi in recitar comedie’).
Molino is the author of extended comic poems about an Albanian-
Greek ‘stradiotto’ (a mercenary soldier in Venetian service), where he
uses greghesco and corrupted Italian to some extent. It cannot be ruled
out that Molino, using the expression ‘recitar comedie’, means the
public recitation of his comic greghesco poems since the term ‘comedia’
in that time does not just signify dramatic comedy but has a broader
2) It is possible that the man responsible for importing theatre to Crete was
Ioannis Kassimatis (c. 1527–71), nephew of the philologist Francesco
Porto (see note 15), who resided for some years at the court of Ferrara,
one of the most important centres of Renaissance theatrical life in Italy.
Returning to Crete he was accused of having pro-Protestant opinions
and tried by the Inquisition in 1668 in Candia. Kassimatis was forced to
disavow his opinions in public, his books were burned and he died in a
Venetian prison in 1571. Three years after his death Venetian censorship
approved the publication of an unknown, untitled tragedy. The text is
no longer extant, but it may very well be in Italian.51

Gemert 1994. For dating see Bakker/Gemert 1983 (with some modifications since then).
Sathas 1888: 471 f., Vincent 1973, Panayotakis 1989a (1998: 91–118), and extended 1992.
Panayotakis 1983 (1989: 324–40, 1998: 119–40).

122 Re-Inventing Theatre

3) In 1578 the young Cretan student of law at the university of Padua
Francesco Bozza published the tragedy Fedra in Venice; written in
Italian, it was the first documented drama of Cretan literature (see earlier

4) The introduction of theatre performances may have been an initiative

of the Academy of ‘Stravaganti’ (= estravaganti) in Candia (founded
c. 1590). In a manuscript catalogue of the Academies of Venetian ter-
ritory in Museo Civico Correr, compiled in the eighteenth century,
there is a lemma referring to the ‘Stravaganti’ in Crete. Describing the
activities of one of its members, Giovanni Aquila or dall’Aquila from
Murano, who after 1582 occupied various positions in the Venetian
administration of the island, it states that he was an excellent poet and
very efficient ‘in the recitation of theatre plays and dramas, which as an
honourable activity frequently occupied the members of the Academy
of Stravaganti in their residence’. These productions should be consid-
ered as amateur performances of an official character in closed theatre
spaces. Another impetus for theatre playing seems to be the presence of
Italian army officers in town.53
Although plausible, these theories do not explain the quality of dra-
matic literature written in the Cretan dialect shortly before the turn of the
century (1600). The dates of our extant dramatic texts are quite consistent,
so that the question of the existence of a preliminary phase remains essen-
tially unanswered. It should be stated in advance that only a small portion
of Cretan dramatic texts have survived, mostly in copies transferred to the
Ionian islands after the fall of Candia.

Cretan Drama: Tragedy, Comedy, Pastoral

Drama, Religious Drama, Intermedia
From the Greek dramatic production of Crete seven (or eight) dramas and
eighteen intermedia have survived (one comedy surviving in a shortened

Puchner 1991: 523–33, edition Luciani 1996. The italian literary and dramatic production of Crete
should be considered as part of Cretan literature. See also Aposkiti 1991 about L’Amorosa Fede (with
former bibliography).
See also sequently. Panayotakis 1998: 152–5 (‘nel recitare opere e drammi, che per exercizio onorato
spesse volte si facevano nella sede degli Estravaganti’ 153). In this way his older theory about the
decisive role of the Academy in organizing theatre performance is verified (Panayotakis 1966).

Cretan Drama: Tragedy, Comedy, Pastoral Drama 123

adaptation from the Ionian islands), in addition to one translation and
some fragments of other dramas. Written and performed between 1580 and
1660, they show a combination of styles characteristic of contemporaries
such as Shakespeare and Lope de Vega:  a Renaissance mode of drama-
turgy based on elements drawn from Mannerism and the Baroque.54 The
Renaissance elements are evident in the five-act scheme with choral songs at
the end, as well as the use of prologue and intermedia, while generally pre-
serving the three Aristotelian ‘unities’ (time, space and action). Moreover
the plots are constructed with a classical symmetry, with few speaking roles
and with traditional scenic conventions (justification of exits, announce-
ment of entrances, eavesdropping scenes, asides, simultaneous presence on
stage without communication, etc.).55 Nearly all the texts are preserved in
copies from the Ionian islands, and were intended for performances after
the fall of Candia.
The basic dramatic genres of the time – tragedy, comedy, bucolic drama,
but also religious drama and intermedia – are represented in the small sam-
ple that time and fortune have preserved from destruction and oblivion.

There are two (or three)56 extant tragedies:  Erofile by Georgios Chortatsis
and King Rodolinos by Ioannis Andreas Troilos:
Erofile (Eρωφίλη): Written in 1600 or a little before and attributed to
Georgios Chortatsis from Rethymno, the classical tragedy Erofile, with
3,205 verses (fifteen-syllable ‘political’ verse with other metres for the cho-
ral songs), was by far the most frequently published (as ‘chapbook’ and
sentimental reading material by the Greek publishing houses in Venice).
The most frequently performed tragedy in Cretan theatre,57 it had an espe-
cially important influence on Greek literature before 1800 and was also

See Puchner 1980; on mannerism see Vasiliou 2002 and Luciani 2005; on elements of the Baroque
style, Puchner 2006b. For a comparison with Renaissance and Baroque drama in Ragusa and the
shores of Dalmatia on the Adriatic Sea see Puchner 1991: 467–503 and 1994: 15–39.
In detail Puchner 2007: 201–316 (with further bibliography).
Older scholarship classes Zinon among Cretan literature, but recently it has been classified with
the literature of the Ionian islands because most probably it was written there by a Cretan refu-
gee and performed in Zante in 1683; the question of its heritage is also evidenced by its mixed
Cretan–Heptanesian dialect. It is also different in style, approaching the later Jesuit Baroque drama
addressed in Chapter 5.
It was also played after 1651 in beleaguered Candia, where Nicolaus Papadopolus Comnenus was
born; in his Historia Gymnasii Patavini Comnenus wrote that he recalls the play was edited and

124 Re-Inventing Theatre

transmitted through the oral tradition. The fact that two printed editions
and three manuscripts from the seventeenth century have survived shows
the popularity of the work and its author: Gradenigos, the editor of the
second edition, notes in his prologue that Chortatsis is the ‘koryphaios’
poet of his generation.58 As mentioned previously, however, the identifica-
tion of the poet is not entirely certain.59
The plot is as follows: Filogonos, King of Egypt, has murdered his brother
in order to gain the throne and then married his widow. Apart from his
natural daughter, Erofile, he raised a boy of royal blood, Panaretos, in the
palace. When he grew up, Panaretos showed his prowess in battle by saving
the kingdom from enemy attack. At the beginning of the play Panaretos
and Erofile have fallen in love and secretly married; but the king wants to
give Erofile in marriage to another man, the son of a king, and chooses
Panaretos to act as an intermediary. The secret union comes to light and
Filogonos has Panaretos killed after cruelly torturing him, and then  –
feigning acquiescence to the wedding – offers his unsuspecting daughter
the severed head, heart and hands of her lover in a casket as a wedding
gift. Erofile commits suicide and the chorus of handmaids, led by Erofile’s
nurse, Nena, overthrows the cruel king and kills him.60
This bloody fairy-tale story61 set in a classical environment (Memphis,
with the pyramids, acclamations to Zeus, Pluto etc.) is constructed after
the Italian model tragedy Orbecche by G. B. Giraldi Cinthio (1547).62 But
with many alterations in plot it is quite independent, psychologically bet-
ter motivated and dramatically more concise, abandoning the rhetorical
academism of Italian Renaissance tragedy.63 Part of the second act is mod-
elled on the tragedy Il Re Torrismondo, written by Torquato Tasso in 1587;

often staged in Candia, and was always a great success (‘Edita est ac, ut memini, saepe in urbe Creta
publica data semper placuit’ (1726: II 306).
The prologue was published in Alexiou/Aposkiti 1988: 86. Chortatsis’s authorship is confirmed not
only by the Venetian editions, but also by Marinos Tzanes Bounialis, the author of the historical
poem The Battle of Crete: in one of his poems (‘Quarrel between Candia and Rethymno’) the per-
sonification of the town Rethymno is proud of its famous son Chortatsis (Xirouchakis 1908: 588).
The authorship is verified also by the Chiot scholar Leon Allatios, librarian of the Vatican (Allacci
1651: 116).
For questions on Chortatsis’ authorship see Evangelatos 1970:  214–5, 2000, Bancroft-Marcus
1980: 24 ff. (see also 1977) and Alexiou/Aposkiti 1988: 40–7.
Puchner 1980: 95 f., 1991: 130.
Recent scholarship has emphasized that the story of Erofile is merely a briefer variation on a medi-
eval incest story, found in the literature throughout Europe: an incestuous father kills his daughter’s
lover by tearing out his heart, and then gives it to her to eat (Αrmaos 2003).
This was stated as early as Bursian 1870. Orbecche is a sort of reformation tragedy, because for the
first time the plot is not taken from ancient mythology.
For comparison see mainly Embiricos 1956.

Cretan Drama: Tragedy, Comedy, Pastoral Drama 125

this gives a firm terminus post quem.64 The four interludes between the
acts consist of the Rinaldo-Armida episode from Tasso’s epic Gerusalemme
Liberata (1581), which was often dramatized in Italy;65 it is believed that
they also are from the hand of Chortatsis.66
Chortatsis’ dramatic skilfulness and poetic originality can be demon-
strated on many different levels: to begin with, there is the unconventional
use of dramatic conventions (e.g., using the chorus to play an active role in
the plot; maidens killing the cruel king). There are also ‘arcs of suspense’ in
the plot, changes in the rhythm and tempo of the dialogue as well as the
use of tragic irony. Entrances are heralded by expositional passages; there
are eavesdropping scenes as well as characters who are on-stage simultane-
ously but who do not communicate. There is also symbolism in Chortatsis’
repetition of certain rhymes, the regulation of stage business through
implicit stage directions, the repetition and climax of certain words and
phrases, rhetorical questions, the Mannerist use of language and verse, etc.
Lastly there has been commentary pointing out the Baroque elements in
the play.67 For all its richness Erofile is one of the most-analyzed dramas in
Modern Greek literature, although there are many aspects of the work that
remain for future analysis.
The underlying mood of the play is the medieval memento mori phi-
losophy, emphasizing the ever-present transitoriness of vanitas vanitatis as
expressed by Charos, the personification of death even in the prologue (he
is portrayed in Western fashion with painted bones on a black costume
and sickle in hand). Nothing can withstand his might, neither wealth nor
power, happiness nor wisdom: ‘Yesterday is gone, the day before yesterday
is no longer remembered, / today is reckoned as but a small spark in the
darkness’ (Το ψες εδιάβη, το προχθές πλιο δεν ανιστοράται / σπίθα μικρά
το σήμερο στα σκοτεινά λογάται, Prol. 75–6).68 The fate of mankind is
Manousakas 1959, Bakker/Gemert 1983: 83. Βancroft-Marcus (1980: 24) proposed different phases of
working out the tragedy; for this there is no firm evidence. Alexiou and Aposkiti (1988: 35–6, 243–6)
also provide a dependence on Filostrato e Pamfila by Antonio Cammelli il Pistoia.
For the establishment of a terminus post quem this sequence of playlets is irrelevant because the
interludes basically form their own repertoire, independent of the play (Puchner 1980:  110 ff.,
Pecoraro 1972, Bancroft-Marcus 1977).
Usually they are not by the same author. They were first printed in the second edition in 1676.
In favor of their authorship by Chortatsis see Manousakas 1991:  323–7, based on philological
evidence. Some choral odes may be linked to Seneca (Dinakis 1912) or more probably to Tasso’s
Aminta (Bursian 1870, Pecoraro 1969) and the Sofonisba by G. G. Trissino (Sathas 1879, Pecoraro
1969). Another analogy exists in act I scene 4 with Orlando Furioso (canto 45, I, 2, 4) by L. Ariosto
(Sparado 1975).
Hatzinikolaou 2007: 52.
See also the end of the prologue: ‘Like a spark your glory is put out, like ashes your riches / are
scattered and lost, and your name, / as if it had been written by your hand on a seashore / or in

126 Re-Inventing Theatre

ruled by the wheel of fortune: those who are up today will be down tomor-
row, and wealth and power are only illusions. But traditional feudal law is
overruled by irresistible eros, which breaks all social distinctions and con-
ventions, as powerful as thanatos, and his most substantial enemy. This is
a central motif throughout the Renaissance: eros lasts longer than life, and
the pair of lovers is together even in death.
The tragedy can be easily performed on the formal stage for tragedies
as described in Sebastiano Serlio’s books of architecture from the mid-
sixteenth century,69 which were known in Crete.70 The Birmingham
manuscript gives particulars of the set:  ‘I schigni rapresentari ti Ghora
ci Memfis’ (the scene represents the town of Memphis).71 The text itself
records what could be seen in the way of central-perspective painting on
angle wings: Charos in the prologue refers to ‘these pyramids of yours’ (54)
and ‘this lofty and noble palace’ (99) and explains to the audience that ‘this
is the famous Memphis, so renowned for its great pyramids’ (113–4).72 So
we can safely assume a conventional one-location Renaissance stage, the
sort described by Serlio with a panorama of Memphis and the king’s palace
in the centre. There are, however, indications that this painted perspec-
tive picture of a town can temporarily have other symbolic spatial func-
tions: e.g., a public piazza or a street in the middle of the stage (in scenes
I.1, 2; II.3, 4, 5, 7; III.4, 5; IV.1, 2; V.1, 3). It can also symbolize the throne
room of the palace (with a table for the casket), probably to be located
on the right or left side of the front stage, where the angle wings run par-
allel to the apron (for scenes I.3, 4; II.1, 6; IV.3, 4, 6, 7; V.2, 3, 4, 5 and
6). Across the stage, on the opposite side, there is a place which denotes
Erofile’s room in the palace (scenes II.2, III.2, 3, V.3). These symbolic loci
are not painted on the angle wings, but marked by props (e.g., the king’s
throne).73 For the rest of the play the conventions of the one-location stage

the dust, fades away at the sea’s bidding’ (Σα σπίθα σβήν’ η δόξα σας, τα πλούτη σας σα σκόνη
/ σκορπούσινε και χάνουνται, και τ’ όνομά σας λιώνει / σαν να ‘τον με το χέρι σας γραμμένο εις
περγιάλι / στη διάκριση τση θάλασσας, γή χάμαι στην πασπάλη) (Puchner 1991: 142–3).
Puchner, 1983b (1991: 153–78, 2007a: 306–16).
Especially his Il Secondo Libro Di Perspettiva (Paris 1545). For knowledge of Serlio’s work in Crete see
Dimakopoulos 1971 and 1972, Fatourou-Isychaki 1983: 108 and pass.
Vincent 1970. This is an example of the phonetic transcription of the Cretan dialect in Latin
So does the Shade of the murdered brother of the king, ascending from the Underworld in the
second half of act III; he also describes the scenery: ‘I see mountains and plains’ (257), ‘the lofty
house’ (261), ‘these doors’ (265–6), ‘these thrones’ (266); in act IV the Counsellor observes rather
rhetorically: ‘I see these walls, doors, columns, theatres, lofty temples and images of the gods’ (583–
4; ‘theatre’ in the Byzantine sense).
This temporary division of the one-location stage into three different loci does not contravene the
conventions of classical drama, or the dramaturgical techniques used to motivate and create the

Cretan Drama: Tragedy, Comedy, Pastoral Drama 127

are followed throughout: two exits are necessary, one to the right and one
to the left in the front of the stage; Charos, the Shade and the Furies from
the Underworld enter through a trap-door in the centre of the stage.74 The
difference in stage directions among individual versions of the text is inter-
esting: sometimes they contradict the indirect didascaliae of the dialogue,
and in any case they are often dysfunctional or redundant. Chortatsis’ ori-
ginal version may not have had any extra stage directions, and in many
instances they seem to be later (Heptanesian) additions by copyists and
amateur performers.75
Κing Rodolinos (Βασιλεύς ο Ροδολίνος):  This second Cretan tragedy,
published in Venice 1647 by Ioannis Andreas Troilos, was written around
1640 and consists of 3,230 fifteen-syllable verses as well as other metres.
Although famous in its own time,76 it since has fallen into oblivion: only
one exemplar has been preserved.77
The play is set, like Erofile, in Memphis and concerns the conflict
between friendship and love. Rodolinos, King of Egypt and a friend of
the King of Persia, Trosilos, has asked Aretas, King of Carthage, for the
hand of his daughter Aretousa – not for himself but for Trosilos. Trosilos
had fallen in love with Aretousa at a tournament, where he had emerged

actors’ entrances and exits. Such a latent division of the stage is also indicated by an analysis of
the eavesdropping scenes as well as scenes where the characters are present on-stage simultane-
ously without communicating with each other (Puchner 1983b). This is also apparent from scene
V.3: Nena and Erofili set out from the latter’s room to reach the throne room, where the king expects
them; passing the stage piazza in the centre they stop several times, watched by the king (305); then
he can hear what they are saying (307–19) and comments on what he has heard (320–1); Nena hears
his comments (322 ff.) and finally sees him (325–6), indicating that the women have reached the
locus where he is (i.e., the throne room).
The Corsini scenarios of Commedia dell’Arte, which are very close to actual theatre practice, have
many sketches of such stage architecture painted in perspective, in one case even with a throne
in the middle of the street, on which a zanni sits eating and drinking (Nagler 1969). The use of
real three-dimensional props in front of painted scenery of the Serlio type seems not to have been
unusual (Puchner 1978: 84 ff., 1983b: 45 f.). For scenery, gesticulation, pauses, etc., see also Bancroft-
Marcus 1978: 183 ff.
Puchner 1991: 363–444.
Bounialis mentions the author and the play in his aforementioned poem (Xirouchakis 1908: 558,
lines 13–14). There is also a book order from Michael Glykys in Ioannina to his father Nicolaos
in Venice, to send him ten exemplars for a trade market in Moscholouri in the central Balkans
(Veloudis 1974:  137–40, Vranoussis 1982:  448–52), together with twenty exemplars of Erofile
and twenty exemplars of Pastor fido by Guarini in the Greek adaptation by Michael Soummakis
(Venice 1658).
It was mentioned by Brandis 1842:  III 84, acquired by Ioannis Gennadius in a Frankfurt anti-
quarian shop in 1910 and is now in the Gennadius Library in Athens. A new facsimile edition by
Manousakas 1976 (with a foreword by F. R. Walton, IX–XII) and a complete edition by Aposkiti
1987 with brief notes and extensive glossary, have facilitated a new aesthetic evaluation of the play
(Holton 1991: 290–1). About the author see earlier discussion. The play was probably never per-
formed, as indicated by verse 24 of the ‘Dedication to the Readers’ (see also Solomos 1973: 201).

128 Re-Inventing Theatre

as the victor and received the prize from her own hand. But Aretas had
refused to give his daughter to Trosilos because of an old enmity. During
the journey by sea to Egypt, where Rodolinos was to hand over the bride
to his friend, an erotic relationship began to develop between them while
they were shipwrecked on a remote island. Aretousa was, of course, under
the impression that she was already with her future bridegroom. Trosilos
now sets out for Memphis in order to collect the promised bride from
his friend, while Rodolinos has thoughts of suicide, since he cannot bear
the conflict between material love and friendship. His counsellor Erminos
suggests a sensible solution:  he should keep Aretousa himself (Trosilos
would happily forgo her for friendship’s sake) and give him instead his sis-
ter Rododafni. She, however, being an Amazonian and follower of Diana,
has to be persuaded by the queen mother Annazia to submit to the yoke
of matrimony. Trosilos, who has arrived outside the town with his retinue,
sends bridal gifts to Aretousa, who slowly begins to suspect what is hap-
pening. When Rodolinos’s guilty and reserved manner is finally explained
to her by the king’s declaration that she is destined to be the bride of his
friend, who has a prior claim to her, she drinks poison and dies. Rodolinos,
having declared his love for her as she dies, then kills himself. Rododafni
dies of shock, and Trosilos, who finally appears after having been informed
of these events by a letter from Rodolinos, falls on his sword. The queen
mother Annazia then appears joyfully on stage to prepare the double wed-
ding of her children and learns of the deaths of all the protagonists. The
tragic mother remains alone.78
This play, the most expansive from the Cretan theatre, represents an
adaptation of Il Re Torrismondo (1587) by Torquato Tasso.79 The setting has
moved from Scandinavia to the Mediterranean, and the incest between
brother and sister has been eliminated. Otherwise the plot follows its
model fairly faithfully, with the exception of the addition of Rododafni,
who also commits suicide, and the suicide of Trosilos, thus increasing the
number of corpses at the end of the play.80 The text does not contain any
interludes for performance between the acts. Critics have highlighted the
lyrical-poetic qualities of the play but also drawn attention to its dramatic

Manousakas 1965: 34 f., Puchner 1980: 97, 1991: 149.
This has already been established by Xanthoudidis in his unpublished introduction to the planned
critical edition (1928) (see Manousakas 1976:  XIV, XXI). After him see Voutieridis 1933:  218–23,
Manousakas 1955.
Troilos drops ten scenes from his model (all from the last three acts) and adds eleven of his own.
He also adds the prologue of ‘Fate’ (Melloumeno) in hendecasyllabic ottava rima and the choral odes
(mostly in the same metre), of which three are written in sonnet form; these original compositions
show Troilos to be a capable poet (Manousakas 1962a, 1976: XXIII ff.).

Cretan Drama: Tragedy, Comedy, Pastoral Drama 129

weaknesses,81 which are revealed through dramaturgical analysis. It relies
heavily on monologues for its structure, the speeches are very long and
the tempo of dialogue very slow. Moreover there is an excessive focus on
the main characters and the logical development of the plot is sacrificed
to considerations of symmetry; for example the suicides of Rododafni and
Trosilos are insufficiently motivated.82 At some points Trosilos imitates
Chortatsis’s Erofile, for instance with his exposition technique, but the
results are far less skillful.83 The chief virtue of the play is in its poesy: the
frequency of monologue and, related to it, the rather casual approach to
supplying information dramaturgically, naturally favour lyrical digression;
indeed there are verses of great poetic beauty and elegance, especially in
the choral odes.84
The king’s dark, brooding nature, his inner conflict, his icy behaviour
towards his female lover, etc., are no longer governed by the ‘all-powerful
Eros’ philosophy of the Renaissance, but clearly belong to the psychopa-
thology of Baroque man. In the prologue, which is spoken by ‘Fate’, the
leitmotifs are already sounded:  memento mori, the curse of wealth, the
prophecy of death of the four young people. The Amazonian ideology of
Rododafni is exposed as unnatural (as in Chortatsis’ Panoria); Rododafni
envies the daughters of poor families, who can choose their husbands freely
(as does Erofile). The last choral ode again breathes the dark atmosphere
of blind Heimarmene. The tendency towards reflection before action,
towards philosophizing before the event, is characteristic of the whole trag-
edy. The hesitant, divided, brooding protagonist fails to exploit the possi-
bilities for solving his problem, which he himself caused by his thoughtless
actions. The nightmarish loneliness and the glimmer of the subconscious
shining through – all this makes the character of Rodolinos very modern;
it is a Baroque psychodrama. There are no external enemies, the charac-
ters love one another, but nevertheless they all perish. The friends never
meet, but nonetheless their conflict is their undoing. In the world of sensi-
tive, broken characters the queen mother Annazia is really the only figure

Manousakas 1965: 35. See also Lowe 1935, Valsas 1952, Solomos 1973: 61–82, Puchner 1980: 97 f.
Puchner 1981a, 1983a: 79, 83 f., 1986, also in 1991a: 150–1, 1991: pass. and 2007: 238–60.
Puchner 1991a: 151, Solomos 1973: 61–82. In addition to the Italian model Erofile played a major part
in the conception of the plot and the characters (e.g., the beginning of the third act, which like the
fourth act in Erofile locates on stage a conversation which has already started), but also in drama-
turgical techniques (e.g., Chortatsis’ frequent use of simultaneous presence, where one character on
stage does not immediately notice the other).
For instance the choral ode against suicide, which is written in quatrains of hendecasyllables and
heptasyllables with ABBA rhyme, is among the earliest examples of mannerist concettismo in the
Greek Baroque literature (Vitti 1978: 90 f.).

130 Re-Inventing Theatre

depicted in a rectilinear way; she knows what she wants, and she is the
only real opponent of fate: she is the one who lives longest in the illusion
of the imminent double wedding and her fall into reality is the more tragic
because she must outlive her children.85
The problems of staging are of only academic interest, since the play was
probably never performed. Still, the tragedy could be performed without
difficulty on a Serlian single-location stage, with the urban panorama of
Memphis as background, just as in Erofile.

It is characteristic of Cretan tragedy that every single play has a concrete
model in Italian literature which is adapted and altered; comedies, on the
other hand, are different, consisting as they do of a combination of dif-
ferent common and conventional comic scenes. Some conventions can
be found in commedia erudita and Commedia dell’Arte, both of which
flourished from the mid-sixteenth century. It is these genres that inspire
the stereotypical characters of Cretan comedy: the old man in love, usually
named Pantalone; the erudite teacher (dottore, in Italian comedy usually a
lawyer) reciting incomprehensible citations in Latin and learned Italian;86
the heavily armed soldier, a boaster but also a coward (capitano, bravo);
the constantly hungry and ever-cunning servants (zanni), as well as the
female matchmakers and prostitutes (ruffiane). These characters populate
the stage, loosely connected with the plot, which in a stereotypical way
revolves around the challenges a young couple face to their marriage. The
obstacle is usually an old man who has fallen in love with the girl, who
wants to marry her and who uses his money as an enticement.
Although it has its roots in both academic and ‘professional’ comedy, the
Cretan variety does not seem to be influenced immediately by Commedia
dell’Arte, since there is no verbal improvization, no repertoire of stereo-
typed (usually obscene) gestures (i.e., lazzi) and it was not performed with
masques. Cretan actors probably were not professionals, since audiences
on the island could not support a professional troupe of the size required
by the playwrights:  in Chortatsis’ Katzourbos, the last scene requires fif-
teen actors, an ensemble of considerable size, and difficult to support.87
(By contrast, as we shall see in Chapter 4, the Commedia dell’Arte would

Puchner 1991a: 153–4, 1997: 186–7.
See (only for critical use) Nourney 1961, but see now Minniti Gonia 2007.
For comparison with professional theatre troupes in Spain in the siglo de oro see Puchner 1978.

Cretan Drama: Tragedy, Comedy, Pastoral Drama 131

have a considerable influence on the comedy of the Ionian islands in the
eighteenth century.)88
There are three outstanding comedies, two preserved in Heptanesian
copies, and one autograph:  there is Katzourbos by Georgios Chortatsis,
written before 1600; Stathis by an unknown author (some scholars incline
to attribute it also to Chortatsis), preserved in an abbreviated Heptanesian
version with only three acts; and last but not least Fortounatos, written by
Markos Antonios Foskolos in 1655 in the besieged town of Candia (the
manuscript is an autograph of the author). All three comedies have a num-
ber of conventional features, common also in neoclassical Italian comedy;
the action is set in the city (Candia) and the characters belong to the ‘mid-
dle class’. Common also is the happy ending by means of the discovery of
a character’s long-lost child. Katzourbos and Fortounatos have the typical
neoclassical arrangement of prologue and five acts, while Stathis is pre-
served only in an incomplete manuscript copy. All three comedies have
independent interludes between the acts.89
Katzourbos (Κατζούρμπος) is chronologically the first of the Cretan
comedies and most likely the first drama by Chortatsis.90 The plot of the
play is fairly simple: young Nikolos is in love with Kassandra, presumed
daughter of the courtesan Poulisena. He has a middle-aged rival, Armenis,
who plans to steal his own wife’s gowns in order to pay Poulisena for her
‘daughter’s’ favours. However, Kassandra loves Nikolos and gives him her
bracelets to pawn so that he too will have ready cash for Poulisena. The
bawd now plans to deceive Armenis by having her maid Annousa receive
him in a darkened room in place of Kassandra, while Nikolos and the real
Kassandra will be enjoying a night of love. But Poulisena’s rival Anneza
informs Nikolos’s father, Giakoumos, that his son is squandering his money
at Poulisena’s; he assumes Nikolos has been stealing from the family coffers
and determines to have him arrested. Anneza also informs Armenis’s wife
of her husband’s intentions. When Armenis arrives at Poulisena’s door, his
outraged spouse apprehends him with the aid of their maid-servant, drags
him home and locks him in his room – from which he escapes through
the window. Meanwhile, Armenis’s servant Moustrouchos has discovered
For the scarce evidence on Crete see Vincent 1994 and Puchner 2004, 2007: 317–22.
For the connection of Cretan comedy with Italy see in general Politis 1964: μβ΄-νγ΄, Pecoraro 1969/
70, Markomihelaki-Mintzas 1991 and Markomihelaki 1992 and 1995.
Kaklamanis 1993: 19–45 suggests dates of 1581/2 for a first draft of the comedy. Most scholars date
it some years later. Chortatsis’ authorship is proved by Bounialis (see earlier discussion) where
Chortatsis is referred to as author of three plays:  Erofile, Panoria and Katzarapos. Katzarapos is
Nikolos’ servant (for the name see Symeonidis 1977) and this seems to be the original title of the

132 Re-Inventing Theatre

that Kassandra is not realy Poulisena’s daughter, but was born in Naxos,
enslaved by Turks and bought by Poulisena’s late husband. Moustrouchos
deduces that Kassandra must be Armenis’ own lost daughter, who was
separated from her parents years ago when the whole family was captured
by Turks. Soon her identity is confirmed. Giakoumos storms in, still rag-
ing against his son, but he is pacified on hearing the truth. All parties agree
to the marriage of Nikolos and Kassandra, and the play ends with a happy
In this five-act plot further comic episodes are interwoven around
the pedantic Schoolmaster and captain Koustoulieris, who tries to woo
Poulisena and is repeatedly made to look ridiculous. This asymmetrical
comedy by Chortatsis, with its numerous characters, its loose hypothesis
about a conventional theme, its ‘aristophanic’ atmosphere and its amoral-
ity (placed as it is in a brothel) did not enjoy the fame of his two other
plays, Panoria and Erofile.92 His sources of inspiration may have included
Latin comedy, a few Italian Renaissance comedies as well as the didac-
tic poems of Sachlikis,93 and so represents a sort of Cretan tradition of
intertextuality, which also features in the ‘late’ plays King Rodolinos (1647)
and Fortounatos (1655). And in turn this comedy had some influence of its
own: three conventional comic scenes with the braggart, his sarcastic serv-
ant and the Schoolmaster are found in the same manuscript for intermedia
of Panoria, and one of them, together with other passages of the comedy,
is used in the comic interludes (diloudia) of the Tragedy of St Demetrius,
played on Naxos in 1723.94
Dramaturgical analysis is not as important as in the case of comedies,
because the mechanisms of intrigue and counter-intrigue leave little space
for innovation in plot strategies or lyric poetry. There are entrance for-
mulas, mainly for sudden entrances, and the tempo of the dialogue is
brisker than in tragedy or bucolic drama; but there is no sophisticated use
of Mannerist language (excepting the nonsensical Italian and Latin ‘cita-
tions’ of the Schoolmaster). Eavesdropping scenes including commentary
by the listeners are frequent, as well as the use of ‘asides’. There are no sym-
metrical constellations of characters and the stage action is more intense,
marked as it is by direct and indirect stage directions, etc.95 Staging could
Vincent 1991: 105, Holton 1997: 128.
It is preserved only in one manuscript in the Greek National Library in Athens. For print editions
see Politis 1964 and Kaklamanis 1993a.
Vincent 1966, Dedousi 1968, Markomihelaki 1996.
See Chapter 5. Some similarities can also be traced with the Cretan translation/adaptation of Pastor
Fido by Giambattista Guarini (Papatriantafyllidou-Theodoridi 1972).
Puchner 1981a, 1983a, 1986, 1990, 1994a, see also Puchner 1989 and Holton 1997: 201–316.

Cretan Drama: Tragedy, Comedy, Pastoral Drama 133

be realized on the Serlian set for comedies, but the houses on the left and
the right should be solidly built with a balcony and window, because the
old Armenis has to escape from the bedroom of the second floor. As is
natural for comedies, there are more props in use and the acting style is
more vivid.
Stathis (Στάθης) The comedy is preserved only in a later three-act adap-
tation which does some damage to the plot and its development; still the
original plot can be restored through the internal evidence of the surviving
text96 and it is not much different from the other comedies. The origi-
nal was written by an anonymous Cretan author of uncertain date,97 and
according to some scholars it should be attributed to Chortatsis.98
In this comedy the pair of young amorosi is doubled:  the student
Chrysippos hopes to marry Lambrousa, the daughter of an ageing law-
yer known by his title, the Doctor (Dottores). The old man is in favour
of the match, and he himself is planning to marry Fedra, daughter of
the Cypriot Stathis. Fedra, however, is in love with Chrysippos and she
believes that Chrysippos has been visiting her at night and has given her
his ring. In reality her visitor was not Chrysippos but his friend Pamfilos.
To avoid marriage with the Doctor, Fedra tells her father of the night visits
and the ring she has received from ‘Chrysippos’. Furious at Chrysippos’s
‘crime’ – which is further aggravated by his commitment to Lambrousa –
Stathis decides to have him arrested. At this point Chrysippos’ guardian
Gavrilis arrives in Candia, only to find that the boy has been imprisoned
by the Duke. Pamfilos, however, asks to be punished in place of his friend.
Gavrilis now informs his old acquaintance Stathis that Chrysippos is actu-
ally Stathis’s own long-lost son Chrysis, who was captured by corsairs as a
tiny child. The true identity of the young man who has been visiting Fedra
is also revealed. The misdemeanour is forgiven, and plans are made for the
marriages of Chrysippos to Lambrousa and Pamfilos to Fedra.99
Woven into this story is a parallel plot involving the Bravo, the
Schoolmaster and the matchmaker Flourou. In spite of the more complex
plot the element of lyricism is developed more intensively in the play’s
poetical monologues on love. The treatment of the young lovers is also
more romantic.100

Alexiou 1954, Μanousakas 1954, Pontani 1967, Martini 1976: 17–22, Vasiliou 1974.
For the dating problem see Manousakas 1947, Evangelatos 1974 (not before 1585, not after 1592),
Pecoraro 1974 (not before 1590), Martini 1976: 29–30 (not before 1602).
Evangelatos 1974, Martini 1976: 32–4.
Vincent 1991: 107–8, Holton 1997: 130–3.
Editions: Sathas 1879: 177–282, Martini 1976. For scholarship see earlier discussion.

134 Re-Inventing Theatre

Fortounatos (Φορτουνάτος) This is the only comedy whose dating and
authorship are secure: it was written in 1655 in besieged Candia by Markos
Antonios Foskolos in his own hand. Belonging as it does to another era and
a different context (i.e., the Turkish siege of the city), there is an explicit,
didactic message: according to the prologue, spoken by Tyche (Fortune), it
is conceived as a moral force. As far as the plot is concerned it is a parallel
version of Katzourbos, but simpler.
Fortounatos has been raised by the merchant Giannoutsos, who dis-
covered him as a boy sixteen years ago in a ship recovered from corsairs.
Giannoutsos wants to learn the identity of the young man’s parents before
arranging a suitable marriage for him. Fortounatos, however, is in love with
Petronella, daughter of the widow Milia. Although Petronella reciprocates
Fortounatos’s love, her mother plans to marry her, for mercenary reasons,
to the rich but elderly Dr Louras. Negotiations are carried on through the
matchmaker Petrou; Louras mentions to her that he had a young son cap-
tured by corsairs sixteen years ago. Meanwhile, Giannoutsos has realized
that he cannot further delay Fortounatos’s marriage, so he asks the young
man’s friend Thodoros for help in finding a match. Thodoros appeals to
Petrou, and hears from her about Louras’s lost son. He guesses the child
must be Fortounatos, and this is soon confirmed. Overjoyed at recovering
his son, Louras gladly gives his blessing to the marriage of Fortounatos and
Among the comic figures populating the stage is, for the first time, a
medical doctor.102 In terms of dramaturgical economics Fortounatos is the
most balanced comedy, based on a local tradition of comic writing.103 Its
author died seven years after finishing his play in still-besieged Candia.104
The three comedies together not only are based on and ruled by lit-
erary conventions of this dramatic genre, rooted in Italian Renaissance
commedia erudita, but also mirror the social life in Candia of the time: the
professions, habits, norms, values and rules of behaviour: the gossip and
profiteering, the eating and drinking, the conventions of expressing one’s
feelings; the servants, matchmaking, sex lives, etc., all pass by in a kaleido-
scopic image of everyday life. Despite the literary conventions, concerned
mostly with the stereotypical comic figures and variations on a familiar
plot, these texts can also be seen as important sources for information on
Vincent 1991: 109–10, Holton 1997: 133.
Puchner 2004a: 31–48.
Editions Xanthoudidis 1922, Vincent 1980.
For details of his biography Vincent 1967, 1968, 1980: ικ΄-κδ΄.

Cretan Drama: Tragedy, Comedy, Pastoral Drama 135

Crete’s cultural history and daily life.105 Obviously, this would not be the
case for tragedy and pastoral drama.

Pastoral Drama
The fashion for pastoral drama in Italy, with imaginary shepherds
in a utopian Arcadia who have nothing else to do but pine away for
Diana-worshipping shepherdesses who spurn them, started with
Aminta by Torquato Tasso (1573)106 and culminated with Il Pastor Fido
by Giambattista Guarini (1590), a drama which was immediately trans-
lated into most European languages. There is also a Cretan version
of it (O πιστικός βοσκός, The Faithful Shepherd), by an anonymous
author, although some scholars speculate it could have been written by
Chortatsis.107 This Cretan pastoral drama should be dated somewhere in
the first half of the seventeenth century.108 The influence of the pastoral
genre in Crete is documented also by Amorosa fede of Pandimos (1620,
see earlier discussion)109 and the very popular poem Η Βοσκοπούλα (The
Shepherdess 1627).110
Panoria (Πανώρια) This third, outstanding drama by Chortatsis111 was
very popular in his time; it survives in three different manuscripts, copies
from the Ionian islands with significant differences among them, mainly
in the stage directions. This is a very interesting feature which demon-
strates that the manuscripts were intended for performance. The versions
also have different prologues112 and different intermedias. Chronologically
Panoria precedes Erofile, as is stated explicitly by the author in the dedica-
tion of the play to Markantonis Viaros.113 Significant progress was achieved
in 1963 when the manuscript of pater Marios Dapergola in the church
of Akathistos in Aixoni was discovered; Dapergola’s manuscript gave the
original name of the play, Panoria, instead of Gyparis as it was called by

See Vincent 1991: 118–28, Holton 1997: 143–56, Varzelioti 2011.
There is a Greek adaptation of the drama, edited in Venice 1745 by Georgios Mormoris (Evangelatos
1969, 2004, critical edition 2012).
E.g., Papatriantafyllou-Theodoridi 1972, 1978.
Edition Joannou 1962. Analysis in Bancroft-Marcus 1991: 89–96, 1997: 108–16.
Analysis also in Sathas 1879:  μ΄-νε΄, Kriaras 1940: 79–87, Stergellis 170: 99–103, Bancroft-Marcus
1991: 97–8.
Edition:  Alexiou 1963, Italian translation Alexiu 1975, English translation Marshall 1929. It was
reprinted many times, with a Latin translation published in 1698.
Ιt is also mentioned by Tzane Bounialis in the aforementioned poem.
One prologue is spoken by Joy (‘chara’), the other by Apollo (Bancroft-Marcus 1980a).
Manousakas 1963a.

136 Re-Inventing Theatre

the older editions (after the name of the leading shepherd’s role).114 Panoria
exercised significant influence on Greek literature in the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries: its monologue by Eros is used in the comedy Stathis,
and similarities have been found between it and a speech from Eugena on
Zante (1646), as well as in a fragment of another Cretan pastoral drama,
to name but a few.115 Perhaps the play’s popularity is related to the subtle
humour with which Chortatsis satirizes the pastoral literary genre emanat-
ing from the Italian courts.116
The plot is conventional, with the exception of the two comic figures
of the old man (father of Panoria) and the old female matchmaker (kyra
Frosyni), which are rooted in the tradition of comedy. But in this drama,
Chortatsis also plays with conventions: there are two shepherds, Gyparis
and Alexis, who have fallen in love with two shepherdesses, Panoria
and Athousa. As the bucolic convention dictates, the shepherdesses are
Amazons in the service of Diana (Artemis), who want nothing to do with
men and marriage, preferring a life of freedom in the woods of Mount
Ida, where they live as hunters paying not a minute’s attention to tend-
ing sheep. Panoria’s father is in despair; he wants to marry his daughter
with the rich Gyparis, but the efforts of the old matchmaker Frosyni to
convince her that living without eros is unnatural are also in vain. Gyparis,
after many lamentations and monologues expressing his pain, says good-
bye to the world and tries to commit suicide – and is prevented at the last
moment. The second couple repeats the same motif in a more comic man-
ner. In the end Frosyni takes them to the temple of Venus (Aphrodite),
where the priest calls the goddess; she sends little Eros (Amor) to hunt the
pitiless girls with his arrows and in this way the play has a happy end with
double wedding.117
As Bancroft-Marcus noted, ‘Panoria is the happiest, most original and
distinctively Cretan production of the Cretan Renaissance’.118 This is due
to the delicate humour which Chortatsis uses to depict fanatical and

The other manuscripts are the Codex Nanianus in the Biblioteca Marciana in Venice (Marc. gr.
XI 19, colloc. 1394), from which Sathas edited four plays of the Cretan theatre (1879), and Cod.
Athen. Graec. 1978 of the Greek National Library in Athens. Kriaras shaped his 1940 critical edi-
tion from both manuscripts; but the Dapergola manuscript, which was found in the early 1960s
(Oikonomou 1963), was the codex optimus with many improvements in readings (Kriaras 1964), so
Kriaras was forced to refashion his critical edition (Kriaras 1975 and Kriaras/Pidonia 2007).
Kallimachos and Rhodamne (a manuscript from Paros at the end of the seventeenth century, in
couplets on Zante in the collection of Marinos Sigouros (1801); similarities between passages in act
III can be found in the Intermedium of Lady Olive by Savoyas Rousmelis 1784. See later discussion.
About the use of irony in Chortatsis see Puchner 1988a.
For a more detailed account see Bancroft-Marcus 1991: 84–6, 1997: 102–5.
Bancroft-Marcus 1991: 86.

Cretan Drama: Tragedy, Comedy, Pastoral Drama 137

unrealistic youth, in contrast to the realistic elders who would not deny
erotic engagement, although it is too late for them. Yannoulis is trying to
woo the matchmaker, but old Frosyne laments her lost youth and beauty.
The all-powerful Eros of the Renaissance works only on the old genera-
tion while youth is ideologically disoriented by Amazonism, platonic love,
bucolic Arcadia, etc., and trapped likewise in a fashionable literary conven-
tion. The real meadows with the cattle breeders of Mount Ida are outside
the town doors of Candia and serve to demystify the mythological and lit-
erary schemes of Arcadianism. Cheese making, lost sheep eaten by wolves,
delayed erotic appetites, concerns about a dowry for the daughter, specula-
tions about the property of one’s husband, etc. – this is the world of old
Yannoulis, who overshadows the mythology and conventions of Arcadia
in an ironic way. The pastoral plot deserves this treatment, cultivated as it
was in the Italian courts and in the Mannerist fashion, steeped in the faux
ideology of Amazonism, complete with shepherds discussing Plato – an
utterly exotic world for a Candia circa 1600 without any corresponding
court. In a town like Candia, cattle breeders and shepherds were not liter-
ary conventions but a living reality.
This play, full of lyric parts and bucolic pictures, has stimulated scholar-
ship, mostly on the question of the existence of a concrete Italian proto-
type.119 But the broad conventionality of the genre seems to allow many
comparisons, so that it is difficult to identify a specific pastoral drama that
would have served as a model. It is probably better to say that the relation-
ship with Italian models is quite the same as in Cretan comedy: you have
a puzzle of conventional elements, situations and scenes all of which can
be found in different Italian pastoral dramas.120 Moreover Chortatsis uses
dramatic conventions here in an unusual way, for instance the technique
of characters’ simultaneous stage presence without communication: act V
begins with a scene in which the eros-stricken shepherdesses, in search of
their partners, enter the stage:  although the shepherds and Frosyne are
already present, they do not see them because they are lost in the pangs
of love.121 Chortatsis satirizes these young people, disoriented by Italian
ideological fashions, who cannot find each other without the help of a
mythological apparatus (Aphrodite), which, again, is part of the fashion;
nature is restored with the help of a literary convention.

The discussion is mainly among Kriaras, Politis, and Sachinis (Κriaras 1940, Politis 1969, Sachinis
1972/3, Kriaras 1975a). For an overview see Bancroft-Marcus 1997: 105–8 and Holton 1997: 248–9.
For inconsistencies in the plot see Vasiliou 1988.
V/5. See Puchner 1983a.

138 Re-Inventing Theatre

The bucolic drama, too, may be staged on Sterlio’s stereotypical scene,
which foresees for the pastoral drama a special set. We need scenery with
painted forests and meadows, a fountain for the suicide scene, and in the
centre the temple of Venus, which can open its doors to show the altar of
the goddess. We would also need a mechane that would enable Venus and
Eros/Amor to descend from heaven, something like the theatre cloud in
the intermedium about Rinaldo and Armida, the first interlude of Erofile.
In a similar way the appearance of the goddess of love should be accom-
panied by music.122

Religious Drama
As explained in Chapter 2, among the literary genres inherited from the
Byzantine era there was no mystery play or religious drama.123 There are
only two Cretan dialogue poems, one planctus Mariae by Marinos Falieros
and another one, also on the Passion of Christ, from the first half of the
fifteenth century, both of which show some Western influence and some
theatrical qualities.124 The only extant religious drama from Crete, per se,
is Sacrifice of Abraham.
The Sacrifice of Abraham (H Θυσία του Αβραάμ) This master-
piece of Cretan literature is a short play of 1,144 fifteen-syllable verses,
arranged as usual in rhyming couplets, transmitted in one manuscript
(dated in 1635, and written in Latin characters on Zante) along with
a whole series of subsequent editions, the first published in Venice in
1713.125 The text was very popular, not as a play but as ‘a story most bene-
ficial for the soul’ (ιστορία ψυχοφελεστάτη); there are a series of folk
adaptations with memorized verses from the play126 as well as transla-
tions into Serbian, karamanlidika (Turkish with Greek letters, designed
for the Orthodox population of Asia Minor), adaptations in the Greek

For details of the intended set see Puchner 1983b, 1991:  153–78; for the use of music in Cretan
theatre Puchner 1987, 1991: 179–210.
The difference is very clear, if one compares Cretan theatre with that of Ragusa and the Dalmatian
shores (Puchner 1991: 467–502, 2006, 2006a: 13–72, 2007: 13–40, Bogdanović 2012).
Lament on the Passion and Crucifixion of our Lord, God and Saviour, Jesus Christ (Θρήνος εις τα
Πάθη και την Σταύρωσιν του Κυρίου και Θεού και Σωτήρος ημών, Ιησού Χριστού), 404 verses,
edited by Bakker/Gemert 2002 (see also earlier discussion), and Supplications at the Holy Passion
of Our Lord Jesus Christ and Lament of the Holy Virgin (Λόγοι παρακλητικοί εις τα τίμια και άγια
πάθη του κυρίου ημών Ιησού Χριστού και θρήνος της υπεραγίας Θεοτόκου), only 112 verses pre-
served. See Manousakas 1956a and Manousakas/Parlangeli 1954.
There is positive evidence for an earlier edition in 1696; since 1874, thirty-seven editions have been
identified (Bakker 1978/9).
Oikonomidis 1953: 112–4, Megas 1954: 134–8, Protopapa 1960, Puchner 1976.

Cretan Drama: Tragedy, Comedy, Pastoral Drama 139

dialect of Mariopol, etc.127 The text is transmitted without prologue and
choral odes, without any division into acts and scenes, and only the later
editions have some (redundant) stage directions; as a result some schol-
ars have doubted whether the text was intended as a drama.128 The text
tradition, moreover, has major philological problems:  the manuscript
and the published editions show significant alterations and the date is
uncertain (c. 1600, or 1635 as indicated in the manuscript), the author
is unknown, but a significant number of scholars have attributed it to
Vincenzo Cornaros, the poet of Erotokritos. There has also been debate
on the question of which of these two works is aesthetically superior,
which was written first, etc. The authors of the new critical edition,
Wim Bakker and Arnold van Gemert, after exhaustive discussions of all
the arguments, have left most of these issues unresolved.129
One matter, however, the question of its Italian model, was solved early
on: Mavrogordato pointed out in 1928 that Lo Isach by Luigi Grotto (1586)
has to be considered the prototype of the Cretan biblical play.130 A simple
description of the plot, then, is suitable for both plays:
An angel appears, waking up Abraham from his sleep and command-
ing him in the name of God to sacrifice his only and beloved son Isaac.
Abraham, shocked and bewildered, at first beseeches God not to ask some-
thing so horrifying of him, but soon afterwards realizes that it is impossible
to resist God’s will. In the meantime his wife, Sarah, has wakened. When
she asks what is the matter with him he tries to hide the terrible news, but
when she keeps insisting, he tells her what is expected of him. After a short
lament she loses consciousness. Fearing that after her recovery she will try
to hold him back, Abraham decides to depart as soon as possible. But then
a servant girl arrives and gives him the message that Sarah has revived and
is asking for him. After a long conversation between the two parents, Sarah

About the Serbian translation of V. Rakić (Buda 1800) see now Bogdanović 2007 (with the older
bibliography). About the karamanlidika translations see Salaville/Dallegio 1958:  108–11, 236–9,
278–81, Bakker 1978/9: 25 ff. and Stathi 1992. Αbout the version in Mariopol, Karpozilos 1994.
There exists a Dutch translation as well (Hesseling 1919), one in French (Valsa 1924) and at least
three in English (Marshall 1929, Karampetsos/Nittis 1989, Garland 1991).
Although the names of persons speaking are mentioned as in a drama (this is also true for
Erotokritos), there is no unity of time and space. On the other hand, the Italian model of the
play, Lo Isach by Luigi Grotto, is a classicist five-act tragedia di lieto fin (Bakker 1978:  113–4).
Evangelatos 1989 and 2002 characterizes it as a narrative poem, not a play; against this view see
Bakker 1992, 1994.
Bakker/Gemert 1996, see also the pocket edition 1998. Former editions Megas 1943, 1954,
Tsantsanoglou 1970.
Mavrogordato 1928. About the conscious effort of the Cretan poet to give the play a different
structure see Bakker 1975.

140 Re-Inventing Theatre

appears to submit to the will of God. Abraham awakens Isaac and so the
two of them, accompanied by two male servants, start the long journey to
the mountain where, according to God’s command, the sacrifice must take
place; Sarah remains behind inconsolable. After travelling for three days
they reach the mountain, at the foot of which they leave the two servants.
Only after reaching the top does Abraham tell his son what sacrifice is to
be made. After a long struggle Isaac gives his consent, but when Abraham
is on the point of killing his son, the angel makes a second appearance and
tells him that the trial is over. Prayers of thanks are offered and a ram is
slaughtered instead of Isaac. Then father and son descend quickly and send
one of the servants ahead to give Sarah the good news. When they finally
arrive there follows a happy scene, full of joy and gratitude.131
The Cretan poet has followed his model fairly closely, but introduced
many modifications. In contrast to most of the West European religious
plays on the sacrifice of Isaac the author is not so much interested in the
external plot from the story in Genesis as in the internal development of
the three characters. It is not so much a religious didactic exemplum about
Abraham as an ‘athleta Christi’, who does not hesitate a moment to fulfil
the mysterious will of God; rather it is a humanistic drama concerned
with the natural, psychological reactions of human beings to an incom-
prehensible command from heaven. In the end the cruel test of Abraham’s
faith gains another meaning, a humanistic one: in an inner development
of conflicts and doubt, pain and sorrow, from simplistic non-obedience to
maturity, all three persons accept the sacrifice of the most precious thing
they have and are ready to act it out. And because inside themselves they
have already executed the wish of God, it is no longer necessary to do it in
reality.132 The philosophical and psychological depth of the play does not

Bakker 1991: 183–4.
This is developed in a very sensitive analysis by Bakker 1978, 1991: 184–203. It is worthwhile to
consider his closing statement: ‘The Sacrifice of Abraham has great qualities; in it we find a sensi-
tive and complete integration of learned, religious and popular strands, European (=Italian) as
well as Greek, and next to that an extremely creative rehandling of the age-old theme of religious
sacrifice. A play consists, however, of more than its paraphrasable contents. The full content – what
the play really says – depends in the final analysis on its form, on the specific language that gives
the paraphrasable content its particular shape and meaning. Here we meet the greatest quality
of the play: the poetry, its fifteen-syllable verses which flow with such naturalness and simplicity
that one can learn them by heart very easily…, its warmth and directness of expression, which
sometimes comes so close to phrasing Greek folk song that people wonder which came first. This,
however, does not mean that our poet is a simple man who wrote some kind of folk poetry and
whose poetics are comprehended and seen through as easily as his language. On the contrary, he
has made his play into a work of art, into a closely knit structure that is so well considered that
nothing can be removed or transferred without detracting from the total effect. A whole network
of cross-references has been woven into the play, which forms a key design consisting of scores of

Cretan Drama: Tragedy, Comedy, Pastoral Drama 141

point to blind obedience for theological reasons, but to self-consciousness
and responsibility; with the sacrifice, which was not realized, the beloved
family reaches a new level of insight and wisdom, of love which has passed
through pain and loss.
The poetic quality of the play has caused a multitude of studies on topics
such as the internal plot, the psychology of the characters, its language and
poetry and its relationship to Greek folk culture.133 In particular, computer
studies on the frequency of words, preference of rhyme structures, con-
cordances, etc.,134 have promoted the analysis to a level of quality which is
unique for Cretan literature; similar studies exist only for the Erotokritos.135
The relatively short length, the ellipses in choral odes and the prologue, as
well as the absence of any act or scene divisions have been interpreted as
conscious efforts of the poet to change the structures of his Italian model.136
It is easier, on the other hand, to explain why the Cretan poet ignores
the dramatic unities of time and space, since his Italian model does the
same:  the implementation of the three Aristotelian unities in general
does not hold for religious drama after medieval times. The play cannot
be performed on a one-location stage: we need the interior of the house

small details, all interrelated. Certain words and phrases and ideas are repeated over and over again,
by different speakers and in different circumstances, and therefore in ever changing shades and
meanings. All these images, symbols and allusions formal patterns, all of them created to make a
certain impression on the audience and so giving rise to all sorts of mental associations which in
the end make the play into what it is: a masterpiece’ (Bakker 1991: 202–3).
For poetry see mostly Bakker 1978 and 1988. See also Psichari 1930, Megas 1954: 79–95, Embiricos
1960:  172–88, Terzakis in Tsantsanoglou 1970:  9–33, Sachinis 1980, 1980a:  55–117, 1995:  65–132
(‘family’ drama, not written to be played), Hadas 1980, Bakker/Gemert 1996: chap. V and VI. For
folk culture see Alexiou 1991.
Philippides 1981, 1988 (rhyming patterns), 1988a (comparison with Erotokritos), Filippidou 1986
(concordances), 1994, Philippides/Frangioni 1988 (rhyming patterns). It should be noted that this
computer investigation did not give a clear answer to the question of common authorship with
Philippides/Holton 1996.
Bakker 1975. To some extent this could also have been emendations of the publishers in Venice,
because the work was designed for devotional and didactic religious reading for a wide public.
M. Alexiou interprets this effort as a transposition of the religious topic to folk people’s psychology
and ritual behaviour: ‘To sum up: the Cretan poet has infused his biblical subject with a new and
(for his audience) disturbing dimension, that of ritual and belief surrounding marriage and death
within their own families, thereby emphasising the contemporary relevance of Abraham’s sacrifice.
The dramatic functions of the poet’s integration of popular elements with a biblical theme are: to
extend the conflict from the plane of God versus Abraham to conflict within the whole household;
by the resolution of that conflict through love and openness, rather than by force and deceit, to
release tensions between divine and human, sacred and profane, male and female; by exploiting
systematically, within an established religious context, popular metaphors of mediation between
death, marriage and rebirth, to reassert the sacredness of folk ritual. In this sense, the play seems
to reaffirm a distinctively eastern awareness of woman’s power in the divine plan, which stands in
marked contrast to her greater subservience in western sources, whether Catholic of Protestant’
(Alexiou 1991: 272, for detailed analysis 263–72).

142 Re-Inventing Theatre

of Abraham with two bedrooms, some way to depict a journey of three
days, and a mountain on top of which the sacrifice of Isaac takes place.
Nevertheless, in the Italian theatre tradition from medieval sacre rappresen-
tazioni to Mannerist Commedia dell’Arte in the sixteenth century there is
a conventional set which seems to satisfy these scenic demands: ‘the open-
ing mountain’ (il monte che si apre)137 with a solidly built ‘stage mountain’,
which is able to open and shows a cave in front of the stage; in its closed
form it was used as Mount Tabor or the Mount of Olives for the Passion,
and in its open form it functioned for the scenes of Christ’s birth, as well
as a grave or the Underworld.138 Scenic construction of this time was also in
use at the beginning of the seventeenth century, as the drawings from the
Corsini scenari of Commedia dell’Arte sets indicate.139 At the beginning of
Sacrifice the mountain is open and shows the house of Abraham with two
separate bedrooms (Abraham and Sarah, Isaac); leaving the house for the
long journey to the top of the mountain (more than four hundred verses)
the mountain is closed, the protagonists climb up to the top, where the
angel appears at the beginning and the end, and they return in the same
way at home (mountain is opening).
The use of some simple scene machinery is not very surprising; it is also
required for some of the between-act interludes.

The implementation of the Renaissance unities of scenic time and space
does not hold even for the intermedia (interludii, intermezzi), a form of
courtly entertainment played between the acts of a regular drama (and/
or at the end, or in separate performances). The intermedia incorpo-
rated vocal and instrumental music and dance (such as the war dance
moresca or ‘moorish dance’), as well as spectacular elements together
with scene machinery. Italian opera emerged from this hybrid material
at the end of the sixteenth century; opera is likewise released from the
conventional unities of Renaissance drama.140 The eighteen surviving
intermedia of Cretan theatre form a separate repertoire independent of
dramatic plots, sometimes with a thematic connection between them

Puchner 1983b, 1991:  168–71. This suggestion was accepted by the editors (Bakker/Gemert
1996: 73 ff.)
The machinery for this set was sketched by Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) for the production of
Orfeo by A. Poliziano (c. 1505) (Povoledo 1975, more bibliography in Puchner 1991: 170).
Nagler 1969. In detail Puchner 1983b, 1991: 168–71.
Puchner 1987, 1991: 179–210 with the relevant bibliography.

Cretan Drama: Tragedy, Comedy, Pastoral Drama 143

(e.g., the intermedia of Erofile), but usually not. Like the prologues they
are written for a specific performance, so that for the same drama there
may be distinct intermedia in different manuscripts (as in the three
manuscripts of Panoria). Their dating is difficult, because they are not
linked to the drama but to an individual production. The four inter-
media for Erofile may be by Chortatsis, while the authorship of the
four intermedia for Fortounatos is certain, because the manuscript is an
autograph by Foskolos (1655); in addition, most scholars suggest that
the three intermedia in the Dapergola manuscript of Panoria are written
by Chortatsis as well.141
The topics are mythological, ranging from the Trojan War to the
Crusades: the four Erofile intermedia feature the enchanted garden, the res-
cue of Rinaldo, Armida’s appeal and the liberation of Jerusalem. The eight
interludes associated with the texts of Panoria and Katzourbos are
Sofronia and Olindo, Glaucus and Scylla, Jason and Medea, the sacrifice
of Polyxene, Politarchos and Nerina, Pyramus and Thisbe, Perseus and
Andromeda and Judgement of Paris. The Stathis intermedia are Tselepis
and the Christians, Priam and Menelaus; the four Fortounatos interludes
are the Apple of Discord, the Judgement of Paris, the pursuit of Helen, and
the Trojan Horse.
Scholarship has divided the intermedia in two groups, according to their
source: the mythological group, stemming from Metamorfosi d’Ovidio by
Anguillara (1561), and the other group, linked to Gerusalemme Liberata
by Tasso (1581).142 There are also other structural criteria which divide
them: first, a lyrical and rhetorical group without special scenic demands,
and, second, a group that calls for spectacula with intensive stage action.
The length of these small pieces of repertoire varies from 34 to 224 verses.
Special stage effects are needed for pieces of the spectacular kind, includ-
ing:  a ‘theatre cloud’ which descends from heaven into the enchanted
garden of Armida in the Erofile interludes; the burning of the garden by
demons (disguised at first as charming maids); a huge Trojan Horse, for
which the door of besieged Troy has to be taken down; scenic monsters

See for analysis Puchner 1980: 109–16, Bancroft-Marcus 1991a: 151–78, 1997: 195–221. For editions
of these texts see Alexiou/ Aposkiti 1992 for Erofile (also Xanthoudidis 1928: 34–41, 61–7, 84–9,
119–23), Manousakas 1947a for Panoria and Katzourbos from the Athens manuscript, Martini 1976
for the two intermedia of Stathis, Vincent 1980 for the four intermedia of Fortounatos, Manousakas
1991 for the three mythological intermedia in the Dapergola manuscript of Panoria. Scholarship is
not too extended (Holton 1997: 360–1): Bursian 1870 identified the four intermedia of Erofile as an
often dramatized episode in the epos Gerusalemme liberata by Tasso.
The Fortounatos interludes seem to be linked partly to Adone by Giambattista Marino (1616)
(Pecoraro 1972).

144 Re-Inventing Theatre

spitting fire from their mouths (one hunting Thisbe, another to be put to
death by Perseus), etc.143
But there are also other possiblities: intermedia can include instrumen-
tal music (intermezzi non apparenti) as well as the declamation of poems or
vocal songs. To this genre seems to belong the Lament of the Impoverished,
an adaptation of the Italian chapbook about the ricco fallito, the impov-
erished rich (1584).144 The myth of Perseus and Andromeda was staged as
an intermedium also at the tournament in Chania in 1594, together with
tableaux vivants including the vulcan Etna with the forge of Hephaistos,
the forest of Ardennes, and the fortress of Palma (see earlier discussion).145
If the evidence of the panegyric poem of Giancarlo Persio is not hopelessly
exaggerated,146 Cretan theatre was not altogether lacking in glamorous
Italian-style court spectacles.

Unknown Plays
There are indications that only a small part of the dramatic production of
Cretan theatre has been preserved. Parts of Erofile and Sacrifice of Abraham
had been transferred after the fall of Candia 1669 through oral tradi-
tion, the first through ballads, the second through mantinades (couplets).
Panoria also survived in folk versions. There is also a unique case in which
the last two scenes of an unknown Cretan comedy from the seventeenth
century, most probably with the title Fiorentinos and Dolcetta, are pre-
served in a Greek fairy tale, The Forgotten Fiancée.147 In the Cretan versions
the narrative is transformed into metric dialogue; the versions from Crete
and the Aegean islands are so numerous (more than 100) and the quality
of dialogue is so consistent, that it is possible to reconstruct a portion of
the original theatrical text.148 In the best versions, the metric text covers

In detail Puchner 1991: 410–22.
See the excellent study of Panayotakis 1993a (1998: 159–236) with the critical edition of the text.
‘Perseus swoops through the air with the head of Medusa; he spies the beautiful Andromeda bound
nude to a rock; the marine monster comes to devour her; he fights it by air and sea, and finally kills
it. Time and the Four Seasons array Andromeda as a bride. The interlude is purely pictorial and
lacks the lively dialogue and human interest of those written in the Cretan dialect. The fact that
this was staged as an introduction to a joust is important evidence that materials, equipment and
expertise for dramatic illusion were not lacking in Venetian Crete. Though effects for the Cretan
interludes would not have been as lavish as for Italian ducal court entertainment, there is no need
to assume a priori that their production was amateurish’ (Bancroft-Marcus 1991a: 161).
Luciani 1994.
Found in AaTh 313c and ATU 313, respectively, according to the type index of international folk
narratives. See Thompson 1961: 104–8 and Uther 2004: I 194–7.
Manusakas/Puchner 1984, Puchner 2009: 479–530, 2010, 2011.

Cretan Drama: Tragedy, Comedy, Pastoral Drama 145

from 50 to 132 verses. The Italian model of this unknown Cretan comedy
was a novella, La Sposa Dimenticata, interpolated in the Renaissance epic
Mambriano (cantos XXI.31–XXIII.6) by Francesco Cieco da Ferrara (writ-
ten after 1490, edited in 1509). It appears this narration was transformed
into a theatre play, most probably a fairy-tale comedy,149 from which the
two last scenes are preserved in the oral tradition. The specific historical
and cultural conditions of Crete – under Turkish rule there is no signifi-
cant literary production on the island – enabled the oral tradition to trans-
mit verses from literary works of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries
right up to the beginning of the twentieth century.150

Nothing to Do with Antiquity?

In analyzing the intermedia with mythological topics the question arises
quite naturally:  what relationship does Cretan drama have with ancient
theatre, given the fact that Byzantium did not produce any? This question
has to be seen in the framework of literary conventions surrounding the
revival of theatre in Renaissance Italy.151 The classical aesthetics of trag-
edy, comedy and pastoral drama are indebted to the norms formulated in
Italian poetics, and Cretan dramatists were usually well versed in the theo-
ries and practices of their time.152 The conventionality of structures and
plots in drama, mythological images and stereotypical figures is obliga-
tory for all Italian dramatic productions in the sixteenth and seventeenth
centuries. This means that any similarities with Ancient Greek or Roman

The content can be reconstructed through the fairy tale. The two scenes take place at the court of
justice with the king as judge, in which the prince, son of the king, recognizes his fiancée, who
helped him to escape from her father, who wanted to heal his wounds with the blood of the young
prince; at the end of their magic flight, the objects thrown behind them are transformed into
obstacles for the pursuer; but the mother of the fiancée places a magic curse on her, so that she will
be forgotten the moment the prince’s mother kisses him; which is what happens. At the end of
the court scene, where the prince is accused by her, the magic curse is reversed. Such court scenes
were popular in Greek folk theatre, so that there is a possibility this scene might have been played
separately at Carnival time and substituted the end of the narration in oral tradition (about court
scenes Puchner 1989a: 115–28).
See the verses of the Lamentation on Hades by Pikatoros and the prοlogue of Charos in Erofile in a
Cretan folk lamentation, written down in 1873 (Mavromatis 1978, 1979a), also the Cretan song of
‘Vienna’, created soon after the second siege of Vienna by the Turks in 1683, written down towards
the end of the nineteenth century (Puchner 1985).
When Sathas discovered the Codex Nananius with four plays from the Cretan theatre in Venice (see
Sathas 1878) he started trying to link this production with antiquity, collecting possible sources for
a Byzantine theatre and drama, which was in the end, as demonstrated in Chapter 2, a misleading
idea. The similarities of classicist Cretan drama in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries are due
to the aesthetic norms of Renaissance interpretation of ancient theatre.
Markomihelaki-Mintzas 1991, Markomihelaki 1992.

146 Re-Inventing Theatre

drama – such as the invocation of Zeus in tragedy, the appearance of Venus
and Amor in pastoral drama, comic figures such as the miles gloriosus in
comedy, etc. – are not so much survivals of a specific Greek literary tradi-
tion but are rather intermediated works, by way of the literary conventions
of Italian humanism. This is how settings like the Underworld survive in
tragedy,153 the bucolic conventions of the Hellenistic era in pastoral drama
as well as the whole typology of hungry slaves, corrupt female matchmak-
ers, etc., originally from New Comedy and Roman theatre. The scenic
convention of calling for applause at the end of a play, likewise, points
directly to the ‘plausum date’ in Plautus’ comedies.154 The remnants and
remembrances of ancient theatre in Cretan drama are filtered through
Italian humanism and Renaissance aesthetic conventions, in effect estab-
lishing a new tradition of classical drama.

Sources for Theatre Performances

But before examining the reception and afterlife of Cretan theatre in
detail, it is essential to determine whether these dramas were staged in
their time.155 In general it can be said that there is substantial evidence
in the texts themselves that they were intended for performance.156 This
is evident also from the prologues and epilogues to these plays; from the
intermedia written for specific performances; from the farewell to the
audience at the end of the play (granting the literary conventionality of
this element);157 from the asides and eavesdropping scenes, as well as from
stage business regulated by indirect and direct stage directions.158 Direct
sources on theatrical life are scarce, but some conclusions can be drawn
from the texts themselves:  tragedies and pastoral dramas seem to have
been played in closed spaces (academies, loggia, houses of noblemen),
comedies in the open air at central places in town. Actors are most prob-
ably young men from the upper class, amateurs playing without masques;
the performance time can be situated in the late afternoon before sunset,

The ghost of the murdered brother in Erofile enters from a trap door on the scene floor, but charac-
teristically Charos, who appears at the beginning of the prologue in the same way, is no longer the
ancient Charon, but the archon of the Underworld from the Greek tradition.
Dedousi 1968, Puchner 1978, 2007: 241.
This was questioned by Sachinis 1980 and Evangelatos 1989 for the Sacrifice of Abraham.
This is evident also for the plays mentioned in Chapters 4 and 5 (Puchner 2007a). An exception
seems to be King Rodolinos (see earlier discussion).
Puchner 1978. This is evident of the end of the comedy Katzourbos. For the structure of the audi-
ence see the suppositions of Vasiliou 1988.
Puchner 1991: 363–445. For the subject of real staging see also Solomos 1973.

Sources for Theatre Performances 147

because in some plays the audience is invited after the applause to go to
The scarcity of direct sources on theatre performances seems to be
incompatible with what really happened. There is a remarkable passage in
the memoirs of Zuanne Papadopoulos, where it is stated clearly that during
Carnival and other times only comedies were commissioned, specifically in
Greek (sermon greco); but during the siege of the town the customs of the
people had been changing.160 Fortounatos for example was written for per-
formance in Candia in 1655, while it was under siege. Panayotakis assumed
that if this information is correct, we should consider that as many as fifty
or more comedies may have been performed in Candia in the seventeenth
century.161 But theatrical shows were not only in Greek:  Amorosa fede was
intended to be played at a noble wedding in 1619; but in an Italian poem
by Andreas Cornaros, the president of the Academy of Stravaganti, he
mentions that in 1611 Il Pastor Fido by Guarini was played in Candia on
the initiative of a mercenary officer from Udine.162 This points to the pres-
ence of foreign troops, recruited to fight against the Turk, as an important
factor for organizing theatre performances.163 Another notice points in the
same direction: there are the memoirs of Domizio Patti, who later became
a Jesuit, who wrote in elegant Latin and who was in the military service
from November 1580 until 1584. Even during the journey to Crete by ship
he ordered the soldiers not to play with cards and dice but to turn to
more useful activities, such as performing tragedies and pastoral dramas,
as well as having some physical exercise.164 To this we should add the afore-
mentioned information from Nicolaos Comnenus Papadopolus, son of

Puchner 1978 (also 1984: 139–57). In this matter the comparison with the theatre in Ragusa and the
Dalmatian coast is helpful (Puchner 1991: 467–502).
‘Nel Carnevale et in altri tempi non facevano far opere senon di Comedie, e nel sermon greco,
nell’assedio pero erano mutate le osanze primiere per amor o per forza e nella più parte avevano
tralasciato li costumi del paese’ (Vincent 2007: 118 f. ‘At Carnival and at other times they did not
have plays performed apart from comedies, and moreover in Greek. However, during the siege the
old customs were altered, by inclination or by force, and they mostly abandoned the customs of the
region, and took up those which previously they abhorred’). What exactly is meant in the second
part of the sentence will most probably remain unknown.
Panayotakis 1998: 148–9.
The whole poem is published by Luciani 1998.
The information is also important for the fact that the Academy in some way seems to be involved
in this performance, and there is also a Cretan translation/adaptation of the same play. On the
other hand, a hasty notice of the same Andreas Cornaros about the substitution of a character in
a performance of Commedia dell’Arte does not seem to have any link to Crete (Panayotakis 1968,
1998: 147, 2002: 37 f.).
‘qualia sunt representationes tragoediarum, pastoralia et exercitia virium corporis, in tollendo gravi
pondere, in luctamine sive palestra, saltu, digladatione et in similibus’ (Panayotakis 1998:  151).

148 Re-Inventing Theatre

the Zuanne Papadopoulos, in his Latin Historia Gymnasii Patavini, that
when he was a child (after 1645) Erofile was often played in Candia and the
audience was always pleased;165 we also have evidence that the Academy of
Stravaganti was actively involved in the organization of literary declama-
tions and theatre performances (see earlier discussion).
But theatre was not only cultivated by educated Italian officers, the
Academy and the upper class; it was also a popular entertainment dur-
ing Carnival, so exciting that even clergyman could not resist the tempta-
tion. In an undated encyclical from the Latin Archbishop of Crete, Alvise
Grimani (1605–20) addressed the clergymen of his episcopate, stating that
it was not allowed for priests or clergyman to play games of chance, or
to organize entertainments or dances or comedies at home.166 This may
sound strange to the modern reader, but there are two other encyclicals
with the same edicts: one of them is from 1652; in it priests and clergymen
are accused of participating in lay Carnival entertainments – masquerades,
costume parades, comedy playing and dancing the moresca; for all clerics
in Candia, from both confessions, it was forbidden to disguise oneself, to
wear masques publicly either at home or in the monasteries (!); they would
be punished if they danced the moresca secretly, declaimed verses from
theatrical scenes or performed comedies, even in private circles or with
their families. They would be excommunicated, lose their income and be
charged with fines and physical punishments; this edict was posted on the
door of the church of St Titus in Candia.167 There is also another source
on the worldly life of the clerics: in 1626 a Dominican monk is accused
of having attended performances of comedies late into the night during
Carnival.168 Given that comedy was played publicly in open places, it is no
exaggeration to speak about a real theatromania in Venetian Crete.

Panayotakis compares this evidence with similar sources from the Ionian islands: in 1571 Italian
officers perform Persae of Aeschylus in Zante during the festivities of the victory of Lepanto, and
in 1683 the comedy Fanciulla of Giovanni Battista Marzi is played by the guard in the bastion of
Corfu (see Chapter 4).
Papadopolus Comnenus 1726: II 306.
‘Non sia lecito ad alcun sacerdote o cherico frequentare ridutti de fiochi, far festini o balli o come-
die in casa loro’ (Panayotakis 1998: 155).
Lydaki 1998. Α similar encyclical circulated in 1653, after another accusation against clergymen
participating in Carnival festivities. It is not clear whether ‘recitar versi in sene o comedia’ means
regular theatre performances, but it is astonishing to see a town, in the eighth year of the Turkish
siege, celebrating Carnival with so much intensity, with performances of Erofile and with Foskolos
writing his Fortounatos, likewise intended for public performance. On such cases of unexpected
theatrical life in besieged towns in modern Greek history see Puchner 2004b: 15–28.
In a report from the Latin archbishop of Crete, Luca Stella (1623–32) on the situation of the
Catholic churches and monasteries in Candia in 1625/6, it is noticed that the abbot of the mon-
astery of St Peter, Vettore Salamon, accused the Cretan monk Benetto Bertolini of trying to get

The Nachleben of Cretan Drama in Literature and Oral Poetry 149

The Nachleben of Cretan Drama in Literature and Oral Poetry

Cretan drama had an important impact on the rest of Modern Greek
literature and folk culture during the time of Turkish rule on the island
(1669–1913). This was thanks in part to public readings in front of illiter-
ate audiences; but theatre performances in Venetian Crete also offered
the opportunity to memorize verses from these plays’ most memorable,
sentimental parts. There is evidence for echoes of the popular Cretan
drama in both the written tradition and oral culture, for Erofile, Panoria
and Sacrifice of Abraham.169 This holds true especially for the work of
Chortatsis; verses of his dramatic and poetic masterpiece can be found in
nearly every literary work up to the eighteenth century, independent of
literary genre; he influenced poetry and narrative verse stories as well.170 It
also holds for Cretan literature in general; the sentimental distich ‘laugh-
ter and weeping, grief and joy / were sown at the same time and born
together’ (‘Τα γέλια με τα κλάηματα, με την χαράν η πρίκα / μιαν ώρα
εσπαρθήκασι, κι ομάδι εγεννηθήκα‘, Erofile III 1–2) can be found slightly
altered in both Erotokritos (V 755–6) and Zinon (V 59–60).171 Close
connections can also be established with King Rodolinos; the author of
Fortounatos not only made a copy of Erofile (ms Birmingham), but is also
indebted to Chortatsis’ tragedy in many respects.172 Traces of Erofile can
also be found in the dramatic works of the Ionian islands.173 There was
a performance of Erofile in 1728 in a patrician’s house in Zante, and an
entry in the notarial archives of Lefkada for 1771 records that there was a
chapbook (φυλλάδα) with the title Erofile and Panaretos,174 which seems
permission to leave the monastery and using his absence improperly, i.e., in order to attend the
performance of comedies till late in the night, and in so doing creating the occasion for gossip and
rumour (Panayotakis 1998: 136).
See in detail Puchner 1990a and 1995: 178–96.
For details see Puchner 2000 and 1997: 251–84.
See Kriaras 1938:  16 for the theory of a common origin for the proverb. For intertextuality in
Erotokritos see now Bakker 2006. For the similarity between Erofile IV 554 and Zinon II 49–51 see
Pidonia 1972: 279 ff.; for more parallels Puchner 1991: 144–5, 2002 and 2004b: 59–142.
For King Rodolinos Aposkiti 1987: 27–8, for Fortounatos Vincent 1980: μγ΄-με΄. Fort. I 192–3 is taken
almost verbatim from Erof. I 175–6.
E.g., in Eugena on Zante, where identical verses from Panoria can be found as well (Vitti 1965:
105, Karayanni 1970). The two tragedies of Petros Katsaitis are also dependent on ‘Erofili’ to a
significant extent: in Ifigenia (1720) there are several allusions to key verses of Chortatsis’ tragedy
(Puchner 1983c: 678–80); Katsaitis remembers especially the rhymes; in the Thyestes the construc-
tion of the prologue in particular resembles that of the Charos prologue, and there are many other
correspondences in the fifth act (Puchner 1983c: 681–2). This sort of intertextuality raises a series of
methodological problems and questions about the reliability of various theories about these pieces,
because coincidences or similarities may be also created by the conventionality of common expres-
sions, or even by chance (Puchner 2004c, 2004b: 30–58).
Moullas 1964: 190 ff.

150 Re-Inventing Theatre

to indicate the existence of a folk version of the tragedy along the lines of
the ‘homily’ theatre (which we will address in Chapter 4).175 The tradition
of performing Erofile in popular adaptations on the Ionian islands is reli-
ably attested in our sources until the late nineteenth century, but the texts
have not survived.176
The Nachleben of Erofile in folk tradition is a phenomenon of particular
interest. There exists a group of Cretan ballads with Erofile as their theme,
and a group of dialogic folk versions in Western and Central Greece which
are still performed at Carnival time. In the Cretan ballad tradition there
are at least ten versions extant, between nineteen and ninety-three verses
long.177 These variants are all composed in the usual decapentasyllable
metre, with an attempt at rhyming couples that is not always successful.
They are for the most part elaborated in dialogue form with inserted nar-
rative passages, often consisting of verses borrowed from folk songs. The
relationship among the variants is complex: the plot begins in all cases with
Erofile’s prophetic dream anticipating the unhappy outcome of events (II
147–8 ff.) and ends with her suicide (V 523–4), and in some variants with
the murder of the king as well (V 642 f.).178 In almost all cases these are very
emotional passages for the audience (spectators/listeners/readers) or emo-
tionally intense verses which are easily memorized.179 Apart from this par-
ticular ballad tradition there are traces of Erofile found in Cretan historical

For this tradition of folk theatre on Zante and Cefalonia most probably even in the seventeenth
century see Puchner 1976: 234 f., 1989a: 181–6 and Alexiadis 1990.
Bibliography in Puchner 1983: 175 note 2 (1988: 182 note 7).
Vlastos 1909, Doulgerakis 1956, Megas 1960, Detorakis 1976:  100–2, 1986. For comparison see
Detorakis 1974, Puchner 1980a: 141 ff., 1981, 1983 and 1988: 127–90.
Further critical points which remain in most variants are the king’s message (V 277–8), the wooing
entrusted to Panaretos (III 95 ff.), the declaration of love (III 149–50), the confrontation with the
king (IV 647–8), parts of the messenger’s account of Panaretos’ torture and death (V 113, 118, 193
ff.), the casket scene between Erofile and the king (V 325 ff., 329 ff., 331 f., 367 f., 395 f., 393 f., 417
ff.), the king’s dismissal of Erofile (V 435 f.).
‘From the point of view of Affektdramaturgie it is often the beginning or end of a thematically
important suspense curve within the dramaturgical structure of the play. Heightened attention
(suspense) and emotional involvement through stimulation to identify oneself with the characters
seem basic preconditions for the process of memorising in the oral tradition. The memory process
is also regulated by metre and the force of rhyme (in the case identical in drama and folk song);
Chortatsis’s complex periods, however, are often broken up, and the verse is then reproduced
in its unadulterated form only where the syntactical unit and the sense unit extend over at the
most one verse or one distich. Otherwise we find more or less successful reconstructions of the
verse, in which case it is often the beginning of the verse or a central noun important for the
meaning which survives, or  – even more often  – the original end-rhyme. Such reformations,
again channelled by metre and force of rhyme, may also incorporate verses from other folk songs
known to the singer; sometimes this results in serious deviations from the plot, which can lead to
logical inconsistencies or in turn make more transpositions and corrections necessary’ (Puchner
1991a: 146–7).

The Nachleben of Cretan Drama in Literature and Oral Poetry 151

songs, mantinades (couplets) and proverbs;180 parts of the Charos prologue
are also inserted in some laments.181
From the West and Central Greek folk theatre tradition of Erofile,
which was apparently imported from the Ionian islands, and the tradi-
tion of ‘homily’ theatre in the nineteenth century,182 six versions dating
from c. 1880 to the present and ranging in length from eight distichs to
almost 150 verses are known under the title ‘Panaratos’:  the records are
from Ioannina, Arta, Karpenisi, Amfilochia, Grammatikou in the district
of Mesolonghi and Fanari in the Thessalian plain.183 A comparison of these
handwritten texts reveals that they are linked and have a common ori-
gin.184 The shortest version has only eight distichs and is performed in the
context of improvized carnival scenes.185 There is, however, an even more
compressed version in which the ‘re-ritualization’ of a theatrical form into
a Carnival custom occurs. The text consists just of four verses; Chortatsis’
tragedy is reduced to the death-resurrection pattern (of the bridegroom or
the Arab) in the rural Greek Carnival scene.186 The more elaborate variants
(120–50 verses) trace back to the manuscript tradition and are performed
by young men at Carnival time. The plot usually starts with a Charos pro-
logue – Charos is often dressed just like the traditional Arab of the rural
Greek Carnival, festooned with bells and a blackened face.187

Puchner 1983: 213 ff. (1988: 160–2).
Melaina 1873: 28, 1–6, Mavromatis 1978. The first verses of the Charos prologue are also painted
on a papyrus role in the hands of Charos depicted on an icon on Naxos in the seventeenth cen-
tury (Mastoropoulos 1979–81). If the religious poem Old and New Testament is to date in the
seventeenth century, as I believe, the opening with the terrifying appearance of Charos may be
influenced by the prologue of Erofile (Puchner 2006c: 45–69, esp. 46 ff., 2009a: 226–9).
Polymerou-Kamilaki 1976/7: 236 ff.
For Ioannina see Fotopoulos 1977 and Salamangas 1957, for Arta Vastarouchas 1975 and Zoras 1975,
for Karpenisi Konstas 1966, 1976, for Amfilochia Zoras/Kretsi-Leontsini 1957, Schmidt 1965: 369
ff., for Grammatikou and Fanari Polymerou-Kamilaki 1976/7 and 1980. The texts recorded by the
latter are now in Polymerou-Kamilaki 1998.
Polymerou-Kamilaki 1998: 11–133. This may very well be the chapbook mentioned in the notarial
archives of Lefkada for 1771 (see earlier discussion). It is safe to suppose that this common origin
points to the folk theatre tradition in the Ionian islands.
Konstas 1966, Puchner 1976: 237.
See the material for this in Puchner 1977. In the Zagori villages, in the mountains north of Ioannina
around 1915, there was a customary procession from house to house. Two men would dress up and
one would say to the other: ‘Panaretos, Panaretos, Panaretos, my child, / I have two words to say to
you, two words to speak. The king, your father, desires to talk to you.’ The Panaretos character then
approaches the king, who says: ‘Bend down, take this urn and do not be afraid.’ ‘Panaretos does as
he is told and as soon as he lowers his head the king kills him. The bystanders then kill the king.
This scene is repeated at every house and the performers receive sweetmeats. The performers had no
idea that this was originally a play (Polymerou-Kamilaki 1976/7: 230, note 26, Puchner 1985a: 66,
1991a: 147).
He also keeps the audience in order. For this masqued figure see Puchner 1977:  129–32 and
2010a:  98–178, esp.  134–40. The character of the friend, Karpoforos, is split up into a traitor,

152 Re-Inventing Theatre

By virtue of the many appearances of Erofile in folk tradition, this tragedy
by Chortatsis is one of the few firm bridges between literary and oral cul-
ture in Modern Greece; the tragedy itself, together with its varied recep-
tion history, is an essential part of the Modern Greek cultural tradition.

Scholarship and Editions

Cretan literature from the time of Venetian rule is one of the best organized
and investigated chapters from the history of Modern Greek literature.188
This is also the case for Cretan theatre to some extent, because the greater
part of literary production was in the dramatic genre. There are several
instruments for investigation of the sources including bibliographies, over-
views of research, chapters in histories of literature and the history of thea-
tre, comparative studies, compendia of specific studies, anthologies, etc.
Mostly because of the language question (the still-prevailing tendencies
towards archaic Greek in Phanariot literature in the eighteenth century, as
well as the literary production of the nineteenth century),189 the study of
Cretan literature was linked to the movement towards a common, demotic
form of Greek and the re-orientation of modern Greek self-consciousness
towards contemporary folk literature and popular culture by the end of the
nineteenth century.190 This is also the reason why for decades research into

Karpoforos, and an avenging officer, Triskataratos, who, instead of the nurse and the chorus of
maidens (in the play), who are missing here, will eventually kill the cruel king. Change of location
is marked by symbolic changes of position; the decapitation takes place by a lowering of the head
(Erofile, mostly called ‘vasilopoula’, princess, sometimes simply νύφη, bride, is also beheaded by the
king). In one village version the dead lovers are even called back to life by Charos (in the Carnival
scenes this is usually done by the ‘doctor’; for these disguised figure see Puchner 2004a: 49–67).
Εminent scholars from Greece and abroad supported these studies, such as M.  I. Manousakas,
E. Kriaras, L. Politis, St. Alexiou, M. Aposkiti, N. M. Panayotakis, W. Bakker, G. van Gemert,
A.  Vincent, A.  Pecoraro, M.  Vitti, R.  Bancroft-Marcus, and D.  Holton. The International
Cretological Congresses every five years, and from 1986 on the International Congresses on
Neograeca Medii Aevi promote these researches, as well as specific journals like Κρητικά Χρονικά
(Cretan Chronics) and Cretan Studies (Amsterdam) function as publication fora for relevant stud-
ies. For anthropological approaches see Alexiou 1989, for a study of the realia Varzelioti 2011.
Characteristically, the love romance of Erotokritos was rewritten in the style of Phanariotic literature
by Dionysios Fotinos and edited in Vienna 1818.
‘The reason for Greek learned rejection of Cretan literature during the major part of the eighteenth
and nineteenth centuries stem from three chief factors, which contributed to its rehabilitation by
the demoticists:  use of vulgar language (Cretan dialect); adherence to Italian models; apparent
ignorance of ancient Greek, at a time when the prevailing climate of classicism in Greece, resistant
to the emerging movement of Romanticism in Europe, was slow to appreciate the qualities of a
more “popular” literature. A full reversal of this negative assessment came only after the nation-
ist struggle for demoticism was under way in the 1880s’ (Alexiou 1991: 241–2). See the article of
Psichari 1930 (first published in Revue de Paris 15. 4. 1903) on the Sacrifice of Abraham, which is
treated as a ‘mystère crétois’.

Scholarship and Editions 153

linguistic and philological matters predominated; only in the 1960s was
there some interest in dramaturgical analysis and theatrical performance.
The erroneous theories and misunderstandings among demotic scholars –
namely, that the vernacular of Cretan literature was written in the spoken
popular language of the time like their folk songs – was corrected mainly
by St Alexiou, who emphasized the complex and elaborate character of
Cretan writers’ style and expression.191
Cretan theatre began to form the cornerstone of the Greek literary
entity with the publication of four dramas by Constantine Sathas in
1879.192 Before that, only Erofile and Sacrifice of Abraham were known, and
they were regarded as little more than sentimental and didactic religious
reading material for the poor and uneducated. There have been subsequent
editions, many of them critically edited,193 and the circle of investigation
closed in 1964 with the critical edition of Katzourbos by Linos Politis. This
edition marked the beginning of a cycle of definite critical editions with
exhaustive introductions, commentary and glossaries, which was closed in
turn with the Bakker and van Gemerts edition of the Sacrifice of Abraham
in 1996 and the third edition of Panoria by Kriaras/Pidonia in 2007.194 The
Cretan theatre was a chapter in comparative literature unknown to inter-
national academic circles before the groundbreaking volume of Holton
1991 in English (together with its useful bibliographical guide, 275–300,
expanded and re-published in 1997, 337–72). A new special bibliography
is needed.195 The story of Cretan theatre has been successfully integrated
into recent histories of Modern Greek theatre as one of its most import-
ant chapters;196 and the results of recent dramaturgical analysis are now

Firstly in his groundbreaking study on the character of Erotokritos (Alexiou 1952).
From the Codex Nanianus of the Marcian Library in Venice he edited Zinon (see Chapter 4), Stathis,
Panoria (with the title Gyparis), and instead of the amoral comedy Fortounatos he added Erofile
following a 1772 edition (Sathas 1879). For a more detailed history of research see Puchner 1980.
Legrand 1881:  335–99 edited Erofile from another manuscript in Latin characters; Xanthoudidis
1928 gave the first critical edition. The same famous archaeologist and philologist edited in 1922
Fortounatos. This was followed by the critical editions of Sacrifice of Abraham by Megas 1943 and
1954 as well as a first edition of Gyparis (=Panoria) by Kriaras in 1940. It is not by chance that these
plays, Erofile, Gyparis and Sacrifice of Abraham, were translated by Marshall 1929. King Rodolinos
was edited partly by Manousakas 1962a. Manousakas 1965 gave the first scientific overview of stud-
ies in Cretan literature (see also Manoussacas 1952).
For Panoria Kriaras 1975, Stathis Martini 1976, Fortounatos Vincent 1980, King Rodolinos Aposkiti
1987, Erofile Alexiou/Aposkiti 1988, (Zinon Alexiou/Aposkiti 1991), the intermedia of Erofile Alexiou/
Aposkiti 1992.
Like the one of Kaklamanis 2006:  477–538 for Erotokritos. See Puchner 1991:  18–51, and the
general bibliography on studies on Modern Greek theatre history since 1975 in Puchner/
Stamatopoulou-Vasilakou 2004.
Tabaki 1995, Puchner 1997:  355–455, 2006a:  13–72, 2006d, in European context Puchner 1999:

154 Re-Inventing Theatre

available in the primary European research languages.197 Internationally it
is perhaps the best known chapter of Modern Greek theatre history; this
makes sense if one takes into account the quality of its outstanding dra-
matic plays, which belong doubtless to Goethe’s Weltliteratur.

Further Scholarship and Readings

Introduction Essential for the whole chapter is Holton 1991 in English
and 1997 in Greek (with some additions); see the special bibliographical
guide on editions and scholarship.
For Erofile’s manuscripts and editions:  The editio princeps was pub-
lished in Venice in 1637 by the Cypriotic cleric Mathaeus Kigalas
(reprinted in 1648)  with many mistakes and misunderstandings of the
Cretan dialect. The second edition, by Ambrosius Gradenigos in 1676,
was a much better transcription from another manuscript and was
reprinted many times. Cod. Graec. 590 of Bayerische Staatsbibliothek
in Munich is a copy from Cefalonia in bad condition, used by Bursian
1870 in his first serious study of this masterpiece. The manuscript in the
Historic and Ethnographic Society of Greece in Athens (Θ 62 [16]) was
found by Émile Legrand in 1873 in the library of the nobleman Giulio
Saibante in Verona (Pecoraro 1978, Jeffreys 1977: 260 ff.); it is written in
the dialect of Eastern Crete, but in fragmentary form (it was published
in Latin characters by Legrand 1881: 335–99). The best copy (University
of Birmingham 13/i/17) was done by M.  A. Foskolos, the author of
Fortounatos, which is also the basis for the edition of Alexiou/Aposkiti
1988. Older famous editions are Sathas 1879: 283–467 (following an edi-
tion of 1772), Veis 1926 and Xanthoudidis 1928. The most widely used
edition today is Alexiou/Aposkiti 1988. For more editions and the text
tradition see Holton 1997: 356 f.
For dramaturgical analysis of the tragedy see Puchner 1991:  131–6,
1997:  160–6, for ‘suspense curves’ Puchner 1981:  48 ff., 1983:  229 ff.
(1988: 127–90), for rhythm and tempo in dialogue see Puchner 1986, for
the use of entrance formulas Puchner 1981a, for eavesdropping scenes and
simultaneous stage presence without communication Puchner 1983a, for
the use of rhymes Puchner 1989, for implicit stage directions Puchner 1994a
(see also 1990); some of these studies also in Puchner 1989 and 2007: 201–
316. On repetition and climax see Puchner 2009b, on rhetorical ques-
tions Omatos Sáenz 2007. On language see Pidonia 1977. On Mannerist
See Puchner 2007: 201–316, 2007a.

Further Scholarship and Readings 155

elements see Pecoraro 1986: 53 and 61, for Baroque elements Vitti 1971: 80
ff., 2003: 91–116, Puchner 1980, 2006b and Alexiou/Aposkiti 1988: 59 ff.
Religious Drama Specifically for the scholarship on Sacrifice of
Abraham:  for the inconsistency of the text in the manuscript tradition
(Bakker 1975) and printed edition see specifically Bakker 1990. For dating,
in particular whether the year 1635 mentioned in the only surviving manu-
script is a later addition or not, and whether the manuscript is a copy or an
autograph see Puchner 1980: 105–9. The discussion on authorship, whether
the Sacrifice of Abraham was written before or after Erotokritos, whether it
is superior, etc., is in short the following: its similarity to Erotokritos was
first expressed by Xanthoudidis 1915: CXVIII–CXX and strengthened by
Zoras 1937. Kriaras (1938:  135–44 and 153–4) assumes a common author
and also that Erotokritos is an earlier work, a theory also accepted by Baud-
Bovy (1938). Megas (1943: 35–43) rejects this view, but is of the opinion
that Erotokritos is an earlier work. On the contrary, Zoras (1945: 95–108)
believes Sacrifice is anterior to Erotokritos. Kriaras (1947) rejects the argu-
ments of Megas (no common authorship) and of Zoras (earlier dating)
and accepts 1635, the date of the Marcian manuscript, as the actual date of
composition. Politis (1960) accepts a common poet and regards the play
as an earlier work, written in 1635. Megas (1954: 67–79) accepts now with
some caution the common authorship and is more sceptical about the
anteriority of Erotokritos. Lastly, Kriaras (1960) insists the Erotokritos was
written first, but is sceptical about the identification of the two poets (see
Bakker 1991: 293–4).
Intermedia The history of scholarship on the intermedia is not exten-
sive: Bursian 1870 identified the epos of Tasso as a source for the Erofile
interludes, which were translated by Marshall in 1929. Manousakas 1947
added Sofronia and Olindo to Tasso, Glaucus and Scylla, Jason and Medea
and The Sacrifice of Polyxene to the Metamorphoses of Ovid. Bancroft-
Marcus (1977) located the Italian translation of the latter source by
dell’Anguillara. Pecoraro (1972) named the source for The Apple of Discord
and The Judgment of Paris and underlined the similarity of the moresca
structure in The Pursuit of Helen and The Trojan Horse as well as in Armida’s
Appeal and The Liberation of Jerusalem. Solomos (1973: 147–82) emphasized
the stage business; Puchner (1978 and 1991: 363–444) dealt with problems
of staging the scenic directions, Puchner (1997: 231–49) gave an outline of
the development of intermedia in Modern Greek drama. To date, these
intermedia have not attracted enough scholarly interest.
The reception history of plays apart from Erofile is not intensive.
The dedication of King Rodolinos is used in the religious Drama of the

156 Re-Inventing Theatre

Born Blind on Chios (see Chapter 5), verses of Panoria can be found in
Eugena by Montselese and Thyestes by Katsaitis (see Chapter 4), but also
in the fragment of a pastoral drama from the island of Paros at the end
of the seventeenth century, Kallimachos and Rhodamne, where only the
prologue and one distich from the first act survives. Again other plays
from the Heptanesian school were influenced by Panoria, for example the
Intermedium of Lady Olive (Ιντερμέδιο της κυρα-Λιάς) by Savoyas Rousmelis
(Markomihelaki 2001); distichs of the play are reproduced in couplets in
the collection of Marinos Sigouros on Zante (1801). On the influence of
the Sacrifice of Abraham see Bakker/Gemert 1996: 130–6 (mostly on folk
laments); on common verses with Erotokritos see Bakker 2007 (and 2003).
For resources providing general information on academic research see
first the older critical bibliographies on Cretan theatre by Manousakas
1953, 1964 and Kaklamanis 1981 (also in Puchner 1980, 1991:  19–51,
Vasiliou 1991: 40–56), for Cretan literature in general Holton 1991: 301–
32, 1997: 373–416. Secondly, for reports and overviews of the situation in
specific areas see Puchner 1980, 1991: 19–51, Vasiliou 1991: 20–6 and the
bibliographical guides in Holton 1991:  275–300 and 1997:  337–72. For
studies of Crete under Venetian rule see Manousakas 1971. From the his-
tories of Modern Greek literature I quote only the last editions of Dimaras
2000 and Vitti 2003, from histories of Modern Greek theatre Puchner
1997:  355–455, esp.  359–79. Vitti 1974 and 1995 compares them to the
European Renaissance and Baroque, while Puchner 2006 provides a com-
parative framework for South-Eastern Europe. For the relationship with
Italian theatre see Puchner 2000a:  157–242 and 1998. For compendia of
specific studies on Cretan theatre see Puchner 1991 and Panayotakis 1998.
For drama anthologies see also Puchner 2006d: I 21–72.
The most important plays of Cretan theatre are accessible in English
translation: Erofili, Panoria and The Sacrifice of Abraham by Marshall 1929,
The Sacrifice of Abraham also by Karampetsos/Nittis 1989 and Garland
1991. For general information on Cretan literature and drama and detailed
analysis and bibliography see Holton 1991.

Alexiadis, M. A. (1990), Aγαπητικός της Bοσκοπούλας. Άγνωστη Zακυνθινή
'Oμιλία' του Aλέκου Γελαδά. Συμβολή στην έρευνα του ζακυνθινού λαϊκού
θεάτρου, Athens.
Alexiou, M. (1989), ‘Women, marriage and death in the drama of Renaissance
Crete’, in M. M. Mackenzie / C. Roueché (eds.), Images of authority: Papers

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Shaping a Theatre Tradition

The Ionian Islands from Venetian to British Rule

Introduction: The Stability of Geographical Location

The theatre of the Ionian islands (or Heptanesos – the ‘Seven Islands’) has
not enjoyed the same scholarly interest as that of Crete; and yet in terms of
comparative literature alone it stands as one of the most interesting chap-
ters in Mediterranean Renaissance and post-Renaissance culture, situated
as it is at the crossroads of East and West and with a unique profile. The
quality of dramatic production there alone justifies our interest, but it is
even more important in historical terms because unlike the ‘Great Island’
(Megalonesos, i.e., Crete), which was lost to the Turks, the Heptanesos
never became a part of the Ottoman Empire. Instead it was handed over
from the Venetians to the French during the Napoleonic wars at the end
of the eighteenth century, and in later years integrated into the British
Empire. The Ionian islands are the only place in the Greek-speaking areas
of the Mediterranean where there was continuous theatrical activity from
the sixteenth century to the Second World War. In geographical terms it
is the backbone of the history of modern Greek theatre;1 in terms of mor-
phology, there is evidence for far more sectors and levels of theatre than are
traceable in Crete, from folk, ‘homily’ theatre to Italian opera.
In Crete itself, dramatic writing and theatre performance ended in
1669 in a clear-cut manner with the Turkish victory after the long siege
of Candia. In the treaty marking its surrender the upper classes (nobili
and cittadini) were allowed to leave the island, taking with them their

In this sense, Sideris’ doubts about the existence of a separate theatre scene in the Ionian islands
(Sideris 1964) was a priori unsupportable (see Puchner 1984: 31–55). By contrast Laskaris dedicates
entire chapters to it (see Laskaris 1938/9: I 294–317, II 7–103). This in turn laid the foundation for the
first overview by Romas in 1964. For the theatre history of Zante see Protopapa-Bouboulidou 1958,
for Cefalonia Evangelatos 1970, for dramaturgical analysis Puchner 1991 and 2007: 201–316. For the
specific profile of Heptanesian theatre and its significant position in the history of modern Greek
theatre Puchner 1999: 221–40. For a bibliography on the theatre and drama of the Ionian islands see
Gouli 2005.


174 Shaping a Theatre Tradition

most precious belongings; as a result most of the manuscripts from Cretan
theatre moved to the Ionian islands, and the Heptanesos became in many
respects the heir of the Great Island’s theatrical tradition. Cretan dramas
were copied and, as the stage directions indicate, played in amateur perfor-
mances, and Ionian dramaturgy is heavily influenced by Cretan models.
But as we shall see the Ionian islands had a theatrical life of their own,
parallel to the Cretan theatre tradition.2

The Uncertain Beginnings (1500s)

The Venetian merchant, poet and playwright Antonio de Molino was
said to perform his plays, ‘recitar comedie’, around 1530 (see Chapter 3)
in Corfu as well as Crete.3 Even if this source turns out to be unreliable,
we have others pertaining to theatre in the Heptanesos: (1) a scholar from
Zante, Spyros De Viazis, published an article in a local newspaper (Ta
Olympia, 10 and 13 January 1896: 76–7) stating that in 1571, after the vic-
torious sea battle of Lepanto against the Turks, the Venetian guard of the
fortifications in Zante performed the Persae of Aeschylus in Italian. This
has been accepted among theatre historians as the first modern theatre per-
formance in the Greek-speaking areas of the Mediterranean, occurring as it
does before the celebrated performance of Oedipus Tyrannus in the Teatro
Olimpico in Vicenza in 1585. Recent research has been more cautious: the
document cited by De Viazis was destroyed in an earthquake in 1953, and
nobody can confirm its contents. However, he is a reliable historian of the
Venetian period on the island, and it is unlikely he would have ‘invented’
the event. On the other hand, no Italian translation of Persae in the six-
teenth century has been located to date.4 (2) The second piece of evidence
is easier to confirm: a handwritten notice in an exemplar of the Italian
comedy La Fanciulla (The Girl) by Giovanni Battista Marzi, found in the
Marcian Library in Venice, informs us that the comedy was performed on
21 November 1583 in Corfu.5
Direct sources on theatrical life in the Heptanesos are equally scarce
for the seventeenth century: a prologue ‘in praise of the famous island of
Cefalonia’ is saved from the middle of that century – prologues were most

Social structure and administrative organization under the Venetian rule (Corfu fell under Venetian
administration in 1387, Zante in 1484, Cefalonia in 1500) are similar (see Papadia-Lala 2004: 237–336,
337–80, 380–425 with the relevant bibliography).
Panayotakis 1992, 1998: 91–118.
For arguments pro and con see Puchner 2002: 189 f.
Kaklamanis 1993: 36 ff.

Drama on the Ionian Islands (1600s–1700s) 175

likely written separately from the drama for a specific performance – and
there was a theatre performance of Zinon in 1683 on Zante (based on refer-
ences to two known Venetian authorities of the island in the prologue).6
Scenic directions in manuscript copies of Cretan dramatic texts also offer
proof of additional amateur performances on this Ionian Island, and a
production of Erofile in a noble house on Zante is traced to 1728.7 We
would not be far from the truth in stating that theatrical life had a similar
form here to that in Crete, although there may be significant differences in
dramatic production.

Drama on the Ionian Islands (1600s–1700s)

Prior to the Greek revolution of 1821, the following plays designed for
dramatic production remained extant:  Eugena by Teodoro Montselese
in Zante (Venice 1646); Zinon by an anonymous Cretan playwright on
Heptanesos (played in 1683); two ‘tragedies’ by Petros Katsaitis, Ifigenia
(written in 1720) and Thyestes (1721); The Comedy of the Pseudo-Doctors by
Savoyas Rousmelis (1745) as well as the Intermedium of Lady Olive (before
1784)  by the same author; and the comedy Chasis by Dimitris Gouzelis
(1790 or 1795). As for translations and adaptations we have a Pastor Fido
(Πάστορ Φίδος), the well-known pastoral drama by Guarini, produced by
Michael Soummakis (Venice 1658); a fragment of the Troads by Seneca,
and another very well-known pastoral drama, Aminta by Tasso, trans-
lated and adapted by Georgios Mormoris (Venice 1745). Apart from this
there is evidence of influence from the Italian religious theatre, from late
Renaissance tragedy, the bucolic tradition, local folk theatre (‘homilies’) as
well as commedia dell’arte.8
Eugena (Ευγένα) This religious drama, which uses the fairy tale motif of
the ‘Maid without Hands’, here healed not by a magician but by a miracle
of the Panagia (the mother of Christ), was written by Teodoro Montselese

The performance of Zinon may be part of a series of performances given on the island around 1683
(see now Kaklamanis 2012).
Evangelatos 1970: 30 ff., 1968, Puchner 1991: 363–444, Protopapa-Bouboulidou 1958: 9 f.
Casanova tells in his Memoirs that around 1745 he was an impresario in Corfu for a season, and took a
commedia dell’Arte troupe from Otranto to the island. If this episode is not altogether fantastic (and
modern scholarship on Casanova is convinced that his Memoirs are not entirely fictional), we have
the only direct evidence for the presence of Commedia dell’Arte on the Ionian islands. There are
indirect sources for this, including the use of half masques in ‘homily’ theatre and the loose episodic
structure of Ionian comedies in the eighteenth century (for discussion of the arguments Puchner
2004, 2007: 317–22). On Ionian drama see also the dramaturgical analyses in Puchner 2007: 201–316.

176 Shaping a Theatre Tradition

on Zante and printed in Venice in 1646.9 Modelled on an Italian sacra
rappresentazione entitled Rappresentazione di Stella (1580), it consists of
1,542 fifteen-syllable verses with rhyming couplets. The author tries to imi-
tate the conventions of classical drama, but without success: scenic direc-
tions cover big chronological gaps (a whole giostra is performed on the
stage) and towards the end of the play the scenic events are summarized
and narrated again and again. The scenes are arranged in a kaleidoscopic
manner, while the plot is narrated in a quite simple way.
At the beginning of the prologue the philosopher (Astrologist) cannot
see the audience because of the twilight at dawn (an ‘aristotelic’ use of
scenic time). The plot is centred on Eugena, the daughter of a king who
has married for a second time and whose new step-mother wants to be rid
of this daughter from his first marriage. The new queen sends her into the
forest, together with two slaves who have been ordered to kill her; but they
have mercy on the princess and as ‘proof ’ that they have carried out the
queen’s will they cut off her hands. Eugena laments her cruel fate but is then
encountered by a prince who discovers her while hunting; he is enchanted
by her beauty and takes her as his wife. Back at the court, Eugena’s father
laments the loss of his only daughter and after a time he organizes a tour-
nament; the prince participates incognito and wins the competition. But
then the evil queen uses forged letters to defame Eugena and she is exiled
by the prince’s own father, along with her two children. An Ascetic takes
her into his hut, and by praying to the Panagia her hands are miraculously
restored; her husband finds her, discovers the step-mother’s intrigue, and
has the evil queen decapitated.10
The inability of the author to follow dramatic conventions is evident in
the confusion in terminology (tragodia, comedia, diegesis) and misunder-
standings in the use of divisions into acts and scenes (first act first scene,
second act second scene up to twelfth act twelfth scene). There is also a
misunderstanding of how to use scenic directions (the directions after v.
1108 narrate the events of many years, while the one after v. 1042 calls for
the performance of a whole giostra on stage), not to mention repeated
recapitulations of the plot.11 If we ignore the dysfunctional divisions of the

There are three editions of the unique exemplar in the library of the Greek College of St Athanasius
in Rome: Vitti 1964, 1965, Vitti/Spadaro 1995, a performance adaptation by Evangelatos 1997. For
the author see Mousmoutis 2003.
The decapitation scene is also didactic: before dying, the queen warns the spectators about the fatal
consequences of jealousy, then the ‘murderer’ beheads her and shows the head to the audience on a
dish, requesting that people go now to have dinner (vv. 1541–2).
For the play’s use of dramatic terminology Puchner 2000, 2001: 206–19, for the dramatic inconsist-
encies in the play Puchner 1984a, 1991: 325–348 (shortened in Vitti/Spadaro 1995: 138–48).

Drama on the Ionian Islands (1600s–1700s) 177

author and use only entrances and exits, the play has twenty-seven scenes;
if we use only the specific settings, ten scenes. The interior of a royal palace
is needed, the piazza in front of it, and a forest with the hut of the Ascetic.
It is not at all certain whether this religious drama was ever staged, but it
would have been intended for an open air performance. Naïve miracle sto-
ries like the restoration of Eugena’s hands were common in the Orthodox
tradition, and the motif of ‘donna mano mozza’ is found everywhere in
European medieval literature.12
Zinon (Ζήνων) As recent scholarship has proposed, this historical tra-
gedy about the reign and downfall of the Byzantine Emperor Zeno (474–
91) should not be attributed to the Cretan theatre, but is much closer in
form to the Jesuit drama of the Aegean islands.13 According to the opinion
of the play’s most recent editors, who have analyzed its use of dialect, it was
written by an anonymous Cretan but originated in the Ionian islands.14
Its 2,195 fifteen-syllable verses represent an action-packed ‘Haupt- und
Staatsaktion’ of the Baroque era and the play departs in its dramaturgical
structure clearly from Cretan exemplars such as Erofile and King Rodolinos.
Its model is in fact the Latin Jesuit tragedy Zeno by the English Jesuit
Joseph Simons (1595–1671, also known as Josephus Simo), later a director
of the English mission,15 and it was first performed in 1631 at the College of
St Omer on the French side of the channel,16 then in 1634 in Rome. It was
published in Rome in 1648 (and five times more in the second half of the
seventeenth century) and performed in the English college for Jesuits there
for decades as a model tragedy for Jesuit dramaturgy.17 The unknown Greek
adaptor of the Latin play should be sought in Catholic circles, most prob-
ably among the alumni of the Jesuit college of St Athanasius in Rome.18 We

Vivilakis 2004: 193–218, 2005, Pefanis 2005. Scholars have not shown much interest in the play (see
Karayanni 1970, parts of the play reedited by Puchner 2006: I 218–30).
Puchner 2002a, 2004a: 59–142, 2005.
Alexiou/Aposkiti 1991.
On the biography of this famous Jesuit father see Sotuellus 1676: 526–7 and Sommervogel 1896: VII,
cols. 1214–15. For comparison of the Greek play with its Latin model see Bouboulidis 1955 (criticized
by Panayotakis 1955).
During the time of Puritan rule in England it was forbidden for fathers of the Jesuit order to set
foot on the island; for this reason the English Jesuit mission had its headquarters in the French
monastery of St Omer.
See for evidence Puchner 1980, 1988: 215–97, esp. 244–32. There are also a German version of this
influential Latin play from Lucerne, Switzerland (233–42); an English version (The Imperial Tragedy,
by William Killigrew, London 1666, 242–4); and two Italian operas (244–5). Four handwritten
manuscripts from this famous Jesuit author’s last tragedy survive in England, together with editions
from Antwerp 1649, Liège 1656, 1657 and Cologne 1680, 1697.
Puchner 1980, 1988: 245–9, Alexiou/Aposkiti 1991: 72–82. Panayotakis 1955 assumed that he was from
Catholic circles; Evangelatos 1968 proposed a Cefalonian as author. See now also Kaklamanis 2012.

178 Shaping a Theatre Tradition

know the Greek play was performed in 1683 in Zante because in laudatory
verses from the prologue the name of the island’s Venetian proveditore, Polo
Minio, is mentioned, evidence that he would have been in the audience.19
The play describes the intrigues and crimes perpetrated by the Byzantine
Emperor Zinon (Zeno) and his cousin Longinos, in order to gain and
secure power. First the co-emperor Vasiliskos, who is still a minor, is
dethroned; his father, General Armakios, is executed on the basis of a
staged putsch which is imputed to him, and the patrician Pelagios, who
resists the conspirators, is accused of idolatry, put on trial and also exe-
cuted. But the Wheel of Fortune turns: the courtier Anastasios bribes the
army and storms the palace during an uproarious feast. Longinos flees but
is hounded to death by the ghosts of the murder victims. Zinon is walled
into his grave, alive but totally drunk.20
This bloody tragedy follows its Latin model fairly faithfully, with the
exception that the detailed stage instructions of the original are simplified
and the prologue’s pantomime scenes are removed.21 The Greek version
has abandoned the classicizing structure of late Renaissance tragedy, and
even the most basic conventions appear to be in the process of dissolution:
the prologue is turned into a prologue scene,22 the unity of place on the
single-location stage is violated, the choral odes at the end of each act are
eliminated. Furthermore, there are no interludes for performance between
acts. The tragedy is action-packed and spectacular, rather than lyrical and
rhetorical. An abundance of characters appear in relatively short scenes;
the plot is no longer simple but develops along several tracks at once. The
dramaturgical structure of this Baroque ‘Haupt- und Staatsaktion’ has
much in common with early Elizabethan tragedy: a fixation on ghosts,
gory deeds and atrocities; allegorical pantomime dumb shows; heavenly
apparitions, etc. The many parts are without exception male, as laid down

Evangelatos 1968. This suggestion was questioned by Martini 1978, because this part of the prologue
may be a later addition. For a discussion of this debate see also Puchner 1991: 503–22. The editors
of the play accepted the genuineness of this part of the prologue, so that a firm terminus ante quem
of 1683 is established (Alexiou/Aposkiti 1991: 72–82). Therefore the simplified Greek version of the
tragedy was most likely written between 1631 and 1683.
Puchner 1991a: 154–5.
Bouboulidis 1953, 1955, Evangelatos 1968, Puchner 2002a, 2004a: 59–142, 2005.
The handling of the prologue deserves special attention. The anonymous playwright makes skillful
use of the prologue for the purposes of exposition, while treating the classical conventions with
complete freedom. A monologue by Ares (prologue 1–106) is followed by a conversation with the
three goddesses of the Underworld (107–62), who are joined by the god of wine, Dionysos (perhaps
because Zinon dies drunk). The prologue is extended into the exposition scenes of the first act, since
the opening monologue by the shade of Vasilikos (I 1–50) also has the function of a prologue (as will
be the case later with the tragedies of Katsaitis).

Drama on the Ionian Islands (1600s–1700s) 179

in the Ratio Studiorum for Jesuit college performances.23 There are no fewer
than thirty speaking parts, and the dialogue’s pace is more brisk than in
Cretan tragedy.24 This no longer accords with the classical pattern, any
more than do the changes of scenery and the appearance on stage of large
numbers of people. Moreover, eavesdropping scenes are used as a means of
characterization; one of the production principles of Baroque Jesuit dram-
aturgy was the use of visualisation for didactic purposes.25
Because of the lower linguistic quality (in contrast with Cretan drama)
and the tendency of scholars to concentrate mainly on matters of poetics
and language, research on the play has been scanty;26 the theatrical merits
of the play have not often been noticed. The work shows its real value not
through reading but through stage performance, because the dominant
means of expression is not language but spectacle: action, music, dance,
pantomime, stage effects, battles, etc.27 Likewise the aesthetic unity of
Zinon emerges not from an examination of the language, but from perfor-
mance; for the tragedy is more spectacle than poem. This makes the ques-
tion of staging more important:  the model tragedy, the Latin Zeno, has
been widely used to reconstruct the Jesuit stage of the seventeenth century.
Detailed stage directions point to a uniform wide apron with three differ-
ent stages behind (one main stage in the centre and two secondary stages
left and right), separated by curtains.28 This complex stage is simplified
by the unknown Greek adaptor, as in the English versions; the play may
have been performed on the ‘alternative stage’ common among the touring

See Chapter 5.
This is also the case for comedy (Puchner 1986, 1991: 211–60).
Eavesdropping scenes are not used in Cretan tragedies, but simultaneous stage presence without
communication is skilfully implemented by Chortatsis. Here eavesdropping is used as an instru-
ment for characterization; for example, Longinos eavesdrops on the council in Act I Scene 5, while
Zinon is trying to oust the young emperor Vasiliskos and put Longinos in his place (I 251–366).
The speeches are interrupted by remarks of Longinos from his hiding place (I 257, 287–8), as he
reacts angrily to the accusations of his enemies, until in the end he can restrain himself no longer (I
367–8) and bursts from his hiding place into the hall with his sword drawn. Here the eavesdropping
is associated with the shiftiness of the eavesdropper; his comments and his emergence from hiding
characterize his unrestrained fury and cowardly fear of criticism (Puchner 1983: 73 f.).
The play was edited separately by Sathas 1878 (1879: 1–102); today the definitive edition is Alexiou/
Aposkiti 1991. For folk elements see Bouboulidis 1953, for comparison with the Latin model
Bouboulidis 1955 (for critics Panayotakis 1955). Evangelatos published an important study in 1968,
on the question of stage directions and stage terminology. For the Latin model itself see mainly
Puchner 1980, 1988: 15–97, for the question of stage solutions Puchner 2002a, 2004a: 59–142, 2005.
See now also Kaklamanis 2012.
For the increasing importance of music in the development of dramaturgy from late Renaissance to
Baroque plays see Puchner 1988: 191–213.
See Flemming 1923: 44 ff., Zeidler 1891: 34–119, Mc Cabe 1983: 128 ff.; the stage is reproduced in
Puchner 1988: 231.

180 Shaping a Theatre Tradition

companies of the seventeenth century, with a proscenium to indicate a
public space and a main stage for interiors separated by a siparium, which
allows the action to alternate from scene to scene. This seems to be more
appropriate for Zante in 1683. The stage terminology is rather confusing,
however, with Italian terms such as prospettiva, porta reale, scena, etc., tak-
ing on varying meanings. Perhaps the ‘blackening’ of the stage (μαυρίζει η
σένα) or the frequent mention of stars and sunrise indicates lighting effects
which required an indoor performance.29 It is not clear whether the per-
formance on Zante in 1683 has any connection with the desire of the locals
to establish a Jesuit college on the island around 1680;30 recently a primary
source mentioning four performances, two in Italian and two in Greek, at
Carnival time in 1683 on Zante has been published.31
Ifigenia and Thyestes (Ιφιγένεια and Θυέστης) by Petros Katsaitis
(1720/21) Katsaitis (1660/65–1738/42) was a poet and playwright from
Cefalonia who participated actively in the war between Venice and the
Ottoman Empire (1684–99), when the Peloponnese fell under Venetian
rule again for thirty years. But at the end of this period, during the siege
of Nauplion in 1715, he was captured and taken as a slave to Turkish Crete.
But his Turkish commander (Aga) had pity on him and let him go with-
out ransom; he had returned to Cefalonia before 1718 and collected the
ransom for his freedom. Here he wrote a long poem, Lamentation of the
Peloponnese (Κλαθμός Πελοποννήσου), about his adventures in Crete, and
two ‘tragedies’: Ifigenia (1720) and Thyestes (1721), adapting with some
alterations the tragedies of Lodovico Dolce (sixteenth century) with the
same title. As a member of a family from the lower aristocracy he had a
sufficient Italian education, but his works do belong in part to folk cul-
ture and the common person’s mentality. His tragedies are indebted to
Erofile on many levels, trying in general to imitate the esthetic norms of
classical dramaturgy although some of its conventions, established by the
Cretan theatre of the seventeenth century, either have deteriorated or were
implemented in a more mechanical manner. Moreover, the ideology of
the works has changed: a common Christian worldview prevails and the
tragedies are inspired by patriotism; for example the Trojans, located as
they were on the Asian side of the Aegean, are identified with the Turks.32
In detail discussed now in Puchner 2002a and 2004a: 59–142.
Puchner 1980: 279, mentioned also in Alexiou/Aposkiti 1991: 79 ff.
Kaklamanis 2012.
Scholarship on his mediocre ‘tragedies’ (i.e., those with a happy ending) is minimal, and Kriaras’
1950 edition is still in use today. Evangelatos 1995 added scenic adaptations, emphasizing the comic
elements in the end of the play, and offered some notarial documents about his life. For a basic
analysis see Evangelatos 1970: 50–95, and Puchner 1983a (1984b: 183–221, 334–54), which compares

Drama on the Ionian Islands (1600s–1700s) 181

The five-act Ifigenia, consisting of 3,858 fifteen-syllable verses in rhyming
couplets, with a prologue and a short epilogue, is the most extensive drama
of prerevolutionary Greece.
The plot of Ifigenia is conventional  – the sacrifice of the daughter of
Agamemnon in Aulis, so that the Greek fleet can depart for the Trojan
War – but in this case has a Christian character, portraying preparations
for a war against the Turks. The motivations of the leaders are demysti-
fied: the ‘honour’ of Menelaos and the moral status of Helena are openly
doubted, and the only real hero is Achilles. In accordance with the ideol-
ogy of the Counter-reformation Katsaitis does not hesitate to alter the
ancient story and give it a happy ending. The prophet Chalkias (Kalchas),
who demands the sacrifice of Ifigenia (which is the subject of Act 5), is
ridiculed by the Christian prophet Fenise (Phoenix), who gives the mes-
sage that God does not want human sacrifices; thus saved, Ifigenia marries
Achilles. At the end of the play there are some additional comic scenes,
linked to the rest of the play only by the false prophet who hides in a
sack, avoiding Agamemnon’s punishment. These sketches clearly show the
influence of Commedia dell’Arte, with the stereotypical lazzi and comic
characters. Given that these three scenes are altogether independent of the
play and between them, it may be more precise to speak about tragicom-
media instead of tragedy.33
The comic figures in these scenes have names borrowed from Commedia
dell’Arte, but there is some confusion: in the list of dramatis perso-
nae they are named Capitan Kouviellos, bravo, who is the well-known
Coviello or Covello, but here he is played as a dottore and not a capi-
tano; Barlakias da Finocchio cannot be traced in the Italian comic tradi-
tion; Skapinos da Trofaldin is a confusion of two comic types, Scapino

them with the Cretan theatre. For the probable influence of Commedia dell’Arte see Grammatas
1987 and Puchner 2004. For a comparison with Spanish dramaturgy see Lugo Mirón 2005; for the
use of ancient mythology see the analysis by Chasapi-Christodoulou 2002: 226–35. For Ifigenia see
also Pittas-Herschbach 2002.
These comic scenes are of particular interest. 1)  The false prophet Chalkias demands protection
from Barlakias, officer of Odysseus and Achilles, as well as Skapino, who puts him in a sack. They
then meet the soldiers of Capitan-Kouviello, who are in search of Chalkias. The sack is left behind
and the punishment will be realized. 2) Barlakias, who needs sugar candies for Achilles’ marriage
festivities, tricks the grocer (speziere), Sgaranello, getting the confetti without paying: he gives him
instead of money a mummy in a coffin; but instead of a dead mummy a living Skapino is inside,
and every time the grocer leaves Skapino emerges from the coffin and eats the confections. In the
end he emerges when Sgaranello is present, horrifying the grocer, who faints – giving the thief time
to escape. 3) Old Tibourtzios is ordered to procure wine for the feast; he goes to the tavern (ostaria)
of Simona, the wife of Barlakias. Here he becomes acquainted with another woman, who promises
to make him young again but dyes his hair blue.

182 Shaping a Theatre Tradition

or Scappino and Truffaldino. But there are also two names which point
to Molière: Sgaranellos (da specier à medico, a doctor) and Porkoniakos
(cittadino, bourgeois), who correspond to the protagonists of the comedies
Sganarelle ou Le Cocu imaginaire34 and Monsieur de Pourceaugnac (1669);
Skapinos may be linked to the comedy Les Fourberies de Scapin.
How does it come about that Katsaitis, writing in Argostoli on Cefalonia
in 1720, knew Molière? Surely not first-hand, but through Commedia
dell’Arte troupes; as a result of the close connection between Molière
and the comédie italienne in Paris some of his comic heroes seem to have
become common property with Commedia dell’arte. As he borrowed plots
and heroes from comédie italienne, in the same way the Italians integrated
his characters into their improvised comedies.35 Whatever their origin,
these comic scenes in Katsaitis are a testimony that theatre of the Ionian
islands had become in some way acquainted with the Commedia dell’Arte.
The same satiric tone can also be found in Katsaitis’ second ‘tragedy’,
Thyestes (1721); with 2,476 fifteen-syllable verses it is shorter but shares
a five-act structure with prologue and epilogue. The plot of course is
well known: Thyestes eats his children without knowing it, at a sympo-
sium of reconciliation. It was an act of revenge by his devious brother
‘Atridis’ (i.e., Atreus); in this case as well, Katsaitis alters the end in order
to satisfy the Christian sentiment for justice. In the fifth act there are
additional scenes that take place many years later. Here Agamemnon (a
child in the earlier scenes) is now grown and is away at the Trojan War,
and Queen Klytemnestra is having an adulterous affair with Aigisthos.
But in this play it is not Agamemnon who is killed but his evil father,
Atridis. Mythology is treated freely for didactic reasons and for popular
moral instruction: Helen is treated in Ifigenia as a near-prostitute who
is an entirely unworthy cause for a ten year war; and the honour of
Menelaos is openly questioned (here, he cannot find another equally
beautiful wife); similarly, the ancient typology of heroes is altered in a
quite modern way in the final scenes of Thyestes: Klytaimnestra is por-
trayed as a positive character who quarrels with her austere father in law

There is also a Sganarelle in L’École de Maris (1661) and Dom Juan (1664).
Molière’s Scapin can be identified with the Scapino of Commedia dell’Arte; Sganarelle is a creation
of the comédie italienne in Paris; Pourceaugnac is a genuine creation of Molière, although the com-
edy is based on two scenarios of comédie italienne: Policinella Pazzo per Forza and Pulicinello Burlato.
Molière’s troupe and the comédie italienne played for years in the Palais royale on alternate days, so
that mutual influence would have been natural. So it is not surprising that Monsieur de Pourceaugnac
was copied by the Italians in a three act scenario from 1691, La Coquette ou l’Académie des Dames,
and again in 1718 in another three-act canevas, L’infortun Mariage d’Arlequin. For details and further
bibliography see Puchner 2002b and 2004a: 143–71.

Drama on the Ionian Islands (1600s–1700s) 183

Atridis about dresses, make-up, house work, restrictions, etc. (V 369 ff.,
393–4); that is why she wants to get rid of him. The horrible crimes of
ancient mythology have been transformed into the problems of lower-
class people and reduced to common criminal acts committed under
emotional duress. In an ironic transformation of the plot Aigisthos is
portrayed as a just avenger, showing the severed head of Atridis to the
audience (epilogue 21–6).
In the prologue, Justice is proud of her power and cites many exam-
ples from history; Thyestes and Atridis will be punished for the sins of
Tantalus. In Act I  Tantalus’s shade appears from Hades (as did Charos
and the murdered brother of the king in Erofile) describing the tortures
the dead suffer there; knowing that what will happen in Argos is worse
than that, he returns to the Underworld. In Act II Atridis plots his revenge
against Thyestes, because his brother has stolen his wife and demanded the
crown of Argos. He sends his two boys, Agamemnon and Menelaos, to
take him back from exile and Thyestes arrives with hesitation, suspicious
of his brother’s intentions. Atridis convinces him of his honest desire for
reconciliation, when in fact he has slaughtered Thyestes’ children, cooked
them and given them to Thyestes to eat. Thyestes, after this terrible sym-
posium, has uneasy presentiments until, while giving him the blood of his
children to drink, Atridis triumphantly reveals the secret to him. In the last
scenes, after many years, with the assistance of Klytaimnestra, Aigisthos
confronts Atridis in his bedroom and kills him, punishing him for his
The motive for this murder, Atridis’ present, complete with the cut
heads and the three childrens’ hands, is used here (as in Erofile), but
Katsaitis is not very efficient in handling tragic irony (see V 57–9, 79–80).
The last scenes of the play have something in common with the short
scenes of ‘homily’ folk theatre on the Ionian islands. (‘Homily’ theatre
was a Carnival entertainment performed in towns and villages on a plat-
form with a half-masque and a somewhat intonate declamation). In spite
of the inappropriate usage of classical conventions established by Cretan
theatre, Katsaitis’ two ‘tragedies’ are outstanding examples of the literary
aspirations of Heptanesian dramaturgy in the eighteenth century. As can
be seen in the comic scenes in Ifigenia, the tradition of comedy, Commedia
dell’Arte and ‘homily’ folk theatre seems to be stronger. Consider the delib-
erate alterations of ancient mythology in the spirit of Christian Humanism
and the general sentiment for justice; not only did the playwright demy-
thologize the Trojan War:  he transposed the horrible crimes of the sons
of Tantalus into ordinary crimes committed by common people. Taken

184 Shaping a Theatre Tradition

altogether Katsaitis is not just a clumsy descendant of Cretan theatre,
as historians of Modern Greek literature would have it.
The Comedy of Pseudo-Doctors (Κωμωδία των ψευτογιατρών, 1745) and
the Intermedium of Lady Olive (Ιντερμέδιο της κυρα Λιάς, before 1784),
the only complete works by Savoyas Rousmelis or Sourmelis that survive,
are good examples of the satiric spirit of literature on the Ionian islands.36
The first, a five act comedy in 1,477 ‘political’ verses (fifteen-syllable lines
with rhyming couplets) with prologue but without intermedia, is a merci-
less satire of the society of Zante, which is exploited in its naiveté by the
‘doctors from Ioannina’ (κομπογιαννίτες), ambulant practical physicians
and medical men without any education but a well-developed instinct for
profit. In the end they are tricked by a hunch-backed Cefalonian.
The prologue is spoken by Poverty, dressed as a nun. Different cases
are handled by the four doctors from Ioannina: Barbara wants to get rid
of her husband who has tuberculosis in order to marry her lover; Lucia
seeks therapy for her blind husband, but instead of curing him really, she
is advised to introduce her lover as doctor; Rozana wants medicine to
treat her lover’s disinterest, etc. All these episodes, all having different out-
comes, as well as other profitable activity by the doctors, are observed by
the hunch-backed Vittorios from Cefalonia. In the end they want to cure
him of his disability, but he refuses to pay in advance. Together with other
hunch-backed tricksters he robs the doctors of their earnings.
The work is characterized by a linear structure of different episodes
which are essentially independent of each other, like short scenes from the
folk theatre of ‘homilies’. What remains of classical conventions shows a
greater state of dissolution; for example there is a misunderstanding of how
eavesdropping scenes work, as Vittorios eavesdrops in a series of scenes,
whereas the convention dictates that such a technique, contrary to the illu-
sionistic norm of Renaissance verisimilitudo, should not last longer than
the first ten to twenty lines of a scene. This linear structure of independent
episodes may also be due to some extent to the influence of Commedia
The intermedium is a theatre-like dialogue between Elia (olive-tree), a
ruffian or old female matchmaker, and Milia (apple-tree), a young maid
(korasida). Elia tries to convince Milia in 455 eight-syllable verses to agree
to an erotic tête-à-tête with a young man, her client; this is a conventional

Scholarship is also in this case fairly rare. The play and the intermedium were both edited by
Protopapa-Bouboulidou 1971. For the comedy see also Gouli 2005a; for the intermedium
Markomihelaki 2001.
Puchner 2004.

Drama on the Ionian Islands (1600s–1700s) 185

scene in bucolic drama (see Panoria, where the old kyra-Frosyni tries to
convince young Panoria),38 but the outcome is different. Instead of the
young girl’s making the mistake of denying the all-powerful Eros of
Humanistic Renaissance philosophy, the old woman (who is depicted as
a common souteneur) is beaten by other girls like Milia, bound and taken
to justice. In this way the moral ideology of the Enlightenment uses a tra-
ditional literary form, but alters the content and the message completely.
Moreover, it is an example of the development of the intermedia as a genre,
which appears by now to be completely independent of the play.39
Chasis (Χάσης), written in 1790 (or 1795) by young Dimitrios Gouzelis
(1774–1843), is the last comedy in a tradition which started with Katzourbos
by Chortatsis before 1600 and is indebted to the Italian tradition of stereo-
typical comic characters in commedia erudite and Commedia dell’Arte.40 In
this play the cobbler Thodoros Katapodis, played as bravo, is the ultimus
miles gloriosus of Greek comedy. The play’s loosely structured sequence of
episodes concerns Katapodis’ family: his quarrelsome wife, his lazy, stupid
son and his son's girlfriend. The results are far from any classical aesthetic
principles and are written in the dialect of the island (with the exception
of one scene written completely in Venetian dialect). One sign of its loose
structure is that this widely known comedy appears in numerous differ-
ent manuscript versions with different combinations of scenes.41 It was
not edited for publication until 1860, but often reprinted thereafter.42 It
is divided into four acts, but in reality the mass of scenes is similar to a
series of ‘homily’ scenes from folk theatre. The language is full of insults
and local idioms and many scenes end with couplets in different metres,
probably sung by the actors.43

III/1. There are resemblances to Panoria in the work (Markomihelaki 2001).
For the evolution of intermedia in modern Greek drama see Puchner 1997: 231–50.
Its first title was The Quarrel and the Reconciliation (Το τσάκωμα και το φτιάσιμον). Gouzelis is an
interesting figure who fought in Napoleon’s army and participated actively in the Greek uprising
of 1821. After his first work he wrote mostly patriotic poetry in elite katharevousa (puristic) Greek,
abandoning the dialect of Zante. The date of 1790 for this piece is doubtful because the author
was just sixteen years old; the first edition printed in Zante in 1860 mentions 1786, which is highly
Today there exists only one manuscript (Greek National Library in Athens), but in the nine-
teenth century there must have been many, which were disseminated in other places such as
Constantinople (Puchner 1995:  24 ff., Synodinos 1997:  56 ff.). One of these versions published
Protopapa-Bouboulidou 1965.
The very first edition, Zante 1851, is lost; as editio princeps is considered Zante 1860. See also Zante
1861, 1900, 1927 (with philological comments, biography of the author, etc.), 1965 (stage version by
Evangelatos), 1969, 1977, 1997 (critical edition by Z. Synodinos). For the editions see also Puchner
2006: I 239–40.
For scholarship see Martini 1982, Papayoannou 1978, Romas 1964:  111–7, Flevotomos 1988,
Grammatas 1987a and 1990; for aesthetic estimations Synodinos 1997: 323–43.

186 Shaping a Theatre Tradition

Folk Theatre and Performative Ritual

Nearly all outstanding dramatic works of literature from the Ionian islands
in the eighteenth century are influenced in some way by the ‘homily’ folk
theatre and Commedia dell’Arte. This is evident in the last scenes of the
‘tragedies’ Ifigenia and Thyestes by Katsaitis, but mostly in the comedies
toward the end of the eighteenth century; Chasis, for example, could be
interpreted as a combination of different ‘homilies’ using the framework
of a satirical family story, complete with the traditional comic type of the
boisterous bravo. ‘Homily’ theatre was performed in the towns and vil-
lages of Zante and Cefalonia at Carnival, and – as described previously –
was usually performed on a temporary stage by male amateurs who used
a half masque and sang their declamations out loud. It is also linked to
ritual masquerades and the satiric dromena of Carnival such as riding back-
wards on a donkey (‘gaidourokavala’), as well as other public events like the
announcement of a marriage dowry, which is done in the form of a proces-
sion through the whole village, with the enumeration of the ‘gifts’ meant
to be totally satirical. Many of these traditional performances are linked
to Cretan theatre; but shorter versions of Erofile and Sacrifice of Abraham
were also performed,44 and the second part of Erotokritos was performed in
Skoulikado on Zante, including a tournament with real horses, costumes
as described by the poet Cornaros, realistic dialogue of the poem’s charac-
ters and a ‘poet’ who declaimed the narrative parts of the verse romance.45
The folk tradition and high literature were thus linked together in a unique
way.46 However long-lasting this tradition may have been, the only texts
we have were written down in the nineteenth century either under British
rule or after its annexation by Greece in 1864.47
It is interesting that the plots in older text such as Chrysavgi or Krinos
indicate they were directly influenced by Erofile and Erotokritos.48 And there
are questions about the evidence for use of erudite dialect in ‘homilia’,

For instance the Cretan play Sacrifice of Abraham was staged between 1913 and 1925 regularly in the
town of Zante in a shortened version by Sp. Mylonopoulos. Abraham was dressed as a monk, Sarah
with an apron and black kerchief, Isaac in red and the angel in white. The rehearsals lasted for three
to four months and the play was performed four or five times a day throughout Carnival time, with
up to seventy-nine to eighty performances lasting approximately one hour. The stage mountain was
built with wood, the size of the audience usually 100–150, with the last performance in St Marcus
Place before 2,000–3,000 people. The servants of the play walked around with a dish for donations
(Puchner 1989: 186).
For this unique performance see in detail Puchner 1979 and 1994: 103–50.
See Porfyris 1964, Puchner 1976, 1989: 181–6, Meraklis 1981, Kavvadias 1985, Alexiadis 1990.
Minotou 1934, Alexiadis 1990.
For analysis see Puchner 2006: II 415–17.

Corfu as a Center of Italian Opera 187

which is a genre of folk theatre and better suited to the vernacular tongue,
milima. We can trace the use of the term milima (from μίλημα, ‘spoken
words’, ‘speech’) as a word for ‘scene’ to Eugena by Montselese in 1646, so
it seems reasonable to suggest the existence of this folk theatre as early as
the seventeenth century, in contrast to pantomimic Carnival scenes: the
dragons, the months, the fisherman’s net, Great Quadragesima, the dowry,
etc.49 This theory was recently supported by the discovery of a passage in
a German traveller’s book, which offers a detailed description of satiric
dromenon about the triumphant entrance, condemnation by a Turkish trial
and death of the pseudo-messiah Sabbatai Zevi in the apocalyptic year
1666, which was performed in Zante during Carnival. The details offered
are significant: inhabitants of the town would dress in Jewish costume
to welcome the new ‘messiah,’ who arrived by ship. A triumphal proces-
sion into town ended in the main square, where the sultan’s tribunal was
placed on a platform, or palco. The trial was performed in dialogue form
like a theatre performance and before his death the pseudo-messiah was
tortured, displayed throughout the town in a diapompeusis and put on a
pillory.50 The Jews of Zante would offer the Venetian provedittore a great
sum of money to stop it, but they failed to prevent performances of this
clearly anti-Semitic scenario.51 In this case, the whole town had become a
theatre and all (Christian) inhabitants actors.

Corfu as a Center of Italian Opera

In the eighteenth century it was not only folk theatre which enriched the
Ionian islands’ theatrical life but plays by Pietro Metastasio and Carlo
Goldoni,52 in their original form as libretti for opera (both in Italian and

Vitti 1965: 31 f., Zois 1955: 395.
This passage was discovered by Konomos 1992: 14 ff. For more details see Puchner 2006a and 2006b.
My suggestion is that the last phase of the dromenon was performed not by an actor but with an
effigy of Judas, which is traditionally burned at Easter time (Puchner 1991b: I 105–8, II 283–91).
There were rumours that Sabbatai Zevi, who was worshipped by many Jewish communities as a
new prophet, was martyred in Constantinople because he demanded recognition from the sultan
that he was king of the Jews. In reality he was imprisoned, forced to convert to Islam and sent into
exile. For a short description and the historical background see also Puchner 2009: 41. The informa-
tion provided by the diary of Franz Ferdinand von Troili is reliable as the details of his journey to
Palestine show: on the way back he was caught and sold as a slave and lived some years in Algiers
(Troili 1676: 15 ff. for Zante).
The reception of Metastasio was essential for Greece, as well as Goldoni – in particular his mature
works, the ‘comedies of characters and manners’, written in the spirit of the Enlightenment.
Metastasio’s Alessandro nell’Indie was played in 1797 in San Giacomo with the music of Luigi
Caruso from Naples. For the reception of Metastasio in Greece see later discussion. The same thea-
tre also hosted performances of Goldoni’s work, three ‘drammi giocosi per musica’ (Il Mercato di

188 Shaping a Theatre Tradition

in translation). Italian opera was first performed in 1733 at the Teatro San
Giacomo in Corfu, a loggia built in 1663 that in 1720 was converted into
a theatre. The theatre was inaugurated with the opera Gerone, Tiranno di
Siracusa in 1733; after some decades of inactivity, from 1771 to the end
of the century this theatre hosted eighty-nine productions altogether, an
activity which continued into the nineteenth century under British rule.53
Corfu was integrated into the network of touring Italian opera companies
who travelled the whole Near East and supplied the main urban centres
there with music theatre performances. Organizing the opera company
was the impresario, who was commissioned by individual town officials to
organize an ensemble in Italy for a season’s performances. The impresario
would be responsible for hiring scenographers, choreographers, musicians,
actors, singers and dancers; significant sums were spent on Italian opera
performances, which were the chief medium of cultural expression for the
upper class.
The director of the theatre in Corfu, who was also the commander of
the Venetian fleet, was assisted by an administrative committee; it was the
director’s responsibility to distribute the boxes for rent to well-known per-
sonalities and families of high social standing. The director was responsible
for the theatre’s artistic programme for the season as well as its financial
management. In the beginning the presence of women was forbidden;
later, married women were allowed to attend but had to sit in closed boxes
behind screens; only later were they allowed to watch performances in
regular seats while wearing masques. The actors and singers were Italian
professionals, with locals providing the orchestra and chorus. Theatrical
ventures like this were also subsidized by the community.54
This model of administration was also used throughout the nineteenth
century in important Greek urban centres such as Patras and Hermoupolis.

Malmantile and Le Cascine in 1773 as well as Fra i Due Litiganti il Terzo Gode in 1786). His Pamela
was performed for Napoleon’s troops during the Russian siege of Corfu in 1797. For the perception
of Goldoni in Greece see Sideris 1970, Spathis 1986: 199–214, Gentilini 1976, 1991, Tabaki 1993: 22
ff., 25 ff., 39, 48, 129 ff., Grigoriou 1995, Puchner 1995: 345–58, 1998: 207 ff., 2007: 323–30.
For the history of the building, today the major’s house in Corfu, see Vrokinis 1901 and Fessa-
Emmanuil 1994: I 39–48; for the question of the first performance in 1733 Mavromoustakos 2005,
for the repertoire up to 1800 Mavromoustakos 1995; for the repertoire under British rule Puchner
2005b:  53–86 and more precisely 2005a (for additions see Papadopoulos 2005). It is interesting
to compare the delay in the diffusion of dramatic works:  Italian opera was founded in 1594 by
Jacomo Peri; in Cretan theatre, the use of music between 1600 and 1645/69 increases, but there is
no evidence for opera; in the Ionian islands opera appears as late as 1733. The transmission process
from metropolis to the periphery in the case of opera was extremely slow, because of the complex
demands of musical theatre performances (see Puchner 1987, 1991: 179–210, for time delay as a fac-
tor in dissemination 2004a: 473–87 and 2005c).
For theatre regulations and documents on Corfu in the mid-nineteenth century see Kapadochos 1991.

The Ionian Islands before the Revolution 189

Italian opera soon became very popular, although it was meant primarily
for the upper classes. The mania for Italian opera was also transmitted to
Zante and Cefalonia and lasted through the period of British rule and
afterwards until the eve of the Second World War.55

The Ionian Islands before the Revolution:

A Multi-layered Theatre Life
In the Ionian Islands there is an unexpected richness of theatre genres
before the revolution of 1821, distributed among all social classes. The list
includes 1) Italian opera as entertainment for the upper classes, which cul-
minated in the last decades of the eighteenth century; the most demanding
genre, it presupposes a stable theatre building with stage technology, boxes
for rent, theatre regulations, a separate administration, Italian professional
singers, orchestra, ballet, etc.; 2) the Humanistic tradition of drama, with
translations, adaptations, etc., mostly of tragedies and pastoral dramas
(Katsaitis, the fragment of the Troads by Seneca, Aminta by Mormoris);
3)  performances of Cretan drama (e.g., Erofile 1728 in Zante); 4)  moral
comedies in the spirit of the Enlightenment (Goldoni, The Intermedium
of Lady Olive);5) we have only indirect evidence for professional perfor-
mances of Italian Commedia dell’Arte, through their influence on Ionian
dramaturgy (the comic scenes at the end of Ifigenia, The Comedy of the
Pseudo-Doctors); 6) folk-like, didactic dramas of a religious nature (such as
Ifigenia and Thyestes) and comedies of social satire (Comedy of the Pseudo-
Doctors, Chasis); 7) the folk theatre of ‘homilies’ (without textual evidence
for the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but with evidence of influ-
ence on comic scenes in Ifigenia and Chasis); 8)  folk performances and
masquerades at Carnival, with a ritualistic background.
Theatrical life on Corfu is described by André Grasset Saint-Sauveur,
who was in Corfu from 1781 to the end of the Venetian rule. He describes
the loggia (club) for the Venetian and Corfiote aristocracy, the Italian offic-
ers of army and fleet. With the easing of restrictions on the presence of
ladies, Corfu was gaining a larger cultural profile with balls, festivities and
other entertainments. In 1733 the loggia was transformed into a theatre,56

For the dissemination of Italian opera in the nineteenth century see Skandali 1991, for Patras and
Hermoupolis Bakounakis 1991 and Stivanaki 2001.
The theatre is described by him as follows: the architecture followed the Italian model with three
levels of boxes (loggie), open to the stage and closed by curtains to the corridor. They were rented
for a season and all decorated their own boxes according to their tastes. Behind each box were two
candlesticks equipped with mirrors to enhance their light. The stage, on the other hand, was small

190 Shaping a Theatre Tradition

with theatre performances being mainly a social event; people in the boxes
would eat and drink, chat, play cards, etc. Few paid attention to the actual
performance on stage; the primadonne of the island were busy cultivating
friendships there and seeking the ‘protection’ of local personalities. A typi-
cal male ‘protector’ would organize parties on behalf of his protegée and
convey gifts and money from her admirers (this was called mangia and
was eventually prohibited because of the frequent occurrence of quarrels
among ‘protectors’; the balle masqué was instituted in the theatre as an
alternative). At Carnival time the theatre hosted the most celebrated parts
of the festival. There were also amateur groups playing tragedies and com-
edies; female roles, however, were always played by men.57
The significant difference between areas of Venetian and Ottoman rule
in south-east Europe, in terms of their theatrical life, can be demonstrated
by comparing the islands west of mainland Greece in the Adriatic with the
islands east of it, in the Aegean Sea. The eastern islands conquered during
Byzantium’s period of Latin rule beginning in 1204, with their Catholic
upper classes, were integrated into the Ottoman Empire in 1566; but they
maintained most of their privileges and had a semi-autonomous status.
Chapter 5 will show how this unique status allowed the development of
Catholic missions by the time of the Counter-Reformation, when the
Jesuit order organized school theatre performances on religious topics in
a Baroque style at its colleges everywhere in Europe. Compared with the
theatre on the Ionian islands this Eastern religious theatre scene was very
poor, functioning as it did on just a single level and with no continuity
beyond the second half of the eighteenth century. While the Cretan thea-
tre left its traces in the oral tradition and in Ionian literature, the religious
theatre of the Aegean islands did not: yet another case of discontinuity in
the history of Greek theatre.

Alexiadis, M. A. (1990), O Aγαπητικός της Bοσκοπούλας. Άγνωστη Zακυνθινή
'Oμιλία' του Aλέκου Γελαδά. Συμβολή στην έρευνα του ζακυνθινού λαϊκού
θεάτρου, Athens.

and miserable. A dozen Italian soldiers guarded the theatre during performances. There was also
a nearby coffee-house where spectators could refresh themselves during the intervals. The theatre
usually opened for the season on the feast day of St Stephen. The box of the marine provedittore, the
director of the theatre, was in the back of the hall, decorated with carpets and pillows (Saint-Sauveur
1801: III 199–207).
Saint-Sauveur 1801: III 199–207, Simopoulos 1973: 524–6, Laskaris 1938/9: II 45 ff, Romas 1964: 120
ff., Dafnis 1976: 111 ff.

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παραδοσιακό λαϊκό πολιτισμό της Βενετοκρατίας και Τουρκοκρατίας στην
Ελλάδα’, Thesaurismata 36: 309–44.
(2007), Beiträge zur Theaterwissenschaft Südosteuropas und des mediterranen
Raums, vol. 2, Vienna / Cologne / Weimar.
(2009), Συγκριτική Λαογραφία Α΄. Έθιμα και τραγούδια της Μεσογείου και
της Βαλκανικής, Athens.

References 195
Romas, D. (1964), ‘Το επτανησιακό θέατρο’, Νέα Εστία 899: 97–167.
Saint Sauveur, A. Grasset (1801), Voyage historique, littéraire et pittoresque dans les
isles et possessions cidevant vénetiennes du Levant, À Paris au VIII, 3 vols.
Sathas, K. (1878), Ο Ζήνων. Παλαιά τραγωδία, νυν πρώτον εκδιδομένη εκ
χειρογράφου της Μαρκιανής Βιβλιοθήκης, Venice.
(1879), Κρητικόν θέατρον ή Συλλογή ανεκδότων και αγνώστων δραμάτων,
Venice (repr. Αthens 1973).
Sideris, Y. (1964), ‘Το εφτανησιακό θέατρο’, Θέατρο 15: 75–6.
(1970), ‘La fortuna di Carlo Goldoni in Grecia (1791–1961)’, Studi Goldoniani
2: 7–48.
Simopoulos, K. (1973), Ξένοι ταξιδιώτες στην Ελλάδα, vol. II, 1700–1800, Athens.
Skandali, A. (1991), H πορεία της όπερας στην Eλλάδα του 19ου αιώνα σε σχέση
με τη συγκρότηση του αστικού χώρου. Mια πρώτη προσέγγιση, Athens.
Sommervogel, C. (1896), Bibliothèque de la compagnie de Jésus, vol. VII, Brussel /
Sotuellus, N. (1676), Bibliotheca Scriptorum Societatis Jesu. Opus inchoatum a R. P.
Petro Ribanedeira … continuatum a R. P. Philippo Alegambe … Recognitum &
productum ad annum Iubelaei M.DC.LXXV a Nathanel Sotuello …, Rome.
Spathis, D. (1986), Ο Διαφωτισμός και το νεοελληνικό θέατρο, Thessalonica.
Stivanaki, E. (2001), Θεατρική ζωή, κίνηση και δραστηριότητα στην Πάτρα από
το 1828 έως το 1900, Patras.
Synodinos, Z. Ch. (1997), Δημ. Γουζέλης, Ο Χάσης (Το τζάκωμα και το φτιάσιμον).
Κριτική έκδοση, Athens.
Tabaki, A. (1993), Η νεοελληνική δραματουργία και οι δυτικές της επιδράσεις (18ος
-19ος αι.), Athens.
Troili F. F. von (1676), Orientalische Reise-Beschreibung, Dresden.
Vitti, M. (1964), ‘Θ. Μοντσελέζε, Τραγωδία ονομαζομένη Ευγένα’, Athens
(Θέατρο 14).
(1965), Teodoro Montselese, Ευγένα, a cura di -, Naples.
Vitti, M. / G. Spadaro (1995), Τραγωδία ονομαζομένη «Ευγένα» του Κυρ Θεοδώρου
Μοντσελέζε 1646, Athens.
Vivilakis, I. (2004), Tο ιερό και το δράμα. Θεατρολογικές προσεγγίσεις, Athens.
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Vrokinis, S. L. (1901), Περί της οικοδομής της εν τω Κερκυραϊκώ άστει στοάς –
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Zeidler, J. (1891), Studien und Beiträge zur Geschichte der Jesuiten-Komödie und des
Kloster-Dramas, vol. 1, Hamburg.
Zois, L. Ch. (1955), Iστορία της Ζακύνθου, Athens.

Jesuit Theatre in Constantinople

and the Archipelago (1600–1750)

It may well be that religious theatre under Ottoman rule was much less
glamorous in quality and quantity1 when compared to the theatre of the
Ionian islands under Venetian rule; but in the end it can be better docu-
mented as far as performances are concerned, and more dramatic works
have survived. To some extent this is due to the systematic reports of
the Catholic mission to the Vatican, but it is also the beneficent work of
Fortune, who helps scholars from time to time in their search for discover-
ies of new material. On the island of Chios, for example, theatrical activity
was organized not only by Catholic orders but also by Orthodox priests,
who overcame the old hostile attitudes of the Eastern Church against spec-
tacles and theatrical performances.2
This chapter represents an entirely new episode in Modern Greek thea-
tre history which was unknown before 1970, and which adds ten new dra-
matic texts written between 1640 and the first decades of the eighteenth
century to the annals of Modern Greek literature. Together these texts
provide many new details about theatrical performances between 1580 and
1750. The investigation started with the sale of a miscellaneous codex from
Chios by auction at Sotheby’s & Co. in London in 1973 and ended with
the publication of eight dramatic texts in a critical edition at the turn of
the new millennium, with a supplemental investigation on school perfor-
mances of religious theatre on the Greek islands of the Aegean Sea in 2005.

Introduction: The French and Italian Missions

Catholic missions in the archipelago were initiated after the Council of
Trent and the foundation of the Counter-Reformation, and had as their
target the conversion of Orthodox Christians in the Ottoman Empire.

For a re-examination of all facets of hellenophone theatre in the Ottoman Empire see Puchner 2012.
For this chapter see also a more detailed analysis in Puchner 1999.


Introduction: The French and Italian Missions 197

This activity was aided by the privileged status of local Catholic nobles
on the Aegean islands. The great number of bishops, missionaries, clergy-
men and monks of Catholic orders is entirely disproportional to the small
percentage of the Catholic population in the islands, and this number was
drastically reduced from the end of the seventeenth into the eighteenth
century (on Chios and the Cyclades), primarily as a result of the complex
Vatican bureaucracy. Another reason for the decline was the Congregatio
De Propaganda Fide of 1622, which ruled in effect that missionaries and
priests worked for years without a salary and left entire parishes without
pastoral care. Missionary activity to convert the Orthodox, who had previ-
ously refused union with the Catholic Church, was also a strategy designed
to compete with the dissemination in the area of Protestantism – which
had found a powerful supporter in Ecumenical Patriarch Kyrillos Loukaris.
Correspondence with the Catholic authorities in Rome containing annual
reports of activity, petitions, accusations against other Catholic orders and
similar secondary affairs is full of detailed information about everyday
life, the local economy, piracy, shipping, etc. But these letters also include
information about local superstitions, folk culture, habits and customs; the
correspondence is written in Latin, French and Italian.3
It was mainly the Jesuit order and the minor orders of Capuchin and
Franciscan monks who combined their missions with the foundation of
schools and colleges, hoping to gain converts through education and med-
ical care for the local population. As for school theatres the Jesuit order
played the most important role, with the Capuchins playing a secondary
one. The well-organized order of the Jesuits was involved in a significant
amount of Catholic missionary activity in the Greek-speaking areas of the
Ottoman Empire,4 an activity that was sometimes quite dangerous. And
it can be seen as a strategic move that the Greek College of St Athanasius
in Rome (founded in 1576), which trained more than one thousand pupils
by 1700 (most of them from the Greek islands), was under Jesuit admin-
istration in 1591–1604 and 1622–1773.5 It was founded primarily to edu-
cate Greeks of the Union (i.e., Orthodox Christians who recognized the
authority of the pope) for their mission in the Orient; but in the end it did

On the semiautonomous status of the islands, in particular Chios and the Cyclades, see Vakalopoulos
1968: 210 ff., 221 ff., 273 ff., and especially for the Cyclades Slot 1982. On the politics of Kyrillos
Loukaris see the brilliant study by Hering 1968 and 1992, Podskalsky 1988: 162–80 (and pass.) and
Runciman 1970: 251–78. On the Archives of Propaganda Fide see Kowalsky 1961. For the symbiosis
of Catholics and Orthodox in the Cyclades see Papadopoulos 1996.
See Roussos-Milidonis 1991 and 1993 with bibliography and archival materials.
For the history of the college see Fyrigos 1984 and for more bibliography Podskalsky 1988: 52 ff.

198 Jesuit Theatre in Constantinople and the Archipelago

not work out as planned. Most of the Orthodox pupils did not follow this
career path and reverted to Orthodoxy, in some cases even writing pam-
phlets against their former Catholic teachers.6 But in spite of the failure of
this missionary strategy the College of St Athanasius would have played a
central role in the network of Greek educational institutions, on both the
Catholic and Orthodox sides, in the seventeenth century. A long succes-
sion of intellectuals, university professors, medical doctors and scholars of
law as well as theologians of the Eastern and Western Churches were from
this school.7
Franciscans, Capuchins and Jesuits conducted significant mission-
ary activity in the Aegean area, with the latter two groups often in sharp
conflict.8 The first effort at missionary work in the eastern Mediterranean
basin was begun by French Jesuits in 1583–6 and had as its target the
Orthodox population in Constantinople, the capital of the Ottoman
Empire; but it ended quickly when six fathers died in an epidemic.9 The
second effort began in 1609 but again the Jesuit order soon faced difficul-
ties.10 As a strictly organized order it ran a school in their monastery of
St Benedict (Saint Benoît) in Galata (Pera) on the European side of the
Golden Horn by 1610; and as we shall see, the first dramatic performances
by students in Greek can be traced to 1612.11 From 1620 to 1636, the year

For the alumni of the college and their later careers see Tsirpanlis 1980 and statistics in Tsirpanlis 1978.
Podskalsky 1988: 53 ff., Tsirpanlis 1980. For Greek educational institutions see Podskalsky 1988: 46
ff. and map 51.
See Roussos-Milidonis 1996. For the quarrels between Capuchins and Jesuits on Naxos see Zerlentis
1922. The Capuchins of the French mission had schools and institutions in Constantinople (since
1626), Chios (since 1624), Smyrna (since 1628), later also on Naxos, Cyprus, Andros and Syra
(Cesinale 1873: 80–8, Terzorio 1917/8: III 6–49, IV 1–101, 102–59, 201–71, 272–303, Hering 1992: 186
ff.). For the Catholic mission in the archipelago in general see Hofmann 1934–41.
This refers to an idea Ignatius of Loyola himself expressed in a letter in 1553 (Roussos-Milidonis
1991: 22), that he planned to found Jesuit colleges in Constantinople, Jerusalem and Cyprus. The
French mission must also be seen in the broader context of French interests in the East, with the
occasional signing of ‘capitulations’ (treaties) with the Ottoman Empire. The French ambassador in
Constantinople was the official protector of the French Jesuit mission in all parts of the Ottoman
In this case it was due to the attempted interventions by Catholics in the election of the Ecumenical
Patriarch; they were viewed with suspicion by the Venetian bailo to the Supreme Porte (a sort of
high-ranking diplomat), who interpreted it as an act against their interests. France and the Pope
were trying to influence the elections so that the throne of the Ecumenical Patriarch would be occu-
pied by an Orthodox clergyman with positive feelings for Catholics as well as French interests. On
the other hand the Protestant Great Powers of the time, Great Britain and Holland, found Kyrillos
I Loukaris sympathetic to Protestantism and, as they believed, a supporter for their own interests
(see the painstaking analysis by Hering 1968 and 1992). This is essential to understand the political
background of the performance in 1623 discussed later. Venice at this time followed a contra-Rome
policy of ‘Realpolitik’, for instance expelling the Jesuits from Crete in 1606 (see the slogan ‘siamo
Veneziani, poi Cristiani’).
More details and bibliography in Puchner 1999: 28–34.

Introduction: The French and Italian Missions 199

of his violent death, Kyrillos I. Loukaris, four times elected to the throne
of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, campaigned against the Jesuits’ tactic of
using theatre performances in their schools to convert Greek students to
Catholicism. In his didactic dialogue Zealot and Friend of Truth (Ζηλωτής
και Φιλαλήθης), written between 1612 and 1620 he refers explicitly to Jesuit
When they speak to us with sweet words, they hide the poison; when they
honour us [in public], they ridicule us amongst themselves; when they
teach us, they compromise us; when they donate small pieces of paper and
rosaries, they trap us; when they organize comedies and other theatrical
pieces and invite us to go, they laugh at us as ignoramuses, as stupid and
worthless people.12
The French mission in Constantinople was the model for other founda-
tions of Jesuit monasteries in the archipelago:  1623 in Smyrna, 1627 on
Naxos, 1640 Nauplion and Patras, 1641 Paros, 1642 Santorini and Tinos.13
But an important exception was Chios, which belonged to the Italian mis-
sion, the Sicilian mission to be precise, which used native Greeks of the
island who had been educated and trained in Sicily as priests and teach-
ers from the very beginning. In 1594 they founded the monastery of St
Antonius ‘outside of town’ (του εξωμερίτη), the ‘University of the East’
as it was called in some travellers’ books, and in 1597 the college had
more than two hundred pupils, most of them Orthodox. In Chios there
is evidence for remarkable mutual influence between the Catholics and
Orthodox, a phenomenon that proved beneficial for theatrical life and
dramaturgy.14 In the framework of this mission religious books were pub-
lished in ‘frankochiotika,’ Greek with elements of the Chios dialect written
in Latin characters.15 Among the alumni of the Jesuit school of Chios were
Leon Allatius, the librarian of the Vatican; his successor in the eighteenth
century, Raffael Vernatsas;16 and, as we shall see, the Orthodox clergyman
and dramatist Michael Vestarchis.
See Papadopoulos-Kerameus 1891–7: I 227 ff., especially 230; see also Vakalopoulos 1968: 450 f. and
Puchner 1999: 49 f.
Legrand 1867: 30–45, Hofmann 1935: 145 ff.
The most precious source is Giustiniani 1658. For a specific history of the island Zolotas 1921–8,
Vakalopoulos 1968: 221 ff., for traveller literature Argenti/Kyriakidis 1946 ff.; for the foundation of
the monastery Papadopoulos 1977, Roussos-Milidonis 1993: 89–102, 1991: 88–96.
Frankochiotika was used by the Jesuits for the Hellenic mission until the nineteenth century. For specific
printed editions see Dalleggio 1961 and Tsirpanlis 1974. Some of the dramatic texts, saved in manuscript
form, are written in this phonetic transcription system. There was an analogous system of phonetic
transliteration into the Latin alphabet on Crete and the Ionian islands under the Venetian rule.
For Leon Allatius (Allacci 1588–1669) see Podskalsky 1988: 213–9 with detailed bibliography. His
teacher was Michael Nevridas (1574–1635), who in 1595 travelled to the school (Roussos-Milidonis

200 Jesuit Theatre in Constantinople and the Archipelago

In 1615 the itinerant mission in the Aegean Sea was transferred to
Chiotan Jesuits under the leadership of Domenicus Mauritius (1580?–1665),
the key figure in this chapter of religious theatre in the archipelago, who
at this time was a subordinate of the French mission of St Benedict in
Constantinople. Mauritius was abbot of the monastery of St Antonius ‘out-
side of town’ from 1630 to 1665 nearly continuously. Under his leadership
the monastery had three schools and ran four different congregations;17 he
might also have hired the Orthodox clergyman Michael Vestarchis (†1662)
as a teacher. This Jesuit environment inspired Vestarchis to write three reli-
gious dramas; it is only on Chios under these specific circumstances that
Orthodox priests began to write for theatrical performance.

Jesuit Theatre as a Strategy for Conversion

Before we address school performances at Jesuit colleges in the Aegean
Sea we must address briefly how these colleges were organized, as well
as the pedagogical purposes of this historically unique form of European
theatre. By 1773, the year of the suppression of the Jesuit order,18 more
than five hundred colleges in around two hundred European towns were
active, with theatre performances scheduled once or twice a year.19 This
is established in the Ratio atque Institutio Studiorum Societatis Jesu (writ-
ten between 1586 and 1591, edited in 1599) together with the regulations
for school theatre performances. The purposes were a) to learn Latin
rhetoric by heart through constant training and to declaim it aloud, in
order for pupils to control their fear of public speaking and to gain self-
confidence, and b) to show the parents of these pupils and the town’s
authorities, who subsidized the schools, the high level of education the
school offered  – as well as to convert the ‘infidels’ in ‘pars infidelium’
(Protestants, Orthodox, etc.) to Catholicism. The author of the play and
stage director was usually the teacher of grammar and rhetoric, and his
pupils the actors.

1993: 127–30). For Vernatsas see Roussos-Milidonis 1991a: 62. This successful school was visited in
1599 by Kyrillos I. Loukaris (Amantos 1946: 7f.). For the Catholic schools in Chios see also Argenti
1970: 205–32, 270–86, 335–7.
For the personality of Mauritius see Roussos-Milidonis 1993: 131–42, for the school and its congrega-
tions Roussos-Milidonis 1993: 139 f. and Papadopoulos 1990; for the important, detailed report of
1648’s performances see Papadopoulos 1991.
The order was restored in 1814.
The bibliography on Jesuit theatre is hopelessly dispersed (see Puchner 1999: 39–47). A reasonable
introduction in English is McCabe 1983; he lists 566 colleges (269–75); many towns had 2 or 3, while
Rome had 9.

Jesuit Theatre as a Strategy for Conversion 201

A chief characteristic of Jesuit drama was its focus on didactic religious
material drawn from the Counter-Reformation, offered in the form of
exempla – performing biblical or historical stories as a sort of allegory. But
these performances also gave students the chance to improve their rhetori-
cal declamation; to keep the class busy the plays had many roles (only male
ones) with plots taken from the Bible, chronicles, biographies of saints,
etc. Its reach was so broad it is tempting to say there is hardly a single
myth from world literature which was not performed on the Jesuit stage.
The plays were also adapted and altered, with manuscripts circulated from
college to college; on occasion, but only in the case of exceptional success,
the play would find its way into print.20 Unfortunately we cannot know
precisely how widespread these dramatic productions were:  apart from
the texts themselves we have titles mentioned in school chronicles or in
printed periochs – a sort of theatre programme written in the vernacular
(for parents and audiences who did not know Latin). Periochs would give
the title of the play, the sources, the names of the actors and a short outline
of the plot.21
Jesuit theatre was a melting pot of themes and topics, like Commedia
dell’Arte, but was a didactic theatre intended ‘for utility’ and not for enter-
tainment. A full account of this international chapter from European thea-
tre history has yet to be completed. In some countries Jesuit theatre had to
compete against Humanistic drama and Latin performances at Protestant
schools. In the well-off schools luxurious costumes and sophisticated
stage machines were used, in addition to music and ballet which prepared
the way for more spectacular Baroque theatre. In fact, some theorists of
Baroque illusionistic perspective stage painting were Jesuits.
This is a general outline of how Jesuit theatre usually functioned, peda-
gogically and aesthetically; there were many deviations from the norm in
response to local factors. The style of performance could vary from Baroque
grand opéra to simple productions on the ‘alternative stage’ typical for the
travelling troupes in the seventeenth century (the Greek Zinon, for exam-
ple). Dramatic theory in the beginning continued to operate within the
framework of imitating Seneca, evoking katharsis through shock and hor-
ror, violence and blood (see for instance Erofile). By the beginning of the
seventeenth century, Renaissance tragedy was transformed into Baroque
dramas of martyrdom, so that the physical suffering of the hero was
This was the case with Latin Zeno, which was printed six times in the seventeenth century. See
earlier discussion.
‘Perioche’ is from Greek περιέχειν and means ‘content’. In the German-speaking countries alone,
Szarota has listed more thantwo thousand such play-bills (Szarota 1978–80).

202 Jesuit Theatre in Constantinople and the Archipelago

interpreted as his spiritual triumph over earthly things; in this way tragedy
was provided with a sort of happy ending and the tormented hero of the
Renaissance was transformed into a positive one. The Weltanschauung of
these dramas is black and white: a Catholic interpretation of the Christian
faith wins in the end as a result of Providence, and a now-positive hero
gains his desired martyrdom. In many countries with a tradition of medi-
eval theatre, Jesuit theatres continued to perform mystery plays and made
them more spectacular, but with more intensely didactic texts.
The language of the plays was not uniform: in the beginning Latin was
used exclusively, and only in regions where Catholicism faced challenges
from other confessions was the vernacular allowed as a means of proselyt-
izing. This was the case in the Aegean Sea, where spoken Greek was used
exclusively in Jesuit dramas; during the seventeenth century there is evi-
dence for mixed performances of Latin and the vernacular. On the Aegean
islands under Ottoman rule, or ‘turkokratia’, the style of performance was
most likely quite simple; parents usually paid for production and cos-
tumes, and the pupils’ style of performance can likewise be imagined as
simple, using typical poses and conventional body language to portray
characters who were straightforward and unsophisticated, to enhance the
play’s didactic purpose; still there is vivid scenic action, with lots of move-
ment on-stage and strong emotions (see Zinon).22

The Evidence for School Performances

The first datable Greek-language school production did not take place in
Greek-speaking countries, but in the Greek College of St Athanasius in
Rome:  four years after its foundation in 1576 Theodoros Rendios (1510/
20–1580), a scholar from Chios and a teacher at the school, wrote a letter
to Cardinal Sirleto, one of the founders of the school, saying that on Holy
Saturday the pupils stayed awake and performed the watch over Christ’s
sepulchre; they also acted many other events from the tragedy of the pas-
sion, every pupil knowing his role by heart.23 From the letter’s formulation
it is not clear exactly what they did; given this letter’s religious context,
there is no distinction between theatrical performance and declamation
with symbolic gestures. Moreover, it is not clear whether ‘tragedy’ refers to
a play or to biblical passages on the Passion of Christ (such as the Cyprus
For a general introduction to this vast topic see MacCabe 1983.
Rendios adds that they did not learn ‘the whole tragedy’, but only the most important parts, and
that the teachers of the school were the audience. For an interpretation of this letter see Meschini
1978: 77 ff.; for the text Patrinelis 1967: 75 ff.

The Evidence for School Performances 203

Passion Cycle). The language of the performance was most likely Greek,
because Rendios taught Greek at the school.24
Constantinople The second attempt at a French Jesuit mission in the
Ottoman capital, under the leadership of François de Canillac in 1609,
resulted in the foundation of the monastery of St Benedict in Galata men-
tioned previously, together with a school boasting a quite important library.
Theatrical performances or performance-like displays can be traced there
from 1612, the year that the Chiot Jesuit Domenicus Mauritius arrived on
the Bosporus to help the French mission, because the ‘frankopapades’ (as
the Orthodox called these fathers from Paris) knew Ancient Greek quite
well but not the spoken vernacular. As mentioned earlier, the targets for
proselytizing were the Greek Orthodox of the city, not Muslims. Mauritius
was in Constantinople between 1612 and 1629, and his contact with the
theatre stems from the Jesuit school in Chios as well as his own education
in Sicily. After his arrival at Easter, he organized small dialogues in Greek
with his pupils for the days of Corpus Christi, which pleased parents and
the French ambassador as well.25 During the Christmas season he organ-
ized a public procession with the crèche of Christ, which made a strong
impression.26 The next years were difficult for the mission, and Mauritius
remained nearly alone in Constantinople. Nevertheless, an undated report
from this time mentions that from time to time a small ‘action’ from
sacred history was performed, and that the young Greeks were quite ‘bons
acteurs’.27 This account harmonizes with that of the following years: on 3
December 1614 de Canillac wrote to Rome – this time in Latin – that the
Story of the Seven Maccabee Boys was acted and received enthusiastically by
the monks and the people. The same is mentioned by Dionysius Guillier,

For a more detailed account see Puchner 1999: 54–9. Rendios was also the author of a treatise about
comedy (Περί κωμωδίας, text in Tsakmakis 1991–2).
This is mentioned in the annual report of the abbot: ‘Lettres annuelles de Constantinople (année
1612) adressé aux pères de l’assistence de France, par le R. P. François de Canillac, de la Compagnie
de Jésus’ (edited in Carayon 1864: 60–85, especially 64–5, see also Puchner 1999: 59–60). The same
letter reports that Mauritius delivered a sermon on Annunciation Day in Italian, which was received
enthusiastically by locals, foreigners and the Venetians (Carayon 1864: 64–5). He also showed Hagia
Sophia to the foreigners, and they were very impressed (Carayon 1864: 74).
The abbot reports this too enthusiastically (Carayon 1864:  84, Puchner 1991:  60). Naturally,
Mauritius was acquainted with the custom from Sicily, where he studied rhetoric, the humanities,
philosophy and theology from 1599 to 1610 in Messina. He was consecrated in 1611 and 1612 was
ordered to go to Constantinople to help the French mission (Roussos-Milidonis 1993: 131).
People are ‘extresmement désireux’ to see such performances (see the French report in Legrand
1867: 7). Some scholars have attributed this report to de Canillac (Grigoriou 1958: 301), a possibility
which cannot be excluded, but some theatre historians have dated this later to between 1630 and
1640 (Valetas 1953: ια΄ which should be used with caution). Tabaki proposed a date of 1623 (Tabaki
1993: 19 note 19), but it is also plausible to link the passage with events in 1612 (Puchner 1995: 211).

204 Jesuit Theatre in Constantinople and the Archipelago

deputy to the abbot, in his report from 1615:  the ‘tragedy’ of the Seven
Maccabee Boys was acted successfully by the pupils (‘data est in theatrum
per discipulos nostros tragoedia Maccabei placuit’).28
But the most significant performance of the seventeenth century
in Constantinople took place on 13 November 1623 in the church of St
Benedict in Galata, the feast day of St John Chrysostom according to the
Orthodox calendar, which was observed with a play based on his biography.
In the play the small Ioannis, later known as Chrysostomos, or ‘golden-
mouth’, converts his father, mother and sister to Christianity, refuting the
arguments of a representative from the oracle of Apollo in Alexandria.
The author of the play is most likely Mauritius, the only native Greek in
the French mission in Constantinople. It was written ‘en grecque vulgaire’,
as mentioned in a detailed French report from Vice Supérieur François
Aurillac on 17 January 1624,29 – Aurillac was serving as substitute for the
Abbot de Canillac. This important document is very clear about the goal
of converting the audience and enumerates in detail the ‘benefits’ of the
performance, which gave the Jesuit order enhanced prestige. Most interest-
ingly, the main role of Chrysostomos as a boy was performed by the small
son of the French ambassador at the Supreme Court, Phillipe de Harly,
comte de Césy, who spoke Modern Greek like a native of Constantinople.
The performance took place in a church full of spectators, with the proud
father in front, and was repeated after a few days in the presence of ambas-
sadors from Holland and Austria.
The performance took place in the context of diplomatic antago-
nism among the great powers of the time over the enthronement of the
Ecumenical Patriarch of the Orthodox Church. In September 1623 Kyrillos
I Loukaris was re-elected patriarch; de Césy was his greatest enemy and
had brought about his dismissal in May of 1623, but was unable to prevent
his re-election because of economic difficulties (every side had to bribe
the Turkish authorities to take part in the election), even though his elec-
tion was not in the interest of France. The pro-Protestant attitudes of the
dynamic Kyrillos created two parties, pro and contra: the Dutch and the
English ambassador, together with the Venetian bailo, were in favour of

Puchner 1998a. In 1615 de Canillac asks permission from the authorities in Rome to organize a
‘philological event’ on the feast day of St Chrysostom in Constantinople for the purposes of pros-
elytizing. This plan was realized later, because in 1616–20 the situation for the Jesuits at the Sublime
Porte was critical. The play would be postponed until after the arrival of a new and very dynamic
French ambassador, De Césy, in 1620.
This document is unfortunately not extant. For the original French text and detailed commentary
see Puchner 1994, 1995: 197–240 (with Greek translation), 1999: 61–9 (with German comments).

The Evidence for School Performances 205

him while the French ambassador, the apostolic nuntius of the Vatican,
and the ambassador of the Habsburg Monarchy were against him.30
What is fascinating about this report is that the patriarch, well aware
of the Jesuits’ strategy of seeking converts through theatre performances,
asked the fathers whether the French ambassador would allow him to
attend a performance. In other words an Orthodox patriarch, who knew
the hostility of the Eastern Church to theatre and spectacles, who had
already condemned the tactics of the Jesuits some years before, wanted to
go to a Catholic Church to attend a performance where the son of his main
enemy played the role of a revered Orthodox Church father. In the context
of the political situation in 1623 this could be seen as a diplomatic move
by the patriarch, a public show of magnanimity and reconciliation, since
de Césy could not harm him at that time. Characteristically the French
ambassador denied permission for the patriarch to attend; otherwise he
would have publicly demonstrated his own defeat. Seldom in European
theatre history has a performance – let alone an academic one – reflected
so intensely the diplomatic intrigues, interests and antagonisms among the
great powers.
After the departure of Mauritius from the Bosporus we do not know
whether Greek-language performances of religious plays continued. There
is related information available but only for a later period, and only for
Capuchin monks and Jesuits. In 1665, for example, there is evidence for
a performance by the Capuchins of La Baptesme de Saint Genest (The
Baptism of St Genesius), an adaptation of the tragedy on the mime martyr
by Jean Rotrou, at the French embassy. An entry in the diary of a certain
Father Thomas states explicitly that this was done to stop the rush of young
pupils to the Jesuits, who were famous for their plays. That same year, the
Capuchins also performed a tragedy about Constantine the Great; this
time the lead role of the emperor was played by the son of vice-ambassador
François Roboly. The performance was a great success with a huge crowd of
spectators, and Roboly says that if another performance had been arranged
he would happily pay the costs. In fact, in 1666 the new ambassador gave
his permission for it, because the Jesuits were organizing a similar event.
There was also a tragedy of Saint George, two hours long and played with-
out musical instruments (as was usually done, it seems); the Capuchins
attended the Jesuits’ performances, and vice versa; nevertheless, there was a

The patriarch’s approach to the Protestants was not so much founded on a theological affinity but
was rooted in their common opposition to Catholicism and the pope. For the political background
here, the personalities and their strategies see Hering 1992: 115 ff.

206 Jesuit Theatre in Constantinople and the Archipelago

competition between the two Catholic orders to see who could stage better
productions. These performances, at least those by the Capuchins, seem to
have been in French.31
Chios A passage by Michele Giustiniani in his book La Scio Sacra states
that around 1616, the Jesuit father of the monastery of St Antonius ‘outside
of town’ organized performances of ‘moral’ comedies on the last days of
Carnival, in order to distract the people from Carnival masquerades and
dromena which were of a more ‘Aristophanic’ character and were seen as
an insult to God.32 The school of St Antonius reached the peak of its pres-
tige under Mauritius. On 29 November 1642, to celebrate the arrival of
Andreas Sofianos, the new Latin bishop of Chios, a performance or decla-
mation in vernacular Greek was given by twelve pupils of the school, most
likely Vestarchis’ first play, The Presentation of Holy Mary in the Temple
(his other two plays were performed as well, through the year 1662).33 Two
other plays were written for similar occasions by Orthodox priests in the
second half of the seventeenth century: the Three Boys in the Furnace by
Grigorios Kontaratos and the Drama of the Man Who Was Born Blind by
Gabriel Prosopsas, who taught for decades in the Orthodox phrontisterion
of St Victor after 1662.34
In 1673 the Capuchin monks organized a festive event in honour of the
French ambassador Nointel, on the occasion of the victory of the French
over the Dutch in Maastricht. The performance featured allegorical rep-
resentations: Calvin in missionary dress asking for pity, because Zeus was
ready to strike him with his thunderbolt; a Dutch man burnt by the sun
(a possible reference to Louis XIV as roi soleil), naval battles re-enacted
with little ships, etc.35 With the Venetian occupation of the island in 1694/
5, however, Catholics and the Jesuit order soon found themselves in a very
difficult position, and they never regained the power and influence they
had enjoyed before. Whatever their status, we have evidence for declama-
tions in dialogue form by schoolboys in the metropolitan church of St
Nicholas between 1740 and 1744.36
Cyclades All the information we have refers to Naxos with the excep-
tion of Santorini, where in the community of Pyrgos an alumnus of the

Puchner 1999c (the diary of Father Thomas is published in Études Franciscaines 29, 1913: 233–413,
618–31, 30, 1914: 164–402, 530–50; about the performances in vol. 29: 628 ff.).
Giustiniani 1658: 186.
Roussos-Milidonis 1993: 137, Puchner 1999: 73.
See later discussion.
The event is preserved in two descriptions; see Puchner 1999b.
This is mentioned in the prologue, or ‘Προθεωρία’, of a long poem ‘On rage’ (Περί θυμού) by
Stanislaus Velastis (edited Rome 1747), where the author states that the small boys of the Giustiniani

The Evidence for School Performances 207

Greek College of St Athanasius in Rome, Victor Koryphaios (so named
because he was born in Corfu), a priest de ritu graeco, ran a school from
1658 onward to educate the local population. On Good Friday, Koryphaios
organized a theatrical event on the Passion of Christ, writing the text him-
self. Koryphaios also wrote a ‘moral comedy’ performed by the schoolboys
for three days during Carnival; as in Chios it was created in order to pre-
vent the people from participating in immoral carnival masquerades.37
In Naxos the performances are linked from the beginning in 1627 with
the feast of Corpus Christi. The monastery there was founded by Mauritius
as leader of the itinerant Aegean mission in the capella Casazza, the chapel
of the duke, which was the residence of the fraternity ‘del Santissimo
Corpo di Christo’. Only one year later in 1628, a play was performed in the
chapel there on the subject of ‘il peccatore convertito’ (the repentant sin-
ner) in the presence of Turkish authorities; apparently, they left satisfied.38
In 1629 the Capuchins arrived on the island, competing with the Jesuits in
theatre activity; they also had severe conflicts with them.39 The main bone
of contention was education: in 1653 the ‘città di Naxos’ granted the Jesuit
order a ‘diploma in favore della scuola dei Gesuiti’, briefly giving them a
monopoly in teaching. But by 1678 the apostolic nuntius Angelos Venieris
visited the Jesuit school and listened to the pupils’ declamation one day
before he did the same in the Capuchin schools.40
One very important source is the detailed report of Mathieu Hardy,
leader of the French mission on Naxos and abbot of the Jesuit monastery,

and Markopoulos families recited his verses in this church in the presence of the Catholic Bishop
Filippo Bavestrelli and many others. For Velastis (1717–c. 1780) see Roussos-Milidonis 1993: 195–214
with more bibliography. Whether these verses by Velastis were from the short play David, which is
attributed by some scholars to Velastis, is questionable (see Puchner 1995a: 182–91).
This is traced in two letters by the French Jesuit François Rosier, who lived on the island from 1645
onward (Roussos-Milidonis 1993: 199 ff., Podskalsky 1988: 41 f., 250 f.). His treatise on purgatorium
was edited in Greek in Paris, in 1657. The text of the letters can be found in Hofmann 1934–41: V 74
and Papadopoulos 1996. About Victor Koryphaios (1633/4-after 1700), or ‘da Corfù’, also known as
the icon painter Klapatzaràs see Tsirpanlis 1980: 570 ff. (with more bibliography) and Papadopoulos
1996. He had just graduated from the college in Rome and asked for the salary of a missionary, but
never received it; after 1669 he travelled to the Vatican (and again in 1691), but as an unimportant
person from a far- away mission in the Aegean sea he was not even admitted for an audience. For
the moving story of his daring travels to Rome to earn the salary of a missionary, and his humiliating
stay in Italy, together with his correspondence with the Vatican, see Puchner 1999: 88–90.
For the foundation of the monastery see Roussos-Milidonis 1991:  151 ff. The performance is
mentioned in an Italian report of Archbishop Raffaele Schiattini (Arcivescovo Raffaele Schiattini,
Descrizione Della Processione Di Corpus Domini. 5 Luglio 1628, published in Hofmann 1934–41: IV
74–8, Puchner 1992:  308–11). For the religious theatre on Naxos see also Puchner 1997, 1998c,
1999: 78–87.
For the Capuchins on Naxos see Terzorio 1917/8: IV 102–59, Zerlentis 1922.
Zerlentis 1922: 92.

208 Jesuit Theatre in Constantinople and the Archipelago

who lived on the island until his death in 1645. In 1643 Hardy wrote to
merchants in Rouen, who had supported the monastery financially,
summarizing their activities since 1627.41 Here too in Naxos, the school
staged moving and didactic plays during Carnival in order to prevent peo-
ple from insulting God by participating in ‘immoral’ masquerades.42 In
Hardy’s report there is a whole chapter on the celebration of ‘Feste-Dieu’
(Corpus Christi) during the period 1637–43: on the central square a ‘théâ-
tre’ (‘palco’) was erected and something in favour of the sacred myste-
rium was performed (as another report by Schiattini specifies, this was
a rappresentazione with stylized actions and declamations by the pupils).
In addition, the metropolitan church hosted the performance of a sacred
‘action’ (‘La Matière Fut du Très Sainct Sacrement’) in three parts; the
audience was very pleased (‘pleust extrémement’) and this event improved
the reputation of the order (‘fist grandement estimer nostre Compagnie’).43
Processions and events linked to the feast of Corpus Christi can be traced
until the eighteenth century.44
A performance of the Tragedy of St Demetrius is likewise linked with the
Jesuit monastery on the island, dated to 29 December 1723, as noted on
the last folio of the manuscript of the play. In the ‘final epilogue’ (επίλογος
υστερινός) the Jesuit order and the school (ακαδημία) are named explicitly.
Even the names of the actors are listed at the end of the manuscript; twenty
of them could be identified historically in notarial documents. The actors
belonged to the Catholic upper class of the island, and were members of
the families of Giustiniani, Sommaripa, Crispo, de Remon and Coronello,
most of them also related by consanguinity or marriage. The cast was also
of all ages; among them were five clergymen who played the three main
roles, most probably teachers of the school; the rest of the middle-aged
actors were former students of the college or members of a religious con-
fraternity which surrounded the monastery; the younger participants were
pupils at the school.45

This important document has the title “Relation de ce qui s’est passé en la résidence des Pères de
la Compagnie de Jésus establie à Naxie le 26 septembre de l’année 1627”, today in the archive of
Collège Saint Benoît, edited by Laurent 1934/5. For the biography of Mathieu Hardy (1589–1645)
see Laurent 1934/5: 223 ff. Hardy verifies the performance on 5 July 1628 and adds that it greatly
improved the reputation of the order among the locals (Laurent 1934/5: 474). He founded also a
‘Congrégation à Notre Dame’, where declamations and dialogues were performed for the feast day
of the Presentation of the Holy Virgin at the Temple (Laurent 1934/5: 188 ff.)
Laurent 1934/5: 98.
Again the Τurkish authorities were present; the play was repeated in the capella Casazza: it was said
that peοple were moved and ready to confess and to communicate as Catholics.
See Hofmann 1934–41: IV 111, 117, 130, 142 (the Catholics are all in all 150), 147.
For the identification of the actors and the relevant documents see Varzelioti/Puchner 2000.

Religious Baroque Drama on Chios and the Cyclades 209

It could be argued that there were more than just school performances;
the last case shows the wider social resonance of this activity, with the
active participation of grown men, members of religious fraternities and
the Catholic upper class. This was not done for practical reasons, i.e.,
because the students were not able to play the main parts; the perfor-
mances in Constantinople 1623 indicate the opposite. Some of the religious
plays we shall analyze in the following had numerous roles for children
(The Three Boys in the Furnace, The Seven Maccabee Boys), some of them of
significant length; as a rule, schoolboys were preferred. The sources do not
separate theatrical performances with stage actions from recitations and
declamations (with or without dialogue) or symbolic representations with
figures in processions. All sources underline the vivid impression that these
‘actions’ made on the spectators, Greeks and foreigners, Latins, Orthodox,
or Muslims.46

Religious Baroque Drama on Chios and the Cyclades

Ten religious plays in manuscript form, both complete texts and fragments,
have survived the ravages of time, written by Catholic and Orthodox Greek
clergymen in the seventeenth and the first half of the eighteenth century
in the archipelago region. Texts for numerous other plays are missing (for
example, the play on young St John Chrysostom staged in Constantinople
mentioned earlier); we do not know the true extent of dramatic produc-
tion in this region, but the number of plays extant is greater than that from
the Cretan theatre or that of the Ionian islands. It may be that the works
discussed in this chapter are more important in terms of quantity, taken
together with the details we have for performances, even if they are not as
important in terms of quality. But it is often the case throughout theatre
history that ‘mediocre’ plays sometimes have a greater impact in their time
than those we might consider outstanding literary works.
The influence of Cretan theatre is again present in the archipelago, as
it was in the Ionian islands: some Jesuit fathers consciously appealed to
the fame of Chortatsis and Troilos and copied entire passages from their
tragedies and comedies for their own pieces. Playwriting at that time was
seen by the Jesuits as a humble activity with a concrete purpose and imple-
mentation; it had nothing to do with aesthetics, authorship, skillfullness
or fame. Nevertheless, the ten plays do offer an aesthetic and a dramaturgy

For an overview of the religious performances in the archipelago see Puchner 1998–2000, 2000:
15–60, for questions of stage, mise-en-scène, properties, etc., see Puchner 2000–1, 2002: 19–35.

210 Jesuit Theatre in Constantinople and the Archipelago

of their own, which in the best cases shows facets of the high Baroque,
Rococo, and even Classicism.47
The plays may be divided into those from Chios (six complete plays
and a draft) and those from the Cyclades (two plays and a ‘role’). The texts
of these plays are saved in four groups of manuscripts: 1) a miscellaneous
codex from Chios, compiled and copied by Ioannis Mavrocordatos, the
brother of Alexandros Mavrocordatos (‘εξ απορρήτων', Great Dragoman
of the Ottoman fleet), with a terminus post quem of before 1684 or 1700;48
2) two manuscripts in the Carte Allacciane (the collection of Leon Allatius
from Chios, librarian of the Vatican) in the Biblioteca Vallicelliana in
Rome (CXXXVI/29 and CXXXII/16); 3)  two manuscripts in the Jesuit
monastery of Ano Syros, which stem from Naxos or Syra; and 4) a manu-
script from the National Library in Athens which includes the text for a
‘role’ from a play on the martyrdom of St George.
The first manuscript contains three plays by the Orthodox clergyman
Michael Vestarchis (Dialogue on Holy Theotokos, a passion play, and Eleazar
and the Seven Maccabee Boys) and two more by Orthodox priests, Grigorios
Kontaratos’ The Three Boys in the Furnace and Gabriel Prosopsas’ Drama
of the Man Born Blind.49 The two manuscripts from Rome contain a short
play, David, and a draft of a play on the martyrdom of St Isidorus, the
patron of Chios, both by anonymous authors.50 The next two manuscripts,
from the Jesuit monastery in Syra, contain an untitled anonymous play on
Herod and the slaughter of the innocents, and the Tragedy of St Demetrius,
also anonymous; this last play was performed on Naxos in 1723.51 The
fourth manuscript from the National Library has not yet been edited.52
Some texts may be dated approximately, others not at all. Of the three
plays by Vestarchis (†1662) the first has a terminus ante quem of 1642 because
most likely it was performed on the occasion of the arrival of Archbishop
Sofianos in November 1642; the other two were written between 1642 and
1662. The plays of Kontaratos and Prosopsas can be placed, plausibly, in
the last decades of the seventeenth century, with the play David possibly
being from the first decades of the eighteenth century, as well as the draft

For different style elements associated with the Baroque era see Puchner 2006a; for a comparison of
these styles with south-eastern Europe 2007a: 27–40.
See Manousakas 1989 and earlier discussion.
These texts are available in a critical edition by Manousakas/Puchner 2000.
The first text published in a critical edition was by Papadopoulos 1979, the second, also a critical
edition by Puchner 1998b.
The first text published in critical edition by Puchner 1998, the second, in critical edition too, by
Panayotakis/Puchner 1999.
For description, analysis, plot reconstruction, etc., see Puchner 1999: 146.

Religious Baroque Drama on Chios and the Cyclades 211

play on St Isidorus, because of its bucolic Rococo elements. The Christmas
play about Herod and the slaughter of the innocents cannot be dated, but
for stylistic reasons (baroque rhetoric, allegorical personifications, use of
prose) it should be positioned somewhere between 1650 and 1750; on the
other hand, the Tragedy of St Demetrius can be dated before or in 1723, the
date of its performance. For reasons of structural and linguistic similarity
the ‘role’ from the St George tragedy is most likely close chronologically
to this play.
Authorship is a tricky question for this group of dramas, with the excep-
tion of the plays by Orthodox priests on Chios. We have the most bio-
graphical information about Michael Vestarchis: his family were from the
village of Vestarchaton and he is a relative of the Vatican librarian Leon
Allatius.53 He received his education in the Jesuit school of St Antonius
in Chios, and then was ordained an Orthodox priest in the church of St
Victor (hierokeryx); he signs his correspondence in 1638 as ‘Didaskalos of
the Great Church’, a title associated with the Patriachate in Constantinople.
As mentioned in an obituary written in 1662 by his follower and fellow
dramatist Prosopsas, he was esteemed and loved by the people of his par-
ish. He introduced some Catholic religious customs and organized reli-
gious co-fraternities according to their model; his first drama, Presentation
of the Holy Virgin in the Temple, seems to be written for an Orthodox
fraternity that had been dedicated to it. Domenicus Mauritius, then abbot
of St Antonius, praised Vestarchis’ activities in a report to his Roman supe-
riors. In 1642 Vestarchis was hired as a teacher at the Jesuit school and, for
obvious reasons, was forced to sign a confession of the Catholic faith; but
he did so without denying his Orthodox confession.54 For the next few
years he was paid the salary of a missionary from Rome, but some years
later he was also a victim of anomalies in their salary payments and he
corresponded with the Propaganda Fide in the Vatican on this problem.55

Prosopsas was likewise a relative of Allatius (Argenti 1970: 234 note 2, Amantos 1935: 558). Νikolaos
Vestarchis (†1586) was the father of Allatius (Amantos 1946:  71). For the Vestarchis family see
Zolotas 1921–8: II 291 f., Amantos 1964: 557 f.
This is clear from his Greek signature in his correspondence with the Vatican. There are many such
Catholic confessions of faith by Orthodox clergymen and monks in the Vatican archives for the sev-
enteenth century. This does not mean in any of these cases a real change of confession. The students
in St Athanasius in Rome had to sign such a creed, and we know their careers afterwards; even the
monks on Athos and Patmos signed these confessions because of the uncertainty of the times, in
hope of protection from pirates, etc. (see the documents in Hofmann 1924: 13, 1928: 53 ff.).
By a scrupulous investigation of this correspondence, together with the documents on his Catholic
confession of faith, both in Italian, his biography in relationship to the Jesuits can be reconstructed
to some degree (Papadopoulos/Puchner 2000, together with the necrology of Prosopsas; see also
Puchner 1999: 97–8).

212 Jesuit Theatre in Constantinople and the Archipelago

Prosopsas’ story is different; because they were relations, Prosopsas
asked Allatius to take him to Rome; but it seems that Allatius, the librarian
of the Vatican, refused because a little before 1660 we find Prosopsas at
the Patriarchate in Constantinople. In 1662 the Orthodox phrontisterion
(seminary) of St Victor is founded in the capital of Chios, and Prosopsas
teaches with a suitable salary paid by the Patriarchate in Constantinople
for some decades there (at least up to 1700). His drama was written for
performance at this Orthodox school on the island. As for Kontaratos,
he cannot be identified with certainty. The copyist of the miscellaneous
codex with Vestarchis’ three dramas (the two others by Kontaratos and
Prosopsas are later additions to the volume) states in a verse prologue that
‘everything’ started with Vestarchis, most likely a reference to Orthodox
religious dramaturgy on Chios.56

The Religious Plays of Chios

The greater part of Aegean dramaturgy is from Chios between 1640 and
1740, including seven plays57 which we will analyze in chronological order.
The first three are written by Michael Vestarchis, the fourth by Grigorios
Kontaratos, the fifth by Gabriel Prosopsas, and the sixth and seventh by
unknown authors.
Dialogue of the Holy Mother of God (Διάλογος της Υπεραγίας
Θεοτόκου) The drama is written in 440 fifteen-syllable verses with rhym-
ing couplets; it is the first and shortest work by Vestarchis (the original
title was Prologue of the Holy Mother of God, because in the manuscript it
holds the first place among the plays of Vestarchis). It follows the Western
model of ‘prophet plays’, elaborate versions of Christmas plays that narrate
the exodus of biblical forefathers from Paradise and the prophecies from
the Old Testament on the coming of the Messiah, together with events
in Bethlehem and the birth of Christ. Here, the thematic and structural
scheme is transposed for the Presentation of the Holy Virgin in the temple.
But Vestarchis is also inspired by a Byzantine iconographic type, ‘Άνωθεν
οι προφήται’ (‘Above the prophets’), a subset of icons on ‘the root of Jesse’,
where Mary is shown with Christ on her bosom sitting on a tree trunk, on
the branches of which there are placed the prophets of the Old Testament
with scrolls in their hands. The scrolls depict their prophecies about the

Puchner 1999: 99–101.
For analysis of the religious dramas in the Aegean Sea see Puchner 1999: 93–146 (an anthology with
German translation 147–68) and 2006a: I 261–400 (Greek anthology with introduction and analy-
sis). For special bibliography see the dramas separately in the following.

Religious Baroque Drama on Chios and the Cyclades 213

coming of the Mother of God and her role in the history of redemption.
Similar prophecies are found in the Orthodox liturgies the Presentation of
Mary in the Temple and the Akathistos Hymn (Ακάθιστος ύμνος); Vestarchis
makes extensive use of passages from Orthodox hymnology, and the play
relies largely on monologue and narrative.
The prologue is spoken by David, who then engages in a dialogue
with Adam about the loss of Paradise. Then the prophets and forefa-
thers of the Old Testament speak:  Moses, Jacob, David, Aaron, Isaiah,
Ezechiel, Gideon, Jeremiah, Habakuk, Daniel. Finally, in a pivotal speech
(v. 155–264) the high priest Zacharias narrates in detail the story of the
Presentation, and after a gap in the manuscript there is a panegyric epi-
logue, spoken again by David.
The play is more a poem that uses pseudo-dialogue than a work written
for the stage. Vestarchis makes extensive use of language from the Orthodox
ecclesiastical tradition (hymnography and iconography), passages that
would have been widely known to the devout in the audience. There are no
stage directions, no divisions into acts and scenes, no address to the specta-
tors; the scenic characters are without any psychological nuances, and are
simply representatives of the biblical text. It was most likely performed on
21 November, the feast of the Presentation, by the Orthodox congregation
of the Presentation of Mary in the Temple (Εισόδια της Θεοτόκου).58
The Passion of Christ (Στίχοι πολιτικοί εις διαλόγου μέρος εβγαλμένοι
και ποιημένοι εις την Ανάστασιν του Κυρίου ημών Ιησού Χριστού) This
dialogue poem (616 fifteen-syllable verses with couple rhyme) is more like
a stage play59; there is some scenic action and Vestarchis now uses stage
directions, although not consistently. The prologue is spoken by the poet
himself, quoting the first verses of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey.60
After the prologue (1–18) there are six scenes: Pilate and the high priests,
the latter demanding custody for the tomb of Christ (19–96); the apostles
Peter and John talk together and are joined by Mary Magdalene, who
reports having seen the angel on top of the sepulchre – but the apostles
have serious doubts about her story (97–174). In the next scene Peter and

Text edited in Manousakas/Puchner 2000: 87–105.
Τhe title, translated literally, is as follows:  ‘Political Verses [Fifteen Syllable Verses] in the Form
of a Dialogue, Written and Produced on the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ’. Text in
Manousakas/Puchner 2000: 105–35, analysis in Puchner 1992: 154 ff., 1999: 104–9.
We do not know how many verses he actually recited from Homer’s epics, because there is a missing
folio in the manuscript; after the invocation of the Muses to inspire him the rest of the prologue
is lost. This is a pity because it would be of some interest to see how Homer was positioned in the
curriculum of a religious school on Chios in the seventeenth century (for this question see Puchner
1995: 241–7).

214 Jesuit Theatre in Constantinople and the Archipelago

John return from the tomb to verify what Mary Magdalene has told them,
and Magdalene herself reports having seen Christ resurrected (‘noli me tan-
gere’) (175–248). The frightened soldiers then tell Pilate and the Pharisees
about the Resurrection, but nobody believes them and they are bribed to
say that the disciples stole the body of Christ; after this episode the high
priests, alone, accuse each other (249–324). Next, Luke and Cleopas nar-
rate in detail to the other apostles the appearance of the Lord on the way
to Emmaus (325–434); meanwhile the assembled apostles, behind closed
doors, invoke prophecies to try to convince Thomas that the Resurrection
was real (435–616); this final scene ends with the appearance of Christ and
the touching of the wounds. Unfortunately after v.  588 the codex has a
lacuna, so we do not know how the appearance of Christ was staged. The
rest of the play is panegyric poetry.
As with the first, this drama is characterized by moral didacticism and
long narrative passages, but there are also vivid (even comic) dialogues; for
example neither Mary Magdalene’s story nor the story of the Resurrection
by the soldiers is believed. But there is also a structural imbalance in the
dramaturgy:  scenes corresponding to traditional scenes from a Western
Resurrection play are too long and represent half of the whole perfor-
mance. And the first four scenes have a more complex, non-linear struc-
ture, with the soldiers framing the Resurrection scenes. But in the case of
this play the stage characters are more human; disagreements are portrayed
with humour (36, 83 ff., 247 ff., 269, 273 ff., 307 ff.) and, typically, the
trustworthiness of a woman’s words is doubted. Scenic space and time are
not sufficiently defined; Vestarchis uses stage directions for entrances and
exits but rarely for stage action, and only a few props are needed. Given
the length and importance of the scene on doubting Thomas (according
to the Orthodox heortologion his feast falls on the Sunday after Easter)
the play could have been staged in the week after Easter, known as της
διακαινησίμου. That this is Vestarchis’ second play is proven by the struc-
tural elements here; the author is on the way to gaining solid theatrical
The Seven Maccabee Boys (Στίχοι πολιτικοί εις διαλόγου μέρος
εβγαλμένοι και ποιημένοι εις τον Ελεάζαρον και τους επτά παίδας τους
Μακκαβαίους και της μητρός αυτών [sic] και της Θυσίας του Αβραάμ και
ετέρων παρά ιερέως Μιχαήλ Βεστάρχου)61: This is a spectacle play with

This even more baroque title also reveals some grammatical inconsistencies; for the first time
Vestarchis uses his name in the title. Literally the title goes as follows:  ‘Political Verses [Fifteen
Syllable Verses] in the Form of a Dialogue, Written and Made on Eleazar and the Seven Maccabee

Religious Baroque Drama on Chios and the Cyclades 215

intensive scenic action and two interludes, written in 1606 fifteen-syllable
verses with rhyming couplets, following the fourth book of Maccabees
from the Old Testament quite closely.62 By now it is clear that Vestarchis
is familiar with the reactions of spectators and experienced in practical
theatrical matters. The play consists of five extended scenes (scene 4 is an
interlude on the Sacrifice of Abraham, loosely integrated with the drama),
with a prologue and an independent, comic interlude at the end. In this
drama we also encounter for the first time, as a sub-plot, the intrigue of
comic devils.63
In the case of The Seven Maccabee Boys the didactic prologue is again
declaimed by the poet: he gives the argumentum, an outline of the plot,
which is the death of Eleazar and the seven Maccabee boys at the hands
of the Greek tyrant Antiochos Epiphanes, who tries to convert them by
force to the Hellenistic religion. The poet concludes by saying that the
play will be spectacular and fascinating, so that the spectators can watch
it without being bored (1–76). The first scene shows the high priests
of the Jews together with old Eleazar, who decide to resist Antiochos’
efforts to convert the Jews to paganism; they convince the youth present
that it would be better to suffer martyrdom than to sacrifice to the idols
and to eat impure food (να μιαροφαγήσουν). The boys expose in long
speeches their knowledge about the miraculous history of the chosen
people (77–370).
The second scene is interrupted at the beginning by a lacuna in the
manuscript; but then it becomes clear that demons have risen from Hades.
Their leader, devil A, repays their efforts by convincing King Antiochos to
dispense with Mosaic law and to force the Jews to sacrifice to Greek idols,
by torture if necessary (371–432). In the next scene, interrupted again by
a missing folio, the king enters together with an altar with spits of pork
upon it and orders the Jews to eat and sacrifice to the Greek gods. He
rewards all who convert but punishes old Eleazar, who not only resists but
also narrates in a long speech (547–634) the history of the chosen people
and the creation of the Mosaic law. He rejects a proposal from the king’s
servants to pretend to sacrifice, because he wants to remain an example of

Boys s and about Their Mother and the Sacrifice of Abraham and Others by the Priest Michael
Vestarchis.’ The Sacrifice of Abraham is an interlude (scene 4), and by ‘others’ he means comic
scenes in an independent interlude at the end of the play, about a charlatan astrologer and his
The fourth book is not between the canonical books of Old Testament. In some editions of the
Septuagint it is added as a supplement at the end (Doerrie 1937). The same events are narrated, but
in a much more compressed manner, in the second Book of Maccabees (VI 18–31 and VII 1–42).
Text in Manousakas/Puchner 2000: 137–99, for analysis see Puchner 1992: 155 ff., 1999: 109–16.

216 Jesuit Theatre in Constantinople and the Archipelago

constancy for the youth; because of this rejection, he is tortured to death
Immediately following Eleazar’s martyrdom is an ‘Intermezzo of
Abraham’s Sacrifice’ (693–837), which is distinct from the Cretan drama
on the same theme because it does not include Sarah. The decision of Isaac
to die if it is God’s will is demonstrated in a didactic fashion, and this sets
the stage for the next scene from the play, which features the martyrdom
of the seven boys. With nearly six hundred verses, this martyrdom scene is
exceptionally long and enacts the torture and execution of the Maccabee
boys, who resist conversion. They are encouraged by their mother to take
Eleazar as example, even as the king’s schoolmaster narrates the miracu-
lous events of Greek mythology in great detail (944–1007). These miracles,
however, are mocked by the first and especially by the third boy (1078–
1165); and remarkably all of these children establish their own religious
convictions in separate speeches before they are tortured. The suspense
culminates in the case of the youngest boys, who might be more easily
influenced by the king; but their mother asks them to follow the example
of their older brothers, and in the end when she remains on-stage alone
she dies after a mourning monologue (1331–1402). There is then a didactic
epilogue in praise of constancy of faith (1403–88), followed by a comic
‘Intermezzo of a magician like a fairy tale’ (Ιντερμέντιο ενούς μάγου σαν
μύθος) featuring an incompetent astrologer in a studio like Faust’s, accom-
panied by his hungry assistant and a customer.
Vestarchis does not exhibit a sensibility for dramaturgical symmetry and
economy; the scenes are widely varied in length, and the sub-plot of the
comic devils is forgotten after the second scene. But he is well aware of
Affektdramaturgie and the effectiveness of spectacle, performing eight tor-
tures and executions on the stage, with the mother recognizing the dead
bodies of her seven children; her death in the end increases the number
of corpses to nine. The basic structure of the dialogue is that of rhetorical
combat, which operates chiefly through didactic repetition. The dramatis
personae are divided into two groups: Jews and idolaters. The vehemence of
violent acts and the staging of brute force are counter-balanced by the comic
scene with the demons, as well as the final satiric interlude with the astrol-
oger. It is also balanced by the tender and moving lamentation of the
mother, who asks the women in the audience directly to mourn with her
(1339 ff., 1364 f., 1367 f.). The shock of the tragic stage action is leavened by
long rhetorical tirades, and lamentation is counterpointed with laughter at
the end. In this spectacular work Vestarchis uses a lot of props, primarily

Religious Baroque Drama on Chios and the Cyclades 217

instruments of torture64 but also a throne, an altar, pork mounted on
sticks, a statue of Ares, as well as the studio of Faust for the last interlude.
But he also includes the dismembered bodies of the children. As in Jesuit
drama the list of dramatis personae is long (only one female role); there are
at least fifteen speaking parts for children (the seven Maccabee boys and
eight Jewish boys in scene a).
Obviously Vestarchis was not willing to follow classical dramaturgy, but he
did employ Baroque strategies of verbal and optical grandeur in the service of
religious doctrine. He calculates the spectator’s reactions and tries to heighten
them; he alternates tragic and comic elements as well as rhetorical passages
with intense stage action. What he achieves is not poetry, and although it
lacks the aesthetics of a drama it is highly theatrical. What was obvious as
a tendency in Zinon is found here in a more exaggerated form:  the crude
brutality of action, the high spirituality of martyrdom, sentimental scenes
of lamentation and sorrow, comic counter-intrigues with ridiculous demons
and a satirical Intermezzo at the end to counter-balance the horrible story of
the play. This play is one of the highlights of Greek Baroque drama, situated
as it is in diametrical opposition to classical tragedy.
The Three Boys in the Furnace (Στίχοι πολιτικοί εις διαλόγου μέρος
εβγαλμένοι και ποιημένοι εις τους τρεις παίδας παρά Ναβουχοδονόσωρ
βασιλέως βαλθείσιν [sic] εις την κάμινον εν χώρα Βαβυλώνα [sic] παρά
Γληγορίου διδασκάλου του Κονταράτου)65: In spite of the long-winded,
Baroque title this drama is balanced in a nearly classical way, with calcu-
lated symmetry and economy of length. It consists of 1,118 political verses
in rhyming couplets, but includes many other metric schemes in its chants
and hymns. Most likely created in the last decades of the seventeenth cen-
tury, the play has its main roles played again by children. There is no div-
ision into acts, but instead eight scenes.
The performance begins with a small child mocking the audience
in a satirical way (1–18) before we see the prologue, performed by a
There is question about the scenic realization of the tortures on Chios in the seventeenth century,
given that there was limited stage equipment and no real tradition in illusionistic realism. The
description of what exactly occurs during the tortures is indicated verbally (through the commands
of the king), but it is sometimes confused and antithetical, so that it is likely that the martyrdom
was performed off-stage and the ‘dead bodies’ of the boys later thrown on the stage (in detail
Puchner 1999: 112–3).
The Baroque title with its grammatical inaccuracies is obviously an imitation of the title of
Vestarchis’ third play. Literally it means: ‘Political Verses [Fifteen Syllable Verses] in the Form of
a Dialogue, Written and Made on the Three Boys in the Furnace by King Nebuchadnezzar in
the Land of Babylon by Grigorios Kontaratos the Teacher’. Text edition in Manousakas/Puchner
2000: 201–51, analysis in Puchner 1992: 157 ff., 1999: 116–9.

218 Jesuit Theatre in Constantinople and the Archipelago

personified Lent and an angel (19–70). In the first scene, five devils are
planning how to convert the king to idolatry, a mission that is taken on
by the smallest devil, Leviathan (71–150). The next scene begins with
hymns of praise for the king, who decides to erect a golden statue of
himself which everyone must worship (151–274). But we then see the
leader of the king’s eunuchs and the three boys (Ananiah, Azariah, and
Mishael), who ask him not to eat from the impure meal of the king –
whereupon little Leviathan enters, fearful that his plans may be foiled
(275–369). In the next scene the statue is unveiled, and the king com-
mands that the people and noblemen worship the idol; as in the original
story in the Book of Daniel, this is done through hymn singing accom-
panied by musical instruments. But while the noblemen obey and wor-
ship, the three boys criticize this manifestation of idolatry (370–551).
The next scene is a sort of intermezzo; in allegorical fashion, Lent and
four angels prepare to support the three boys, who will be thrown into
the fire (552–612). After this intermezzo the three boys are accused; they
face the outraged king courageously, assuring him that the fire will not
harm them. They are then taken to the place of martyrdom, and we see
little Leviathan pleased that his plans are going so well (613–795). In the
next scene, however, the messenger narrates the miracle and then the
burning furnace itself appears on-stage and we see the three boys inside,
with the fire burning but also with an angel pouring water over them.
The king is so impressed that he frees them immediately and renounces
idolatry (796–935). The next scene sees the return of the demons, this
time in comic despair lamenting the failure of their plans (936–1031).
A herald reads out the epilogue, threatening idolaters, heretics and icon-
oclasts alike: from now on the subjects of Nebuchadnezzar (the audi-
ence) must worship the God of the three boys (1032–1107). With the
end of the play, the small child returns to say farewell to the specta-
tors: he is, as he says, tired from fasting, and he invites the audience to
return (1108–16).
In terms of dramaturgy and structural balance this is the best play of
the dramatic group of Chios: the pace of the dialogue is quick, the action
unfolds without long rhetorical passages and it is enriched with psalmody
and chants in different metres. Moreover the play includes spectacular ele-
ments such as the golden statue and the burning furnace, with the miracle
occurring on-stage. The plot is framed in three different ways: 1) through
the mocking small child at the beginning and the end, who speaks directly
to the audience; 2) through the prologue of Lent and the epilogue of the
herald who all analyze the didactic message of the play; and 3) through the

Religious Baroque Drama on Chios and the Cyclades 219