1. What Authorship Question: Homer, Who, Shakespeare?

In my previous post I posed the question, could a computer differentiate between episodes of Dr Who that were under the artisitic guidance of Russell T. Davies and those of his successor, Steven Moffat. Supposedly a computer can recognize the hand of Shakepeare in Early Modern Literature. Actually, faith in such programs is so fervent that they are being used to pinpoint exactly which bits of Shakespeare, Shakespeare actually wrote and which bits belong in the chops of a horse.

Now, if you were writing this post and I was reading it, my immediate reaction would be that TV and Early Modern Playscripts use different storytelling techniques. That TV guides the majority of the viewer’s responses to a text through its clever use of mise-en-scene, editing, casting, and special effects. A playscript is a raw thing, yet to be basted and baked on a stage. The theatre’s audience, more difficult to lead. Computers can count words, their forms and usage in early modern texts: what are they to measure in an episode of Dr Who? An impossible comparison.

What if the arena were to be circumscribed? Could an essential parameter box in the ring? Could we take this parameter to be the writer’s underlying world view? To my mind there is an issue with counting words and their usage: the writer as an artist. The writer may have a preferred style, but doesn’t it change at all over the course of their writing careers? Doesn’t style develop over time? over experimentation? over admiration of others’ works? over response to their own? What of vaulting a mindblock or orchestrating a conceit?

Shakespeare isn’t the earliest writer to have his penmanship questioned. Homer shares the stigma with him. Homer has left two great epics, The Illiad and The Odyssey. Like Shakespeare, there is little of his life on historical record. We dont know the year or circumstances of the creation of either of his works. They are so different in style and content that it is believed that they must have been written at the beginning and the end of his career if he were to have written both of them. This begs the question, where are his transitional works?

Statue of Homer in Munich

Statue of Homer in Munich

While The Illiad is a concentrated recount of the skirmishes of the last battle of the Trojan War, the Odyssey is a narrative of Oysseas (Ulysses) ten year-long journey home. Immediately we see a different approach to the treatment of the passage of time between the texts – one is broad ranging the other, very particular. In The Illiad, Homer identifies the players in the war through their families, allegiances, achievements and relationships to a particular god. The gods themselves are part of his narrative. No warrior is a statistic. No warrior fights alone. There is a sense that this history is told to honour the generals, the soldiers, their families, their communities and their gods. A pious reverence pervades the text. Those who will read him, will honour his gods and the gods will hear them.

The Odyssey is a different kind of yarn, spun and pulled out over the course of ten years. It could easily be retitled, Odysseas’ Seafaring Advenures. Unlike The Illiad, it focusses on one protagonist. This is Odysseas tale. It’s an ancient melodrama, romance, and thriller. But not a history. Odysseas is clearly the hero. The goddess Athena takes a personal interest in his domestic situation and his return home. She serves him. The goddess serves the mortal! Not to say she was a serving woman but this is not a war of nations.

There is a more light-hearted approach to The Odyssey. The family histories and relationships of the characters sailing with Odysseas are not given. The story is meant to move forward sprightly, and it does. It can be suspenceful and is engaging.The story of Odysseas’ journey is almost a story within a story. Yes, Calypso tells the tale but within the story of Telemachus and Penelope (his son and his wife respectively), the wanderings of our hero are a play within a play. There is a huge leap in innovation where storytelling is concerned.

Most importantly, the mindset, the attitude of the writer of The Illiad is very different to the attitude of the writer of The Odyssey, when it comes to the sanctity of life. There is a concern for the soldiers and a weight over their loss in one and a feeling that the sailors are mere pawns in the world of a good story in the other. In one, there is a sense of a battle veteran writing, in the other a good imagination. Were they from the same pen?

Statue of Homer, Munich

Photo credit: Source / CC BY-SA

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1. Voila! Silenus Spoila?

When you have only read about ancient civilizations, you can only understand so much. Photos and footage will help you, tricking you into believing you have a good idea. Being there, walking through a town that was once inhabited is an experience of its own. Walking in and out of shops with their residences no longer on the floor above, or down a road defined today by its storm-water gutters, just like ours are, brings their daily lives into our sphere of understanding. What separates us from them? Is it merely technology? The realities of their lives are the realities of ours. But they’re dead. They’re anonymous. Their concerns have been silenced.

As you wander through the vestiges of their lives, their silence is palpable, oppressive, contained. It’s a directive, an order. Stop. Perceive. Smearing wheels over dirt roads are muffled and consumed. The mythic monster, Yesteryear, is a jealous, posturing tyrant. Engage only with it. Engage with the bustling noise of a city trying to penetrate through ether masquerading as air. Did you hear its hum? It’s in the breeze. Turn around fast enough and you may see them. Did you catch them? Did the sky steal them away? The sky belonged then as it does now. Time and the sky. Cronus and his father, Ouranos, fraternize, conspiring to keep us and their ancient supplicants in separate cells. Cells woven with silence, contained in the compression of tymbals. Any warp is perpetually mended with the laboured ticking of the cicadas. It’s a love song heard then and now.

The Kouros statue from the Sanctuary of Pythian Apollo, now in the Archaeological Museum of Thasos

On Thasos, the ancients daily interaction with their gods resounds through the archaeological site.  Nigel Mc Gilchrist, author of a series of books for travellers to the Greek Islands, describes Thasos thus:

“most valuable of all, is the vivid picture it gives of how the Ancients sensed that a network of divine presences with different areas of influence participated in, and watched over the daily life of their community. Dionysus caroused with the artists, performers and drinkers in the thick of the town; Apollo watched from the lofty height of his temple, way above the city; and Pan sometimes kept company with the lonely guardsmen on the highest look-out posts of the acropolis, when the autumn mists descended. This is the unusual gift of Thasos – that it presents not just a multitude of ruins, but the living texture of an ancient city and its whole imaginative world.” (1)

 

The ancient drain, to the right of which was the two story building.

The ancient drain, to the right of which was the two-storey building.

The ancient town of Thasos now at Limenas was walled. It stretched from the present day archaeological museum and up the hillside to the cliffs. It had two ports, a series of lighthouses leading to them, boat drying sheds, two theatres, jewellery workshops, a farmstead, potters workshop, an agora, shops, double storey residences, shrines and temples. Within the length of the walls are several gates, dedicated to various ancient deities. One of these is dedicated to Silenus.

Head of Silenus, in the Archaeological Museum of Thasos

Silenus, in the Archaeological Museum at Thasos

 

Reference

(1) Mc Gilchrist, Nigel, Mc Gilchrist’s Greek Islands, Volume 11. Thasos, Genius Loci Publications, London, pp 10-11.

 Photo Credit

The Kouros statue from the Sanctuary of Pythian Apollo, now in the Archaeological Museum of Thasos – Panegyrics of Granovetter / Foter / CC BY-SA

Deconstructing Phaedra

Minotaurus

The Minotaur in his Labyrinth

The dashing prince slashes clear a path through a thicket of brambles. He pauses over the threshold of the prison before him –  long enough only to draw out a ball of twine from his leathern pouch. He bounds ahead into the maze of subterranean passageways that encloses captive the helpless, royal beauty. Her empty sobs tear away over cold distances, twisting their resolve through the labyrinthine passages of despair and hope, wending a confusion for the prince’s ear. He stops. He strains. Is she to his left or his right? A pause too long. The beast cocks his head. He inhales. This is his lair. Who challenges him? He charges. Deftly leaping through corridors, confusing to others, his clamouring gait is a crescendo of war-cries to his foe. With the stranger in sight he doesn’t slow. He leaps. The prince, edgy with anticipation, swoops low his sword and thrusts high. With the skill and strength of a gymnast, the prince tackles his opponent.

The prince slays the bovine beast, frees the damsel . . . and marries her sister! Almost Disney but not quite there. Such is the story of Theseus, Ariadne and the Minotaur. The sister was of course, Phaedra, and the Minotaur, half-man half-bull, was her half-brother, her mother having forsaken her royal bed for the beastly, bestial pleasures of a bull.

Chivalry and romance don’t feature prominently in Ancient Greek tragedy. Desire, eros, duty, honour, obsession, yes, but not romantic love. When Achilles offers to save Iphigenia from the sacrificial alter, battling any or all of the Greek Trojan-heroes-in-the-making, it isn’t out of romantic love or sexual desire – he may as well be risking his life for a comrade-in-arms. Romantic love, tied up as it is with concepts of chivalry came later in history, in the Middle Ages. How should we, who have been inundated with mythologies of romantic love, understand the tale of Phaedra then? And how do we bring across its meaning on the stage?

Fedra i Hipòlit, mosaic del museu d'Ismailia

Phaedra, Eros, Trophoe, Hyppolytus ad two others whose names have not survived in this mosaic

After Theseus slew the Minotaur he eloped with Ariadne. She however was already married to the god, Dionysius. Theseus, disappointed in Ariadne, abandoned her to face the wrath of the gods alone. And then took her sister. When Phaedra married Theseus he was a mature man. He had been married to the Queen of the Amazons and had a son by her. Hippolytus was a handsome youth with the athletic physique of a hunter. Phaedra on seeing him was smitten. Endeavouring to be a dutiful wife, she bore Theseus children. But her attraction to her step-son was never sated. It grew by abstinence. She was obsessed with him. She had him exiled from Athens in her attempts to quell her own desires. When Theseus was reported dead, Phaedra professed her love for Hippolytus –  to his disgust. When Theseus returned from his hunting trip alive, Phaedra in fear for what his son may tell him, accused Hippolytus of seducing her. In a rage, Theseus cursed Hippolytus. Poseidon hearing his plea, drove the horses of Hippolytus’ chariot mad. They took him over a cliff to his death. Out of grief? guilt? self loathing? Phaedra poisoned herself. Such is Greek tragedy.

Viena-Wien. Leopold Museum. Exposició temporal Nackte Männer. Joseph-Désiré Court, La mort d'Hipòlit, 1828

The Death of Hippolytus by Joseph-Desire Court in tghe Leopold Museum, Vienna

The events that transpired leading Hippolytas to his death differ according to whose retelling of the myth. The tale is told by Euripides, in his play entitled Hippolytus. In this version of the myth Hippolytus brings the wrath of the gods down on his own head by refusing to worship Aphrodite. Instead he makes supplications to Artemis, the goddess of Hunting. He pledges himself to a life of chastity and the chase. In Racine’s version of the tale, told in the 17th Century, Hippolytus himself is denying an obsession with another woman. Both versions have very different messages. Where it can be argued that Euripides is preaching in favour of living a well-balanced life, Racine’s is a watertight exploration into desire, unrequited love, suppressed emotions and obsession. Racine’s play is a product of the Age of Enlghtenment. He leaves no questions as to why his characters act, everything is explained. Euripides on the other hand leaves us with many questions.

In my previous post, Staging the Classics, I advocated deconstruction as a way of extracting the meaning of historic texts and bringing them closer to us. Gods, curses, the importance of reputation, taboos of an ancient culture, all  have to be felt today by a theatre audience to give this play a similar resonance. What if Hippolytus is portrayed as an Olympic swimmer? He is a demi-god to the mere citizens of the nation state. He has sacrificed so much of his life for his sport that his life is not balanced. Could it lead to his mind becoming unbalanced? What if the closeted life that women lead in Ancient Greek society were called to mind by a Phaedra wearing a muslim, hijab scarf. The chorus of judgmental, observers, keeping the order of society would be a bevy of bloggers commenting and enlarging on the action. The private world of Phaedra’s mind would be guarded by a military commando unit. Inside her room images of our demi-god would cover the wall in a style of decor more suitable to a star struck teenager. Theseus, of course, would be the millionaire playboy, so privileged he hasn’t a doubt in his head over the order of society. The walls around the acting space would be hung with byzantine-styled icons telling the backstories –  of Phaedra’s mother and the bull, of Theseus and Hippolyta, his first wife, of the Labyrinth. Phaedra’s story is part of a religious storytelling tradition that cannot be ignored, afterall. Living statues of Artemis, Aphrodite and Poseidon would rearrange each scene and express their reactions to the action in studied poses from pedestals throughout the acting space.

With all of this abstraction, the playwright’s meaning is meant to be brought closer. We have not walked away from the text. The trap in using this method of story telling is bringing new meaning, modern resonances, that may muddy the waters. When Euripides tells us that Phaedra has gone and tried Hippolytus outdoor pursuits, I would be tempted to give her floaties. Phaedra can’t succeed in embracing Hippolytus’ pastimes. I could be perceived as making an anachronistic comment on the need for muslim children to learn to swim. It is an issue that is discussed in society but has nothing to do with Euripides text. Once allegorical connections are made, the meaning taken from the performance becomes more diverse. The risk is in the hands of the director and his/her motives. If s/he retains the integrity of the playwright without wandering off completely, the audience can only benefit. If the director abstracts to the point that the play isn’t recognizable, disappointment may be the result. Better rename the performance than risk disappointing expectations.

Minotaurus

Photo credit: Foter / Public Domain Mark 1.0

Mosaic of Phaedra and Hippolytus

Photo credit: Sebastià Giralt / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The Death of Hippolytus

Photo credit: Pilar Torres / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Staging the Classics

“Death, robbing my eyes of light,

Give back to the world it’s untarnished purity!”

Dancer Gertrud Frith in Medea

Racine’s words through Phaedra’s lips could be the coda for Ancient Greek tragedy. Through the death of the tragic hero, the world of the play is cleansed and the audience having, “ridden the waves of a ship at sea in a hurricane” is returned safely to shore. When done right, the audience shares the emotional journey of the main characters. They, too, are purged and catharsis is served across the divide.

For the Ancient Greek theatre-goer attending the Festival was a religious experience. They went there to be entertained, to be instructed and to be cleansed. The plots, lifted from their religious histories were parables to be learnt from. The Gods, ever close, were powerful onlookers in the drama. They held fate in their palms. They could be outraged or appeased through curses cast, supplications entreated and taboos broken

Magic and superstition are used in the plots like weapons of war.The heroes may refuse to worship a particular god. They may break a taboo. They may entreat the intervention of the Gods in an act of revenge. Their aim is to influence their own or another character’s destiny. In so doing they empower themselves to walk amongst the immortals. The gods hear their echoing hubris and they act swiftly to silence the cacophony.

Ancient Greece was a deterministic, patriarchal society that was suspicious, at best, of foreigners. Its stage reflects this.

Again and again the great tragedians preach against pride but not in a modern sense. The hero must never place him/herself above his/her humanly station. They must wear their  dignity without coddling themselves in ego. Not an easy labour when you consider that the hero was a public figure. His/her decisions were speculated upon in a voyeuristic society. . Personal honour and reputation modulated the hero’s behaviour. The chorus’ judgments were tweeted away as the hero came to terms with his/her crisis. Tweeted is perhaps an understatement, (but I hope my analogy works.) Ancient Greece was a more discerning society than our own. It wouldn’t settle for the modern adage, ” All publicity is good publicity.”

There is a lot of assumed knowledge in a classic text, whether it is Racine or Euripides. Having endured the test of time these plays come to us in print together with pages of end notes, modern translations and dense introductions that reveal their contexts. A theatre-goer should never leave the theatre feeling puzzled as to the intent of the production. So how do we make a play written beyond the barricade of history speak to us today?

A director looking to stage a classic will be drawn to a text that strikes a cord. From the Ancient Greek repertoire, Euripides’ call is clearest heard.

Then to informing today’s audience about the erks of Ancient Greek society, religion and mythology without handing them a history book before the lights go dim. This is wrapped up with the interpretation of the script. Does the director present a historically accurate adaptation complete with masks and chorus or modernize it with a more naturalistic approach? What about deconstructing the text? To deconstruct the text assumes a deep and thorough understanding of the text, its problems and the intention of the playwright. When done well, the original ideas become clearer.

I like deconstruction, it’s used across the board of theatrical arts. When an actor prepares s/he deconstructs the meaning of her/his lines. Her/his emotional memory is called forth to experience the necessary empathy. When the production designer visualizes the performance space s/he has taken the themes of the drama and created a physical metaphor.The risk of choosing deconstruction is the ease in which personal responses to the plot can suffocate the original intention of the playwright. How far should a text be deconstructed – all the way to abstraction?

The next hurdle is deciding how to deal with the chorus. Get rid of it altogether? Allot personalities to lines and cast them as definite characters? Employ a choreographer or orchestrate movement techniques to keep it relevant within the flow of the narrative? Dealing with a chorus can be complex and time consuming. Each actor must have a relevant role to fulfill to add value to the effectiveness of the group and there can be long periods of silent stage time for an individual chorus member. If one chorus member becomes disengaged, it can upstage the reality of the whole.

Finally, the pivotal decision the director is called to make is how real to make his production. By real I mean relevant. Sometimes abstracting provides the most real experience. But not always. Sometimes the most traditional rendering is the most powerful. So long as the playwright’s concern is still relevant today.

I had the pleasure of attending Aim Dramatic Arts school’s performance of Hell Hath No Fury, on the weekend. It was a retelling of the myths of Medea, Elektra and Phaedra. Each myth was handled differently with varying success. The performances were experiences in: a more or less traditional interpretation; a very clever deconstruction; and abstraction. The performances are the inspiration behind his post and the next as well. I wish the students of the school opportunity, serendipity and many more performances.

 

Photo credit: ADiamondFellFromTheSky / FoterCreative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

 

 

Holy Passion, Divine Tragedy

The first time that I attended the service of the Twelve Gospels I had just finished studying Ancient Greek drama at uni. When my head stopped taking notes on the similarities between this form of storytelling and that of Ancient Greek tragedies, my heart was being moved. I shed involuntary tears.

trio

Passion Play

In the Orthodox Church, the Passion of Christ is chanted in anticipation. The sun sets on what we would consider the eve of Good Friday before the service begins. The service, typical of the services of Holy Week is a mix of Old Testament prophecies heralding in the life of Christ and Gospel readings beginning with Jesus presaging his own death and ending with the guard at his tomb. Inbetween there are supplicating litanies, chanted hymns, blessings given and returned and the familiar prayers of the Sunday liturgy. In all that it is, it is a very full service.

But there is something else as well. I see Aeschylus, Euripides and Sophocles.

These three great tragedians provided drama through both monologues and dialogues. Their action was commented on by their choruses and there is implicit in their texts a variety in delivery for their actors. Their tragedies were also a part of a religious festival that began with a street procession and culminated in dramatic performance at the amphitheatre. Like the paschal services, their action occurred offstage and was retold after the events.

In the Holy Thursday evening service I shut my eyes and see with my mind’s eye an ancient messenger delivering his monologue. I imagine him addressing the audience at the amphitheatre as easily as the naos of the church.The chorus of chanters responds to him in a similar way that an ancient chorus tries to make sense of the often senseless actions of its pagan protagonists.

Exhibition "Ancient Drama"

Ancient Chorus

In the celebration/performance the interaction between chorus and priest/ actor and congregation/ audience picks up the emotional story between the lines of the historic prose of the Gospels and the narrative of the ancient myth. The irony in the drama is extolled with adjectives, imagery and personification through the choral odes.

“When the lawless people nailed the Lord of glory to the Cross, then the veil of the temple was rent, and the sun went dark, unable to endure the spectacle of God blasphemed . . .”( from the 10th Antiphon, chanted in the 6th Tone)

The sun was unable to see Jesus suffering or come to terms with it! The Gods and nature personified are mortified by mortal actions and respond in “signs”. In this way the paschal service has an ancient resonance and power.

These paschal odes chanted in between the Gospel readings are delivered in a Byzantine tradition that dates back to the 9th Century. Described as colourless, the aim of the somber delivery is to heighten the emotional impact and bring clarity to the meaning of the words. Musically, it comes from a lower register. In practice, if not in intent, it often sounds like a drone.Sobering, it inspires reflection.

Byzantine chanting in its original form is far removed from the ethereal choirs of angels of the West.The musical notation describing it, is not Western either. It doesn’t use scales and its tones are more correctly, “echoes”. It is said by Stanley Takis in his, Understanding the Byzantine Musical System Using Western Notation and Theory or Name That Tone! to have grown out of the music of the Synagogues and that of secular Greek and Syrian music. It would follow then that a better understanding of Byzantine chanting can garner an insight into the elusive qualities required to deliver an ancient chorus in performance. Conversely, could the story of the Passion of Christ be delivered in the form of an Ancient Greek tragedy complete with a chanting chorus?

Passion Play

Photo credit: istolethetv / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Greek Chorus

Photo credit: Tilemahos Efthimiadis / Foter /Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

History is an Onion

Imagine you are an archaeologist. You are a classical scholar and a devout Coptic Christian. You are on a dig in Egypt. The team that you are a part of is working to uncover the tomb of a wealthy Egyptian trader from the 5th Century C.E.. It’s hot. It’s sandy. An abrasive wind renders yesterday’s piecemeal advances almost negligible. The wind is insatiable. It’s your daily foe. You suffer the loss of many, many such yesterdays. Finally, a cavernous tomb is found beneath a wine cellar in the medieval town. It is a family crypt holding several bodies. They are all mummified.

Brno CZ Crypt at the Capuchin Monastery 02

A Crypt full of Mummies

On close inspection of the mummies you notice that they have been wrapped in papyrus. Writing can be discerned in some areas. You strain to look at it. Could it be? Yes! Is it? It can’t be? Can it? It can’t be happening to you! But it is! You recognize the Coptic script of the early Church in Egypt. Could this be the holy teachings of an early desert ascetic, a trickle from the spiritual spring that has nourished the Coptic and Early Christian churches for centuries. The mummies must be unwrapped!

But wait. Not here.What of the bodies? Should the bodies, so well preserved over the centuries, be sacrificed in a hunt for earlier human history? Regardless that their hereditary descendants at best are anonymous today, shouldn’t they be allowed their dignity? Aren’t they a valuable part of history as they are? Will their souls be offended? Should the Titanic be raised? Perhaps uncovering the teachings of the anonymous desert ascetic will help alleviate the shame of tampering with the dead, you tell yourself. The soul is eternal and so is repercussions of the truth written on the papyrus. In any case you have already destroyed a medieval cellar to expose the crypt beneath.

Palinpsest

Palimpsest

Back at the University the mummies are put to a barrage of tests. A fragment of the papyrus reveals that it is a palimpsest. The writing beneath the Coptic text is Ancient Greek but it’s very difficult to read. A larger sample needs to be taken. Another complication: the Coptic language used characters from the Ancient Greek alphabet, so the only way to read the text beneath is to clean off the Coptic text above it. The Holy Writ will be lost. No reason for panic yet. The ancient scribes of the Serapaeum and the Temple of the Muses Libraries of Alexandria copied many, many ancient texts. What are the odds that this is an original?

But it is. The papyrus covering the mummy contains the only complete surviving play of that megalith-playwright of the ancient world, Menander.The entire canon of Menander’s work has been missing for 900 years. Now whose history should be preserved?

This is how I imagine that Menander’s play, O Dyskolos was uncovered. I don’t know whose mummy kept his work so close. Nor do I know which Byzantine script had to be sacrificed in order to reveal this play. This is just my dramatization of how it may have happened. This blog is about making drama and the telling of theatrical history and the contemplation of such enigmas, so please excuse my little indulgence.

Departure Mosaic from the House of Menander in Antioch 250 CE 3

Mosaic from the House of Menander in Antioch c. 250 C.E.

What astounds me about the loss of the works of Menander is how popular he was. How far his popularity spanned in the Late Roman Empire. How mosaics depicting Menander and his work have been found in Naples (Italy), Mytilene (Greece) and Antioch (Eastern Turkey). Fragments of his plays have been found in Egypt. He was lauded by Plautus and Terence. How could his work just disappear?

Imagine that 2000 years from now, all trace of Shakespeare’s works have disappeared. Only commentaries survive tellng how well he wrote. It’s unfathomable. Almost. Thinking hypothetically, if all books become digitized as we do away with paper and a massive solar flare were to penetrate all of our electronic storage, then perhaps Shakespeare’s works could disappear. In the late 4th Century in Egypt, that solar flare had a name, Patriarch Theophilus of Alexandria.

Theophilus, Patriarch of Alexandria

Patriarch Theophilus of Alexandria is said to have been a scholar in Alexandria before being made Patriarch of the Orthodox Church there in 385 CE.. As Patriarch he was the shepherd of the North African flock and one of 5 Patriarchs of the Orthodox Church, (the others being situated in Rome aka the Pope, Constantinople, Antioch and Jerusalem). With fury and passion he dealt with the vitalizing core of pagan and schismatic Christian beliefs, their temples and monasteries. He was following the will of Emperor Theodosius I who in 380 CE decreed that all people should worship the Christian God and that He would be worshiped as the Trinitarian God, three manifestations sharing one essence. No deviations would be tolerated. Wikipedia tells us that in Greece the Olympic Games were lost as was the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, the home of the Ancient Oracle and in Rome the Order of the Vestal Virgin was dissolved. In Egypt, the Temple of Muses is thought to have already been destroyed by fire, however, its daughter library, the Serapeum was now, in 391 CE, destroyed by deliberate fire. This is not to say that all of its 40 or 400 thousand scrolls were burnt. Historian, James Hannam of the website, Bede’s Library, shows that the fate of the scrolls is uncertain. The Encyclopedia Britannica tells us that Scholars fled Egypt for Constantinople. How they could have fared better there is hard to imagine. The fact that today, ancient writings are being revealed through palimpsests is a testimony to the belief that ancient scrolls survived. That the scrolls are turning up as mummy coverings tells us that in the early medieval period there was a lot of papyrus around. The fact that in the early Byzantine era even the Egyptian middle classes were being mummified may be an indication as to how plentiful recycled papyrus may have become.

It is my hope that beneath some yet to be discovered palimpsest, forgotten in an early Christian monastery in a biblical desert or in the bandages of a late Egyptian mummy, more of Menander’s work will be uncovered, unwrapped and recovered. Who knows, his work may reveal an early Karagiozis or Hadjiavatis character and indicate a Byzantine drama, subverted through Christian and Ottoman religous mandates but none-the-less alive in shadow puppetry?

To Read more on the fate of the ancient libraries of Alexandria, why not visit Bede’s Library? James Hannam questions the existence of the Serapeum altogether and goes through an array of Ancient and Byzantine sources.

A Crypt Full of Mummies, more correctly, Brno CZ Crypt at the Capuchin Monastery 02

Photo credit: Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Palimpsest, more correctly,Georgian paliphsest V-VI cc

Photo credit: Foter / Public Domain Mark 1.0

Departure Mosaic from the House of Menander, Antioch

Photo credit: mharrsch / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Theophilus of Alexandria

Photo credit: Foter / Public Domain Mark 1.0

 

When Hadjiavatis pulls his Beard will Menander reappear? – Part 3

Hadjivatis and Hacivat; Karagiozis and Karagöz; two pairs of similarly sounding names for two pairs of visually different shadow puppets. Could Hadjavatis and Karagiozis have preceded the Ottoman era? Could they have been part of a satiric, comic tradition enjoyed by the Byzantines? Are their origins older still, Ancient Roman or Greek?

Byzantine Dancer

Relief Carving of a Byzantine Dancer

By the time Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire to Byzantium in 326 C.E., the fashion for Classical drama had passed. The new Christian empire did not care to preserve pagan writings that didn’t support the teachings of the Church. The popular, satiric, dance mimes enjoyed in the early circuses, like the Hippodrome, were discouraged or forbidden. Popular entertainment like mimes by their nature didn’t and don’t require scripting. Subsequently very little has survived in writing about Byzantine, satiric theatre. What has survived is in the decorative features of household items and personal adornments.  The Middle Eastern Dance Guild blog provides some lovely examples of artifacts illustrating Byzantine dance history, including a crown, a jewel box, a hair comb and textiles. 

Byzantine dancers were considered mimes and comic actors. This may seem a little too modern in terms of subtlety however it isn’t unique in theatre history. In the late 16th Century C.E. Japan, the female, Shinto shrine dancer, Izuomo no Okuni, dressed as a man and danced provocatively in dry riverbeds and within shrine compounds. While using the gestures of young children, she danced depicting males flirting with prostitutes. Morals were perceived as being corrupted and the authorities banned all performances by females in 1629. A little too late. A new theatre style had been born.

Okuni was the founder of the now, all male, Kabuki Theatre. I imagine Byzantine dancers to have had a similar approach to satire, as they too were censured by the Trullan Synod in 692 C.E.

20130518 99 Izumo no Okuni

Statue of Okuni the shrine dancer from Ikuomo, carrying both a fan and a samurai sword. She danced dressed in male attire and sent up men soliciting prostitutes.

Could Karagiozis and Hadjiavatis have existed within the Byzantine circuses as “dancer-clowns”, bereft of their names? As we have seen in earlier posts, their names are Turkish. Could their characters have existed as Byzantine, satiric mimes/dancers? Could they have been part of a performance tradition that harked back to Ancient Rome or even earlier to Menander?

Karagiozis, as we have seen, is tied to his Turkish counterpart Karagöz by the sound of their names and the earthy quality of their humour. Both characters have undergone a watering down of their bawdiness over at least, the last century. We know from early scenarios of the Karagöz and Hacivat shows that they display the kind of situation comedy that the Ancient Roman playwright, Plautus employed. He followed Menander in style. The use of stock characters, satirising ‘types’ in the community was a comic writing technique first employed in the theatre by Menander in the 2nd Century B.C.E.. He had studied the work of the philosopher Theophrastus. Theophrastus’ Characters was a discussion of personality types that included the Gossip, the Buffoon, the Parsimonious one and the Friend of Rascals among a list of others. Menander’s inspiration was subsequently taken up by Plautus. Although the Karagöz and Hacivat scenarios have their own unique character and structure, there is enough of a similarity to Plautus’ comedies to warrant thought.

By the time of the earliest references to Karagöz and Hacivat, in the early 16th Century or even perhaps during the time of the Seljuk Turks in the 1300s, the Byzantine world had replaced its official language, Latin, with Greek. Did the desire to read older Greek sources increase with this language shift? Could any of Menander’s scripts have survived to influence the emergence of Karagöz? Or did the circus performers, clowns, carry a tradition of Menander’s characters that influenced emerging theatrical forms and has survived into the present day as the shadow puppets, Karagiozis and Hadjiavatis?

Just considering the look of Hadjiavatis and Karagiozis certain observances can be made. Hadjiavatis, who is always garbed in Turkish attire, always tugs his beard. Why? He is a comic character. Is he appealing to himself for mercy? Is he so full of himself that he is showing himself a form of deference used in Ancient Greece? In Ancient Greece, a man’s beard was an outward sign of his maturity and his wisdom. By holding Zeus’ beard, Thetis implored him to aid her son Achilles in the Trojan War; Medea implored Creon’s mercy when he ordered her to leave Corinth; and the Centaur implored Herakles (Hercules) for his life. Is Hadjiavatis sending up this form of respect/obeisance?

NAMA Héraclès & Nessos

The Centaur implores Herakles (Hercules) for mercy by tugging his beard

Create a picture of Karagiozis in your mind. Not only is he short, in many instances he is disproportionately small. He has a hunchback with a bulbous, segmented arm. He is barefoot and wears green. This description can almost fit the satyr, Seilenos, pictured below. Seilenos, the foster-father of the god of wine and theatre, Dionysos, has a tendency to be lazy, drink too much wine, have too much fun and generally overindulge. If we lift the modern era meaning behind Karagiozis’ catch phrase, “We shall eat, we shall drink and go to bed hungry,” it could also be applied to Seilenos with a very different meaning. In the present day the phrase refers to Karagiozis’ perpetual poverty; for Seilenus it would refer to his insatiability.

A foot from a Roman couch depicting the satyr-like Seilenos, henchman of Dionysos the god of wine and revelry 1st-2nd century CE Bronze

Wine, laziness, revelry, a hunch back, short stature, long arms – all attributes of Seilenos and Karagiozi.

In the most complete surviving play by Menander, O Dyskolos, the prologue is delivered by Pan. Pan, like Seilenus, is a satyr. Given the use of situation comedy, stock character types and the similarity of Karagiozis to Seilenos, and Hadjiavatis beard tugging, can we hope to see evidence of the existence of a Karagiozis/Silenus figure in the as yet to be discovered history of Byzantine theatre? What of Hadjiavatis?

Comic actor

Ancient Comic Actor – Is that his beard that he is tugging?

Where might this evidence materialise? Foter.com? See the ancient comic actor above. He, like Hadjiavatis, pulls his own beard. Was he an earlier predecessor of Hadjiavatis, a prototype even? If only we could see the front of his face! Is he Roman or Byzantine and beardless or Greek and bearded?  From which time period does he brown-eye us? Where was he found and IS he tugging his beard? Intriguing.

Where else might evidence be found? Egypt, perhaps? In the final part of this exploration the importance of Egypt, it’s wonderful library in Alexandria and the discovery of Menander’s works will be explored.

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Byzantine dancer

Photo credit: jimforest / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Ikuomo no Okuni

Photo credit: Awfulknitter / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Detail of the Nessos Painter’s Amphora depicting Herakles and the Centaur

Photo credit: Foter / CC BY-SA

Seilanos / Pan

Photo credit: mharrsch / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Comic Actor

Photo credit: Taifighta / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA