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Seneca’s Tragedies and the Theatres of their Time: Opportunities or Obstacles for Staging?

Les tragédies de Sénèque et les théâtres de leur époque : des opportunités ou des obstacles pour une mise en scène ?
Christoph Kugelmeier
p. 59-81

Résumés

Pour tenter de savoir si les tragédies de Sénèque étaient ou non destinées à la scène, il ne suffit pas de s’appuyer sur les seuls indices internes fournis par les textes. Et il ne suffit pas non plus, comme on le fait quelquefois, de se fonder sur les caractéristiques architecturales des théâtres romains en général pour faire la lumière sur cette question. En effet, la scène de l’époque de Plaute et de Térence, par exemple, semble se différencier nettement de ce que nous trouvons dans les célèbres théâtres datant de la fin de la République ou de l’Empire. Mais, même dans la période qui s’étend du théâtre de Pompée à celui d’Aspendos en Anatolie – qui remonte au Haut Empire –, quelques évolutions de structure ou de technique peuvent être relevées. Pour juger si des représentations des tragédies de Sénèque étaient possibles, nous devons prendre en compte les progrès des recherches archéologiques sur les changements dans la construction des théâtres du vivant du poète, et en conséquence examiner avec attention dans quelle mesure ces conditions matérielles étaient propices ou non à une mise en scène de ces textes. Tel est l’objet de cette communication.

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Texte intégral

1The splendid theatres which can be found all over the area of the Imperium Romanum are considered to belong to the most glorious and delighting legacy of the Roman culture; some of the most beautiful examples are to be admired in France. Nobody who is dealing with Roman drama would leave them out of consideration when interpreting dramatic texts, that is not as mere texts, but as pièces de théâtre and thereby envisioning the conditions under which we can imagine their mise-en-scène.

2When thinking about enacting Seneca’s plays, at first sight, the magnificent, lavishly designed stage houses of the Roman theatres seem to come to mind naturally. For the drama’s action is often located in front of a royal palace the impressive scenery of which with its elaborately decorated scaenae frons is presented to the audience’s eye in a most ideal way, whereas the audiences of the classical Greek and even the later Hellenistic theatres had to push the imagination of their inner eye to a much greater extent. And yet the debate about whether or not the tragedies of the philosopher and statesman were intended to be staged has not ended to this day.

3In order to come closer to an answer, mere discretion by intra-textual evidences is not enough. But it would be equally unacceptable to use the features of Roman theatre buildings in general to clear the facts. The stage of the time of Plautus and Terence, for instance, seems to differ significantly from what we find in the well-known, representative theatres of the Late Republic and of the Imperial era. But even in the period between the late Republican Theatre of Pompey in Rome and, for example, the High Imperial theatre of Aspendos in Anatolia, some structural and technical advancements can be noted. For a potential production of Senecan drama we have to take into account the results of archaeological research on the development of stage building during the poet’s lifetime, and consequently carefully explore the possibilities and limits to a realisation of the text into a theatre play under these conditions. This is the attempt of this paper.

  • 1 Sear, 2006, p. 1, ground plan at Bieber, 1961, p. 202.
  • 2 Sear, 2006, p. 6; the Latin terminology varies.
  • 3 Moretti, 2001, p. 186-187, 194-195 and 200 (concerning replacements in the Roman style in Hellenist (...)
  • 4 Sear, 2006, p. 55-56.
  • 5 In most staging suggestions, these three doors on the ground floor of the palace are expected to be (...)
  • 6 Several images and reconstruction drafts at Bieber, 1961, p. 190-220 and in the appendix at Sear, 2 (...)
  • 7 This is why Vitruvius includes his discussion of theatre construction in the 5th book of his work, (...)
  • 8 Fuchs, 1987, p. 163 : “Als der Aufstellungsort der ... Ehrenstatuen von Honoratioren und Vertretern (...)

4Theatres of the Roman constructional type (being the only one relevant for a poet of Latin tragedies) are known to differ clearly from the preserved buildings of Hellenistic times and even more from what one would expect from the period of Classical Attic tragedy. It is already striking that the Roman theatre is constructed as a closed complex in every respect1: The construction of the auditorium (cavea) merges into the stage, because the párodoi, the ways onstage and offstage of the chorus of the Classical period, still exist, but are roofed by arch-constructions, and mainly used as access to the places of honour at the edge of the orchestra2. The closed structure of the Roman theatre becomes particularly evident when looking at the stage: Behind the stage (pulpitum), which is higher than the orchestra, rises the stage house (scaena), which, in the course of architectural development, became three storages high and shows a most gloriously designed façade towards the audience, the so-called scaenae frons. In the preserved theatres, it is divided by protruding bay windows and decorative columns (columnatio), between which there are niches that we must imagine to contain decorations such as statues, for example3. Well understood, this was the development of the Imperial era, when the permanent, stone-built theatre had prevailed and led to new architectural and challenges of urban planning. Preserved representations of the theatres of the Republican period show a significantly simpler architectural design, just as pompous materials are documented for Imperial times, at least for the 1st century AD and onwards4. The terracotta relief inv. no. 362 in the National Archaeological Museum in Naples for instance (3rd century BC approximately) has a flat stage wall with no niches, but divided into two stores; the lower shows the usual three doors5, bordered by four columns, which would in no case be in the way for the actors to go on- and off-stage. The upper level consists of a gallery with four columns crowned by a statue of a goddess that cannot be further defined. With their increased decorative efforts, two other terracotta fragments, this time from the age of Augustus, one showing a scene of a comedy, the other of a tragedy, already point to the upcoming development that eventually led to the gloriously overloaded scaenae frontes of High Imperial times (Rome, National Museum, inv. nos. 62754 and 34355). The stage wall, this time as well with three doors, is designed like the front side of a magnificent palace. However, the rich ornaments are still attached in such a way that the interaction of the actors would probably not have been disturbed. Comparing this design with the elaborate architecture of the High Imperial stage houses of Aspendos and Sabratha, it is striking what an immense autonomous monument the scaenae frons became during the 1st century AD. From the Augustan period on, a continuous, albeit regionally differing tendency to construct the scaenae frons higher and wider and to embellish it with more and more complex ornaments can be perceived6. The way the structure of the Roman theatre developed during the 1st century AD, it served to an increasing extent not merely in its function as a playhouse or (as in Classical Athens) as a place of the cult of the gods respon­sible for the dramatic genera, but also as a place of representation7. This design as a public space (opus publicum) included what could also be noticed in the arrangement of other public places or monuments of different functions all around: a more and more lavish decoration with honour statues, which were often placed in the scaenae frons, so that they would be clearly visible. These were images of the Emperor and the Imperial family, as well as honour statues of dignitaries, citizens and patrons of outstanding merit8.

  • 9 Hirschberg, 1989, p. 1-2 pleads for this location; Frank, on the other hand, expresses doubts (1995 (...)
  • 10 See in detail Zwierlein, 1966, p. 33-34; also Friedrich Leo in first volume of the edition of the t (...)
  • 11 Keune, 1923, p. 20-21; he sums up: “Plane negleguntur a Seneca scaenarum frontes, quae ex ipsa acti (...)
  • 12 Kugelmeier, 2007, p. 129-130.

5These architectural conditions, which exist partly as archaeological finds, partly as more or less plausible conclusions, must be kept in mind when asking where to imagine the respective action in Seneca’s drama. In doing so, the most astonishing difficulties evolve. Already in the Phoenissae, the location of the beginning cannot be made out with certainty: It is not clear whether Antigona and Oedipus are located near the Kithairon9. Completely unthinkable is a change of scenes, the way it would have to be imagined at 42710. Even though Iocasta’s own words of 420-426 are an inner projection, as indicated by the future tense of the verbs, the impossibility to stage something of this kind is unmistakably evident from the report of the satelles 427-442. Due to the fact that he describes Iocasta’s change of location as happening before his eyes, it follows clearly that an unprecedented change of the setting must be imagined at this part of the drama – and this without the other characters, such as the still reporting satelles, leaving their place, which would be necessary under these circumstances. Iocasta would need to go from her current position to the battle fields (427 sqq.), on which she could speak to the enemy brothers (443), who have been shown to her from the distance shortly beforehand (419) and about whose appearance on stage nothing has been indicated11. In addition to that, the satelles, with whom she has been standing together just shortly before, is promptly reporting about that (433-437 victa materna prece / haesere bella, “conquered by a mother’s prayer, the warefare has halted” etc.). One may compare this to the model of the scene, Euripides, Ph. 101-201, where Antigone watches the armies together with the servant, or also to Aeschylus, Supp. 713-723, where Danaus reports to his daughters down from a hill. Both are cases of real teichoscopy to visualize the non-stageable events for the audience. The actors themselves only describe the events without the need for the poet to actually put them there, disregarding stage reality. For Seneca however, even when only a description is delivered, this procedure would raise issues such as in the reporting scene of Amphitryon in the Hercules Furens12.

  • 13 C. Lindskog already makes this suggestion in his Studien zum antiken Drama, Lund, 1897, p. 76-77; F (...)
  • 14 Zwierlein, 1966, p. 34-35, note 8.

6Determining a plausible location for Iocasta’s conversation with Antigona and the satelles (363 sqq.) has until now not been successful. It has been tried to imagine the conversation between the three on one side of the stage only, respectively on top of the stage house13. Iocasta would have to leave this place with line 426 and describe her bursting off to the battle field herself, while in the meantime really only crossing the stage, which in turn would represent the battle field. Plenty of set changes would have to be imagined - first the way to the Kithairon (until 362), then the city walls (363-442) and, at the end, the battle field in front of the gates of Thebes (from 443). Assuming that chorus songs, which are now mis­sing but had actually been planned by the poet, would have provided a better explanation for the scene change does not help either, since the messenger’s entrance at 320 obviously takes place in front of the same scenery as before when Oedipus shows himself unwilling towards the messenger to leave the wild landscape of the beginning (358-9). In addition to all these curiosities, Iocasta’s description does not at all fit to the huge distance one must imagine between the ramparts of Thebes and the location of the battle. On the other hand, in Ph. 106 sqq., Euridipes’ description of the non-visible action, which he gives the audience, is based on a real stage situation14.

  • 15 Zwierlein, 1966, p. 34-35, note 8. Sutton, 1986, p. 15 ignores that entirely, he even wants to save (...)

7Precisely this missing link to reality in Iocasta’s description becomes a problem for the scenic realization: If the poet had been content with her exiting without a comment, and the description of her bursting away by the satelles, the irritation caused by the sudden scene change would still be perceptible; but the illusion of an immense local distance, which breaks the stageable scenic frame, springs just from this description15.

  • 16 Marek, 1909, p. 33-34: “ita ut fortasse conicere liceat Senecam in fabula componenda nisi cum scaen (...)

8A similarly striking change of location can be made out in the Troades. While the conflict between Andromacha and Ulixes is taking place in front of Hector’s tomb, which plays an important role in the relation between scenery and action, this precondition does not seem to apply for the last act, without mentioning in any way that the Trojan women have changed their place. For when the messenger describes a scene that is taking place on top of the tomb (1086-7 aliquis (nefas!) / tumulo ferus spectator Hectoreo sedet, “an outrage - one callous spectator took his seat on Hector’s tomb”), this shows that the Trojan women, whom the messenger reports to, cannot be imagined to be in front of the tomb anymore16.

  • 17 Saliou, 2009b, p. 75 with note 58. Pollux IV 126-7 uses the word in a slightly different sense, ref (...)
  • 18 In detail Bieber, 1961, p. 75, Beare, 1964, p. 254 and Sifakis, 1967, p. 135.

9Which scenic solutions would be possible for all these issues under the conditions of the Roman stage of the 1st century? Here, one could think of the use of the períaktoi (περίακτοι, scaenae versatiles), described by Vitruvius V 6,8: a revolvable construction developed in the Hellenistic period, which was placed next to the entrances of the stage building and which could create the illusion of a rapid change of locations by means of different paintings17. But even this does not really help for the scene of the Phoenissae discussed above, since the satelles does not change his location either, but is still thought to be on stage and, moreover, to continue to report about the course of events (until suddenly there is no mention of him anymore, too). After all, the “change of setting” caused by the períaktoi is limited to cases in which either a god appears, or one of the entrances should be particularly highlighted to prepare the audience for an imminent entrance (cf. Pollux IV 126 μὲν δεξιὰ τὰ ἔξω πόλεως δηλοῦσα, δἑτέρα τὰ ἐκ πόλεως, μάλιστα τὰ ἐκ λιμένος, “the right entrance opening to the location outside the city, the other one to the city, mostly from the port”), to mark a new act or even a completely new play, which takes place in a completely different setting (this is what is meant by fabularum mutationes at Vitruvius, cf. Pollux l.c. ἀμφότεραι δὲ χώραν ὑπαλλάττουσιν, “both of them cause a change of location”)18. None of these cases applies to this part of the Phoenissae.

  • 19 Saliou, 2009a, p. 258-261; Pickard-Cambridge, 1946, p. 217-218; Blume, 1991, p. 64. About the fadin (...)
  • 20 Details in Fuchs, 1987, p. XIII ; Moretti, 1997, p. 23 : “les peintures que portaient les pinax n’i (...)

10Examining the consequences that come with the architecture, and especially the stage building, of Roman theatres of the 1st century AD, it is hard to imagine that, as is attested for Classical Greek tragedy, moveable and, therefore, small wooden panels (pínakes), painted with the scenery corresponding to the respective scene19, would not, in front of the huge, massive and complex background, have a comical impact20.

Pliny, Nat. 35,7,23 reports on similar means on the Roman stage, the scaenae ductiles:

habuit et scaena ludis Claudii Pulchri magnam admirationem picturae, cum ad tegularum similitudinem corvi decepti imagine advolarent.

  • 21 Cf. Valerius Maximus II 4,6. Saliou, 2009a, p. 260-261 discusses the possibility that this practice (...)

Also the stage erected for the shows given by Claudius Pulcher won great admiration for its painting, as crows were seen trying to alight on the roof tiles represented on the scenery, quite taken in by its realism21.

  • 22 For the date cf. Pliny, Nat. 8,19.
  • 23 Simon, 1981, p. 35: “Die Griechen hatten damals ja noch nicht die Prunkfassade der scaenae frons, d (...)
  • 24 Saliou, 2009a, p. 236-238 and 2009b, p. 72-73; Bieber, 1961, p. 182.
  • 25 Fuchs, 1987, p. XIII-XIV. Already Euripides shows himself less flexible than his two famous predece (...)
  • 26 Bieber, 1961, p. 201, ill. 676 and Sear, 2006, ill. 67. See É. Espérandieu, Recueil général des bas (...)

11This, however, refers to the temporary Roman stage of the older days (in this case on the plays that C. Claudius Pulcher hosted in 99 BC as an aedil)22. Whereas the Greeks had been capable of furnishing the simple stage house with architectural paintings in perspective that could provide optical assistance to the audience for their better understanding of the scene and that could be flexibly adjusted to the respective situation23, the architectural tendency, especially during Seneca’s lifetime, went in the completely opposite direction: For the Neronian period, a renovation of the Theatre of Pompey in Rome is evidenced, which added to the building an even more complex stage wall (with not less than 50 pillars in front of the middle niche that contained the valva regia, the huge middle door, described already by Vitruvius V 6,3)24. It was even less possible to attach flexible elements for background illustrations in the niches of the scaenae frontes. These were, as mentioned, occupied by sculptures, and, additionally, statues of the Emperor were mostly placed in the centre of the stage wall25. Something of the sort can nowadays be seen again in the scaenae frons of the late Augustan theatre of Arausio26. Cassius Dio 50,8,3 attests a statue of Victoria in the scaenae frons of the Theatre of Pompey for the year 32 BC (in a listing of bad portents for the civil war between Mark Antony and Octavian):

καὶ συχνὰ μὲν ὑπὸ χειμῶνος ἐπόνησεν, ὥστε καὶ τρόπαιόν τι ἐν τῷ Ἀουεντίνῳ ἑστὸς καὶ Νίκης ἄγαλμα ἀπὸ τῆς τοῦ θεάτρου σκηνῆς πεσεῖν.

Much damage was also caused by storm; thus, a trophy which stood upon the Aventine fell, a statue of Victory fell from the back wall of the theatre.

  • 27 References at Sear, 2006, p. 57, note 58.
  • 28 Fuchs, 1987, p. 6-7 and 9-10, Sear, 2006, p. 60.
  • 29 Fuchs, 1987, p. 163-166 and 100.
  • 30 Fuchs, 1987, p. 190; in general, Rosso, 2009, p. 91 with note 17 and 93. A description of the statu (...)
  • 31 Fuchs, 1987, p. 169; Röring at Ramallo Asensio and Röring, 2010, p. 163-172.
  • 32 Fuchs, 1987, p. 169 and 91.
  • 33 Pekáry, 1985, p. 48.

12This building – the biggest of its kind in Rome in whole Antiquity – was occasionally apostrophized simply as “THE theatre”27. A statue group representing Apollo and the Muses must be assumed as well for this place in the scaenae frons28. Honorific statues of the emperors and their families, placed in the scaenae frons, can be assumed for other theatres in the West as well, as for example in Volaterrae: Augustus (shortly after 2/1 BC, according to the inscription)29 and Livia (time of Tiberius), Arelate: a colossal image of Augustus wearing a hip cloak, probably situated in the richly decorated middle niche above the porta regia of the stage house (late Tiberian-Claudian period)30, Augusta Emerita (fig. 1): Augustus and his grandson C. Caesar as well as an additional, colossal statue of the monarch, all in the area of the scaenae frons31; Ferentium (14-41 AD): Livia (found in the hyposcaenium)32. Statues of the Emperor can also be found in theatres of the East, as in Pergamon and Gerasa in Northern Jordan, where two statue bases with inscriptions referring to Domitian of the years 90 and 91 AD were discovered in the eastern parodos of the theatre, i.e. between the stage and the audience33.

According to Niemeyer:

  • 34 Niemeyer, 1968, p. 33. On Arausio cf. above p. 65, note 26.

“Der genaue Standort der kaiserlichen Bildnisstatue bzw. der Bildnisstatuen des Kaiserhauses oder der ganzen kaiserlichen Familie innerhalb des Theaters ist in keinem Falle mehr mit Sicherheit zu rekonstruieren. In der Regel darf angenommen werden, daß die Statuen eines Theaters in der Nischenarchitektur der Bühnenfront ihren Platz fanden, wobei die Statue des Kaisers in der beherrschenden, meist größeren Mittelnische über der valva regia aufgestellt wurde.”34

  • 35 Pekáry, 1985, p. 48.

13Pekáry, although with some critical reservations against Niemeyer, follows the same line of argumentation, as it would be hardly imaginable that the major part of the audience could see the Emperor always only from behind35.

Fuchs illustrates the consequences this rather crowded design of the scaenae frons must have had on the audience’s impression:

  • 36 Fuchs, 1987, p. 164, see also 180.
  • 37 Fuchs, 1987, p. 193. Sauron, 2008, p. 41-42 points out that this development of the Roman scaenae f (...)

“Da die Bildwerke von Kaisern und deren Familienmitgliedern in der Regel nicht wieder entfernt werden durften, füllten sich die Theaterfassaden mit der Zeit beträchtlich ... Wie allerdings eine auf diese Weise mit Kaiserbildern von Augustus bis zu den Konstantin-Söhnen, mit Ehrenstatuen verdienter Bürger mehrerer Jahrhunderte und mit Götterbildern ausgestattete scaenae frons gewirkt haben muß, ist dem heutigen Betrachter, dessen Auge durch das Antikenbild des Klassizismus geprägt wurde, kaum nachvollziehbar”36 ... “Die scaenae frontes müssen im Laufe der Zeit durch das ständige Hinzufügen neuer Statuen nicht nur überladen gewirkt, sondern gleichzeitig den Eindruck der Beständigkeit und aeternitas vermittelt haben.”37

14But this impression of “stability and eternity” is just what should have been avoided by a stage background design corresponding to the play and the scenic situation.

  • 38 In detail, Rosso, 2009, p. 95-101; Moretti, 2010, p. 81-87.
  • 39 Sear, 2006, p. 85. For both theatres in relation to the descriptions given by Vitruvius see also Sa (...)
  • 40 Sear, 2006, p. 85-86.
  • 41 Sear, 2006, p. 86.
  • 42 Sear, 2006, p. 87.

15Another aspect, which must have had obstructive consequences for the latter, is the increasingly impressive placement of pillars on the stage (columnatio). Widespread arrange­ments of pillars are to be found in Arelate38 and Arausio39, similarly in Vienna and in Ferentium40, differently, but similar in its position in front of the stage wall in Augusta Emerita - a type that from the Augustan period began to exert a lasting stylistic influence41; the stage wall of the theatre of Pompeii had no less than 14 pillars after its reconstruction in the time of Domitian42. This would have consequences for stage play:

  • 43 Sear, 2006, p. 90; see also 85 (about the stage of Volterrae): “the scaenae frons was clearly desig (...)

“It should be remembered that the stage had a permanent columnar backdrop which meant that scene changing of the type familiar to the modern theatre was impossible in the Roman theatre”.43

  • 44 In recent years especially by Sutton, 1986 and Kragelund, 1999, who marginalizes the problems by po (...)

16All in all, in contrast to frequently uttered opinions44, it makes more sense to assume that the complex and – for its stone architecture alone – rigid design of the scaenae frons, the way we are obliged to imagine it in the two examples discussed, substantially impeded a flexible handling of scenery.

  • 45 Beare, 1964, p. 267-274; see also Simon, 1981, p. 54; Beacham, 1992, p. 170-176.
  • 46 Fortey and Glucker, 1975, p. 705.
  • 47 Beacham, 1992, p. 172-173.

17Another problem for the question what ought to be visible on stage and what not arises in the Thyestes. It would be absolutely necessary for a staging that Atreus stays invisible for his brother until the end of his monody (969). At first sight, an element of stage technique could help, which is “perhaps the most notable Roman contribution”45. Fortey and Glucker conceive the idea of Thyestes to be veiled by a curtain (siparium) until 908 – “from Atreus (but not from the audience)”46. Richard Beacham describes an experiment with simulated constructions of scaenae ductiles, which were unveiled by the help of such siparia and uncovered a look on a background scene47. If this would come close to the actual usage of the siparia, then they would not be there to uncover the audience’s view on a so far hidden protagonist and to cover the view of another acting person instead. The image of a reconstruction shown by Beacham shows clearly, that the siparia could actually only be attached horizontal to the audience (fig. 2). Also the niches in the scaenae frons were all of them too narrow to provide enough room for a scene like Thyestes’ dinner. Anyhow, the quotations given by Beare 1964, p. 270 demonstrate that the siparium must be regarded typical for the mimus (“farce”), not for tragedy, cf. esp. Seneca, Tranqu. 11,8 :

Publilius, tragicis comicisque vehementior ingeniis quotiens mimicas ineptias et verba ad summam caveam spectantia reliquit, inter multa alia cothurno, non tantum sipario, fortiora et hoc ait : ‘cuivis potest accidere, quod cuiquam potest’.

  • 48 Publilius Syrus C 34.

Whenever Publilius abandoned the absurdities of the mime and language aimed at the gallery, he showed more force of intellect than the writers of tragedy and comedy; and he produced many thoughts more striking than those of tragedy, let alone farce, including this one: “What can happen to one can happen to all”48.

  • 49 Tarrant, 1985 on 885-919 agrees with Marek, 1909, p. 23-24 and Calder, 2005, p. 360 on the use of t (...)
  • 50 Beare, 1964, p. 179 emphasizes, however: “The plays of Plautus are so constructed as to make it cle (...)

18It could not at all be explained why Thyestes does not notice Atreus after the siparium has been pulled away. The same is valid for imagining Thyestes being moved out on the ekkyklema49. Such a breach of the stage illusion happens in comedy: At Plautus, As. 828 a banquet is visible inside of the house, at least for the audience, but not for Artemona, who 851 exits from her house and takes notice of the company only after the clue by the parasite, 88050.

19The second appearance of the title figure in the Phaedra causes similar difficulties. According to the words of the nurse 384-386, Phaedra is showed on a golden daybed to the other actors and the audience after the regiae fastigia have been opened:

sed en [ !], patescunt regiae fastigia :
reclinis ipsa sedis auratae toro
solitos amictus mente non sana abnuit.

But see [!], the upper doors of the palace are opening; there she is, lying back on the cushions of her gilded chair, and refusing her usual clothes in her crazed frame of mind.

  • 51 Considered by Marek, 1909, p. 23-4, G. Viansino, 1968, in the first volume of his commented edition (...)
  • 52 Joerden, 1971, p. 411-412.
  • 53 Perhaps identical with the διστεγία described by Pollux IV 129 (see also Beacham, 1992, p. 182). Sa (...)
  • 54 Coffey and Mayer, 1990 on 384, with reference to Canter, 1925, p. 123, Boyle, 1987 on 384-86, Sutto (...)

20Now the question arises, what exactly this term signifies. Should it be identical to the fores templi mentioned by Atreus at Thy. 901-2, i.e. the middle door of the palace, then the use of the ekkyklema for the scenic realization, as in Thyestes51, could be taken into consideration. This stage element was developed for such scenes in which it is crucial to let the audience gain insight into the inner stage house, the hyposkénion. For an elevated stage prevented a good view into the inside of the stage house, especially for the lower and therefore supposedly ‘better’ gallery seats52. On the other hand, the use of the ekkyklema seems to be difficult given the expression fastigia. In Vitruvius V 6,9, the fastigia are the upper storey of the scaenae frons53. It remains a mystery how the appearance of the queen on her golden daybed can be imagined there. That is also why Coffey and Mayer assume the word to refer to a door in a “bold synecdoche”. They mean the doors of the upper storey of the stage house, just as Boyle (who, on the other hand, admits that it causes difficulties to integrate the decorative stage wall of the imperial theatre into the play54. “A bold synecdoche” is a gross understatement, as the word in this meaning is not attested at all (the ThLL s.v. states at the very beginning: “significat altas vel summas partes alicuius rei”). Fortey and Glucker want to avoid the ekkyklema entirely in their staging, by letting Phaedra step on stage out of the palace with line 384 and consequently letting her exit with line 403. But where then is the daybed? They have to admit:

  • 55 Fortey and Glucker, 1975, p. 704-705.

“In a scene like this, the audience must be expected to imagine [!] the couch – whether they have seen it for a brief moment or not – as the setting for Phaedra’s acting in ll. 387-403”55.

21Such a procedure on stage would be highly unlikely. Indeed, there would even be the danger of unintentional hilarity, if there was no action following the announcement of the nurse in line 384, but instead only a monologue at whose scenic presentation an important detail described at length before is simply ignored.

  • 56 Zwierlein, 1966, p. 40-41.
  • 57 Hine, 2000 on 807 thinks of an altar made of grass pieces (he compares Ovid, Met. VII 240-1 statuit (...)
  • 58 Seneca presupposes the existence of stage altars more than once: HF 356, Phae. 424-5 and 708-9, Ag. (...)

22Another stage element, the altar, frequently shows the vagueness of scenic imagination. There is a blatant contradiction between the lines Med. 177-8, where Medea notices Creo’s appearance – due to the grating palace door (regius cardo) – and the messenger’s report 879-890. The report requires unmistakably that the palace cannot be seen from the stage by any means56. The lines Med. 785-6 seem to indicate that the altar is placed visibly on stage, even though the scene 840-842 where the sacrificial altar should burst into flames is difficult to imagine57. It is not clear where the altar is located: The nurse sees Medea 675 rushing into the house, and in her following narration she describes the horrid rites, which the sinister woman from Colchis performs in her house – this is a description by the way, which consists of manifold, highly dramatical elements, such as the appearance of the snakes, which obviously cannot be imagined on stage. However, this ritual may not be identified as the actual sacrifice at the altar, which is only performed with Medea’s reappearance, 740 sqq. This can be deduced especially from lines 771-786. The following speech at the altar 785-6 sonuistis, arae, tripodas agnosco meos / favente commotos dea, “a sound from the altar: I recognise that my tripods have been moved by the favouring goddess” must logically mean that the altar is on stage together with Medea who is offering the sacrifice58.

  • 59 On terminology and height cf. Vitruvius V 6,2 and 7,2, see also Sear, 2006, p. 7 and 33-34 and Sali (...)

23Under the constructional conditions of the theatre at Seneca’s time, there would hardly be enough room for another important element he adopts from Attic tragedy. The orchestra, the dance floor of the chorus in the Attic drama of the 5th century BC, had already been separated from the then elevated stage (the proskénion, Latin proscaenium). Interaction at eye level with the actors, who were acting on the elevated stage, the logeíon (pulpitum), had therefore been made complicated59. In the Roman era, a completely different situation had developed, since the chorus, for which the orchestra was not available anymore, was located, according to Vitruvius V 6,2, on the pulpitum together with the actors:

ita latius factum fuerit pulpitum quam Graecorum, quod omnes artifices in scaena dant operam, in orchestra autem senatorum sunt sedibus loca designata.

  • 60 Saliou, 2009a, p. 232-234.

Thus the stage will be made wider than that of the Greeks because all the actors play their parts on the stage, whereas the orchestra is allotted to the seats of the senators60.

  • 61 Hose, 1999, p. 120.

24This must have had consequences for the scenic functions of the chorus. Even though one is dependent on the (few) preserved choral parts for the tragedies of the Republican period, just as in the case of Seneca, it has necessarily to be assumed that the Roman chorus in this position on the stage automatically became an actor and thus lost its mediating function between the action on stage and the audience, which it used to have in Greek drama61.

  • 62 Traversari, 1960, p. 68-72; Sear, 2006, p. 44 and 130-131. For later developments see Moretti, 2001 (...)
  • 63 Fuchs, 1987, p. 143.

25All these constructional developments demonstrate how the impact of the chorus decreased. Its entrance via the roofed entryways is just imaginable, because once the play has started, they would not have to share the passages with the incoming audience; this is particularly true for similar entrances through the doors of the stage house. Yet, under these circumstances, there is no thinkable option for a quick and unspectacular entrance and exit of the chorus the way it appears to be required by Seneca on many occasions. The chorus’ location causes difficulties especially during the choral odes and the main action: Positioning the chorus in the orchestra, disregarding Vitruvius’ testimony, would, for the given reasons, also complicate interaction with the actors. Should it further be possible to generalize the excavation findings at the theatre of Pompeii, in the orchestra of which water basins have been found, then this would proof the practice to use the orchestra for water games62 already for the time before 79 AD, rendering a positioning of the chorus in this place even more improbable. Some passages in literature even indicate clearly that already in much earlier times constructions have to be assumed, which, just like the water games, served as a refreshment for the audience and which were located on or at least in the immediate proximity of the stage63: Lucretius II 416-7

et cum scena croco Cilici perfusa recens est / araque Panchaeos exhalat propter odores

[...] and when the stage is freshly sprinkled with Cilician saffron, and the altar hard by is breathing the scent of Arabian incense [...];

Propertius IV 1,16

pulpita sollemnis non oluere crocos

[...] nor did [...] the stage reek of ceremonial saffron [...] (in the early days at Rome);

Martial IX 38,5

lubrica Corycio quamvis sint pulpita nimbo

[...] though the stage be slippery from a Corycian shower [...].

A comment by Seneca himself shows how modern such technical elements were considered to be at his lifetime, Ep. 90,15:

hodie utrum tandem sapientiorem putas, qui invenit quemadmodum in immensam altitudinem crocum latentibus fistulis exprimat etc.

  • 64 Cf. for Seneca’s time also Calpurnius, Ecl. 7,71-2 vidimus [...] in isdem saepe cavernis / aurea cu (...)

And to-day I’d like to know which you consider the wiser, the man who discovers how to spray jets of saffron to an enormous height from hidden pipes [...]64.

  • 65 Kugelmeier, 2007, p. 148-167.

26Interaction with the actors would then again be possible through a positioning of the chorus on the actual stage. This, however, would have the unpleasant effect that the actor could not plausibly hide anything from the chorus that it should not overhear. All these problems can indeed also be found in Seneca’s handling of the chorus65.

  • 66 Simon, 1981, p. 37 (see above p. 64, note 23) and Jobst, 1970, p. 10-21.
  • 67 Figural representations mentioned by Hine, 2000, p. 41, note 53, LIMC VI 2, p. 195, nos. 8 and 10, (...)

27To conclude, let us look at the stage house once again. Under the constructional conditions discussed, the final scene of the Phaedra could be staged only under immense difficulties, and a realistic production of the final scene of Medea would be completely inconceivable. To imagine alone the scene in which Medea, upon hearing Jason and his armed men approaching, is to climb on the roof, carrying the dead body of her son and a sword, and with her other son following (971-975), causes the greatest difficulty. In addition to these circumstances, Medea would need to do a “hiking tour” during which she would have to be visible on the stage wall interspersed with bays and pillars, a wall which is at least 11 metres high. This might be imaginable for the simple Athenian stage house of the 5th century BC66, but is out of question under the conditions of the Roman theatre of the early Imperial times and also for quite a few other effects Seneca makes us visualize by imagination. The sequence of events would be consequently entirely preposterous: Medea would only have time to climb the roof during the four following lines spoken by Jason, since she must be imagined to be already on top of the roof at line 982. In Plautus’ Amphitruo, lines 1009-1020 give Mercurius at least 12 lines to do this - and under far more convenient circumstances67.

  • 68 Hine, 2000, p. 42. This technical solution for the stage is actually to be assumed at Euripides, Me (...)
  • 69 Sear, 2006, p. 8 and 90-1, with reconstruction drawings figs. 22-24; Beare, 1964, p. 273.
  • 70 Pickard-Cambridge, 1946, p. 220 (with fig. 81): “of late Hellenistic or, more probably, early Imper (...)
  • 71 Sear, 2006, p. 246: “Above 19 beam slots to hold upper and lower timbers of roof”.
  • 72 Bieber, 1961, p. 182 and Sear, 2006, p. 90-91.
  • 73 Hine’s suggestions regarding the staging fail, particularly because he does not pay enough attentio (...)

28From Med. 977 on, Medea should be seen to be on the roof of the palace, as can be taken from the comment of Jason who is rushing in: en ipsa tecti parte praecipiti imminet, “look, there she is, leaning over us from the edge of the roof” (995). According to recent staging suggestions, Medea’s escape in her dragon-drawn chariot, which lines 1020-1025 postulate, should be managed with the help of a theatre crane (géranos or mechané, Latin machina), as in Euridipes68. It has to be kept in mind, however, that the stages were often covered by a wooden roof69. Such a roof can be made out clearly, for example, on an early Imperial marble model of a Roman stage house exhibited in the National Museum of Rome70. Archaeological findings show this kind of roof also for Arausio71 as well as for the later theatres of Aspendos and Bostra (fig. 3)72. If we imagine such a roof on the stage house, a scenic solution using the theatre crane would be impossible. Considering the impressive height of the stage houses of the imperial time alone, such a crane would cause difficulties for both actors and audience73.

  • 74 Hine, 2000, p. 42: “staging with props might well detract from, rather than enhance, the dense allu (...)

29It is equally impossible to imagine Medea (Med. 970-1 and 1019) killing her children on stage and throwing their bodies to Jason’s feet (1024). Just looking at the language of the scene, separately from the staging, the second killing has a great effect one would not want to miss - another dramatic climax that provokes the listeners’ imagination, free of limitations by the stage situation74.

  • 75 Kugelmeier, 2007, p. 129-130. Tarrant and Frank (see the following note) state that the report of t (...)
  • 76 Hirschberg, 1989, p. 1-2: “Gleichwohl können in dem Rezitationsdrama Senecas beide Szenen im gleich (...)

30In fact, the criteria of what is stageable are completely ignored at all of the examples discussed. Seneca does not even seem to be trying to find an anchor in dramatic techniques, which would actually allow a transition between local distances, such as the messenger’s report or the background-scene technique75. Instead, he leaves it to the listener’s imagination to accept the impossibility of these location changes. This would be, as already mentioned, absolutely impossible on a Roman stage of the Imperial times. The contemporary listener, though, is likely to have missed only the conventional reporting, whereas mentally following Iocasta’s journey on a path free of stage limitations, in an imagined scenery for which the words of the satelles have provided the grounds of inner visualisation, should not have caused too many problems76.

  • 77 Zwierlein, 1966, p. 34, Hirschberg, 1989, p. 3.

31With this appeal to the audience for an inner visualisation of the scene, provoked by the expressive language of the text, the remaining discrepancies of the mentioned scenes lose their strength. The function of the narrative bridge in the reports of Phoenissae and Troades can thus be understood to direct the listener’s imagination from one location to another thanks to this highly visual evocation of the scenery. The listener thus does not feel the point at which a staged production would have to fail77.

32The vivid envisioning of scenery by the speaker as well as by the listener is also emphasized in the Troades, here through the astonished outcry nefas!, “an outrage!”, in line 1086. Also in this passage, the listener is “drawn into” the hereby created second level of action. Exactly because of this envisioning, the change of location in this passage does not cause the same confusion that would have been unpreventable when produced on stage.

  • 78 Tarrant, 1985, p. 180.
  • 79 For a discussion of these verses and the textual problems involved (it seems recommendable to read (...)
  • 80 The effect of this scenic change – the smoothly articulated transition between the darkness of the (...)

33Thy. 778-788 shows clearly how a change of location is realized as a fiction created by language. After he has described the horrid sacrificial ritual in the palace garden, the messenger pictures something he definitely cannot see, namely the gruesome dinner of Thyestes78. This indicates that the whole situation in this part is not bound to a real stage, but rather that the poet creates a fictitious scenery through description – a scenery in which he can change the location at random. Atreus’ order in 901-2 turba famularis, fores / templi relaxa, festa patefiat domus, “you throng of slaves, unbar the temple doors [more likely: ‘the doors of the palace’79], let the revels of the house be revealed”, must also be seen as a fictitious change of scenes80, since such an order is omitted before the corresponding change of scenery in the messenger’s report in 778, which at the same time requires the opening of the palace. Hence, the question whether Atreus could possibly remain invisible to his brother, a precondition crucial for the dramatic success of the dinner scene, does no longer arise.

  • 81 Cf. the similarly imprecise presentation in verse 1154, which talks about the alta tecta (Kugelmeie (...)
  • 82 More in Kugelmeier, 2007, p. 196-200.

34In the same way, it is plausible to assume for Phae. 384 sqq. that Seneca imagined the scene in the upper storey of the stage wall, so that he could give the impression of dignity of the palace in imagination and thereby contrast the misery of the queen in all her splendour81. Anyway, the imagination of a stage at this part is just as nebulous as the embedding of Phaedra’s sudden, highly emotional appearance and her equally hasty disappearance afterwards. That the nurse should wait for the exact moment to present her suffering mistress, would seem an imposition of illusion on the audience. This leaves the same impression the dinner scene of Thyestes had already created: that the nurse would actually be “directing” a play and “fading in” a scene she needs to demonstrate Phaedra’s condition. This odd emphasis on the single scene, taken out from the sequence of action, strongly underlines the astounding effect caused by Phaedra’s behaviour. At least, it stands in a curious contrast to the previous scene82. Once again the listener is invited to imagine a dramatically touching scene in successful connection to a colouring of mood, without having his imagination bound to problematical technical elements and spacial conditions of the stage.

  • 83 See now, among other standard volumes on Roman theatre (e.g. Bieber, 1961, p. 227-253, Frézouls, 19 (...)
  • 84 Fam. VII 1,2-4.
  • 85 Sear, 2006, p. 55-56, who, however, thinks Pliny’s numeric references are exaggerated.

35The impressive Roman theatre buildings of the Imperial period cannot hide one fact: over the years, the educated Romans were much more interested in the value of Classical drama as literature, than in their being plays for the theatre. More “modern” genres, especially the mime, had largely taken over the place of Classical drama (tragedy as well as comedy) in the theatres83. Pliny, Nat. 36,114-120 critically relates the luxurious furnishing, which predominated already in late Republican theatres as the ones of Pompey and Scaurus. Even though two (Roman!) tragedies (the Clytaemnestra of Accius and Naevius’ Equus Troianus) had been performed for the inauguration of the Theatre of Pompey in the year 55 BC, Cicero still speaks with obvious disapproval about the extravagance of the stage furnishing, which put the dramatic play itself in the rear84. This usage, certainly “alienated” from the point of view of Classical drama, is in line with Cicero commenting with a noticeable head-shaking on how musical and gymnastic competitions dominated the inauguration festivities, and even animal fights with a myriad of lions and elephants were showcased – all of which is confirmed by corresponding descriptions at Plutarch, Pomp. 52 and Cassius Dio 39,38; though, according to Dio, these spectacles took place in the Circus Maximus. Yet, deduced from the mentioned part in Pliny (Nat. 36,117-8) on the spectacula hosted by C. Scribonius Curio in the year 53 BC, this construction, with its sophisticated technical possibilities of transformation, was meant to serve – perhaps even above all – for gladiatorial games, the most sensational entertainment of the audience possible85:

theatra iuxta duo fecit amplissima ligno [...] in quibus utrisque antemeridiano ludorum spectaculo edito inter sese aversis, ne invicem obstreperent scaenae, repente circumactis [...] cornibus in se coeuntibus faciebat amphitheatrum gladiatorumque proelia edebat.

He built close to each other two very large wooden theatres [...] During the forenoon, a performance of a play was given in both of them and they faced in opposite directions so that the two casts should not drown each other’s words. Then all of a sudden the theatres revolved, [...] their corners met, and thus Curio provided an amphitheatre in which he produced fights between gladiators.

  • 86 More examples for this alienated usage are given by Moretti, 2001, p. 192, 196-197 (venationes, hun (...)

The obvious suspicion is that an audience asking for such a thrill was not exactly the audience for rather sophisticated dramas86.

  • 87 Blasi, 2007, p. 60: “In Asia Minor the Vitruvian theatrical model was elaborated in an adaptation s (...)

36These differences in the functionalities, which differentiated the two levels of theatrical performances, can be seen in the diverse architectural developments, when, for example, small Anatolian theatres kept the original Greek groundplan, but added a Roman scaenae frons. Since it is hardly imaginable that Latin dramas of the kind of Seneca’s dramas were part of the repertoire of the theatres in that region, the only conclusion would be that we are seeing a part of evidence for a shift in the audience’s taste away from theatre plays of the classical Greek kind to an adaptation of stage architecture to literary (resp. popular) genres for which the changed stage background was appropriate (preferably mime and pantomime)87.

  • 88 Beacham, 1992, p. 180. Here, the four types of professions (artes) mentioned by Seneca (21-23, with (...)

Seneca himself speaks dismissively about the stage technical finesse of his time, Ep. 88,2288:

ludicrae (sc. artes) sunt, quae ad voluptatem oculorum atque aurium tendunt; his adnumeres licet machinatores, qui pegmata per se surgentia excogitant et tabulata tacite in sublime crescentia et alias ex inopinato varietates aut dehiscentibus, quae cohaerebant, aut his, quae distabant, sua sponte coeuntibus aut his, quae eminebant, paulatim in se residentibus. his inperitorum feriuntur oculi omnia subita, quia causas non novere, mirantium.

Theatrical arts aim at giving pleasure to the eyes and ears. Herein you would class the engineers who devise platforms which go upwards of their own accord, floors that rise into the air silently, and other kinds of unexpected and inconsistent effects, when things which were joined together begin to gape, or those which were separated join together spontaneously, or things which formerly projected gradually subside into themselves. These effects look impressive to the eyes of the naïve, who marvel at any sudden phenomena they cannot explain.

37In the philosopher’s eyes, these artes ludicrae are a source of superficial amusement for the uneducated (his imperitorum feriuntur oculi). With this implied appreciation of true, lite­rary quality of dramatical works, which do not depend on a realization on stage, he in is line with Aristotle, Po. 26, p. 1462 a 11-13:

ἔτι τραγῳδία καὶ ἄνευ κινήσεως ποιεῖ τὸ αὑτῆς, ὥσπερ ἐποποιία· διὰ γὰρ τοῦ ἀναγινώσκειν φανερὰ ὁποία τίς ἐστιν.

Again, Tragedy like Epic poetry produces its effect even without action; it reveals its power by mere reading.

Fig. 1. Roman theatre of Augusta Emerita.

Fig. 1. Roman theatre of Augusta Emerita.

Fig. 2. Reconstruction of a frons scaenae (Beacham, 1992).

Fig. 2. Reconstruction of a frons scaenae (Beacham, 1992).

Fig. 3. Roman theatre of Bostra.

Fig. 3. Roman theatre of Bostra.
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Zanker, P., 1979, Zur Funktion und Bedeutung griechischer Skulptur in der Römerzeit, in H. Flashar (ed.), Le Classicisme à Rome aux Iers siècles avant et après J.-C. Neuf exposés suivis de discussions, Vandœuvres-Genève, 21-26 août 1978, Entretiens Hardt 25, Geneva, p. 283-306.

Zintzen, C., 1960, Analytisches Hypomnema zu Senecas Phaedra, Meisenheim ( = diss. Cologne, 1957).

Zwierlein, O., 1966, Die Rezitationsdramen Senecas, Meisenheim (= diss. Berlin, 1965).

Translations (sometimes modified by the author)

Aristotle: Aristotle’s Theory of Poetry and Fine Art, with a Critical Text and Translation of the Poetics by S.H. Butcher, London 1895.

Cassius Dio: Dio Cassius, Roman History, Volume V. Translated by E. Cary, Cambridge, Mass.-London 1917.

Lucan: Lucan, The Civil War. Translated by J.D. Duff, Cambridge-London 1928.

Lucretius : C. Bailey (ed.) : Titi Lucreti Cari De rerum natura libri sex. Prolegomena, Text and Critical Apparatus, Translation, Oxford 1947.

Martial: Martial, Epigrams. Edited and translated by D.R. Shackleton Bailey, 3 vols., Cambridge, Mass. 1993.

Ovid: Ovid, Metamorphoses. Translated by F.J. Miller, revised by G.P. Goold, Cambridge, Mass.-London 1977.

Pliny the Elder: Pliny, Natural History, Volume IX. Translated by H. Rackham, Cambridge, Mass-London 1952; Volume X. Translated by D.E. Eichholz, Cambridge, Mass.-London 1962.

Propertius: Propertius, Elegies. Edited and translated by G.P. Goold, Cambridge, Mass. 1990.

Seneca, De tranquillitate animi : Seneca, Four Dialogues. With an Introduction, Translation and Commentary by C.D.N. Costa, Warminster 1994.

Seneca, Letters to Lucilius: Seneca, 17 Letters. With Translation and Commentary by C.D.N. Costa, 2nd, corr. impression Warminster 1992.

Seneca, Tragedies: Seneca, Tragedies. Edited and translated by J.G. Fitch, 2 vols., Cambridge, Mass. 2002 and 2004.

Vitruvius: Vitruvius, On Architecture. Translated by F. Granger, 2 vols., Cambridge, Mass-London 1931.

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Notes

1 Sear, 2006, p. 1, ground plan at Bieber, 1961, p. 202.

2 Sear, 2006, p. 6; the Latin terminology varies.

3 Moretti, 2001, p. 186-187, 194-195 and 200 (concerning replacements in the Roman style in Hellenistic theatres); Saliou, 2009b, 71 with note 34; Sear, 2006, p. 34-36 (with reservations towards Vitruvius); Rosso, 2009, p. 93-94; for the “ideological” implications see Sauron, 2009.

4 Sear, 2006, p. 55-56.

5 In most staging suggestions, these three doors on the ground floor of the palace are expected to be there also for entrances and exits in Seneca’s plays. Sometimes, as in the Phaedra and the dinner scene of Thyestes, they play a highly controversial role; Beare, 1964, p. 279; Beacham, 1992, p. 57 and 65.

6 Several images and reconstruction drafts at Bieber, 1961, p. 190-220 and in the appendix at Sear, 2006; about the general architectural development Sear, 2006, p. 83: “The scaenae frons seems to have continued to develop in height, width, and elaboration during the late Republican and Augustan period”. About garlands, masks, and bucranium in the pedestal parts of the scaenae frons see Fuchs, 1987, p. 147-148 (Falerio [around the turn of the Christian era, see Fuchs, 1987, p. 66] and Volaterrae). Explicit information about the design of the scaenae frontes in different theatres at Sear, 2006, p. 34-36. Fuchs, 1987, p. 188 sums up: “Die Funktionen des römischen Theaters sind im Vergleich zu denen der Thermen vielfältiger, und – was wichtiger erscheint – sie gehörten im Gegensatz zu denen der Badeanlagen nicht in den Bereich des Otiums ... Unter Augustus scheint es als ein wichtiges Medium der politischen Propaganda angesehen worden zu sein ... Das Theater gehörte zu den publica opera, und dementsprechend rückt die stark ausgeprägte Komponente der kaiserlichen und privaten Repräsentation, die deutlich im Übergewicht der Porträtstatuen zum Ausdruck kommt, dessen Ausstattung in die Nähe derjenigen der Fora”. Cf. also Dupont, 1985, p. 74-75 : “Une telle conception du frons scaenae ne laisse visiblement qu’une part minime à l’expression de la particularité de chaque pièce. L’argument dans sa singularité est pratiquement absent du décor”.

7 This is why Vitruvius includes his discussion of theatre construction in the 5th book of his work, alongside of the construction of other public buildings, such as fora, basilica, curia and thermal baths (V praef. 5 hoc libro publicorum locorum expediam dispositiones, “in this book I will set forth the arrangements of public places”). Apart from the material gathered by Pollux from older literature in his Onomasticon at the end of the 2nd century AD, Vitruvius offers us the most detailed and compact information about the ancient theatre construction and thus an invaluable source of this topic. Of course it has to be remembered not only that he wrote at a time when most of the solid theatre buildings, at least in Rome, had not yet been built (this follows from his comments V 5,7-8), but also that he had the theatre architecture of older styles in mind when developing his theory, i.e. the monuments of Hellenism and the late Republican period. This is why, from time to time, the archaeological findings differ strongly from his theoretical postulations (see also Sear, 2006, p. 29-30 and Saliou, 2009a, p. 219, 262 and 270-272).

8 Fuchs, 1987, p. 163 : “Als der Aufstellungsort der ... Ehrenstatuen von Honoratioren und Vertretern der Bühne wird in der Regel die scaenae frons angenommen werden müssen, da sich dort die meisten Togastatuen gefunden haben” ; Frézouls, 1982, p. 380 : “son rôle fonctionnel est double : le bâtiment de scène sert de cadre à la représentation, mais joue aussi un rôle dans l’accueil des spectateurs – ce qui est nouveau par rapport au théâtre grec classique et hellénistique, où la skénè n’était destinée qu’aux acteurs”.

9 Hirschberg, 1989, p. 1-2 pleads for this location; Frank, on the other hand, expresses doubts (1995, p. 2, note 12). Friedrich, 1933, p. 129 makes the important notion, that Seneca might not have wanted an exact location; the “pathetische Wildnis, die seiner [Oedipus’] Seelenstimmung entspricht, wie die Heide der des König Lear” would then be a mean to characterize by ambience, which we find elsewhere in Seneca as well (cf. Kugelmeier, 2007, p. 115-116). Important comments on the emotional meaning of the Kithairon landscape for Oedipus also in Schöpsdau, 1997, p. 77-78.

10 See in detail Zwierlein, 1966, p. 33-34; also Friedrich Leo in first volume of the edition of the tragedies (Berlin, 1878, repr. 1963), 81-82 and Hirschberg, 1989, p. 3.

11 Keune, 1923, p. 20-21; he sums up: “Plane negleguntur a Seneca scaenarum frontes, quae ex ipsa actione colligendae sunt.”

12 Kugelmeier, 2007, p. 129-130.

13 C. Lindskog already makes this suggestion in his Studien zum antiken Drama, Lund, 1897, p. 76-77; Friedrich, 1933, p. 127, note 1 proposes the version with the stage house, which is taken up by Frank, 1995, p. 39-40.

14 Zwierlein, 1966, p. 34-35, note 8.

15 Zwierlein, 1966, p. 34-35, note 8. Sutton, 1986, p. 15 ignores that entirely, he even wants to save the scene sequence (described also by him as difficult) by denying that there is a change of location at all. He proposes to set it completely in a wooded landscape, similar to Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonus, in this case outside of Thebes; that would mean that the sons would need to go to Iocasta, as they go to Oedipus at Sophocles (OC 1254 sqq.). This assumption fails, however, because of the changes of location explicitly attested for Iocasta (see also Keune, 1923, p. 20).

16 Marek, 1909, p. 33-34: “ita ut fortasse conicere liceat Senecam in fabula componenda nisi cum scaenam, quae est ante Hectoris bustum, conscriberet, omnino certum locum in mente non habuisse”; Keune, 1923, p. 17‑19; in detail Fantham, 1982, on vv. 1121-1125).

17 Saliou, 2009b, p. 75 with note 58. Pollux IV 126-7 uses the word in a slightly different sense, referring to the mechanism (Saliou, 2009a, p. 253-255: “le seul témoignage concret contextualisé mentionnant un décor rotatif ... à Rome concerne un théâtre temporaire en bois” and 2009b, p. 73-74). For the differentiations in the meaning of scaena Saliou, 2009a, p. 260 and 2009b, p. 76. See also Pickard-Cambridge, 1946, p. 234‑238; Bieber, 1961, p. 75; Beare, 1964, p. 248-255; Sifakis, 1967, p. 135; Blume, 1991, p. 66; Beacham, 1992, p. 176‑177; Sear, 2006, p. 90. Gros, 1987, p. 338 remarks that the Vitruvian scaenae frons displays a “pétrification du décor tragique”.

18 In detail Bieber, 1961, p. 75, Beare, 1964, p. 254 and Sifakis, 1967, p. 135.

19 Saliou, 2009a, p. 258-261; Pickard-Cambridge, 1946, p. 217-218; Blume, 1991, p. 64. About the fading importance of stagepainting in Hellenistic time cf. Beare, 1964, p. 278 and Simon, 1981, p. 42; for the whole complex Beare, 1964, p. 275-278 and Blume, 1991, p. 60-65.

20 Details in Fuchs, 1987, p. XIII ; Moretti, 1997, p. 23 : “les peintures que portaient les pinax n’importaient pas au bon déroulement des représentations” and 24-25, with a sceptical view on the testimony of Vitruvius V 6, 9, leading to the conclusion : “Il n’est cependant aucun document qui oblige à penser que cette pratique a perduré après la construction à Athènes d’un bâtiment de scène en pierre”.

21 Cf. Valerius Maximus II 4,6. Saliou, 2009a, p. 260-261 discusses the possibility that this practice might have continued in later times; she admits, however, that this is difficult to confirm.

22 For the date cf. Pliny, Nat. 8,19.

23 Simon, 1981, p. 35: “Die Griechen hatten damals ja noch nicht die Prunkfassade der scaenae frons, die für ihre Auffassung vom Drama viel zu wenig wandlungsfähig gewesen wäre, sondern sie verkleideten das einfache Bühnenhaus mit perspektivisch gemalten Architekturbildern”; Beacham, 1992, p. 174-175: “A system of sliding panels [scaenae ductiles] ... might have been adapted for use on the earliest permanent stage when the façade was, as suggested, a flat wall against which flats could be placed. It would, however, have been inappropriate in the later, elaborately decorated scaenae frons stages once solid architectural ornamen­tation had replaced painted effects.”

24 Saliou, 2009a, p. 236-238 and 2009b, p. 72-73; Bieber, 1961, p. 182.

25 Fuchs, 1987, p. XIII-XIV. Already Euripides shows himself less flexible than his two famous predecessors in naming a definite location (Arnott, 1962, p. 117-118: “Normally we are before some specific house, palace or encampment – Apollo’s temple at Delphi, Agamemnon’s tent at Aulis, the palace of Theoclymenos in Egypt. Aeschylus and Sophocles considered themselves free to ignore the skene at will. Euripides accepts the inevitability of its physical presence and tries at all times to take it into account ... This fundamental change of attitude transforms the skene into a representational setting, and prepares the way for the total realism of Middle and New Comedy”); exactly the opposite should be expected if a more and more elaborate stage painting operating with moveable elements had been established (Sophocles was considered to be its inventor, according to Aristotle, Po. 4, p. 1449 a 17= test. 95 Radt).

26 Bieber, 1961, p. 201, ill. 676 and Sear, 2006, ill. 67. See É. Espérandieu, Recueil général des bas-reliefs, statues et bustes de la Gaule romaine. Suppléments (suite) par Raymond Lantier, Tome XII, Paris, 1947, p. 28, no. 7979.

27 References at Sear, 2006, p. 57, note 58.

28 Fuchs, 1987, p. 6-7 and 9-10, Sear, 2006, p. 60.

29 Fuchs, 1987, p. 163-166 and 100.

30 Fuchs, 1987, p. 190; in general, Rosso, 2009, p. 91 with note 17 and 93. A description of the statue is given by Moretti, 2010, p. 83-84 (see also 88-89).

31 Fuchs, 1987, p. 169; Röring at Ramallo Asensio and Röring, 2010, p. 163-172.

32 Fuchs, 1987, p. 169 and 91.

33 Pekáry, 1985, p. 48.

34 Niemeyer, 1968, p. 33. On Arausio cf. above p. 65, note 26.

35 Pekáry, 1985, p. 48.

36 Fuchs, 1987, p. 164, see also 180.

37 Fuchs, 1987, p. 193. Sauron, 2008, p. 41-42 points out that this development of the Roman scaenae frons to the “statuary” (even approaching the sense of “static”) contributed to the triumph of the mimic and pantomimic plays on the Roman stage. The symbolism of the cosmic order can be found in the design of the hierarchic stage wall as well as in the description of the (panto-) mimic genre at Lucian, Salt. 37-8.

38 In detail, Rosso, 2009, p. 95-101; Moretti, 2010, p. 81-87.

39 Sear, 2006, p. 85. For both theatres in relation to the descriptions given by Vitruvius see also Saliou, 2009b, p. 73; for Arausio see also Badie et al., 2007, p. 30-33 and Id, 2011, p. 193-202.

40 Sear, 2006, p. 85-86.

41 Sear, 2006, p. 86.

42 Sear, 2006, p. 87.

43 Sear, 2006, p. 90; see also 85 (about the stage of Volterrae): “the scaenae frons was clearly designed to impress”; Niemeyer, 1968, p. 33; already for late Republican Rome: Zanker, 1979, p. 297.

44 In recent years especially by Sutton, 1986 and Kragelund, 1999, who marginalizes the problems by pointing to conventional viewing patterns (p. 242-243): “As long as an audience is familiar with the code, it merely needs a few indications in order to accept that a stage which previously represented, say, the square in front of Theseus’ palace now represents the forest in which Hippolytus finds himself. A set of painted back-drops, a statue of Diana and the words of the actors may well have been all that it took” (this opinion does indeed not go well with the function of the technological stage finesse, which should, according to him, allow elaborate and diverse changes of scenes; here he also admits how strong the power of the word is at Seneca); on the contrary recently Kugelmeier, 2007, p. 25-42.

45 Beare, 1964, p. 267-274; see also Simon, 1981, p. 54; Beacham, 1992, p. 170-176.

46 Fortey and Glucker, 1975, p. 705.

47 Beacham, 1992, p. 172-173.

48 Publilius Syrus C 34.

49 Tarrant, 1985 on 885-919 agrees with Marek, 1909, p. 23-24 and Calder, 2005, p. 360 on the use of this device. He takes Atreus, corresponding to his superiority that can be felt throughout the play, “like a director overseeing a crucial scene, even giving Thyestes the cue, as it were, for his aria”; similar interpretations at Picone, 1984, p. 110: “L’ultima parte del dramma si struttura cosí come una rappresentazione in cui il drammaturgo è sulla scena per studiare da vicino la « qualità » della sua opera”, Schiesaro, 2003, p. 15 detects here a notion of “metatragedy” and a similarity to the “metanarrative structures in contemporary cinema”; cf. below p. 73 and Schiesaro, 2000, p. 147, Lefèvre, 2001, p. 112-113 and Lefèvre, 2000, p. 410 (“Medea e Atreo sono figure d’artisti”); recently, Boyle, 2006, p. 211-212.

50 Beare, 1964, p. 179 emphasizes, however: “The plays of Plautus are so constructed as to make it clear that no drop curtain was used or known”.

51 Considered by Marek, 1909, p. 23-4, G. Viansino, 1968, in the first volume of his commented edition, 2nd ed. Turin, p. 75, Zintzen, 1960, p. 44 and Schmidt, 2004, p. 352 with note 59.

52 Joerden, 1971, p. 411-412.

53 Perhaps identical with the διστεγία described by Pollux IV 129 (see also Beacham, 1992, p. 182). Saliou, 2009a, takes the fastigia in this case to signify especially the “gables” (“frontons”, see her discussion p. 158-159).

54 Coffey and Mayer, 1990 on 384, with reference to Canter, 1925, p. 123, Boyle, 1987 on 384-86, Sutton, 1986, p. 18 and Fitch, 2000, p. 12, note 8.

55 Fortey and Glucker, 1975, p. 704-705.

56 Zwierlein, 1966, p. 40-41.

57 Hine, 2000 on 807 thinks of an altar made of grass pieces (he compares Ovid, Met. VII 240-1 statuitque aras de caespite binas, / dexteriore Hecates, ast laeva parte Iuventae, “and built two turf altars, one on the right to Hecate and one on the left to Youth”), which Medea has ad hoc built (possibly by servants, after 578, probably after 739, because the nurse does not mention an altar in her monologue at 670-739).

58 Seneca presupposes the existence of stage altars more than once: HF 356, Phae. 424-5 and 708-9, Ag. 39, 585 and 951.

59 On terminology and height cf. Vitruvius V 6,2 and 7,2, see also Sear, 2006, p. 7 and 33-34 and Saliou, 2009a, p. 233 and 274. Arnott, 1962, p. 41 emphasizes, however, that this is only a gradual difference to the Classical Athenian stage. In fact, ancient sources attest an elevated stage already for the 5th century BC; yet, the difference to the previous constructional style and effect is already noticeable in the oldest preserved building of this type, the theatre of Oropos, which was constructed around 300 BC; see Fiechter, 1930, p. 15-16 and on this type of proscaenium stage in general Sifakis, 1967, p. 126-135, Simon, 1981, p. 13, Blume, 1991, p. 51-52, Beacham, 2007, p. 210-211.

60 Saliou, 2009a, p. 232-234.

61 Hose, 1999, p. 120.

62 Traversari, 1960, p. 68-72; Sear, 2006, p. 44 and 130-131. For later developments see Moretti, 2001, p. 198; for altars in the orchestra of Arelate Moretti, 2010, p. 72-73; for altars in the orchestra in general see the detailed discussion of Rosso, 2009, p. 95-101.

63 Fuchs, 1987, p. 143.

64 Cf. for Seneca’s time also Calpurnius, Ecl. 7,71-2 vidimus [...] in isdem saepe cavernis / aurea cum subito creverunt arbuta nimbo, “often we saw [...] how in the same caverns suddenly golden grew, watered by a sudden shower” (not referring to the stage, though) and Lucan IX 808-810 utque solet pariter totis se fundere signis / Corycii pressura croci, sic omnia membra / emisere simul rutilum pro sanguine virus, “and as Corycian saffron, when turned on, is wont to spout from every part of a statue at once, so all his limbs discharged red poison together instead of blood”; see also Wick, 2004, a.l. The technical requirements were provided for by Ctesibius’ water machine that worked with pressure, cf. Vitruvius X 7.

65 Kugelmeier, 2007, p. 148-167.

66 Simon, 1981, p. 37 (see above p. 64, note 23) and Jobst, 1970, p. 10-21.

67 Figural representations mentioned by Hine, 2000, p. 41, note 53, LIMC VI 2, p. 195, nos. 8 and 10, do not provide exact parallels, since Hine admits himself that they do not necessarily illustrate scenes of a drama (see also Kugelmeier, 2007, p. 80, note 217).

68 Hine, 2000, p. 42. This technical solution for the stage is actually to be assumed at Euripides, Med. 1321, criticized by Aristotle, Po. 15, p. 1454 b 1-3 as too artificial to be credible: φανερὸν οὖν, ὅτι καὶ τὰς λύσεις τῶν μύθων ἐξ αὐτοῦ δεῖ τοῦ μύθου συμβαίνειν καὶ μὴ ὥσπερ ἐν τῇ Μηδείᾳ ἀπὸ μηχανῆς, “it is therefore evident that the unravelling of the plot, no less than the complication, must arise out of the plot itself, it must not be brought about by the Deus ex Machina – as in the Medea”.

69 Sear, 2006, p. 8 and 90-1, with reconstruction drawings figs. 22-24; Beare, 1964, p. 273.

70 Pickard-Cambridge, 1946, p. 220 (with fig. 81): “of late Hellenistic or, more probably, early Imperial date”. Described in detail by Bieber, 1920, p. 76.

71 Sear, 2006, p. 246: “Above 19 beam slots to hold upper and lower timbers of roof”.

72 Bieber, 1961, p. 182 and Sear, 2006, p. 90-91.

73 Hine’s suggestions regarding the staging fail, particularly because he does not pay enough attention to the preserved Roman stages and differences to the Greek theatres (Hine, 2000, p. 41-42, 980-981, and 1023).

74 Hine, 2000, p. 42: “staging with props might well detract from, rather than enhance, the dense allusiveness and verbal energy that are as effective in private reading or in recitation as in stage performance.” See also Fantham, 1982, p. 36.

75 Kugelmeier, 2007, p. 129-130. Tarrant and Frank (see the following note) state that the report of the satelles formally serves as a transition between two scenes, as in Phae. 580-586, Ag. 775-78 and Med. 382-396, where, however, the problems mentioned above do not occur.

76 Hirschberg, 1989, p. 1-2: “Gleichwohl können in dem Rezitationsdrama Senecas beide Szenen im gleichen Akt nebeneinander Bestand haben. Denn die hier vorliegenden Veränderungen hinsichtlich des Schauplatzes, der Zeitvorstellung und der am Dialog beteiligten Personen haben ihre Parallelen in anderen Stücken Senecas”; Tarrant, 1978, p. 252: “The physical limitations of the ancient theatre seem completely left behind, and the properties of narrative and dramatic poetry uniquely juxtaposed” (he provides a parallel from a Roman comedy, Plautus, Rud. 160 sqq., which, however, differs from Seneca in that the people mentioned are not present on stage before); Frank, 1995 on 426 and on 427-42. Once again, one feels reminded of the possibilities of modern film-making.

77 Zwierlein, 1966, p. 34, Hirschberg, 1989, p. 3.

78 Tarrant, 1985, p. 180.

79 For a discussion of these verses and the textual problems involved (it seems recommendable to read tecti for templi) see Kugelmeier, 2007, p. 21, note 55.

80 The effect of this scenic change – the smoothly articulated transition between the darkness of the sacrifice scene to the seemingly glamorous interior of the palace – is well described by Picone, 1984, p. 113-114, who rightly emphasizes: “ciò è possibile perché le parole di Atreo sono pronunciate dal poeta che, prima di avviare l’azione da lui preparata, deve fornire l’indispensabile informazione al pubblico.”

81 Cf. the similarly imprecise presentation in verse 1154, which talks about the alta tecta (Kugelmeier, 2007, p. 185-186).

82 More in Kugelmeier, 2007, p. 196-200.

83 See now, among other standard volumes on Roman theatre (e.g. Bieber, 1961, p. 227-253, Frézouls, 1982, p. 344) Schmitzer, 2004, p. 80-81, and Boyle, 2006, p. 172-188.

84 Fam. VII 1,2-4.

85 Sear, 2006, p. 55-56, who, however, thinks Pliny’s numeric references are exaggerated.

86 More examples for this alienated usage are given by Moretti, 2001, p. 192, 196-197 (venationes, hunting games) and 198 (water games).

87 Blasi, 2007, p. 60: “In Asia Minor the Vitruvian theatrical model was elaborated in an adaptation subsequently defined as ‘Roman Micro-Asian’ which retained the plan of the Greek theater and simply added the Roman scaenae frons to it. It is most likely that the transformations that led from the Greek structure to the Roman were the result of changing visual requirements in relation to the new types of entertainment.”

88 Beacham, 1992, p. 180. Here, the four types of professions (artes) mentioned by Seneca (21-23, with reference to Posidonius F 90 Edelstein-Kidd), are: the vulgares et sordidae (craftsmanship), the ludicrae (the entertainers), the pueriles (the childish) and finally the liberales (those worthy of a free person), of which is said (23): solae autem liberales sunt ... quibus curae virtus est, “but only the liberal arts ... are those whose concern is virtue”.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1. Roman theatre of Augusta Emerita.
URL http://pallas.revues.org/docannexe/image/1671/img-1.png
Fichier image/png, 605k
Titre Fig. 2. Reconstruction of a frons scaenae (Beacham, 1992).
URL http://pallas.revues.org/docannexe/image/1671/img-2.png
Fichier image/png, 1,7M
Titre Fig. 3. Roman theatre of Bostra.
URL http://pallas.revues.org/docannexe/image/1671/img-3.png
Fichier image/png, 575k
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Christoph Kugelmeier, « Seneca’s Tragedies and the Theatres of their Time: Opportunities or Obstacles for Staging? », Pallas, 95 | 2014, 59-81.

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Christoph Kugelmeier, « Seneca’s Tragedies and the Theatres of their Time: Opportunities or Obstacles for Staging? », Pallas [En ligne], 95 | 2014, mis en ligne le 01 juin 2014, consulté le 29 mai 2017. URL : http://pallas.revues.org/1671 ; DOI : 10.4000/pallas.1671

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Christoph Kugelmeier

Professeur de Philologie classique
Universität des Saarlandes, Saarbrücken
c.kugelmeier@mx.uni-saarland.de

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