Historical Analysis Through Architecture: Determining Cultural Values of Ancient Greece and Rome Through the Study of the Theater at Epidauros and the Theater of Pompey

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Historical Analysis Through Architecture: Determining Cultural Values of Ancient Greece and Rome Through The Study of The Theater at Epidauros and The Theater of Pompey

In many ancient cultures, before written languages were created, the primary form of historical documentation was through story telling, which later developed into the art of theater. The origins of this art form can be traced back to Ancient Greece, which proved to be greatly influential on the culture of Ancient Rome. The theatrical arts serve as an exemplary source in understanding the culture of a civilization. Many would say that Architecture, if explored to its maximum potential, is also capable of weaving stories of its own. When carefully studied and analyzed, surviving buildings of significance reveal a plethora of historical knowledge, including cultural values and technological capabilities of the civilization of whence it was created. The designs of Roman and Greek theatres, specifically the theater at Epidauros and the Theater of Pompey, reveal a difference in cultural values of Ancient Greece and Rome.

Greek theatre originates with the inebriated merriments of followers of Dionysus, the god of fertility and wine. Dancing, singing, and stories of Greek mythology began to take a choral form. In 6th century B.C., a priest of Dionysus engaged in a dialogue with the “chorus”, an element that marks the birth of theatre as its known today. Theatrical contests emerged and became a regular event within the annual festivities honoring Dionysus. Through the performances, the semblance of a theater begins to emerge. The chorus and actors would perform in a circular area called the orchestra, derived from orchester or dancer, with an altar in the center and a wooden structure (scene) behind it. Large masks were used for the purposes of costume and projection. Large amounts of citizens would gather and sit along the slope of the Athenian hillside overlooking the “stage”, setting precedence to a raked auditorium, an exclusive contribution to architecture from the Greeks. Over time the layout of a typical Greek theater developed into three main parts, the theatron or cavea (audience), the orchestra (stage) and the skene (stage building). Other components such as the orchestra pit were slowly added with time.

The theater of Epidauros serves as the best example of a classical Greek theater. It is known to surpass all others in harmony and beauty. Epidauros was the birthplace of Apollo’s son, Asclepius, also known as the healer. The asclepieion, a healing temple, became the most popular healing center in the classical world and its success brought upon the construction of civic monuments, most notably the theater, designed by Polykleitos the Younger in 4th century B.C. The seats, arranged in 55 semi-circular rows, lay nicely along the natural curve and slope of Mount Kynortion. The orchestra is perfectly circular (See Figure 1). A water canal that collects and drains rain water runs between the last two wedges of the curves of the auditorium. The auditorium covers more than a semi-circle around the orchestra. Usually this arouses the problem of people at the ends facing away from the stage and more towards the orchestra pit. Awkward walls jut out near the entrances and exits, like in the theater at Delos. Instead of solving this by cutting a straight line through the diameter of the orchestra pit, Polykleitos widened the circle without seemingly changing the radius. He also designed the upper band of seats with a steeper slant. With a consistent regular slant, heads of spectators will limit the vision of those that sit behind them. This now commonly used principle of a steeper slope higher up allows all spectators to see comfortably.

One of the extraordinary features of the theater at Epidauros is the acoustics of the amphitheater. Spectators as far as the last row have been able to hear actors and musician clearly...
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