Structure of the Greek Theater
Ancient Greek theaters were very large, open-air structures that took advantage of sloping hillsides for their terraced seating. Because of drama's close connection with religion, theaters were often located in or near sanctuaries. The theater pictured here, for example, is set on the slopes of Mt. Parnassus above the famous temple of Apollo at Delphi (home of the Delphic oracle that figures so prominently in the myth of Oedipus). Similarly, the Theater of Dionysus in Athens was situated in the sacred precinct of Dionysus at the foot of the Acropolis. See also the theater on Apollo's sacred island of Delos. The theater in Epidaurus, discussed below, was near the sanctuary of Asklepios, god of healing. Many of these theaters were built in relatively open areas with lovely vistas, and the view from the Delphi theater is truly breathtaking. The core of any Greek theater is the orchestra, the “dancing place” of the chorus and the chief performance space. Almost nothing remains from the fifth-century structure of the Theater of Dionysus in Athens, but later theaters suggest that the original orchestras were full circles; see, for example, this aerial view of the theater at Epidaurus. This is the best-preserved of all extant Greek theaters; the ancient plays are still being performed here, and this computer animation will help you to recreate the experience. Although this theater was built at the end of the fourth century BCE and rebuilt and enlarged in the second century, it does enable us to visualize what the ancient theaters must have been like. The orchestra is approximately 66 feet in diameter; this photo shows the orchestra at Epidaurus with a modern set for a production of Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound. An altar of Dionysus was usually located in the center of the orchestra. The audience sat in the theatron, the “seeing place,” on semi-circular terraced rows of benches (in the earliest theaters these were wooden; they were later...
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