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The Skene in Aristophanes

  • K. J. Dover (a1)


No one can write an adequate commentary on a Greek play, or even edit it adequately, without producing it in his mind; that is to say, he must see in his mind's eye the exact location, movement and gesture of every character at every moment, arid must hear in his mind's ear the exact tone of every word. Admittedly, we do not know so very much about the appearance of the theatre in the fifth century B.C., or about the actors' costumes, or about Greek gestures; even our knowledge of the pronunciation of Greek at the relevant period is imperfect; and our ignorance of delivery and acting styles is total. Therefore, when we produce a play in our imagination we can hardly fail to import much which would be recognized as grossly erroneous if our evidence were suddenly to be increased. Yet, as so often happens in the study of the ancient world, we are confronted with a choice of risks. We can take the risk of an imaginative reconstruction which may be factually wrong but is at least reconcilable with all the evidence we have and is kept reconcilable, by modification, with whatever fresh evidence comes to light from time to time; or, alternatively, we can take the risk of missing the point of what the dramatist is saying and therefore of importing the wrong point. Even if we are not temperamentally disposed (as I am) in favour of the former risk, we are virtually forced to take it when we have committed ourselves to editing a text. The punctuation of a dramatic text is a matter for producers, not grammarians; a comma gives one instruction to the actor, a colon gives a different instruction—and few editors are likely to practise ars nescienti so pertinaciously as to refrain from giving the actors any such instructions at all.



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Note: In this paper the expressions ‘on stage’ and ‘off stage’ mean ‘in sight of the audience’ and ‘out of sight of the audience’. They do not imply that the area immediately south-south-east of the orchestra was higher than the orchestra, or that it was not.

page 2 note 1 This would not be true in all written languages, but let us use gratefully the system of punctuation which we have inherited in English.

page 2 note 2 It might perhaps be denied by Samuel Beckett that limbs are indispensable.

page 3 note 1 The word σκηνοποιός, cited by Pollux VII, 189, is not relevant evidence, as it need not have a theatrical reference. Pollux says τούς δὲ μηχανοποιούς καὶ σκηνοττοιούς ἡ παλαιὰ κωμῳδία ὠνόμαзεν, and continues (190) γελωτοποιός κτλ….Έκπωματοποιὸς δὲ δρᾶμα Άλέξιδος κτλ.

page 3 note 2 Cf. Dinsmoor, W. B. in Studies Presented to David M. Robinson (Saint Louis, 1951), 309 ff.

page 4 note 1 Arnott, P. D., Greek Scenic Convenions in the Fifth Century B.C. (Oxford, 1962), examines, and seems rather to favour, the interpretation of σκηνογραφία as permanent decoration, no more relevant to one play than to another. But the context in which Aristotle speaks of it, and his attribution of its invention to a dramatic poet (not to a painter), make it very unlikely that he had anything of that kind in mind.

page 5 note 1 Dale, A. M., JHS LXXVII (1957), 206 , believes that the audience would have to be improbably ‘high-minded’ not to be distracted by scene-shifters. This belief does not seem to me tenable with reference to any period before the invention of effective stage-curtains, and not necessary even thereafter; one would need to know, in respect of any given civilization, what audiences took for granted and what they did not.

page 6 note 1 Scholiasts more often use the word as a verbal noun (e.g. ὲκκύκλημα γίνεται) than as the name of an object.

page 6 note 2 The first scene of Clouds begins with one of two characters asleep, but that is not at all the same as revealing a sleeping character after exterior action.

page 6 note 3 Trygaios's, rupture of dramatic illusion in Pax 173 ff. (οϊμ' ὡς δὲδοικα κτλ.) is not humour at the expense of theatrical convention, but exploitation of the humorous possibilities opened up by theatrical machinery. I would draw a strong distinction.

page 6 note 4 Notably by Dale, loc. cit. 205 ff. But her standpoint is not entirely consistent; in suggesting (207) that in Wasps the ‘petit-bourgeois house’ cannot be ‘a grand affair with paraskenia’ she insists on giving the skene a representational character which her interpretation of other plays implicitly denies.

page 7 note 1 Cf. Dinsmoor, loc. cit. 326.

page 8 note 1 So Dale in WSt LXIX (1956), 97 ; but, on the one-door theory, how much does the resemblance of the skene to actual houses matter? Is not argument based on the need for resemblance an attempt to have one's cake and eat it?

page 9 note 1 I have not yet read or heard any entirely satisfactory interpretation of 1096 σύγκλῃε, καὶ δεῖττνόν τις ἐνσκευαзέτω, which appears to mean: ‘Shut <the door> and let someone start preparing a dinner (for packing) in (a hamper).’ ‘Begin shutting up the house’ would imply that Dikaiopolis is going off to the feast with his whole household, and there is nothing in the play to suggest that. If there is only one door, then (a) we have been encouraged to imagine it since 1069 as Lamachos's door, (b) in 1096 we are made to think of it as Dikaiopolis's, behind which the process of δεῖττνον ἐνσκευάзειν is to begin, and (c) in 1097 we realize that it is no longer anybody's door, but the point of transition between ‘indoors' and On stage’. I do not see how the change of function required for 1097 ff. can be signalled to the audience by leaving the door open after 1072 and making Dikaiopolis say ‘shut it’ at 1096, when the first ‘bring out…’ order is uttered not by Dikaiopolis but by Lamachos. Given the preceding line and a half, there is something to be said for Rennie's emendation σύγκλαε, i.e. κλᾶε μετὰ τῆς Γopyóvoς (the δαίμων through whom Lamachos is κακοδαίμων). Cf. κλᾶε in 1032 and Aristophanes' readiness to use rare or unattested compounds with συν-, e.g. Eq. 479, Ra. 402, Pl. 847; but I would keep καί rather than substitute Rennie's νυν.

page 12 note 1 Dale, , JHS LXXVII, 210 , comments on the ‘strangeness’ of attacking the roof.

page 14 note 1 Dale, 210, calls attention to 508 καταβαίνων, and suggests that Socrates and Strepsiades ‘step down off the back of the eccyclema to go inside’. But κατα- is determined by the preceding and following words, εις τὼ χεῖρέ νυν κτλ. and ὤσπερ εἰς Τροφωνίου: Strepsiades is as frightened of going into the school as of going down into the cave of Trophonios.

page 14 note 2 No argument can be based on the use of the diminutive θύριον; cf. Th. 26, where Euripides says to his kinsman ὃρᾷς τὸ θύριον τοῦτο, referring to Agathon's door, from which Agathon will shortly be ‘rolled out’ (96), undoubtedly on the tragic trolley. In both Nu. and Th. the diminutive is ingratiating.

page 14 note 3 I have seen Clouds performed in this way, in a ‘shoestring’ production on a floor not designed for modern theatrical requirements, and the dramatic effect was remarkable; the moving of the screen and the disclosure of the students was rather like the lifting of a big stone and the disclosure of panic-stricken woodlice.

page 15 note 1 I agree with Dale (208) against Fraenkel, in Greek Poetry and Life (Oxford, 1936), 262 ff., that nothing in the language of the scene favours the supposition that the girl and the old woman are on the roof.

page 16 note 1 We cannot infer from the use of οὖτος anything about the distance between two characters in Aristophanes.

page 16 note 2 There is deliberate grotesquerie in the employment by the old woman of a convention appropriate to those a quarter her age.

page 16 note 3 Delphis's words in 118 ff. are a young man's brag about a purely hypothetical situation.

The Skene in Aristophanes

  • K. J. Dover (a1)


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