Published online by Cambridge University Press: 28 March 2008
THE ORIGINS OF ROMAN DRAMA
The Hellenistic theatre and Italy
After Menander's death (292 B.C.) the Greek theatrical profession, which had been primarily Athenian, became Panhellenic. Many Greek cities built or renovated theatres on a grand scale, and it is the remains of these, not of theatres of the classical period, that the traveller sees at such sites as Delos or Epidaurus. In the generation during which the scholar-poet Callimachus worked at Ptolemy's new ‘Museum’ in Alexandria, when the Sicilian Theocritus was composing his pastorals, and when the future father of Roman literature, the Greek Andronicus, was still a boy at Tarentum, the acting profession was acquiring a new prestige, even political power. The actors, musicians, and writers of tragedy and comedy were organized into ‘chapels’ or ‘conventicles’, θιασοι or συνοδοι, and they called themselves οι περι τον Διóνυσον τεχνιται ‘the Artists in the service of Dionysus’. Four ‘Guilds’ of the Artists emerged, each corresponding to a region of the Greek world; apart from regulating terms and rules for dramatic competitions, these organizations even behaved in some ways like independent states, and would negotiate rights of safe passage for their members with a city or federation. Thus the acting profession came to depend and to thrive on a ‘circuit’ of musical and dramatic festivals among which Athens was only one of several centres. New plays were still produced, but the emphasis shifted to a repertoire of classics – in comedy, Menander, Philemon, and Diphilus; in tragedy, Sophocles, Euripides, and the latter's imitators.