Florence Dupont

in The Oxford Handbook of Roman Studies

Published in print June 2010 | ISBN: 9780199211524
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Classics and Ancient History


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The theatre is a nodal point in the culture of Roman bilingualism. It acts as an interface, first between Hellenistic tradition and the affirmation of a distinctly Roman identity – realised through litterae Latinae among other means – and second between the ritual of the games and the literary conservation of the texts that enabled ludic performance. This ambiguity means that while the Romans designate plays as ‘tragedy’, ‘comedy’, or ‘mime’ – that is, with Greek terms – they speak solely of scenic games (ludi scenici) for general theatrical practice. They indicate thereby that the ritual is strictly Roman, even if qualified as ‘Greek’: the ludi scenici are also called ludi Graeci. Outside the texts of Plautus, Terence, Seneca, and a few fragments of Ennius, all we know about the living theatre comes basically from rhetorical treatises. Actors and orators share the art of voice and gesture – called actio for oratory. The Eclogues were written for preservation in the libraries as the founding example of Roman bucolic, but were composed at the same time for the theatre.

Keywords: Romans; theatre; scenic games; plays; tragedy; comedy; mime; Eclogues; actors; orators

Article.  6265 words. 

Subjects: Classical Studies ; Classical Drama ; Classical History

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