National Geographic : 1944 Mar
In Such a Theater Orestes and Electra Played TheirTragic Roles THE THEATERS of the Greeks were always open to the sky, and almost invariably took advantage of the slope of a hill on which to support the rows of stone seats of the koilon, where the audience sat. The auditorium formed slightly more than a semicircle. At either side was a passageway, known as the parodos, through which the Dionysiac procession made its entrance, and which could also be used by actors. The parodoi led directly to the circular orchestra, of hard-packed earth, sur rounded by a stone curb and a gutter, deep or shallow, which collected the rain water funneled down from the seats. Flights of steps divided the koilon into a series of wedge-shaped sections, known as kerkides, and, if the theater were large, there might be a level aisle, called a diazoma, partway up the slope. The front row of seats, facing on the orchestra, was re served for the dignitaries and persons of greatest importance. These seats often were provided with backs, or even took the shape of individual thrones. The stage was never connected into an architectural whole with the koilon, or auditorium, until Roman times. The stage, or skene, shown in the picture is typical of about the third century B.C . or slightly later. Only foundations re main of the stage buildings which saw the initial perform ances of the great plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Eurip ides in the fifth century. There was a shallow proskenion, consisting of a row of half columns backed against stone piers, between which were painted screens, called periakta, which in some cases could be turned in their sockets toafford achange ofscenery. Realism or naturalism inscenery was unknown. Above the proskenionisthe logeion, anarrow platform where, according to someauthorities, virtually alltheaction of the play occurred. Access to the logeion was either by stair attheback ofthe scene building, or by ramps ateither end oftheproskenion. Some theaters show a sort oftrapdoor onthehighest roof, from which a god couldbemade toappear. Masks designed for thetype ofplay were invariably worn by the actors. Womennever appeared onthestage, all parts being taken by menor boys. The Greek theater gaveusseveral theatrical words. Scene comes, of course, from skene, which originally meant atent, once made of skins, to which theactors retired. Our prosce nium arch gets its name from theproskenion, which was in front of the skene. Tragedy and comedy both come from Greek words. Chorus derives from choros, thegroup which danced and sang in the early plays. The very word "drama" comes directly from theGreek. The occasional revivalofone ofthepolitical and social satires of Aristophanes shows thevital quality ofGreek humor. The plays of Menander, inthefourth century B.C., set comedy in a path from which ithasdeparted very little. The dramas of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides are among our greatest literary heritages. Among recent suc cesses on the Americanstage was anEnglish version of Aristophanes' Lysistrata, presented onBroadway in1930 and taken later on a triumphal tour ofthis country.