Greece and the Theatre

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  • Created by: chunks-42
  • Created on: 29-01-16 17:21

In the sixth and fifth centuries before Christ and ancient civilisation reached such heights of intellectual and artistic achievement that every succeeding period of Western culture, from the Roman Empire to the twentieth century, has been heavily in its debt, whether acknowledged or not. Those momentous years saw the beginnings of history and political theory (as well as political democracy) and the development of philosophical thought. In those years architects designed the temples which have dominated our concept of civic building ever since, and sculptors imposed on us an ideal vision of the human form which remains the point of reference even for those artists who turn against it. Not least among the achievements of this great age was the invention and perfection of an artistic medium which we take so unthinkingly for granted that we cannot imagine civilised life without it - theatre.

This outburst of creative energy in every field of endeavor took place in the eastern Meditterranean - Greece, the islands of the Aegean Sea and the Greek cities of Asia Minor. Earlier civilisations in this area - Babylon to the east and Egypt to the south, for example - had fertile river valleys for an economic base, but Greece was (and still is) a poor country. "Greece and Poverty"; said the historian Herodotus, "have always been bedfellow"; the land, as Odysseus says of Ithaca, his island home, is "a rugged place." From the air, as most travelers first see it now and as the vultures circle that circle over Apollo's shrine at Delphi always have, it is a forbidding sight. The bare mountain spines and ribs cross-hatch a disjointed grid from sea to sea, the armature of some gigantic statue that was never fleshed out. On the ground this first impression, modified in some details, holds good in the main: one entire third of the surface of Greece is naked rock on which nothing can grow or grace. The stark outlines of these mountains - peaks, range and valleys harshly clear from far away in the inexorable dry sunlight, softened only by the violet tone the twilight gives them for a few exquisite moments - these outlines are the frame and background of everything the Greeks saw. The mountains must have given them that sense of form, of the depth and solidity of natural shapes, which made them a race of sculptors and monumental buildings, and it was in the mountains that they found the raw materials, limestone and marble, from which with chisel, hammer and drill they cut the stone images of their gods and columns for temples to house them. The mountains hemmed them in and cut them off from each other, as hard to cross in the winter snows as in the scorching heat of summer, they ringed the Greek horizon and made each lowland settlement a seperate world.

Below the naked rock of the peaks, the trees, but there are not many left. Even in Plato's time, in the fourth century BC…


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