Greek Theatre, Landscape and Environment

 This site documents the

Public workshopGreek Theatre, Landscape and Environment’

that took place on the 28th of February 2014,
at the Anatomy Museum, King’s College London.

Speakers:
Rush Rehm, keynote (Stanford), David Wiles, keynote (Exeter), Peter Meineck (New York), Emmanuela Bakola (King’s)

Discussants:
Chris Carey (UCL), Nick Lowe (RHUL), Fiona Macintosh (Oxford), Richard Seaford (Exeter), Oliver Taplin (Oxford)

Overview:

The performance spaces of fifth-century Athenian drama were in many respects radically different from anything we encounter in the modern era. Theatres were not so much buildings as landscape architecture. They were embedded in the natural landscape and offered their audiences panoramic views of the surrounding environment. This environment has profoundly informed the plays’ imagery, dramaturgy and theoretical reflections. In many plays, the imagery of natural spaces (mountainscapes, the sea, agricultural fields), which evoked what would have lain immediately in view of the audience, is central to many plays’ reflection on the natural and the divine order. In other plays, there is intense focus on the beaten surface of the orchestra as evocative of the earth and its generative (and deadly) powers. Many plays integrate the presence and movement of the sun, the winds and other elements of the sky, trees and vegetation, rocks and hillsides, whilst exploiting the contrasts between light, shade and darkness generated during performance time in intensely symbolic ways. Beyond the immediate environment, Greek drama also evokes natural spaces beyond the audience’s horizon. It thus creates an all-encompassing whole which is crucial for its reflection on humanity’s place in the cosmic and natural order.

This workshop explored the theory that the landscape – in terms of the audience’s perception not just of the theatre space but also of their apprehension of the natural world – is fundamental to our understanding of Greek drama as spatial medium. It took a macroscopic and holistic view of theatre space relating it to the ecological surroundings of Greek theatrical performances. It also looked at what the engagement of the theatre with the landscape can tell us about Greek attitudes to the human relationship to the environment.

Talks by pioneering scholars in the field of theatre space were followed by a roundtable discussion open to the audience. The event took place in the state-of-the-art KCL Anatomy Museum, whose facilities were used to make a visual statement of the relationship between theatre space, landscape and environment.

The event was sponsored by the Leverhulme Trust, the KCL Public Engagement Department, the Benjamin Jowett Trust Fund and the Hellenic Society.

Papers

  • Rush Rehm (keynote), Tragic ecology: space and limit in Greek tragedy.

  • David Wiles (keynote), Space and place: Greek theatre and the earth.

  • Peter Meineck, Landscape and ecstasy: the neuroscience of the ancient Athenian theatre.

  • Emmanuela Bakola, The spaces that make the earth: a holistic spatial approach to Aeschylus’ Persians.

  • Discussion: Rush Rehm, David Wiles, Peter Meineck, Emmanuela Bakola, Chris Carey, Nick Lowe, Fiona Macintosh, Richard Seaford, Oliver Taplin

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