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Level 6

6AACTL80 Hollywood stardom ancient style: actors, musicians and dancers in the Greek and Roman world

Credit value: 15
Module convenor 2018/19: Professor Ismene Lada-Richards
Teaching pattern: 10 x 2-hour seminar/lecture (weekly)
Availability: Please see module list for relevant year
Assessment: 1 x 2-hour exam (100%)

Students are reassessed in the failed elements of assessment and by the same methods as the first attempt.

Assessment Pattern for Graduate Diploma Students & Semester 1 Study Abroad students

Assessment: 2 x 2000 word essays (100%; each essay worth 50%)

Students are reassessed in the failed elements of assessment and by the same methods as the first attempt.

 The modules offered in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand, there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary between years.

Do you think the fashioning of actors, musicians and dancers as popular cult icons is the exclusive product of modern media industries? This module will teach you otherwise, as it promises to tell the fascinating story of the ancient stage-entertainment world, paying particular attention to the meteoric rise of actors, stage instrumentalists and soloist dancers — the way they captivated the soul and haunted the imagination of spectators from the middle of the fifth century BC to the sixth century AD.

We will start by visiting milestone developments for the emergence of an acting profession, such as the first introduction of acting contests or the formation of actors' repertoires. What do we know of the ability of charismatic actors to generate deep emotional turmoil in thousands of spectators, eager to be made to ‘weep and cry’? Why did an actor of Aeschylus' generation call a younger rival an ‘ape’? What makes the fourth century BC tragic actor Polus a worthy precursor of Stanislavsky's ‘Method Acting’? How did fourth-century BC acting stars amass fabulous wealth? We will take a look at the revolutionary musical style known as the “new music”, a popular, theatrical idiom demanding virtuosity and spectacular display and creating superstars such as the celebrated piper Pronomos, the Michael Jackson of antiquity. We will then move to Rome and the figure of the Roman actor as an ambiguous cultural construct, glorified and despised in equal measure. Here we will even find female stars, such as the fabulously rich Dionysia or Volumnia Cytheris, possibly the “Madonna” of her day. Last but not least we will admire the marvels of pantomime dancing, one of the greatest aesthetic attractions in the ancient world, featuring a solo silent dancer who, by means of his corporeal eloquence, narrated age-old mythical plots (with a particular preference for tales of transgressive love and transformation). Juvenal's tale of aristocratic Roman ladies spending the long winter months fondling their favourite dancer's mask, thyrsus or tights kept as a fetish speaks of a devotion as obsessive as that witnessed in the case of Marilyn Monroe or Elvis Presley in the '50s and the '60s. The module will guide you through the maze of sources revealing the magnitude of the ancient pantomime's allure and sheer pulling power — mesmerising in his steps, postures and gestures, he danced his way into the very hearts and minds of baseborn and aristocrats alike, scorching his viewers' memory and living indelible imprints on their imagination.

We will be working with a broad variety of Greek and Roman sources, all in English translation. A vivid interest in aspects of performance and a strong urge to connect the past with the present are crucial prerequisites for your enjoyment of this module.

Suggested introductory reading

This is suggested reading and purchase of these books is not mandatory:

  • E. Csapo, Actors and Icons of the Ancient Theatre  (UK,  Blackwell: 2010)
  • P.E. Easterling, and E. Hall, eds. Greek and Roman Actors: Aspects of an Ancient Profession. (Cambridge 2002)
  • I. Lada-Richards, Silent Eloquence: Lucian and Pantomime Dancing. (London: Duckworth 2007).
  • E. Hall, and R. Wyles, eds. New Directions in Ancient Pantomime. (Oxford 2008)
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