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Classical Greek Drama in Modern Greece: Mission and Money Stratos E. Constantinidis Introduction Lines 1164-1165 in the éxodos of Aristophanes' Ecclesiazousae are generally assigned to Praxagora's drunk maid. She tells Vlepyros "And you too, move your feet in the Cretan manner." Textual evidence suggests that she urges him to perform a "high stepping" dance: the little girls (meirakes) who accompany the chorus, are told to mark the rhythm "with the whole leg" (1167), and the chorus members urge each other to "Get it up" (1179) as they make their exit. High step, straight back, head held high are features of Minoan Cretan dancers (Lawler 1964: 94-95). The drunk maid bequeathed modern directors a quandary: should they use a modern Cretan dance, or concoct—lacking archeological records—an allegedly "archaic" one? Alexis Solomos, the first director to revive Aristophanes' comedies at the Epidaurus theatre , gave his productions a flavor of the 1950s rather than stage shaky inferences about how the ancient Greeks supposedly performed in their amphitheatres. "My purpose," Solomos said, "was not so much to present an artificial revival as to prove a natural survival " (Solomos 1974: 11). The maid's lines circumscribe a wider problem in the revival of classical drama on modern Greek stages: should a theatre company "translate" the verbal and visual aspects of the ancient plays to suit the understanding and tastes of modern audiences or preserve the verbal, paraverbal, and non-verbal elements? Historically, this problem has proven to be a tough one for the modern Greek theatre, having caused great conflict between the advocates of rival production styles. There is no exact equivalent in the English theatrical tradition for this kind of conflict. The present study aims at describing the issues and tensions that have resulted from reviving classical Greek plays in modern Greece. Their history, in brief, consists of the century-long amateur 15 16 Stratos E. Constantinidis productions (1830-1930) followed by half-a-century of professional (subsidized) productions (1931-81). The focus here is on the first period . From the Neoclassics to the Classics Modern Greek theatre was born outside Greece in the large Greek communities of Bucharest (Romania), Alexandria (Egypt), Odessa (U.S.S.R.), Vienna (Austria), Venice (Italy), and Constantinople (Sideris 1970: 151). High school based community theatres produced Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, and Aristophanes in translation for ideological purposes. The productions, say, of Hecuba (Bucharest 1817)—a collation of passages from Homer's Iliad rather than Euripides' tragedy (Zoras 1967: 509)—and Sophocles' Philoctetes (Odessa 1818), served as tools for instructing the subjugated Greeks against the Turkish domination. Rigas Pheraios' Map of Greece (1797), for example, which portrayed an ideal Greece stretching from Crete to the Danube, bears a drawing of an ancient Greek amphitheatre in the upper left-hand corner, thus affirming the importance of theatre as a cultural expression of Greek unity (Kambanis 1948: 129-130; Dimaras 1964: 162-163). Between 1791 and 1821 the Greek Enlightment turned out some 65 plays in translation such as Pietro Metastasio's Orpheus and Euridice (l797), Goethe's Iphigenia Among the Taurians (1818), and Vittorio Alfieri's Orestes (1820) (Sideris 1976: 18). Published and produced translations of the Greek classics such as Sophocles' Ajax (1817) divided the plays into acts and scenes and incorporated the original choral lines into the dialogue. This spirit of adapting the classics to current esthetics was an initial approach to reviving ancient Greek drama (Sideris 1976: 17). During the 1835-36 season, several actors and intellectuals went to Athens, the capital of new Greece, to assist in the rebirth of drama (Veis 1940: 19). Costas Aristias, for example, came from Bucharest and became artistic director of the amateur Friends of Drama Company. This company set a double goal for itself: to teach a generation of young actors to perform ancient Greek plays in Athens and other major towns and to re-educate the modern Greek audiences to the cultural treasures of their own past apart from Italian and French melodramas (Paraskinia 1938: 269-273). Ironically, the company produced Vincenzo Monti's Aristodemus (1840) and then disbanded. Aristias returned to Romania while melodramas and operettas dominated the theatre of Athens from 1840 to...


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pp. 15-32
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