- Theater Outside Athens: Drama in Greek Sicily and South Italy ed. by Kathryn Bosher
Given the dearth of accessible scholarship published on classical theatrical practices and their cultural contexts beyond Athens, Theatre Outside Athens is without peer. Editor Kathryn Bosher, who also contributes a chapter, opens Theatre Outside Athens asserting that the “Two main goals of this volume are to articulate the ways in which Greek theatre in the west was distinct from that of the Greek mainland, and, at the same time, to investigate how the two traditions influenced each other” (1). The collection superbly secures these objectives through an interdisciplinary examination encompassing methodologies from classical studies, theatre history, art history, political science, and archaeology. It likewise deserves the attention of any scholar or graduate student interested in Greek dramatic theatre.
Despite a few stylistic inconsistencies and typographical errors, the book is tightly organized, with several essays presenting structured and compelling arguments—many clearly integrated with preceding or following chapters through explicitly noted connections. Following Bosher’s introduction, which outlines the chapters, themes, and scope, the book itself is divided into three main sections. The first section, “Tyrants, Texts, and Theatre in Early Sicily,” contains eight essays addressing the interplay between politics and theatre. It begins with Jonathan Hall’s “Early Greek Settlement in the West: The Limits of Colonialism,” which problematizes the colonial understanding of the relationship between Greek settlers and indigenous populations in the West by emphasizing their complex cross-cultural interaction. Contrary to John J. Winkler and Froma I. Zeitlin’s landmark collection, Nothing to Do with Dionysus? (1990), three essays in this section also question democracy’s presumed fundamental significance to Greek dramatic theatre through the counterexamples of how the Sicilian tyrants Hieron and Dionysius I employed [End Page 95] tragedy to their own political aggrandizement—in Dionysius I’s case, by writing and staging autobiographical dramas. Finally, David G. Smith’s intriguing case study attempts to contextualize Epicharmus’s comic dramaturgy and suggest how Stesichorian fragments, Aeschylus’s Aetneae, and Euripides’s Ion contributed to a geopolitical struggle over “competing claims to the . . . fertile Leontinian plains of eastern Sicily” (119). This first section will probably appeal to the widest readership, with insights about the broader socio-political contexts of theatre in the West and their reciprocal impact on Athenian theatre. For general readers, the section promises a few tangential surprises, too, like Bosher’s description of Charonian steps beneath some orchestras, which allowed actors a more otherworldly entrance (104).
The second section, “Stone Theatres, Wooden Stages, and Western Performance Traditions,” concerns archaeological remains and consists of two chapters on theatres, four on vases, and one on funeral votives. In the well-documented, “Between Performance and Identity,” Clemente Marconi criticizes the “traditional narrative” that stone theatres were concurrent with the early flourishing of dramatic performance in Sicily, arguing instead for a later Hellenistic dating during Sicily’s repopulation, consistent with archaeological evidence and primary sources (179). Oliver Taplin’s essay, “How was Athenian Tragedy Played in the Greek West?,” accepts that Sicilian “vases add up to a good case for the activity of performances of tragedy . . . in Heraclea before 390 BC” (236) and speculates on the logistics of tragedy’s transmission through touring companies. Taplin’s doubts about his approach notwithstanding, Luigi Todisco’s essay reasonably conjectures how bilingual vase painters explained the meaning of vases’ “mythical, and possibly theatrical, scenes” for non-Greek speaking indigenous people in Sicily who bought the vases as funerary offerings (271). Further considering theatre’s connection to funerals, Bonnie MacLachlan abduces “that the special nature of chthonic rituals . . . made them a natural venue for parodic performance . . . in which comic theatre flourished” (343), providing a plausible explanation for funerary votives depicting comic actors and, incidentally, echoing Lillian B. Lawler’s speculation in “The Dance of the Owl and Its Significance in the History of Greek Religion and the Drama” (1939) about funerary ritual’s contributions to satyr plays. While the writing and scholarship in this section is as strong as the...