Chapter XXI. The Great Festivals of Athens.
To analyze the Attic drama is the task of the philosopher and the literary expert. We observe only the superficialities. There are never more than THREE speaking actors before the audience at once. They wear huge masques, shaped to fit their parts. The wide mouthpieces make the trained elocution carry to the most remote parts of the theater. The actors wear long trailing robes and are mounted on high shoes to give them sufficient stature before the distant audience. When a new part is needed in the play, an actor retires to the booth, and soon comes forth with a changed masque and costume - an entirely new character. In such a costume and masque, play of feature and easy gesture is impossible; but the actors carry themselves with a stately dignity and recite their often ponderous lines with a grace which redeems them from all bombast. An essential part of the play is the chorus; indeed the chorus was once the main feature of the drama, the actors insignificant innovations. With fifteen members for the tragedy, twenty-four for the comedy,[*] old men of Thebes, Trojan dames, Athenian charcoal burners, as the case may demand - they sympathize with the hard-pressed hero, sing lusty choral odes, and occupy the time with song and dance while the actors are changing costume.
[*]In the "Middle" and "Later" comedy, so called, the chorus entirely disappears. The actors do everything.
The audience follows all the philosophic reasoning of the tragedies, the often subtle wit of the comedies, with that same shrewd alertness displayed at the jury courts of the Pnyx. "Authis! Authis!" (again! again!) is the frequent shout, if approving. Date stones and pebbles as well as hootings are the reward of silly lines or bad acting. At noon there is an interlude to snatch a hasty luncheon (perhaps without leaving one's seat). Only when the evening shadows are falling does the chorus of the last play approach the altar in the center of the orchestra for the final sacrifice. A whole round of tragedies have been given.[*] The five public judges announce their decision: an ivy wreath to the victorious poet; to his "choregus" (the rich man who has provided his chorus and who shares his glory) the right to set up a monumnet in honor of the victory. Home goes the multitude, - to quarrel over the result, to praise or blame the acting, to analyze the remarkable acuteness the poet's handling of religious, ethical, or social questions.
[*]Comedies, although given at this Dionysia, were more especially favored at the Lenea, an earlier winter festival.
The theater, like the dicasteries and the Pnyx, is one of the great public schools of Athens.
205. The Great Panathenaic Procession. - Then for the last time let us visit Athens, at the fete which in its major form comes only once in four years. It is the 28th of Metageitnion (August), and the eighth day of the Greater Panathenea, the most notable of all Athenian festivals. By it is celebrated the union of all Attica by Theseus, as one happy united country under the benign sway of might Athena, - an ever fortunate union, which saved the land from the sorrowful feuds of hostile hamlets such as have plagued so many Hellenic countries. On the earlier days of the feast there have been musical contests and gymnastic games much after the manner of the Olympic games, although the contestants have been drawn from Attica only. There has been a public recital of Homer. Before a great audience probably at the Pnyx or the Theater a rhapsodist of noble presence - clad in purple and with a golden crown - has made the Trojan War live again, as with his well-trained voice he held the multitude spellbound by the music of the stately hexameters.
Now we are at the eighth day. All Athens will march in its glory to the Acropolis, to bear to the shrine of Athena the sacred "peplos" - a robe specially woven by the noble women of Athens to adorn the image of the guardian goddess.[*] The houses have opened; the wives, maids, and mothers of gentle family have come forth to march in the procession, all elegantly wreathed and clad in their best, bearing the sacred vessels and other proper offerings. The daughter of the "metics," the resident foreigners, go as attendants of honor with them. The young men and the old, the priests, the civil magistrates, the generals, all have their places. Proudest of all are the wealthy and high-born youths of the cavalry, who now dash to and fro in their clattering pride. The procession is formed in the outer Ceramicus. Amid cheers, chants, chorals, and incense smoke it sweeps through the Agora, and slowly mounts the Acropolis. Center of all the marchers is the glittering peplos, raised like a sail upon a wheeled barge of state - "the ship of Athena." Upon the Acropolis, while the old peplos is piously withdrawn from the image and the new one substituted, there is a prodigious sacrifice. A might flame roars heavenward from the "great altar"; while enough bullocks[+] and kinehave been slaughtered to enable every citizen - however poor - to bear away a goodly mess of roasted meat that night.
[*]Not that this robe was for the revered ancient and wooden image of Athena Polias, not for the far less venerable statue of Athena Parthenos.
[+][NOTE from Brett: A bullock is a young, possibly castrated, bull.]
[from Brett: kine is the archaic plural form of "cow."]