Ancient Greek Method Acting

Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights 6.5

A story about the actor Polus, which is worth relating:

There was once a very famous actor in Greece, who was preeminent among his peers due to the distinctness and delight of his manner and voice. They say that his name was Polus, and he acted many of the tragedies of the great poets very seriously and with great skill. This Polus lost his most preciously cherished son to death. Once he seemed to have sufficiently worked through his grief, he returned to the pursuit of his art.

At that time in Athens, he was about to perform Sophocles’ Electra, in which he was required to carry an urn as though the bones of Orestes were inside. The argument of the play was so composed that Electra, as though she were bearing the remains of her brother, should bewail and lament his supposed death. Therefore Polus put on a mourning habit and took the urn from the tomb of his son, and as though he were grasping the bones of Orestes, he choked up not with representations and imitation, but with real grief and truly breathing lamentation. And so, though it seemed that everyone was watching a play, it was a performance of real grief.”

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Historia de Polo histrione memoratu digna. Histrio in terra Graecia fuit fama celebri, qui gestus et vocis claritudine et venustate ceteris antistabat: nomen fuisse aiunt Polum, tragoedias poetarum nobilium scite atque asseverate actitavit. Is Polus unice amatum filium morte amisit. Eum luctum quoniam satis visus est eluxisse, rediit ad quaestum artis. In eo tempore Athenis Electram Sophoclis acturus gestare urnam quasi cum Oresti ossibus debebat. Ita compositum fabulae argumentum est, ut veluti fratris reliquias ferens Electra comploret commisereaturque interitum eius existimatum. Igitur Polus lugubri habitu Electrae indutus ossa atque urnam e sepulcro tulit filii et quasi Oresti amplexus opplevit omnia non simulacris neque imitamentis, sed luctu atque lamentis veris et spirantibus. Itaque cum agi fabula videretur, dolor actus est.

Speech for the Speechless

Photius, s.v. aphasia

“Wordlessness (aphasia): voicelessness (aphônia)

᾿Αφασία· ἀφωνία.

Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus, 1280-4

“Wretched brother, tell him what you need.
A multitude of words can be pleasurable,
Burdensome, or they can arouse pity somehow—
They give a kind of voice to the voiceless

έγ᾿, ὦ ταλαίπωρ᾿, αὐτὸς ὧν χρείᾳ πάρει.
τὰ πολλὰ γάρ τοι ῥήματ᾿ ἢ τέρψαντά τι,
ἢ δυσχεράναντ᾿, ἢ κατοικτίσαντά πως,
παρέσχε φωνὴν τοῖς ἀφωνήτοις τινά.

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“The Ascension of Fools” Some Ancient Comments on Stupidity

μωρολογία: properly, “stupid-talking” or “the talk of fools”. But why not: “the science of stupidity”?

Sophocles, fr. 924

“Stupidity is a terrible opponent to wrestle”
ὡς δυσπάλαιστόν <ἐστιν> ἀμαθία κακόν

Terence, Phormio, 659-660

“Whether I claim he does this because of stupidity or

malice—whether this is a knowing plot, or incompetence, I am unsure.”

utrum stultitia facere ego hunc an malitia
dicam, scientem an imprudentem, incertu’ sum.

Sophocles, fr. 925

“Stupidity really is evil’s sibling”

ἡ δὲ μωρία
μάλιστ᾿ ἀδελφὴ τῆς πονηρίας ἔφυ

Suetonius, Divus Claudius 38

“But he did not stay quiet even about his own stupidity: but claimed that he had faked it on purpose under Gaius because he would have not escaped and advanced to his eventual position otherwise—and that this was supported by certain oracles. But he persuaded no one. And after a brief time, a book was published with the title “The Ascension of Fools” which posited that no one can pretend stupidity.”

Ac ne stultitiam quidem suam reticuit simulatamque a se ex industria sub Gaio, quod aliter evasurus perventurusque ad susceptam stationem non fuerit, quibusdam oratiunculis testatus est; nec tamen49 persuasit, cum intra breve tempus liber editus sit, cui index erat μωρῶν ἐπανάστασις, argumentum autem stultitiam neminem fingere.

Plutarch, Rational Beasts 998a

“Note that a lack of intelligence or stupidity in some animals emerges in contrast with the abilities and sharpness of others as you might compare an ass or a sheep with a fox, a wolf or a bee. It would be the same if you would compare Polyphemos or that idiot Koroibos to your grandfather Autolykos. For I do not think that there is so great a difference between beasts as there is between individual people in thinking, using reason, and in memory.”

ἐννόησον δ᾿ ὅτι τὰς ἐνίων ἀβελτερίας καὶ βλακείας ἐλέγχουσιν ἑτέρων πανουργίαι καὶ δριμύτητες, ὅταν ἀλώπεκι καὶ λύκῳ καὶ μελίττῃ παραβάλῃς ὄνον καὶ πρόβατον· ὥσπερ εἰ σαυτῷ τὸν Πολύφημον ἢ τῷ πάππῳ σου τῷ Αὐτολύκῳ τὸν Κόροιβον ἐκεῖνον τὸν μωρόν οὐ γὰρ οἶμαι θηρίου πρὸς θηρίον ἀπόστασιν εἶναι τοσαύτην, ὅσον ἄνθρωπος ἀνθρώπου τῷ φρονεῖν καὶ λογίζεσθαι καὶ μνημονεύειν ἀφέστηκεν.

Andocides, On His Return 2

“These men must be the dumbest of all people or they are the most inimical to the state. If they believe that it is also better for their private affairs when the state does well, then they are complete fools in pursuing something opposite to their own advantage right now. If they do not believe that they share common interests with you, then they must be enemies of the state”

δεῖ γὰρ αὐτοὺς ἤτοι ἀμαθεστάτους εἶναι πάντων ἀνθρώπων, ἢ τῇ πόλει ταύτῃ δυσμενεστάτους. εἰ μέν γε νομίζουσι τῆς πόλεως εὖ πραττούσης καὶ τὰ ἴδια σφῶν αὐτῶν ἄμεινον ἂν φέρεσθαι, ἀμαθέστατοί εἰσι τὰ ἐναντία νῦν τῇ ἑαυτῶν ὠφελείᾳ σπεύδοντες· εἰ δὲ μὴ ταὐτὰ ἡγοῦνται σφίσι τε αὐτοῖς συμφέρειν καὶ τῷ ὑμετέρῳ κοινῷ, δυσμενεῖς ἂν τῇ πόλει εἶεν·

Seneca the Elder, Suasoriae, 21

“A special recognition for stupidity needs to be given to the rhetorician Corvus who said, “Since Xerxes is already sailing against us on his sea, shouldn’t we flee before the earth is taken from us””

Corvo rhetori testimonium stuporis reddendum est, qui dixit: “quidni, si iam Xerses ad nos suo mari navigat, fugiamus, ntequam nobis terra subripiatur?”

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People-eating, Tyrant-Loving, Money-Makers: Some More Useful Greek Compounds

δημεχθής, “hated by the people”
δήμευσις, “confiscation of property”
δημοβόρος, “people devouring”
δημοκόλαξ, “people-flatterer”
δημοπίθηκος, “charlatan”

“You are a people eating king who rules over nobodies”

δημοβόρος βασιλεὺς ἐπεὶ οὐτιδανοῖσιν ἀνάσσεις, Hom. Il. 1.231

τυραννεῖον, “a tyrant’s home”
τυραννοδαίμων, “a superhuman tyrant”
τυραννοδιδάσκαλος, “teacher of tyrants”
τυραννοποιός, “tyrant maker”
τυραννοφόνος, “tyrant slayer”
φιλοτύραννος, “tyrant-lover”

For the etymology of tyrant….

“Bring down a people-eating tyrant however you desire
No criticism for this comes from the gods”

δημοφάγον δὲ τύραννον ὅπως ἐθέλεις κατακλῖναι
οὐ νέμεσις πρὸς θεῶν γίνεται οὐδεμία, Theognis, fr. 1181-2

“Money makes the man. A poor man isn’t noble or honored…”

χρήματ’ ἄνηρ, πένιχρος δ’ οὐδ’ εἲς πέλετ’ ἔσλος οὐδὲ τίμιος, Alcaeus fr. 360

χρηματαγωγός, “money-carrier”
χρηματιστής, “money-maker”
χρηματοδαίτης , “money distributing”
φιλοχρματός, “money-lover”

“Money finds men friends
and honor too, and, at the last,
the seat of power nearest heaven.
No one, truly, is an enemy to money;
Anyone who is denies his hatred.
Wealth is skilled at creeping into places
High and low, places where a poor man,
Even if he enters, cannot get what he wants.
A body that is malformed, wealth makes attractive;
A senseless man, wealth makes wise.”

τὰ χρήματ’ ἀνθρώποισιν εὑρίσκει φίλους,
αὖθις δὲ τιμάς, εἶτα τῆς ὑπερτάτης
τυραννίδος θακοῦσιν ἀγχίστην ἕδραν.
ἔπειτα δ’ οὐδεὶς ἐχθρὸς οὔτε φύεται
πρὸς χρήμαθ’ οἵ τε φύντες ἀρνοῦνται στυγεῖν.
δεινὸς γὰρ ἕρπειν πλοῦτος ἔς τε τἄβατα
καὶ †πρὸς τὰ βατά†, χὠπόθεν πένης ἀνὴρ
οὐδ’ ἐντυχὼν δύναιτ’ ἂν ὧν ἐρᾷ τυχεῖν.
καὶ γὰρ δυσειδὲς σῶμα καὶ δυσώνυμον
γλώσσῃ σοφὸν τίθησιν εὔμορφόν τ’ ἰδεῖν, Soph. Frag. 88

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Advice on Christmas Gifts from Solon to Lucretius

Epigonoi Fr. 4 (From Clement of Alexandria)

“Many evils come to men from gifts”

ἐκ γὰρ δώρων πολλὰ κάκ’ ἀνθρώποισι πέλονται.

 

Ovid, Ars Amatoria 2.275

“Poems are certainly praised, but great gifts are what is sought.”

carmina laudantur sed munera magna petuntur.

 

Sophocles, Ajax, 664-5

“But the old saying is true: the gifts of enemies are no gifts, and sure to yield no profit.”

ἀλλ᾽ ἔστ᾽ ἀληθὴς ἡ βροτῶν παροιμία,
ἐχθρῶν ἄδωρα δῶρα κοὐκ ὀνήσιμα

 

Aeschylus, fr. 279a2

“Alone of the gods, Death doesn’t long for gifts.”

μόνος θεῶν γὰρ Θάνατος οὐ δώρων ἐρᾶι·

 

Solon, 13.64

“The gifts of the gods must not be rejected”

δῶρα δ᾿ ἄφυκτα θεῶν γίγνεται ἀθανάτων

religion-09

Nostoi, fr. 8.1

“Gifts debase the minds and actions of men”

δῶρα γὰρ ἀνθρώπων νόον ἤπαφεν ἠδὲ καὶ ἔργα

 

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 5.1430-1439

“The race of man, then, labors uselessly and in vain
as we always consume our time in empty concerns
because we don’t understand that there’s a limit to having—
and there’s an end to how far true pleasure can grow.
This has dragged life bit by bit into the deep sea
and has stirred at its bottom great blasts of war.
But the guardian of the earth turns around the great sky
and teaches men truly that the year’s seasons come full circle
and that all must be endured with a sure reason and order.”

Ergo hominum genus in cassum frustraque laborat
semper et [in] curis consumit inanibus aevom,
ni mirum quia non cognovit quae sit habendi
finis et omnino quoad crescat vera voluptas;
idque minutatim vitam provexit in altum
et belli magnos commovit funditus aestus.
at vigiles mundi magnum versatile templum
sol et luna suo lustrantes lumine circum
perdocuere homines annorum tempora verti
et certa ratione geri rem atque ordine certo.

What A Piece of Work: Homer, Sophocles and Shakespeare

These passages are helpful reminders any day of man’s horror and wonder.

Homer, Odyssey 18.130-5

“The earth raises up nothing feebler than man—
[of all the things that creep and breathe over the earth]
For we think that we will never suffer evil tomorrow
As long as the gods give us excellence and our limbs are quick.
But when the gods carry out painful things too,
We endure them unwillingly with a tormented heart.”

οὐδὲν ἀκιδνότερον γαῖα τρέφει ἀνθρώποιο
[πάντων, ὅσσα τε γαῖαν ἔπι πνείει τε καὶ ἕρπει.]
οὐ μὲν γάρ ποτέ φησι κακὸν πείσεσθαι ὀπίσσω,
ὄφρ’ ἀρετὴν παρέχωσι θεοὶ καὶ γούνατ’ ὀρώρῃ·
ἀλλ’ ὅτε δὴ καὶ λυγρὰ θεοὶ μάκαρες τελέωσι,
καὶ τὰ φέρει ἀεκαζόμενος τετληότι θυμῷ.

Uplifting? Yes. And it made me think of the famous “Ode to Man” from Sophocles’ Antigone (332-41):

“There are many wonders and none
is more awe-inspiring than humanity.
This thing that crosses the sea
as it whorls under a stormy wind
finding a path on enveloping waves.
It wears down imperishable Earth, too,
the oldest of the gods, a tireless deity,
as the plows trace lives from year to year
drawn by the race of horses….”

?Ο. Πολλὰ τὰ δεινὰ κοὐδὲν ἀν-
θρώπου δεινότερον πέλει·
τοῦτο καὶ πολιοῦ πέραν
πόντου χειμερίῳ νότῳ
χωρεῖ, περιβρυχίοισιν
περῶν ὑπ’ οἴδμασιν, θεῶν
τε τὰν ὑπερτάταν, Γᾶν
ἄφθιτον, ἀκαμάταν, ἀποτρύεται,
ἰλλομένων ἀρότρων ἔτος εἰς ἔτος,
ἱππείῳ γένει πολεύων.

(It keeps going… Go here for the full text).  This, of course, I cannot consider without thinking of Shakespeare’s Hamlet (2.2.303-12):

“What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how
infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and
admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like
a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals—and yet,
to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me—
nor woman neither, though by your smiling you seem to say so.”

And this always leads me to listen to the musical ‘version’ from Hair, the sweetness of the song makes the bitter lesson a bit easier to swallow:

Three Fragments on (Not) Living From Sophocles

 

Fr. 488 (Peleus)

“Not existing is better than living badly”

τὸ μὴ γὰρ εἶναι κρεῖσσον ἢ τὸ ζῆν κακῶς

Fr. 593 (Tereus)

“Let any man who lives acquire however much
Pleasure each day offers. Tomorrow always comes upon him
Blind.”

ζώοι τις ἀνθρώπων τὸ κατ’ ἦμαρ ὅπως
ἥδιστα πορσύνων• τὸ δ’ ἐς αὔριον αἰεὶ
τυφλὸν ἕρπει

fr. 698 (Philoctetes at Troy)

“Death is the final doctor for all disease”
ἀλλ’ ἔσθ’ ὁ θάνατος λοῖσθος ἰατρὸς νόσων