A Proposal for a Theater Museum: Staging the Fragments of Greek and Roman Drama


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

The proposal I am introducing here is imaginative but not ironic. The theme suggested itself to me while I was concluding a large project in comparative drama which necessitated my dealing with a large amount of fragmentary, yet "canonical" material. A commonplace of classical scholarship is that in dealing with the civilizations of ancient Greece and ancient Rome one is confronted with incomplete evidence. Things that would potentially interest us----e.g., a complete text by any of the pre-Socratic philosophers, or Phidias' statue of Athena for the Parthenon, or a complete tragic trilogy other than the Oresteia--do not exist. The scholar's job is to start with the scraps that remain and reconstruct from the fragments a picture which will enable others to understand hypothetically what subjects Empedokles probably focused upon in his philosophy, how Roman statuary makes us aware of Phidias' genius, and how the great Attic playwrights possibly crafted tragic trilogies. In the first two instances, classicists have been persistently bold and daring, unafraid to take risks for the sake of making advancements in our knowledge. We cannot at present be certain what any of the pre-Socratic philosophers thought; there is simply not enough complete evidence. Yet scholars have taken the risk and reconstructed philosophical systems and biographical sketches of the great thinkers before Plato, and they have done this to our benefit. Building on the work of Hermann Diels and Walther Kranz,1 G. S. Kirk and J.E. Raven have edited a highly influential work on the early Greek thinkers.2 Jonathan Barnes has more recently offered his reading and arrangement of the fragments.3 Scholars and artists dealing with the plastic arts have also been bold in attempting to reconstruct missing pieces in Greek art. The Laöcoön group, rediscovered in Rome in 1506, was reconstructed during the Italian Renaissance; modem archaeological research tells us the reconstruction is incorrect. Even more dramatically, the marble figures on the pediments of the Aeginetan Temple of Aphaia underwent two major restorations and arrangements during the nineteenth century before being arranged yet again in the condition in which they are currently displayed in the Glyptothek in Munich.4 Both the Laocoon group and the Aeginetan temple statuary stand as brilliant testimony to artistic reconstruction which is unafraid to take risks but which is based on careful research and artistic mastery. Why, then, has research and production in classical drama dealt so timidly, so dispassionately with its fragmentary masterpieces?

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.