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Classical Drama and Theatre

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Reading 9: Late Roman Mime

TEXT: Charition ("Gracie"), author anonymous (before 200 CE)

Questions to Ponder Concerning This Text:

• How does this text fit into the proposed schemes we have encountered of the evolution of ancient theatre and drama? That is, bearing in mind that the text is a random find and considering what you know about ancient performance prior to this, would you guess that this text reflects a new type of entertainment created in later Rome or a long-standing tradition of vaudeville extending far back into early Western theatre?

• What technical elements (actors, music, extras, costumes, set) does the text seem to require?

• How is language, which is arguably one of the few essential ingredients of theatre, used here? Is it dominant or subordinate to spectacle? In either case, why and to what effect?

• What does the audience seek from this drama? What are their goals? In your mind, would this text satisfy the needs of a later Roman audience as evidenced in other sources?

Introduction: First published around 1900 along with the "gold rush" of Greek papyri coming out of ancient Oxyrhynchus in Egypt, the text of this skit represents a drama of a sort hitherto unknown in antiquity, a sort of burlesque or vaudeville. Because of the nature of this sort of theatre, it is hard to determine whether the script is complete, at either end. As it stands, however, the papyrus delivers an integrated, if episodic story. Borrowing heavily from Euripides' Iphigenia Among the Taurians, the anonymous author narrates the rescue of a young girl from barbarian captors. The murderous king, the chorus of foreign women, the innocent heroine and her rescuer brother are lifted wholesale from Euripides. Added to that are a clown, a ship-captain and India, an even more exotic setting than the one Euripides used.

The papyrus dates to the 200's CE, giving the text a rather late "down-date" (i.e. the latest possible date of composition). According to modern editors, the play was composed "probably not much earlier than the age of the Papyrus itself," though that is pure speculation. It is written for the most part in the Greek language, which had dominated the Near East since Alexander's day and continued as the lingua franca of the region even after the Romans took over. To wit, the New Testament is written in Greek even though Latin-speaking Romans controlled Aramaic-speaking Palestine in Jesus' time and after. So, even if not in Latin, this drama qualifies as "Roman theatre" in that it certainly served a clientele living in the Roman Empire.

Most fascinating of all is the inclusion of what seems to be one or more Indian dialects. The native characters in this drama speak a tongue as yet unidentified, though it includes phrases reminiscent of languages known to have been used on the subcontinent. Considering that many dialects of ancient Indian languages have been lost since antiquity, we should not be too quick to dismiss the foreign tongue in this drama as stage gibberish. It is fair to say, however, as one modern commentator notes, that the Roman and Greek audience probably cannot, for the most part, have been expected to understand the natives speaking here and that "they merely rejoiced in the exquisite humour of polysyllabic nonsense."

[Translator's note: In other readings for this class, I have included stage directions, but I have not done that here. Because abbreviated notes on staging are appended to the ancient text itself, I have left it to them to narrate the action. Some of them appear to be music or sound cues, others descriptions of stage action. Several are hard to decipher. For instance, what constituted a stage "fart" (in Greek, porde) is unclear. Perhaps, it was some kind of sound effect, or music cue, or it may have been a stage direction as the editor of the text suggests. Whatever the answer, "fart" should not necessarily be taken literally. As best I can, I have translated the text below word for word, adding only notations of which character is speaking and occasionally filling out or explaining abbreviations. In short, the text below closely represents what was written on the papyrus verbatim.]

A GREEK MAN: Mistress Charition, celebrate these things with me that I have escaped.

CHARITION: Great are the gods!

CLOWN: What gods? Moron!

(A fart.)

CHARITION: Stop it, mister!

A GREEK MAN: Wait for me here! I'll go and put the ship at anchor.

CHARITION: Go! But look! Their women are coming, too, back from the hunt.

CLOWN: Wow! What big bows they have!

WOMAN A: Kraunou.

WOMAN B: Lalle.

WOMAN C: Laitalianta lalle ab . . aigm . .

WOMAN D: Kotakos anab . . iosara.

CLOWN: Hello!


CHORUS: Laspathia.


CLOWN: Ow! Mistress, help!



CHORUS: Alemaka.

CLOWN: From us there is no . . . <the text is defective> . . ., by Athena!

CHARITION: Poor fool, thinking you were hostile they almost shot you.

CLOWN: Nothing but trouble for me. Do you want me to drive those, too, to the river Psolichus?

CHARITION: As you wish.

(Drums. A fart.)

CHORUS: Minei.


A GREEK MAN: Mistress Charition, I see the wind is rising so we can start crossing the Indian Ocean and escape. So, go inside and get your things, and if you can, lift the goddess' offerings, too.

CHARITION: Think twice, mister! Those seeking safety should not ask it from the gods by robbing their temples. Do you really think they will listen to those pushing for mercy with villainy?

CLOWN: So don't touch it! I'll grab it.

A GREEK MAN: Why don't you just get your own things?

CHARITION: I don't ask for those things either, but only to see my father's face.

A GREEK MAN: Why don't you go in? You, serve the food . . . and give them strong wine! They are coming in person!

CLOWN: What if they don't want to drink it that way?

CHARITION'S BROTHER: Moron! In places like this, wine is not for sale. It follows that, if they can lay their hands on this type <of wine>, they'll drink it willingly, straight up!

CLOWN: I'll serve them the dregs, too!

CHARITION'S BROTHER: There they are, washed with the . . . <the text is defective>

(Drums. Quick meter. Drums again, moderate. Drums . . . ?osall< . . . >)

KING: Brathis.

CHORUS: Brathis.

CLOWN: What are they saying?

CHARITION'S BROTHER: "Let's cast lots for our shares," they say.

CLOWN: Let's cast lots!


KING: Stoukepairomellokoroke.

CLOWN: Get out, you villain!

KING: Brathie.

(?Castanets. Drums.)

KING (con't.): Bere konzei damun petrekio paktei kortames bere ialero depomenzi petreiko damut kinze paxei zebes lolo bia bradis kottos.

CHORUS: Kottos.

CLOWN: May "Kottos" ride you and wear spurs!

KING: Zopit.


CLOWN: What are they saying?

CHARITION'S BROTHER: Give them something to drink! Hurry!

CLOWN: Don't want to talk, huh? Good day! Hello!

(?Castanets. Drums.)

KING: Zeitsoukormosede.


CLOWN: Ow! Not if you know what's good for you!

CHARITION'S BROTHER: It's watery. Throw in some wine.

(Drums, loud.)

BARBARIAN A: Skalmakatabapteiragoumi.

BARBARIAN B: Tougoummi. (?Castanets.) Nekelekethro.

BARBARIAN A: Eitoubelletra choupteragoumi.

CLOWN: Oh! (?Castanets.) Don't make me sick! Stop! (Drums. ?Castanets.) Oh! (?Castanets.) What are you doing?

BARBARIAN B: Trachountermana.

BARBARIAN A: Boullitikaloumbai platagoulda. (?Castanets.) Bi . . . <the text is defective> . . . apuleukasar.


KING: Chorbonorbothorba . . . Toumionaxizdespit platagoulda. (?Castanets.) Bi . . . Seosarachis.
(Drums.) . . . Orado. (?Castanets.) Satur . . . (Drums.) Ouamesaresumpsaradara. (?Castanets.) Ei. (?Castanets.) Ia. (?Castanets.) Da . . .

CLOWN: Martha. (?Castanets.) Marithouma edmaimai. (?Castanets.) Maitho . . . Thamouna martha. (?Castanets.) Marithouma. (Drums.) . . . Tun . . .

KING: Malpiniakouroukoukoubi. (?Castanets. ?Flute.) Karako . . . ra.


KING: Zabede. (?Castanets. ?Flute.) Zabiligidoumba.

CHORUS: Aba oun . . .

KING: Panoumbretikatemanouambretououeni.

CHORUS: Panoumbretikatemanouambretououeni. Parakoumbretikatemanouambretououeni. Olusadizapardapiskoupiskateman areiman . . . ridaou. (?Castanets. ?Flute.) Oupatei.a.

(?Castanets. ?Flute.)

(Drums five times.)

KING: I lead the barbarian chorus unending, O Moon-goddess, advancing to the beat with loose barbarian step! Chieftains of Indians, to the holy sound . . . (?Castanets.) . . . give . . . <the text is defective> . . . the Seric step so very frenzied . . . <the text is defective> . . .

(Drums, loud. Clapping.)

CHORUS: Orkis . . .

CLOWN: What are they saying this time?

CHARITION'S BROTHER: He's telling them to dance.

CLOWN: They act like real people.

(Drums. A fart.)

CHARITION'S BROTHER: Pick him up and tie him down with his holy belts.

(Drums, loud. The finale.)

CLOWN: These men are now heavy with wine.

CHARITION'S BROTHER: I like it. Hey, Charition, come out here!

CHARITION: Come, brother! Hurry! Is everything ready?

CHARITION'S BROTHER: It is. The boat is anchored nearby. Why are you stalling? I'm talking to you, the look-out at the bow! Take the ship and bring it up alongside here! Hurry!

SHIP-CAPTAIN: But if I give the order first, . . .

CLOWN: Babbling again, disaster-man? Let's put him overboard to kiss the ships astern.

CHARITION'S BROTHER: Is everyone on board?

CHORUS: All aboard!

CHARITION: Oh, what an unfortunate wretch! A great trembling overwhelms me in all my misery. Be kind to us, Lady! Save your servant!


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