The 2022 Walter A. Strauss Lecture Series - The City as Stage: Theatricality and Illusion in the Postclassical Greek Polis

Thursday, November 17 at 5:00 PM


Angelos Chaniotis, Professor, Ancient History and Classics, Institute for Advanced Study

Theatrical behavior has been recorded in Greek public life since the Archaic period; fictions exist in a variety of situations in every community with an advanced form of social and political organization; and illusions are part of the human experience. So, why should one study theatricality, illusions, and fictions in Greek cities from around the death of Alexander to the late second century CE? One reason is that from approximately the late 4th century BCE on one observes an unprecedented interest of intellectuals in the theatrical behavior of statesmen, and this interest continues into the Imperial period. In the same period construction of fictions is prominent in public life, e.g. the fictions of the compassionate ruler, the loyal subject, and the caring elite. Also contemporary art is characterized by similar features, e.g. illusions in pictorial art, and the representation of body language, facial expressions, and gestures.

This series of lectures surveys the various areas of public life in which one may observe theatrical behavior, illusions, and fictions and places this phenomenon in the context of important cultural and political developments: the unprecedented diffusion of theatrical performances and the advancement of the art of acing; the importance of theatricality, body language, and emotion in oratory; and the complex negotiations between partners in asymmetrical relations (elite and people, kings and cities, emperors and subjects). It is argued that in a world characterized by inequality, exaggerated and staged behavior the illusion of equality, solidarity, and some sort of people’s power; in a changing world, theatricality and fictions created the illusion of continuity. These subjects will be discussed in three lectures.

In this final lecture in the series, THE STAGING OF INEQUALITY, Professor Chaniotis explains how theatrical behavior created the fiction of the city as a large family, with the elite in the role of the caring father or son and the people in the role of the recipient of this care.  Any similarities to actual phenomena observed in the mass democracies of our times are neither purely coincidental nor unintended.

About the Speaker:

Angelos Chaniotis is engaged in wide-ranging research in the social, cultural, religious, legal, and economic history of the Hellenistic world and the Roman East. The author of many books and articles and senior editor of the Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum, he has worked on war, religion, communicative aspects of rituals, and strategies of persuasion in the ancient world. His current research focuses on emotions, memory, identity, the history of the night, and the history of Aphrodisias (Asia Minor). He is the co-director of the archaeological excavation of Lyktos on Crete.

Click HERE to visit Professor Chaniotis' Faculty Page.