The Ancient Theater Electronic Documentation Project, which is carried out under the auspices of the Institute for Mediterranean Studies, with the support of the Institute of Computer Science of FORTH, aims at collecting into an electronic data-base all possible information about ancient drama as theatrical praxis and cultural activity within the wider geographical boundaries of Greek speaking world (although the areas of overlapping between Greek and Roman theater are great from the late Hellenistic period onwards). Research begins from the origins of drama in sixth century Athens and reaches the late Graeco-Roman antiquity and early Byzantium, when scenic contests and formally organized performances of tragedy had ceased (chiefly after Christianity became the official religion of the Eastern Roman Empire), but mimes, pantomimes and other paratheatrical entertainers continued to be active for a long time after the demise of higher drama.
The evidence being collected (literary, epigraphical and archaeological) refers to hundreds of ancient theaters and dramatic festivals, and to thousands of theater artists (actors, dramatists, musicians, dancers, popular entertainers, etc.) and monuments that show dramatic scenes, actors or masks (reliefs, mosaics, vases, statuettes, etc.). Theaters and ‘odeia’ (some of them known only from literary sources, others excavated but no yet published) are being included; dramatic festivals, whether officially organized and recurring regularly or not; and artists who either played in Greek-speaking places or originated from such regions. The data which are thus collected demonstrate a remarkable cultural activity that comes to be added to the underlying historical and achaeological network of our knowledge about ancient Greece.
However, the target of the project is not simply an analytical documentation of this rich archaeological, inscriptional and literary matter, the detailed classification of sources and the methodical presentation of diverse and multifaceted information. Above all, it is the creation of a reliable tool of research and study that intends to offer two significant advantages: (a) to be open to continuous enrichment with new data and up-to-date interpretations; and (b) to allow for the possibility of different approaches, and multiple comparisons or interrelations in the study of the evidence for theatrical activities in antiquity. Essentially, we aim to create a tool that will allow us to take in all the parameters of this complex cultural phenomenon which already in the time of Alexander had attained the status of sign and indicator of Greek culture.
This detailed (to the extent possible) documentation – evidence that in traditional printed form would be limited to footnotes and selected pictures – now occupies central place in the e-base and is directly accessible thanks to the search engines provided by contemporary data-base programs in combination with Internet browsers.
However, the above testimonies are supplemented by series of essays structured in groups, in a way similar to the contents of a book: (a) General and introductory; (b) Origins and history of theater; (c) Poetics of drama; (d) Dramatists; (e) Actors and the art of acting; (f) ‘Dionysiac artists’ and theatrical professions; (g) Dramatic festivals, scenic contests, organization of performances; (h) Scenery, masks and costumes; (i) Music and dancing in drama. These essays, authored by several specialists, will constitute something like the ‘chapters’ of a book; from which the unity of perspective of a single scholar may be missing, but this necessary weakness will be offset by the possibilty of dialogue – or even disagreement – which will be invaluable in a collection of materials that hopefully will come to correspond to several interrelated books.
The materials collected so far (initially in a CLIO system data-base, designed by the Institute of Computer Science) is gradually transported to the Web site www.ancient-theater.gr, where a small part of the recorded data – mainly dramatic monuments, but also a few artists of Dionysos and essays – can be seen (‘guest’ can be used as name and ‘bravissimo’ as password).