Plato’s Rhapsody and Homer’s Music: The Poetics of the Panathenaic Festival in Classical Athens

  Nagy, Gregory. 2002. Plato's Rhapsody and Homer's Music: The Poetics of the Panathenaic Festival in Classical Athens. Hellenic Studies Series 1. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.

Appendix: Rhapsodes and Actors

As argued in Ch. 1, there are parallelisms in the evolution of rhapsôidoi ‘rhapsodes’ and hupokritai ‘actors’. Even the terminology referring to rhapsodes and actors is parallel: for example, theatai ‘theater-spectators’ in Plato Ion 535d8 refers to the audiences who attend the performances of the rhapsodes. I disagree with Boyd 1994:112, who argues that Ion 535d1-5 refers not to epic rhapsodes but exclusively to tragic actors. He offers three points: (1) the performer is pictured as kekosmêmenos ‘decked out, adorned’ with variegated clothing and with a golden garland [d2] during performance, although Ion has yet to win first prize at the Panathenaia; (2) the occasion of the performance is described as a thusia ‘sacrifice’ [d3], and he claims that “there is no evidence of rhapsodic performance at sacrifices”; (3) it is not clear where a rhapsode could perform before an audience as large as 20,000 people.

On the first point, Boyd himself observes (p. 112n8) that Socrates later on in the Ion imagines the rhapsode as wearing a golden garland (541b8-c2), and that this garland may well be what Ion won as first prize at the festival of the Asklepieia in Epidaurus (530a3-4). I should note that competing rhapsodes may have been allowed to wear garlands that they had won in earlier competitions. As Socrates is represented as saying elsewhere in the Ion (530b6-7), rhapsodes are expected to be “decked out,” kekosmêsthai , for their competitions. Perhaps the simplest solution, however, is that Plato’s Socrates proleptically imagines Ion as a victor—before the rhapsode actually wins first prize at the Panathenaia.

On the second point, I note that the word thusia is attested at line 42 of IG XII ix 189, an inscription from the city of Eretria in Euboea (ca. 341/0 BCE) concerning a festival of Artemis, which features competitions of rhapsodes (lines 10, 15). I elaborate in Ch. 2, where I also argue that the word thusia in Plato Timaeus 26e2 refers definitely to the Panathenaia. {99|100}

As for the third point, one possible site for imagining a Panathenaic audience listening to rhapsodic performances of Homer is the Pnyx. (Boyd, p. 113, actually mentions the Pnyx as a possibility.) In Plato Ion 535e, Ion describes himself as looking down, from the bêma or podium, at a sea of faces in the audience. This description seems to match passages describing speeches in the ekklêsia or assembly on the Pnyx, where speakers were raised above their audiences by standing on the bêma : see Plutarch Themistocles 19.6 and the commentary of Camp 1996:45, who argues that the Pnyx featured this “sermon on the mount” configuration in a period extending from the early fifth century all the way through the “Pnyx III” stage of the fourth century. During that period, as Mogens Hansen points out to me, the average number of citizens actually attending a session of the ekklêsia would be around 6,000, even if the body politic is notionally figured at around 20,000.

Later on, under Lycurgus in the 330s, the new Theater of Dionysus could be used for the ekklêsia (see Pollux 8.132 and the comments of Camp p. 46). Under Demetrius of Phalerum, who was in power at Athens from 317 to 307, it seems that the Theater could now be used also for Homeric performances (see Athenaeus 620b-c and the comments in PP 158-163).

Another possible site for imagining a Panathenaic audience listening to rhapsodic performances of Homer is the Odeum. Plutarch Life of Pericles 13.11 links Pericles with the institution of contests in mousikê at the Panathenaia (ἐψηφίσατο μουσικῆς ἀγῶνα τοῖς Παναθηναίοις ἄγεσθαι), specifying performances involving the aulos and the kithara and singing (καθότι χρὴ τοὺς ἀγωνιζομένους αὐλεῖν ἢ ᾄδειν ἢ κιθαρίζειν), and then he goes on to add that such contests were held in the Odeum not only in the era of Pericles but in other eras as well, though he leaves the dating unspecified (ἐθεῶντο δὲ καὶ τότε καὶ τὸν ἄλλον χρόνον ἐν ᾨδείῳ τοὺς μουσικοὺς ἀγῶνας). Plutarch also leaves it unspecified whether the agônes ‘contests’ included rhapsodic performance, {100|101} but we may infer that they were indeed included if we take into account the report in Hesychius under the entry for “Odeum,” where it is specified that the Odeum was the site for contests of rhapsodes and citharodes before such contests were transferred to the Theater ( ᾠδεῖον· τόπος, ἐν ᾧ πρὶν τὸ θέατρον κατασκευασθῆναι οἱ ῥαψῳδοὶ καὶ οἱ κιθαρῳδοὶ ἠγωνίζοντο).