1 Modern Greek theatre and national cultural identity. The innovative performances of ancient Greek drama in the Nea Skini and the Royal Theatre ( ). Μιχάλης Γεωργίου Theatre has often played the role of staging national history and has contributed to the shaping of national identity. Because of its function, the fact that it is produced as a contemporary event in the community provides the opportunity not only to act as a shaper of the national identity, but also to receive the acceptance or the dismissal for it immediately in the public sphere. Moreover, as Wilmer S.E. comments, theatre can act as a public forum in which the audience scrutinizes and evaluates political rhetoric and assesses the validity of representations of national identity. The theatre can serve as a microcosm of the national community, passing judgment on images of itself 1. The process of identifying the national identity goes on through contradictory procedures that combine extraneous and endogenous factors. In that frame, it is always reformulated and formed through dialectic contradictions that drive on to hegemonic notions of the nation. Especially in periods of national crises, theatre often plays a political and ideological role in defining the notion of the national identity of a country. Most of the time, in Greece, the ancient Greek performances have produced a new view of the ancient Greek culture that refers to the modern Greek identity. The purpose of this paper is to investigate the role that the performance of Alcestis in 1901 in Nea Skini in Athens, the performance of Antigone in 1903 also in Nea Skini and mostly that of Oresteia in 1903 in the Royal theatre in Athens played in defining a new notion of Greek national and cultural identity in a juncture period of time that follows the defeat from the Ottoman Empire in The beginning of the 20th century finds Greece in a solidified situation which had been established by the professional and amateur theatre and was characterized by an adherence to an obsolete norm of directing and acting which prevented the Greek theatre from following European theatrical developments. That kind of theatre was under the influence of ideological factors that were expressed by the tradition of the theatre written in the language of kathareuousa 1 Wilmer S.E., Theatre, Society and the Nation, Staging American Identities, Cambridge UP, Cambridge 2002, p. 1-2.
2 and also by the enactment of the Greek tragedy in ancient Greek language, according to the theory of classic literature 2. The main exponent of those ideas was Georgios Mistriotis, who was also a professor of ancient Greek literature at the University of Athens. In 1895 Mistriotis had established the Company for the teaching of ancient Greek dramas, with which he presented ancient Greek dramas in the ancient Greek language. His aim was to present himself as the only one inheritor in the way of producing ancient Greek dramas by adducing the superiority of Greekness through the ancestral patrimony. With the performance of Antigone played on the 17 th of March in 1896 in the Municipal Theatre in Athens from the Company for the teaching of ancient Greek dramas and directed by Mistriotis, we have the predominance of a concrete opinion in the representation of ancient Greek tragedies, that was based in the equitable reading of the text in the ancient Greek language. The opinions of Mistriotis will dominate in subsequent years in the attempts of the directions of the ancient Greek drama 3. On the 28th of September, 1899 the performance of Oedipus Rex by Comedie Francaise directed by Mounet Sully was played in the Municipal theatre. That performance attempted to give a new dimension in the direction of ancient Greek tragedy. However, the predominance of the ideas of Mistriotis about the ancient tragedy was so prevalent, that Sully accepted to use part of the stage designs that Mistriotis had used for his performances. Nevertheless, the famous poet Kostis Palamas found the occasion through this performance to criticize in the newspapers the performances directed by Mistriotis and the fact that they were played in the ancient Greek language, which the majority of the Greek people could not understand. He also proposed the need of translating the ancient texts to the modern Greek language by analyzing the different reception conditions of the modern spectators 4. As a reaction to the situation found in the Greek theatre and also as an effort for the renewal of the direction of ancient tragedies, come the efforts of two Greek theatre directors, Konstantinos Christomanos and Thomas Oeconomo. Christomanos was born in Athens in However he left Athens in 1888 in order to study philosophy in Vienna. From 1895 to 1899 he worked as lecturer of Greek language at the 2 Grammatas Theodoros, Το ελληνικό θέατρο στον 20ό αιώνα. Πολιτισμικά πρότυπα και πρωτοτυπία. Εξάντας, Athens 2002, vol. 2, p Sideris Giannis, Τα Ορεστειακά. Ταραχές για να μη παίζονται οι τραγωδίες σε μετάφραση, Θέατρο, vol. 33, 1973, p Puchner Walter, Φιλολογικά και θεατρολογικά ανάλεκτα, πέντε μελετήματα, Καστανιώτης, Athens 1995, p
3 University of Vienna and in the Institute of Eastern Study. From 1891 to 1893 he worked as a professor for the Greek language for the empress Elisabeth of Austria, while during the period he worked as journalist in the Viennese Press. He reached Athens in 1901 where in short period of time he established the troupe of the Nea Skini. As inaugural work for the openings of the theatre Nea Skini, Christomanos chose Euripedes Alcestis. He translated the play to the modern Greek language (demotiki), he used the music of Gluck and played it in the theatre named as Variete on the 22 nd of November With this direction, Christomanos tried to become free from the influences of the romantic school that until then was connected with Euripides Alcestis 5. His direction adopted the techniques of realism 6 and it was pioneering enough for that reason. The scenery represented the Mycenaean palace of Admetus while the costumes were characterized for their historical precision. Moreover, the presentation of the drama personae was based in ancient sculptures and the ancient Greek vases referring straightforward to heroes from the Greek mythology 7. In this way, the ancient Greek figures became perceptible to the spectators, while with the use of the demotiki language the myth of the play became understandable to the audience. For these reasons the critics juxtapose Christomanos performance with the preceding performances by Mistriotis. Two years later, in a new performance of ancient Greek tragedy was played in Nea Skini. That was Sophocles Antigone, with the music of Mendelsohn directed by Christomanos and translated by him in demotiki. That performance was announced as a hymn of the ancient Greek art 8. The direction was accused of intense realism. However, Christomanos intention was to bring forth the ancient world in the eyes of the spectators with realistic scenery. That was why he realistically interpreted Antigone s grave in the last scene of the performance. Continuity in the innovative attempts of the direction of ancient Greek tragedies was given by Thomas Oeconomo with the performance of Aischylos Oresteia in the Royal Theatre of Athens. The Royal theatre had been established in 1901 with initiative of the Palace, whose 5 Vafeiadi Efi, Ο Γρηγόριος Ξενόπουλος και η Άλκηστις της Νέας Σκηνής, in Ζητήματα Ιστορίας του Νεοελληνικού θεάτρου, μελέτες αφιερωμένες στο Δημήτρη Σπάθη, Πανεπιστημιακές εκδόσεις Κρήτης, Irakleio 2007, p Papanikolaou Vania, Η νεορομαντική πρόσληψη της αρχαιοελληνικής τραγωδίας από τον Κωνσταντίνο Χρηστομάνο, in Παράδοση και Εκσυγχρονισμός στο Νεοελληνικό Θέατρο, Από τις απαρχές ως τη μεταπολεμική εποχή, πρακτικά του Γ Πανελληνίου Θεατρολογικού Συνεδρίου, Πανεπιστημιακές Εκδόσεις Κρήτης, Irakleio 2010, p To Astu, , Neon Astu, Empros,
4 aim was the modernisation and the Europeanization of the country s theatre 9. Director in this was Thomas Oeconomo, who was born in Vienna in 1864 and had worked in various German theatres. In the last few years before his arrival in Greece in 1900 he had also worked as an actor in the theatre of Meiningen. In this performance of Oresteia, direction instructions by Paul Schlenther were used. Schlenter had played the performance of Oresteia in 1900 in Burgtheater of Vienna. He had used the translation of Ulrich von Wilamowitz and the music of Stanford 10. Stefanos Stefanou, who was the General Secretary of the Royal Theatre at that time, showed particular interest for ancient Greek tragedies. Because of this, he brought the 3 volumes of Schlenthers direction instructions and also the music, the stage design, the costumes and all the accessories of the performance that had been played in Vienna, and delivered all of them director Thomas Oeconomo 11. Finally, the philologist Georgios Sotiriadis was called to translate the text in the demotiki language following the German text that had been given to him with the cuts and the intense interventions that Schlenther had done. This performance of Oresteia that opened on 1 November 1903, was based on the scientific knowledge about the ancient Greek theatre of that period, particularly because of the use of the scenery, the costumes and the music. In the beginning of the performance, an Aeschylus bust appeared on the stage and the actor Marika Kotopouli, who later played the role of the goddess Athena, wearing a white dress 12 intoned a poem, written by Kostis Palamas in the demotiki that constituted an ode to Aischylos 13. Before leaving the stage, Marika Kotopouli placed a garland on the head of the Aischylos bust. The scenery in parts of Agamemnon and in that of Choephoroi interpreted with accuracy the palace of Mycenaes 14, while behind it mountains were showed. Agamemnon came with a golden chariot and red carpet had been laid on the stage for his arrival. 9 Glytzouris Antonis, Η σκηνοθετική τέχνη στην Ελλάδα, Η ανάδυση και η εδραίωση της τέχνης του σκηνοθέτη στο νεοελληνικό θέατρο, Ελληνικά Γράμματα, Athens 2001, p Flashar Helmut, Inszenierung der Antike, Das griechische Drama auf der Bühne der Neuzeit , Beck, München 1991, p Stefanou Stefanos, Αναμνήσεις από το Βασιλικόν Θέατρον, Ελεύθερον Βήμα, Athinai, Neon Astu, Athinai
5 The transition from Agamemnon s part to the Choeforoi happened as a parallel scenic transition from the darkness into the daybreak and was declared by the use of torches 15. Then the lighting became relatively dark since Orestes was arriving in Mycenaes. Orestes then went to Agamemnon s tomb that was in the middle of the stage and left there one tuft of his hair 16. In Eumenides, the scenery was changed representing the Temple of the goddess Athena instead of the oracle at Delphi, as critics in some newspapers observe. The Areopagus was interpreted under this, while a statue of the goddess Athena also existed somewhere on the stage. Apollo was wearing a halo, while the Erinyes were presented with tentacles in their head and they were also wearing black tunics 17. These three performances restored in front of the eyes of the spectators the world of antiquity. This historistic method of representation of ancient Greek tragedies, which, for the first time was used in the Greek scene, and also the use of the modern Greek language infused performances with the function of cultural memory. This becomes obvious from the following part of an article of the newspaper Athinai, that concerns the performance of Oresteia : Ήτον τόσον έντεχνος η κατασκευή και η τοποθέτησις και ο φωτισμός της σκηνής παριστανούσης τα προπύλαια των ανακτόρων του Αγαμέμνονος ώστε θα ενόμιζέ τις ότι πράγματι ευρίσκετο προ των ογκολίθων των Μυκηνών και του Πελασγικού κολωσού των 18. That performance of ancient Greek tragedy was not received as a museum representation anymore. This becomes obvious from the following part of an article of an anonymous journalist: ( ) διότι παρά την άλλως σεβαστήν γνώμην του κ. Μιστριώτου, εσχηματίσθη σήμερον κοινή συνείδησις, ότι τα αρχαία έργα, όταν αι παραστάσεις των δεν είνε απλαί αρχαιολογικαί εορταί, πρέπει να παίζωνται εις την σημερινήν γλώσσαν 19. This function of the performances of the Greek tragedy as cultural memory with the parallel use of modern Greek language emerged the content of the ancient Greek tragedies in the 15 Athinai, Neon Astu, Neon Astu, Αthinai, Neon Astu,
6 wider public, while at the same time it opened the way for the expression of new artistic facts and for the configuration of the modern Greek cultural identity in the base of the modern Greek language. At the same time the function of the performances as cultural memory adduces the ancient Greek past as knowledge from which the Greeks derived their awareness of their unity and their distinctiveness. The objective manifestation of their common cultural memory is defined through the definition of we are this sense 20 and at the same time determines the Greeks as continuers of the ancient Greek spirit. This appears particularly in the following part of an article: Είμεθα απόγονοι, αληθινοί απόγονοι των Αθηναίων. Όποιος αμφιβάλλη, ας έλθη να ιδή. Η μίς Δάγκαν και ο αδερφός της φορούν την αρχαίαν χλαμύδα και περιπατούν με τάς πόδας γυμνούς μέσα εις σανδάλια. Αλλ εις τας φλέβας τας ιδικάς μας ρέει το αίμα των πολιτών της Αθήνας, των προσκυνητών του Παρθενώνος, των θαμώνων των γυμνασίων, και των θεατών του Διονυσιακού θεάτρου. Εις τα στήθ τα ιδικά μας πάλλεται η ψυχή των αρχαίων Αθηναίων. Μέσα μας βλαστάνουν και ανθούν τα αισθήματα εκείνων, οι οποίοι αντικρύζαν τον Υμηττόν λουλουδίζοντα και τα τριαντάφυλλα της δύσεως προ δυόμισυ χιλιάδων ετών. Συζητούμεν διά τον Αισχύλον, ως αν τον είχαμεν προ ολίγου συναντήσην εις το Ζάππειον. Η «Ορέστεια» εξεγείρει συζητήσεις εμπαθείς, ως εάν τα κόμματα των κορυφαίων τραγικών είχαν αναζήσει. Η αυτή ζωή σφύζει και πάλλεται και φωνάζει εδώ, όπου οι μέλισσαι ήρχοντο να βυζάσουν το μέλι των εις τα χείλη του Πλάτωνος όπου ο Οιδίπους επλήρωνε την ατμοσφαίραν με τον γόων του τον θρήνον όπου της Αντιγόνης η θυσία ύγραινε τους οφθαλμούς όπου τα θούρια του Αισχύλου ωδήγουν τους Αθηναίους κατά των Περσών. Εδώ είμεθα. Ακέραιοι και ολοζώντανοι. Αιώνιοι και αθάνατοι. Φιλόσοφοι και σοφισταί. Καλλιτέχναι και ποιηταί. Κομματικοί και φατριασταί. Ανυπότακτοι και φθονεροί. Δημοκρατικοί και εχθροί πάσης υπεροχής. Φιλύποπτοι και συκοφάνται. Λεπτεπίλεπτοι και ανθρωποφάγοι. Αθάνατοι. Διά παντός αθάνατοι 21. From that part of the article, becomes obvious not only the objective manifestation of a common past as a cultural memory for the Greeks, (also from the first two sentences that say: 20 Assman Jan, Kultur und Gedächtnis, Suhrkamp, Frankfurt am Main 1988, p Neon Astu,
7 We are descendants, real descendants of Athenians ) but also the definition of the Greek unity and the election of the Greeks as the unique natural descendants of the ancient Greek culture through the juxtaposition of them against the American dancer Isadora Dunkan. Isadora Dunkan had played the same year in Athens a dancing performance of the Suppliant Women. The writer of the article says that Isadora Dunkan wears in that performance ancient Greek chlamys and sandals, but the Greeks are those that have the blood of the citizens of Athens. The Greek culture in this case has a unification function for the Greeks and a differentiation function for the foreigners, the others. The enactment of these performances rendered the predominant ideas about the direction and the translation of the ancient Greek drama in Greece and placed in rejection the professor Georgios Mistriotis and the Company for the teaching of ancient Greek dramas that he had established in order to determine a specific way for the direction of the ancient Greek tragedies. The erased danger for the marginalization of his opinion, led him to engrain his students at the University of Athens. On the 16 th of November, these students demonstrated against the performance of Oresteia by rioting. The police dispersed the crowds, but one person was wounded and another died. To sum up, the direction of the ancient Greek drama, as it was attempted from Christomanos and Oeconomo, was similar to the European repertoire of that season that both of them knew well from their personal experience in Europe and particularly in the German speaking world. In that way the contact of Greeks with antiquity, actually happens through the perception of the antiquity that has been shaped during this period in Europe. These directions at the same time, constitute an interpretation of the ancient tragedy, that comes in confrontation with the previous attempts. The most representative of those attempts was that of Mistriotis, while the ancient Greek text now is not approached as a museum object. On the contrary it is elected the fact that the text needs to be interpreted through a modern direction and also it needs to be translated in the modern Greek language in order to be presented to the public. Mistriotis had expressed in his speeches the opinion that the translation of the Oresteia in the modern Greek language recommended a sacrilege to the ancient spirit and placed at risk the Greek nation and subverted its future. However, the identity of the Greek nation that Mistriotis advertised against those that were supposed to threaten it, was expressing his inability to approve a development and an adaptation to the reality of that period of time. Of course, that
8 would imply agitations and ruptures and would dispute the Establishment that was under his influence. In Mistriotis case the pretence to identity is not a society s pretend, but a demand of a certain privileged members of the society, who feel that they are being threatened. Against this, they ensure, that they constitute the real defenders of a common historical past, a common identity and a common culture. That is a kind of assertion that goes against what was considered as an innovation at that time and it is a recursion to the safety that the national roots provide. On the other hand, with the performances of Christomanos and that of Oeconomo we have the effort for the creation of a homogenized cultural identity of modern Greece. These performances, as we have seen from the articles of the newspapers displayed to the spectators that the Greek society in cultural -diachronic prospect is a society with powerful ancient Greek history, but now it is placed in a cultural perspective and has to correspond in this expectation. The Greeks recognize their cultural past but that is now related to the present and to the future. This becomes also obvious through the poem by Kostis Palamas, which opens the performance of Oresteia, that Marika Kotopouli intoned. In that poem entitled «Το χαίρε της Τραγωδίας» ( Greetings from Tragedy ) the tragedy presents itself at the beginning with the lines: Μ έκραξες; Έρχομαι από πέρα,/χαίρε! Σ εσέ το χαίρε, ω πλάστη και ω πατέρα!/είμαι η βασίλισσα της Τέχνης, είμαι η Τραγωδία 22. ( You called me? I come from the past/hello! Hello to you my creator and my father!/i am the queen of the art, I am the Tragedy.) The poem is being completed with a vision for modern Greece: Ένα όραμα, ένα όραμα, φως και φτερά του νου!/πάλε σαν πρώτα, απ τα βαθιά του αμέτρητού σου τραγουδιού/κάμε η Ελλάδα να υψωθή/σε Ανατολή και Δύση, πού είναι του μέτρου η μουσική και της υγειάς η βρύση,/η Ελλάδα χαμογέλα της, αγέλαστε, κ εσύ 23! ( A vision, a vision, light and wings of the mind!/as firstly, from the depth of your innumerable song/make Greece to overhang/in the East and in the West, Greece that is the music of the norm and the tap of the health,/greece smile to her, you grim! ) 22 Palamas Kostis, άπαντα, Μπίρης, vol. 5, p Ibid., p.154.
9 It becomes obvious, from that part of the poem, that the vision is for Greek culture to become universal once more. The interpretation of Greece, includes a prospect for the future. The performances of Christomanos and Oeconomo, not only express the existence of a common and long-lasting tradition for the Greeks, and as a consequence confirm the existence of a collective national identity, but also strengthen its constitution. The comments to a tradition as a historical store and at the same time as a perspective to the future act to reinforce the Greek national identity. Bibliography Assman Jan, Kultur und Gedächtnis, Suhrkamp, Frankfurt am Main 1988, p Flashar Helmut, Inszenierung der Antike, Das griechische Drama auf der Bühne der Neuzeit , Beck, München 1991, p Glytzouris Antonis, Η σκηνοθετική τέχνη στην Ελλάδα, Η ανάδυση και η εδραίωση της τέχνης του σκηνοθέτη στο νεοελληνικό θέατρο, Ελληνικά Γράμματα, Athens 2001, p. 67. Grammatas Theodoros, Το ελληνικό θέατρο στον 20ό αιώνα. Πολιτισμικά πρότυπα και πρωτοτυπία. Εξάντας, Athens 2002, vol. 2, p.15. Palamas Kostis, άπαντα, Μπίρης, vol. 5, p Papanikolaou Vania, Η νεορομαντική πρόσληψη της αρχαιοελληνικής τραγωδίας από τον Κωνσταντίνο Χρηστομάνο, in Παράδοση και Εκσυγχρονισμός στο Νεοελληνικό Θέατρο, Από τις απαρχές ως τη μεταπολεμική εποχή, πρακτικά του Γ Πανελληνίου Θεατρολογικού Συνεδρίου, Πανεπιστημιακές Εκδόσεις Κρήτης, Irakleio 2010, p Puchner Walter, Φιλολογικά και θεατρολογικά ανάλεκτα, πέντε μελετήματα, Καστανιώτης, Athens 1995, p Sideris Giannis, Τα Ορεστειακά. Ταραχές για να μη παίζονται οι τραγωδίες σε μετάφραση, Θέατρο, vol. 33, 1973, p. 51. Stefanou Stefanos, Αναμνήσεις από το Βασιλικόν Θέατρον, Ελεύθερον Βήμα, Vafeiadi Efi, Ο Γρηγόριος Ξενόπουλος και η Άλκηστις της Νέας Σκηνής, in Ζητήματα Ιστορίας του Νεοελληνικού θεάτρου, μελέτες αφιερωμένες στο Δημήτρη Σπάθη, Πανεπιστημιακές εκδόσεις Κρήτης, Irakleio 2007, p 254. Wilmer S.E., Theatre, Society and the Nation, Staging American Identities, Cambridge UP, Cambridge 2002, p. 1-2.