In assessment of the origins and nature of pantomime in ancient Rome, one will clearly see that the latter two factors are wide and varied. This is due to the collaborative nature of the art as a whole. With a close examination of archaeological, textual and representational evidence one will gain a precise understanding of how the origins, nature and type of audience of the pantomime are interrelated. One will additionally gain inisight into the widespread popularity of pantomime despite a general dislike towards drama in ancient Rome.
Before one can begin to consider the origins of Roman pantomime, one must have a clear understanding of the nature of pantomime. This is due to the fact that the nature of the art is in most cases, directly related to its origins. Once the nature of the art has been established, one will clearly see the connection between the latter and its origins.
The term pantomime, which was, introduced by the Italian Greeks referrs to the actor. The mimer of everything.The pantomime was considered a solo performer who wore a mask, and expressed himself through dance, but did not sing. Rather, a musical group or chorus accompanied the pantomime. This type of performance is usually likened to a ballet enactment with a mythical theme. The pantomime usually tended to appeal to higher tastes with its mythical themes but as Grimal implies, could also be comic and erotic.
In his discussion of pantomime, Lucian of Samosata (ca. 125 180) notes that the pantomime represents the orator and the composer of declamations. Lucian claims that the success of the pantomime depends upon his skillful adadptation of language to character. It is considered that the pantomime had incredible versitality to show forth human character and passion in all their varieties. These qualities of the pantomime were praised by Lesbonax of Mytilene who called pantomimes manual philosophers. Futher
evidence of the versatility of the pantomime in showing emotion and character can be seen in the words of Timocrates:
I know not what truth there may be in Platos analysis of the soul into the
three elements of spirit, appetite and reason: but each of the three is admirably
illustrated by the pantomime; he shows us the angry man, he shows us the lover,
and he shows us every passion under the control of reason
The pantomime was not only skillful in portraying human character, but additionally in embracing many other skills into a single embodiment. For instance, the pantomime used both bodily skills such as versatility of movement and mental skills where every movement and gesture has meaning and significance. Creating meaning through movement and gesture was significantly important because the pantomime wore mask, which took away any opportunity for showing emotion through facial expression. In consolation, a good pantomime would talk with his hands (cheironomy) and the rest of his body to show emotions and different character types.Overall, is clear that agility and ease of movement were very necessary skills for a sucessful pantomime.
The pantomime additionally had to take on several roles in the one performance using little or no costumes. A mantle was the typical costume, which could be used to imply many different items throughout the performance. An example of the extrordinary versitlity of the pantomime is given by Suetonius: As pantomimes, when they dance clad in their mantles, with one and the same mantle represent a swans tail, the tresses of Venus, a Furys scourge
Pantomime was a very unique type of performance in that it served a double purpose. Unlike some types of drama that served to be a pleasurable experience or a utilitarian one, the art of pantomime held out objects of both pleasure and utility. This is evidenced through Lucians comments on the art:
It sharpens the wits, it excercises the body, it delights the spectator, it instructs him in the history of bygone days, while the eye and ear are held beaneath the spell of flute and cymbal and of graceful danceNowhere can you procure that enjoyment in greater variety and perfection.
That said, it is implicitly clear that although pantomime did not always offer a realistic performance experience it was unique because