Photo of theater drama masks on a stage

Walter A. Strauss Lecture Series—“The City as Stage: Theatricality and Illusion in the Postclassical Greek Polis”

The Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities will host the 2022 Walter A. Strauss Lecture Series featuring Angelos Chaniotis, professor of ancient history and classics at the Institute for Advanced Study, Nov. 14–17.

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 acting; 
  • 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). 

This series will be composed of three lectures centered on the theme of “The City as Stage: Theatricality and Illusion in the Postclassical Greek Polis.”

Get more details about the series and register to attend.

“The Influence of Theatrical Acting on Public Oratory”

Monday, Nov. 14
5 p.m.

This lecture will discuss literary sources and images that demonstrate the impact of professional acting on rhetorical delivery.

“Staged ‘Dramas’ in Public Life”

Wednesday, Nov. 16
5 p.m.

The second lecture in this series is dedicated to staged appearances of statesmen, kings, and members of the elite that aimed at creating the impression of affability.

“The Staging of Inequality” 

Thursday, Nov. 17
5 p.m.

In this final lecture in the series, Chaniotis will explain 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.