Putting Classical Athenian Drama into Circulation

face of a prisoner

Re-staging of drama gradually developed in classical Athens. Some plays were restaged in rural deme theaters by the middle of the fifth century. Sometime between 456 BCE and 426 BCE, Athens passed a decree allowing the restaging of Aeschylus’s plays in the festival competitions. From 387 BCE, old tragedies were regularly restaged in the City Dionysia. Sometime between 337 BCE and 323 BCE, Lycurgus issued a decree requiring the city to keep written copies of old tragedies and requiring actors not to deviate from those texts. The first recorded restaging of Old Comedy occurred in 339 BCE.^ ^ ^

The texts of some Athenian plays probably were being sold by the last decade of the fifth century BCE. Aristophanes’ Birds (414 BCE) refers to collections of decrees sold publicly (lines 1277ff). Earlier references to booksellers exist in Old Comedy fragments probably from the 420s. These references may also have been to books of laws, cases, and speeches.^ ^ Aristophanes’ Frogs (405 BCE) includes a reference (l. 54) to reading Euripides’ tragedy Andromeda. More generally, Aristophanes numerous references to earlier tragedians’ works suggests that he had access to a substantial collection of texts of these works:

Aristophanes cites from 45 tragedies of Euripides, 21 of Aeschylus, and 17 of Sophocles. He also cites from two plays of Achaeus, one of Agathon, two of Ion of Chios, and one of Xenocles.^

Socrates in Plato’s Phaedrus (c. 370 BCE) displays some anxiety about the effect of writing on poetry. Aristotle collected a noted library and founded a school, the Lyceum. Aristotle’s Poetics (c. 335 BCE) probably was part of a curriculum that included formal analysis of written, circulated poetry. Menander, a dramatic poet writing in late fourth-century Athens, almost surely produced texts for sale to producers outside of Athens.^

The development of practices of re-staging plays and acquiring texts of plays could have added some competition for attention among classical Athenian playwrights. Nonetheless, the predominate form of competition almost surely remained competition for acclaim.

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