Bathyllus and Pylades, Ancient Celebrity Pantomimes

face of a prisoner

Bathyllus of Alexandria and Pylades of Cilicia propelled comic and tragic pantomime, respectively, to great popularity in Augustan Rome. Sweet, delightful, graceful dancing was associated with Bathyllus’s school of pantomime. That school seems to have died out by the mid-second century CE.^ ^ Pylades’s school of pantomime presented highlights from ancient tragic myths. Tragic pantomime continued to be popular through the sixth century CE across the Roman Empire. At least four other subsequent pantomime dancers were known by the name Pylades.^

Both Bathyllus of Alexandria and Pylades of Cilicia became celebrities. Rivalries between fans of Bathyllus and Pylades caused violence in Rome. When Augustus rebuked Pylades for this violence, Pylades responded, “You are ungrateful, Master. Let the people kill their time with us!” Pylades thus implied that he helped to divert people’s attention from matters that would cause more trouble for Augustus.^ Bathyllus, Pylades, and leading subsequent pantomimes became enormously wealthy and politically well-connected.^ During the second-century-CE rule of Roman co-emperor Lucius Verus, the pantomime dancer Paris promoted a depilatory.^

Pylades of Cilicia was known for outrages. He interrupted a performance to make an obscene gesture toward an audience member who was hissing. When the audience began to taunt him for the quality of his movement during a performance of “Mad Hercules,” he tore off his mask and yelled, “Fools! I am dancing the role of a madman!” He also shot arrows into the audience.^ ^

Tragic pantomime was the most popular mimetic theatre in the Roman Empire. Tragic pantomime adapted fifth-century Athenian tragedies for competition for attention in the Roman Empire.

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