The dance of priests, matronae, and philosophers: Aspects of dance culture in Rome and the Roman empire

Colloque / Congrès / Forum Public-cible: Académique ou spécialiste
It is well known how important a component of ancient Greek culture dance is. In Rome, choral dance in the civic space never had the overwhelming presence it had in the Greek poleis. Consequently, the place of dance in Rome is often portrayed as marginal (if it is studied at all). Cicero’s polemical allegation that „no one hardly dances who is sober, except perhaps if the person is crazy“ (Pro Murena 6.13) is routinely adduced as evidence, and the accusation of nude dancing during dinner parties, a staple of Cicero’s speeches (Pis. 10.22; Deiot. 26; etc.), seems to confirm that dancing was held in very low esteem in Rome.
However, it should not be overlooked that, on the one hand, similar dismissals can also be found in Greek sources, most conspicuously perhaps in Herodotus’ anecdote of the infamous Hippocleides who „danced away his marriage“ (6.29; the point is made by Naerebout 2009, 149 n. 14). In Homer, dance is repeatedly associated with non-Greeks (the Trojans, the Phaeacians), and Priamus uses „dancer“ as a slur no less than the Romans do (Ilias 24.261-2; see Hall 2010). On the other hand, and more importantly, cults that involve dancing are part of Roman religion too. The very name of the Salii points to dancing (Liv. 1.20.4), and the Arval Brethren performed the tripudium (Scheid 1998). For the year 207 Livy mentions a chorus of twentyseven girls who performed a dance on the forum to avert danger (27.37.4-15; 31.12.8), and the cult of Bona dea comprised dancing (Macr. Sat. 1.12.25). On a theoretical level, the firm place of dance in Roman religion is reflected in the idea, transmitted by Servius, that „our ancestors did not want any part of our body not to feel religio; in fact, song pertains to the breath, and dance pertains to the mobility of the body“ (Serv. Ecl. 5.73). Likewise, the Roman poetic imagination reflects the central place of dance in Roman culture (Curtis 2017).
While it is clear that dance is indigenous at Rome, the picture is greatly complicated by the successive integration and amalgamation of Greek culture into the Roman horizon (Naerebout 2009, 146-7). In the case of dance, this development can be witnessed most clearly in the empire-wide success of pantomime, which originally came from the East but by the second century was called the „Italian style of dancing“ (Athen. 1, 20e), and whose influence is palpable in Seneca’s tragedies (Slaney 2013). A similar amalgamation of older Greek and contemporary Roman imperial elements can be witnessed in the ancient theoretical discourse on dance, for instance when Plutarch presents a theory of the components of dance which probably originated in the Peripatos but seems informed by contemporary practices (Quaest. conv. 9.15). Down to the dance imagery of the Neoplatonic philosophers, the influence of imperial pantomime is palpable (e.g., Plot. 4.4.33). Is it fair to say that none of this has anything to do with Rome?
More work on Roman dance culture has been called for, but the focus of most studies on ancient dance, with the exception of pantomime, remains on archaic and classical Greece (e.g., Gianvittorio 2017). This is all the more surprising as it has long been recognized that no study of the dance of these periods can afford to neglect the sources from the imperial period. This conference aims to redress the balance by examining the time-honored place of dance in Roman culture and by asking what it means that dance flourishes so extraordinarily in the Roman empire, both as a practice and in terms of dance discourse.
18.06.2019 09:30    -    19.06.2019 16:00
Site MIS 10 / Salle 01.13
Rue de Rome 1, 1700 Fribourg
Département Philologie classique
Prof. ord. Karin Schlapbach
Le programme définitif sera en ligne en temps voulu.
Inscription obligatoire

Date limite: 2019-05-10



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