Totus Mundus agit histrionem : the artists of Dionysos and the emerging cultural koinon




MacLellan, Jonathan

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In the Hellenistic period, performing artists formed powerful associations that called themselves “the artists in the entourage of Dionysos” (οἱ περὶ τὸν Διόνυσον τεχνῖται). These associations comprised actors, musicians, poets, and other theatrical professionals who organized, promoted, and performed in local festivals in order to bring them to international distinction. As wielders of substantial cultural capital, their involvement with these local festivals attracted the patronage and support of cities, kings, and international sanctuaries. Through their carefully cultivated relationships with these various political bodies, the technītai developed four powerful regional associations based in Athens, Isthmos and Nemea, Ionia and the Hellespont, and the Ptolemaic kingdom. These larger associations, drawing on their expansive political power, adopted the institutional model of states: like poleis, they issued decrees through official magistrates, owned property, entered into synoikism with other cities, dispatched their own ambassadors and theoroi, and even minted their own coins on an international standard. Rather than explain these phenomena as the byproduct of a larger geopolitical shift in the wake of Alexander’s conquests, this dissertation argues first that the conditions that gave rise to the artists occurred as early as the fourth century BCE, when greater public acclaim for, and royal patronage of, performing artists is first evident in Athens and Macedonia, leading to the mobile entourage of artists who attended Alexander’s eastern campaign. Second, the dissertation argues that the technītai were not merely byproducts of the so-called “agonistic explosion” of the Hellenistic period but instead were active cultural agents whose activity shaped the emerging cultural koinon of the Hellenistic oikoumene by helping to create competing and collaborating festival networks. This is demonstrated in Chapters two through four, which examine the case studies of the Greek mainland, Ptolemaic Egypt and Cyprus, and Asia Minor, respectively.