Relief frieze of the proskenion in the theatre of Dionysus in Athens
2nd—3rd cent. CE. Athens, Acropolis, Theatre of DionysusPhoto by Ilya Shurygin

Relief frieze of the proskenion in the theatre of Dionysus in Athens.

2nd—3rd cent. CE.

Athens, Acropolis, Theatre of Dionysus
(Αθήνα, Ακρόπολη, Θέατρο του Διονύσου).

The Bema of Phaidros is the marble platform created in the third century CE1—2 that served as stage front to the Theatre of Dionysos Athens. It is decorated with a Neo-Attic Roman sculpture of the Hadrianic or Antonine period, this sculpture was dismantled sometime in antiquity, moved from an unknown location,3 and rebuilt into the Bema of the Theatre by Phaidros, archon of Athens.4 Four stone reliefs decorate the stage front illustrating scenes from the life of Dionysos they are: 1) The birth of Dionysos, 2) the entrance of Dionysos into Attica, 3) the sacred marriage of Dionysos and the Basilinna and 4) the enthronement of Dionysos. These scenes are framed by crouching silenoi.

The sculpture, reading the viewer’s from right to left, begins with a scene that can be taken to be the birth of Dionysos. It consists of four figures beginning with a semi-draped seated figure who is likely Zeus facing him is a youth holding a small child, presumed to be Hermes and the infant Dionysos at the moment of his second birth from the thigh of Zeus.5 Framing the scene are two nude male figures each holding a shield, these have been conjectured to be either korybantes or kouretes.6 The next slab represents the bestowing of the gift of wine, the introduction of the worship of Dionysos to Attica and alludes to the beginnings of tragedy.7 Again there are four figures; reading right to left they are, a young male figure in a chlamys and lion skin gesturing to his right. Immediately next is a figure identified by his attributes of grapevine, leopard skin and cothurni as Dionysos. Between him and the adjacent figure to his right is a small altar, this latter figure may be Ikarios accompanied by his dog Maera and a tethered goat. To the viewer’s left is a draped female, possibly a maenad, sometimes identified as Erigone On the third slab are three figures with a fourth figure lost over time, they are conjectured to be, from left to right, Tyche Dionysos and Basilinna.8 The final slab on the viewer’s far left consists perhaps of, from left to right, Tyche, Theseus, Basilianna, and Dionysos enthroned.9

It is evident from the way in which the sculptures have been cut down in size to fit their present placement, and for chronological reasons, that they are reused, secondary material. No conclusive solution has been put forward for the original date or location of the sculptures, though it has been suggested that they may have been meant for the Scaenae frons of the high pulpitum built during the first half of the second century.10

1—2Travlos, p. 538. Frantz suggests a likely date between circa 300 and 345 CE. Frantz, 1982, p. 38.

3Travlos, p. 538.

4IG II25021, his inscription is preserved on the top flight of the stairs from the orchestra to the stage and reads: For you, lover of the sacred rites, this beautiful stage has been built by Phaidros, son of Zolios, archon of life-giving Athens.

5Sturgeon, p. 32.

6Sturgeon, p. 34. These two types are often confused but distinct.

7Sturgeon, p. 37.

8Sturgeon, p. 38.

9Sturgeon, p. 40.

10Sturgeon, p. 45.
Mary C. Sturgeon, The Reliefs on the Theater of Dionysos in Athens, American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 81, No. 1 (Winter, 1977), pp. 31—53.
Alison Frantz, The Date of the Phaidros Bema in the Theater of Dionysos, Hesperia Supplements, Vol. 20, Studies in Athenian Architecture, Sculpture and Topography. Presented to Homer A. Thompson (1982), pp. 34—39, 194—195.
Margarete Bieber: The History of the Greek and Roman Theater, Princeton, 1961.
A. W. Pickard-Cambridge, The Theatre of Dionysus in Athens, Oxford, 1946.
John Travlos, A Pictorial Dictionary of Ancient Athens, 1980.
© 2014. Photo: Ilya Shurygin.
(cc) 2021. Description:
Keywords: αρχιτεκτονική architectura architecture architettura architektur γλυπτική sculptura sculpture sculptural scultura skulptur greek greca greco greche griechische griechisches grecque grecquesё ανακούφιση relief rilievo ελλάδα graecia greece grecia griechenland grèce αθήνα athenae athens athenian atene ateniese athen athenisch athènes athénien ακρόπολη acropolis akropolis acropoli acropole θέατρο του διονύσου theatre of dionysus teatro di dioniso dionysostheater théâtre de dionysos high alto-relievo altorilievo hochrelief haut-relief frieze fregio fries frise proscaenium proskenion proscenion proskenium proscenium stage proscenio proszenium προσκήνιον bema phaidros bima podium tribune platform