In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Greek Performance Culture

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Edited Collections of Studies
  • Bibliographical Surveys
  • Collections of Sources
  • Orality and Performance: Methodological Studies and Research Based on Fieldwork
  • Performance and Epic
  • Performance, Hesiod, and Early Non-Epic Compositions
  • Archaic and Early Classical Greek Art and Performance
  • Archaic and Early Classical Melic Compositions and Performance Contexts
  • Major Archaic Greek Genres
  • Performance and Archaic Elegiac and Iambic Compositions
  • Ritual and Performance
  • Dance
  • Symposia and Komoi
  • Music and Sound
  • Theater: Archaeology and Epigraphy
  • Drama: Plays and Performance
  • Drama and Art
  • Musical Contests, Associations of Dionysiac Artists, and Popular Song
  • Prose and Performance
  • Hellenistic Period and Later Antiquity

Classics Greek Performance Culture
Dimitrios Yatromanolakis
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 September 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 September 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0273


Ancient Greece—despite differences in local societies and diverse discontinuities over a span of many centuries—laid distinctive emphasis on verbal art as performance and developed numerous forms of performance culture, from theatrical to political to musical. The present bibliographical article includes sections on major areas related to ancient Greek performance cultures (see below) and discusses scholarship written in different European languages (especially French, German, Greek, and Italian) instead of considering primarily English-language publications. The concept of performance in contemporary research in the social sciences and the humanities has acquired significantly broad connotations (it has become an all-encompassing concept, as in the case of social performance, and sometimes even a metaphor). It has thus been applied to many aspects of human activity and communicative interaction. In light of such usage of the concept, one may trace “performance” in a particularly large number of—or in all, as some theoretically informed scholarship would argue—areas related to ancient Greek material culture and texts. As these are areas surveyed and to be surveyed in the future in other Oxford Bibliographies articles, this bibliographical article does not address topics like ancient Greek sports (except briefly in General Overviews); performance of identity in the ancient Greek world (except, from a particular art-historical perspective, in Archaic and Early Classical Greek Art and Performance); politics and performance; performance and ethnicity; or the performance of hundreds of religious rituals in Greek antiquity (however, see Ritual and Performance and Burkert 1985, cited under General Overviews). In a bibliographical article focusing on performance culture, overlap among some sections is unavoidable. Given the prescribed structure and scope of Oxford Bibliographies articles, it has proved unfeasible to discuss all books, let alone articles, focusing on ancient Greek performance cultures from the archaic period to later eras. This article places emphasis not only on research on the archaeological material and written sources about sufficiently investigated performance contexts like theater and ancient Greek symposia, but also on archaeological and historical investigations of musical and poetic competitions; methodological perspectives on ritual, orality, and popular song; archaeological approaches to Music and Sound; and epigraphic and historical research on artists’ guilds.

General Overviews

There is no survey that discusses all areas related to ancient Greek performance culture. General surveys on major aspects of performance culture vary in scope. Most of the surveys focus on theater, the performance of religious rituals, or ancient Greek musical culture. Neubecker 1977 has been one of the most important overviews on music and its performance contexts. Green 1994 provides an excellent survey of archaeological and historical material about ancient Greek theater. Moretti 2001 includes expert and wide-ranging discussion of major aspects of ancient Greek theaters as performative spaces. Bosnakis and Gangtsis 1996 focuses on the archaeological remains of ancient Greek theaters and includes a large number of especially useful photographs. Burkert 1985 offers the best survey of ancient Greek religious rituals and their performance. Kyle 2015 discusses athletic performances, among other areas. Thomas 2003 analyzes prose texts in the 5th and early 4th centuries BCE in terms of oral performance. Kannicht 1989 is a classic concise discussion of festivals and the performance of poetry in diverse contexts; in more detail, Gentili 1988 considers archaic Greek lyric in the wider context of society (as was reconstructed by Gentili and earlier scholars). Fehr 2015 provides a learned discussion of research on ancient Greek symposia in the context of a broader survey of methodological approaches to ancient Greek societies and art.

  • Bosnakis, D., and D. Gangtsis. 1996. Ἀρχαία θέατρα: Θέατρα, θέας ἄξια. Athens: Itanos Editions.

    An important overview of the theaters of the ancient Greek world, including those in Asia Minor, South Italy, and Sicily. The book includes impressive photographs of the relevant archaeological sites.

  • Burkert, Walter. 1985. Greek religion: Archaic and classical. Translated by John Raffan. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    The most comprehensive and learned survey of, among other topics, ancient Greek religious rituals in the archaic and classical periods, including material coming from later periods. Scholars should also consult the 2011 revised edition (Griechische Religion der archaischen und klassischen Epoche, 2d rev. ed., Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 2011).

  • Fehr, Burkhard. 2015. Sociohistorical approaches. In The Oxford handbook of Greek and Roman art and architecture. Edited by Clemente Marconi, 579–601. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Notable discussion of sociohistorical research on ancient Greek symposia, in the wider context of sociohistorical approaches to the ancient Greek world.

  • Gentili, Bruno. 1988. Poetry and its public in ancient Greece: From Homer to the fifth century. Translated by A. Thomas Cole. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Univ. Press.

    A useful and lucid survey of mainly archaic Greek poetry and its (reconstructed) social context.

  • Green, J. Richard. 1994. Theatre in ancient Greek society. London: Routledge.

    The most perceptive study of the art and archaeological material related to ancient Greek theater and its social setting (with ample references to research on ancient Greek theatrical performance).

  • Kannicht, Richard. 1989. Thalia: Über den Zusammenhang zwischen Fest und Poesie bei den Griechen. In Das Fest. Edited by Walter Haug and Reiner Warning, 29–52. Munich: Fink.

    A well-known discussion of major aspects of ancient Greek performance culture.

  • Kyle, Donald G. 2015. Sport and spectacle in the ancient world. 2d ed. Chichester, UK: Wiley Blackwell.

    An informative overview of, among other areas, athletic performances in ancient Greece and sports as cultural performances.

  • Moretti, Jean-Charles. 2001. Théâtre et société dans la Grèce antique: Une archéologie des pratiques théâtrales. Paris: LGF.

    A very fine archaeological volume on ancient Greek theaters in their wider social context. See also S. Moraw and E. Nölle, eds. Die Geburt des Theaters in der griechischen Antike (Mainz, Germany: Philipp von Zabern, 2002); and L. Todisco, Teatro e spettacolo in Magna Grecia e in Sicilia: Testi, immagini, architettura (Milan: Longanesi, 2002).

  • Neubecker, A. J. 1977. Altgriechische Musik. Darmstadt, Germany: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft.

    One of the most illuminating surveys of ancient Greek music—written before the monumental West 1992 (cited under Music and Sound). See also Solon Michaelides, Ἐγκυκλοπαιδεία τῆς Ἀρχαίας Ἑλληνικῆς Μουσικῆς, Athens: MIET 1981 (The Music of Ancient Greece: An Encyclopedia [London: Faber 1978]) for reliable concise discussion of all major aspects of ancient Greek music. A more recent survey is J. G. Landels, Music in Ancient Greece and Rome (London: Routledge, 1999).

  • Thomas, Rosalind. 2003. Prose performance texts: Epideixis and written publication in the late fifth and early fourth centuries. In Written texts and the rise of literate culture in ancient Greece. Edited by Harvey Yunis, 162–188. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511497803.010

    Discussion of the display performance (epideixis) of prose texts, and the relation between oral performances of prose texts and their written versions.

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