Thespis Insults the Gods by Jeff Provine
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insulted the Gods. Since the dawn of language, and perhaps before with
simple hand gestures, mankind had performed the art of storytelling. Great
hunts, tragic tales of lovers, and, most importantly, the epics of the
gods all served as material to be related to one another and the younger
generations for entertainment and moral instruction.
Storytelling among the ancient Greeks evolved out of the chanting of
priests to become a more secular chorus, telling the tales of great men
and gods, especially Dionysus, the patron of the art.
According to ancient manuscripts studied by modern historians, some
2500 years ago, a creative Greek by the name of Thespis of Icaria
attempted to introduce "acting" to western civilization. Rather than
singing from the chorus or as a solo storyteller, Thespis stepped alone in
the amphitheater and sang from behind a mask as if he were Dionysus
himself. The audience was struck, unsure quite what to think until an
elder from the front stood and called, "Blasphemer!"
Thespis was obviously not Dionysus, and portraying himself to be an avatar
of a god was a strict crime of sacrilege. He was taken before the Athenean
court, given fair trial, and exiled from the city for fear that the gods
would instigate a plague or bad fortune in a city allowing such arrogance.
Thespis disappears from history, and acting would forever be a distasteful
action among the European peoples.
Storytelling, however, flourished. During the republic and empire of Rome,
satyr songs would give long, satirical descriptions of modern life in rich
verse. Bards and monks relating the story of the Passion delighted
audiences throughout the Middle Ages. As Europeans began to explore and
colonize other peoples, they encountered new types of storytelling such as
the shadow play of Japan and the body-language of dance among Southeast
Asian and Polynesian peoples, many of which would find their places among
European theater. Other arts, such as Japanese kabuki and African
mask-dances would be frowned upon as barbaric and arrogant lies where
"actors" portrayed themselves as true people or even spirits.
It would not be until the invention of the motion-picture camera that
acting would return to the view of the western world. Originally, the
camera was used to capture important events such as the funeral march of
royalty or shocking images like staged train crashes. Through the work of
French and later German "directors", a new style of voyeurism would be
shown as people invisibly watched the lives of others. Reality films would
gradually fade as "fakies", scripted and acted fictional accounts would be
recorded and shown. Initially as scandalous as the acting of Thespis,
counter-culture would embrace the stories, and its significance would
eventually gain some recognition among the populace at large along the
same lines of modern dance and lyric-less poetry.
Even in today's forward-thinking times, fakies are viewed as morally
questionable, not necessarily evil, but not as genuine of an entertainment
as a well told story.
says in reality according to the writings of Aristotle and others,
Thespis was well received in his first-person portrayals, even of Dionysus.
He spread his fame, as well as the new style of portraying characters
through various masks, traveling in a wagon throughout Greece. Third-person
storytelling, while still significant, takes a supporting role to acting on
stage or film. To view guest historian's comments on this post please visit
Today in Alternate History web site.
Jeff Provine, Guest Historian of
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