This document was originally published in The Drama: Its History, Literature and Influence on Civilization, vol. 1. ed. Alfred Bates. London: Historical Publishing Company, 1906. pp. 39-42.

The costumes of comedians, except in New Comedy, have not been preserved in illustrations as with the sister branch of art, but there are frequent allusions to them in the works of Aristophanes and others. A soccus, or thinly-soled buskin, took the place of the cothurnus, and the masks were lighter, but distorted beyond all resemblance to human features. The attire of the chorus was extremely fantastic, and always suggestive of the part represented. Thus, in the Birds of Aristophanes they appear with large open beaks, and in the Wasps with huge protruding stings. Little attention was paid to propriety or even decency, and the New Comedy, though it had some respect for the ears, had none for the eyes of its audience.

In a picture representing a scene from the New Comedy, Jupiter, in bearded mask and with a peck-measure on his head, is about to climb to the chamber of Alcmena, who is looking out of a window dressed as an hetæra or courtesan. He carries a ladder, between the steps of which his head protrudes, and at his side is Mercury, with a lamp in his right hand and in his left the caduceus. In another picture Bacchus is climbing a ladder to reach the chamber of Althæa, wife of Oeneus, the man of the vineyard. He wears the mask, socci and other appendages of an actor; on his head is a chaplet, and with one hand he presents as an offering of his love the apples of Dionysus, while in the other he carries a red band for her hair. His garments are brown or of a brownish red, and those of his attendant, who also carries a present and acts as torch-bearer, are entirely of yellow.

In the satyric drama the dresses differed but little from those in tragedy. On a painted vase in a Neapolitan museum are represented the three actors in the former, a chorus, two musicians and a leader of the chorus. An actor who represents Bacchus, with Ariadne in his arms, is in full tragic costume; another, who personates Hercules, wears a richly decorated tunic, and the third, who takes the part of Silenus, is attired in a hairy costume and has a panther's skin on his left shoulder. Except two, who are richly garbed, the choreutæ, or members of the chorus, wear nothing but goatskins around their loins. This was also observed in a beautiful mosaic found in Pompeii, where the choreutæ wear a shaggy apron as their only covering. The teacher of the chorus is giving them final instructions, seemingly in the green-room, just before the performance of a satyric drama. In the centre of the group a musician is tuning his double flute; he is crowned with a wreath of green and yellow and wears a long white robe with blue stripes, with violet-colored trimming and reddish stars on the breast and shoulders. The mantles of two of the actors are of bright blue, with stripes of some faded hue, and over a chair is another mantle of red, probably intended for the third actor. The wall of the apartment is adorned with Ionic columns, between which garlands are suspended, probably in token of some dramatic victory.

Purchase Books on Ancient Costume


  • Tragic Costumes - A description of the costumes worn by tragic actors in ancient Greece.

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