Στο αρχαίο θέατρο, οι υποκριτές και τα μέλη του χορού έπαιζαν φορώντας προσωπεία, δηλαδή θεατρικές μάσκες. Η χρήση του προσωπείου προήλθε από τη διονυσιακή λατρεία, καθιερώθηκε όμως γιατί εξυπηρετούσε με πολλούς τρόπους το αρχαίο δράμα.
In the ancient theatre, the hypocrites and the chorus members wore masks. The use of the masks derived from the Dionysian cult, but it was established because it served the ancient drama in many ways. The mask created a face without personal features –it rather displayed a character. By wearing it the actor was not himself but somebody else, even a hero or a god. The mask allowed ecstasy and it facilitated the disguise of the actors who played two or more roles, male and female, in the same play.
Tombstone (stele) of a hypocrites who is holding a theatrical mask (ca. 420 B.C.), Piraeus Archaeological Museum.
In tragedy and in the satirical drama the masks of the hypocrites share common elements. The men’s masks were dark and the women’s light coloured. There was a great variety in their characteristics, such as in the hair, eyebrows, nose and wrinkles. During the Hellenistic period, greater attention was given to the front part of the masks which became long and voluminous. This change is connected with the establishment of the logeion, from where the hypocrites played facing the audience. During the 3rd century B.C., the masks were largely standardised, and in every performance were used the types of masks which corresponded to the characters of the play. The members of the tragic chorus wore masks similar to those of the hypocrites. The masks of the Satyr chorus in the satirical drama were special: they depicted men with pointed beard, prominent facial features and goat ears. The mask of Silenus senex (Papposilenus) was different and depicted an older man with wrinkles and a white beard.
Commemorative theatrical mask of tragedy made of bronze (4th century B.C.), Piraeus Archaeological Museum.
Theatrical mask of young woman or “hetaera” of the New Comedy (Late Hellenistic period), National Archaeological Museum of Athens.
In comedy the facial characteristics of the masks were exaggerated and deformed to provoke the laughter of the audience. The mouth was especially wide, the eyebrows accentuated and the facial expressions intense. The animal-dressed choruses of the Old Comedy wore masks who reminded of respective animals or insects. In Aristophanes’ Birds for example, the masks of the chorus had a beak and a crest. Over time, special masks were created for the standardised comic characters, such as the slave, the hetaera, the young lover and the cook, while the chorus bears exclusively human masks.
Marble theatrical mask of the New Comedy (2nd century B.C.), National Archaeological Museum of Athens.
The masks were made of fabric, which had been soaked in plaster. The fabric took the shape of a face in special moulds. Then, a thin layer of plaster was applied on the surface of the mask, and the facial characteristics like, the lips, the eyebrows, the wrinkles and the complexion were painted. In the place of the eyes and the mouth there were openings that allowed the hypocrites to see and to be heard. The dominant mask type was the one that covered the head as a helmet and was fastened under the chin with leather stripes. The hair and the beard, made of wool, were glued on the mask.
Responsible for their construction was a special technician, the skevopoios. During the Hellenistic years, the 3-dimensional masks were replaced by others with emphasis on the front side of the head. Because of their wearable materials, no original masks from ancient performances have survived. Our knowledge is based on the depictions of masks on vessels and reliefs, as well as on the decorative masks made of marble, clay and metal, which adorned buildings (theatres, odeia, houses, etc.) or were dedications of winners in theatre competitions.