In my last entry I quoted Lucian’s character Lycinus who claims that Proteus was really just a skilled dancer. If his transformations seem miraculous, it is because the myth neglects to tell this little detail… By contrast, the representation of the myth in dance is uniquely faithful to the myth’s true meaning.
Such faithfulness, or lack thereof, is the subject of an epigram by Lucillius on a nameless pantomime-dancer (Anth. Pal. 11.254):
Πάντα καθ’ ἱστορίην ὀρχούμενοϲ, ἓν τὸ μέγιστον
τῶν ἔργων παριδὼν ἠνίσαϲ μεγάλωϲ.
Τὴν μὲν γὰρ Νιόβην ὀρχούμενοϲ, ὡϲ λίθοϲ ἔστηϲ,
καὶ πάλιν ὢν Καπανεύϲ, ἐξαπίνηϲ ἔπεσεϲ·
ἀλλ’ ἐπὶ τῆϲ Κανάκηϲ ἀφυῶϲ, ὅτι καὶ ξίφοϲ ἦν σοι
καὶ ζῶν ἐξῆλθεϲ· τοῦτο παρ’ ἱστορίην.
“You played in the ballet everything according to the story, but by overlooking one very important action you higly displeased us. Dancing the part of Niobe you stood like a stone, and again when you were Capaneus you suddenly fell down. But in the case of Canace you were not clever, for you had a sword, but yet left the stage alive; that was not according to the story.” (Trans. W.R. Paton)
The first four lines of this scoptic epigramm are quite ambiguous. After all, Niobe was turned into stone according to the myth, and Kapaneus fell to the ground in his attempt to climb the wall of Thebes. So, a dancer who stands still like a rock or suddenly falls to the ground may well be praised for his faithful represention of the myth (καθ’ ἱστορίην). However, the last distich precludes such a reading: a faithful representation would have entailed the death of the performer, but the latter left the stage unharmed – this was a departure from the myth (τοῦτο παρ’ ἱστορίην). It is now clear that although the stiffness and the fall ostensibly refer to the myth, they are much rather meant to describe the dancer’s lack of skill.
This humorous little poem illustrates from a different angle how prominent the ideal of a faithful or accurate representation was in the ancient reflection on pantomime, but also how keenly the problems relating to this ideal were perceived.