Abstract–Dionysos, Divine Space and Dopamine: A Cognitive Approach to the Greek Theatre

The Sanctuary of Dionysos Eleuthereus on the south east slope of the Acropolis in Athens and the theatron that was erected above it, was the major and performance venue for fifth century Athenian drama and it is quite possible that almost every play from that period was created specifically for this space. I suggest that we can learn a great deal more about the original reception of the plays in performance by applying research from the affective sciences to the evidence of material culture and the texts of the plays themselves. Here I focus on the relationship of the spectator to the environment with which the theatre was located, in particular the stunning view of the landscape, sea and sky. I apply the four spatial realms theory of Previc to the theatre space and following Previc’s research, suggest that the relationship of the performance space to its view created a deep spiritual experience that cannot be recreated on the modern interior stage. There was a reason why Plato, Aristotle and Isocrates all described the theatre as possessing the power “to move the soul”: this paper is part of a larger study that is seeking to better understand how ancient Greek drama achieved this.