Memorabilia Antonina: Fighting the blurring of terminology

Friday, April 21, 2006

Fighting the blurring of terminology

For the benefit of travel book writers, tour guides, tourists and students everywhere (especially those having to do with the monuments of Roman Asia) ...


Theatre, Pompeii

is a theatre. The seating forms a semi-circle, or slightly more, around the performance area.


Amphitheatre, Pompeii

is an amphitheatre. The seating forms an oval around the performance area.

The terms 'amphitheatre' and 'theatre' apply to two distinct types of building, and are not interchangeable, even if gladiatorial games were held in both.

And while we're at it, this

Amphitheatre, Nimes

is not a 'colosseum' (or 'coliseum').


Colosseum, Rome

is the Colosseum. There is only one.

(This inspired by my recent trip to Turkey, where I found theatres at Side, Aspendos and Fethiye all labelled as 'amphitheatres', even in respectable volumes like the Dorling-Kindersley Turkey guide. They're not. There was even a little open air theatre in the hotel we were staying in, and that too was labelled as 'amphitheater'. Yet curiously, I saw no fights or wild beast hunts all week.)


Anonymous said...

This is only from memory, but... As I remember it the Penguin Classic translation of Gregory of Tours's History of the Franks, by Lewis Thorpe, says that King Chilperic (Chilperic! I like that name) spent one summer in the late 570s or early 580s restoring theatres in Soissons and Paris and organising games. NO! The Latin says that he was restoring circuses and organising races. You can bring "circus" into this mess, if you wish.

Tony Keen said...

I have a handout I give to my students which carefully points out the proper applications of the terms 'theatre', 'amphitheatre', 'colosseum', 'coliseum' (only for the ENO's home and the like), 'arena', 'odeon', 'circus', 'stadium' and 'hippodrome'. And I always take every opportunity to point out that, though we focus on the exotic barbarism of the amphitheatre, the big crowd-puller in Rome was the Circus.