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Gestures in the manuscripts of Terence and late revivals of literary drama

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Several manuscripts of Terence feature a cycle of miniatures depicting masked actors. The miniatures mark scene-headings and on this account have often been dismissed as merely decorative and irrelevant to the history of ancient theater. Nevertheless, the pictures project an illusion of theatricality so irresistible and lively, that it is hardly possible that the illustrated Terence does not reflect some sort of performance practice.
This paper focuses on the code of gesture depicted in the miniatures and examines its relationship with late revivals of literary drama. I first discuss the iconographic and textual evidence pertaining to the date of the prototype of the miniatures; I then examine Quintilian’s remarks on dramatic gesture in order to outline the code he associated with the stage. This outline serves as a comparandum for the typology of gestures depicted in the Parisian codex of Terence (B.N. 7899), which is based on an analysis of the set of hand positions used to illustrate the Andria. (A glossary decoding the gestures of the Andria and comparing them with both hand positions from Quintilian’s catalogue and those known from earlier iconography is appended to the end of this paper.) The results of this comparison, along with some observations on the artist’s technique, suggest an answer to the question of which (if any) performance practice the miniatures could reflect.

Keywords: ancient rhetoric; roman theater

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of California at Santa Barbara

Publication date: January 1, 2007


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