Demons and Dancers. Performance in Late Antiquity.
Harvard University Press, Cambridge (Mass.)/London, 2008. 296p. Cloth wrps.Ruth Webb announces her objective in her introduction: to combine 'the study of mime and pantomime as performance arts with the analysis of the rhetorical strategies of the ancient discussions of the theater'. Before this she gives a brief outline of the principal sources and some of the problems that their accounts give rise to; the biases, pro and anti, of the literary sources and the difficulties in reading them critically, the gaps and drawbacks of other types of documents such as legal texts, inscriptions, or papyri. Her focus she declares to be the eastern, Greek-speaking part of the empire, from the second to the sixth centuries, a focus dictated by the concentration of the written sources in this period and area. Her book falls into two halves, the first (chapters 1 to 6) concerned with the performance and performers themselves, the second (chapters 7 to 9) with the image of these two main forms of theatrical performance and their practitioners which emerges from the written sources, and the extent to which a critical reading of these sources beyond their rhetoric can reveal genuine underlying attitudes about the theatre in the wider society.(...) The most important contributions of the book are first, an insistence on the two art forms as performance, especially the chapters on pantomime written from the point of view of someone who understands dance and can make clear its demands on the performers and its powers to enthrall its audience, and secondly an analysis of the polemics about the theatre in late antiquity which, while refusing to take their claims at face value, uses them to illuminate the attitudes that they are attacking. It is a valuable addition to the growing body of work on the late Roman theatre.' (KATHERINE M.D. DUNBABIN in Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2009.08.52).