Artistic Temperaments

by Kieran Healy on January 18, 2004

From Chapter 3 of Tacitus’s Annals:

In the same year, there was a religious innovation: a new Brotherhood of Augustus was created, on the analogy of the ancient Titian Brotherhood founded by King Titus Tatius for the maintenance of the Sabine ritual. Twenty-one members were appointed by lot from the leading men of the State; and Tiberius, Drusus, Claudius, and Germanicus were added. The annual Games established in honour of Augustus were also begun. But their inauguration was troubled by disorders due to rivalry between ballet-dancers.

Factotum: Caesar, the ballet dancers are rioting!
Tiberius: Oh, not again.



degustibus 01.19.04 at 1:00 am

Ballet dancers? Or belly dancers?

History of ballet says no ballet (dancers per se) prior to 1489 & most likey developed in Renaissance Italy in the 1500s.

Belly dancers have been around since there were bellies.

Belly dance timeline takes it back to the Venus of Willendorf (24,000-22,000 BC ? Upper Paleolithic age.)


Kieran Healy 01.19.04 at 1:13 am

Hmm. Well, the translation is from 1954. On the other hand, I suppose I wasn’t seriously thinking of full-tutu’d Roman Pavlovas or anything.


Mike 01.19.04 at 2:13 am


ludos Augustalis tunc primum coeptos turbavit discordia ex certamine histrionum

The Augustan plays then first begun were turbulent because of discord from an actors’ contest.

Or something like that.


Tracy 01.19.04 at 6:45 am

As a bellydancer, or Middle Eastern dancer if I’m feeling stuffy, bellydancing may or may not have been around for 24,000 years. It depends on how you define bellydancing, and what sort of bellydancing you’re talking about. Due to the Islamic prohibition against depicting humans, and the lack of a notation for dance for most of human history, we have no idea what bellydancing used to look like since before the 19th century (and even then there’s very little information before the invention of film).

Apparently there are some depictions, on pottery and things, of women in poses that are the same as common, current, bellydance ones.

There is plenty of evidence that people have always danced, and that there can be a distinct split between how ordinary people, who have day-jobs, dance, and people who dance for a living and for a court. Ballet-dancing may be an appropriate, if only approximate, translation of a sort of dancing in Rome.


Free American 01.19.04 at 1:00 pm

Does this explain why Joan Jett had to beat the shit out of a Repuglican Protester in De Moins Iowa


bryan 01.19.04 at 4:23 pm

whoa, I had no idea tacitus did annal.


Dr. Weevil 01.19.04 at 11:05 pm

Here’s what N. P. Miller says in her 1959 commentary on Book I of the Annals (the quotation starts with the last 2 lines of page 175):

“The mention of Bathyllus and our knowledge of Imperial theatrical performances make it clear that the *pantomimi* are meant — dancers who by mime and gesture represented mythological and tragic themes. These performers were tremendously popular and each had his own faction of supporters . . .; temperament, professional jealousy and faction-loyalty constantly caused trouble at performances, and on several occasions actors were banished from Italy in an attempt to stop such rioting.”

A bit further on she notes that Bathyllus had invented the pantomimic art under Augustus, i.e. not long before. Whether you want to call it ‘ballet’ or not is a matter of taste.

By the way, as mike’s Perseus URL implies, this is not “chapter 3” of the Annals, but book I, chapter 54, section 2 — standard abbreviation Tac. Ann. 1.54.2.


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