Random thoughts

The old man is dancing

You may or may not know about the practice of instauratio. Roman rituals required a perfect performance first time, or they would have to be repeated from the beginning – this was the case even for theatrical performaces at the ludi (games). I have just come across a passage from Servius explaining a Roman proverb originating from the Second Punic War:

Finally, when the circus games for Apollo were being celebrated and it was reported that Hannibal was attacking the city near the Colline Gate, everyone grabbed their weapons and ran there. Later, when they returned and were concerned about the necessary sacrifice, they found a certain old man dancing in the circus. When asked, he told them that he had not stopped dancing, and so the proverb goes: ‘All is well, the old man is dancing.’ [salva res est, saltat senex.]

In this particuGo Brucie, Go - Bruce Forsyth and female dancers on 'Strictly Come Dancing'lar instance, because of the good old fashioned Roman nerve (and presumably stamina) of the old man in continuing the ritual alone, there was no need to repeat it with the necessary sacrifice to appease the offended Apollo.  Huzzah.

One scholar comments that, given the large number of insturationes recorded by Livy between 216 and 179,  it ‘makes one almost suspect instaurationes  were used as a poly to extend the length of a dramatic run’!


3 thoughts on “The old man is dancing

  1. I did not know about this practice! I can only shudder at the idea of it, considering, as far as I understand it, getting a single quantity wrong in a poetic performance was enough to count as a mistake… Although, how much background noise was there at the ludi? Would everyone have been able to hear/tell? Was there a performance umpire?

    Who is the commenting scholar? Because I am intrigued by their point and would like to know what thesis they’re arguing with it. :D

    • There was a lot of noise going on at performances it seems. The prologues often have to call for silence and turn it into a joke… and Terence makes the rather lame excuse (in the prologue to the Hecyra) that the reason most of the audience got bored at a previous performance and wandered away was because there was a lot of noise and excitement going on in the crowd that there were going to be gladiators, which seemed more exciting.
      As for the other questions, I just don’t know enough about the ludi to answer! I imagine that the presiding magistrate (the aedile or some such) would have had final say, though I have no quotable evidence for it. The scholar is Marshall (2004) “The stagecraft and performance of Roman Comedy”.

  2. Pingback: Two Years of Res Gerendae | res gerendae

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