Despite designing what is widely considered the finest theater in Greece, Polykleitos the Younger is probably better known for his sculptures of athletes. He is also credited with the tholos of the sanctuary of Asclepius, which is about 500 yards southeast of the theater. Sanctuary of Ritual and Healing 5 The great plays of Euripides and Sophocles and other great playwrights were presented at Epidaurus. However, by the time the theater had been completed, the great golden era of original Greek drama had reached its high-water mark.
Polykleitos’ achievement came “after the great creative period of Greek drama had come to an end. Where in fifth-century Athens only new works had been given – three tragedies (each in three parts) and five comedies each year – now there were revivals of the most popular of those ‘classics’ from which Aristotle was soon to draw the rules of dramatic poetry” (Honour & Fleming, 4.44). As in Athens, so it came to be at Epidaurus.
Style and Structure One of ancient Greece’s greatest contributions to western culture is the genius its dramatists showed for drawing complexity from simplicity. The same can be said for architects and sculptors like Polykleitos, whose design at Epidaurus seems to have perfected the delicate balance between simplicity and complexity. “The theater is among the most spectacular of all ancient Greek constructions and one that seems to crystallize an ideal of architecture as pure geometrical form…The form regularized and embellished the earliest type of theater, which had been simply a natural hollow in a hill adapted for rituals connected with the cult of Dionysius” (Honour & Fleming, 4.43/44).
The auditorium itself is 387 feet in diameter with more than 55 tiers of limestone benches (the names of donors were etched into the benches) capable of accommodating as many as 14,000 spectators, interspersed with poros stairs and surrounding more than half the orchestra platform and chorus area. A long, narrow stage built with timber was set just beyond the Sanctuary of Ritual and Healing 6 orchestra (Honour & Fleming, 4.44).
The auditorium was significantly enhanced in the second century B. C. with a walkway and an upper seating area comprised of 21 rows of benches and 23 stairways. The lower seating section has 34 rows and 13 stairways (Darling, 211). Despite its size, simplicity was designed into every aspect of the auditorium, which “is simple but perfectly suited to its function.
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