Date of Award

Spring 5-2019

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department


Degree Name

Master of Arts (AM/MA)

Degree Type



The ‘meaning’ of a performance is largely determined by its context. This idea became clear to me after years as a dancer performing in drastically different venues—including nursing home lobbies, circus tents, makeshift outdoor festival stages, football fields, and ornate theatres. To me, every performance opportunity felt distinct, especially depending on the audience and the nature of the performance. This is the personal background that I bring to my study of female acrobatic performances in ancient Greek society, and it is part of the reason that I find it critical to consider these performances within their contexts. Even if the same acrobat performs the same tricks, other aspects of the performance such as different settings (public/private, indoor/outdoor, dining floor/stage) and different audiences (elite/non-elite, male/female, small/large, etc.) will significantly impact the experience, both for the acrobat and for the viewers. A performance for an intimate group of society’s elite must have felt different than a widely attended performance for the masses. Determining the function of female acrobatics in context is not a straightforward task: the textual evidence for female acrobatics in 5th-4th c. Greece is limited and marked by elite bias, while the plethora of visual evidence is often difficult to interpret, especially in terms of performance reality. How might the female acrobat in Xenophon’s imaginative symposium, or a female performing acrobatic stunts on a vase, relate to entertainment practices in ‘real’ life?

While working with the limitations of the evidence, in my thesis I attempt to determine the social function of female acrobats in classical and early Hellenistic society across performance contexts. By assembling both the textual and material sources, I discuss the variety of spaces in which female acrobatic performances are attested: the symposium, the comic stage, and wonder-shows. Each chapter centers on the evidence for these respective venues, as I attempt to reconstruct the relationship between the audience, acrobat, and performance space. Concerns of performance reality and performance context for female acrobatics have not received much scholarly attention. Therefore, my approach allows me to fill a gap in scholarship by achieving my two major goals for this project: to establish (as best as possible) the performance realities of female acrobats in their respective contexts and to determine the way the acrobat functions (especially in relation to the audience) in each context.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Zoe Stamatopoulou, Thesis Examination Committee

Committee Members

Timothy Moore, Susan Rotroff


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