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Malgorzata Borowska

Ancient Greek Dance in Poland. A Reconnaissance

Borowska, Malgorzata (translated into English by Joanna Dutkiewicz): Ancient greek dance in Poland, A Reconnaissance. Warsaw, 2003.

Ancient Greek Dance in Poland. A Reconnaissance


Though the lands forming both historical and contemporary Poland are a long distance from the Roman limes, Polish culture has been a part of the Mediterranean culture since the dawn of history. Together with Christianity came knowledge of the Latin alphabet and language, a means of communication with our Western European neighbours and the key that, paradoxically, opened up the treasury of the Greek and Roman pagan heritage as well as being our only literary language for many centuries. In the 16th century, marking the peak of the Renaissance, humanistic Latin became widespread on Polish territory, and systematic teaching of Greek also began.

For a hundred years, more or less, the direct contact of our educated strata with the Greek language and literature was lively and extremely rich in consequences (p. 16)

– wrote the great scholar Marian Plezia[1] in his article „Tysiąclecie kultury antycznej w Polsce” („The Millennium of Ancient Culture in Poland”, "Eos" LXVI (1966), p. 138–145).

Even the long-lasting crisis of the state and the country’s ultimate loss of independence for more than two centuries did not loosen the traditional bonds with ancient culture. Our greatest Romantic poets, contemporaries of Dionysios Solomos – Adam Mickiewicz and Juliusz Słowacki, were assiduous students of the Hellenists; the latter as a child was fascinated with Achilles’ feats in the Trojan War. Replying to the question of what Greek-Roman antiquity had been for the Poles after the partitions, Plezia recounts:

...a tale of how the greatest minds of our nation in the times of enslavement sought a reflection and similarity of the struggle of their own era in the mirror of classical antiquity (p. 19).

In view of this centuries-old intimacy with antiquity, it seems to be a valid option to find out if and how our national tradition and culture includes the presence of an area of life and art which was so important to the ancient Greeks that it was in fact the art of life – namely dance. First of all, we will see the state of Polish theoretical studies on Greek dance, if and how dance has inspired poets and artists, and finally, what ancient dance looks like on theatre stages, especially in the experiments of contemporary anthropological alternative theatre.

The academic perspective

The beginning of interest in ancient dance in Poland dates back to the work of an academic dilettante, Marjan Gorzkowski[2], which carried a title that sounds old-fashioned today: Historyczne poszukiwania o tańcach, tak starożytnych pogańskich jaki również społecznych i obyczajowych we względzie symbolicznego znaczenia ("Historical Searches on Dance, Ancient Pagan as Well as Social and Customary in Terms of Symbolic Meaning"), published in Warsaw by Gebethner i Wolff publishing house in 1869.

The first three chapters of this 170-page treatise, with titles taken from Greek (I: Prolegomena (p. 1–8), II: Emvolion (p. 8–19), III: Isagogicon (p. 19–22), are devoted to generalities. Starting with Chapter IV (Diagramma), the author begins to describe dances according to his own classification, beginning with religious dances. In Chapter V he writes of "knights’ dances", in Chapter VI – dances for special occasions, or home and ritual dances, in Chapter VII – theatrical dances (mimed and for entertainment), in Chapter VIII – ballet (understood as dances performed by choruses), and in Chapter IX – pantomime. Finally, in Chapter X the author presents a Dictionary of Dances With Their Proper Names Both Ancient and Present-day, in which he lists 77 Greek names of dances.

Gorzkowski reaches for all known ancient sources, and also quotes the treatise by Ioannes Meursius, Orchestra, sive de saltationibus veterum (Florentiae 1618) as well as the few Polish works related to national dances. He takes his ancient Greek material mainly from the works of Italian, German and French scholars from the Renaissance and later, including Jules Cesar Scaliger Poetices libri VII de saltatione (1561), Claude François Menestrier, Des ballets anciens et modernes selon les régles du théâtre (Paris 1682), or Ioannes G. Stuckius, Antiquitatum Convivalium libri III, (Lugd. Batav. 1695).

Referring to the significance of folk rituals in the culture of every nation, Gorzkowski considers it extremely important for understanding the beginnings of our own culture, where written sources are unavailable, to study those rituals in the Greek-Roman world, as the „standard of the human omni-spirit”, by reaching for their oldest symptom – „the ritual of dance” (p. 8). He goes on to recount the views of the ancient Greeks on the essence and role of dance (Homer, Plato, Lucian) and quotes anecdotes of how the aged Socrates danced, and of Epaminondas and others who had been famous for their dancing skills.

Hence dance for the Greeks was a kind of history, a footnote or explanation of history, and a kind of critical view of historical issues (p. 12)

He then lists mythological characters having a connection to dance (e.g. Europa, Leda, Daphne or Danae), and quotes the scene from Apuleius’ Metamorphoses where all the gods dance at Psyche’s wedding. The author notes a difference of views on dance between the Greeks and the Romans, quoting several anecdotes proving the latter’s averseness and contempt for it; he also reviews the opinions of the Church Fathers and Christianity’s negative attitude towards dance which was associated with pagan rituals, and also mentions the lack of any mention of dance in early Polish legislation.

Chapter III reviews the names of dances and their meanings in ancient and modern languages. Following Homer’s example, he traces the Greek name choros (cor"V) back to chara (car|) – joy.

Nowhere have they (dances) become so rooted on Earth as they have in Greece; nowhere would or perhaps even could people see dance as a figurative form like the Greeks... (p. 20).


Having briefly outlined the mythical beginnings of dance (the Couretes, Corybants, Erato), he turns to Homer, whom he considers to have described two kinds of dance: cybisteteres and spheristica. He traces the beginnings of dance to the cavorting of Ariadne, which Theseus allegedly later brought to Athens, and also, taking this from Herodotus, he traces dance to Lidia, where the starving people expressed their feelings through movement.

His descriptions of different kinds of dance begin with religious dance, whose beginnings he sees as man imitating God „who is constant action and movement” (p. 23). He also investigates differences in views on the essence and role of dance in Hebrew as well as pagan – Egyptian and Indian – rites, moving on to the Greek religion and its „procession chants” (prosodion), „chants for dancing” around the altar (hyporchema) and „final chants” (stasimon) ending the ritual. He deals mainly with rituals honouring Dionysus-Bacchus (Oschophoria, Lenaia, Apatouria). Further on in the chapter, he analyzes Polish and Ruthenian folk dances, their links to pagan cults, and dances related to the Christian religion. Among the „knights’ dances” he mentions primarily the war dance pyrriche (thought to have been created by the Dioscuri, Achilles or his son Pyrrhos), kidaris, telesias, kiwistris, ksifismos, podismos, pridis, gymnopedia as well as the dances of the Thessalians, Macedonians, Thracians and Magnesians. The chapter concludes with a description of the Polish national dance – the polonaise, and a detailed summary of the short work by Lucian of Samosata.

...through dance movements one can understand the whole of national history: one can understand the social character and customs, the spirit and heart of a nation. The Greeks were once able to express their thoughts or feelings through dance so precisely that often, looking at a Greek dancer, one could understand what desires he was expressing through movement and dance; what questions or answers; whether these came from someone young or old; important, dignified or ordinary; mean, tyrannical, or calm and rural! Hence it was rightly said among the Greeks that a dancer had just one body, but many souls inside him! (p. 81)

Chapter VI deals with rituals of everyday life, especially those accompanying marriage ceremonies (epithalamia), revelry and games. The author mentions dances related to work in the field such as epithimios – the harvest dance, joyful like anthema – the flower dance, licentious like eklaktizma – the shoe dance, those similar to the can-can like mothon, wild like knismos. A major part of the chapter is devoted to Polish, Lithuanian and Ruthenian dances.

The brief Chapter VII deals with nighttime rituals, Chapter VIII is about the art of ballet, and the final Chapter IX – about pantomime. The author traces the word ballet to the Greek verb ballein (b|llein) – to throw. He sees the origins of the dances performed by drama choruses in the cyclic Egyptian dance imitating the movementof celestial bodies.

The choruses danced /.../ from the right side to the left, representing the movement of the sky, which began from the east towards the west, and which they called strophe (strofh) or the circle. Next the dance proceeded from the left side to the right, to represent the movement of the planets, and that was called antistrophe (antistrofh) or the opposite movement. Upon finishing, they stopped for a few moments and, standing still, sang songs called epodes (epwda{) i.e. the constancy of the earth! (p. 110)


Gorzkowski goes on to discuss the writings of Greek authors about choruses and „ballet” dances (the myth of Eriphanis and Menalcus), songs that accompanied dances, the types of singing (harmonic, diatonic and chromatic) as well as instruments. He identifies 4 kinds of ballet: tragic, comic, satirical and thymelic. Then he describes the architecture of the stage according to Vitruvius (Pulpitum, Proscenium, Latus, Frons, Postscenium), rather chaotically mixing narratives on Greek and Roman theatres, actors, costume details and masks. The chapter on ballet ends with examples of modern ballets, while the chapter on pantomime offers a brief outline of the history of theatre (Greek beginnings) in Poland.

Gorzkowski’s voluminous and erudite work was, however, one of a kind, most probably largely due to Poland’s dramatic fate at the time – a division among three partitioning powers – which was not conducive to such studies.


Contemporary Polish studies on the Hellenic culture and its heritage, including the meaning of ancient Greek music and dance, have their patron in the great Hellenist and humanist Tadeusz Zieliński[3]. It was he who introduced the term „triple choreia” to Polish learning and culture to describe the special, unique relation of the three elements that made up the performance of a Greek chorus: dance, music and words. This world-famous expert on Greek theatre, author of such classical books as Die Gliederung der altattischen Komödie (1885) or Tragodumenon libri tres (1925), great enthusiast of and expert on opera, was one of the few classical scholars who fully appreciated the role of the choreia in ancient Greek culture.

In his Historia kultury antycznej (History of Ancient Culture, 1924) he wrote:

... dance in antiquity was one of the most powerful educational means and enjoyed an elevated position as was never seen afterwards; apart from the fact that it liberated the body, giving the limbs mobility and expressiveness, through its content it tuned and enriched the soul of the dancer. This explains the Greeks’ usage of the word achoreutos in the sense of „uneducated”, and also the noteworthy words of Plato: „he dances well; very beautifully; but let us require furthermore that he dance good things” (Leg. II 2). (vol. I, p. 125).

The diagram included in this book (vol. I, p. 9) illustrating the scope of the choreia shows clearly how omnipresent it was in Greek culture, according to Zieliński, how it encompassed the whole of it, merging, so to speak, into the procession of the nine Muses.


Zieliński sees the history of the Greek choreia as a constant process of the separation from it of individual fields of art, science and literature with their own particular command of melody, gesture and word.


Despite such promising beginnings, Greek dance only appears „by accident” within the interests of contemporary Polish scholars, as an auxiliary topic – in the form of marginal remarks or brief mentions – when dealing with such issues as ancient poetry or drama, religious rituals and festivals, everyday life.

One such example I would like to mention is a work by the eminent classicist and erudite Stanisław Mleczko[4], Serce a heksametr czyli gieneza metryki poetyckiej w związku z estetycznym kształceniem się języków, szczególnie polskiego ("The Heart and the Hexameter, or the Origin of Poetical Meters and the Aesthetic Development of Languages, Especially Polish"), published in Warsaw in 1901. The author traces the origin of poetical rhythm and, though this is not within his field of interest, dance, to human physiology, especially the rhythm of breathing and the number of heartbeats.


Contemporary systematic textbook reviews of the history of Greek culture usually devote little space to dance. For example, in the voluminous, 530-page work by the excellent classical scholars from Warsaw University, Lidia Winniczuk[5] and Oktawiusz Jurewicz[6], Starożytni Grecy i Rzymianie w życiu prywatnym i państwowym ("The Ancient Greeks and Romans in Private and State Life", 1968), the history of Greek dance takes up just... 1.5 pages.

Dance for the ancients was ceremonious, religious in character, it was linked to religious cults and rituals; it could also be performed as a show, but dance as a form of amusement was unknown (p. 278)

– write the authors in their description of the triple choreia. Their main source is Dialogue on Dance by Lucian of Samosata, and they continue to follow him in describing the licentious Phrygian dance condemned by both Lucian and, earlier, Plato, and the equally violent dance thermastris (qermastr{V), then the group „chain” dances – hormos (orm"V), the Spartan dance gymnopedia (gumnopaid{a), the dance in armor pyrriche (purr{ch), and finally dances linked to the cult of Dionysus and staged drama, i.e. emmeleia (šmm}leia) – the dance of tragedy, kordaks (k"rdax) – the dance of old comedy and sikinnis (s{kinniV) – the indecent dance of the satyrs.

Most valued in dance was the beauty of rhythm (eurythmia) and harmony, which is why it was a part of a young boy’s and young girl’s education (p. 279)

– conclude the authors.

More information about dance is found in L. Winniczuk’s book popularizing knowledge of Greek-Roman antiquity, Ludzie, zwyczaje, obyczaje starożytnej Grecji i Rzymu ("The People, Habits, Customs of Ancient Greece and Rome", 1983). She starts by quoting an epigram by Leontios (Anth. Pal. XVI 286) speaking of how it is women who excel at dance because a Muse invented the art of dance rhythm and Hellas developed it to the highest level. The author goes on to describe different dances: solemn processional dances (Panathenaia, the festival of Artemis Caryatis), mixed chain dances – the crane dance – geranos (g}ranoV) and the chain dance – hormos (ormoV), described by Lucian), Ionic processional and banquet dances – paroines (modeled after Phrygian dances), or the can-can of the hetaerae (cf. Luc. Dialogues of the Hetaerae 3; Pl. Pseudolus 1274 sq.; Stichus 770 sq.). Winniczuk pays special attention to dance shows which were known back in Homer’s time (Od. VIII 210 sq.); mimic-war dances in armor (pyrriche). Her explanation for the change of character of the solemn Ionic dance into a banquet-frivolous dance is the influence of Eastern culture on the wealthy Ionians from the cities of Asia Minor, adding that ancient dance was never a social pastime.

The dancing of drunken participants at feasts cannot be counted among the show dances; they were performed neither by professional dancers nor to entertain the guests; they were only an expression of mood and general merriment. On the other hand, apart from dances related to religious rituals, there were dance shows performed by professional male and female dancers (p. 518).          

There is no mention of Greek dance, not in the chapter on music and instruments, nor in the fragment about drama, in the academic textbook on ancient culture Historia kultury starożytnej Grecji i Rzymu ("A History of the Culture of Ancient Greece and Rome", 1955) by the eminent classical scholar and Warsaw University professor Kazimierz Kumaniecki[7].

Brief but significant mention is made of dance in volume one of the extensive Historia starożytnych Greków ("A History of the Ancient Greeks") by the Warsaw University professors Ewa Wipszycka-Bravo[8] and Benedetto Bravo[9] (Warsaw 1988). Describing acts of cult in archaic Greece, prayers and festivals, the authors write[10]:

One usual element of the festivities was group dancing and choral singing. If, as one may assume, dance was regulated by an unchanging tradition, the sung text was changed to delight the gods with a new and beautiful song (this had specific consequences for the development of poetry) (p. 316).


Writing about the role of the symposion in the life of the aristocracy in the times of archaic Greece, the authors implicitly polemicize with the opinion, presented above, of Winniczuk and Jurewicz, that the ancients did not practice „dance for fun”. Describing the customs of symposions, especially the effects of the young male participants’ excessive drinking, they note:

Inebriation inspired the participants to dance, something unthinkable when they were sober (the issue here is individual dance, of course, as the dances of choruses were treated differently) /.../ Recognizing song, dance, poetry as an essential element of entertainment suggests its sophistication (p. 340).


In specialist works on Greek poetry, drama or religion and ancient cults, it is impossible to ignore the role of dance, but even then any mention of dance (choreia) is only marginal and mostly very concise.

The historian and Hellenist Włodzimierz Lengauer[11] makes no mention at all of the role of dance in Greek culture in his otherwise excellent book Starożytna Grecja okresu archaicznego i klasycznego ("Ancient Greece in the Archaic and Classical Period", 1999), and in the monograph Religijność starożytnych Greków ("The Religiousness of the Ancient Greeks", 1994) he devotes so little space to the choreia that neither „dance” nor „choreia” are terms listed in the index. The chapter on sacrifices, cults and festivals in the Greek world ends with the remark:


Therapeia theon is linked to the Muses /.../ The festival thus also serves to „reinvigorate” people, it is an occasion for joy, fun and, naturally, feasting. Apollo, Dionysus and the Muses in fact mean dance, music and song.

These three elements, three symptoms of human cultural activity constitute the unique and special phenomenon of the Greek choreia without which a festival in any polis of the Greek world would be impossible to imagine. /.../

Plato considered the choreia an extremely important component of paideia, or human culture passed on by way of bringing up the young. That is exactly the significance of religious festivals and rituals – human experiences, feelings and reactions become a part of the nomos. A festival, like the whole of therapeia theon, is a transformation of the wild into the ordered (p. 110–111).

Among the few contemporary publications referring to dance in their index is the book popularizing Greek culture Starożytna Grecja ("Ancient Greece", 1988) by Stanisław Stabryła[12], a professor of Jagiellonian University in Kraków. However, even in this work the author devotes just a brief note to dance when discussing choral poetry.

In his monograph Teatr antycznej Grecji ("The Theatre of Ancient Greece", 2001) Mirosław Kocur[13] devotes substantial space to issues related to dance; the whole of the second chapter describes the dramatic chorus, and one of the sections analyzes the triple choreia. Kocur refers mainly to ancient literary sources (Athenaios Deipnosophistai (I 25–27; 37–40; XIV 25–30), Lucian’s treatise De saltatione; some remarks in Plato’s Laws (Leg. 814 E – 817 E) as well as iconographic material. He describes the stage movements (the tetragonal arrangement of the dramatic chorus and its forms; the „scattered” entry (sporaden); the entry of half-choruses); he analyzes the different kinds of parodos of the chorus: marching with melo-recitation in the rhythm of anapests (Aeschylos’ The Persians, The Suppliants, Agamemnon, Sophocles’ Aias); entries in non-anapestic meters: solo in the rhythm of an astrophic song (Aeschylos’ The Seven Against Thebes); solo entries in the rhythm of a strophic song (especially Sophocles’ Antigone, Oedipus the King, The Women of Trachis; Euripides’ Hercules, Hippolytus, The Phoenician Women); entries in a lyrical dialogue with an actor (Aeschylos’ Prometheus Bound; Sophocles’ Electra, Philoctetes, Oedipus at Colonus; 8 plays by Euripides, including the especially spectacular parodos in Orestes); entries without singing (Euripides’ The Suppliant Women – the chorus present on the orchestra „before its parodos”).

After reviewing the less formal entries of the comedy chorus, Kocur analyzes the stasimon as a form, accenting the relation between the dance and the text of the song as well as the role of hand gestures – cheironomia (ceironom{a). Based on Plutarch’s text (Quaestiones convivalium IX 747a–748e) and the writings of Pollux and Athenaios, the author re-creates the catalog of gestures, including different phorai (fora{) – movements, schemata (schmata) – positions or attitudes, and deikseis (de{xeiV) – indications.

It was sufficient to move the hands rhythmically to create dance – orchesis, and one could dance without moving from one spot.

The author then describes three kinds of dramatic dance, namely the tragic emmeleia, the comic kordax and the sikinnis in the satyr play. However, the main subject of this chapter is music and musical instruments, reflections on the rhythm of poems and the artistic functions of the chorus in drama.

There is also a fragment about dance in the introduction to the anthology Liryka starożytnej Grecji ("The Lyric Poetry of Ancient Greece", 1984) compiled by Jerzy Danielewicz[14].

The Greek molpe (dance with singing) was realized through movement (p. XXXI).

The writer of the introduction outlines the history of Greek dance in relation to the development of lyric poetry. He notes that the Greeks’ widespread musical education made the task of preparing large choruses and huge spectacles „much easier than one could suppose today”.  


Compared to classical scholars who focused analyzing texts, archeologists interpreting material finds devoted more attention to dance. Especially Kazimierz Majewski[15], a great expert on the cultures of Minoan Crete and Mycenaean Greece, investigated early dance. He defended his doctor’s dissertation on Aegean dance in 1929. He published his article on the topic Taniec w Egei w świetle źródeł zabytkowych kreteńsko-mykeńskich („Dance in Aegea in the Light of Cretan-Mycenaean Historical Objects”), in "Kwartalnik Klasyczny" (no IV (1930), p. 99–127). In it, he discussed dance together with the whole of Cretan culture and religious beliefs. He based his attempted reconstruction on Cretan and Mycenaean finds, which he classified by subject into 5 groups: representations of dances in animal costumes and masks (8 finds, including a fragment of a vase from Knossos with a „running” man in a mask, a second man kneeling before an altar with ritual horns and a sacred tree, and a fresco from Mycenae with the figures of men with the heads of asses), dances with animals (statuettes of women with snakes; representations of women and billy-goats; representations of naked female dancers in an orgiastic dance), cult dances, perhaps related to mystery rituals (representations of dancers in positions of prayer and ecstasy, for example on a ring from Sopata; dances near trees; proskynesis (prosk?nhsiV) on a ring from Vaphio), processional dances (numerous finds depicting processions) and dances interpreted as being lay (the dancers have no sacral attributes, nor are there any in the background; dances with weapons, dances in the open air).

In part two the author deals with:

... studying the relation of Aegean dance to Greek drama, analyzing dance technique as well as artistic-aesthetic and psychological analysis...

The analyses of technical dance positions are particularly interesting. The author states that Aegean dance was characterized by lightness (related to the high standard of physical culture, visible in the acrobatics of tauromachy) and moderation in attempting to overcome gravity (dancing on the toes), dynamics of line and movement, conscious composition of the body and the space. The author finds similarities in the artistic form of Aegean and Egyptian dance, accenting the superiority of the latter.

Aegean dance in its most perfect forms was an expression of striving for the absolute, and its transcendental element definitely separates it from classical art and dance. Like the dance of primitive people, like the dance and art of the Orient, Aegean dance was strictly abstract, linked to the line and its correlate, the plane. In its wealth of creativity, as a consequence of resolving artistic problems, it went far beyond primitive dance. Out of an elementary material it became a complex artistic work, out of primitiveness – culture. Due to its sacral character, Aegean dance encroached into all areas of life, becoming essential to them all /.../ Sacral dance, which was not subject to constant change due to its religious character and, consequently, conservatism, in some specific forms survived until historical times and together with some rituals became a part of Greek cults, and especially of the Eleusinian mysteries, while at the same time forming the beginnings of Greek drama.

One can therefore definitely say that with regard to dance, historical Greece in its beginnings did nothing else but continue the tradition of the pre-Hellenic times (p. 126).

Majewski also dealt with Minoan and Mycenaean dance in a few articles interpreting Cretan-Mycenaean finds, including Ryton mykeński z Rodos („The Mycenaean Rython from Rodos”, Archeologia III (1949), p. 7–17) – in which he defines three groups of Cretan dances: priestly, courtly and rural, and in larger works, like Kultura ajgajska ("The Aegean Culture", Lviv 1933) or Kreta-Cyklady-Hellada ("Crete-Cyclades-Hellas", 1963).

The periodical "Filomata" (1930), popularizing knowledge of Greek-Roman antiquity, published Majewski’s two-part article Taniec starożytnych Greków („The Dance of the Ancient Greeks”), the only publication in Polish I know of that analyzes the technical aspects of dance. He reconstructs the dance figures from the few available texts, but chiefly from archeological finds. He defines three groups of positions: pertaining to religious cults (gestures of adoration, blessing, etc.), everyday life (running, walking, jumping), and art. He reviews the 5 basic foot positions in dance as such, arm positions, especially the hands and fingers, richer in ancient dance (cheironomia), bowing of the torso and head. He then analyzes the dance movement, rhythm and tempo, and the foot positions and types of steps, illustrating this with an analysis of typical figures in Greek dance (dances performed by three people, processions).

The compositions of dance groups as well as the arrangement of the body and arms of the individual dancers, emphasize the harmony of the whole and the excellent rhythmic dynamics of the dances. The beautiful, wave-like lines of the arms, graceful bending of the torso by the female dancers, the intricate arrangement of fingers, are evidence of the wealth of motifs, expressive figures, while also proving a great sense of decorativeness (p. 122–123).

Studies on Aegean dance were continued by Agata Ulanowska, author of the article (in English) The Gold ring from Mycenae. Some remarks about dance ("Archeologia" XLIV (1993) p. 113–117).

Majewski’s studies, among other sources, were used in the fragment on the role of dance on Crete by Ludwika Press[16], author of the book Życie codzienne na Krecie w państwie króla Minosa ("Everyday Life on Crete in the State of King Minos", Warszawa 1972).

Women in long robes dance to the sound of the aulos, their arms entwined – a terracotta group from Palaikastro dated at 1550–1450 BC. Considering the simplicity of the clothing and the place where the group was found, one can infer that this is a dance of country girls. There is no reason to consider it a cult dance, whereas a very similar terracotta group from the Kamilari grave could be related to the cult of the dead (p. 140).

The labyrinth of Knossos, Ariadne, Theseus – this place and these characters are repeated many times in Greek myths, also in connection with the origins and development of Greek dances (p. 142).

The above brief list of references recording the few papers scattered across specialist periodicals is visible proof of the negligible interest shown by Polish scholars studying antiquity in an important component of the Greek choreia – dance.


The only Polish scholar I know of who devoted a large, 230-page monograph to the Greek choreia is Edward Zwolski[17], a professor of the Catholic University of Lublin.

His book, the result of long years of painstaking studies of written sources and analyses of archeological finds, discusses dance, or actually more than just dance – the whole of the Greek choreia, in the context of religion and cult, hence its title: Choreia. Muza i bóstwo w religii greckiej ("Choreia. The Muse and the God in Greek Religion"). The following extensive summary of this outstanding monograph, for language reasons inaccessible to most scholars, aims not only to present the results of this Polish specialist’s studies but also, at least partly, to show the extraordinary variety and wealth of materials that he managed to gather.

Zwolski defines the choreia in the very first sentence:

The choreia, an organic unity of three: rhythmical movement and gesture, a melody played or tapped rhythmically, and the sung word, was born of the collective experiencing of sacredness (p. 5).

Zwolski describes the Greek choreia as:

an all-embracing form of religious experience in ancient Greece (p. 7).

In his view, this experience goes well beyond the sacral sphere:

The Greek choreia provided models for other areas of life. (...) Even back in Homeric times there appeared a tendency to define in terms of the choreia human existence as such, both earthly and extramundane, while Pythagorean science reached for analogies with the chorus in its argumentation of the cosmic order. The model of the chorus or harmony in representing the world was fixed in European thinking for centuries: it was only after Newton’s discoveries that the heavenly spheres fell silent – to the horror of the earth, a horror given such tragic expression by Pascal (p. 6).  

In the first chapter Zwolski offers a thorough description of the types and scope of choreia, starting with a reference to Plato:

... the choreia was born of harmony between movement of the body and movement of the voice as a reflection of movement of the soul (p. 11).

The author analyzes the range of meaning of Greek verbs relating to the choreia: melpein (m}lpein) and its derivatives Melpomenos – an epithet for Dionysus, and Melpomene – the name of the muse of tragedy, molpe (molph); aeidein (‡e{dein) and the related aude (audh), aedon (‡edén), etc.; the noun melos (m}loV). The oldest of these terms – molpe, means a ritual choral song-dance. Differently from Eastern dances, it was linked to circular movement (cyclic choreia) or progressive movement (processional choreia).

His analysis of the choreia begins with a description of the ritual cyclic choreia:

...participants in the ritual formed a circle, often holding hands, their moving circle closing the sacred space to the harmful influence of forces that were also kept away by the tapping of feet, the human voice and the sound of instruments. They formed a garden in the etymological sense of the word, a living fence of gesture and voice, called a chorus (p. 12).

– writes Zwolski, thus etymologically linking choros (cor"V) – chorus and chortos (c"rtoV) – garden.

Next the author writes of the female choreia of Minoan Crete on the basis of, for example, representations on ceramic vessels from Phaistos (18th century B.C.) and a terracotta group of lyre-player and women from Palaikastro (16th century B.C.) as well as the few ancient materials confirming the impact of pre-Greek Crete’s dance on the Greek choreia (Hom. Il. XVIII 591–92; Sappho, frg. 16 (Incerta) and frg. 154 Lobel-Page; Callimachus, Hymnus in Delum 303–312; Plut. Vita Thesei 21; Pollux Onomasticon IV 101, etc.).

Zwolski also gives a brief description of the processional choreia (a religious, wedding or funeral procession) to the accompaniment of a lyre or aulos, on the basis of the famous harvesters’ vase and the Hagia Triada sarcophagus as well as Greek finds: geometrical vases (8th century B.C.).

After these preliminary remarks on the way dance was performed (a circle or a procession), the author lists and describes the different kinds of choreia.

A form of particularly close contact between humans and gods is the prayer choreia – the hymn, originally sung and danced by a chorus, though the narratives of the ancients quoted by Zwolski differ in their views as to the role of dance in performances of hymns (Callimachus, Proclus). The author reviews the knowledge of the ancients on the beginnings of hymnic poetry in such centres as Delphi, Delos or Eleusis (listing mythical figures: Olen, Musaios and his son Eumolpos, Pamphos, Chrysothemis, Philammon, Thamyras, and creators of the processional hymn: Klonas, Eumelos of Corinth, Pindar and Bakchylides). He gives a detailed analysis of fragmentary information on dances in different centres of the cult of, in particular, Demeter, Artemis and Apollo, during festivals (e.g. Theoxenia in Delphi, Daphnephoria in Thebes). Reviewing the history of the hymn in honor of Apollo – the paean, the author refers to the sentence by Aristocles, quoted by Athenaios, that the paean could be danced or not, claiming that it was more likely danced during public celebrations of the cult rather than at a symposion. The hyporchem was also a type of Apolline choreia, according to the definition from Hellenic times (when, as Zwolski notes, dance without song and song without dance was a normal thing), closely linked to the dance of a mixed chorus (the procession of boys and girls from the François vase, Callimachus’ mention from the Hymn to Delos 304–306; the work by Pratinas (Athen. Deipn. XIV 617 B) lauding the dance of the satyrs with the naiads in the mountains.

The next kind of choreia specified by the author is the choreia of transition linked mainly to the experience of death. Writing of the experience of death, the author points to the affinity of Hebrew words for mourning and dance and the similar Cyprian verb fodan (godan) meaning „to cry” and the Greek verb aeidein – „to sing”. Zwolski analyzes scenes of lamentation for the dead in Homer’s Iliad, accenting the ritual elements, stylized gesture and movement, and reconstructing the mourning chorus traditionally comprising 50 people (Thetis and her sisters in the Iliad). He lists and describes, for example, the mourning chorus in Corinth after the murder of Medea’s children, and another in honor of Melikertes, then the choruses in honor of Adrastus in Sicyon, in honor of Hippolytus at Troezen, at the cenotaph to Achilles in Elis.  

The second manifestation of the choreia of transition – Zwolski moves backwards in narrating the successive phases of the three-element cycle of life – is the ceremony during which the bride is taken from her family home to her husband’s home – the wedding ritual (gamos) which bears a relation to the mourning laments in that the ceremony involves initiation. The author lists relics (including the painting from the François crater depicting a procession of gods going to the home of Peleus) as well as literary texts that mention dance processions (such as the description of the wedding on Achilles’ shield in Homer’s Iliad, the procession of wedding guests in Pseudo-Hesiodus’ Hercules’ Shield).

The third kind of choreia of transition in the cycle of life involves birth. This also is accompanied by dance (dances on the name-giving day, on the third birthday), similarly to the „rebirth” when the boy turns into a man. The analysis focuses on the pyrriche (purr{ch) – the red dance, which Euripides in his Andromache links to Achilles’ son Pyrrhos-Neoptolemos.

Nature choreia is the name Zwolski gives to rituals related to the seasons of the year and the cults of female demons of nature (the Nymphs, Charites), but first and foremost the virgin of nature – Artemis, who had many qualities of the pre-Greek Aegean Lady of the Animals. She was worshipped through dance by female choruses, in Ephesus called Bees, while in Brauron and at the Acropolis in Athens – She-Bears. The author describes groups of Corinthian vases dated at the second half of the 7th century B.C., depicting dignified female choruses and playful choruses of „fat men” (phlyakes) with excessively prominent symbols of fertility, which he links to the Eukleia festivals in honor of Artemis.

At the foundation of the Greek calendar was the natural cycle of the year: from the spring plowing through the gathering of the first-fruits, the harvest and grape-gathering, to the autumn plowing and sowing. Each stage had its rituals which usually included a choreia: ecstatic – aimed at awakening the sleeping forces of vegetation – in spring; cathartic before the gathering of the first-fruits; expiatory and thankful after the harvest and grape-gathering, augmenting the capacity for growth during the autumn sowing, protecting against evil at the time of germination and the winter test of strength (p. 36).

The author gives examples of rituals in honor of agrarian gods, Damia and Auxesia in Troezen, in Epidauros and in Egina, but primarily in honor of mother Demeter. In rituals dedicated to her, „rhythm and dance” (Luc. De saltatione 15) play a major role. Dealing with the festivals linked to the cult of Demeter and Kore, Zwolski lists the ecstatic dances mentioned by Athenaios: kernophoros (kernof"roV), during which an age-old vessel of Cretan origin – the kernos – was carried. He also links the Arcadian dance kerdaris (kerdar{V) with the worship of Demeter. Among the harvest rituals, the author of Choreia includes Talisia, the Delian Megalartia, the Argivian song-dance Linos-Ailinos (suggesting its possible Semitic roots: ai lenu – „woe to us!”), the gymnopedic dances at the Oschophoria festival.

The most important manifestation of the nature choreia, however, is the cult of Dionysus:

experiencing the mystery of the world in hope and fear (p. 39).

The author analyzes literary texts: fragments from the lost tragedy by Euripides Cretans (frg. 475 N), set on the slopes of Ida on Crete, and remnants of Aeschylos’ tragedy Likurgeia, set in the mountains of wild Thrace. Zwolski mentions in passing that though nature is reborn in a yearly cycle, these rituals were practiced every two years. He ponders on a possible explanation (the custom of letting the soil lie fallow after the harvest, implying a two-year cultivation cycle; the reproduction period of a bull), ultimately leaving the mystery unsolved.

Among the winter rituals worshipping Dionysus, he is particularly interested in those relating to the sacred mountain towering over Delphi, Parnassus, namely the orgiastic rituals in honor of Zagreus which had an Orphic origin. The author extracts from the sources chaotic information on the early rituals linked to the cult of Dionysus (such as the Nyktophylaxia in Delphi, Theodaisia on Crete, in Libya and elsewhere, Boukopia on Rodos, Thyia in Elis).

The central festivals worshipping Dionysus that the author analyzes in detail are, of course, the Lenaia or Rural Dionysia and the Great or City Dionysia. The author traces this cult to Minoan Crete, when the young god Velchanos was depicted in the company of a he-goat, for instance. The Hellenes supposedly identified him with Zagreus Dionysus (the seal from Phaestus from the 15th century B.C. – the mask of a man between two goats), and then around the 7th century gave this cult (derivatively) the character of a phallic cult (Archilochus’ Oipholios) embodied in the figures of Seilenos and the Nymphs (cf. the bas-relief from the National Museum in Athens, No. 3131, from the temple of Dionysus Eleuthereus from the mid-6th century B.C.). Another way of „taming” sexual wildness was, according to the author, the choreia of the „fat men” (phlyakes) known from Corinthian vases from the years 625–550, from Great Greece and Athens. Zwolski gives a detailed analysis of the arrangement of the dancing „fat men’s” limbs, discovering a striking regularity in their dance movements. From among ancient texts describing phallic processions in the Greek world, the author mentions texts by Heraclitus of Ephesus (frg. B 15), Herodotus (Histories II 48–49), Aristoteles (Poetica p. 1449 a), Semos of Delos (frgHist III, nr 396 F 24) and Plutarch (De cupiditate divitiarum 8).

Despite its aspect of menace, despite the power of the element, for the Hellenes phallism savored of comedy, while the Dionysian love, giving everything and demanding everything, took the form of a tragedy – with pain in act one, death in act two and a grave in act three: a grave as the vestibule to life, because if „Dionysus and Hades are one and the same”, according to Heraclitus, then Hades and Dionysus are one and the same also (p. 51).

Zwolski mentions a mixed choreia in honor of Artemis (the Peloponnese) when describing the origins of the traditional dance of the ancient Attic comedy – kordax, and another dance, the obscene mothon, which the Sausage-Seller dances in Aristophanes’ Knights (cf also Lysistrata 82).

The author of Choreia offers proof of the existence of animal choruses (Bees, She-Bears, Bulls etc.), and then moves on to comedy choruses (Athenian vases depicting a chorus of men on men-„horses”, riders on dolphins, feathered men). Comedy, like tragedy, has its roots in the nature choreia. The author also outlines the history of the development of tragedy (Corinth, Sicyon, Athens).

... in the past the tragedy was pure choreia... (p. 57).

In the linguistic tradition of the classical era, it remained so forever: poets asked for the right to „receive a chorus” in their annual agon; before the performance, the herald cried for the „chorus to be brought in”, and the victory of an author was always the victory of his „chorus”.

Zwolski devotes substantial space to ritual dances that were military in nature – the choreia of arms, dividing it into military dances related to agrarian cults and to the art of war.

The ritual fighting sometimes took the form of armed combat in which man put his life in danger to shield the god from the attacks of enemy forces and strengthen him with a sacrifice of blood. Fighting with the use of weapons, pretended or transformed into dance, was practiced especially in the field of war, on which man’s material existence depended like it also did on the proliferation of nature. This was done for a variety of motives. Through a pretended clash with enemy ranks, man revealed the outcome of the war for which he was anxiously preparing, or he influenced its positive course through sympathetic magic. A dance with weapons was performed for a slightly different reason /.../ seeking a remedy for weakness which spelled defeat, man stimulated the body’s activity using brutal methods. He increased it to the border of pathology through rapid, rhythmic movement of the whole body, the provoking redness of skin, robes and weapons – the color of the strong elements: fire and blood, and also the stirring noise of human voices, emphasized by the sound of objects made from strong material: bronze or iron. Applied collectively, the threefold remedy usually brought the desired result: power was awakened from slumber. This was proved by a feeling of hotness, fire (p. 58).

The author describes the magic role that the symbolism of fire (m}noV/ma{nomai), the red color (flame and blood) and the ritual power of bronze and iron played in achieving readiness for battle.

Born of the hunger for strength, the Greek choreia of arms served as a psychological weapon against the forces of evil in agrarian and funeral rituals and against enemies in case of war (p. 60).

In the sub-chapter Dances with arms in the nature religion the author presents a chronologically arranged review of armed dances, starting with the mythical apotropaic but also supplicatory dances of the Couretes on Crete, through the dance of the Phrygian Corybants, to the ecstatic Dionysian dances (the links between the choreia of arms and the Dionysian choreia are visible in the Hellenic era) and the harvest dances (karpaia) from Thesalia and Macedonia.

In the part called War dance with arms he collects texts on the relation between choreia and battle, on the „dance of Ares” (e.g. Eu. Phoen. 784–791). Mentioning the Cyprian dance prylis (pr?liV), he points out its etymological connection to the Homeric noun prylees (prul}eV) – foot soldiers (cf. the verb roomai (réomai) – to run at full speed, Hom. Il. XI 50, Od. XXIV 69, Il. XXIV 616; Lucian’s mention of prizes for soldiers for a „well-danced battle”, De salt. 14; or Epaminondas’ phrase on the Boeotian plain as an „orchestra of war” in Plut. Regum et imperatorum apophthegmata 18). The chapter ends with an interesting analysis of mentions of dance in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, which clearly contrasts the coward who is „good” only in dance (Il. XVI 617, XXIV 261) with the courageous soldier.

In the second part of the chapter the author collects information on Cretan dances such as orsites, epikredios, the mystery dance telesias, and the best-known pyrriche, which he describes on the basis of archeological finds (including a geometric kantharos (National Museum in Copenhagen No. 727) and the sarcophagus from Klazomenai at the British Museum) – a dance in pairs, and later dances (on vases from the second half of the 7th century B.C.) – processions of men-at-arms. The pyrriche was performed at festivals in honor of both Athena and Artemis (Eubea, the Soteria festival in Pagai). The chapter ends with a reminder that the ancients related the first pyrriche performance to rituals connected with Achilles at the pyre (pyra) of Patroklos or with the dance of Pyrrhos-Neoptolemos after the killing of the enemy.


Even in Aristotle’s lifetime, during the funeral of Cypriot kings, soldiers marched at the start of the funeral procession, performing a pyrriche. Thus, Plato most probably took the Hellenic reality as the starting point when, at the funeral of his ideal officials – from which he excludes threnodies in favor of hymns sung by boys and girls – he has young armed men opening the funeral procession (p. 67).  

The final element in the classification is the choreia for amusement. In this brief sub-chapter the author lists different genres of poetry, from sacral through banquet and ludic poems (enkomia, epinikia, skolia) as well as dances imitating ritual dances: anthema (‹nqema) – the dance with flowers (Argos), the springtime parade of children „with the swallow” (celid"nisma), games displaying similarities to cyclic choruses: „the pot” and „the tortoise” (Pollux Onomasticon IX 113, 122–3).

The second chapter of the monograph contains an analysis of the choreia as a politico-social institution in Lacedaemon and Athens.

In Zwolski’s description of the southern Peloponnese and the mythical founders of Sparta, his guide is Pausanias. The narratives of Homer and Hesiodus link the Taygetus Mountains with the cult of Artemis. The analysis of the Lacedaemonian choreia starts with a description of various rituals of the cult of Artemis Orthia, originally the Aegean winged Lady of the Animals, which was fundamentally transformed in Greece (as proved by archeological material). The dance component in the cult of this goddess is visible, among other things, in the song-dance performed by a male chorus dressed up as women – brylliche (barullik|), and also in the dance kalabis (kallab{V) in honor of Artemis with the byname Dereatis, feminine and licentious, and the even more indecent „dance of the grebe” in the service of Artemis of Ephesus. Next the author rather chaotically describes the rituals practiced in various cities of the Peloponnese in honor of Artemis of different bynames, including Diktynna, Limnatis, Caryatis. Worshipping the last of these, choruses of girls performed a regional dance that became famous outside Lakonia and has numerous depictions in art (the ring of Klearchos, the group of Caryatids ascribed to Praxiteles; archeological finds – terracotta „basket dancers”; a group of three Charytes (Caryatids) of Delphi). The author points to a similarity between the cult of the Doric Artemis and the Lidian-Ionian Artemis from Anatolia, and the spreading of the Artemis choreia in Great Greece (the Syracusian „envoy” dance – angelikon (‡ggelik"n) in honor of Artemis the Envoy).

From the Dionysian choreia the author moves on to rituals honoring Apollo, the main god in the religious calendar of Sparta, who was worshipped: three forms: as the Aegean spirit of vegetation Hyacinthus, the pre-Doric, ram-shaped god of the home and shepherding, Karneos, and as the Delphic lord of sacral purity and order in a broad sense, Pytheus (p. 91).

The author describes the Apollinarian festival Hyakinthia, the rituals of the Karneia festival (including the sacral dance konisalos (kon{saloV) with its satirical and phallic character) and gimnopedie (gumnopaid{ai) – the naked dances, these with scientific discussion on their character. Zwolski primarily analyzes the text of Athenaios (XV 678 B–C), the source for which is the Alexandrian scholar Sosibios of Sparta (3rd/2nd century B.C.), and also narratives about the gimnopedie of Herodotus, Thucydides and Xenophon, who mention boys’ and men’s choruses. Preserved in the work of Athenaios (XIV 632 A–B), the narrative of Aristocles, author of the monograph On choruses, based in turn on the studies of Aristoxenos (4th century B.C.), mentions among the lyric types of dance the gymnopedic dance modeled after the dance anapale (‡nap|lh), stressing the initiation aspect of the ritual in particular.


Aristoxenos’ account that the ancients first took off their clothes in a gymnopedic dance, then moved on to the pyrriche before entering the theatre, could be related to the three main stages of the ceremony of going from the class of boys to the class of men: dancing naked, dancing with weapons in hand and a show of military form in front of the gathered people (p. 112).

In the sub-chapter In the service of war the author deals primarily with the war dance – pyrriche, referring mainly to the text of Athenaios (XIV 630D – 631C) based on the studies of Aristocles, author of the treatise On choruses, the source for which was a student of Aristotle, Aristoxenos of Tarent. Based on these and other texts, the author reconstructs the history of the pyrriche, suggesting a shared foundation of this dance with the satyr dance.

Experiencing the mystery of spring with its hopes and fears is surely one of the main sources of both the satyr and the pyrrichic choreia and explains the emergence of the Dionysian pyrriche whose mime-dramas in particular present war episodes from the god’s life, like the Indian campaign or the conflict with Pentheus. (p. 116).

Zwolski discusses the cults of gods linked to the choreia of arms and music (the Couretes, the Dioscuri, the Muses). He notes that the Spartans lent the craft of war the qualities of a noble art, a kind of dance on the orchestra of war.

A rhythmic step, the sound of flutes and the words of songs – three classic components of the choreia come as a surprise in the ancient descriptions of the Spartans’ attacks on their enemies (p. 119).

The part on Sparta ends with a review of texts by poets and philosophers speaking of the Lacedaemonian choreia (including fragments from works by Alkman and Tyrtaios; the testimony of „foreigners”: Terpander, Pratinas of Phlius, Pindar, Bacchylides, Euripides (Hel. 1465–1470), Aristophanes (Lys. 1279–1320), Plato.

The second part of this extensive chapter describes Attic rituals, starting with the „dance topography” of Athens: the dance field of the Field Maidens (Agraulidai) on the Acropolis, Pan’s cave in the north (votive bas-reliefs with a group of dancing nymphs), the circle of the Nymphs and Apollo, the gardens of Aphrodite and Eros in the east, the cult of the Charites and the statue of Artemis-Hekate in the west, the circle of Dionysus in the south – Zwolski calls the Acropolis „an island in a sea of choreia”. In connection with these places he analyzes votive relics, depictions of processions of nymphs, Charites, Horae, Maenads.

The author believes the male choreia in Athens was related to Athena (war), Apollo (initiation) and Dionysus (procreation), and discusses it in that order.

The chapter Choreia in honor of Athena starts with the Athenians’ most important festival, Panathenaia, celebrated each year, and extra ceremoniously every four years, to sanctify the institution of the state. One important part of the celebration was the dance with arms – pyrriche, well known from literary sources (including Ar. Ranae 161; Nubes 987–989, Lys. Oratio XXI 1, 4; Is. Oratio V 36), as well as from inscriptions and archeological finds (including the bases of statues immortalizing victories in pyrrichic contests from the collection of the Acropolis Museum (No. 402/402a; No. 1338) and the National Museum in Athens (No. 3854) and most probably cyclic choruses). The author devotes substantial attention to the issue of the number of pyrriche teams, which from the 5th/4th century B.C. were entered in three age categories: men, young men and boys (from 30 (3 each from the 10 phyla) to 9 (3 from each category)), and the number of members in each team from 50 dancers (from 1500 to 450 participants) to 8).

The next part of the chapter on Attic rituals deals with the Dionysian choreia which, similarly to the Panathenaia, gained its form from Pisistratos who entrusted the organization of the Great (City) Dionysia to the archon basileus. The author analyzes the chaotic and fragmentary mentions of the beginnings of drama, reconstructs the history of the dithyramb which gradually lost its Dionysian character, and the history of the reform of the cyclic choreia of the City Dionysia, which coincided with political changes in the polis. Besides the writing on the Marmor Parium, the author believes, also literary texts (epigram from Anth. Pal. XIII 28 in honor of the poet Antigenes; Simonides (frg 77 Diehl) confirm the role of the dithyrambic choruses. While the Great Dionysia are well documented in sources, the character of the wintertime Dionysian festival, the Lenaea, is harder to identify due to a shortage of testimonies. The author analyzes a group of lekythoi and stamnoi depicting women in the service of Dionysus performing rites connected with wine as well as dancing, and the god himself symbolically as a pillar covered in ivy, masked and robed. Their connection to a specific Dionysian festival remains the subject of dispute (Nilsson relates them to the second day of the Anthesteria, the festival of Jugs – Choes, while Deubner, whom Zwolski seems to support, is in favour of the Lenaea). Describing the Rural Dionysia, Zwolski pays special attention to the „provincial” festivals in various demes, including Piraeus, where similarly to Athens the program included a procession, comedy and tragedy, and from the late 4th century B.C. also cyclic choruses. Equally magnificent were the Dionysia in Eleusis (IG II 1186) and Acharnae (Ar. Acharn.; IG II 3106; 3092), as well as Ikaria, Aixone, Rhamnus, Phlya. The choreia was also a component of the Anthesteria.

On vases whose shape or painted details link them to the Anthesteria, young people dance merrily. They are giving solo shows (p. 176).    

Another Dionysian feast was the Oschophoria (Proclus in Foc. Bibl. p. 322a; Aristodemus in Athen. Deipn. X 495 F), which were related to the choreia by song and dance recognized as being gymnopedic (Ath. Deipn. XIV 631 B).

The chapter ends with a description of the choreia of Apollo. The author polemicizes with the view of Picard-Cambridge that every cyclic chorus is dithyrambic; the chorus performing a paean was too, though not every one, since there also existed processional choruses performing paeans (the paean from the pseudo-Homeric Hymn to Apollo). Among the Athenian feasts of Apollo, Zwolski mentions the Thargelia, the feast of cleansing and first-fruits, at which cyclic choruses competed (e.g. Antiphon, Oratio VI), noting also that the inscriptions mention the poet’s name, contrary to the Dionysian choreia for which the auletes is usually mentioned as the teacher of the chorus; the procession from Athens to Delphi, initiated by a flash of lightning – Pythais (cf. the famous processional paean inscribed on the Athenians’ treasury in Delphi with music notation), the sacral deputation on Delos – theoria, which included choruses (the choragus and the leader of the theoria was appointed by the archon-eponymos), like the famous chorus led by Nikias, from 417 B.C.; finally the local feast in honor of Apollo with the byname Dionysodotos in the deme of Phlya, the home deme of Euripides, during which the people drank wine and danced dressed in animal hides.  

In the third and final chapter of the monograph, Choreia and history, the author writes of material monuments and literary tradition to show that:

the choreia on Greek territory knows no border between the Aegean and Hellenic worlds (p. 216).

The author gives a detailed description of the material relics of Minoan Crete related to the choreia as well as similar relics from Cyprus in which, similarly to the relics of Mycenaean Crete, he sees a bridge connecting the Aegean world with archaic Greece (the prehistory of Olympia with the confirmed presence of female choruses, female choruses at Heraion in Argos). He also analyzes relics of Ionic choreia, also proving a connection with the Minoan culture (rituals on Delos, in Miletus). He provides an especially extensive description of the rituals performed by the group Molpoi of Miletus, whose activity was defined by a written „rule” known from its 2nd-century version (cf. A. Rehm, Milet I 3 (1914) No. 133; SIG 57). The motif of the choreia of heavenly beings recurs in Greek literature (Hom. Iliad I 603–4; Odyssey VIII 261–265; Hes. Theogony 3–4; Hymn to Apollo 188–206).

The author of Choreia reconstructs its history: The equilibrium of the choreia’s three elements, upset by the development of epic poetry (the dominance of the word) was, according to him, restored by the creator of the „first school of music”, Terpander of Lesbos. Thaletas, Sacadas and others belonging to the „second school” reformed paeans, nomas and elegies in the spirit of the triple choreia. In the West, the choreia was rendered famous by Stesichoros and Ibikos. Sparta’s greatest poet, Alkman, introduced male choruses into the feasts of various gods, choruses of girls into the feasts of Artemis, while Archilochos was the leader in dithyrambs. The choreia attained akme thanks to Alkman and Sappho, its lawmaker was Arion of Methymna, and the continuators – Thespis, Lasos and subsequent dramatists.

The unity of gesture, word and melody attained at the level of art lasted but briefly: soon, the components of the choreia began to become independent (p. 221).

– writes Zwolski, echoing the reflections of Zieliński. He sees the first breakthrough in the development of auletics, which starts deposing aulody, reversing the relation between word and melody in the dithyramb and also eclipsing the dithyrambic dance – tyrbasia (turbas{a). In tragedy and comedy, on the other hand, the word gradually completely predominated over gesture and melody, while gesture most probably dominated in satyr dramas, which means the satyr drama was the only dramatic genre to retain the character of dance until the end.

In Hellenic and Roman times a dancing mime animated the Greek mystery rituals, Demetrian – in the metropolis, Demetrian and especially Dionysian – across the sea and in Thrace. There is a lot in this of pure amusement through art, but also quite a lot of the traditional Dionysian choreia and religion, which in relations with the god prefers the gesture to the word, the picture to the concept – in accordance with the heritage of the past, to which also the Greek Orthodox Church refers in this respect, and finally quite a lot of authentic will to transform, to become spiritual...(p. 225).

Although many of its conclusions have become outdated, Zwolski’s in-depth monograph, the most extensive Polish work on the ancient choreia, even today is a valuable source of information both on Greek dances themselves and on the knowledge of the ancients preserved till our time.

The literary perspective

The first drama in Polish written by the great poet and law-maker of the literary language, Jan Kochanowski[18], is a play based on an original conversion of Homeric plots, a complete symbiosis of Greek mythology and Polish political thought and national tradition, in the form of a Greek tragedy, staged in 1578: Dismissal of the Greek Envoys. From that time until the 20th century the Greek-Roman heritage was ever-present in Polish literature – imitated, reinterpreted, discussed. Practically all the mythological, historical and literary threads, countless symbols and rich metaphors found a continuation in Polish poetry, all of them, that is, except…dance. While the role of word and song in the triple choreia was fully appreciated, the third element – dance – was nearly completely forgotten. Old-Polish poetry does sometimes include dancing nymphs and fauns, but only in the function of a stereotypical ornamental motif.

This lack of appreciation of the importance of dance in the culture of the ancient Greeks on the part of writers so well-versed in ancient literature, a fact that was probably also the effect of lack of contact with live Greeks, did not change even during the Romantic era, despite the interest in folklore, including national folk dances (which one of the greatest Romantic poets, Cyprian Norwid[19], wrote about), and despite the magnificent description of the national Polish dance, the polonaise, in the epic poem Pan Tadeusz by Adam Mickiewicz[20].

Only Juliusz Słowacki[21] during his journey across Greece to the Holy Land, a journey in the course of which he met Dionysios Solomos (the first verse of this poet’s Hymn to Freedom found its way into poetry in Poland in Słowacki’s translation), dreamed not without bitter irony in song IX of his poem Podróż do Ziemi świętej z Neapolu ("Journey to the Holy Land from Naples"), that he was a shepherd or the master of a vineyard in the countryside near Corinth, that young people gathered in front of his cottage to roast a ram and dance... the war dance – pyrriche, which the Poet himself led, playing the lute... (dancing (!) instead of going to fight till heroic death for the freedom of his enslaved country).

A bacchic dance of the Nymphs, accompanied by music played by the Master „with mysterious expression”, renders the beauty of springtime nature thirsting for love in the poem Fresk pompejański ("Pompeian Fresco", 1872) by Adam Asnyk[22]:


                        Szał tańca i pustoty, czar wiosny i życia

                        ogarnia tanecznice. W rozkosznej postawie,

                        z wzburzoną piersią w błękit rzucone świetlany,

                        wzlatują, rozpuściwszy na wiatr włosów sploty,

                        i drażnią skryte w mirtach Fauny i Sylwany,

                        i omdlewają w zbytku nadmiernej pustoty...


                        The madness of dance and frivolity, the charm of spring and life

                        embraces the dancers. In luscious pose,

                        with heaving chest, thrown into the brilliant blue,

                        they fly, letting their hair float in the wind,

                        and excite the Fauns and Sylvans hiding in the myrtle,

                        and faint from this excess of sheer light-headedness...


The image of a dancing faun in the poem Faun tańczy ("The Faun Dances") by Maria Konopnicka[23] is another rare example. The inspiration for this poem was the statue of a faun at the Capitoline Museums in Rome. The poetess expresses the vigorous dancing movement, „the immortal leaping” of the Greek „eternally young” faun, through a masterly meter form of the verses (anapests intertwined with iambi).


                        Jak świeży gaj! Jak piękny świat!

                        Jak kipią życia miody!

                        W pląs nieśmiertelny puszcza się Faun,

                        Faun grecki, wiecznie młody.

                        Hellady śmierć, co białą skroń

                        Złożyła w mirt i róże,

                        I łoskot Romy zwalonej w gruz

                        Przetańczył w tym marmurze.


                        How fresh the grove! How fair the world!

                        The honey of life overflows!

                        Immortal Faun throws himself into the dance,

                        Greek Faun, eternally young.

                        The death of Hellas, whose forehead pale

                        Was wreathed in myrtle and roses,

                        The clang of Rome breaking into rubble

                        Has he danced out in the marble.


An interest in Greek music and dance came in the late 19th/early 20th century on the margin, so to speak, of a fascination with the work of Frederick Nietzsche and his reinterpretation of the Dionysian myth in The Birth of Tragedy.

Dance ceased to be an amusement, it grew to the role of a symbol of human activity, possessive and irrational activity dictated by a life drive not able to be realized in any other way: the reference to ancient religious dance, already present in the works of the author of Beyond Good and Evil, gave it a kind of ritual sanction. A dancing crowd performing joyful or spasmodic gestures to the sound of pipes and tambourine, became an expression of an activistic attitude, because that crowd was not just dancing, it was also expressing its dynamic ideology. Nietzsche wrote of „philosophizing with the help of dance” or even „dancing out philosophy” (p. 30).

– wrote Michał Głowiński[24] in his essay Maska Dionizosa ("The Mask of Dionysus") on the place of the myth of Dionysus in 20th-century literature.

The popularity of Nietzsche’s views and Bergson’s philosophy was reflected in Polish poetry in a thin stream of „Dionysian” texts. In works inspired by ancient traditions and singing an affirmation of life, a spontaneous connection with nature and the disinterested joy of living, there had to be an element of dancing, though the Polish Dionysus is expressed more in song and music, or movement caused by drunkenness or madness, than in dance.

These elements appear in the poems of the outstanding poet and playwright, translator of Nietzsche, Leopold Staff[25]. In his poem Hora tańcząca ("Dancing Hora") from the volume Gałąź kwitnąca ("The Branch in Bloom") the time of existence is embodied in the dancing, graceful... Hour.


                        Szalało ciało twoje, drapieżne i gibkie,

                        W ruchach, co jak grzech słodki gorące i szybkie,

                        Wyciągałaś wabiące, zachłanne ramiona,

                        Chwytałaś sen i próżnię cisnęłaś do łona;

                        Nieprzytomna, zdyszana, ogniem rozgorzała,

                        Stałaś się wirem szat swych i młodego ciała...


                        Wild went your body, rapacious and nimble

                        In movements hot and quick like the sweetest of sin;

                        You held out your seductive, greedy arms,

                        You grasped at sleep and hugged the emptiness to your bosom;

                        Frantic, gasping, overpowered by fire,

                        You became a swirl of robes and young body...


The works most characteristic of this trend are the poems of a group of poets grouped around the literary monthly "Skamander", hence their name – the Skamanderites, who belonged to the first generation of poets in independent Poland. One example is a cycle of poems by Kazimierz Wierzyński[26] from 1919, Wiosna i wino ("Springtime and Wine"), especially the poem Śpiew dionizyjski ("Dionysian Song") with a motto from Nietzsche: Tanzend lauf ich dir entgegen: it contains a whole range of Dionysian motifs – a banquet of „heavenly poets” wearing ivy wreaths, sitting in an orchard drinking wine, with „souls full of Dionysus”.


                        W Grecji pod cytar dźwięki, na szalone święta

                        Tańczyliśmy pijani w pogańskim zachwycie,

                        Dzisiaj gra w nas ta sama pełnia nieobjęta

                        I tańcząc, tańcząc idziem poprzez całe życie.


                        O, bracia! Pijmy zdrowie tego, co tańcami

                        Przepływa we śnie i pieśni, marmurach i gipsie.

                        Wiwat! Niech żyje życie! Cały świat wraz z nami

                        Wszak tańczy już w krąg słońca na swojej elipsie.


                        In Greece to the sound of citharas, at the wildest festival

                        We danced, intoxicated in a pagan rapture,

                        Today the same fullness, impossible to enfold, plays inside us

                        And dancing, dancing we go through our lives.


                        Brothers! Let us drink the health of he who dancing

                        Floats in dreams and song, marble and plaster.

                        Hurray! Long live life! The whole world has joined us

                        And dances round the sun following its ellipse.


Another poet from the same group was Julian Tuwim[27], a master of rhythmical and musical verse, author of the cycle Sokrates tańczący ("The Dancing Socrates"). In the ironic poem opening the cycle, old Socrates with „the muzzle of a dog”, similar here to the cynic Diogenes, „dances out his philosophy” while getting drunk on wine. A wise man who has gone „beyond the fringe” of cognition, who has come to know the truth: „he knows dance”:


                                    Wy patrzcie, jak filozof tańczy:

                                    I hopsasa, i hopsasa!

                                    I hopsa, hopsa, hopsasa!

                                    Wy patrzcie jak najmędrszy tańczy!

                                    Jak mu skaczą stare nogi,

                                    Zło i dobro, ludzie, bogi,

                                    Cnota, prawda, wieczna Mojra,

                                    Hopsa, hopsa, idzie ojra:

                                    Raz na prawo – hopsasa!

                                    Raz na lewo – hopsasa!


                                    Watch how the philosopher dances:

                                    Hop and jump, hop and jump!

                                    Hop and hop, and hop and jump!

                                    Watch how the wisest of men dances!

                                    See his old legs jump and skip,

                                    Evil and good, humans, gods,

                                    Virtue, truth, eternal Moira,

                                    Skip and jump, here it comes:

                                    To the right – hop and jump!

                                    To the left – hop and jump!


The limited material presented above shows beyond the shadow of a doubt that in Polish poetry the Greeks make music and sing with abandon, but hardly dance at all.

The theatrical and anthropological perspective

Any attempts at staging an ancient Greek drama on the enclosed space of a contemporary theatre’s stage face the tough task of „doing something about the chorus”. If the director does not dare completely eliminate this outdated „obstacle”, he or she will usually try to minimize the role of the chorus and make it as imperceptible as possible, placing it motionless at the edge of the stage. Rare are reviews from even the best productions of ancient drama that would mention the singing and (even more seldom) the dancing of the chorus. Of the triple choreia, only the word remains in modern theatre.

The directing involved one unquestionable mistake, with a disturbing and unnecessary group of extras placed in the proscenium. The choruses were bad, or actually they were unresolved. The chorus in a Greek tragedy has to be treated musically. Twelve or two people saying the same thing in unison, in the same way, do nothing to enrich the verse, but rather deform the words and rhythm. The National Theatre, which has the means and an obligation to do serious work, has treated this matter with an already familiar negligence.

– wrote the excellent poet and theatre critic Antoni Słonimski in 1926 in his review of Sophocles’ Oedipus the King directed by the great actor and director Aleksander Zelwerowicz.


1938 brought the Polish premiere, staged in Warsaw, of the ballet in 6 scenes Apollo i Dziewczyna ("Apollon et la Belle"), produced a year earlier by the Polish Ballet in Paris, with libretto by the poet Światopełk Karpiński, music by Ludomir Różycki[28] and choreography by Bronislava Nijinska[29]. Różycki’s ballet comprised separate, independent scenes offering a review of different eras in dance and music, from ancient Greek dances (Scene I: the dance of the Muses, a procession in honor of Bacchus, the bacchic dances of satyrs and Maenads), right up to the dances of the jazz era.

Another example of a ballet based on ancient motifs is Faun i Psyche composed by Piotr Rytel[30] in 1937.

After World War II one of the more interesting „dance” events inspired by antiquity was Poznań’s Polish Dance Theatre’s 1975 production of the one-act ballet Medea (for soprano, mixed chorus and orchestra), with the music of Juliusz Łuciuk and choreography by Teresa Kujawa. The producers reached for the convention of the ancient tragedy: the chorus commented the actions and emotions of the characters through movement. The music also referred to the art of ancient Greece (the Peliads’ maenadic dance). Łuciuk also wrote the three-act ballet Niobe, first produced in 1967, with the chorus repeating the names and syllables from the names of Niobe’s children, and the two-part opera-ballet Miłość Orfeusza ("Orpheus’ Love") with libretto by Anna Świrszczyńska, produced in 1980, with choreography by Kujawa.


Metamorphoses – an attempt at re-creating the triple choreia, restoring the organic bond between word, music and dance – remains to this day an unusual event in Polish and world culture. This was a theatrical essay produced by the Gardzienice Theatre Association, one of the first anthropological theatres.

Experimental Polish theatre in the 1970s was involved in returning to the ritual and festive sources of theater, in an attempt at reuniting the viewer and the actor. The Gardzienice Theatre Association established in 1977 by Włodzimierz Staniewski[31], an actor of Jerzy Grotowski’s Laboratory Theatre, began its Expeditions – tours of remote villages, often poorly accessible for a lack of roads, in the neglected areas of eastern and southern Poland, where there still live small religious minorities and the traces of different traditions coexist – in search of a viewer-participant untainted by theatrical routine. Gardzienice offers this audience its songs and dances and expects full reciprocation – the rural communities respond by offering the group their own old songs, half-forgotten customs, words and melodies. Both groups – the actors and the audience – integrate during the Gatherings which, as Staniewski says, have their own special dramaturgy. The directions of this search were defined by the works of Mikhail Bakhtin[32], his Rabelais and His World was the inspiration behind Gardzienice’s first production – Evening Performance, which incorporated fragments from Gargantua and Pantagruel by François Rabelais and part III of the Polish national Romantic drama Dziady ("The Forefathers") by Adam Mickiewicz. The atmosphere created by Gardzienice’s performances brings to life the mood of Bakhtin’s carnival, a festive rural fair with visible medieval origins.

...the audience that Gardzienice attempts to contact is one whose life has changed very little since the Middle Ages – a life ruled more bythe seasons, by the village priest, and by ancient legends than by the government in Warsaw, or intellectual trends in Kraków (p. 213)

– comments Kathleen M. Cioffi in her work Alternative Theatre in Poland (1954–1989) published in the series Polish Theatre Archives, Amsterdam 1996.

Gardzienice started its search from folklore that was virtually only native, with universal medieval roots, as in Evening Performance (1977) or Carmina Burana (1990), ritual roots, as in Żywot protopopa Awwakuma ("The Life of Archpriest Avvakum", 1982) based on Orthodox chants and folk songs with gestures designed on the basis of icons and the liturgy. In Metamorfozy, eseju teatralnym według Apulejusza ("Metamorphoses, a Theatrical Essay According to Apuleius", 1996), the group expanded its search, using and reviving ancient musical material.

„Metamorphoses” is a fascinating attempt to revive ancient Greek music. This is an incredibly beautiful journey to the sources of the theatre. /.../ Events, words, emotions become tangled and intermingle, without, nonetheless, ever sinking into chaos. The basis of the order which reignsamong them is music – but really, using W. Staniewski’s more precise term, musicality

– writes Dariusz Kosiński in the leaflet enclosed with the recording of Metamorphoses.

The sources for reconstructing Greek music included fragments from Delphic Paean II and a prosodion to Apollo with musical notation from the 2nd century B.C., preserved on the wall of the Athenians’ treasury in Delphi, an anonymous paean from the Berlin papyrus 6870, a drama fragment from the Oxyrhynchos papyrus 3705, a fragment from a hexametric hymn to Asclepius from Epidauros (inscription SEG 30. 390), fragments of Euripides’ tragedies with musical notation preserved on papyruses (Iphigeny in Aulis 784–792, 1499–1509; Orestes 339–344), the Song of Seikilos and Euoi Bakchai – a sing-song in honor of Dionysus from the so-called Anonymous Bellermani 97–104. The music was performed on partially reconstructed instruments, including the bow harp, Asclepius’s oak harp, cello, Ptolemaic flute, Hucul psalterion, musical bow, (cane) transverse flute, shell horn, Panflute, tubas and horns, tympanon, sistrum, kymbala.

In the perfectionistic rendition of the group’s members, gesture and melody regained their organic unity; the audience (including philologists usually bowed over their books) was carried away by the pulsating rhythm, thrilling singing and spontaneous bacchic dance.

Antiquity was full of chanting, drumming, rhythmic bell-ringing. Choir leaders wore specially constructed noise-making sandals.

That’s how musicians really behaved. They did not use to sit hunched over their scores. We see them flying in dance movements. Their entire bodies are alive with music

– writes the composer and player of ancient music Maciej Rychły in the same leaflet.

We know today that music permeated the fabric of life in ancient times, that Antiquity was all-singing and all-dancing – but, in most cases, only traces of the actual music of ancient Greece have been preserved, written on papyri or set in stone. For the first time, then, we had to learn music not from people but from stones...

– comments Włodzimierz Staniewski, adding that the music is the „co-director” in his theatre.

I wanted to shout in valleys, chant in double-voice, drum with all my might, experience the living body. The Greeks, fortunately, danced their poetry. They sang it, too, and for every three recorded notes there were two dance steps. I wanted to cry... whisper... sigh...

– Maciej Rychły writes about working on the music for Metamorphoses.

Ancient music in Metamorphoses led to new searches that were founded on gesture.

In an interview with Rzeczpospolita daily (2002.10.05), Staniewski emphasized the role of gesture in ancient drama; Gardzienice began studying the alphabet of gesture. Preparing a production based on Euripides, Sceny z Elektry (Scenes from Electra), the group extracted over 160 gestures from ancient vases and sculptures.

These are mostly signs – arrangements of the body and arms – in which one can find references to specific images. /.../ The production makes use of both techniques: the appropriateness of the gesture for the spoken word, and the arrest of the gesture – as in the famous sculpture of the Laocoon group – at the moment of culmination

– Staniewski said in the interview.

The group’s latest production, Kosmos (2000), offers a synthesis of Gardzienice’s searches and achievements. It incorporates all the roots of European theatre, including the primary one – the Greek choreia. The ancient choreia disintegrated; its individual parts – word, music, dance – developed into separate genres; theatre lost its sacral mystery character. Gardzienice has managed to resurrect the unity of the choreia, restore its sacral dimension – revive Dionysus-Zagreus from the mangled remnants.


The popularity worldwide of the film Zorba the Greek and the music of Mikis Theodorakis brought also to Poland a fashion for Greece and its dances. The offer of all the private dance schools includes the „zorba” dance, often called the „Greek dance” though it has little in common with genuine Greek folklore. It is danced by all amateur dance groups, and the music of the zorba resounds from the Greek taverns in Warsaw and other Polish cities. Therefore, it seems fitting to end this brief review of Polish output related to theoretical knowledge of ancient Greek dance and practical experiments with a quote from the only Polish work I know of that was inspired by contemporary Greek dance, the poem taniec Zorby ("Zorba’s dance") by the Jesuit Wacław Oszajca, from the volume Łagodność domu ("Mildness of Home", Lublin 1984):


                                    pomiędzy winnicą a morzem

                                    na kamienistej plaży

                                    porwałeś mnie Panie do tańca


                                    moje ręce na twoich barkach

                                    twoje ręce na moich barkach

                                    raz ty chodzisz po moich śladach

                                    raz ja chodzę po twoich śladach

                                    coraz szybszy rytm muzyki

                                    i coraz głośniejszy śmiech

                                    twój i mój


                                    between vineyard and sea

                                    on a rocky beach

                                    you swept me Lord into the dance


                                    my hands on your shoulders

                                    your hands on my shoulders

                                    you walk in my footsteps

                                    then I walk in your footsteps

                                    faster and faster the rhythm

                                    louder and louder the laughter

                                    yours and mine


Danielewicz J., Liryka starożytnej Grecji, Wrocław 1984.

Cioffi. M. K., Alternative Theatre in Poland (1954–1989), Polish Theatre Archives, Amsterdam 1996.

Gorzkowski M., Historyczne poszukiwania o tańcach, tak starożytnych pogańskich jaki również społecznych i obyczajowych we względzie symbolicznego znaczenia, Warszawa 1869 r.

Kocur M., Teatr antycznej Grecji, 2001.

Kumaniecki J. F., Historia kultury starożytnej Grecji i Rzymu, Warszawa 1955.

Lengauer W., Starożytna Grecja okresu archaicznego i klasycznego, Warszawa 1999.

Lengauer W., Religijność starożytnych Greków, Warszawa 1994.

Majewski K., Taniec w Egei w świetle źródeł zabytkowych kreteńsko-mykeńskich, „Kwartalnik Klasyczny” IV (1930), p. 99–127.

Majewski K., Ryton mykeński z Rodos, „Archeologia” III (1949), p. 7–17.

Majewski K., Kultura ajgajska, Lwów 1933.

Majewski K., Kreta-Cyklady-Hellada 1963.

Majewski K., Taniec starożytnych Greków, "Filomata" (1930).

Mleczko St., Serce a heksametr czyli gieneza metryki poetyckiej w związku z estetycznym kształceniem się języków, szczególnie polskiego, Warszawa 1901.

Plezia M., Tysiąclecie kultury antycznej w Polsce, „Eos” LXVI (1966), p. 138–145.

Press L., Życie codzienne na Krecie w państwie króla Minosa, Warszawa 1972.

Stabryła St., Starożytna Grecja, Kraków 1988.

Ulanowska A., The Gold ring from Mycenae. Some remarks about dance, „Archeologia” XLIV (1993) p. 113–117.

Winniczuk L., Jurewicz O., Starożytni Grecy i Rzymianie w życiu prywatnym i państwowym, Warszawa 1968.

Winniczuk L., Ludzie, zwyczaje, obyczaje starożytnej Grecji i Rzymu, Warszawa 1983.

Wipszycka-Bravo E., Bravo B., Historia starożytnych Greków, t. I, Warszawa 1988.

Zieliński T., Historii kultury antycznej, 1924.

Zwolski E., Choreia. Muza i bóstwo w religii greckiej, Lublin 1969.


[1] Marian Plezia (1917–1996), classical philologist, professor of Jagiellonian University in Kraków, author of over 400 publications; besides Greek and Roman philology, his fields of activity also included medieval, neo-Latin and hagiography studies; he was Poland’s greatest Latin lexicographer; author of numerous papers on the work of Aristotle and Cicero.

[2] Marjan Gorzkowski (1830–1911), novelist, playwright, collector and traveler. A graduate of the university in Kiev, he studied art and literature in Athens, theology in Florence; he settled in Kraków, where he was the long-time secretary of the School of Fine Arts. The author of many treatises on archeology, history and social customs (mostly from the times when he worked at the Czartoryski Museum) as well as dramas and historical comedies. The only part of his output that has survived the test of time are his commentaries to the work of the great Polish historical painter Jan Matejko, who was his friend, and a journal with detailed documentation of his friendship with the artist.

[3] Tadeusz Zieliński (1859–1944), world-famous classical philologist and humanist; professor of the universities of St. Petersburg (1887–1920) and Warsaw (1921–1935); author of over 300 works on ancient literature, Greek drama, religions of the ancient world – apart from those listed in the text, also Die Marchenkomödie in Athen (1885); Cicero im Wandel der Jahrhunderte (1897), Religia starożytnej Grecji ("Religion of Ancient Greece", 1917), Religia hellenizmu ("Religion of Hellenistic Time", 1922), Hellenizm a judaizm ("Hellenism and Judaism", 1927), Religia rzeczypospolitej rzymskiej ("Religion in the Time of Roman Republic", 1933–34), and others.

[4] Stanisław Mleczko (1851–1943), Polish writer, erudite, translator of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey.

[5] Lidia Winniczuk (1904–1993), classical philologist, professor of Warsaw University, teacher of many generations of scholars of antiquity, author of over 400 publications that served to popularize her field of interest.

[6] Oktawiusz Jurewicz, classical philologist, long-time director of Warsaw University’s Institute of Classical Philology; excellent specialist on Byzantine issues; among other works, the author of a translation of Focius’ Library (vol. I-V).

[7] Kazimierz Kumaniecki (1905–1977), outstanding classical philologist and humanist, professor of Warsaw University, publisher of Cicero; author of many works on Greek and Roman literature (from among the Greeks, chiefly Homer, Aeschylos, Euripides, Satyros), Byzantine studies and Polish-Latin literature, including the excellent monograph Cyceron i jego współcześni ("Cicero and his Contemporaries") Warszawa 1959, translator of Thucydides.

[8] Ewa Wipszycka-Bravo, professor of Warsaw University, historian specializing particularly in the history of Egypt (L’industrie textile dans l’Egypte romaine (1963)); sacral medicine (cults, fine arts, poetry), the history of the Church; works include the book Kościół w świecie późnego antyku ("The Church in the Late Antiquity"), Warszawa 1994 and O starożytności polemicznie ("Antiquity under discussion") Warszawa 1994; with her husband, co-author of the innovative textbook Historia starożytnych Greków vol. I ("The History of the Ancient Greeks", 1988), t. III (1992), vol. II in preparation, and Vademecum historyka starożytnej Grecji i Rzymu ("Guide for a Historian of the Ancient Greece and Rome"), vol. I-III.

[9] Benedetto Bravo, professor of Warsaw University, historian, author of works including Commerce et noblesse en Grece antique. A propos d’un livre d’Alfonso Mele, „Dialogues d’Histoire Ancienne” X (1984), p. 99-160; Les Travaux et les jours et la Cite, „Annali della Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa”, s. III, vol. XV, 3 (1985), p. 707-765; Arete e ricchezza nella polis dell’eta arcaica secondo le testimonianze dei poeti, „Index” XVI (1989), p. 48-79.

[10] p. 316.

[11] Włodzimierz Lengauer, historian, professor of Warsaw University, researcher of the history of Greece in the archaic and classical periods, political theory and systems, religion and religious feasts. Author of works including Greek Commanders in the 5th and 4th Cent.B.C. Politics and Ideology: A Study of Militarism, Warszawa 1984; Religijność starożytnych Greków, ("The Religiousness of the Ancient Greeks"), Warszawa 1994.

[12] Stanisław Stabryła, b. 1936, classical philologist, professor of Jagiellonian University in Kraków, researcher of Roman literature, ancient theory of literature and the ancient tradition in contemporary Polish and European culture. Also a writer of essays, literary criticism and novels with mythological themes. Author of works including Hellada i Roma w Polsce Ludowej. Recepcja antyku w literaturze polskiej w latach 1945–1975 ("Hellas and Rome in Polish literature in 1945–1975"), Kraków 1983 and Hellada i Roma. Recepcja antyku w literaturze polskiej w latach 1976–1990 ("Hellas and Rome in Polish literature in 1976–1990"), Kraków 1996; Starożytna Grecja ("Ancient Greece"), Warszawa 1988; Historia literatury starożytnej Grecji i Rzymu ("History of Literature of Ancient Greece and Rome") Wrocław 2002.

[13] Mirosław Kocur, theoretician and practician of theater, author of numerous articles, including works on Jerzy Grotowski’s theater.

[14] Jerzy Danielewicz, classical philologist, professor of Poznań University, specializing in studies of meter, Greek lyric poetry and Latin poetry; co-author of The Metres of Greek Lyric Poetry: Problems of Notation and Interpretation (Bochum 1996); author of works including Morfologia hymnu antycznego ("Morphology of Ancient Hymn" 1976).

[15] Kazimierz Majewski (1903–1981), archeologist and historian, professor of the universities of Lviv, Wrocław and Warsaw, member of the Polish Academy of Sciences (PAN), founded and headed the PAN Institute of the History of Material Culture, editor of many archeological periodicals; author of over 500 publications, including Kultura ajgajska ("Aegean Culture" 1933), Figuralna plastyka cykladzka ("Figural Cycladic Sculpture" 1935), Importy rzymskie na ziemiach słowiańskich ("Roman Import in Slavonic Countries" 1949), Importy rzymskie w Polsce ("Roman Import in Poland" 1960), Kreta-Hellada-Cyklady. U kolebki cywilizacji europejskiej ("Crete-Hellas- Cyclades; The Craddle of the European Civilization" 1963).

[16] Ludwika Press, archeologist, professor of Warsaw University, researcher of the Bronze Era in the culture of mainland Greece, author of many books, including Budownictwo egejskie ("Aegean Architecture" Warszawa 1964); Architektura w ikonografii przedgreckiej ("Architecture in the pre-Hellenic Iconography" 1967); Pożegnanie z Minosem. Z notatnika podróży w antyczną przeszłość Sycylii ("Fare-well to Minos. Diary of an Journey to the Past of Ancient Sicily", 1978); co-author of Kultura materialna starożytnej Grecji ("Material Culture of Ancient Greece", vol. I–III, 1977–1978) ed. K. Majewski.

[17] Edward Zwolski, historian, author of works including a monograph on the political system of ancient Argos, translations with commentaries of Plato’s Gorgias and Phaedrus as well as Velleius Paterculus’ Roman History.

[18] Jan Kochanowski (1530–1584), the greatest poet of the Old Polish period, law-maker for the poetic Polish language and originator of poetical genres and meters based on the tradition of classical antiquity (ode, epigram, elegy, hymn, threnody).

[19] Cyprian Kamil Norwid (1821–1883), poet, dramatist, sculptor, one of the greatest Romantic poets expressing himself in allusions, symbols, allegories and things unsaid, innovator of versification; author of such works as the philosophical poem Promethidion and Vade-mecum, a collection of a hundred poems containing references to Homer’s Odyssey, for example.

[20] Adam Mickiewicz (1798–1855), the greatest Polish poet, student of the great specialist on antiquity G. E. Groddeck, often made references to ancient motifs in his works.

[21] Juliusz Słowacki (1809–1849), poet and dramatist, next to Mickiewicz the greatest poet of the Polish Romantic period, fascinated by Homer’s characters in childhood; immortalized the martyr’s death of Rigas Fereos in the poem Lambro (1832); in the posthumously published poem Podróż z Neapolu do Ziemi Świętej (on his journey, he saw Corfu, the Peloponnese, Corinth and Athens) he extolled the siege of Mesolongi and the death of Markos Botsaris, and described his meeting with Dionisios Solomos and Konstantin Kanaris. Ancient themes are present in the whole of his work; he reached for ancient motifs, for example, in the famous poem Grób Agamemnona ("The Tomb of Agamemnon" 1840) and in the drama Agezylausz (1845).

[22] Adam Asnyk (1838–1897), poet and dramatist, participant in the January Uprising of 1861 against the Russian occupying forces; in his poetry he combined Romantic form with the intellectual and social issues of the Positivist period; his poems often contain references to antiquity.

[23] Maria Konopnicka (1842–1910), the greatest Polish poetess of the 19th century; author of especially popular cycles of poems inspired by folklore as well as works for children that are classics of Polish literature.

[24] Michał Głowiński, professor of the PAN Institute of Literary Studies; author of many works on the theory of literature, literary communication, methodology of contemporary literary studies.

[25] Leopold Staff (1878–1957), one of the greatest Polish 20th-century poets; received a comprehensive education (philosophy, Romance languages); in the beginnings of his creative work was influenced by Nietzsche and Bergson; sought the Greek ideal of internal equilibrium ad classical harmony, referring to the art and thought of antiquity. In his later works these references disappeared. Patron of the Skamanderites.

[26] Kazimerz Wierzyński (1894–1969), one of the leading representatives of the Skamander group; inspiration from Greek antiquity is visible especially in his early poems; among the most beautiful is the cycle on sports rivalry, Laur Olimpijski ("Olympic Laurel" 1927).

[27] Julian Tuwim (1894–1953), the most outstanding representative of the Skamander group; poet, dramatist, translator and avid bibliophile and logographer; author of classic poems for children.

[28] Ludomir Różycki (1884–1953), composer who combined neo-Romantic trends with the folk music tradition, initiator of Poland’s national ballet; one of the founders of the Polish Composers’ Association; composer of ballets, operas (including those based on ancient themes: Meduza, Eros i Psyche), symphonic poems, song cycles, instrumental works.

[29] Bronislava Nijinska (1891–1972), sister of the famous dancer Vaslav Nijinsky, dancer with Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes; in 1937–39 choreographer of the Polish Ballet Company; in America from 1939.

[30] Piotr Rytel (1884–1970), composer and teacher, among his works is the Wagnerian opera Ijola (1927) and the symphonic poem Święty gaj ("Holy Grove" 1912), both based on ancient themes.

[31] Włodzimierz Staniewski, actor of Teatr Stu, a theatre that was a student troupe in 1966-1975 and a professional theatre after that, considered in the 1960s to be one of the greatest alternative avant-garde theatres in Poland; later joined Grotowski’s Laboratory Theatre.

[32] Mikhail Bakhtin (1895–1975), Russian historian, formalist critic and philosopher of culture.


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