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Enthralled Spectators

Participation in the arts was a much a part of the citizen's activities as service on the council or in the law courts, with their six thousand judges. Each spring festival brought a contest between tragic dramatists: this called for twelve new plays annually, with the participation of one hundred and eight choral singers and dancers; while each contest in comedies demanded sixteen new plays yearly and a hundred and forty-four choral singers and dancers. In the hundred years of the Empire, Ferguson tells us, two thousand plays of picked quality were written and staged in Athens, while six thousand new musical compositions were created and presented.

These esthetic activities demanded participation on an even greater scale than in the mystery pageants and miracle plays of the Middle Ages: every year something like two thousand Athenians, it has been estimated, had to memorize the words and practice the music and dance figures of a lyric or a dramatic chorus. This was an intellectual discipline as well as an esthetic experience of the highest order; and as an incidental result no small part of the audience consisted of ex-performers, expert judges and critics as well as enthralled spectators.

—Lewis Mumford, The City in History


Yes indeed.

Yesterday, coincidentally, my ten year old son, Simon, engaged me in a lengthy conversation about why we entertain ourselves and devote so much time, money, energy, and technology towards it.

hey, how big was Athens?

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