Toward a National Heterotopia: Ancient Theaters and the Cultural Politics of Performing Ancient Drama in Modern Greece
Volume 44.4/45.1, Winter 2010/Spring 2011
The article embarks on discussing the quasi-religious associations accorded to the Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus in contemporary Greece in order to explore the broader cultural and national implications of ancient theatres. The analysis suggests that the significance of ancient theatres within modern Greek culture can be understood through Foucault’s theoretical term of heterotopia. Heterotopias are, according to Foucault, “effectively enacted utopias” which come to being at the foundation of a society and are bestowed with the power to represent, contest and invert all the real sites of the culture. Unlike utopias, heterotopias are constituted by the socio-cultural practices, institutions and discourses surrounding an existing site. Heterotopias are, thus, geographical as well as ideological places; this, in my view, explains their effectiveness in implementing national imagination and narratives. The first part of the article reflects on ancient theatres as effective heterotopias of Greek continuity with antiquity. Then, I go on to examine the history of their use for the performance of ancient drama, focusing on the first half of the century until the establishment of the Epidaurus Festival in the 1950s. The ways in which Greek directors have connected ancient drama, the ancient theatre and the modern Greek experience is also viewed as an effect of the heterotopic function of the performance space. The article closes with a discussion of two pop-culture representations of the ancient theatre which attest to its persistence within contemporary Greek imagination.