Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Plinius minor at Casinum

It is hard to enter the theater of Casinum; or actually, it is only open during performances. Although it is almost in the backyard of the archeological site - containing the museum, amphitheater and a beautiful part of the Via Latina - the theater belongs to the municipality of Cassino, without actively promoting visits. Trespassing, climbing over a fence and quickly making snapshots is the only way to get a glimps; look at the results!

It is also hard to find the museum, like most of the archeological sites in Italy, because of a lack of signposts. In addition, Monte Cassino is the main attraction in the region and the theater and wonderful amphitheater (see my other blogentry) seems to be regarded as old trash.

To get an idea of the once lively stage, I copied a letter of Plinius the younger, who visited the theater and wrote to his friend Geminius about the remarkable benefactress Ummidia Quadratilla and her 'set of pantomimes'.

From: Plinius Minor, Book VII, Letter 24
To Geminius

"UMMIDIA QUADRATILLA is dead, having lived almost to the eightieth year. She enjoyed till her last sickness an uninterrupted state of health, with a strength and firmness of body unusual even to matrons in their prime. She has left a will that does her great credit, havind disposed of two-thirds of her estate to her grandson, and the rest to her granddaughter.

The young lady I know little of, but the grandson is one of my most intimate friends. He is a young man of singular worth, for whom others than his own kin may well feel the affection due to a kinsman. Though he is extremely beautiful, he escaped every malicious imputation both whilst a boy and when a youth; he was a husband at four and twenty, and would have been father if providence had not disappointed his hopes.

He lived in the family of his grandmother, who was exceedingly devoted to the pleasures of the town, with great severity of conduct, yet at the same time with the utmost compliance. She retained a set of pantomimes, whom she encouraged more than becomes a lady of quality. But Quadratus never witnessed their performances, either when she exhibited them in the theatre, or in her own house; nor did she exact his attendance. I once heard her say, when she was commending her grandson's oratorical studies to my care, that it was her habit, being a woman and as such debarred from active life, to amuse herself with playing at chess or backgammon, and to look on at the mimicry of her pantomimes; but that before engaging in either diversion, she constantly sent away her grandson to his studies; a custom, I imagine, which she observed as much out of a certain reverence, as affection, to the youth.

I was a good deal surprised, as I am persuaded you will be, at what he told me the last time the Sacerdotal Games were exhibited. As we were coming out of the theatre together, where we had been entertained with a contest of these pantomimes, "Do you know", said he, "this is the first time I ever saw one of my grandmother's freedman dance?" Such was the conduct of the grandson; while a set of men of a far different stamp, in order to honour to Quadratilla (I am ashamed to employ that word to what, in thruth, was but the lowest and grossest flattery) used to flock to the theatre, where they would rise up and clap in an excess of admiration at the performances of those pantomimes, slavishly copying all the while, with shrieks of applause, every sign of approbation given by the lady patroness of the company. But now all that these claqueurs have got in pay is only a few trifling legacies, which they have the mortification to receive form an heir who was never so much at present at Quadratilla's shows.


It is clear that the theater was built around 22 BC, during the first years of the reign of Augustus. The cavea had a diameter of 53,5 meter with 4 cunei and the orchestra had a diameter of 16,9 meter. Near the theater was a pool for waterplays.

Unfortunately, no information is available at the site, due to a lack of (EU) funding, but some internetsites did. It gives me the new ambition updating the Blue Guide!   

1 comment:

  1. very interesting and well documented. Access to this monument ought to be facilitated.


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