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p822 Odeum

Article by Philip Smith, B.A., of the University of London
on pp822‑823 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

ODEUM (ᾠδεῖον), a species of public building, which was first erected during the flourishing epoch of Greek art in the fifth century B.C., for contests in vocal and instrumental music (τόπος ἐν ᾧ οἰ ῥαψῳδοὶ καὶ οἰ κιθαρῳδοὶ ἠγωνίζοντο, Hesych. s.v., comp. Suid. s.v.). In its general form and arrangements it was very similar to the theatre; and it is sometimes called θέατρον1 (Paus. I.8, II.3; Philostr. Vit. Soph. II.1 p549). There were, however, some characteristic differences: the Odeum was much smaller than the theatre; and it was roofed over, in order to retain the sound (Vitruv. V.9). The comparatively small size of the Odeum is easily accounted for, not only because the space required in the theatre for the evolutions of the Chorus was not wanted here; but also because it appears to have been originally designed chiefly for musical rehearsals, in subordination to the great choral performances in the theatre, and consequently a much smaller space was required for the audience.

Unfortunately we have no detailed description of this class of buildings. Vitruvius (l.c.) makes a passing mention of the Odeum of Pericles, but states no particulars respecting its construction, except that it was adorned with stone pillars, and roofed over with the masts and yards of the captured Persian ships, a statement which has led some writers into the mistake of referring the building to the time of Themistocles. From the statement of Pausanias (I.20 § 4) that, when the Odeum was rebuilt, after its burning in the capture of Athens by Sulla, it was made of a form which was said to be in imitation of the tent of Xerxes, it may perhaps be inferred that the original building was actually covered with that tent. At all events, this statement proves that the roof must have been conical. Accordingly Plutarch, who states that the original building2 was an imitation of the king's tent, describes its roof as p823sloping all round, and inclined from one summit (Peric. 13). He also says that, in its internal arrangement, the building had many seats and many pillars. From a few other passages, and from the scanty remains of such edifices, we may conclude further that the Odeum had an orchestra for the chorus and a stage for the musicians (of less depth than the stage of the theatre), behind which were rooms, which were probably used for keeping the dresses and vessels, and ornaments required for religious processions. Of course the Odeum required no shifting scenes; but the wall at the back of the stages seems to have been permanently decorated with paintings. For example, Vitruvius tells us (VII.5. § 5), that, in the small theatre at Tralles (which was doubtless an Odeum), Apaturius of Alabanda painted the scaena with a composition so fantastic that he was compelled to remove it, and to correct it according to the truth of natural objects. Among the paintings in the Odeum at Smyrna was a Grace, ascribed to Apelles (Paus. IX.35 § 6). The Odea of later times were richly decorated. That of Herodes Atticus had its roof of beams of cedar adorned with carvings, and contained numerous works of art (Philost. II.1 p551).

The earliest building of this kind was that already mentioned as erected by Pericles at Athens, for the purpose, according to Plutarch (l.c.) of celebrating the musical contests at the Panathenaea. It lay on the left hand to persons coming out of the great theatre, and therefore at the foot of the south-eastern part of the Acropolis (Vitruv. V.9). Its proximity to the theatre suggested some of the uses made of it, namely, as a refuge for the audience when driven out of the theatre by rain, and also as a place in which the chorus could be prepared (Vitruv. l.c.). It was burnt when Athens was taken by Sulla, B.C. 85, and was restored by Ariobarzanes II king of Cappadocia; who employed C. and M. Stallius and Menalippus as the architects of the work. Ariobarzanes reigned from B.C. 63 to about B.C. 51. (Vitruv. l.c.; Paus. I.20 § 4; Appian. Bell. Mithr. 38; Böckh, Corp. Inscr. vol. I No. 357). The building is now entirely destroyed.

This was not the only Odeum at Athens in the time of Hadrian and the Antonines. Pausanias, who in the passage referred to, does not apply the name of Odeum to the building, speaks of an Odeum at Athens in two other passages (I.8 § 6, 14 § 1), from a close examination of which it appears more than doubtful whether this Odeum is the same as the former. Stieglitz (p228, foll.) identifies it with the Pnyx, which he supposes to have been fitted up as an Odeum, while that of Pericles was in ruins. It is remarkable that Pausanias nowhere mentions the Pnyx, unless this Odeum be the same as it.

Another Odeum was built at Athens by Herodes Atticus, and was the most magnificent edifice of the sort in the whole empire. It stood, as compared with the Odeum of Pericles, on the opposite side of the great theatre, under the south-western part of the Acropolis; where large ruins of it are still seen. The length of its largest diameter was 248 ft, and it is calculated to have furnished accommodation for about 8000 persons (Leake, Topogr. of Athens, p61). This building was erected after Pausanias wrote his first book, and before he wrote his seventh (Paus. VII.20 § 3).

The other principal Odea were that of Corinth, also built by Herodes (Paus. II.3 § 6; Philost. l.c.); that of Patrae, which was next in magnificence to that of Herodes at Athens, and contained, among other works of art, a celebrated statue of Apollo (Paus. VII.20 § 6); those of Smyrna and Tralles already mentioned; that of Messene, 112 feet long, and 93 feet in its inner diameter; that of Nicopolis, with an inner diameter equal to the last, but with an outer diameter of 193 feet: there are also ruins of Odea at Laodicea, Ephesus, Anemurium, and other places in Asia Minor (see Chandler, Pococke, Beaufort's Caramania, Leake, and other topographers).

The first Odeum, properly so called, at Rome, was built by Domitian (Suet. Dom. 5; Eutrop. VIII.15), and the second by Trajan (Amm. Marc. XVI.10). There are ruins of such buildings in the villa of Hadrian at Tivoli, at Pompeii, and at Catana.

As a general fact, the Odea were less strictly reserved for their special use than the theatres. Some of the extra uses, to which the Odeum of Pericles was applied, have been already mentioned. It was also used sometimes as a court of justice (Aristoph. Vesp. 1104, c. Schol., comp. Pollux, VIII.6); and philosophical disputations were held in the Odea (Plut. de Exsil. p604). Further details will be found in the following works. (Martini, Ueber die Odeen; Stieglitz, Archäol. d. Baukunst, vol. II sect. 3; Hirt, Lehre d. Gebäude, pp111‑113; Rose, über die Odeen in Athen, Rom, u. Karthago, Soest, 1831, 4to; Müller, Arch. d. Kunst, §  289; Klausen, in Ersch and Gruber's Encyklopädie; Baumstark, in the Real Encyclop. d. class. Alterthum.)


The Author's Notes:

1 See, respecting the precise meaning of the words, the note on p83, a.

2 Perhaps he confounded it with the one which was standing in his time.


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