Bathyllus and Pylades

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Bathyllus and Pylades

Mid-first century b.c.e.–Early first century c.e.

Pantomime dancers

Introduction of the Pantomime.

The introduction of the pantomime into Rome is credited to two dancers, Bathyllus and Pylades. Bathyllus was a native of Alexandria in Egypt and nothing is known about his early life. Somehow he became the slave of Maecenas, the minister of public relations for the Roman emperor Augustus (r. 27 b.c.e.–14 c.e.), the nephew and heir of Julius Caesar. Maecenas freed him and became his patron. Pylades who came from Cilicia in Asia Minor, was an ex-slave of the emperor Augustus himself. The two dancers were rivals, and their fans often clashed in street riots, so much so that Augustus banished Pylades from Rome for a short period. Both men had students, and one student of Pylades, Hylas, became his master's rival. Bathyllus was famous for his comic pantomimes, whereas Pylades specialized in serious or tragic themes taken from Greek myth.

The New Pantomime.

Information about Bathyllus and Pylades is sparse, but it is clear that they introduced into Italy a new kind of dance which combined features from the dance of the Old Comedy of classical Greece known as the kordax, the more dignified dance of tragedy known as the emmeleia, and the dance of the satyr play called the sikinnis. In fact, Pylades wrote a treatise on dancing. Bathyllus' performances were more light-hearted. One ancient author compared his dance to the hyporchema, which was a lively choral song and dance, although the similarity was with the spirit and joyousness of the hyporchema as there were no choral dances in pantomime. Bathyllus is also supposed to have introduced the Memphian dance, which involved matching every muscle in the dancer's body to the rhythm of the music, and dealt with serious themes. One ancient source mentioned performances of tragedy by Bathyllus and comedy by Pylades, and so they may have poached on each other's territory occasionally. The date of death for either Bathyllus or Pylades is not known, though in 2 b.c.e., Pylades produced and financed a festival, but did not give a performance himself because he was too old. Bathyllus was probably older than Pylades and so he had ceased dancing about the same time or earlier, though some dancers had very long careers on the stage.


E. J. Jory, "The Literary Evidence for the Beginnings of Imperial Patronage," Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies 28 (1981): 147–161.

Sir William Smith, Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. Vol. 1 (London, England: Walton and Maberly, 1849–1858): 474.