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Mid-second century c.e.–Early third century c.e.

Pantomime artist


Memphius—also known as Apolaustus—was a famous pantomime artist in the reign of the emperor Marcus Aurelius (161–180 c.e.), and a great favorite of Lucius Verus, who was Marcus' co-emperor for the first seven and a half years of his reign. When Verus returned from a campaign against the Parthians, he brought with him actors from Syria, one of whom was a slave, Agrippus, whom Verus and Marcus Aurelius freed. Thus Agrippus acquired the name "Lucius Aurelius" from his patrons, and in addition, he had two nicknames, his stage name "Apolaustus," and "Memphius" ("pantomime from Memphis"). Memphis in Egypt may have been where he first won fame as a pantomime artist, or it might refer to the kind of dance that he made his specialty, for there was a Memphian dance where the dancer moved every muscle in his body as he performed. The first dancer to introduce the Memphian dance to Rome was Bathyllus from Alexandria in Egypt, who belonged to the reign of the emperor Augustus (27

b.c.e.–14 c.e.). As for the name "Apolaustus," it was a favorite nickname for pantomime artists; in fact there already was an ex-slave named "Lucius Aelius Aurelius Apolaustus" who belonged to the imperial household before Memphius arrived in Rome. Presumably he also was a pantomime artist, and had the misfortune of being put to death by the emperor Commodus, the son of Marcus Aurelius, in 189 c.e. Memphius, however, was still alive in 199 c.e. when he is mentioned in an inscription.

Pantomime of Pythagoras.

One pantomime which won Memphius fame was his exposition of the philosophy of Pythagoras in dance. Pythagoras was known for his theory of numbers, but in the second century c.e. he was best known for his doctrine of transmigration of souls. Since Memphius followed in the tradition of Bathyllus, whose performances were more light-hearted than those of Pylades, presumably Memphius' presentation of Pythagorean wisdom was not particularly serious.

Career After Lucius Verus.

As long as Lucius Verus was still alive, Memphius was probably part of the entourage of actors, pantomime artists, and jugglers that belonged to his household. But Marcus Aurelius had no taste for Verus' pastimes, and Memphius must have forged a career of his own. He had his own grex—a troupe of musicians and supporting dancers—who performed in Rome and throughout Italy where every respectable town had its own theater. He was acclaimed as the "outstanding actor of his day." His death date is unknown but he was still performing at the end of the second century c.e.


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

P. R. C. Weaver, Familia Caesaris (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972).