views updated May 23 2018



Leisure Activities. A great variety of leisure activities occupied the free time of Romans from every class of society. Men, women, boys, and girls enjoyed social activities ranging from playing simple board games to viewing competitive spectacles (spectacula) in the arena. Leisure time was most often spent in daily trips to public baths and attending theatrical productions and other large public spectacles in the circus or amphitheater. Competitors in public spectacles were almost exclusively slaves, freedmen, or foreigners. Roman citizens did not feel it was proper for citizens to appear in public spectacles.

The Baths. Since most Romans did not have bathing facilities in their homes, public bathing became the usual method of maintaining personal hygiene. Bath complexes, which came to be called thermae during the reign of Augustus, were either state-funded or run by private companies. Although bathing was originally a practical activity for keeping clean, eventually public bathing became a popular social activity among all classes and both sexes. By the fourth century C.E. there were approximately one thousand public baths in the city of Rome itself. Almost every town in Italy and the Roman Empire had at least one public bathing facility. Bath establishments not only housed rooms for bathing, but some large and well-appointed complexes also included areas for exercise, swimming, massage, hair removal, and reading.

Various Temperatures. A complete bathing regimen involved passing through several rooms whose temperatures varied. A bather left his or her clothing in the dressing room, or apodyterium. The caldarium, or hot room, was the first room of the baths visited after disrobing. The heat of the caldarium was maintained by hot air piped into hollow spaces built into the walls and under the floors. The caldarium also contained tubs filled and kept hot with water from a furnace. The temperature of the next room, the tepidarium, was lower than that of the caldarium. The coolest room in the sequence was the frigidarium. Thermae some-times also included a sweat room called either a laconicum or sudatorium. The warmer rooms were often outfitted with cold plunge pools to allow the bathers to cool themselves periodically during their bathing activities. People who took exercise before bathing used a curved, hand-held scraper called a strigil to remove the dirt, sweat, and oil from their bodies before entering the baths.

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Bath Complexes. The style and sophistication of a bath complex depended upon the region and era in which the baths were built. Pompeii and other Campanian towns show baths from the late Republic and early Empire differing in size and technical design. Baths from this region and era typically had an exercise court called a palaestra, which functioned as the main entrance to the facility. Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa built the first of the imperial bath complexes at Rome, which were begun around 25 B.C.E., and required the building of the Aqua virgo, an aqueduct meant to supply these baths with the necessary huge quantity of water.

Grand Scale. Several emperors from Nero to Constantine built lavishly decorated baths on a grand scale. In addition to the usual bathing rooms, grand Imperial thermae had palaestrae, libraries, fountains, and various other rooms flanking the courtyards to satisfy different functions. The plans of Imperial thermae were usually symmetrical, which suggests that men and women had separate, yet comparable, facilities. Marble was featured prominently in the decoration of Imperial thermae, as were statuary and mosaics. Clearly, during the Empire, public bathing had developed into a popular leisure activity far beyond its basic purpose of cleansing the body. Bathers enjoyed not only splendid bathing facilities but also many other recreational activities of both physical and social varieties.

Spectator Events. Romans enjoyed many varied spectator events throughout the Republic and Empire, and the reiteration of the architectural settings for these events around the Roman world shows their widespread popularity. The three types of buildings used by the Romans for sporting events were the circus, stadium, and amphitheater. While the Roman circus and stadium were derived from the Greek stadium, the amphitheater was an entirely Roman creation.

Circus Games. The circus was designed specifically for chariot races. Romans viewed races of chariots drawn by either two or four horses (bigae and quadrigae, respectively). Its shape was long and narrow, and had one curved and one rectangular end. Spectators sat in rows of seats built along both long sides and around the curved end of the circus. The first rows of the spectators’ seats were reserved for senators and equites (knights), which was a tradition honored in the theater as well. Unlike the theater, however, men and women were free to mingle at the circus. The races began at the starting gates (carceres) built at the rectangular end of the track. The chariots raced along and around a long narrow island called a spina where counters were located to indicate the number of laps each chariot had completed. Four teams distinguished by colored tunics (red, blue, green, and white) competed, and some spectators engaged in betting while others participated in activi-ties characteristic of loyal fans. Rivalries between factions were common and are known to have led to mischief.

Circuses and Games. Although several different circuses are known to have existed at Rome, the oldest and most prominent was the Circus Maximus. Tradition tells us that Romulus founded the Circus Maximus in the valley between the Palatine and Aventine Hills. In addition to chariot races, a great variety of contests were produced in the Circus. The Ludi circenses, or Circus Games, included different types of races, gladiatorial combat, staged animal hunts called venationes, and other sorts of athletic contests. Besides the Ludi romani (Roman Games) held in September, and the Ludi plebei (Plebeian Games) held in November, circus games could be decreed throughout the year to celebrate military triumphs and the dedications of new buildings.

Exotic Animals. Exotic animals were displayed as early as 275 B.C.E., when Marcus Curius Dentatus brought to Rome elephants taken from Pyrrhus in southern Italy. In subsequent years triumphant Roman generals displayed animals captured from the lands they conquered, and thus continued a tradition of displaying exotic animals as part of their war booty. The venatio first included simply capturing or killing the animals in a staged “hunt.” If the animals were not to be killed, then they were sometimes kept and trained to perform tricks. By the end of the Republic, Romans had come to expect truly exotic animals to appear in public spectacles sponsored by Roman magistrates. When Marcus Caelius Rufus was aedile in 50 B.C.E., he asked his friend Cicero (who was governor of Cilicia at the time) to send him panthers to use in the spectacles he intended to produce at Rome. As aedile, it was important for Caelius to impress the voters sufficiently to earn and keep their support. Apparently, however, Cicero did not easily fulfill Caelius’s request, as he is scolded in a letter from Caelius that is preserved along with the corpus of Cicero’s own letters (Epistulae adfamiliares 8.9).

Athletic Contests. The stadium held various athletic contests, of which foot races were most frequently featured. The stadium was similar in shape to the circus, but it was shorter and had no spina. Several stadia were built in Rome, and seem to have been a feature of some Imperial bath complexes. The best example is the Stadium of Domitian, whose system of entrances and exits allowed the building to handle large crowds of spectators efficiently. The general shape of Domitian’s stadium has been preserved by the modern-day Piazza Navona, which was developed directly on top of it.

Fan-Clubs and Riots. The ancients could be as fanatical about their spectator sports as modern Americans are about baseball and football. Romans formed associations that were the ancient equivalent of our fan clubs. The rivalries between different associations sometimes led to trouble, as Tacitus attests in the Annales, his history of the Julio-Claudian era of Imperial Rome (14.17). In 59 C.E. the rival factions of Pompeii and Nuceria created a riot in the amphitheater at Pompeii. The disruption and hysteria of the riot were severe enough to warrant punishment from Rome: the Pompeiians were forbidden to have any such public gathering for the next ten years, and all the associations had to be dissolved.

Amphitheaters and Gladiatorial Games. By far the most widely recognized arena associated with Roman spectator sports was the Flavian Amphitheater, which we now call the Colosseum. Although the Colosseum is the largest and most grand of Roman amphitheaters, it is not the oldest. The amphitheater at Pompeii is the oldest known amphitheater, and dates at least to the time of Sulla (circa 80 B.C.E.). The amphitheater was invented specifically to view gladiatorial combat, and seems to have its origins in Etruria and Samnite Campania, where such games existed in pre-Roman times. There, modestly scaled fights to the death were staged to honor their dead. This practice originally involved combatants who were either slaves or criminals. The fight probably took place at the burial site, and seems always to have been associated with religious ritual. Tertullian, a Christian author writing in the late second or early third century C.E., criticized the development of such games (De spectaculis 12).

Growth of Popularity. During the Roman Republic, gladiatorial games were not normally produced as part of the traditional public games (ludi) sponsored by Roman magistrates. Rather, private individuals produced gladiatorial spectacles in honor of a deceased relative (munera). As these games became more frequently and grandly produced, gladiatorial schools were established in Rome and Campania to train the numbers of gladiators necessary to fulfill the increasing demand. While gladiatorial spectacles were produced during the Republic as part of the funeral rites in honor of important citizens, during the Empire such games became popular spectator activities produced by the state for the purpose of mass entertainment. The construction of the Colosseum during the reigns of the Flavian emperors illustrates the prominent place that bloody spectacles came to hold in Roman leisure time pursuits.

The Flavian Amphitheater. The so-called Colosseum, begun by the emperor Vespasian and finished by his sons Titus and Domitian, could accommodate approximately fifty thousand spectators in three seating sections and one standing room section at the top. The Colosseum is said to have had an awning that could be spread and retracted by means of rigging worked by sailors. A complicated system of doors, corridors, and staircases made the facility more efficiently filled and emptied of its audience. The floor of the arena was made of wood and covered a network of animal cages and elevators used to raise beasts to floor level. Fine-grained sand covered the arena floor to absorb blood shed from combatants and animals. The term “arena” comes from the Latin word harena, for the sand used on the stage-level floor.

Types of Gladiators. In the early history of gladiatorial games, combatants were slaves or criminals condemned to death by fighting one another. However, the gladiators of the late Republic and the Empire could be either involuntary participants (slaves, condemned criminals, or war captives) or individuals who voluntarily bound themselves by oath. Gladiators trained in schools (also called ludi)under the direction of a lanista, who was often a former gladiator. Some slaves who trained and fought as gladiators earned their freedom and then continued to compete for high fees. Four types of gladiators existed: the Murmillo wore a Gallic helmet with a metal fish as a crest, and was heavily armed with an oblong shield and short sword; the Samnite was also heavily armed with Samnite-type weapons and a visored helmet; the Retiarius was lightly armed and fought with a net and trident; and the Thracian fought with a round shield and curved scimitar. Not all combatants, how-

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ever, were trained gladiators. People condemned to the beasts were often left without weapons or any other form of protection against the wild animals.

Theatrical Productions. Throughout the Republic and Empire, Roman audiences enjoyed a variety of theatrical presentations including comedies and tragedies modeled on Greek sources, as well as mime, pantomime, and farcical plays called Atellanae that were native to the Italian town of Atella. Even though Romans viewed comedy and tragedy from at least the second century B.C.E., the first permanent theater at Rome was not built until 55 B.C.E. The popular comic dramas were often disdainfully viewed as “low-brow,” and actors were typically considered socially inferior. Furthermore, many Romans were initially skeptical about constructing a permanent building where the Roman masses might gather and potentially create trouble. Nevertheless, shortly after Gaius Pompeius Magnus (Pompey) dedicated his theatre in the Campus Martius in 55 B.C.E., two other theaters were constructed in the same vicinity; the theater of Balbus and the theater of Marcellus. Clearly by the end of the Republic, theatrical entertainment had become a popular and permanent leisure time pursuit. In fact, theaters begin to appear with great frequency throughout northern and central Italy during the Augustan era. The Greek cities of southern Italy and Sicily had permanent theaters from a much earlier time, since dramatic productions were long viewed by the audiences in those places. Pompeii, for example, enjoyed a stone theater as early as the second century B.C.E., and it is assumed that the Pompeiians also viewed their gladiatorial games in the theater until they built an amphitheater in the first century B.C.E. Throughout the Empire, every Roman town included a theater among its public buildings, and many of these facilities can still be seen today.

Comedy and Tragedy. The Romans adopted (and adapted) Greek models in writing comedy and tragedy. In the earliest stages of Latin language drama, the plays were probably little more than translations of the Greek originals. Performances took place during the day, out of doors on temporary wooden stages until the construction of Pompey’s theater. A legal reform in 194 B.C.E. reserved the best seats for senators, which indicates that from at least this time seating was arranged as part of the temporary theater facility. Dramatic performances were part of the religious festivals such as the Ludi romani and the Ludi plebeii that also included spectator sporting events. The production of these events was the responsibility of the aediles, who depended upon the success of their festivals to ensure political support from the Roman people. Latin dramas were presented with the actors wearing Greek costumes, and most likely also wearing the masks always associated with Greek drama. Women did not perform in comedy and tragedy; thus, all actors were male. Musical accompaniment seems to have always been a feature of Roman dramas.

Open-Air Distractions. Before Rome had permanent theaters, drama was performed in the open. The lack of a physical structure within which to perform left the audience and the cast prone to distraction. In spite of the success of his comedies, Terence had to compete with other kinds of performances for the attention of his audience. In the prologues to his play Hecyra, the producer informs the audience that the first two productions of the play were ruined by the distractions of other performances, including gladiatorial contests, and he is trying to introduce the play at Rome for the third time.

Other Theatrical Genres. In addition to comedy and tragedy, Romans enjoyed viewing several other dramatic forms of which mime, pantomime, and Atellane farce are the most significant. The participants in these presentations could be either male or female. Atellane farce(Atellana) is a native Italian genre whose name comes from the Campanian town of Atella. Like Greek and Roman comedy, these farcical presentations utilized stock characters and themes. The setting was typically a small Italian town, and the drama satirized country life in crude language. Originally presented in the Oscan dialect, the Atellanae eventually became a Latin language drama, and was sometimes performed after the presentation of a tragedy.

Mime. Originally a Greek art form, mimetic performance found its way to Rome by the second century

B.C.E. and became firmly established in theatrical festivals throughout the Republic and Empire. Mimes worked either solo or in troupes and “told” the plot of their dramas through imitative movements and sounds. They wore costumes but apparently did not use masks in their performances of scenes from daily life, mythology, and assorted improbable themes. The nature of such drama was often farcical and indecent, yet very popular among Roman audiences.

Pantomime. Like mime, pantomime relied upon gestures to reveal a story, yet pantomime also involved conventional dances associated with specific themes. Dancers of pantomime worked solo to the accompaniment of music, a chorus, and sometimes an assistant who might have narrated the performance. The dancer wore a loose fitting costume to allow free movement, and a mask with closed lips, as no sounds were uttered by the pantomime. A change of mask indicated a change of character when necessary. The themes presented in pantomime were taken from mythology and history, and they could often be erotic in nature. While pantomime was introduced to Rome rather late compared to comedy and tragedy, 22 B.C.E., the profession of pantomime was a lucrative one, though considered to be of low moral character by Roman standards. By the second century C.E. pantomime had become preferred to comedy and tragedy.


Richard C. Beacham, The Roman Theatre and Its Audience (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1992).

Michael Grant, Gladiators (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1967).

John H. Humphrey, Roman Circuses: Arenas for Chariot Racing (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986).

Thomas Wiedemann, Emperors and Gladiators (London & New York: Routledge, 1992).


views updated May 29 2018


Entertainment is a ubiquitous phenomenon that has been transformed extensively by science and technology. To some extent that transformation has ethical dimensions that merit more consideration than they usually receive.

The Historical Spectrum

There is evidence that human beings have found ways to amuse themselves since the beginning of history. Ancient Mesopotamians reserved six days a month for designated holidays, half of which were tied to religious lunar festivities. Hunting was a favorite pastime of Assyrian kings, as wall reliefs attest; that pastime was shared by Egyptian pharaohs, as is affirmed by the decorations on their tombs. Sports such as boxing and wrestling were practiced widely in the ancient world, sometimes between divine beings and men as in the struggle between Gilgamesh and Enkidu in the Epic of Gilgamesh and that between Jacob and an angel in the Hebrew Bible. Black-figure vases and amphorae indicate the Greeks' love for those two sports as well as the others featured in the ancient Olympic games and their imitators throughout the ancient Aegean world. A variety of board games from ancient times (e.g., serpent, dog-and-jackal, and senet from Egypt) challenge contemporary people to discern what the rules might have been, whereas games such as chess, go, and various others involving stone, bone, clay, or glass dice can be recognized by modern players in their earliest written, engraved, and stone forms from China, India, Mesoamerica, Africa, and the Near East. Children's model houses with miniature furniture and figures and model ships, wagons, chariots, and carts from sites across the ancient world indicate that toys are also of ancient origin.

People entertained one another on musical instruments, as many ancient literary and sacred texts attest, including ancient songs that survive in the form of the Psalms and the "Song of Miriam" in the Hebrew Bible, the Iliad and Odyssey, and hymns to Osiris and other ancient gods in addition to love songs and songs that express the challenges and triumphs of daily life. Singers, snake charmers, bear trainers, jesters, and acrobats—all the roles that later would be revived in vaudeville, traveling carnivals, and circuses—can be located among ancient peoples. String, wind, and percussion instruments, many trimmed with rare metals or precious stones, have been described in print and discovered in situ by archaeologists, allowing a better appreciation of the tonal systems and musical compositions that the ancients created as a source of creativity and for amusement. Ancient plays from the Greeks give voice to many modern concerns about life, meaning, and human affairs.

On an even wider scale one thinks of the grand public spectacles of ancient Babylon and ancient Rome, cities whose rulers spared no expense in putting on public entertainment for the masses, drawing on vast human, animal, and fiscal resources for events that could last for months and involve extensive human and animal carnage. Assurnasirpal II of Assyria, when inaugurating his palace at Calah, claims on a palace relief to have hosted a banquet for 47,074 people, who consumed, among other items, more than 1,000 cattle, 10,000 sheep, 15,000 lambs, 10,000 fish, 10,000 loaves of bread, and 100 containers of beer. Roman emperors staged banquets, games, and entertainments for the masses that sometimes bankrupted the state treasury.

Technological Presence

Pervasive in all these ancient forms of entertainment is the presence and necessity of technology. Natural materials have been reshaped to create implements and means by which human beings can amuse themselves, opening up vast areas for enjoyment beyond those afforded by nature. Technological innovations in chariot wheels and steering mechanisms, the raising and lowering of massive platforms through the use of advanced hydraulics, springs and hinges that could be opened and closed at a distance with precision and split-second timing, and many other inventions and improvements contributed to the crowd-pleasing spectacles of Greek and Roman theaters and the battles in the Colosseum in Rome between beast and beast, person and beast, and person and person.

Continuous innovation in designing and defining amusements of various kinds for particular classes of individuals and entire societies was accelerated with the advent of the printing press and then the Industrial Revolution as mass production of what had been luxury goods for the wealthy began to spread to other levels of society. Greater leisure time for a widening segment of the population created new opportunities for amusements to pass the time. Entertainment itself, however, always has manifested an ability to penetrate social barriers. Shakespeare's plays, for example, appealed not only to the masses but also to extremely wealthy and influential persons.

The modern era brought with it an array of new means of entertainment, including radio, television, video, computer games, virtual reality, film, e-mail, and chat rooms. However, even the older forms of entertainment underwent major changes as sports, for example, moved from the realm of mainly part-time amateur pursuits to a specialized, professional status (there were limited numbers of professional athletes in ancient times).

Within a generation, American football became a multi-billion-dollar television- and media-saturated semiglobal industry and football players became cultural heroes. Technological innovations transformed football from a game played by college students on dirt fields or cow pastures with no equipment to multi-million-dollar weekly gridiron contests in which each side employs advanced scouting technologies, sophisticated weight training and conditioning regimens, carefully managed nutrition programs, lightweight materials for protection, advanced telecommunications equipment to relay commands and insights, rapid-response medical treatments designed to keep players on the field as long as possible, complex ticketing systems, coordinated crowd control, prescheduled advertising breaks, and many other techniques and processes to induce fans to spend thousands of dollars to support their favorite teams.

Miniaturization and Combination

The latest miniaturization and communications technologies allow entertainment to be fully mobile. As they get increasingly smaller and more powerful in terms of resolution quality, camera phones have become the bane of many schools, fitness facilities, and other public venues where some people use them to take and transmit photographs of people in various stages of undress. Students have attempted to use them to film examination questions and send them to others, and similar problems arise with text messaging devices. At the same time users have employed them to film robberies, hit and run incidents, and other criminal acts that have led to court convictions that probably would not have been possible without the visual evidence they provide. Families and individuals have derived enjoyment from camera phone photographs they have taken of special moments and then downloaded into more permanent forms of storage for retrieval when desired. Cam-phone sites have joined the range of types of websites on the Internet, and it is estimated that 260 million camera phones were sold in 2004.

The pervasiveness of computers that are increasingly more powerful yet smaller with each new generation has spawned an enormous industry in designing sophisticated online games. A number of universities have established programs, and others are increasing the number of courses they offer in this area. The most advanced current form of these games are Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPG) that involve thousands of players in a constantly evolving scenario that is affected directly by the self-selected roles and self-assigned personas of the players.

Blogs (web logs) and vlogs (video blogs) are a recent technological innovation in which individuals create self-published websites that feature video clips, running texts of observations or other materials, photographs, and sound to communicate their thoughts or express themselves. Originally pioneered in the late 1990s by sites such as Pop.com and Digital Entertainment Network, they initially failed to catch on but are having a resurgence though sites such as Underground-film and Ourmedia. The more pervasive blogs, which often feature only text, are exerting a growing influence on mainstream media as bloggers democratize and decentralize journalism, news reporting, and information dissemination in entertaining forms.

Various forms of technology are being combined in new ways with the new media to create full-body experiences for people. In a way similar to the manner in which "surround sound" immersed a listener in a piece of music, people can experience a video in three dimensions while simultaneously feeling sensations on their skin and hearing things as if they were fully immersed in the environment they are seeing.

This ability to "experience the world" without really experiencing it raises important issues. Certainly there are training applications in which being able to experience an environment safely and learn how to react successfully within it could save lives in the future as pilots and others in high-risk situations can practice in a simulated world that looks, feels, smells, and tastes like the real thing. At the same time it is easy to imagine situations in which ethical issues should preclude exchanging the real thing for a simulated experience that mimics it exactly, for example, engaging in sexual experiences that one never could or would do in one's normal life.

Preliminary Assessment

The many forms of entertainment available today and the various means by which one can obtain and experience them can lead to a retreat from the world and oneself so pervasive that a person can focus only on the next thrill. Countries with a broad array of entertainment options suffer from what Gregg Easterbrook (2003) terms "the paradox of progress" because despite overwhelming numbers of possessions and experiences, real as well as vicarious, a sense of personal satisfaction and happiness elude people.

Some people have learned that certain forms of media can produce addictions as powerful as those caused by illicit drugs. This is the case in part because one never just uses technology; one also experiences it. This sensory, intellectual, and emotional interplay affects the user in both predictable and unpredictable ways. Reality shows on television have extended this impact more fully to the "actors" themselves as they create live, unscripted drama that others get to enjoy voyeuristically and register their pleasure or displeasure with a particular person on the show just as the emperor and the crowd determined the ultimate fate of ancient gladiators; the difference is that now the phone or mouse click rather than the thumb is the determining signal. Online chat rooms have led some people to alter the course of their lives; although some of the end results appear to be positive, they seem to be outweighed by media and professional counselors' stories of poor decisions and damaging consequences. Many people struggling with personal issues seek escape and relief in a fantasy world that makes them incapable of facing their problems.

Modern people's ancient ancestors would recognize most of the dilemmas that modern entertainment presents. They undoubtedly also would recognize that these ethical and moral challenges have multiplied over time and space.


SEE ALSO Movies;Music;Museums of Science and Technology;Popular Culture;Radio;Robot Toys;Science, Technology, and Society Studies;Special Effects;Sports;Television;Video Games;Violence.


Bender, Gretchen, and Timothy Druckrey, eds. (1994). Culture on the Brink: Ideologies of Technology. Seattle, WA: Bay Press. A set of essays on the meaning of technology that challenges notions of progress and determinism.

Bray, John. (2002). Innovation and the Communications Revolution: From the Victorian Pioneers to Broadband Internet. London: Institution of Electrical Engineers. A historical look at how global communications have developed and have affected the way people live.

Brende, Eric. (2004). Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology. New York: HarperCollins. A technology guru reveals his thoughts about the pervasive and unhealthy influence of technology on life in the twenty-first century.

Easterbrook, Gregg. (2003). The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse. New York: Random House. A hard look at one of the main dilemmas of modernity.

Hakken, David. (2003). The Knowledge Landscapes of Cyberspace. New York: Routledge. An anthropologist looks at the many aesthetic, ethical, and political questions posed by the uses and abuses of information technology.

McCarthy, John, and Peter Wright. (2004). Technology as Experience. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. A thoughtful monograph that explores the emotional, intellectual, and sensual aspects of people's interactions with technology.

Pesce, Mark. (2000). The Playful World: How Technology Is Transforming Our Imagination. New York: Ballantine. A clever analysis of the way the use of distributed intelli-gence, engineered structures that interact with natural structures, and instantaneous access to information will transform culture and create a new Babel.

Peters, John Durham. (1999). Speaking into the Air: A History of the Idea of Communication. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. An evocative history of communication in Western thought, showing how it shapes and has been shaped by people.

Postman, Neil. (1986). Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. New York: Penguin. A well-known critique of contemporary life and culture.

Schultze, Quentin J. (2002). Habits of the High-Tech Heart: Living Virtuously in the Information Age. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House. A Christian critique of contemporary high-tech culture in the United States.

Squier, Susan Merrill, ed. (2003). Communities of the Air: Radio Century, Radio Culture. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. A pioneering analysis of radio as both a material and a cultural production.

Sterne, Jonathan. (2003). The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. A look at the technological and cultural precursors of telephony, phonography, and radio.

Stewart, David. (1999). The PBS Companion: A History of Public Television. New York: TV Books. A look at an American cultural icon that is frequently mentioned but infrequently watched.


views updated May 17 2018


Outer space is big business for the entertainment world. The earliest record of a work of science fiction, written to fuel the imagination and entertain the public, was the Greek satirist Lucian's Vera historia (True history), penned around C.E. 170. In Lucian's tale, a sailing vessel is caught up by a whirlwind and after a journey of eight days arrives at the Moon. Lucian's description of this imaginary lunar voyage set the scene for many stories, films, and even computer games that have followed.

Science fiction novels sell in phenomenal numbers, appealing to the reader's wish to escape the everyday and stimulating the imagination with the possibilities of tomorrow. Many novelists such as Ben Bova and Neil Ruzic have made careers in science fiction writing. Others, such as James Michener (author of Space ), Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke have been lured by the theme of space, as one compass of a much broader writing career. Science fiction conventions celebrate this genre and allow fans an opportunity to meet with famous authors, hear how they develop their themes related to the future of space exploration, and dissect the plots. These conventions are also major business enterprises.

In modern times the most notable entertainment of the first half of the twentieth century was Orson Welles's broadcast of The War of the Worlds. English novelist and historian H. G. Wells wrote this tale of a Martian invasion as a magazine serial in 1897, but Welles's eerie radio rendition of the tale in 1938 sent shock waves through the United States as listeners tuned in to what they thought was a serious report of alien invasion.

Television: From Star Trek to Nova

Some of the most successful and longest-running series on television have had themes of space exploration. Star Trek, the brainchild of the legendary Gene Roddenberry, through its various generational formats has made the careers of several actors and actresses and met with so much enthusiasm that it has spawned Star Trek conventions. The British invention, Dr. Who, also met with universal, long-term success and was assimilated as one of the "cult" shows of the twentieth century. Babylon Five also developed a very significant following, and the Jim Henson-backed series Farscape, featuring a lost astronaut thrown into the distant regions of space, is the Sci-fi channel's longest running original series.

Space themes are not confined to futuristic fictional series on television, although these are by far the best known and the greatest revenue generators. Aliens are a common theme both as a dramatic effect in a storyline and as the subject matter of serious newsmagazine programs about scientific exploration and pseudoscience . Educational programs about space exploration have great popular appeal and, by extension, attract significant advertising dollars to television stations. One of the great television successes of the 1990s was Tom Hanks's HBO series From the Earth to the Moon, the story of the Apollo missions that landed twelve humans on the Moon. In 2000 the Discovery Channel's in-depth study of the International Space Station represented a significant programming investment. Finally, news magazine programs such as Nova frequently return to stories of space exploration because the human fascination with the unknown and the "great beyond" of the universe draws a large audience.

Films: Special Effects and Special Stories

Outer space can be daunting, fascinating, and mysteriousa gift to moviemakers. Facing the challenges of working in microgravity calls for fearless heroes and feats of courage. And re-creating outer space for the motion picture audience offers numerous possibilities for the special effects department.

People may snicker at the title of the 1956 film Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but this movie is an influential classic and still very scary. It tells the story of residents of a small town who are replaced by inert duplicates, which are hatched from alien "pods."

2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick's influential 1968 masterpiece (with the screenplay written by Arthur C. Clarke), opened the imagination to the possibility of other intelligent entities developing in time frames different from the evolution of humans on Earth, while also featuring alien encounters and a computer with an attitude called HAL. In 2001, possibly the most influential space movie to date, Kubrick enticed the audience with the vastness and timelessness of space in comparison to the current human condition.

From the days of the earliest space-themed movies, directors have been awed by the subject matter and have worked studiously to be as authentic as possible in the representation of spaceflight and off-world locations. This is how space historian Fred Ordway and space artist Robert McCall (who painted the lunar mural in the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.) found themselves in London, consulting on the making of 2001, and how countless astronauts have been called upon to advise actors on how to realistically simulate behavior in microgravity.

The 1977 blockbuster Star Wars, and the two subsequent episodes in the trilogy, The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983), opened a new era in opening the imagination of moviegoers to space. In this series, and Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999), legendary producer George Lucas introduced audiences to tales of life and conflict in a vast universe populated by creatures of mind-boggling diversity and cunning.*

The 1977 film Close Encounters of the Third Kind, directed by Steven Spielberg, describes a first contact with alien beings. Impressive cinematography won an Oscar for Vilmos Zsigmond. Spielberg's E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, released in 1982, cemented Spielberg's reputation as a director and won John Williams an Academy Award for his score, with additional Oscars going to the sound and visual effects teams. E.T. is a classic of the sympathetic alien genre of movies, which developed along with the growing understanding of the unique nature of human life in the solar system and with the increasing knowledge about the origins of life. Its enduring influence is demonstrated by its rerelease to the big screens in 2002.

The blockbuster of the 1990s was Apollo 13, based on the book Lost Moon by Apollo 13 commander Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger. This exhilarating story of the ill-fated Apollo 13 Moon mission was directed by Ron Howard and starred Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, Kevin Bacon, Gary Sinise, and Kathleen Quinlan. Sticking painstakingly close to the true story of Apollo 13, this 1995 movie told the tale of the human ingenuity, fast thinking, and enormous courage that brought the crew of Apollo 13 back from the Moon safely after a catastrophic explosion deprived them of the majority of their air supply. The film provided a marked contrast with the media headlines of failure (because the crew failed to land on the Moon) that had formed public opinion about the mission twenty-five years earlier.

In the late 1990s, as scientific understanding of asteroids grew as a result of better telescopes and the detailed images from robotic missions such as Galileo and the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous mission, a crop of movies about the threat of asteroid or comet collisions with Earth were released. Both Deep Impact and Armageddon did well at the box office and served to broaden the public debate on the threat of asteroid impacts.

Space Cowboys, released in 2000, reflected growing concern with the amount of space debris circling the planet and, on occasion, falling uncontrolled to Earth. And movies telling of the human exploration of Marsone of the great space challenges for the human race in the twenty-first centurywere on the rise.

It is impossible to discuss films about space without mentioning the large-scale IMAX films on a range of space topics that are screened at numerous science museums around the world. These films trace the history of the human exploration of space with awe-inspiring visual effects provided by Mother Nature.

Exhibits and Theme Parks

The best-known visitor attractions with space themes include the most visited museum in the world, the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.; the Epcot Center at Disney World in Orlando, Florida; and Tomorrowland in California. Space theme parks, which allow visitors to sample the technologies of the future or simulate a spaceship ride or a walk on the surface of the Moon or Mars, have been developed by visionaries who foresee hundreds of thousands of people routinely traveling in space in the future.

Video and Computer Games

Computers play a major role in simulating complex rendezvous, docking, and landing maneuvers for space missions. They also provide exciting games that test a player's skill in retrieving a satellite, docking or maneuvering a spacecraft in zero gravity, and much more. If the majority of people cannot experience space travel themselves, some of the computer games available are the next best thing.

see also Apollo (volume 3); Careers in Writing, Photography, and Filmmaking (volume 1); Clarke, Arthur C. (volume 1); Impacts (volume 4); Star Trek (volume 4); Star Wars (volume 4).

Pat Dasch


Clarke, Arthur C. The Coming of the Space Age. New York: Meredith Press, 1967.

von Braun, Wernher, Frederick I. Ordway III, and Dave Dooling. Space Travel: A History. New York: Harper & Row, 1985.

Expendable Launch Vehicles See Launch Vehicles, Expendable (Volume 1).

*In May 2002, Episode 2: Attack of the Clones was released.


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Dance. Dancing was depicted in Mesopotamian artworks before circa 3000 b.c.e., but most images of dancers date from circa 2000 - circa 1000 b.c.e., and few occur after circa 1000 b.c.e. Dancers performed in religious rituals and on occasions such as weddings and harvest festivals. Dancers performed alone, in pairs, and in groups. Men and women did not dance together. Instead they took turns. Sometimes one group sang while the other danced. Dance steps included jumping and leaping, kneeling and bending, and dancing on one’s toes. Line dancers and circle dancers were usually women. Men performed a squat dance (something like the well-known folk dance performed by Russian cos-sacks), a foot-clutch dance in which the dancer hopped on one leg while holding up the other leg in front or behind his body, and a whirling dance similar to that of Islamic “whirling dervishes.” Dancers sometimes performed on platforms or tables. In cultic festivals entertainers danced and sang. They might be in costume, masked, or naked. Ordinary people also danced during magic healing rituals. Palaces and temples employed dancers, as well as instrumentalists and singers.

Music. Instrumental musicians and singers were also featured at royal and religious festivals, appearing along with snake charmers, bear trainers, and jesters. Instrumentalists may have accompanied dancers or singers as well as reciters of epics and myths. Sometimes musicians are shown dancing. Instrumentalists and singers

were depicted in Neo-Assyrian military scenes, accompanying the army as they marched into battle.

Singers. Singers were both male and female. Their repertoire consisted of religious and secular works. Texts mention solo singers and choirs. Sometimes captured women were trained to become singers.

Songs. Songs were central to religious ceremonies and rituals in the ancient Near East. The earliest known composer of religious songs was Enheduana, the priestess of the moon god Nanna and the daughter of Sargon of Akkad (circa 2334 - circa 2279 b.c.e.). A Middle Assyrian text of circa 1100 b.c.e. lists more than three hundred Sumerian and Akkadian songs in more than thirty categories. The complete texts for some songs have survived, while only the opening line exists for others. Second millennium b.c.e. tablets from Babylonia, Assyria, and Ugarit in Syria described music theory, naming the nine strings of the harp and using a heptatonic (seven-note) scale. A libretto and score for a psalm praising the moon goddess Nikkal was found complete at the site of thirteenth century b.c.e. Ugarit. Complete scores have also been found.

Musical Instruments. Mesopotamians played musical instruments from the string, wind, and percussion families. Mesopotamians also had trumpets, but they used these instruments from the horn family for communication, as in battle, not as musical instruments. In the string family, harps and lyres, as well as a few examples of lutes, have been found at ancient sites throughout the Near East. Mesopotamians also played single and double pipes, wind instruments. Circular drums ranged in size from a small hand drum to a standing drum about four to five feet in diameter. A large kettledrum was beaten in the temple courtyard during eclipses of the moon. Performers generally used small handheld drums and other percussion instruments, including cymbals and rattles.

Recitation of Written Works. Some written compositions were performed on public occasions. For example, the Babylonian creation myth, Enuma elish, was

recited at the akitu-festival, or New Year’s festival, at Babylon, and its battle scene may have been re-enacted. Other texts include instructions that they be recited as part of particular religious rituals. Each city had its own rites and honored particular gods.

Narration. Some compositions addressed their audience directly. For example, the narrator of the Epic of Gilgamesh speaks directly to the tablet reader and anyone listening to him, praising the accomplishments of king Gilgamesh and asking his audience to examine Gilgamesh’s monuments, that is, the temple, the city wall, and the lapis lazuli tablet buried as part of the foundation deposit in the wall.

Dialogues. Dialogues such as the Babylonian Theodicy (circa eleventh century b.c.e.) and the Dialogue of Pessimism (first millennium b.c.e.) may also have been performance pieces since they are written in the form of scripts for two actors. In the Babylonian Theodicy, a brooding piece that echoes parts of the biblical book of Job, a sufferer and his friend discuss why the gods allow man to suffer. A series of exchanges between a master and his servant, the Dialogue of Pessimism is a more humorous examination of the purpose of life. When the master suggests a plan of action, the servant obsequiously agrees with him. When the master proposes doing the exact opposite, the servant agrees with him again. Only at the end of the dialogue does the servant express his own opinions about life and his master. Other dialogues feature exchanges between characters such as Summer and Winter, the Pickaxe and the Plough, the Date Palm and the Tamarisk. These contests end with judgments and reconciliations in which the contestants leave as good friends.

The Audience. In some cases, scholars can only speculate about the size and makeup of audiences for performances of literary works; that is, whether these works were performed only before the royal court or for the general public. Certainly, however, these literary compositions show an awareness of the tastes and standards of their time.


Mark E. Cohen, The Cultic Calendars of the Ancient Near East (Bethesda, Md.: CDL Press, 1993).

Anne D. Kilmer, “Music and Dance in Ancient Western Asia,” in Civilizations of the Ancient Near East, 4 volumes, edited by Jack M. Sasson (New York: Scribners, 1995), IV: 2601–2613.

Kilmer and others, “Musik,” Reallexicon der Assyriologie, 8 (1995–1997): 463–469.

Karen Rhea Nemet-Nejat, Daily Life in Ancient Mesopotamia, Daily Life through History (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1998).


views updated May 23 2018

en·ter·tain·ment / ˌentərˈtānmənt/ • n. the action of providing or being provided with amusement or enjoyment: everyone just sits in front of the TV for entertainment. ∎  an event, performance, or activity designed to entertain others: a theatrical entertainment. ∎  the action of receiving a guest or guests and providing them with food and drink.

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