Whoever travels to Greece or Turkey cannot miss the ever present remains of antique theaters, all of them more or less in good condition.
The origin of theater tragedies goes back to the 6th century BC thanks to the feasts that were held in honor of Dionysos, the Dionysia. For the first time in 534 BC, they are being considered as a permanent element of the program. Theaters are no longer exclusively used for religious performances but become the place where the lives of heroes and half-gods are being related. The tragedian poet is the most important element. He not only writes the tragedy but expresses his songs as an actor, accompanied by 12-15 singers and dancers.
Aeschylus (525-456 BC) is the first author to break with traditions by introducing a second actor in order to create a dialogue between two people. Although the choir is still important, it is now pushed to the background. In those days, we discover a difference between the light comedy and the tragedy which treated the conflicts between men and the gods.
A third actor is introduced by Sophocles (405-406 BC), enabling to create intrigues between the other two persons. The choir at this stage serves only to support the action. When in 460 BC Sophocles stops performing, a true separation between writing theater plays and acting occurs.
The third play-writer was Euripides (ca. 480-405 BC) who spent several years at the Macedonian court in the days of King Archelaus, where he died. He must have written more than ninety plays of which at least 20% have come to us more or less complete. His fame is due to the fact that he actually wrote dialogues that sounded like spontaneous conversations instead of carrying the ritual contexts from older plays. In his lifetime, most of his public did not appreciate this “modern” style. It is only after his death that he became the favorite of Athenian theaters.
It is obvious that Alexander grew up with theater plays as his father before him, as well as his ancestors who all loved to watch a good play. From 449 BC onward, the Greek States chose for plays with three main actors: the principal role was performed by the Protagonist, who in turn hired the supporting actors, i.e. the second actor, the Deuteragonist, and the third actor, the Tritagonist. The choir was not composed of professional actors, but of civilians appointed by the city. The principal actors, however, were also allowed to compete for their own prizes in special competitions. The peak of acting was reached in the fourth century BC and actors even became more important than the play-writers. The most famous players went so far as to adapt parts of the play to match their own ego or ambitions. In the heydays, actors were exonerated from taxes and military service. Thanks to their popularity they enjoyed the admiration and the protection of kings and social elite. In return, the kings and the nobility entrusted them with important political and diplomatic missions – by which the actors could make history away from the theater.
We will remember the Pixodarus-affaire when Alexander asked the tragedy-actor Thettalus to plead in his favor with the Carian satrap for the hand of his daughter. By this maneuver, Alexander hoped to thwart his father’s plan who had offered his retarded son, Arrhideus, Alexander’s half-brother, in marriage to the infant daughter of Pixodarus of Caria. Because of their politic immunity, actors were often asked to act as mediator with rulers or politicians, and Alexander knew how to exploit that possibility. This time, however, Alexander had to pay a high price for interfering with his father’s plans as King Philip banished all Alexander’s friends from Macedonia - all, except Hephaistion.
In the summer of 331 BC, when Alexander installed himself temporarily at Tyre after having left Egypt, he organized a grand celebration in honor of Melquart-Heracles. The kings of Salamis and Soli sponsoring the event hired the most celebrated actors of the day, and this included evidently Thettalus, who by now had become a personal friend of the king. Unfortunately for Alexander, Thettalus did not win the contest.
The same actor was again invited by Alexander in 324 BC when he organized the mass-wedding in Susa where he married the Persian princess Stateira (or Barsine) while her sister, Drypetis, was given to Hephaistion. Alexander’s close companions all married girls from high Persian nobility. Eighty other couples shared the feast in a wonderfully idealistic dream to bring east and west closer together.