Bathyllus was born in Alexandria in the mid of the last century BCE and maybe was originally called Gaius Theoros. He was a slave in the house of Maecenas, but later was given his freedom. He, along with Pylades of Cicicia, was credited as a pioneer of Roman pantomime (no dialogue), around 22 BCE in Augustan Rome. However the pantomimos danced a combination of old and new dances, of Greek and Asiatic traditions, and the term pantomimos had first appeared for the performer Ploutogenes before 75 BCE. Possibly what Bathyllus and Pylades did was to expand the musical accompaniment. A pantomimos was a solo artist who danced all the roles in a sequence with a different closed-mouth mask for each role, and was accompanied by a chorus who sang a libretto, a fabula saltica, supported by musicians.
Unlike Pylades, Bathyllus was noted for his feminine grace. He mainly acted female parts and his solo act, Leda with the swan was acclaimed. He was regarded as the epitome of comedic performance, and as one of the leading modernizers of performance.
Maecenas, not longer Bathyllus’ owner, was said to have become/remained his lover.
Juvenal: “When the effeminate Bathyllus lasciviously dances Leda, just watch the women. Tuccia can’t control her bladder, Apula suddenly moans in drawn-out ecstasy, as if in a passionate embrace. Country-girl Thymele’s all rapt attention, she’s learning fast.” (chironomon Ledam molli saltante Bathyllo/ Tuccia vesicae non imperat, Apula gannet,/ [sicut in amplexu, subito et miserabile longum.]/ attendit Thymele: Thymele tunc rustica discit.)
One of the interlocutors in Plutarch’s Table Talk refers to Bathyllus’ performance as a danced imitation of ‘Echo or some Pan or Satyr revelling with Eros’.
Certainly the innovations of Pylades and Bathyllus quickly became popular, and the style was even incorporated into the Emperor cult, particularly at the Sebasteion in the city of Aphrodisias in Caria (off what is now the Turkish coast) where Aphrodite and the Imperial Family were celebrated.
However there were periods of rioting among the spectators and sometimes the dancers were banished from Rome and even Italy because of these passions.
Athenaeus, Sophists at Dinner 20e
Juvenal. Satires bk 6
Libenius On Behalf of the Dancers
Lucian On Dancing 1
Plutarch Table Talk, Moral Essays 711e-f.
Tacitus. Annals 1,54
- Lillian B Lawler. The Dance in Ancient Greece. Adam & Charles Black, 1964:139-141,
- F Michael Moore. Drag!: Male and Female Impesonators on Stage, Screen and Television: An Illustrated World History. McFarland & Compamy, 1994:129.
- Laurence Senelick. The Changing Room: Sex, drag and theatre.Routledge, 2000:31-2.
- Ismene Lada-Richards. Silent Eloquence: Lucian and Pantomime Dancing. Bloomsbury, 2007: 19, 22, 23–4, 58-60, 72, 109, 124, 125, 164, 169, 170, 171, 176n1, 177n18, 177n20, 179n4, 188n16.
- Edith Hall & Rosie Wyles (eds). New Directions in Ancient Pantomime.Oxford University Press, 2008: 8,10, 29, 33, 46, 113-4, 118, 125-7, 146-7, 150, 157-8, 160, 170, 174, 189, 200-2, 265, 270, 297, 375-6, 385,