When reading the texts of saint John the Chrysostome i found a very severe criticism of theater because of 'nude harlots' that could be seen there. I have also read some fragments of Procopius' Secret History, where he describes an infamous performance of Empress Theodora. However the latter book also features Justinian's flying head.

So my questions are:

  • What reliable sources about eroticism and nudity in theaters of Constantinople do we have?
  • Was the christian church successfull in it's fight against this phenomenon?
  • What were the tendencies in this matter during the existence of Byzantine Empire?

1 Answer 1


This is the best I could find on this type of profane theatre. I found a lot on religious theatre, so I get the impression (rightly or wrongly) that much of the theatre was religious at the time and consequently (I'm assuming) not very erotic.

If you start reading from p200 it talks about nudity in Byzantine media. It seems that "nude images were associated with paganism" (except when portraying Adam and Eve, etc) and the official view was one condemning it. Disappointingly the articles examples (naked monks and fighters) are fairly un-erotic. However this insight on Byzantine attitudes to nudity in theatre is interesting, and suggest they focused on the shame and unusualness of nudity rather than the erotic element.

On p198 there is, however descriptions of "cavorting maenads" (female followers of Dionysus) in Byzantine wood-work and on p200 there's an extract from a poem with possible erotic overtones. The Decoration of the Sevastokratorissa’s Tent:

"My lady, muse of muses, akropolis of beauty, the porch of your tent is filled with delights. Cupids are plucking strings and quietly strumming the cithara, satyrs seem to play, the centaurs gambol, the muses join in the dance, the nereids are leaping."

Add to that the wikipedia article, which seems to suggest that erotic romance was a popular theme in poetry at the time. It's not theatre, but it reasonable to say that erotic literature suggests the existence of erotic theatre.

  • +1 for the Sevastokratorissa and her tent. Commented Jan 6, 2013 at 21:54
  • Good answer. I'm not awarding the bounty yet because I am trying to convince someone to write an answer for me (or even better to register to h@se)
    – astabada
    Commented Jan 8, 2013 at 14:49
  • 1 answer is below par for any question, and I couldn't find enough to be anywhere near definitive anyway. If someone writes a better answer: good, fair enough.
    – Nathan
    Commented Jan 8, 2013 at 15:09

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