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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thespian - etymology and some interesting facts

You sure would have heard of the word  “Thespian”  -  dictionary states that it  is of or relating to drama, dramatic.  It refers to an actor (of either sex). 

You would all have easily observed that I am somewhat averse to cinema.  I nurture a feeling that this a place, where generally one gets wealth, credit, recognition, fame et al.,  disproportionate to one’s capacity.  Ofcourse perceptions would vary.  Some say this is an industry – ‘ a dream factory ’ – at that.  Quite often cine actors are the cynosure of eyes and are respected and widely followed – not the Scientists, Educationists, Literates, Industrialists or any body worthy of emulation. 

Quite often I have heard of ‘thespian actor’ particularly when reference is made to oldies like Dilipkumar, Sivaji etc.,   -  have wondered what this could be !!  A film is a motion picture conveying a story (!!!) with moving images by recording photographic images coupled with animation techiniques and visual effects.  On the technical side perhaps this is not a pure art form. 

Thespiae was an ancient Greek city in Boeotia which stoold on legel ground commanded by the range of hills of Mount Helicon to Thebes. Its citizens were known as Thespians.   In the history of ancient Greece, Thespiae was enemy of Thebes.  It allied with major powers such as Athens or Spartans.  As recently in 1997, Greek Govt. unveiled a monument dedicated to 700 thespians who fought with Spartans.

The common noun thespian meaning actor comes from the legendary first actor named  Thespis and not the city.   Both Thespis and Thespiae, however, are cognate i.e., words that have a common etymological origin.   

In present scenario, actor (or actress) is one who acts in film,  television, theatre (in life !!) – the ancient Greek word for an actor meant one who interprets.   Thespis of Icaria (6th century BC), according to ancient Greek sources as also to Aristotle was the first person ever to appear on stage as an actor, playing a character in a play (instead of speaking as him or herself). Some credit to him as the first principal actor in addition to the chorus.  Understand that in India also for long, people used to speak and were heard by larger audience rather than perform on stage.  

The era of Aristotle was much later (384 BC – 322 BC).  It is stated that he recorded Thespis was a singer of mythological stories who supposedly introduced a new style wherein one performs the words of individual characters in stories thus distinguishing  between characters – whether they had make up or different masks is not too relevant in this context.

In its present sense, tragedy is something that brings or denotes grief.  The new style at that time was called tragedy and Thespis was the an exponent of it.    It was a form of drama based on human suffering.   Going by all this, it appears that centuries back, Thespis invented acting and earlier none had ever assumed resemblance of another person for story telling.  

It is also stated that on this day (Nov 23, 534 BC) competition to find the best tragedy was instituted in Athens and Thespis won the first documented competition.   Still I could not figure why Dileepkumars and Sivajis are called thespian when all actors could still be referred by that word.   

Regards – Sampathkumar S

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