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Odeon

Description of the Odeon (Reg VIII, Ins 7, 19)

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The Odeon is a theatre in miniature incorporating the three main divisions of cavea (a), orchestra (b) and stage (c) as discussed at length in the Large Theatre. In order to cover the enclosed space by a roof the upper rows of seats were reduced in length and the whole building - cavea, orchestra and stage - were brought together into an oblong shape; only the orchestra and the lower rows of seats in the cavea form a complete semi-circle; the remainder were truncated by the outside walls (pictured opposite).

The pyramidal roof was supported by a wall on all four sides; in the upper part of the wall, between the roof and the highest row of seats were probably windows.

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The broad range of seats (coloured pink) above this passage was divided into five wedge shaped blocks, cunei, by flights of steps; only the inner two of these flights of steps, however, extended as far as the passage running along the upper side, which could be reached from the alley at the rear of the building by means of stairways connecting with outside doors (pictured below). The alley (d) (pictured right) also gave access to the Large Theatre at the passages under its eastern tribunal.
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The tribunals (e) (pictured opposite) differed from those in the Large Theatre in that they were shut off entirely from the seats in the cavea by a sharply inclined wall (pictured lower right) and were entered from the stage by means of narrow stairways; in this way the exclusive nature of the seats was made still more prominent. Besides the platform itself, measuring only about 2.4m by 2.7m, three rows of seats above each tribunal were set off with it by the same division wall.
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The sloping wall between the tribunal and the cavea on each side ends with a kneeling Atlas (pictured below); large vases probably stood on the two brackets supported by these two figures. The end of the parapet on either side is embellished with a lion's foot of tufa (on the left of the picture below).
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The long dressing room (f) behind the stage had likewise a broad entrance at either end, besides four at the rear. Apparently the two narrow doors near the ends of
the scaenae frons, and the two doors corresponding with them at the back of the dressing room, were for the use of those who had seats on the tribunals; they could thus enter and leave their places even when the large side doors of both stage (g) and dressing room (h) had been shut. The large side doors of both stage and dressing room opened onto the Via Stabiana together with the access door to the area to the rear of the dressing room (i) (all three doors are pictured above).

The Odeon, a small roofed theatre, was built between 80 & 75 BC, commissioned by two public officials, C. Quinctius Valgus and Marcus Porcius.

A covered auditorium in the immediate vicinity of a large unroofed theatre was not uncommon (the two theatres are shown in the archive photograph below). A clue to the special use of such a building can be found in a similar building erected in Athens by Herodes Atticus, in the reign of Hadrian. This was called an odeum, a room for singing. The purpose of the roof was probably to add to the acoustic effect.
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The seating capacity of the building was about 1,500. The ima cavea (coloured blue), as in the Large Theatre, consists of four low, broad ledges (pictured left) on which the chairs of the decurions could be placed. Above these is a parapet, behind which is a passage accessible at either end by semi-circular steps (shown below).
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The seats were of masonry capped with slabs of tufa (pictured opposite). They had depressions in the back and top to make sitting slightly more comfortable.
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The floor of the orchestra is paved with flags of coloured marble. An inscription in bronze letters tells us that it was laid by duumvir Marcus Oculatius Verus 'pro ludis', that is instead of the games which he would otherwise have been expected to provide.

At either end of the stage, as in the Large Theatre, were broad entrances (pictured below). The wall at the rear, the scaenae frons, was veneered with marble, and had the customary three doors and in addition two small doors, one at each end.
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A 3D view of the Odeon is available to view, courtesy of the Soprintendenza Archeologica di Pompei.




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