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Homer Singing His Iliad at the Gate of Athens, Guillaume Lethière (1760–1832)

Departing the Polis:

Travel, Travellers and Panhellenism in the extant plays and fragments of Greek drama



8-9 July 2020




Sir Clive Granger Building, University of Nottingham, University Park

Registration will open in due course.


This event is supported by CADRE, the Centre for Ancient Drama and its Reception at the University of Nottingham.

Is this for you?

This event concerns the theme of travel in Greek drama. Tragedy and Comedy often present their heroes as wanderers: whether that is the exiled Oedipus, the hunted Orestes, the itinerant satyrs and their father Silenus, or the comic protagonist Pisetaerus in search for a better life in Cloud Cuckoo-land. The conference brings together international scholars and experts on ancient drama to consider why this (sometimes neglected) theme is so prominent in ancient drama. 

Recent scholarship has shown that the context of ancient dramatic performance extended far beyond the single city of Athens and that both audience members and performers were frequently travellers moving between festivals. This event will explore the ways in which tragedy and comedy were concerned not merely with the Greek city (or polis) but with the spaces between ancient cities and sanctuaries, on roads and sea lanes filled with wanderers and exiles, travellers, traders and tourists. 

This event will be of interest to anyone interested in ancient drama, including tragedy, satyr play and comedy, and classical antiquity in general. Undergraduate and postgraduate students are most welcome, as well as more established scholars.


Conference Details

Alcmaeon, Oedipus, Orestes and Telephus, are among those listed by Aristotle (Poet. 1453a17-22) as the most prominent heroes of tragedy. They, and many others, all have at least one thing in common: they appear on stage as itinerant strangers and exiles from their home cities. The wanderer was so prominent a feature of the genre that Diogenes of Sinope, the Cynic philosopher, was able to characterise his life as one afflicted by the tragic curses: ‘Without a polis (ἄπολις), without a home, bereft of a fatherland, I am a beggar, a wanderer, possessed of an ephemeral livelihood’ (Diog. Laert. 6.38).

And yet the polis, and specifically the polis of Athens, together with its internal politics, has been the main focus of much of recent scholarship on tragedy, satyr play and comedy. This conference aims to prompt a fresh understanding of ‘the politics of the Greek theatre’ and to consider how and why drama is concerned with spaces and people outside the polis. In tragedy these appear as heroes on the road between cities and sanctuaries, the tormented, the beleaguered and those in search of safety and rest. In comedy, the protagonists may be equally mobile, either in search of new fantastical cities, such as Aristophanes’ Pisetaerus when en route to the Birds, or on a return journey, such as Menander’s Demeas in the Samia.

Recent studies have shown that the context of dramatic performance extended beyond the polis of Athens even in the fifth and fourth centuries BC.[1] Reperformances, and even first performances, outside Attica were not unknown in the time of Aeschylus and it is probable that tragedians deliberately sought a Panhellenic reputation. The Greek world, and the world of dramatic performers, is increasingly viewed as a highly interconnected network of cities and sanctuaries. In addition, poets staged works not merely for local citizens but also for travellers who had journeyed to attend major Panhellenic festivals.


Conference Aims

The aim of this conference is to consider possible ways in which these advances in scholarship can be applied to our understanding and interpretation of the texts themselves. Topics include:

  • To what extent may stories of travel have encouraged or resulted from actual and historical interconnections between Greek cities and sanctuaries and an ideology of Panhellenism in general?
  • Why is the ‘wanderer’ a stock figure in dramatic texts and how does this affect our understanding of the ‘tragic’ or ‘comic’?
  • What forms does travel take in drama and why are they significant? Possible areas of focus may include exile, pilgrimage (θεωρία), flight by suppliants, travel to found new cities or sanctuaries, to take part in war, athletic contests, trade or commerce or simply to return home (nostoi).
  • Which locations are prominent as settings and how are they interconnected? How and why do poets create a ‘map of tragedy’?

Contact the organisers

Edmund StewartAnna Lamari

Confirmed Speakers

  •  Emmanuela Bakola (Warwick) ‘Travelling and mapping the cosmos in Aeschylean tragedy’
  • Lyndsay Coo (Bristol) ‘Wandering satyrs: travel in classical satyr drama’
  • Eric Csapo (Warwick) and Peter Wilson (Sydney) ‘Ἑλλὰς Ἑλλάδος : the Centripetal Politics of the Athenian Dionysia’
  • Patrick Finglass (Bristol) ‘Tragic networks in Sophocles’ Tereus’
  • Massimo Giuseppetti (Rome) t.b.c.
  • Edward Harris (Edinburgh and Durham) ‘Suppliants in Greek Tragedy’
  • Malcolm Heath (Leeds) ‘Travels and travails in Euripides’ Medea’
  • Lucy Jackson (Durham) ‘Choral performers on tour in the fifth and fourth centuries BC’
  • Andreas Markantonatos (Peloponnese) ‘Oedipus and Polynices: Two Sides of Exile in Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonus’
  • Judith Mossman (Coventry) ‘Mapping Medea: a mobile heroine in Euripides and beyond’
  • Eoghan Moloney (Winchester) ‘Reboot? The royal Macedonians take the stage’
  • Martin Revermann (Toronto) ‘Travel for the cure: disease, mobility, renewal and their dramatic filters’
  • Alan Sommerstein (Nottingham) 'Triptolemus and other tragic globetrotters'
  • Edmund Stewart (Nottingham) ‘Theoria: Pilgrims and Sanctuaries in Greek Tragedy’
  • Oliver Taplin (Oxford) ‘The Seven on the Way to Thebes’
  • Anna Uhlig (UC Davis) ‘Io in Egypt’

Download provisional conference Programme with abstracts


Conference essentials

Location map (PDF)





The University of Nottingham
University Park

telephone: +44 (0) 115 951 5151