Technical Innovations




We now call these flats.

A pinake is a wooden frame with

stretched fabric over one

side and painted like a canvas

for scenery.


A periaktoi consisted of

three painted flats

that were hinged together.

This allowed for the whole piece

to rotate to three different painted scenes.

The larger the scenes,

the more periaktois could be used.

They were stood up and

arranged side by side, to be

turned seperately or




The mechane is

a crane used

to raise or lower

actors playing gods or

goddesses onto the stage.


characters who were

mortals were raised

into or lowered from

‘the heavens’.

Later, the Latin term

deus ex machine developed,

which means

"god from a machine."


Violence that occurred offstage and resulted in a character’s death was revealed to the audience through the use of the Ekkyklema, or death cart.

No actual acts of physical violence were presented in Greek theatre--only the aftermath of violence. This made devices like the Ekkyklema necessary.

Messenger Speeches

Since acts of violence did not occur on stage, poets frequently utilized messengers to communicate actions that had occurred off stage (such as a murders, suicides, etc.) to other characters and to the audience.

A sample messenger speech from Euripides' Medea


The moment your sons with their father
entered his bride's house, all of us,
who once served you and who mourned
your fate, were heartened. A shout went up
that you and Jason had called a truce.
This was like music to our ears. Suddenly,
we wanted to kiss the children, touch their
lovely hair. Overwhelmed by happiness
I followed them inside the princess's chambers.
Understand, she's the woman we must serve
instead of you.
At first she saw only Jason
but when the children came into view,
she veiled her eyes, and turned away.
Impatient with this display,
your husband scolded her, saying:
"Look at us. Don't revile your friends.
Your job is to love those your husband loves.
They've brought gifts. Accept them graciously
and for my sake ask your father to release
these children from their exile."

The gifts astonished her with their beauty.
She agreed to what her husband asked.
So eager was she to wear the treasures,
even before Jason and the boys had reached
the road, she put on the colorful dress,
set the gold crown on her head,
and in a bright mirror arranged her hair.
She laughed with pleasure at the beautiful
but lifeless image. Then as if the gifts
had cast a spell, she stood up, traipsing
through her rooms, giddy with the feel of the gown

twirling so she could see repeatedly
her shapely feet and pointed toes.

But quickly her face changed color. She staggered,
legs trembling, almost collapsing
before she reached a chair. One of the older, wiser
servants believed some wrathful god possessed her
and so cried out in prayer to Pan,
until she saw the mouth foaming,
eyes wild and rolling and skin leached of blood.
Then the prayers turned shrill with horror
and we servants raced to find Creon
and Jason to tell them the piteous news,
filling the house with the sound
of our panicked feet.

All of this happened in less time
than a sprinter takes to run the dash
and quicker still was the way the princess
from her terrible trance woke, eyes
wider than before, screaming
in anguish. For now a second torture
wracked her. The gold crown exploded
in a fiery ring about her head, while
the delicate gown, brought by your sons,
ate into her sweet flesh. Consumed by flames,
she stood and ran, shaking her head
as if to throw the fire off, but the crown tangled
tighter in her hair and the blaze roared higher
as she fell to the floor and rolled
in the unquenchable flames.
Only her father could have known
who she was. The eyes had melted.
The face no more a face, while flaming blood
leaking from her head fueled the blaze.
But worse was how the flesh like tallow

or pitch sloughed off her bones.
All of this because the viperous poison
had locked her in its invisible jaws.

Schooled by what we'd witnessed, none of us
would touch the body, but her father
rushed to her side, not knowing what he'd find.
Nothing could prepare him for his daughter's
corpse. Misery broke from his voice.
He embraced and kissed her, lamenting,
"Unhappy child, murdered so shamefully,
why do the gods torture an old man like me?
Daughter, let me die with you."
But when his sobbing ceased
and old Creon wanted to rise, he found
he was woven to the fatal dress, stitched
to it like ivy to laurel, unable
even as he wrestled furiously
to free himself. The living father
who felt his flesh ripping from his bones,
could not match the strength of his dead daughter
and so he gave up and died, a victim
of her hideous fortune. Together now they lie
an old man and his daughter. Who wouldn't weep.

As for you, Medea, and your fate,
hear my silence. From it will come your punishment,
swift and sure. As for our brief lives, I've learned
once more we are mere shadows. No longer
do I fear to say the truth: fine words
and clever plans breed folly.