Epidaurus is a world heritage site known for its ancient theatre, and it is regarded as one of the most unique places of Greece. Today the theater is still used for theatrical performances, during which spectators are immersed in the magic of the ancient drama art.
Built on the gentle slopes of a hill, the theatre could accommodate more than 13,000 spectators. Its astonishing architectural design provided excellent acoustics to every single spectator along with excellent view. Today the ancient plays that are presented on-site take place without the help of any sound equipment!
The Theatre of Epidaurus was part of the once-upon-a-time sanctuary of the ancient God of Medicine, Asclepius. People from all over the ancient world crowded with devotion in Epidaurus, seeking divine guidance from the God to treat their health problems. Diagnosis and treatment were performed by the priests of Asclepius in the precincts of the sanctuary, a practice that lasted successfully all the way through antiquity.
“And all who came Asclepius cured,”
wrote Pindar in his Third Pythian Ode in 460 BC.
According to the myth, as narrated by Hesiod and Pindar, Asclepius was the son of Apollo and a beautiful princess named Coronis. Asclepius was raised at Mount Pelion by the centaurs, from whom he learned the secrets of the healing art. In Asclepius’ sanctuary, situated in a pine-clad refreshing valley, one can still see the remains of the Sacred Dormitory where the patients were dreaming of the God, who suggested their therapy. One can also see the remains of the ancient Tholos, an architecturally amazing building, where in its underground maze lived the sacred snakes of Asclepius. It is believed that snakes were part of the curative practices at the sanctuary.
Every four years, the Festival of Asclepia took place at Epidaurus, during which dramas were presented at the theatre and athletic competitions were held at the stadium. Watching a theatrical performance at the Theatre of Epidaurus was considered part of the therapy. Attending a tragedy could offer the spectator a rewarding “catharsis” experience. More precisely, the ancients used drama as a means to understand human nature and explore the world they lived in.
Tragedies talk about universal truths in human behavior. Because they treat subjects such as passion, lust, mercy, fear, love and hate, they can still be read and appreciated after so many centuries. Furthermore, ancient Greek theatre has influenced the development of psychoanalysis. Great scholars such as Freud, Jung and Nietzsche drew insights from Greek tragedies and developed models for the human nature and its “psyche”.
By visiting ancient Epidaurus, one can learn about the origins of the ancient Greek theatre on-site and experience ancient theatre in its original place. One can sit at the same place where the ancients did, walk through the orchestra stage where the ancient performances were held and feel the energy of the sound around the “thymeli”, the altar of Dionysus. In addition, the visitor can explore the ancient Greek medicine and the miraculous healing techniques that were once practiced in the Sanctuary of Asclepius and discover, along with the wisdom of the ancient priests, their knowledge of the world of the medicinal plants that still grow in Greece, which they used in their healing practices.