Anthropology and the classics currently enjoy a fairly good relationship, but one which has never been stable. In the 19th cent. the interest of evolutionary anthropology in a ‘savage’ period through which all societies must pass meant that studies of contemporary simple societies began to be used to illuminate the classical past. After the First World War, classicists reacted against what were perceived as the excesses of the work of Jane Harrison and the Cambridge school, in which it was claimed that knowledge of ‘things primitive’ gave a better understanding of the Greeks. Meanwhile, in social anthropology, the rise of the static structural-functional paradigm and an insistence on an identity as ‘the science of fieldwork’ combined to cause a rejection of history. In the last 50 years, the divorce between the subjects has been eroded from both sides, with comparative studies increasingly valued as enabling us to escape from our intellectual heritage and the specific—though, to us, self-evident—ways it has formulated questions and sought answers.
Ancient drama has had a vast influence upon the literary, performance, and intellectual culture of modernity. From ancient Greece thirty-two tragedies, eleven comedies, and one satyr play survive, and from ancient Rome ten tragedies and twenty-seven comedies remain, alongside countless fragments from all genres. Many of the surviving plays are staged in contemporary theatre in both literal translation and more liberal adaptation, and today more ancient drama is seen in professional theatres than at any point since antiquity. Although all ancient dramatic genres have a rich reception history, Greek tragedy dominates the field, particularly in the 20th and 21st centuries. Productions of Greek tragedy today range from masked performances in the original language through to radical, avant-garde, immersive, and postdramatic reinventions. Greek tragedy is also frequently used as a touchstone within literary theory and broader intellectual discourse, from the theorisation of the ideal form of performance (Wagner’s Gesamtkuntswerk) to the development of psychoanalytic theory (Freud’s Oedipus complex) and structuralism (Lévi-Strauss). Ancient drama has also provided inspiration for entirely new dramatic forms; the influence of Roman tragedy, for example, can be felt within the revenge tragedies of the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras, while traces of Roman comedy can be felt in slapstick comedy and Italian commedia dell’arte. Current growth areas within both artistic practice, and academic research into the reception of ancient drama, include the performance reception of dramatic fragments, an increased interest in forms such as burlesque and pantomime, and the use of ancient drama as a tool of resistance against oppressive political regimes.