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Guide to Greek Masks

greek masksGreek masks have been used for centuries beginning with ancient Greek theater. The first theater writer who incorporated masks into his productions was Thespis. There were a limited number of actors so each actor would change characters in the play simply by putting on a different mask and costume. Women had very little rights in ancient Greek times. They were not allowed to participate in the plays. In fact, women in this time were not permitted to participate in public life much at all, with the exception of weddings, funerals and religious festivals. Their primary function or role in life was to care for the home and children. The men, typically pre-pubescent males, would play female roles in ancient Greek plays. Theatrical masks were a significant contribution made by the ancient Greeks. The entire world has benefited from this contribution, namely the world of theater arts.

Religion and Ritual

  • The Festivals honoring Dionysos: The festivals were overseen by the highest official of the state at the time called the archon eponymous.
  • The Festival of Anthesteria: This is a festival honoring Dionysos and Hermes.
  • The Greater Dionysia in Athens: Fifty men would dance around the altar of Dionysos in his honor. This festival included jousting matches, theater, and processions.
  • Agrionia Festival: Meaning emergence from the divine, this was meant to be Dionysos rising from the underworld.
  • Greek Mythology and Dionyssos: Ancient Greek masks can be traced by to theater and the reenactment of these stories. Much of these stories surround Dionyssos.
  • The Ancient Dionysian Cult: Many stories and plays were written and used surrounding the ancient cult of Dionyssos. Ancient Greek masks were a very integral part of the culture during this period
  • Greek Gods: Greek masks originating from theater were used to represent the Greek gods.
  • Greek God Mask Replicas: Marble replications of the original Greek god masks.


How They Were Made

  • The Construction of Ancient Greek Masks: The masks were originally constructed out of a clay mold.
  • History of Mask Making: Dramatic effect was added to Greek masks by exaggerating the expression of the mouth which was typically wide open. There were also large holes for eyes constructed.
  • Mycenaean Grave Masks: These masks were made as a death gift and typically made from gold.
  • Oedipus the King: No ancient theatrical masks have survived time. Some of these masks were documented as being made of cork, linen, and wood.
  • Acting and Masks: The masks used for theatrical purposes were made of linen that had been soaked in plaster and sewn to the cap of a wig.
  • Research on the Ancient Greek Mask: Research paper that explores the effect of ancient Greek masks helped create the Greek carnival event that is celebrated in Greece.
  • Ancient Theater Archive: A virtual reality tour of the Greek and Roman Theater. Explains how an onkos, a Greek tragic mask, was created to elongate the actors face.
  • The Making of Masks: Masks were generally made by artisans that were experts or noted sculptures of mask making. The sym
  • The Symbols Used on Greek Masks: An example of the symbolism would be the use of protruding tongues would be linked to flame, fire or fertility. Many symbols were used to carry out different meanings in theater beyond the mere acting involved.
  • Gold Funeral Masks: Findings at a Grecian excavation site reveals masks made out of gold were used as funeral masks.

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