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Τhe mechanical automatic theater of Philon (3rd c. B.C.) – The “cinema” of the ancient Greeks

It is an accurate reconstruction of the static automatic theater of Philon of Byzantium, that is described in detail and improved by Heron of Alexandria in his work “Automatopoetike”. Automatic theatres were “miracles” of the classical and Hellenistic era, works of the Greek “illusionists” of antiquity. The theatre of Heron presents automatically, with moving picture and sound, the myth of Nauplius who seeks revenge on the Achaeans for the death of his son, Palamedes, in Troy.
1st scene: Achaeans repair their ships — we can see figures moving, hammering and sawing and we can hear
the sound made by the tools as if they were real.
2nd scene: Achaeans push their ships into the water.
3rd scene: Ships suddenly appear in the sea. We can see them sail as a fleet, move and finally disappear, the sea gets rough and the ships reappear in the rough sea dashing on and on. Occasionally, dolphins emerge from the sea.
4th scene: Nauplius, standing at the foreland with a lit torch, sends a false signal to the Achaeans abetted by goddess Athena.
5th scene: We can see scattered remains of the wrecked ships and Aias swimming in the stormy sea. Athena appears (as deus ex machina), crosses the stage and disappears. While lightning strikes and the sound of thunder is heard, Aias’ figure is lost.
The stage gates open and close between the scenes. All the above take place without any human intervention, solely with the force of a lead weight, which descends at a steady pace in a sand clepsydra. The only manual movement required in order to put the automatic theater into operation is to pull a string at the front side of the base!

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