Pyrrhic Dance, Painted By Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836–1912)

In the above painting, the artist Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836–1912) depicted what he believed an ancient Pyrrhic Dance may have looked like to an onlooking audience. The Pyrrhic Dance was a widely popular war dance in the Greek world that featured quick and precise movement. As it was so widespread, the exact motions of the dance and how the dancers were equipped could vary depending on the regions. Plato described the practical usefulness of the Pyrrhic Dance in war-torn Greece:

“It represents modes of eluding all kinds of blows and shots by swervings and duckings and side-leaps upward or crouching; and also the opposite kinds of motion, which lead to active postures of offence, when it strives to represent the movements involved in shooting with bows or darts, and blows of every description.” (Laws, 7.815a).

Despite the dance’s benefits for war training, the Pyrrhic Dance was also popular for pure entertainment. Xenophon—a philosopher, historian and mercenary general—mused in his Anabasis about a time when his army found great entertainment in watching a professional female dancer perform the war dance in front of the troops. According to Xenophon, an innovative mercenary “persuaded one of the Arcadians, who owned a dancing-girl, to let him dress her in the most beautiful costume he could find, give her a light shield, and then bring her on. She performed an elegant version of the Pyrrhic dance and received loud applause” (Anabasis, 6.1).

Written by C. Keith Hansley



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