non sibi sed toti

Classics Teaching Resources

Masks and Costumes



Actors wore different masks when they were playing different chacters. The Latin word for a mask is 'persona' from which our word 'person' comes. So as an actor put on a different mask, he became a different person.

female mask from pot The masks covered the top of the actor's head as well as his face. They must have been made from cloth covering a light wooden frame. The face was painted on the cloth, and hair was fixed to the rest of the mask. Masks had openings for the eyes, so that the actor could see where he was going, and a big open mouth so that he could be heard clearly by thousands of people. People used to think that the mouths of masks were shaped like loud-speakers, to make the actor's voice louder, but this is not true.

Masks for tragedies had serious or sad expressions, and masks for comedies had cheerful expressions. Some comic masks were made to look like real people.
The comic writer Aristophanes wrote a play called 'Clouds' making fun of a real man called Socrates. Socrates was in the audience when the play was performed, and he stood up and turned round so that everyone could compare the actor's mask with the real face.Socrates
For more about masks, click here.

Links to more pictures:
A tragic mask
A comic mask
Actors with masks


The costumes for tragedy were mostly grand and heavy, but Euripides dressed some of his characters in rags. In comedy there were sometimes padded costumes to make the actors look fat. Characters wore hats if they needed to show they had been travelling. They wore soft leather boots called 'cothornoi' that covered the whole foot and reached the middle of the leg; these were laced up in front. In Roman times the cothornoi had thick soles to make the actor look bigger. This was not true in the time of the great Greek plays.

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