Communication technology, ancient style

So I’m driving in my car today and I turn on the radio to listen to one of my favorite radio offerings, NPR’s “All Things Considered”; I hear the last portion of a segment about the Grand Theater of Ephesus, also known as the Old Theatre of Ephesus, and for good reason, it was built some two thousand years ago. The segment featured the reporter at the theater itself, and the listener heard his breathy narration as he walked up the many rows of seats to the top of the 24,000 capacity amphitheater to demonstrate the remarkable acoustical properties of the edifice. Way down below you could clearly hear the banter of a group of children on the stage. I was impressed.

Yes, there are many performance venues which are known for their amazing acoustical characteristics. Places of which they say “you can hear a pin drop”. But for the most part, we think of these places as latter-day designs which came along as our knowledge base about such things grew. In fact there are a number of examples dating back to ancient times and the Grand Theater of Ephesus is one of them.

Now I’ve done a little research, and yes this is the same Ephesus associated with St. Paul  and the theater is where he is said to have preached – to the Ephesians of course. Besides theatrical performances, the theater was also used for meetings of the citizens, so the structure was communications central.

The Grand Theater of Ephesus is still in use today. At a point in time the likes of Sting and Elton John, according to some travelogues, graced its stage. Loudspeakers used for these types of performances did some damage so they are now apparently banned. Amplification is amply provided courtesy of the Greeks and Romans.

As communicators, we need to appreciate such ancient ingenuity. We need to recognize the long line of invention that has come before, study and learn, otherwise we just might re-invent the wheel. The Acoustical Society of America (established in 1929, the year of the Stock Market Crash no less) actually has members working in the relatively new field of  acoustical archaeology, so they get the idea.

George Santayana said (oft-misquoted): “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

For a transcript of the NPR “All Things Considered” segment go to:

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