Ancient Greek Rhetoric in Immersive Virtual Reality

VR simulation of Thersilion on Powerwall


The acoustics of ancient Greek theaters and auditoriums have long fascinated archeologists and historians. Researchers using the LCSE-MSI Visualization Laboratory (LMVL) are creating virtual-reality simulations of ancient structures to determine how variables of architecture design affected the sound, sight lines, and behaviors of speakers and listeners in those spaces. This long-term project focuses specifically on structures used for political and legal oratory from the late Archaic, Classical, and Hellenistic periods (500-100 BCE). The MSI PIs are Professor Richard Graff (Writing Studies) and Daniel Keefe (Computer Science and Engineering) and students Kyungyoon Kim, Bret Jackson, and Lauren Thorson. They are collaborating with Christopher Johnstone and Azadeh Rabbani at Pennsylvania State University.


This project uses MSI resources to achieve three main goals:

  • Produce and evaluate accurate virtual reconstructions of ancient Greek sites of rhetorical performance
  • Provide an account of how the physical structures influenced the behaviors of speakers and listeners who gathered in them
  • Assess the suitability of the structures as venues of oral performance and group deliberation


The first completed virtual-reality simulation is a structure known as “The Thersilion” at the city of Megalopolis in the Peloponnese (southern Greek mainland). Historical records indicate that as many as 10,000 people would attend meetings in this structure. The group has developed a model for generating reliable estimates of capacity in which virtual audiences of various sizes are visualized from a top-down perspective and an immersive, first-person perspective. The image above shows this simulation on the LMVL’s Powerwall.


A poster about this research was presented by lead author Kyungyoon Kim at the 2012 MSI Research Exhibition in April 2012. It was selected as a finalist in the poster competition.


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