The chapter begins with a short overview of the history, structure, and themes of the commentary on Terence composed by the grammarian Aelius Donatus. The main discussion explores the audience and purposes of the commentary, showing that the scholia on delivery, language style, and stage movement reveal the multidimensional spectrum of readers’ interests, ranging from techniques of rhetoric to analyses of comic action. Following from scholia on gesture, the chapter refers to the challenging question of possible echoes of theater. A parallel study with the illustrated Terence manuscripts shows that both sources reflect a certain interest in staging. Donatus’s observations on performance confirm that he and his readers treat Terence’s comedy not simply as a literary but also as a dramatic genre. The concluding comparison with Eugraphius accentuates the multifaceted nature of the commentary.
The year 1973 saw the publication of the first comprehensive collection of comic papyri, Colin Austin's Comicorum Graecorum Fragmenta in Papyris Reperta (CGFP). This appendix summarizes all the fragments of Greek comedy written on papyri that have since been published. Part I introduces the material and illustrates some ways in which these new papyri have enriched our understanding of ancient comedy. The synoptic chart that comprises Part II presents the new papyri one by one.
This chapter offers an overview of Aristophanes based on current research. Specific features of Aristophanes’s language, his metrics, and the structures of his comedies are analyzed; these contribute to a more general understanding of his use of comic techniques, their implicit poetics, and the political function of his plays.
Peter G. McC. Brown
This chapter examines the early development of ludi scaenici (dramatic festivals) at Rome and the introduction there of fabulae palliatae (the type of drama now known as Roman comedy) by Livius Andronicus and Naevius after the end of the First Punic War. Various types of performance have been thought to be precursors of Roman comedy, and their relevance is discussed: Athenian comedies, Rhinthon's mythological burlesques, Atellan farces, Fescennine verses, mimes, and satyr plays. Livy's account of the origins of drama at Rome in Book 7 is scrutinized. The importance of Etruria as a conduit for some types of Greek drama is considered, as well as more direct channels of possible Greek influence. It is emphasized that much guesswork is involved in reconstructing the background to the beginnings of Roman comedy but that Livius Andronicus's adaptation of Greek plays for performance in Latin marked a radically new departure.
This chapter discusses the twenty-one Roman comedies of T. Maccius Plautus in the light of two predominantly competing modern paradigms, here called the "Saturnalian" and the "Hellenistic." Following a conventional list of Plautus's titles, Greek models, and date or festival occasions where known, discussion turns to the nature of Latin comoedia, which is not merely an adaptation (vorsio, "version") of Greek New Comedy but a highly musical adaptation of it across languages. Parallel texts of Menander (Dis Exapaton, an anonymous fragment) and Plautus (Bacchides, Pseudolus) illustrate the extent and effects of Plautus's alterations. The chapter concludes with a sketch of the genesis, axioms, and assumptions underpinning the contemporary "War of the Paradigms" that divides those scholars who envision Plautus as working within the Hellenistic tradition of Greek comedy from those who imagine him largely indifferent to it. Sample texts trace the origin of the split to minor verbal ambiguities.
Aristotle remarks in The Parts of Animals that ‘man is the only animal that laughs’, and comedy, the object of which is to produce laughter, is a particularly human phenomenon. As such, it is also deeply conditioned by culture: who laughs, what is laughed at, and why. These questions take on a special saliency, moreover, in the unusual context of a state-sponsored institution of comic drama that existed in classical Athens. This article suggests that interpreting these works may shed light on ancient Greek ideology and society. Modern performances, for example, may inform people not only about problems of staging, in itself an important and still-open area for scholarship, but also about the reception of ancient comedy, which in turn has very largely conditioned how the genre is perceived today, despite the ostensibly objective methods of modern philology.
Ioannis M. Konstantakos
Comedies burlesquing traditional Greek mythical stories flourished in the Athenian theater especially between 400 and 340 BCE. Antecedents are found already in fifth-century drama (Cratinus’s Odysses, Aristophanes’s tragic parodies); the roots of the genre lie in popular tradition and folk religiosity. Comic poets developed a series of interrelated techniques in order to transform myth into comic spectacle. They regularly refashioned the mythical tales according to the model of their contemporary Athenian society (“Atticization”). The marvelous motifs of myths were rationalized or, if retained, were placed in a fully urbanized environment, producing ludicrous incongruity. The mythical material was assimilated to standard patterns of comic drama (stereotyped stage figures, comic love plots, happy endings, and festivities). The traditional mythical scenario was sometimes reversed for comic effect. All these procedures are examined in this chapter, with examples taken from comic fragments and South Italian vase paintings.
This chapter traces the development of political and domestic themes and types of comedy in the fourth century from their origins in the fifth and finds both variety and continuity, though often sporadic, over the traditional Old–Middle boundary. Incidental mockery and abuse, a component of virtually all types of comedy, continues strong, while sustained political engagement, traceable from the 430s to ca. 300, is relatively rare in all periods and apparently confined to moments of populist ascendancy. In the fourth century, there is greater emphasis on the private lives of celebrities (especially the wealthy), including non-Athenians, giving fresh prominence to hetaira-comedy, a type poised between domestic and political. By contrast, domestic comedies were rare in the fifth but increasingly prominent in the fourth, hetaira- and (naturalized) myth-comedy playing formative roles, until domestic plots begin to dominate ca. 350.
Adele C. Scafuro
This chapter discusses trends in the production of fourth-century comedies (revivals, prizes for comic actors), and considers these and other trends through the perspective of an imaginary Athenian theater-goer who, by 305 BCE, had been attending performances for some sixty years; he helps answer questions such as: Did the audience change over the years? Are changes in the style of acting, costumes, and use of masks observable? Or changes in the style of composition (choruses, meters, virtuoso monologues)? Then, in order to provide a firsthand experience of the compositional style of Menander’s near contemporaries (e.g., Alexis, Philemon, Diphilus, Anaxandrides), select passages are presented and discussed; these focus on traditional “stand-up topoi,” where characters quote speeches of others, often using a comic paratactic patter, and sometimes “euripidizing” their speech and situations.
Philosophers are a natural object of fun and parody, and ancient Greek comedy took full advantage of the possibilities for spoofing their utopian projects, technical language, scientific pretensions, and personal behavior when they could represent it as contradicting their high moral claims. Philosophers, in turn, might be suspicious of comedy’s frivolity, and they attacked it as immoral. But there were also points of contact between the two: philosophers (above all Epicureans) endorsed pleasure, or allowed a place for caricature and fun, and characters in comedy sometimes utter philosophical propositions; besides, comedy itself has a utopian streak. Menander was thought to have studied with Aristotle’s student Theophrastus, and his subtle character sketches find a parallel in philosophical descriptions of virtuous and vicious types. The quarrel between comedy and philosophy thus has aspects of a sibling rivalry. This chapter traces this complex relationship over the evolution from Old Comedy to New.