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.
This chapter considers the similarities, differences, and points of engagement between the three main dramatic genres of classical Athens: comedy, tragedy, and satyr play. After an overview of the perceived absolute distinction between comedy and tragedy in Greek antiquity, the chapter goes on to outline the respective performance grammars of the two forms during the later fifth century. It then offers a survey of the variety of ways in which comedy engaged with tragedy, and tragedy and satyr play in turn showed an awareness of and interacted with comedy, during the same period. The discussion concludes with an outline of the shifting dynamics of comedy’s interaction with tragedy in the fourth century BC, when comic references to tragedy appear to have become largely restricted to the “classical” fifth-century plays.
Brigitte Le Guen
The nature of our sources does not allow us to reconstruct the spread of comedy from the conquests of Alexander the Great to the beginning of the Roman Empire, either chronologically or geographically. But the available evidence does prove that comedy was no less popular or widely diffused than tragedy in the Greek and Hellenized world. We know of a wide range of comic actors who acted in both new and ancient plays at festivals set up in honor of Dionysus or other deities, according to a practice newly introduced. We also know the names of many comic poets and the titles of numerous comedies, even if we are largely unable to connect these data to any given contest. Nevertheless, though we know that comedy was performed throughout the eastern Mediterranean by members of Dionysiac associations, we have no evidence for a guild of this kind in the western Mediterranean until the first century BCE.
This chapter discusses the institution of choregia for comedy in Classical Athens performed at the City Dionysia, the Lenaea, and the Dionysia held in the Attic demes. The choregia was part of the system of liturgies whereby state authorities assigned rich Athenians the task of providing funding and accommodating special public needs (in the military and the religious festivals). The choregos was responsible for recruiting the members of a chorus (dithyrambic, tragic, or comic), for providing whatever was necessary for its training, and for paying all associated expenses. The competitive context of theatrical performances explains why the choregia was termed an “agonistic liturgy” and why victorious choregoi dedicated monuments. Over the course of the fourth century BCE, the role of the comic chorus waned, and, in the last two decades, the choregia itself was abolished.
George Fredric Franko
This chapter considers how festivals, producers, and theatrical spaces influenced Roman comedy in the time of Plautus and Terence (ca. 210-160 BCE). Although the extant scripts and fragments of the comoedia palliata exhibit stylistic unity (Terence excepted), their theatrical contexts varied and evolved as opportunities for dramatic performances increased over time, both with regularly scheduled ludi (festivals in honor of divinities) and occasional opportunities. Little is known of the plays' producers, other than the names Publilius Pellio and Ambivius Turpio. Since no permanent stone theater existed in Rome until 55 BCE, theatrical presentations occupied temporary venues, often adjacent to temples and accommodating relatively small audiences, but evidence of their configurations has vanished. Didascaliae (production notices preserved in manuscripts) offer meager information; the literary and archaeological evidence from the Roman Empire and comparative evidence from Greek precedents can mislead.
Film studies provides the ideal field for further reflection on the issue of Greek culture. It involves the translation of Greek material into a new medium, as well as a new language, a medium furthermore that is characteristically modern. This article points out that this is the medium through which many moderns have their first or only self-aware encounter with ancient Greece. The stories of the Greek world have functioned as meta-narratives or metaphors for cinematic plots: from road movies to science-fiction films and westerns, cinema has persistently explored the themes of the journey, of homecoming, and of identity, whose archetypal force has come to be associated with Homer and Greek tragedy. Moreover, film theory has drawn on Greek philosophy, especially on theories of representation and perception, to articulate and debate phenomenological, cognitive, and narratological approaches to cinema.
This chapter examines what we know of Old Comedy between two key dates, the traditional date of 486 for its formal introduction at the City Dionysia in Athens and the debut of Aristophanes in 427, the only poet of Old Comedy for whom we have complete plays. We know little about the first writers of Old Comedy or the sort of drama they wrote. Only Magnes is more than a name. But we are better informed about the next generation, principally Cratinus (debut 454), who seems to have blended burlesque of myth with political themes and personally directed humor and created a more sophisticated form of drama. Other poets considered from this period are Crates, Hermippus, Callias, Teleclides, and Pherecrates.
This chapter reviews our visual record for Greek New Comedy and Roman comedy. It reconstructs the long iconographic tradition of Menander’s plays, from the poet’s own lifetime until late antiquity, by considering several specific artifacts, such as the two mosaics from Pompeii signed by Dioscurides of Samos, and by discussing the relationship between illustrations that can be related to the same comedy. It also considers the extant illustrated manuscripts of Terence, their lost late-antique original, and the relationship between our miniatures and theatrical activities in the Roman world.
This chapter discusses the reception of Greek comedy in two genres of the Second Sophistic, tracing the appropriation of comic elements in the erotic novel and fictional epistolography. New Comedy is shown to provide the main thematic and structural matrix for ancient Greek romances, whose character portrayals and plots—with their mix-ups, intrigues, coincidences, and happy endings in marriage—are strongly reminiscent of Menandrian plays. While the novelists mapped the basic scheme of comedy onto extended narratives that move far beyond the spatio-temporal boundaries of drama, Alciphron and other writers of fictional letters have created small sketches that feature comic characters expressing their anxieties and desires, and so recalling the genre of comedy both through direct allusion and the evocation of comedy-like scenarios. The form of the letter itself may be seen as a reflection of the “writtenness” associated with drama’s transition from a performative context to the medium of the book.
This chapter focuses on the evidence for performances of mime drama in the Hellenistic period, both scripted and unscripted, and on its reception in Latin literature. It explores possible routes through which Hellenistic mime, both in its literary variety (Theocritus and Herodas) and in its sensationalized version (the rhythmical "lament of the abandoned woman," known as the Fragmentum Grenfellianum), may have reached Roman audiences. It also examines how mime was selectively exploited in nondramatic Roman literature (Virgil, Propertius, Seneca, Petronius) and in Latin mime compositions, namely mime scripts destined for the stage (Decimus Laberius) and mimiambs (Cnaeus Matius and Vergilius Romanus), which however were probably meant only for the appreciation of the educated reader. Discussion includes detailed comments on (and an English translation of) the Fragmentum Grenfellianum and the fragments of Matius's mimiambs.
Alan H. Sommerstein
The only Hesiodic myths taken up by the Greek tragic dramatists are the related stories of Prometheus and the first woman (Pandora); these were exploited in satyr-dramas by Aeschylus and Sophocles, respectively. More important are the tragedies Prometheus Bound and Prometheus Unbound, attributed to Aeschylus (but probably in fact by another hand, perhaps his son Euphorion), in which the tale of Prometheus’s punishment is combined with several other myths into a new story of a god who becomes the savior both of the human race (twice) and of Zeus (also twice), and who endures terrible suffering before finally gaining honor from Zeus and humans. Hesiod’s ideas also had a profound influence on Aeschylus, traceable especially in the Oresteia and in the unidentified “Dike play” known from papyrus fragments.