Balladeer’s Blog has examined 21 ancient Greek comedies so far in terms of their continuing relevance over 2,400 years later. This will be the third time I will focus on one of the ancient Greek comedians whose entire corpus is very, very fragmentary, touching briefly on all of their known works. For background info on ancient Greek comedy plus my previous reviews click here: http://glitternight.com/ancient-greek-comedies/
LYSIPPUS – This writer of Attic Old Comedy redefines the expression “fragmentary” because even less is known about his life than about shadowy figures like Susarion and Epicharmus. Lysippus came in 1st place with an unknown comedy at a Dionysia around 440 BCE. Fragmentary evidence survives from just three of his comedies out of an unknown total body of work so this will be my shortest blog post on ancient Greek comedy.
We’ll start with my favorite random quote from Lysippus’ fragments. It displays his pride in Athens and reflects the city-state’s status as the combined New York, Rome and Tokyo of its era: “If you have never come to Athens you are a fool. If you have come to Athens and not been captivated by her charms you are ignorant. If you have been captivated by the charms of Athens and ever left her you are but a beast.”
I. BACCHAE – Not to be confused with the various tragedies of the same title or the comedy by Diocles. Too little survives to tell if the play presented a comedic version of the tragic events depicted in other works titled Bacchae. The parabasis included the type of segment that would later be frequently repeated in Attic Old Comedy as Lysippus took shots at his competitors. That segment featured joking insults that break the fourth wall and promise the audience that the comedy wouldn’t just rework the same tired jokes like the works of Lysippus’ comic rivals supposedly did. An idiomatic expression the playwright used referred to the ancient practice of fumigating old and used clothing with sulphur and then passing it off as new.
The god of wine Dionysus was depicted as a buffoonish and prissy character in the comedy in keeping with the tradition of such disrespect for the gods being permitted ONLY in the “anything goes” arena of the comedy performances. Fragmentary jokes present Dionysus feyly fussing over his choices of footwear. Think La Cage au Folles in Ancient Athens. Another fragmentary joke centered around an unknown character being lowered into a well like containers of wine were in summertime to keep them cool.
The only topical joke that survives from the comedy is a shot at the gluttonous eating habits of Lampon, a figure often depicted by the comedians as a false prophet who tricked gullible people out of their money with his fabricated “prophecies”. Lampon might be adapted for a modern staging of this play in the guise of a smarmy television evangelist. Or maybe a Psychic Hotline ripoff artist.
II. MOCKERIES – A comedy involving some form of irreverent ridicule of some of Athens’ most prominent citizens and wealthy families but nothing specific can be determined from the minimal fragments.
III. THYRSUS-KEEPER – A thyrsus was a staff topped by a pine cone and with vines and/ or ivy twined around it. It was used in religious rites of the god Dionysus. Only the title of this comedy has survived.
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