Balladeer’s Blog takes another look at an ancient Greek comedy. Most of my previous examinations of these verse plays dealt with Attic Old Comedy or on what little is known about Susarion, a revered pioneer of stage comedy.
Epicharmus lived from approximately the 530s B.C. to the 440s B.C. He was born in one of the Greek colonies in Sicily, with Megara-Hyblaea, Syracuse or the island of Cos being the three most widely accepted possibilities.
Epicharmus is often credited with adding plots to the comedies but this is sometimes disputed by those touting Susarion instead. Other innovations possibly pioneered by Epicharmus were stock characters like spongers and naïve rustics plus comedic back-and-forth duels of insults or of competing arguments.
The chorus, so important to Attic Old Comedy, was not yet present on stage in Epicharmus’ time, but musical accompaniment was.
Like so many other ancient Greek comedies, the plays of Epicharmus have survived only in very fragmentary form.
THE RUSTIC (No year known) – The Eudemian Ethics refers to the use of rustic figures early on in stage comedies. As we’ve seen in other ancient Greek comedies these rustics were used in two different ways –
1) As the butts of jokes for their supposed inability to appreciate the sophisticated pleasures of city life and/or for their supposed lack of intelligence.
Or 2) As naïve yet endowed with a common-sense form of wisdom that lets them outmaneuver ill-intentioned city folks who try taking advantage of them or humiliating them. (Think No Time For Sergeants or Beverly Hillbillies B.C.)
In The Rustic the title character is visiting a city and is receiving gymnastic/ athletic training from a menacing instructor called “Knuckles” (Kolaphos). The surviving fragments from this play are so few that even less of the potential plot can be gleaned than from many other ancient Greek comedies. Proceeding fragment by fragment:
“Knuckles moves like the wind.” The trainer is presumably a veritable dynamo, running swiftly, jogging in place, touching toes and other activities of a broadly-drawn athletic stereotype.
“You are making the city the country!” The Rustic is speculated to be failing – or refusing – to conform to citified ways of conducting himself and instead is refashioning metropolitan characteristics to match his rural interpretation of them. Think “SEE-ment pond” for swimming pool. Or maybe “You’re turning New York City into Mayberry!”
Alternately, Laurentianus claimed that turning the city into the country instead referred to lawlessness. Think of a maverick cowboy treating a big city like it’s the Wild West. Or of Crocodile Dundee when he’s in New York.
“A farmer is always rich … after NEXT year’s harvest.” No explanation is needed for this wry remark.
“Great is the opening of the year.” Again, no explanation is needed.
“The chickpea is a food which, by stimulating the flow of the digestive juices, facilitates digestion.” Presumably Knuckles was giving the Rustic some dietary advice. However, the ancient Greek comedies were not above using jokes about flatulence, so a certain sound coming from Knuckles might have been the payoff to this gag since chickpeas often cause gas.
Athenaeus wrote that Epicharmus’ The Rustic included an idiomatic expression in which purple flowers were called calchae.
As ever, I will point out that it is a cultural catastrophe that so little has survived from these ancient works.
I’ll be examining another ancient Greek comedy soon.
FOR MORE ANCIENT GREEK COMEDIES CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/ancient-greek-comedies/
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