Balladeer’s Blog’s previous look at Seven Ancient Greek Comedies with Themes That Are Still Relevant and Five More Ancient Greek Comedies … went over pretty well, so here are four more.

taxiarchoi picTAXIARCHOI – Written by Eupolis, who – along with Aristophanes and Cratinus – was one of the Big Three of Attic Old Comedy. The premise serves as a pointed reminder of the inherent ugliness in all taxation – that the power to impose and collect taxes is, ultimately, backed up by the use of force.

In Taxiarchoi the god Dionysus was depicted joining the title military unit in a presumed tax collecting expedition. The ancient Athenians valued freedom of expression so highly that even ridicule of their gods was permitted within the “anything goes” comedies performed in the Theater of Dionysus.

Because of that, Dionysus was depicted as he usually was in the comedies – fey, cowardly, soft and lazy. In other words COMPLETELY unfit for military life. Adding to the comic potential was the fact that he was serving under General Phormios, a hard-ass in the R. Lee Ermey tradition. Click HERE

not pictured callipides

Not pictured – Callipides

CALLIPPIDES – Written by Strattis, whose particular niche in ancient Greek comedy was in the subgenre called Parathespian Comedies. Such comedies dealt with stage life, actors, chorus members, musicians and others involved in putting on the tragedies and comedies performed at the time. The stories could range from backstage gossip to genuine critical ridicule.

The appeal of such comedies can be understood even today, given the general human tendency to be fascinated with the trappings of “show business.” Modern-era comedies like I Love Lucy, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Larry Sanders Show and even Entourage could technically be labeled Parathespian Comedies.

The subject of this comedy was the actor Callippides. Though often hailed by contemporary sources like Xenophon and Aristotle, Callippides was also mocked for supposedly overacting, being called “an ape” and “that pompous actor from Scythia.” I used William Shatner as an equivalent figure when examining this comedy. Click HERE.   

a b c dTHE PAGEANT OF LETTERS – Credited to Callias. Around 402 B.C. the Athenians expanded their alphabet from 20 letters to 24 letters, in some quarters causing anxiety and grumbling similar to much later resistance to having the Metric System imposed on us here in America.

Because 24 was also the number of the members in the all-important choruses of ancient Greek comedy, the opportunity was presented to cast each of the chorus members as one of the letters from the expanded alphabet.

The addition of the four new letters (eta, xi, psi and omega) was causing a certain amount of confusion, as could be expected. Everyday usage and especially official documentation would need updated with the new spellings being used to express words formerly represented in a bit different way. The ancient Athenians kept their laws available on public displays throughout Athens, so all of the displays would have needed updating, too. Comedic exaggeration of these difficulties was this play’s topical humor. Click HERE.     

poleisPOLEIS (CITIES) – Written by Eupolis. Just as the chorus members in The Pageant of Letters were costumed to represent the 24 letters of the expanded Greek alphabet, the chorus members in Poleis were costumed to represent assorted Greek cities. And not just any cities but cities influenced by Athens.

In the same way that Aristophanes’ comedy The Babylonians satirized the way Athens was sometimes criticized for its imperialistic treatment of its allied/ subject states, Eupolis used Poleis to comment on that same topic.

The humor ranged from the love-hate relationship between Athens and its sister polities to broad humor regarding the qualities of the different cities and their inhabitants. Modern-era comedians milking the differences between New York and Los Angeles are just one example we could use today for such comedy. Click HERE

For more ancient Greek comedies click here:  


Filed under Ancient Greek Comedy


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