Balladeer’s Blog examines yet another ancient Greek comedy which has survived only in fragmentary form.

Theater of Dionysus

The Ruins of the Theater of Dionysus in Athens.

COTTABUS PLAYERS (c 420s B.C.) – This comedy was written by Ameipsias, whose career as an Athenian comic poet ran from approximately the 420s B.C. to the 390s B.C. In the Dionysia Festival of 423 B.C. he won 2nd Place for his comedy Connus and in 414 B.C’s Dionysia he won 1st place for The Revelers. Ameipsias also won 1st place at a Lenaea Festival but the year and title of his entry are not known.

Regular readers of Balladeer’s Blog will remember that Cottabus was a party game in ancient Athens and had two variations. The “lesser” variation involved the hard-drinking guests (and virtually ALL guests at ancient Athenian parties were hard-drinking) throwing the wine-lees at the bottoms of their cups at a plate balanced on a pole, with the winner being the one who knocked the plate off the pole.

masc chair and bottleThe “greater” variation, to the proud, sea-faring Athenians, who “ruled the waves” long before Britons came along, involved throwing their wine-lees at plates floating in a pool, with the winner being the one who sank each plate. This small-scale equivalent of naval warfare was, according to Athenaeus, the more prestigious version and was characteristic of a more “high-end” party.

The all-important Chorus of this comedy by Ameipsias was presumably a set of rowdy, drunken Cottabus players. Let’s take a look at what can be gleaned from the surviving fragments:

** The comedy’s characters were SO drunk (“How drunk were they?”) they were using their projectile vomiting instead of wine-lees to sink the floating plates.     

** Some of the drunken party guests pulled off the capture of a Megarian prostitute as part of their wild, rowdy shenanigans. That story element was referred to by Aristophanes in his comedy The Acharnians in one of the many Fourth Wall-breaking jokes common to ancient Greek comedies. (Though some mistakenly believe such meta-theatrical antics were a post-modern development.)

** Depending on the year assigned to Cottabus Players, the abduction of the Megarian prostitute may have been a political joke about Pericles, his notorious mistress Aspasia, and the Peloponnesian War.

** A line of dialogue suggests that Dionysus, the god of wine, may have been a character in the comedy. That god was often depicted in the comedies because he was the patron deity of the dramatic and comic festivals since wine was regarded as the source of creative inspiration. See my review of the comedy Pytine by Cratinus for a more detailed examination of this.

** Dionysus and the other gods worshipped by the Greeks were often the butt of jokes in the daring “anything goes” nature of the comedies performed in the Theater of Dionysus. No topic was off-limits for comedy, unlike our own increasingly restrictive era.

** An exchange of dialogue featuring a moocher/ sponger (kolakes), standard stock characters in ancient Greek comedies, addressing a second character. MOOCHER: I’m off to the Agora to try to find a job.  SECOND CHARACTER: Good! Then you won’t be following me around like a pilot fish to a shark. 

              NOTE: The literal translation in the Greek text refers to a grey mullet, not a pilot fish, but I feel the pilot fish and shark analogy better captures the spirit of the joking insult.

** A line ordering the preparations for playing Cottabus, including the vinegar saucers and such.

** The line “Rouge and white lead only cost two obols,” referring to the current price of rouge and a white lead base in women’s makeup. As always, the rouge was intended to convey a healthy look.

** Another line of dialogue which went “All of you can call me Dionysus. I’ll have the five and two.”  Five and two is a common expression in the ancient Greek comedies and refers to the popular mixture of five parts wine and two parts water as the preferred strength of one’s drink. The character is either joking or really is supposed to be THE Dionysus.

** The other surviving fragment says merely “pan-baked bread.”    

I’ll be examining another ancient Greek comedy soon.


© Edward Wozniak and Balladeer’s Blog, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Edward Wozniak and Balladeer’s Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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Filed under Ancient Greek Comedy


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