Category Archives: Ancient Greek Comedy

THE BIRDS (414/6 BC): ANCIENT GREEK COMEDY

Birds by Aristophanes 1Balladeer’s Blog presents another examination of an ancient Greek political satire. This comedy by Aristophanes was one that I was planning on covering very soon when I started posting my reviews of Attic Old Comedy years ago. For various reasons it kept falling by the wayside.

Where am I going with this? For Aristophanes’ line “In Cloud-Cuckooland things become what they are called rather than being called what they are” make it “In Ivory Towerland things become what they are called rather than being called what they are.” But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Birds is Aristophanes’ lengthiest surviving comedy and also the most analyzed (some would say over-analyzed). So much has already been written about this particular work that I’ve decided to forego my usual intensive examination of every scene. Instead I’ll go with a brief synopsis followed by a way I feel The Birds could be adapted (as opposed to translated) for the present day. 

SYNOPSIS

Birds by Aristophanes 2More than 2,300 years before George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984, Aristophanes was dealing with some of the same political themes. 

Pisthetaerus and Euelpides, Athenians feeling alienated by the increasingly restrictive laws and lawsuits of their home city have left Athens behind to start over with a new society. Part of the comedy centers around the ages-old theme of how those who seek to overthrow oppression often wind up becoming the new oppressors themselves. (Think of the 1960s generation of American leftists who became just as oppressive as they claimed previous generations had been) 

Another Orwellian theme finds Aristophanes satirizing the way in which the ruling class in any society uses and corrupts language to strengthen the subjugation of the populace. The Birds even features the importance of religious and historical myths in any culture as the leaders of the new civilization conjure up an all-new cosmology with “the birds” at the center to justify their own rule. Continue reading

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POLEIS (CITIES): ANCIENT GREEK COMEDY

Balladeer’s Blog resumes its examination of ancient Greek comedies. 

classical greecePOLEIS – In this post I’m looking at Poleis (Cities), written by Eupolis, one of the Big Three of Ancient Greek Comedy along with Aristophanes and Cratinus. This satirical comedy is dated from approximately 422 B.C. to 419 B.C.  Like so many other such comedies it has survived only in fragmentary form.

The title refers to the all-important Chorus in ancient Greek comedies. In this case the chorus consisted of actors costumed to represent some of the city-states which were under the influence of Athens at the time.

masc chair and bottleAs for how people can be “costumed” as cities, picture how it would be done with American cities. The chorus member representing New York might be depicted as the Statue of Liberty, Saint Louis as the Arch, Pittsburgh as a steel worker, Los Angeles as a brain-dead movie star and so on.

Part of the political satire dealt with the love-hate relationship that many subject- states had with Athens. Being the combination Paris/ Tokyo/ New York City of its time, Athens had a lot to offer its allied polities, but a certain air of tension always existed because of what some of those locations felt were Athens’ high-handed ways of dealing with them.

Eupolis depicted the personified subject-states/ allied states as workers with a not altogether beloved “boss,” Athens. Continue reading

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TAXIARCHOI (C 427-415 B.C.): ANCIENT GREEK COMEDY

TaxiarchoiBalladeer’s Blog presents another examination of an ancient Greek comedy.

TAXIARCHOI (Tax Collectors) – By Eupolis. Tax Day – which April 15th USUALLY is – is the most appropriate day to examine this comedy because its 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. (If you doubt me go without paying your personal property taxes. Then we’ll discuss how much you truly “own” your home or your car.)  

In Taxiarchoi the god Dionysus is depicted joining the title military unit. Those Taxiarchoi units would periodically collect the “taxes” or – in its most honest form – “tribute” from the various regions, not only of Athens proper but of the Athenian subject states. Military units were necessary for such tasks for the reasons you would expect – attempted resistance on the part of those being taxed and/or attempted robbery by bands of thieves after the taxes had been collected.    

Sometimes a particular community might try to poor-mouth their circumstances and provide the taxiarchs with less money than had been assessed against them. In such cases the officer in charge was empowered to either seize portable property to make up the difference or to ransack the town and its vicinity to determine if the citizens were simply hiding their wealth. Continue reading

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BEST OF NOVEMBER 2019

Balladeer’s Blog’s end of year retrospective concludes with this look at November’s best:

New York City underwaterA NEW LIST OF HILARIOUSLY WRONG PREDICTIONS FROM PSYCHICS – Cannibalism in Pennsylvania? A Civil War in the 1980s?

All that and more. CLICK HERE 

People of the Moon biggerANCIENT SCIENCE FICTION: The People of the Moon (1895) HERE , The Dominion in 1983 (1883) HERE , A Fantastical Excursion Into The Planets (1839) HERE  

THE RUSTIC – My look at this ancient Greek Comedy by Epicharmus. CLICK HERE

ALLEGRO NON TROPPO – A review of the 1977 Italian film. CLICK HERE

Iron Sights 2 PsychosIRON SIGHTS: TWO PSYCHOS – Comic book giant Richard C Meyer’s latest graphic novel featuring all-out action against the Mexican drug cartels. CLICK HERE

CONGRESSWOMAN TULSI GABBARD CALLS OUT HER PARTY – The heroic role model once again displays her courage. CLICK HERE

THE BLACK TULIP: SWASHBUCKLER – An action-filled adaptation of the Alexandre Dumas novel from 1850. CLICK  HERE Continue reading

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BEST OF SEPTEMBER 2019

Balladeer’s Blog’s end of year retrospective continues with this look at September’s best:

classical greecePOLEIS (CITIES) 422-419 B.C. – A look at the ancient Greek political comedy written by Eupolis. CLICK HERE

TRANSGRESS WITH ME: SEPTEMBER 23rd – Are you brave enough to share some more transgressive thoughts? CLICK HERE

Babylon ElectrifiedANCIENT SCIENCE FICTION – Messages From Mars (1892)  HERE , The Queen of Appalachia (1901) HERE , Babylon Electrified (1888) HERE , Looking Forward (1899) HERE , The Automatic Maid (1893) HERE

HEROIC WOMEN FIGHTING OPPRESSION IN THE MUSLIM WORLD – The title says it all. CLICK HERE

WOI EPIC – A Liberian epic myth about gods and demons. CLICK HERE

Isaiah WashingtonISAIAH WASHINGTON – And yet another Martin Luther King Person of Courage to profile – CLICK HERE Continue reading

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COTTABUS PLAYERS (CIRCA 420s B.C.): ANCIENT GREEK COMEDY

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.      Continue reading

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“THE RUSTIC” BY EPICHARMUS (ANCIENT GREEK COMEDY)

Greece and their western coloniesBalladeer’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 –

masc chair and bottle1) 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. Continue reading

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POLEIS (CITIES): ANCIENT GREEK COMEDY

Balladeer’s Blog resumes its examination of ancient Greek comedies. 

classical greecePOLEIS – In this post I’m looking at Poleis (Cities), written by Eupolis, one of the Big Three of Ancient Greek Comedy along with Aristophanes and Cratinus. This satirical comedy is dated from approximately 422 B.C. to 419 B.C.  Like so many other such comedies it has survived only in fragmentary form.

The title refers to the all-important Chorus in ancient Greek comedies. In this case the chorus consisted of actors costumed to represent some of the city-states which were under the influence of Athens at the time.

As for how people can be “costumed” as cities, picture how it would be done with American cities. The chorus member representing New York might be depicted as the Statue of Liberty, Saint Louis as the Arch, Pittsburgh as a steel worker, Los Angeles as a brain-dead movie star and so on.

Part of the political satire dealt with the love-hate relationship that many subject- states had with Athens. Being the combination Paris/ Tokyo/ New York City of its time, Athens had a lot to offer its allied polities, but a certain air of tension always existed because of what some of those locations felt were Athens’ high-handed ways of dealing with them.

Eupolis depicted the personified subject-states/ allied states as workers with a not altogether beloved “boss,” Athens. Continue reading

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ANCIENT GREEK COMEDY: COTHURNUS (circa 405 B.C.)

The Ruins of the Theater of Dionysus in Athens.

The Ruins of the Theater of Dionysus in Athens.

Balladeer’s Blog takes another look at an ancient Greek comedy. This time around I’m examining Cothurnus by Philonides, a comic poet who may also have acted and produced for the Athenian stage as well. It cannot be definitively determined if the “Philonides” referred to in those capacities are all one and the same or separate figures.

THE PLAY  

Like most ancient Greek comedies Cothurnus has survived only in fragmentary form and with very few fragments at that. The title refers to a type of footwear of the time period. A cothurnus could be worn on either the left foot or the right foot because of its softness and looseness. Because of this the word “cothurnus” also became a sarcastic term for a politician who tried to position themselves on both sides of an issue, claiming victory no matter which way the political winds blew.

This is certainly another element of Old Comedy that we can still relate to 2,400 years later. Philonides was specifically using this term and this comedy to target Theramenes. Continue reading

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SYNOPSES FOR ANCIENT GREEK COMEDIES

map of greeceBy reader request here is a blog post featuring a brief synopsis of the subject matter to each of the dozens of reviews I’ve written of ancient Greek comedies. Some of you indicated that you don’t like clicking on one with no idea what it will be about, so here we go.

I will start with the Big Three of Aristophanes, Eupolis and Cratinus. 

FIRST – My overview of the themes of ancient Greek political satire. CLICK HERE

ARISTOPHANES

LYSISTRATA – The women of Athens and Sparta conspire to withhold sex from their men until they bring about an end to the Peloponnesian War. CLICK HERE 

THE CLOUDS – A comedic look at the lighter side of the Sophist revolution in education and scientific research, with an emphasis on rhetorical ploys used in the courts. CLICK HERE  

THE KNIGHTS – Aristophanes takes on the demagogue Cleon in this examination of the way dishonest candidates always have a built-in advantage in political campaigns. CLICK HERE

THE BIRDS – Proto-Orwellian fantasy in which two Athenians seeking to escape the increasingly oppressive atmosphere of their homeland join with birds to form the absurd Cloud-cuckooland. CLICK HERE  

THE BANQUETERS – A clash of generations and values begins when an Athenian farmer inducts his two sons into his Phratry. CLICK HERE 

MERCHANT SHIPS – Two merchant ships – one from Athens and one from Sparta – carve out a separate peace when they meet at sea. CLICK HERE

THESMOPHORIAZUSAE aka THE POET AND THE WOMEN – The women of Athens call for retribution against the famous tragedian Euripides for his negative portrayal of women in his plays. CLICK HERE

EUPOLIS

DEMOI – An Athenian man brings four dead statesmen back to life to set straight the mess that their political successors have made of the city-state. CLICK HERE

AUTOLYCUS – A less than bright athlete is supported for a political position by his well-to-do gay lover. CLICK HERE 

MARIKAS – Eupolis went after the demagogue Hyperbolus the way Aristophanes went after Cleon in this comedy. The corrupt Marikas was a fictional stand-in for Hyperbolus. CLICK HERE Continue reading

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