Category Archives: Ancient Greek Comedy

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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ASK BALLADEER: FAVORITE ANCIENT GREEK COMEDIAN OUTSIDE OF ARISTOPHANES

Mascot new lookASK BALLADEER: Who is your favorite Attic Old Comedian outside of Aristophanes?

ANSWER: Enough people have asked this now that I’ll post this in the spirit of an FAQ. Outside of Aristophanes, of course, we have only fragments to go by, but I would go with Eupolis. His comedies like Demoi, Marikas, Baptae, Autolycus and Taxiarchoi have been covered here at Balladeer’s Blog. Continue reading

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ANTEIA- ANCIENT GREEK COMEDY

Hetaera 3Anteia was written by the comic poet Philyllius. This comic poet’s career seems to have spanned approximately from the 410s BCE to 390 BCE. One of his comedies won 1st prize at a Lenaea festival in the 390s and he won 1st prize at an unknown Dionysia. His fellow comedian Strattis credited him with being the first Attic Old Comic to use real torches on stage.

My favorite random line from Philyllius’ fragments: “The most important element of health is to breathe clean and unsullied air.”

THE PLAY  

ANTEIA – This comedy was an example of the sub-genre of Attic Old Comedy called Hetaera Plays. The term hetaera is often lazily translated as “prostitute” but the reality was a bit more complex. I’ve always felt that “kept woman” would be a better way to capture the concept. Hetaerae (plural) did NOT walk the streets and were not just for quickies like the lower-level prostitutes. They had their own luxurious digs with the expenses being footed by whichever wealthy man was enjoying bedroom privileges at the moment. Continue reading

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