Category Archives: Ancient Greek Comedy

DEMOI (C 417 B.C.) – ANCIENT GREEK COMEDY

FOR BACKGROUND INFORMATION IF YOU MISSED MY FIRST POST ON ANCIENT GREEK COMEDIES CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/2011/09/22/at-long-last-my-ancient-greek-comedy-posts-begin/

map of greeceAs promised this time around I’ll depart from the works of Aristophanes to examine the fragmentary remains of a work by another genius of Ancient Greek Comedy, in this case Eupolis. 

Eupolis was part of the Big Three of Ancient Greek Comedy (henceforth AGC) along with Aristophanes and Cratinus. Some people confuse Eupolis with the later Greek comedian Eubulus but manage to lead fairly normal lives just the same. (rimshot)

THE PREMISE

Demoi is considered to be Eupolis’ greatest political satire. The premise is simplicity itself. An Athenian named Pyronides, like many of his fellow citizens, is disgusted with the pettiness, corruption and incompetence of the current crop of political and military leaders in the great city-state. Thus motivated, Pyronides retrieves four of the greatest figures of Athens’ storied past from the Netherworld and brings them back with him so they may set things right.

THE PLAY

In my introductory post about AGC (see above) I illustrated the similar problems faced by the Athenians’ ancient experiment in popular rule and our own often teetering enterprise. Corruption, partisanship and a tendency to subordinate the general good in the name of personal gain  were as rampant then as now.

As all societies are prone to do, the Athenians romanticised the leaders of the past, believing them to be of a heroic stature lacking in the current crop of Athenian politicians and generals. Continue reading

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THE KNIGHTS (424 B.C.) ANCIENT GREEK COMEDY

Here’s a rerun of Balladeer’s Blog’s examination of the Ancient Greek Comedy called The Knights by Aristophanes. For background info on ancient Greek comedies see my original post on the topic: https://glitternight.com/2011/09/22/at-long-last-my-ancient-greek-comedy-posts-begin/

This comedy deals with the still-relevant situation in which honest people stand no chance against vile, corrupt demagogues.

In The Knights Aristophanes pioneered a new sub-genre of Attic Old Comedy: the  Demagogue Comedy. The villain of this masterpiece of political satire was a figure called the Paphlagonian, who was patterned on Cleon, a notorious Athenian politician of the time period. I’ll have Continue reading

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BAPTAE (Circa 415-413 B.C.): ANCIENT GREEK COMEDY

Dr Frank N FurterFor Balladeer’s Blog’s latest post on Ancient Greek Comedy I will examine another fragmentary work by Eupolis, who, along with Aristophanes and Cratinus was one of the Big Three of Attic Old Comedy.

BAPTAE was a comedy satirizing the latest faddish belief system to hit Athens: the cult of the Dorian and Thracian goddess Cotyto. Just like Kabala or transcendental meditation and other systems have enjoyed a brief vogue with entertainers and even some movers and shakers various foreign deities would periodically develop a following in ancient Athens. Eupolis was lampooning the fashionable appeal of one such cult and also ridiculed other elements of Cotyto worship as we will see.

The title Baptae came from the fact that the worshippers of Cotyto would immerse or “baptize” their garments in blue, green or purple dye, an expensive and very ostentatious indulgence for the time period. And yes, Baptae and baptizing are from the same root word, since it originally referred to immersion in any liquid, not just water.

The main element of the Athenian version of the cult of Cotyto was the fact that her devotees were exclusively male and all of them DRESSED AS THE GODDESS as part of their rites of worship. Even today we can Continue reading

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PYTINE aka THE WINE FLASK (423 B.C.)

CRATINUS

Cratinus

Welcome to another Balladeer’s Blog post on ancient Greek comedies. If Pytine was an episode of Friends it would be titled The One Where Cratinus Fires Back At Aristophanes. This play is also known under English language titles like Wine Flask, Flagon, The Bottle, and others along those lines.

Cratinus, seen at left posing for the Attic Old Disco soundtrack album for Saturday Night Fever (Travolta stole all his moves from Cratinus, by the way) and galvanized by the tongue-in- cheek caricature that Aristophanes presented of a drunken, washed- up Cratinus in his previous year’s comedy The Knights, turned that caricature into the premise of his final comedy.

THE PLAY

From the fragments of Pytine that remain it seems Cratinus had an actor portraying himself (Cratinus) as the booze-soaked Grand Old Man of Attic comedy at the time. I always picture the character as a cross between Dudley Moore in Arthur and Tom Conti in Reuben, Reuben. Anyway, in the play Cratinus is  married either to Thalia, the Muse of Comedy or to simply a female personification of Comedy.  

Comedy complains to Cratinus’ friends, who make up the chorus, that she wants to take her husband to court for abandonment. She states that he is neglecting their marital bed because he has been spending too much time sleeping around with Methe, in this comedy a personification of  Drunkenness.

Academic opinion varies on whether or not Methe is supposed to be a hot young woman or a hot young man, and since this is an ancient Greek comedy it definitely could go either way. Not enough of the comedy survives to make it clear so Methe’s gender will remain a controversy.

Cratinus’ friends plot to save their buddy’s marriage by stopping him from drinking. They enact their “intervention” by smashing every last one of his containers of wine, and some of the comedy came from how many different types of vessels Cratinus had been hiding his booze in.

Cratinus counters the destruction of all his drinking vessels by purchasing a pytine, a very durable wine flask reinforced with wicker. The pytine is so strong it will withstand all the friends’ attempts to destroy it, thus foiling their plan to save Cratinus’ marriage to Comedy or the muse Thalia. 

Cratinus defends his drinking by saying wine is the source of all his poetic inspiration (the comedies were all in verse). This line of reasoning sets up the most famous line from Pytine when Cratinus says “You’ll never write great poetry if all you drink is water.”   Continue reading

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TAXIARCHOI (427-415 B.C.) FOR TAX DAY

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

TAXIARCHOI (Tax Collectors) – By Eupolis. Tax Day 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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ORE MINERS (C 420s B.C.)

For fans of ancient Greek comedies here is my brief take on the VERY fragmentary remains of Pherecrates’ comedy Ore Miners AKA Metalles.

THE PLAY

A group of ore miners accidentally dig so deep underground that they stumble upon the Netherworld. While there they observe the automatist Utopia that Pherecrates depicts the souls of the dead as dwelling in.

Rivers flowed with porridge and soup instead of water and on the Continue reading

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MERCHANT SHIPS (424-421 B.C.) BY ARISTOPHANES

With Boycott-mania sweeping the country what better time for this look at the fragmentary remains of this ancient Greek Comedy by Aristophanes?

Ancient Greek Merchant Ship

Ancient Greek Merchant Ship

Balladeer’s Blog presents another examination of an ancient Greek political satire. In this case it is one of those works of Aristophanes which have survived only in very fragmentary condition.

MERCHANT SHIPS  

Merchant Ships was written and publicly staged in approximately 424 B.C. to 421 B.C. according to the available data. It was another of Aristophanes’ comedies protesting the pointlessness of the Greek city-states warring among themselves instead of uniting against the encroachments of the Persian Empire.

I can’t help but view this particular comedy in light of my own country’s current plight of having the rival criminal gangs called the Democratic and Republican Parties pointlessly rob the country blind and run it into the ground while virtually ignoring external threats.

In this comedy the captains of two separate merchant ships – one from Athens and one from their foe Sparta – have grown weary of the pointless conflict and make a separate peace with each other. They and their crew members get to spend the play enjoying the food and drink from their cargoes and living out a metaphorical return to the prosperous days before the Peloponnesian War when peace reigned among the various Greek city-states.  

Franchises aka Merchant Ships

Franchises aka Merchant Ships

For a modern-day adaptation (as opposed to a straight translation) the situation could be depicted by having a Chick Fil-A restaurant right next to a Starbucks coffee shop. The managers and employees of these stereotypically Republican (Chick Fil-A) and stereotypically Democratic (Starbucks) establishments could grow tired of the political feuding, especially since both political parties often call for boycotts of the opposing business.   Continue reading

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