Category Archives: Ancient Greek Comedy

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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THREE ANCIENT GREEK COMEDIES WITH “PROFESSIONAL ACCUSERS”

AristophanesBalladeer’s Blog frequently examines ancient Greek comedies written by Aristophanes, Cratinus, Eupolis and others. Recently I was put in mind of the way those comedians often satirized the “professional accusers” in the political and legal forums of ancient Athens. 

Ballsey FraudDemagogues like Cleon and Hyperbolus and others often used “professional accusers” against their political opponents. These figures – called sycophantes by the ancient Athenians – are often termed “informers” in many translations of Greek comedies but I feel the word accuser is more accurate.

Such “professional accusers” would hurl scandalous accusations at their secret patron’s political foes, blackening their name in the public’s eyes and often causing them to face court costs, etc. (In English, sycophant has come to mean groveling toady and flatterer but back then the word carried a different meaning.)

Here are three examples: Continue reading

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ASK BALLADEER: WHY’D YOU LEAVE SICILY OUT OF YOUR REVIEW OF ARISTOPHANES’ COMEDY THE BIRDS?

Mascot new lookHere at Balladeer’s Blog I’ve been reviewing ancient Greek comedies for years and a fair amount of people have recently asked me why I didn’t take the traditional view of Aristophanes’ comedy The Birds. That traditional view claims that The Birds was written at least partially as a commentary on the failed military expedition to Sicily. 

FOR MY EXAMINATION OF THE BIRDS CLICK HERE

ANSWER: I omitted any reference to the Sicilian Expedition from my blog post on The Birds for a variety of reasons. For starters, it’s been covered to death by others who INSIST that that is the main subject of the comedy, so there’s no lack of alternate sources who cover that particular angle.

Next, I disagree with the notion that The Birds had much – if anything – to do with the disasters suffered by the Athenian forces in Sicily. It all comes back to my overall view that too many people force interpretations into Aristophanes’ comedies just because he’s the only ancient Greek comedian whose plays have survived in something resembling complete form.  

Let’s revisit my usual spiel about the way most study of Aristophanes’ comedies takes place in a virtual vacuum of “All Aristophanes and nothing BUT Aristophanes.” Much of that is understandable since the other comedians’ works came down to us only in fragmentary form.

As I’ve made clear in my examinations of comedies by Eupolis, Cratinus and others it really opens your mind about the entirety of Attic Old Comedy to read the many, many academic works analyzing the fragments of the other comedians’ works. Too few people do this, I guess because most people aren’t as boring as I am.  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 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.

For Athens proper, a representative of each of the traditional Ten Regions of Athens would lead the taxiarchs collecting taxes in their region and would select the squadron leaders. I’ll discuss the breakdown of the Ten Regions and the way they factored into political representation, the law and the census in ancient Athens in the future when I examine comedies that deal with issues relevant to those regions.  

THE PLAY 

Though it would be appropriate, given the daring nature of the ancient Greek satires, if Taxiarchoi was a hard-hitting commentary on the taxation process, unfortunately it was not. It was a comedy about the god Dionysus joining a unit of taxiarchs who were about to go on a tax collecting expedition. As usual in the comedies Dionysus was depicted as a fey, bumbling figure and in this particular case the laughs come largely from how the wine god’s soft, lazy nature was incredibly ill-suited for military life. Continue reading

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