Tag Archives: Ancient Greek Comedy

“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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ASK BALLADEER: WHEN WILL YOU RESUME …

mascot new look donkey and elephant headsHello again, everyone! Like FAQ’s I figured I’d address these questions I’ve been asked a lot lately. And thank you for the good wishes regarding recent family hospitalizations.

Q: Will you ever get back to examining ancient Greek comedies?  

A: Yes, I will. As regular readers know I have already done dozens and I needed to step back a little for awhile. Now I’m revved up again and will resume soon.

Q: Will you ever resume your fictional look at a Second American Civil War?

A: No. Real-world events started to exceed my fictional takes in some ways.   

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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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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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LYSIPPUS: THREE ANCIENT GREEK COMEDIES

ancient-greece-mapBalladeer’s Blog once again focuses on one of the ancient Greek comedians whose entire corpus is very, very fragmentary, touching briefly on all of their known works. For background info on ancient Greek comedy plus my previous reviews click here: https://glitternight.com/ancient-greek-comedies/ 

LYSIPPUS – This writer of Attic Old Comedy redefines the expression “fragmentary” because even less is known about his life than about shadowy figures like Susarion and Epicharmus. Lysippus came in 1st place with an unknown comedy at a Dionysia around 440 BCE. Fragmentary evidence survives from just three of his comedies out of an unknown total body of work so this will be my shortest blog post on ancient Greek comedy. 

We’ll start with my favorite random quote from Lysippus’ fragments. It displays his pride in Athens and reflects the city-state’s status as the combined New York, Rome and Tokyo of its era:  “If you have never come to Athens you are a fool. If you have come to Athens and not been captivated by her charms you are  ignorant. If you have been captivated by the charms of Athens and ever left her you are but a beast.” 

I. BACCHAE – Not to be confused with the various tragedies of the same title or the comedy by Diocles. Too little survives to tell if the play presented a comedic version of the tragic events depicted in other works titled Bacchae. The parabasis included the type of segment that would later be frequently repeated in Attic Old Comedy as Lysippus took shots at his competitors. That segment featured joking insults that break the fourth wall and Continue reading

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CRATES: ANCIENT GREEK COMEDY

Balladeer’s Blog takes another look at the surviving fragments of an ancient Greek comedian, in this case Crates.

CratesCRATES – Crates’ career spanned from approximately the 450s B.C. to the 430s B.C. We have fragments from nine or ten comedies from an unknown total output. From other sources we know that comedies as stage productions began sometime around 500 B.C. or earlier so Crates came fairly early to the artform.

Crates was credited with being the first Athenian comic poet (the comedies were written in verse and included songs) to introduce drunken characters, still a comic staple over 2,400 years later. Aristotle himself credited Crates as being the first to abandon the “glorified comic monologues” approach of the oldest comedies and introducing fleshed-out plots and storylines.

Be that as it may, there is still a great deal of academic arguing over whether or not Crates’ work simply reflected the influence of Epicharmus, who may well have been the TRUE innovator.

Crates was supposedly an actor before he began writing comedies (But I’m sure he really wanted to direct. – rimshot – ) and his brother was Epilycus, one of the Epic Poets. Eusebius’ Chronicles stated that Crates was a well-known comedian by 451 B.C. and Demetrius Lacon in his work On Poetry indicates that Crates may have acted in some of Aeschylus’ tragedies before switching genres. 

KNOWN WORKS 

NeighborsNEIGHBORS – We do not have even a hypothetical year for this work, unfortunately. Since titles sometimes referred to the all-important Chorus of a Greek comedy there is speculation that the chorus members were “Neighbors” of some sort (Duh!) but nothing is known about the plot.

 Athenaeus argued that Crates’ use of a drunken character in this comedy PRE-DATED Epicharmus’ use of stage drunks, so apparently even back in ancient times this was being debated.   

The closest thing to an intact joke from the fragments of Neighbors is a lecherous reference to the delectable young males and females on hand serving whatever feast was being celebrated in the comedy. For today you could insert a Harvey Weinstein or Kevin Spacey type of joke, I guess.

The next closest thing to an intact joke is a possibly wry reference to ” playing at pessoi” which could refer both to pebbles used in a board game and pebbles used to wipe one’s bottom after defecation. Since the ancient Greek comedies are LOADED with scat jokes it’s possible that a very grotesque mix-up occurred.

Other fragments from this comedy are virtually useless: “I do not possess a lampstand.” (I want a T-Shirt that says that, dammit!) … “You must be quiet and not make a sound.” … “And had an aroma like sweetest myrrh.” … “If you’re smart, boy” … “A pig through roses” … “You led astray” … and “Scooping out a trough.”  Continue reading

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CALLIPIDES (c 400 B.C.) – ANCIENT GREEK COMEDY

Annoy your friends with your pretentiousness: refer to shows like I Love Lucy and Make Room for Daddy as "Parathespian Comedies."

Annoy your friends with your pretentiousness: refer to shows like I Love Lucy and Make Room for Daddy as “Parathespian Comedies.”

Balladeer’s Blog presents another examination of an ancient Greek comedy. Callippides was written by the comedian Strattis and falls into that comic poet’s specialized area: Parathespian Comedies.

Another fun element of our shared humanity with the ancient Athenians who flocked to attend these plays is the fact that even 2,400 years ago audiences were fascinated and entertained by the trappings of “showbiz”. “Parathespian Comedies” were just one of the many sub-genres of ancient Greek comedy but Strattis is the writer most associated with them … by me and the .000001 percent of the population who are into such things.

Yes, a few thousand years before I Love Lucy, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Seinfeld and other such sitcoms the spectators at the Theatre of Dionysus were laughing at comedies depicting what it was like to be one of the performing, writing and singing stars of the Athenian stage. The Parathespian Comedies sometimes featured fictional stars as the characters but would also depict real-life figures of the stage in stories that were either wholly fictional or based on backstage gossip of the time.  

Callippides was based on the real-life actor and megastar of ancient Greek tragedies. In this particular case Strattis presented a very unflattering comedic poke at Callippides, making jokes that depicted him as a William Shatner-esque ham instead of the accomplished thespian he was often hailed as.   Continue reading

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