Tag Archives: Ancient Greek Comedy

PYTINE (423 B.C.) – ANCIENT GREEK COMEDY

As anniversary month continues at Balladeer’s Blog here’s my 2012 review of Cratinus’ ancient comedy Pytine.

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PYTINE (423 B.C.) – Welcome to Balladeer’s Blog’s latest 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, 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. Continue reading

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THE CLOUDS (C 423 B.C.): ANCIENT GREEK COMEDY

It’s Anniversary Month here at Balladeer’s Blog! Here’s my second review of an Ancient Greek Comedy from back in the year 2011. 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/

the cloudsThe Clouds was written by Aristophanes around 423 BCE and next to Lysistrata, which I examined last week, is the Big A’s most- discussed satire, mostly because of its lampooning of the philosopher Socrates, a contemporary of Aristophanes. Many modern readers, who have been programmed to sneeringly “deconstruct”  old works of art rather than understand them, love to regard this comedy with hostility. They accuse Aristophanes of being “anti – intellectual” for subjecting Socrates in particular and the Sophist philosophers in general to the same satirical criticism that every other aspect of Athenian society was subjected to in comic plays.

There are many arguments I can use to refute this claim, and  I’ll present them below following my synopsis of the play itself. To provide just a brief argument right now since you may be curious, let me remind everyone that Shakespeare is famous for the line about killing all the lawyers, but I’ve never met one rational person who thinks that line means Shakespeare was seriously proposing the execution of all lawyers or the elimination of the law and/or the  judiciary system. By the same token I hardly think Aristophanes was railing against every form of education or intellectual inquiry. More on this controversy, including the trial of Socrates, below. 

THE PREMISE

the clouds picIn the ancient Greek democracy Athenian citizens were expected to represent themselves in court in both criminal and civil proceedings.

Since juries are the same no matter what the time period a guilty person who was a good speaker could get acquitted while an innocent person who was an inept speaker could get found guilty.

Conversely, since there were no public prosecutors, citizens could charge their fellow Athenians with crimes and if they were skilled enough at speaking they could railroad an innocent person. Many Athenian citizens who faced a court date would pay some of the “streetcorner” Sophist philosophers to teach them rhetorical skills to make them better prepared for their appearance in court. Continue reading

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CALLIPIDES (C 400 B.C.), THE 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.

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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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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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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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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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