Tag Archives: Attic Old Comedy

ANCIENT GREEK COMEDIES: LYSIPPUS

Balladeer’s Blog has examined nearly three dozen ancient Greek comedies so far in terms of their continuing relevance over 2,400 years later. Here’s another post in which I will focus 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/ 

masc graveyard smallerLYSIPPUS – 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 promise the audience that the comedy wouldn’t just rework the same tired jokes like the works of Lysippus’ comic rivals supposedly did. An idiomatic expression the playwright used referred to the ancient practice of fumigating old and used clothing with sulphur and then passing it off as new. 
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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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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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TAXIARCHOI (C 427-415 B.C.): ANCIENT GREEK COMEDY

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

TAXIARCHOI (Tax Collectors) – By Eupolis. Tax Day – which April 15th USUALLY is – 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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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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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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