Tag Archives: comedy

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.” … “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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ELF ON THE SHELF (2018)

Enjoy this item from Tyler Regan and Rachel Levin.

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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.

Hetaera 2A hetaera could move from man to man or keep one man for extended periods. What they were was openly known but the hetaerae occupied the top rung in the open “sex for pay” business in ancient Greece. Political figures could be publicly known as a hetaera’s steady man and it was not a career ender, but the man would be in for a lot of ribbing in the comedies of the time, usually as the butt of jokes pointing out how such an “ugly” man could ONLY get such a beautiful sex partner by paying her. Continue reading

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ANCIENT GREEK COMEDY: AUTOLYCUS circa 420 B.C.

Jesse Ventura: Wrestler turned governor of Minnesota

Jesse Ventura: Wrestler turned governor of Minnesota

With the ongoing domestic violence situation with the NFL’s Ray Rice, the fake “drowning rescue” at USC plus the usual number of other scandals plaguing high-profile athletes at the moment this seemed a good time to examine the ancient Greek comedy Autolycus. This play was written by Eupolis who, along with Aristophanes and Cratinus constituted the Big Three of Attic Old Comedy. As with so many comedies of the time period Autolycus has survived only in fragmentary form, unfortunately.

THE PLAY

The title character of Eupolis’ comedy Autolycus was an Athenian athlete who earned a high degree of fame for his performance at the Great Panathenaia in 422 B.C. To simplify the concept the Great Panathenaia was a “local” version of the Olympic games and did not have participants from all over the known Western World.

Like so many figures from ancient Athens Autolycus had both male lovers and female lovers. The plot of this comedy dealt with the way in which Autolycus’ male lover Kallias – a wealthy heir – had begun grooming Autolycus for a run at political office. The play depicted Autolycus (son of Lykon) as being all muscles and no brains, prompting Kallias to insist his lover be “coached up” on politics by one of Lykon’s servants – an erudite man who suffered financial losses and was reduced to the lackey class in Athens.  

Once again we have an ancient Greek comedy with a theme we can still relate to today. On one level we can picture unlikely figures like Arnold Schwarzeneggar or Jesse Ventura successfully winning gubernatorial races despite their public reputations as “jocks” instead of statesmen. On a deeper level the theme of the comedy can also be applied to ANY figures who are deemed politically viable because of their accomplishments in a field COMPLETELY unrelated to the skills necessary to the art of governing.   Continue reading

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