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Ancient comedy playwrites
, 341 - 293
Menander. The chief representative of the New Comedy. He was born in B.C. 342,
at Athens, of a distinguished and wealthy family, received a careful education,
and led a comfortable and luxurious life, partly at Athens, and partly at his
estate in the Piraeus, the harbour of Athens, enjoying the intimate friendship
of his contemporary and the friend of his youth, Epicurus, of Theophrastus, and
of Demetrius Phalereus. He declined an invitation from King Ptolemy I. of Egypt,
so as not to have his comfort disturbed. At the height of his poetic productiveness
he was drowned while bathing in the Piraeus, at the age of fifty-two. His uncle
Alexis had given him some preparatory training in dramatic composition. As early
as 322 he made his first appearance as an author. He wrote above a hundred pieces,
and worked with the greatest facility; but he only obtained the first prize for
eight comedies, in the competition with his popular rival Philemon. The admiration
accorded him by posterity was all the greater: there was only one opinion about
the excellence of his work. His principal merits were remarkable inventiveness,
skilful arrangement of plots, life-like painting of character, a clever
and refined wit, elegant and graceful language, and a copious supply of maxims
based on a profound knowledge of the world. These last were collected in regular
anthologies, and form the bulk of the extant fragments. Unfortunately not one
of his plays has survived, although they were much read down to a late date. However,
apart from about seventy-three titles, and numerous fragments (some of considerable
length), we have transcripts of his comedies (in which, of course, the delicate
beauties of the original are lost), in a number of Latin plays by Plautus (Bacchides,
Stichus, Poenulus) and Terence (Andria, Eunuchus, Heauton Timorumenos, Adelphi).
Lucian also, in his Conversations of Hetaerae, and Alciphron in his epistles,
have made frequent use of Menander. Menander's most popular play seems to have
been the Thais, a line of which is quoted by St. Paul (1 Cor. xv. 33). The fragments
of Menander were printed in the collections of Meineke (1841) and Kock (1880).
This text is from: Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities. Cited Oct 2002 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
- Perseus: Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (1898)
Menander, the leading writer of New Comedy, was born in 342/1 B.C.
in Athens. He was a pupil of the philosopher Theophrastus, and a friend of Epicurus
and Demetrius of Phalerum. He died in 293/2 according to the tradition he was
drowned in the sea. He wrote more than 100 comedies, three of which are extant
whole, some others in fragments. Dominating in his work is the city folk of Athens,
while the comic element arises mainly from coincidence, mis- understanding, and
change of fortune. The Roman poets Terence and Plautus adapted and transcribed
some his plays.
This text is cited Oct 2002 from Cactus Editions URL below
Menander (Menandros), of Athens, the most distinguished poet of the New Comedy,
was the son of Diopeithes and Hegesistrate, and flourished in the time of the
successors of Alexander. He was born B. C. 342-1, which was also the birth-year
of Epicurus; only the birth of Menander was probably in the former half of the
year, and therefore in B. C. 342, while that of Epicurus was in the latter half,
B. C. 341 (Suid. s. v.). Strabo also (xiv. p. 526) speaks of Menander and Epicurus
as sunephebous. His father, Diopeithes, commanded the Athenian forces on the Hellespont
in B. C. 342-341, the year of Menander's birth, and was defended by Demosthenes
in his oration peri ton Chersoneso (Anon. de Com.). On this fact the grammarians
blunder with their usual felicity, not only making Menander a friend of Demosthenes,
which as a boy he may have been, but representing him as inducing Demosthenes
to defend his father, in B. C. 341, when he himself was just born, and again placing
him among the dicasts on the trial of Ctesiphon, in B. C. 330, when he was in
his twelfth year. Alexis, the comic poet, was the uncle of Menander, on the father's
side (Suid. s. v. Alexis); and we may naturally suppose, with one of the ancient
grammarians (Anon. de Com.), that the young Menander derived from his uncle his
taste for the comic drama, and was instructed by him in its rules of composition.
His character must have been greatly influenced and formed by his intimacy with
Theophrastus and Epicurus (Alciph. Epist. ii. 4), of whom the former was his teacher
(Diog. Laert. v. 36), and the latter his intimate friend. That his tastes and
sympathies were altogether with the philosophy of Epicurus is proved, among numerous
other indications, by his epigram on "Epicurus and Themistocles."
Chaire, Neokleida didumon genos, on ho men humon
Patrida doulosunas rhusath, ho d aphrosunas.
From Theophrastus, on the other hand, he must have derived much of that skill in the discrimination of character which we so much admire in the Charakteres of the philosopher, and which formed the great charm of the comedies of Menander. His master's attention to external elegance and comfort he not only imitated, but, as was natural in a man of an elegant person, a joyous spirit, and a serene and easy temper, he carried it to the extreme of luxury and effeminacy. Phaedrus (v. 1. 11, 12) describes him, when paying his court to Demetrius Phalereus, thus:
"Unguento delibutus, vestitu adfluens, Veniebat
gressu delicato et languido."
His personal beauty is mentioned by the anonymous writer on comedy (l. c.), though,
according to Suidas, his vision was somewhat disturbed, strabos tas opseis, oxus
de ton noun. He is represented in works of sculpture which still exist, and of
one of which Schlegel gives the following description: " In the excellent portrait-statues
of two of the most famous comedians, Menander and Posidippus (to be found in the
Vatican), the physiognomy of the Greek New Comedy seems to me to be almost visibly
and personally expressed. They are seated in arm chairs, clad with extreme simplicity,
and with a roll in the hand, with that ease and careless self-possession which
always marks the conscious superiority of the master in that maturity of years
which befits the calm and impartial observation which comedy requires, but sound
and active, and free from all symptoms of decay; we may discern in them that hale
and pithy vigour of body which bears witness to an equally vigorous constitution
of mind and temper; no lofty enthusiasm, but no folly or extravagance; on the
contrary, the earnestness of wisdom dwells in those brows, wrinkled not with care,
but with the exercise of thought, while, in the searching eye, and in the mouth,
ready for a smile, there is a light irony which cannot be mistaken" (Dramatic
Lectures, vii). The moral character of Menander is defended by Meineke, with tolerable
success, against the aspersions of Suidas, Alciphron, and others (Menand. Reliq.).
Thus much is certain, that his comedies contain nothing offensive, at least to
the taste of his own and the following ages, none of the purest, it must be admitted,
as they were frequently acted at private banquets (Plut. de Fals. Pud., Sympos.
viii.; Comp. Arist. et Men.). Whether their being eagerly read by the youth of
both sexes, on account of the love scenes in them, is any confirmation of their
innocence, may at least be doubted (Ovid. Trist. ii. 370).
Of the actual events of Menander's life we know but little. He enjoyed
the friendship of Demetrius Phalereus, whose attention was first drawn to him
by admiration of his works (Phaedrus, l. c.). This intimacy was attended, however,
with danger as well as honour, for when Demetrius Phalereus was expelled from
Athens by Demetrius Poliorcetes (B. C. 307), Menander became a mark for the sycophants,
and would have been put to death but for the intercession of Telesphorus, the
son-in-law of Demetrius (Diog. Laert. v. 80). The first Greek king of Egypt, Ptolemy,
the son of Lagus, was also one of his admirers; and he invited the poet to his
court at Alexandria; but Menander seems to have declined the proffered honour
(Plin. H. N. vii. 29. s. 31; Alciphr. Epist. ii. 3, 4). Suidas mentions some letters
to Ptolemy as among the works of Menander.
The time of his death is differently stated. The same inscription,
which gives the date of his birth, adds that he died at the age of fifty-two years,
in the archonship of Philippus, in the 32nd year of Ptolemy Soter. Clinton shows
that these statements refer to the year B. C. 292-1; but, to make up the fifty-two
years, we must reckon in both extremes, 342 and 291. The date is confirmed by
Eusebius (Chron.); by the anonymous writer on comedy (p. xii.), who adds that
Menander died at Athens; by Apollodorus (ap. Aul. Gell. xvii. 4); and by Aulus
Gellius (xvii. 21). Respecting the manner of his death, all that we know is that
an old commentator on Ovid applies the line (Ibis, 593)
"Comicus ut medius periit dum nabat in undis"
to Menander, and tells us that he was drowned while swimming in the harbour of
Peiraeeus; and we learn from Alciphron (Epist. ii. 4) that Menander had an estate
at Peiraeeus. He was buried by the road leading out of Peiraeeus towards Athens
(Paus. i. 2.2).
Notwithstanding Menander's fame as a poet, his public dramatic career,
during his lifetime, was not eminently successful; for, though he composed upwards
of a hundred comedies, he only gained the prize eight times. (Aul. Gell. xvii.
4; comp. Martial. v. 10), His preference for elegant exhibitions of character
above coarse jesting may have been the reason why he was not so great a favourite
with the common people as his principal rival, Philemon, who is said, moreover,
to have used unfair means of gaining popularity (Gell. l. c.).
Menander appears to have borne the popular neglect very lightly, in
the consciousness of his superiority; and once, when he happened to meet Philemon,
he is said to have asked him, "Pray, Philemon, do not you blush when you gain
a victory over me?" (Gell. l. c.; comp. Athen. xiii.; Alciphr. Epist. ii. 3).
The Athenians erected his statue in the theatre, but this was an honour too often
conferred upon very indifferent poets to be of much value: indeed, according to
Pausanias, he was the only distinguished comic poet of all whose statues had a
place there (Paus. i. 21.1; Dion Chrysost. Or. xxxi.).
The neglect of Menander's contemporaries has been amply compensated
by his posthumous fame. His comedies retained their place on the stage down to
the time of Plutarch (Comp. Men. et Arist.), and the unanimous consent of antiquity
placed him at the head of the New Comedy, and on an equality with the great masters
of the various kinds of poetry. The grammarian Aristophanes assigned him the second
place among all writers, after Homer alone. To the same grammarian is ascribed
the happy saying, O Menandre, kai Bie, poteros ar humon proteron emimesato (or,
according to Scaliger's correction, poteron apemimesato). Among the Romans, besides
the fact that their comedy was founded chiefly on the plays of Menander, we have
the celebrated phrase of Julius Caesar, who addresses Terence as dimidiate Menander
(Donat. Vit. Terent.). Quintilian's high eulogy of him is well known (x. 1).
The imitations of Menander are at once a proof of his reputation and
an aid in appreciating his poetic character. Among the Greeks, Alciphron and Lucian
were, in various degrees, indebted to his comedies. (Meineke, p. xxxv.) Among
the Romans, his chief imitators were Caecilius, Afranius, and Terentius. How much
Caecilius was indebted to him may be conjectured from the titles of his plays,
of which there are very few that are not taken from Menander. Respecting Afranius
we have the well-known line of Horace (Epist. ii. 1. 57):
"Dicitur Afrani toga convenisse Menandro."
Plautus was an exception, as we learn from the next line of Horace:
"Plautus ad exemplar Siculi properare Epicharmi
and his extant plays sufficiently show that the ruder energy of the old Doric
comedy was far more congenial to him than the polished sententiousness of Menander,
whom, therefore, he only followed in a few instances, one of the most striking
of which is in the Cistellaria (i. 1. 91). With respect to Terence, the oft-repeated
statement, that he was simply a translator of Meander, is an injustice to the
latter. That Terence was indebted to him for all his ideas and very many of his
lines, is true enough; but that from any one play of Terence we can form a fair
notion of the corresponding play of Menander, is disproved by the confession of
Terence himself (Prolog. in Andr). that he compressed two of Menander's plays
into one; while the coolness with which he defends and even boasts of the exploit,
shows how little we can trust him as our guide to the poetical genius of Menander.
The one merit of Terence was felicity of expression; he had not the power of invention
to fill up the gaps left by the omissions necessary in adapting a Greek play for
a Roman audience, and therefore he drew again upon the rich resources of his original.
It was this mixing up of different plays that his contemporaries condemned when
they said, "Contaminari non decere fabulas," and that Caesar pointed to by the
phrase O dimidiate Menander. In the epigram in which that phrase occurs, Caesar
expressly intimates that the spirit of the Greek original had greatly evaporated
"Tu quoque, tu in summis, o dimidiate Menander,
Poneris, et merito, puri sermonis amator.
Lenibus atque utinam scriptis adjuncta foret vis;
Comica ut aequato virtus polleret honore
Cum Graecis, neque in hac despectus parte jaceres.
Unum hoc maceror et doleo tibi deesse, Terenti."
The following epigram is worth quoting by the side of Caesar's
"Tu quoque, qui solus tecto sermone, Terenti,
Conversum expressumque Latina voce Menandrum
In medio populi sedatis vocibus effers."
Still, the comedies of Terence are a valuable contribution to our knowledge of Menander, especially considering the scantiness of the extant fragments.
Meineke well remarks that the quality which Caesar missed in Terence
was what the Greeks call to pathetikon, which Menander had with admirable art
united with toi ethikoi. And thus the poetry of Menander is described as dia pollon
agomene pathon kai ethon by Plutarch, in his Comparison of Menander and Aristophanes,
which is the most valuable of the ancient testimonies concerning our poet. The
style of his language is described by an old grammarian as lexis lelumene kai
hipokoitike, be contrasted with another writer's description of the diction of
Philemon, as sunertemenen kai oion esphalismenen tois sundesmois.
To criticise the poetry of Menander is to describe the whole spirit
and genius of the New Comedy, of which his plays may be safely taken as the normal
representatives. This has been done with a most masterly hand by Schlegel, in
his seventh lecture, from which the following passage is quoted: "The New Comedy,
in a certain point of view, may indeed be described as the Old Comedy tamed down:
but, in speaking of works of genius, tameness does not usually pass for praise.
The loss incurred in the interdict laid upon the old, unrestricted freedom of
mirth, the newer comedians sought to compensate by throwing in a touch of earnestness
borrowed from tragedy, as well in the form of representation, and the connection
of the whole, as in the impressions, which they aimed at producing. We have seen
how tragic poetry, in its last epoch, lowered its tone from its ideal elevation,
and came nearer to common reality, both in the characters and in the tone of the
dialogue, but especially as it aimed at conveying useful instruction on the proper
conduct of civil and domestic life, in all their. several emergencies. This turn
towards utility Aristophanes has ironically commended in Euripides (Ran. 971-991).
Euripides was the forerunner of the New Comedy; the poets of this species admired
him especially, and acknowledged him for their master. Nay, so great is this affinity
of tone and spirit, between Euripides and the poets of the New Comedy, that apophthegms
of Euripides have been ascribed to Menander, and vice versa. On the contrary,
we find among the fragments of Menander maxims of consolation, which rise in a
striking manner even into the tragic tone" (It may be added, that we have abundant
testimony to prove that Menander was a great admirer and imitator of Euripides).
"The New Comedy, therefore, is a mixture of sport and earnest. The
poet no longer makes a sport of poetry and the world, he does not resign himself
to a mirthful enthusiasm, but he seeks the sportive character in his subject,
he depicts in human characters and situations that which gives occasion to mirth;
in a word, whatever is pleasant and ridiculous."
Menander is remarkable for the elegance with which he threw into the
form of single verses, or short sentences, the maxims of that practical wisdom
in the affairs of common life which forms so important a feature of the New Comedy.
Various "Anthologies" of such sentences were compiled by the ancient grammarians
from Menander's works, of which there is still extant a very interesting specimen,
in the collection of several hundred lines (778 in Meineke's edition), under the
title of Gnomai monostichoi. Respecting the collection entitled Menandroi kai
Philistionos sunkrisis, see Philistion.
The number of Menander's comedies is stated at a few more than a hundred;
105, 108, and 109, according to different authorities (Suid. s. v.; Anon. de Com.;
Donat. Vit. Ter.; Aul. Gell. xvii. 4). We only know with certainty the date of
one of the plays, namely, the Orge, which was brought out in B. C. 321, when Menander
was only in his twenty-first year. We have fragments of, or references to, the
following plays, amounting in all to nearly ninety titles: Adelphoi (imitated
by Terence, who, however, has mixed up with it the Sunapothneskontes of Diphilus).
Alaeis not Alai Araphenides, Halieis, Anatithemene e Messenia, Andria, (mixed
up with the Perinthia in the Andria of Terence), Androgunos e Kres, Anepsioi,
Apistos, Arrhephoros e Auletris, Aspis, Hauton penthon, Aphrodisia, boiotia, Georgos,
Daktulios, Dardanos, Deisidaimon, Demiourgos, Didumai, Dis exapaton, Duskolos,
Heauton timoroumenos (copied by Terence), Encheiridion, Empipramene, Epangellomenos,
Epikleros, Epitrepontes (the plot of which was similar to that of the Hecyra of
Terence), Eunouchos (imitated by Terence, but with a change in the dramatis personae),
Ephesios, Heniochos, Heros, Thais, Thettale, Theophroumene, Thesauros (translated
into Latin by Lucius Lavinius), Thrasuleon Hiereia, Imxrioi, Hippokomos, Kanephoros,
Karine, Karchedonios (from which Plautus probably took his Poenulus), Katapseudomenos,
Kerkuphalos, Kitharistes, Knidia, Kolaz (partly followed in the Eunuchus of Terence),
Koneiazomenai (perhaps better Koniazomenai), KnxerWetai Aeukadia, Aokroi, Methe,
Menagurtes, Misogunes (reckoned bv Phrynichus the best of all Menander's comedies,
Epit), Misoumenos (another of his best plays, Liban. Orat. xxxi.), Naukleros,
Nomothetes, Eenologos, Olunthia, Homopatrioi, Orge, Paidion, Pallake, Parakatatheke,
Perikeiromene, Perinthia, Plokion, Progamot, Proenkalon, Poloumenot, Hpapizomene,
Samia, SikuoWios, Stratiotai, Sunaristosai, Sunerosa, Eunephexoi, Titthe, Trophonios,
Udria, Humnis, Hupoxolimaios e Agroikos, Phanion, Phasma, Philadelphoi, Chalkeia,
Chalkis, Chera, Pseuderakles, Psophodees. There are also about 500 fragments which
cannot be assigned to their proper places. To these must be added the Gnomai monostichoi,
some passages of the Gnomai (or Sunkrisis) Menandrou kai Philistionos and two
epigrams, one in the Greek Anthology (quoted above), and one in the Latin version
of Ausonius (Epig. 139). Of the letters to Ptolemy, which Suidas mentions, nothing
survives, and it may fairly be doubted whether they were not, like the so-called
letters of other great men of antiquity, the productions of the later rhetoricians.
Suidas ascribes to him some orations, logous pleistous katalogaden, a statement
of which there is no confirmation; but Quintilian (x. 1.70) tells us that some
ascribed the orations of Charisius to Menander.
Of the ancient commentators on Menander, the earliest was Lynceus
of Samos, his contemporary and rival . The next was the grammarian Aristophanes,
whose admiration of Menander we have spoken of above, and whose work, entitled
paralleloi Menandrou te kai aph hon eklepsen eklogai, is mentioned by Eusebius
(Praep. Evan. x. 3), who also mentions a work by a certain Latinus or Cratinus,
peri ton ouk idion Menandrou. Next comes Plutarch's Comparison of Menander and
Aristophanes: next Soterides of Epidaurus, who wrote a hupomnema eis Menandrou
(Eudoc.; Suid. vol. iii.); and lastly Homer, surnamed Sellius, the author of a
work entitled periochai ton Menandrou dramaton (Suid vol. ii.). The Menandrean
letters of Alciphron
also contain some valuable information. They are printed by Meineke in his edition
The fragments of Menander were first printed in the collection of
Sntentiae, chiefly from the New Comedy, by Morellius, Greek and Latin, Paris,
1553; next in the similar collection of Hertelius, Greek and Latin, Basel, 1560;
next in that of H. Stephanus, Greek and Latin, with the Tractatus of Stephanus,
De habendo Delectu Sententiarum quae gnomai a Graecis dicuntur, and the Dissertatio
de Menandro of Greg. Gyraldus, 1569 (this curiously shaped little volume, which
is 41/2 inches long, by scarcely 2 wide, contains extracts from several poets
of the Middle and New Comedy); next, Menandri et Philistionis Sententiae Comparatae,
Graece, cur. Nic. Rigaltii, excud. R. Stephanus, 1613; Menandri et Philistionis
XUNKRIXIX, c. vers. Lat. et not. Rutgersii et D. Heinsii, 1618. (in the Var. Lect.
of Rutgers); Menandri Fragmenta, Graec. et Lat. in H. Grotii Excerpt. ex Trag.
et Com. Graec. Paris, 1626, 4to.; Menandri Sententiae, in Winterton's Poet. Min.
Graec., Cautab. et Lond. 1653. The first attempt at a complete critical edition
was the following :-- Menandri et Philemonis Reliquiae, quotquot reperire potuerunt,
Graece et Latine, cum notis Hug. Grotii et Joh. Clerici, &c., Amst. 1709: this
edition was reprinted in 1732, 1752, 1771, and 1777, but has been very generally
condemned. Since the publication of that work there has been no edition of Meander
worthy of notice, except that his Gnomai have had a place in the various collections
of the gnomic poets, until the appearance of Meineke's Menandri et Philemonis
Reliquiae, Berol. 1823: this admirable edition contains, besides the fragments,
dissertations on the lives and writings of the two poets, and Bentley's emendations
on the fragments. The fragments are reprinted by Meineke (with the annotations
somewhat condensed) in the fourth volume of his Fragmenta Comicorum Graecorum,
Berol. 1841; but in the first volume of that work, which contains the Historia
Critica Comicorum Graecorum, he passes over the lives of Menander and Philemon,
referring the reader to his former work. Meineke's collection has been also reprinted
(carefully revised, and with the addition of a Latin version), by Dubner, as an
appendix to the Aristophanes of Didot's Bibliotheca Scriptorum Graecorum, Paris,
1840. (For the works on Menander, see Hoffman, Lexicon Bibliograph.: the chief
authorities, besides Meineke, are Fabric. Bibl. Graec. vol. ii; Bernhardy, Grundriss
der Gricchischen Litteratur, vol. ii; Muller, Grk. Lit)
This text is from: A dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology, 1873 (ed. William Smith). Cited June 2005 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
- A dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology (ed. William Smith)
Menander, the son of Diopeithes, a well-known general, was
born at Athens, B.C. 342. He passed his youth in the house of his uncle and received
from him and from Theophrastus instruction in poetry and philosophy, probably
deriving from the latter in some measure the knowledge of character for which
he was noted. His first comedy was produced when he was twenty-one years of age,
and from that time until his death, which occurred some thirty years later while
bathing in the harbor of the Piraeus,
he wrote more than a hundred plays, eight of them winning the prize. He was a
disciple of the Epicurean school, and is described by Phaedrus as an effeminate
voluptuary, while his amours with the courtesan, Glycera, were notorious. Menander
is accepted as the best writer of the comedy of manners among the Greeks. We have
a few specimens of the ingenuity of his plots in some of the plays of Terence,
whom Julius Caesar used to call a demi-Menander. He was an imitator of Euripides,
and we may infer from what Quintilian says of him that his comedies differed from
the tragi-comedies of that poet only in the absence of mythical subjects and a
chorus. Like Euripides, he was a good rhetorician, and Quintilian is inclined
to attribute to him some orations published in the name of Charisius. The every-day
life of his countrymen, and manners and characters of ordinary occurrence, were
the objects of his imitation. His plots, though skillfully contrived, are somewhat
monotonous, and there are few of his comedies which do not bring on the stage
a harsh father, a profligate son and a roguish slave. Yet he was greatly esteemed
in Athens, where a statue was erected to his memory in the theatre of Dionysus.
Alfred Bates, ed.
This text is cited July 2003 from the TheatreHistory URL below.
Quotations by Menander
He who labors diligently need never despair; for all things are accomplished by
diligence and labor.
Riches cover a multitude of woes. (Lady of Andros)
The man who runs may fight again. (Monostikoi "Single Lines")
Whom the gods love dies young. (The Double Deceiver)
Deus ex machina [A god from the machine]. (The Woman Possessed with a Divinity)
I call a fig a fig, a spade a spade.
It is not white hair that engenders wisdom.
Euripides (480-406 BC)
Articles and more information on Euripides, see ancient Salamis
, 1931 - 2001