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Ancient comedy playwrites
The early stages of the history of comedy are involved in great indistinctness,
as they never formed the subject of much inquiry even when information was extant.
This was the case even among the Athenians, and to a still larger extent among
the Dorians. The ancient Greeks seldom showed much aptitude for antiquarian research,
and for a long time comedy was scarcely thought deserving of attention; for it
was not, says Aristotle (Poet. 5), seriously cultivated from the beginning. And
it was only quite recently that the archon gave a chorus of comedians; before
that they were `volunteers' (ethelontai). It was only when comedy had attained
something like form that comic poets are mentioned. Who fixed its masks or prologues
or number of actors or the like, is not known. Aristotle does not give a formal
definition of comedy; though in one passage (Poet. 5 init.) he seems to define
it as mimesis tou geloiou: but perhaps we should suppose with Mahaffy that the
formal definition is lost, and that it ran parallel to his definition of tragedy,
describing comedy as a purification of certain affections of our nature by laughter
That comedy took its rise at the vintage festivals of Dionysus is
certain. It originated, as Aristotle says (Poet. 4), with those who led off the
phallic songs (apo ton exarchonton ta phallika) of the band of revellers (komos),
who at the vintage festivals of Dionysus gave expression to the feelings of exuberant
joy and merriment which were regarded as appropriate to the occasion, by parading
about, partly on foot, partly in wagons, with the symbol of the productive powers
of nature, singing a wild, jovial song in honour of Dionysus and his companions.
These songs were commonly interspersed with, or followed by petulant, extemporal
(autoschediastike, Arist. Poet. 4) witticisms with which the revellers assailed
the bystanders (see the description of the phallophori at Sicyon in Athen. xiv.),
just as the chorus in the Frogs of Aristophanes, after their song to Iacchus,
begin ridiculing Archedemus (417, &c.). This origin of comedy is indicated by
the name komoidia, which undoubtedly means the song of the komos. This appears
both from the testimony of Aristotle that it arose out of the phallic songs and
from Demosthenes (c. Mid.), where we find mentioned together ho komos kai hoi
komoidoi. Other derivations of the name were, however, given even in antiquity.
The Megarians, conceiving it to be connected with the word kome, and to mean village-song,
appealed to the name as an evidence of the superiority of their claim to be considered
as the originators of comedy over that of the Athenians (Arist. Poet. 3). This
derivation was also adopted by several of the old grammarians.
Passing by the Homeric Margites, in which Aristotle sees the origin
of comedy (Poet. 4), and which certainly does draw a character from a ridiculous
point of view, we find that it was among the Dorians that comedy first assumed
anything of a regular shape. The Megarians, both in the mother country and in
Sicily, claimed to be considered as its originators (Arist. Poet. 3); and so far
as the comedy of Athens is concerned, the claim of the former appears well founded.
They were always noted for their coarse humour (Aristoph. Vesp. 57, with the Schol.;
Anthol. Pal. xi. 440; Suidas, s. v. gelos); and their democratical constitution,
which was established at an early period, favoured the development of comedy in
the proper sense of the word. In the aristocratical states the mimetic impulse,
as connected with the laughable or absurd, was obliged to content itself with
a less unrestrained mode of manifestation. The Lacedaemonians, who had a great
fondness for mimetic and orchestic amusements, had their deikeliktai, whose exhibitions
appear to have been burlesques of characters of common life. The favourite personages
were the fruit-stealer and the foreign quack, for the representation of which
they had a peculiar mimetic dance (Athen. xiv.; Plut. Ages. 21). Among the forerunners
of comedy must be mentioned the Phallophori and Ithyphalli at Sicyon, who, Athenaeus
says (xiv.), are the same as the deikeliktai. It was here, where at an early period
the dithyramb also was dramatised, that the komos first assumed a more dramatic
form, and Dionysus was even said to have invented comedy at Sicyon (Anthol. Pal.
xi. 32). The Phallophori had no masks, but covered their faces with chaplets of
wild thyme, acanthus, ivy, and violets, and threw skins round them. After singing
a hymn to Dionysus, they flouted and jeered at any one of the bystanders whom
they selected. The Ithyphalli wore masks representing drunken persons, and were
equipped in other respects in a manner which, if not very decent, was appropriate
to the part they had to sustain. It was the iambic improvisations of the exarchi
of such choruses which gave rise to the later comedy. Antheas of Lindus is spoken
of as a poet who composed pieces for such comuses of phallus-bearers, which were
called comedies (Athen. x.). Such pieces have been styled lyrical comedies by
many scholars, to distinguish them from the comedy proper. Lobeck and Hermann,
however, stoutly deny that there was any such thing as lyrical tragedy or comedy
distinct from dramatical tragedy and comedy and yet not the same with dithyrambs
or phallic songs, and affirm that the tragedies and comedies which we hear of
before the rise of the regular drama were only a species of dithyramb and phallic
song. The dispute is more about names than about things; and there seems no great
objection to applying the term lyrical tragedy or comedy to pieces intended to
be performed by choruses, without any actors distinct from the chorus, and having
a more dramatic cast than other purely lyrical songs. This, apparently, was the
point to which comedy attained among the Megarians before Susarion introduced
it into Attica. It arose out of the union of the iambic lampoon with the phallic
songs of the comus, just as tragedy arose out of the union of rhapsodical recitations
with the dithyramb.
Among the Athenians the first attempts at comedy, according
to the almost unanimous accounts of antiquity, were made at Icaria by Susarion,
a native of Tripodiscus in Megara. Icaria was the oldest seat
of the worship of Dionysus in Attica (Athen. ii.), and comus processions must
undoubtedly have been known there long before the time of Susarion. Iambistic
raillery was also an amusement already known in the festivals of Bacchus and Demeter
on the bridge between Athens and Eleusis. From the jests and banterings directed
by the Bacchic comus, as it paraded about, against the bystanders, or any others
whom they selected, arose the proverb ta ex hamaxes (Schol. Arist. Nub. 296; Suidas,
s. v.; Ulpianus ad Demosth. de Cor.; Photius, Lex., s. v. ta ek ton hamaxon: cf.
pompeia, meaning abuse). This scoffing, which was considered part of the festival,
continued customary not only at the rural Dionysia, but on the second day of the
Anthesteria. It was in the third year of the 50th Olympiad (B.C. 578) that Susarion
introduced at Icaria comedy in that stage of development to which it had attained
among the Megarians (Marm. Par.). It is not, however, easy to decide in what his
improvements consisted. Of course there were no actors besides the chorus or comus;
whatever there was of drama must have been performed by the latter. The introduction
of an actor separate from the chorus was an improvement not yet made in the drama.
According to one grammarian, Susarion was the first to give to the iambistic performances
of the comus a regular metrical form. He no doubt substituted for the more ancient
improvisations of the chorus and its leader premeditated compositions, though
still of the same general kind; for, as Aristotle says (Poet. c. 5), Crates was
the first who erxen aphemenos tes iambikes ideas katholou poiein logous e muthous.
According to Schomann, the regularity introduced into the Icarian choruses consisted
of a definite number of persons uniting to form a chorus and arranging some general
plan of performance, leaving a considerable amount of details to improvisation.
Such choruses became frequent, and, as was to be expected, there would seem also
to have been some kind of poetical contest, for we learn that the prize for the
successful poet was a basket of figs and a jar of wine (Marm. Par.). It was also
the practice of those who took part in the comus to smear their faces with wine-lees,
either to prevent their features from being recognised, or to give themselves
a more grotesque appearance. Hence comedy came to be called trugoidia or lee-song.
Others connected the name with the circumstance of a jar of new wine (trux) being
the prize for the successful poet, or of the exhibition being held at the time
of the vintage (truge). An important gloss in the Sangallensis MS. edited by Usener
says of these early comedies: In fabulas primi eam contulerunt non [om. MS.] magnas
ita ut non excederent in singulis versus trecenos [tricenos MS.]. Leo thinks that
Magnes is concealed under magnas. It is to be remarked, however, that Wilamowitz
in Hermes considers that the so-called Megarian comedy in Attica was not derived
from Megara at all, but was a species of comedy invented by the Athenians, in
which they satirised the vulgarity and stupidity of the Megarians, laying the
scene at Megara just as the Romans did that of the Atellanae at Atella. He urges
that the fragments we have purporting to be those of the ancient Attic comedians
up to Cratinus (i. e. Chionides, Magnes, &c.) are not genuine, as may be perceived
both from the style, which is more that of the age of Eupolis than that even of
Cratinus, and also from the fact that Aristotle knew merely the names of these
authors, but not their plays. Be that, however, as it may, there can be but little
question that what are called Susarion's pieces were merely intended for the amusement
of the hour, and were not committed to writing: a laugh was the sole object sought.
They doubtless partook of that petulant, coarse, and unrestrained personality
for which the Megarian comedy was noted. But for entertainments of such a character
the Athenians were not yet prepared. They required the freedom of a democracy.
Accordingly, comedy was discouraged, and for eighty years after the time of Susarion
we hear nothing of it in Attica.
It was, however, in Sicily that comedy was earliest brought to something
like perfection. The Greeks in the Sicilian colonies always exhibited a lively
temperament, and the gift of working up any occurrence into a spirited, fluent
dialogue (Cic. Verr. iv. 4. 3, 95; Quintil. vi. 3, 41). This faculty finding its
stimulus in the excitement produced by the political contests, which were so frequent
in the different cities, and the opportunity for its exercise in the numerous
agrarian festivals connected with the worship of Demeter and Bacchus, it was natural
that comedy should early take its rise among them. Yet before the time of the
Persian wars we only hear of iambic compositions, and of a single poet, Aristoxenus
of Selinus, who first introduced the ancient fashion of reciting iambics, according
to Epicharmus, and who ridiculed the soothsayers. The performers were called autokabdaloi,
i.e. improvisatores (Athen. xiv.; Etym. Magn. s. v. autokabd.; Hesych. s. v.;
Aristot. Rhet. iii. 7, 1), and subsequently iamboi. There is no evidence that
they belonged exclusively to Sicily. The Italians called them phluakes: the Thebans,
ethelontai: and some people apparently sophistai (Athen. xiv.). Their entertainments
being of a choral character were, doubtless, accompanied by music and dancing.
Athenaeus (xiv. p. 629) mentions a dance called the iambike, which was quieter
than the purriche; but as he ranks it with the Molossike emmeleia, the sikinnis
Persike, and the kordax, it was probably a generic term, like our fling. Afterwards,
the comic element was developed partly into travesties of religious legends, partly
into delineations of character and manners, in the comedy of Epicharmus, Phormis,
and Dinolochus; and in the mimes of Sophron and Xenarchus. Epicharmus is very
commonly called the inventor of comedy by the grammarians and others (Theocr.
Epig. 17; Suidas, s. v. Epicharmos; Solinus, 5, 13); this, however, is true only
of that more artistical shape which he gave to it. He was the first who recovered
the disjecta membra of comedy, and effected many improvements (houtos protos ten
komoidian dierrimmenen anektesato polla prosphilotechnesas, Anonym. de Com.).
His comedy was that of character and travesty. Democopus built a theatre for him
at Syracuse, and the entire management of the stage was reduced to system there
long before it was at Athens. His plays had not very much plot, but clever dialogue
and single comic scenes were elaborately worked out, in which the myths were travestied
or philosophical notions aired and parodied. His sound practical wisdom was shown
in the number of wise sayings collected from his writings. He wrote three kinds
of plays: (1) travesties of the myths, e.g. the Marriage of Hebe, in which the
gluttony of Heracles is represented. (2) Character comedies, e. g. Elpis e ploutos,
Agrostinos, Thearoi. (3) Dialectical arguments, e. g. Ga kai thalassa. He is said
to have first introduced the drunkard, though this is also attributed to Crates,
and to have invented the character of the parasite (in the Elpis). see Athen.
vi. He wrote in trochaic tetrameters and anapaests, and in the Doric dialect.
His plays exhibit a close connexion, both with the Satyric drama and with such
plays as the Helena, in which the heroes are somewhat vulgarized. Indeed, Epicharmus
had probably much to say to the degradation of such characters as the Odysseus
of the Philoctetes (Mahaffy, op. cit. i. 406; cf. Hermathena, i. 262 ff.). The
titles of the plays by Phormis (e.g. Admetus, Alcinous, Perseus) and Dinolochus
(Althea, Medea, Telephus) show that they were on mythological subjects, and were
travesties of the heroes. The difference thought to subsist between these farces
and the Satyric drama, is that in the former the gods and heroes were themselves
ridiculed; whereas in the Satyric drama the nobler characters (e. g. Odysseus
in the Cyclops) retain their dignity. O. Muller, however, says: Satyric poetry
places by the lofty forms of the heroes, not human perverseness, but the want
of real humanity, whereas comedy is conversant about the deterioration of civilised
humanity. Sophron flourished about 450 B.C. His Mimes were written in rhythmical
prose and in the broader Doric dialect, patois being often introduced. They were
coarse in tone, but full of proverbs and of humour. We have no evidence of their
being performed in public. Their titles show their nature: e.g. The Tunny Fishes,
Paidika poiphuxeis (cf. erota pnein), Holieus (= ho halieus) ton agroiotan. Theocritus
is said to have borrowed his Pharmakeutriai and Adoniazousai from the Akestriai
and Isthmiazousai of Sophron.
In Attica, the first comic poet of any importance whom we hear of
after Susarion is Chionides, who is said to have brought out plays in B.C. 488
(Suidas, s. v. Chionides). Euetes, Euxenides, and Myllus, who heard everything,
were probably contemporaries of Chionides; he was followed by Magnes and Ecphantides.
Their compositions, however, seem to have been little but the reproduction of
the old Megaric farce of Susarion, differing no doubt in form, by the introduction
of an actor or actors separate from the chorus, in imitation of the improvements
that had been made in tragedy. That branch of the Attic drama which was called
the Old Comedy begins properly with Cratinus, who was to comedy very much what
Aeschylus was to tragedy. Another says that, according to the proverb, gumnei
tei kephalei tithesi tas blasphemias kata ton hamartanonton, but that he was careless
in adhering to his plots. Under the vigorous and liberal administration of Pericles
comedy found free scope, and rapidly reached its perfection. Cratinus is said
to have been the first who introduced three actors in a comedy. But Crates is
spoken of as the first who began katholou poiein logous e muthous (Arist. Poet.
5), i. e. raised comedy from being a mere lampooning of individuals, and gave
it a character of universality, in which subjects drawn from reality or stories
of his own invention received a free, poetic treatment, the characters introduced
being rather generalisations than particular individuals (See Aristotle's distinction
between ta kath' hekaston and ta katholou, Poet. 9). In what is known of his pieces
no traces appear of anything of a personal or political kind. He was the first
who introduced into his works the character of a drunken man. Though Crates was
a younger contemporary of Cratinus, and at first an actor in his pieces, yet,
except perhaps his earlier plays, the comedies of Cratinus were an improvement
upon those of Crates, as they united with the universality of the latter the pungent
personal satire and earnest political purpose which characterised the Old Comedy.
Crates and his imitator Pherecrates seem in the character of their pieces to have
had more affinity with the Middle than with the Old Comedy. The latter has been
described as the comedy of caricature, and such indeed it was, but it was also
a great deal more. As it appeared in the hands of its great masters Cratinus,
Hermippus, Eupolis, and especially Aristophanes, its main characteristic was that
it was throughout political. Everything that bore upon the political or social
interests of the Athenians furnished materials for it. It assailed everything
that threatened liberty, religion, and the old established principles of social
morality and taste, or tended to detract from the true nobleness of the Greek
character. It performed the functions of a public censorship, and the utmost freedom
was allowed the comic poets (Isocr. de Pace, 14; Cic. de Rep. iv. 8; Hor. Sat.
i. 4, 1; Dion. Chrys. ii. 4). But it must be remembered that they attacked as
party men, not as perfectly disinterested lovers of what was right; just like
the attacks of party newspapers of the present day. Though merely personal satire,
having no higher object than the sport of the moment, was by no means excluded,
yet commonly it is on political or general grounds that individuals are brought
forward and satirised. A groundwork of reality usually lay at the base of the
most imaginative forms which its wild licence adopted. All kinds of fantastic
impersonations and mythological beings were mixed up with those of real life.
With such unbounded stores of materials for the subject and form of comedies,
complicated plots were of course unnecessary, and were not adopted. Though the
Old Comedy could only subsist under a democracy, it deserves to be remarked that
its poets were usually opposed to that democracy and its leaders. Some of the
bitterest assailants even of Pericles were to be found among the comic poets,
e. g. Teleclides and Hermippus.
But what is generally known as the Old Comedy at Athens -that is,
the political Old Comedy- was in reality only one of the forms of comedy, which
has been brought into excessive prominence for us owing to the fact that the principal
plays of Aristophanes which have come down to us have this political reference.
But it is a mistake to suppose that politics was the sole subject treated of by
Aristophanes and his contemporaries; they handled also the various other subjects
of comedy which we find in preceding and succeeding ages. Thus, besides Crates
and Pherecrates, whom we have seen to be virtually writers of the New Comedy,
the latter attacking innovations in music in the Chiron, painting the delights
of the golden age in the Agrios, and censuring the extravagances of the better
classes in the Agathoi e argurou aphanismos, we find mythical subjects treated
of by Cratinus in the Nemesis (e. g. the birth of Helen) and Busiris, and literary
criticism in the Seriphii and Archilochi, in the latter of which Homer and Hesiod
are introduced. Literature is also treated of in the Musae and Tragoedi of Phrynichus,
and in the Frogs and Amphiaraus of Aristophanes. The guessing of riddles (griphoi),
a note of the New Comedy, is found in the Cleobulinae of Cratinus; Teleclides
represents the golden age in the Amphictyones, as did Eupolis in the Chrusoun
genos; Hermippus wrote the Birth of Athena (and we know gonai were a favourite
subject of the so-called Middle Comedy). Even in the Plutus of Aristophanes it
is no longer on a political or literary subject, but on the unevenness and unjust
division of wealth; it has all its characters general ones; and the slave, as
in the later comedy, plays a principal part. But, above all, we actually hear
of a play of Aristophanes, the Cocalus, which in its love-intrigue and recognition
presents two of the most prominent features of the New Comedy plots.
Mahaffy notices that the old comic writers could not be so prolific
as the tragedians, because they had to invent their plots; but, as depending on
the passing events of the day, were compelled to faster writing than the tragedians.
In many points he notices analogies between the days of the Old Comedy and the
Shakesperean era, such as that the authors often began as actors (Aristoph. Eq.
541 -thus Crates and Pherecrates, we are told, were actors); they had to work
very fast, and brought out altered editions of their own plays to supply the place
of new ones -thus we hear of two editions of the Nubes (Arg. v. to Nub.); they
often collaborated, e. g. Eupolis is said to have helped Aristophanes in the Equites;
and they brought out plays under other people's names, e. g. Aristophanes brought
out the Nubes under the names of Philonides and Callistratus. In the year B.C.
440, a law was passed tou me komoidein, which remained in force for three years,
when it was repealed. Some understand the law to have been a prohibition of comedy
altogether; others a prohibition against bringing forward individuals in their
proper historical personality and under their own name, in order to ridicule them
(me komoidein onomasti). To the same period probably belongs the law that no Areopagite
should write comedies (Plut. de Glor. Ath.). About B.C. 415, apparently at the
instigation of Alcibiades, the law of 440, or at all events a law me komoidein
onomasti, was again passed on the motion of one Syracosius. But the law only remained
in force for a short time. The nature of the political events in the ensuing period
would of itself act as a check upon the licence of the comic poets. A man named
Antimachus got a law like that of Syracosius passed, but the date of it is not
With the overthrow of the democracy in 411, comedy would of course
be silenced; but on the restoration of the democracy, comedy again revived. It
was doubtless again restrained by the Thirty Tyrants. During the latter part of
the Peloponnesian war also it became a matter of difficulty to get choregi; and
hindrances were sometimes thrown in the way of the comic poets by those who had
been attacked by them: e. g. the dithyrambic poet Cinesias, who had been attacked
by the comic poets, introduced a law whereby the public expenditure on the comic
drama was so much curtailed, that it had to renounce the chorus altogether. On
this account, Strattis wrote a play against him called Cinesias, in which he styled
him choroktonos. Agyrrhius, though when is not known, got the pay of the poets
lessened. Yet even in the ruin of Athens the old Attic comedy was not quite dead.
Cleophon was attacked by Aristophanes and Plato in 405 B.C. The old Attic comedy
lasted from Ol. 80 to Ol. 94 (B.C. 458-404). From Cratinus to Theopompus there
were forty-one poets, fourteen of whom preceded Aristophanes. The number of pieces
attributed to them amounted altogether to 365... The later pieces of Aristophanes
belong to the Middle rather than to the Old Comedy. The old Megaric comedy, which
was improved by Maeson by the introduction of standing characters (he is said
to have invented the masks for the servant and the cook; and hence the kind of
jokes made by these characters were called maisonika: cf. Ath. xiv.), continued
for some time to subsist by the side of the more artistically developed Attic
comedy, as did the ancient Iambistic entertainments both in Syracuse and in the
Dorian states of Greece (Arist. Poet. 4), and the Oscum ludicrum at Rome.
It was not usual for comic poets to bring forward more than one or
two comedies at a time; and there was a regulation according to which a poet could
not bring forward comedies before he was of a certain age, which is variously
stated at thirty or forty years. But this is all a fiction. To decide on the merits
of the comedies exhibited, five judges were appointed, which was half the number
of those who adjudged the prize for tragedy. For details concerning the appointment
of judges and the course of procedure in the production of plays, see Theatrum;
and for the chorus of comedy, see Chorus
As the old Attic comedy was the offspring of the political and social
vigour and freedom of the age during which it flourished, it naturally declined
and ceased with the decline and overthrow of the freedom and vigour which were
necessary for its development. It was replaced by a comedy of a somewhat different
style, which was known as the Middle Comedy, the age of which lasted from the
end of the Peloponnesian war to the overthrow of liberty by Philip of Macedon
(Ol. 94-110). During this period, the Athenian state had the form but none of
the spirit of its earlier democratical constitution, and the energy and public
spirit of earlier years had departed. The comedy of this period accordingly found
its materials in satirising classes of people instead of individuals, in criticising
the systems and merits of philosophers and literary men, especially the Platonists
and Pythagoreans (see the Epicrates of Alexis), and in parodies of the compositions
of living and earlier poets, and travesties of mythological subjects. It formed
a transition from the Old to the New Comedy, and approximated to the latter in
the greater attention to the construction of plots, which seem frequently to have
been founded on amorous intrigue, and in the absence of that wild grotesqueness
which marked the Old Comedy. The excellences now are mainly those of expression;
there is little inventive genius in the characters (logikas echousi tas aretas,
hoste spanion poietikon einai charaktera par' autois, Anonym.). Aristotle notices
(Eth. N. iv. 8, 6) that in the Old Comedy the laugh was at coarse language (aischrologia),
but in the later comedy at innuendo (huponoia).
As regards its external form, the plays of the Middle Comedy, generally
speaking, had neither parabasis nor chorus; and such was the case with the Odysseis
of Cratinus, the Aeolosicon and Plutus of Aristophanes, and very many of the dramas
of the Old Comedy. The word choros is indeed found at the end of the acts in the
Plutus, but the gap was doubtless filled up by a musical interlude. The absence
of the chorus was occasioned, partly by the change in the spirit of comedy itself,
partly by the increasing difficulty of finding persons capable of undertaking
the duties of choregus. As the change in comedy itself was gradual, so it is most
likely that the alterations in form were brought about by degrees. At first showing
the want of proper musical and orchestic training, the chorus was at last dropped
altogether. Some of the fragments of pieces of the Middle Comedy which have reached
us are of a lyrical kind, indicating the presence of a chorus. The poets of this
school of comedy seem to have been extraordinarily prolific. Athenaeus (viii.)
says that he had read above 800 dramas of the Middle Comedy. Only a few fragments
are now extant. Meineke gives a list of thirty-nine poets of the Middle Comedy.
The most celebrated were Antiphanes and Alexis. Anaxandrides is said to have invented
that kind of play so common in later comedy, in which (as in the Adelphi of Terence)
a girl is seduced and afterwards married to the hero (Suidas, s. v. Anaxandrides),
though we have found such a play in the Cocalus of Aristophanes. Alexis or Ararus
first brought on the Attic stage the parasite under that name; the character,
however, was invented by Epicharmus. Mahaffy thinks that the vast number of plays
of the later comedy, the few victories recorded as having been won by their authors,
and the slight effect their works had, show that they were meant to be read rather
than acted, and that they filled the place of our novels and magazine articles.
The New Comedy was a further development of the last-mentioned kind.
It answered in a certain measure to the modern comedy of manners or character.
The subjects were virtually meat, drink, and love -but in moderation: hence the
detailed accounts of cookery and feasting, and the prominence of cooks, parasites,
and courtesans. But we also find mythological parody in the New Comedy, especially
by Diphilus, ridicule of the poets, aye, and even vigorous political attacks.
Dropping for the most part personal allusions, caricature, ridicule, and parody,
which in a more general form than in the Old Comedy had maintained their ground
in the Middle Comedy, the poets of the New Comedy made it their business to reproduce
in a generalised form a picture of the every-day life of those by whom they were
surrounded. Hence the grammarian Aristophanes asked: (o Menandre kai bie, poteros
ar' humon poteron apemimesato). The New Comedy might be described in the words
of Cicero (de Rep. iv. 11), as imitationem vitae, speculum consuetudinis, imaginem
veritatis. The frequent introduction of sententious maxims was a point of resemblance
with the later tragic poets. There was no rhetoric in the writers of the New Comedy:
they aimed at saying everything plainly and neatly. There were various standing
characters which found a place in most plays, such as we find in the plays of
Plautus and Terence, the leno perjurus, amator fervidus, servulus callidus, amica
illudens, sodalis opitulator, miles proeliator, parasitus edax, parentes tenaces,
meretrices procaces (Apul. Flor. 16; Ovid, Amor. i. 15, 17). In the New Comedy
there was no chorus, and the dramas were commonly introduced by prologues, spoken
by allegorical personages, such as Elenchos, Phobos, Aer. The New Comedy flourished
from about B.C. 340 to B.C. 260. The poets of the New Comedy amounted to 64 in
number. The most distinguished was Menander. Next to him in merit came Philemon,
Diphilus, Philippides, Posidippus, and Apollodorus of Carystus.
This division into Old, Middle, and New Comedy is the traditional
one, and on that account it has been retained here. But the prevailing opinion
now held on the point is that the division is faulty in making the Middle Comedy
a special class. Kock, in his edition of the Fragments of the Attic Comedians,
divides his subject into the Old and the New Comedy, and assigns the following
reasons for rejecting the Middle. (1) The latter is not recognised till the age
of Hadrian: for Aristotle (Eth. N. iv. 8, 6), the Alexandrine critics, Quintilian
(x. 1, 65-72), Velleius (i. 16, 3), Plutarch (Symp. vii. 712 a), even the anonymous
writer de Comoedia, only recognise the Old and the New Comedy. (2) The Old Comedy
had been originally divided (e. g. by Diomedes, 488-9; and Tzetzes, de divers.
Poet. 81, 29) into two classes, that before and that after Cratinus. But the grammarians
of Hadrian's time thought, as the New Comedy was so vastly more extensive both
in time and writings than the Old, that it was the New Comedy which should be
divided. (3) And again, there is no really decided distinction between the so-called
Middle and New Comedy as there is between the Old and the later comedy, in the
fact that the parabasis and the choral odes are wanting in the latter. (4) It
can be shown that in point of subjects the line cannot be drawn: all subjects
which are considered notes of the Middle and New Comedy are exhibited in writings
of the Old, and what is considered as belonging peculiarly to the Old (viz. political
attack) is found occasionally in the New.
As to the occasions on which comedies were produced:
(1) the original festival at which dramas were exhibited was the Lesser Dionysia,
or the Dionusia ta kat' agrous, held from the 8th to 12th of Poseideon (Nov.-Dec.).
This was held principally in the Piraeus, but also in the country parts of Attica,
e. g. Collytus (Aeschin. Tim. 157), Aixone, Eleusis, Thoricus. After the establishment
of the Lenaea and the Greater Dionysia, the plays produced at the Lesser Dionysia
were in all likelihood ones which had been previously performed. They were produced
without a chorus.
(2) At the Lenaea (8-12 Gamelion=Dec.-Jan.), which was probably established by
Pisistratus, tragedies were originally acted, but after the establishment of the
Greater Dionysia it became the festival at which comedies especially were performed.
The Acharnenses, Equites, Vespae, and Ranae were all produced at it, and comedies
continued to be acted at the Lenaea down to the second century (C. I. A. ii. 977,
fr. i. m-n). Tragedies began to be acted again at this festival in 464 B.C. It
is not known for how many days the contest at the Lenaea lasted -in the third
century probably two days, as that would suffice for two tragic trilogies (cf.
C. I. A. ii. 972) and the preceding comic agon. Only new pieces were produced
in early times. Strangers were not allowed to be present at the dramatic performances
of the Lenaea (Ar. Ach. 504). The administration was in the hands of the Archon
Basileus (Poll. viii. 90).
(3) At the Greater Dionysia or Dionusia ta en astei (8-14 Elaphebolion=Feb.-Mar.)
established after the Persian Wars, both comedies and tragedies were acted, but
the latter were certainly the principal feature (Law of Evagoras in Dem. Mid.
517, 10). It is disputed whether dramatic performances were held on three of the
days, viz. 11, 12, 13, as Sauppe, A. Mommsen, and A. Muller hold; on two (Schneider);
or on six (Geppert). That comedies were acted is quite certain, as may be proved
from the famous inscription, C. I. A. ii. 971, frag. a: Xenokleides echoregei
Magnes edidasken Tragoidon Perikles Cholargeus echoregei Aischulos edidasken (467
B.C.), where the mention of tragedies points to the Greater Dionysia: cf. also
Arg. v. to Nubes (424 B.C.), Arg. i. to Pax (422), Arg. i. to Aves (415 B.C.),
Schol. to Ran. 404, C. I. A. ii. 977, frag. d-h, which extend over the whole of
the Old and New Comedy. For Roman times see Lucian, Piscat. 14. In the comic agon
there were mostly three competitors (Arg. v. Nubes; Arg. i. Pax; Arg. i. Aves).
In the fourth century and afterwards the number was increased to five (Arg. iv.
to Plutus (389 B.C.); cf C. I. A. ii. 972 (354 B.C.), 975 (second century), for
the number could be increased as the chorus had disappeared. The administration
was in the hands of the archon eponumos (Poll. viii. 89).
There were no comedies performed at the Anthesteria (11-13 Anthesterion=Jan.-Feb.):
for the law of the orator Lycurgus, ton peri ton komoidon agona tois Chutrois
epitelein ephamillon en toi theatroi (Plut. Vit. X. Or. vii. 1, 10 =ii. 841 e),
refers to the agon of comic actors, not to the performance of comedies. At all
the festivals at which there were dramatic contests the comedies came on before
the tragedies (Law of Evagoras, ap. Dem. Mid. 517, 10; C. I. A. ii. 971). Some
refer to Aves, 785, 789, to prove that tragedies were played in the morning and
comedies in the evening; but perhaps eph' hemas only means to us in the theatre,
for tragedy and comedy formed one single and connected entertainment.
After the age of the great tragedians it became customary to act one
of their dramas at each tragic agon. Such is noted in the didascaliae as palaia
(opp. to kaine). In the comic agon of 354 four new comedies are mentioned (C.
I. A. ii. 972, l. 16); in 352 there is a tragedy of Euripides: but not till the
second century (C. i. A. ii. 975) do we find produced a comedy by an old master
(Menander, Posidippus or Philemon, but of course not Aristophanes, whose works
would have little point if acted in a different age to that of the individuals
they satirised). We may thus perhaps infer that the custom of producing a play
by an old master was later in the department of comedy than in that of tragedy.
The question has been often raised whether women were allowed to be
present at comedies, as they certainly were at tragedies (Plat. Gorg. 502 D; Legg.
ii. 658 C, vii. 817 C). The literature on both sides of the question is collected
by A. Muller. The answer to be given is that they were allowed as far as the law
was concerned. That they were present is expressly stated for the Old Comedy in
Pax, 964 foll.; for the New Comedy in Alciphr. ii. 3, 10; and for Roman times
by certain seats in the Dionysiac theatre being marked as belonging to priestesses
(C. I. A. iii. 313, 315, &c.). Further, tragedy and comedy formed a single connected
entertainment, so that permission to attend at tragedies would naturally imply
permission to attend at comedies. Yet though all women were allowed to be present,
as far as the law was concerned, yet we may well conceive that many especially
of the young women of respectability did not attend. That all women did not attend
may in a measure be inferred from Aves, 793-796. Boys were certainly present (Nub.
537, 765; Pax, 56; Eupolis, frag. 244; cf. Aristot. Pol, iv. 17, 9, tous de neoterous
oute iambon oute komoidias theatas theteon, prin e ten helikian labosin en hei
katakliseos ( seat at table ) huparxei koinonein ede, where it is no doubt intended
to censure a prevailing custom. For details as to the public at dramatic performances,
The costume worn in the Old Comedy can in a great measure be ascertained
as well from indications in the plays as from pictures found on vases of Southern
Italy representing scenes from the phluakes or comedies of that country, which
were in many ways similar to the comedy at Athens: for undoubtedly one represents
the first scene of the Ranae. When we remember that comedy started from phallic
songs (Aristot. Poet. 4), we are not surprised to find the phallus as the most
prominent feature of comic costume. It was made of leather, red at the top, and
was sometimes hung round the neck (Suidas, s. v. phalloi). The somation was a
kind of tights, generally drawn over padding for the chest and stomach (prosternidion,
progastridion), and so often confused with the latter. This somation appears to
have been nearly always worn, and often in the pictures it gives the figures the
appearance of being naked. We find it at one time with holes pierced in it like
eyes; at another with embroidery or horizontal stripes. Sometimes it does not
fit the skin tightly, but falls in folds. Rarely we find the actor wearing a loose
kind of trousers. The somation was made sometimes of leather, sometimes of woven
stuffs. Dividing the rest of the dress of the body into endumata and emblemata,
the former consisted of a tunic either with two sleeves (amphimaschalos, Hesych.
s. v.), worn only by freemen, or else the exomis (see Exomis),
which was the same as the heteromaschalos (Phot. s. v.), which left the right
arm and shoulder bare, and was worn by slaves and the working classes; the latter
also wore a diphthera or leather jerkin (Vesp. 444), which appears to have been
similar to the spolas (Av. 933; Poll. vii. 70). The chiton is seldom mentioned
by Aristophanes; but at times we find certain kinds of it, the hemidiploision
(Eccl. 318), the krokotidion (ib. 332), and the krokotos (ib. 879) worn by women
The principal emblema for men was the himation; a poorer kind was the leidarion
and the tribonion (Plut. 882). The chlaina was a comfortable cloak for old men
(Vesp. 738, 1132; Poll. x. 123); and the sisura was a sheepskin blanket, also
used for a thick cloak. Women, too, wore the himation (Thesm. 250), a special
kind of which was the enkuklon (ib. 261 and Schol.), which appears to have been
of a round cut. Compare generally the instructive scene in Thesm. 253 ff., where
the parts of the woman's dress are put on in this order: somation, krokotos, strophion
( girdle ), enkuklon. As to what was worn on the head, there is mention of kune
(Nub. 269), and all sorts of hats appear in pictures: e. g. the petasos on Hermes.
Crowns, too, were worn on certain occasions (Pax, 1044, &c.). We find women wearing
nets (kekruphaloi), snoods (mitrai), and wigs (kephalai perithetoi, Thesm. 257-8).
In pictures the feet appear for the most part naked, though that is no doubt due
to the carelessness of the artist. We hear of embades (Eq. 872), Lakonikai (Vesp.
1157) worn by men, and Persikai (Thesm. 734) worn by women (see Calceus
=shoe). The kothornos, which was a woman's shoe (Eccl. 346; cf. 319), was
probably similar to the latter. Besides this ordinary dress, the dramatis personae
had their special attributes: e. g. Dionysus when personating Heracles had the
club and lion's skin (Ran. 44), and so Zeus appears in pictures with the thunderbolt.
Of course grotesque characters appeared in grotesque costume: e. g. Pseud-artabas
in the Acharnenses and Iris in the Aves. For the dress of the chorus, see Chorus.
The costume worn in the New Comedy is still more the dress of ordinary
life than that of the Old Comedy, being much less of the nature of caricature.
The somation is often found, but without the excessive padding of the Old Comedy.
With men the chiton is generally found long on freemen of all ages, the parasite,
and some slaves: with soldiers and the majority of slaves it is short. The imation
was worn by men of all ranks, the lower part of it being thrown over the left
shoulder. The chlamus was worn by soldiers (Plaut. Pseud. iv. 7, 40). The mysterious
kosumbe (Suid., Hesych. s. v.) appears to have been a sort of shawl wound round
the body or thrown over the shoulders; and the enkomboma (Poll. iv. 119) or epirrema
a white pallium worn by slaves, so fastened that it no doubt left both hands free.
The legs were generally covered with tights, seldom loose trousers. The diple
of cooks (Poll. iv. 119) was an apron. A covering for the head is rarely found
in representations. The soldier has a round flat hat. As covering for the feet
the actors wore the Embas
or else shoes which left the toes bare: stockings also are sometimes found. Women
wore the chiton reaching to the feet, which was often called summetria (Poll.
vii. 54), and as an over-covering the himation. Heiresses used to wear himatia
with fringes (Poll. iv. 120). On their feet women wore either socci or sandals
with thongs. As to the additional accessories of certain characters, we are told
that old men carried a curved walking stick (kampule, Poll. iv. 119); rustics
(ib.) a straight staff (lagobolon), wallet (pera), and leathern tunic (diphthera);
procurers a straight stick called areskos (ib. 120); the parasite a strigil (stlengis)
and an oil-pot (lekuthos, ib.; cf. Plaut. Stich. 1. 3, 75); and the soldier a
sword (Plaut. Mil. i. 1, 5).
The different colours of the dress of the different stock-characters
are much insisted on both by Pollux and Donatus (de Comoedia et Tragoedia). Thus
old men wore white, younger men (neoteroi) red or dark purple (phoinikis e melamporphuron
himation, Poll. iv. 119), youths (Weaniskoi purple (ib.), though Donatus (11,
21) says it was party-coloured (discolor). Parasites had black or grey (phaios)
cloaks (cf. hoi melanes hemeis, Ath. vi.; Cic. Caec. 10, 27). The soldier has
a chlamys purpurea (Donatus, 11, 24), slaves and artisans white himatia (Artemid.
Oneir. ii. 3). Old women wore apple-green (meling) or dark blue (aering) dresses,
except priestesses, who wore white. Young women had white dresses. Procuresses
had a purple band round their heads (Poll. iv. 119). There was a law at Athens
that hetaerae should wear bright-coloured costume (anthina phorein, Suidas, s.
v.), and pictures show them with red and yellow chitons and white and yellow himatia.
The soubrette (habra perikouros) wore a white chiton, and the hetaera's servant
(parapseston therapainidion) a saffron-coloured chiton (Poll. iv. 154). For the
masks of comedy, see Persona.
The account which is given by Livy (vii. 2) of the introduction of comedy at Rome
is to the following effect. In the year B.C. 363, on the occasion of a severe
pestilence, among other ceremonies for averting the anger of the deities, scenic
entertainments were introduced from Etruria, where it would seem they were a familiar
amusement. Tuscan players (ludiones), who were fetched from Etruria, exhibited
a sort of pantomimic dance to the music of a flute, without any song accompanying
their dance, and without regular dramatic gesticulation. The amusement became
popular, and was imitated by the young Romans, who improved upon the original
entertainment by uniting with it extemporaneous mutual raillery, composed in a
rude irregular measure--a species of diversion which had been long known among
the Romans at their agrarian festivals under the name of Fescennina.
They regulated their dances so as to express the sense of the words. This amusement
became popular, and those who had an aptitude for this sort of representation
set themselves to improve its form, supplanting the old Fescennine verses by compositions
called saturae, which were written in a more regular measure (impletae modis)
and set to the music of the flute (descripto jam ad tibicinem cantu), and delivered
with appropriate gestures. Those who took part in these exhibitions were called
histriones, ister being the Etruscan word which answered to the Latin ludio (see
After some years Livius introduced dramas with a regular plot, in which he acted
himself. When acting had thus developed from mere amusement to a recognised profession,
the young citizens, leaving the representation of plays to actors, began to bandy
jests thrown into verse, which afterwards got the name of exodia, and were introduced
into the Atellan plays. In this account Livy seems unquestionably mistaken in
describing the saturae as due to the imitation of Etruscan actors: there is no
reason to doubt that they were, as Virgil (Georg. ii. 385) and Horace (Epist.
ii. 1, 139 ff.) represent them, connected in the earliest times with the rustic
festivals in honour of the deities presiding over agriculture. But under the influence
of the foreign histriones they doubtless took a more formal shape. Nor can he
be right in suggesting a connexion between the Atellan farces and the satura with
the drama thence developed. The drama arose from the combination of the text of
the saturae with the music and dancing of the histriones.
Livius Andronicus, a native of Magna Graecia, in B.C. 240 introduced
both tragedies and comedies, which were merely adaptations of Greek dramas. His
popularity increasing, a building on the Aventine hill was assigned to him for
his use, which served partly as a theatre, partly as a residence for a troop of
players, for whom Livius wrote his pieces. Livius, as was common at that time,
was himself an actor in his own pieces. His Latin adaptations of Greek plays,
though they had no chorus, were interspersed with cantica, which were more lyrical
in their metrical form, and more impassioned in their tone than the ordinary dialogue.
In the musical recitation of these Livius seems to have been very successful,
and was frequently encored. The exertion being too much for his voice, he introduced
in these cantica the practice of placing a slave beside the flute-player to recite
or chant the words, while he himself went through the appropriate gesticulation.
This became the usual practice from that time, so that in the cantica the histriones
did nothing but gesticulate, the only parts where they used their voice being
The first imitator of the dramatic works of Livius Andronicus was
Cn. Naevius, a native of Campania. He composed both tragedies and comedies, which
were either translations or imitations of those of Greek writers. In comedy his
models seem to have been the writers of the Old Comedy. The most distinguished
successors of Naevius were Plautus and Terence, whose materials were drawn chiefly
from Menander, Diphilus, Philemon, and Apollodorus. The comedy of the Romans was
throughout but an imitation of that of the Greeks, and chiefly of the New Comedy.
Where the characters were ostensibly Greek, and the scene laid in Athens or some
other Greek town, the comedies were termed palliatae. All the comedies of Terence
and Plautus belong to this class. When the story and characters were Roman, the
plays were called togatae, because the costume was the toga. These fabulae togatae
represented the life of the lower classes in Rome, and were coarser in tone than
the palliatae. One kind of these, called trabeatae, representing the knights,
was of late introduction and little importance. In the comoediae palliatae, the
costume of the ordinary actors was the Greek pallium. There was a species of burlesque
travesty of tragic subjects, named from the poet who introduced that style Rhinthonica.
The mimes are sometimes classed with the Latin comedies. Respecting them, the
reader is referred to the article Mimus.
The mimes differed from the comedies in little more than the predominance of the
mimic representation over the dialogue, which was only interspersed in various
parts of the representation.
Latin comedies had no chorus, any more than the dramas of the New
Comedy, of which they were for the most part imitations. Like them, too, they
were introduced by a prologue, which answered some of the purposes of the parabasis
of the Old Comedy, bespeaking the good will of the spectators, and defending the
poet against his rivals and enemies. It also communicated so much information
as was necessary to understand the story of the play. The prologue was commonly
spoken by one of the players (who did not appear in the first act), or by the
manager of the troop. Occasionally the speaker of it assumed a separate mask and
costume for the occasion (Plaut, Poen, prol. 126; Terent. Hecyr. prol. ii. 1).
Sometimes the prologue is spoken by one of the dramatis personae (Plaut. Amph.;
Mil. Glor.; Merc.), or by some supernatural or personified being, as the Lar familiaris
in the Aulularia of Plautus, Arcturus in the Rudens, Auxilium in the Cistellaria,
Luxuria and Inopia in the Trinummus. Pliny (H. N. xxxvi. 204) says that Servius
Tullius first instituted the Compitalia in honour of the Lares, in commemoration
of the miraculous circumstances of his own birth; for he was said to have been
the son of a Lar familiaris. Respecting the use of masks, see the article Persona
The characters introduced were much the same as in the New Comedy, and their costume
was not very different. Donatus gives the following account of it: comicis senibus
candidus vestis inducitur, quod is antiquissimus fuisse memoratur, adolescentibus
discolor attribuitur. Servi comici amictu exiguo conteguntur paupertatis antiquae
gratia, vel quo expeditiores agant. Parasiti cum intortis palliis veniunt. Laeto
vestitus candidus, aerumnoso obsoletus, purpureus diviti, pauperi phoeniceus datur.
Militi chlamys purpurea, puellae habitus peregrinus inducitur, leno pallio varii
coloris utitur, meretrici ob avaritiam luteum datur.
A word remains to be said on the Atellanae fabulae. These were of
very early origin; the Latins having been accustomed, probably before the foundation
of Rome, to improvise songs and jests in masks which represented certain standing
characters. It has been commonly supposed, on the strength of our Greek authorities
(e. g. Strabo, v.), that the name of ludi Osci or ludicrum Oscum points to their
origin in Campania, and it has even been asserted that they were performed at
Rome in the Oscan language. This statement, which is quite incredible in itself,
when we consider how unintelligible the dialect must have been to actors and audience
alike, is now universally rejected. Mommsen's view is far preferable, that the
Latin farce with its fixed characters and standing jests needed a permanent scenery,
which was fixed at the ruined town of Atella in order not to give offence to any
existing community. We need not attempt to find any other connexion with the Oscan
nation. Nor did they form any part of dramatic literature: the text was never
written, or at any rate not published. Apparently it was only in the generation
preceding Cicero that the Atellan farces were taken up by professional actors
(cf. Cic. ad Fam. ix. 1. 6), who continued to play them under the empire (Tac.
Ann. iv. 14) as after-pieces (exodia) to more serious dramas. Among the standing
characters were Pappus or Casnar, Bucco, Maccus, and Dossennus (Mommsen, Unterital.
Dial. p. 118). The first is an old man, vain and very stupid; the second, a fat-faced
chattering glutton; the third, a filthy, amorous fool; the fourth, a cunning sharper.
The earlier writers who composed complete texts for these plays were L. Pomponius
of Bononia and Novius (about 100-80 B.C.).
This text is from: A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890) (eds. William Smith, LLD, William Wayte, G. E. Marindin). Cited Aug 2005 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
- A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890) (eds. William Smith, LLD, William Wayte, G. E. Marindin)
- Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (1898)
, 610 - 550
Comic poet native of the Megarian village Tripodiskos. He introduced the Megarian comedy in Attica during the first half of the 6th century b.C. According to the Chronicle of Paros, between 580 & 560 b.C. the citizens of Ikaria performed choruses the comical verse of which had been taught to them by Sousarion. Of his pieces only few lyrics have been saved
Susarion (Sousarion), to whom the origin of the Attic Comedy is ascribed, is said
to have been the son of Philinus, and a native of Tripodiscus, a village in the
Megaric territory, whence he removed into Attica, to the village of Icaria, a
place celebrated as a seat of the worship of Dionysus (Ath. ii. p. 40, b.; Schol.
Il. xxii. 29). This account agrees with the claim which the Megarians asserted
to the invention of comedy, and which was generally admitted (Aristot. Poet. iii.
5; Aspasius, ad Aristot. Eth. Nic. iv. 2). Before the time of Susarion there was,
no doubt, practised, at Icaria and the other Attic villages, that extempore jesting
and buffoonery which formed a marked feature of the festivals of Dionysus; but
Susarion was the first who so regulated this species of amusement, as to lay the
foundation of Comedy, properly so called. The time at which this important step
was taken can be determined within pretty close limits. The Megaric comedy appears
to have flourished, in its full developement, about Ol. 45 or 46, B. C. 600 and
onwards; and it was introduced by Susarion into Attica between Ol. 50 and 54,
B. C. 580--564 (Plut. Sol. 10; Marm. Par. Ep. 39)
The Megaric comedy appears to have consisted chiefly in coarse and
bitter personal jests, and broad buffoonery, and this character it retained long
after its offspring, the Attic comedy, had be come more refined. That the comedy
of Susarion partook of a like rudeness and buffoonery might reasonably be supposed,
even if it were not expressly asserted by ancient writers (Anon. de Com.; Diomed.
Grammat. iii.); but there can be no doubt that in his hands, a great and decided
advance was made in the character of the composition, which now in fact, for the
first time, deserved that name. One change, which he introduced, is alone sufficient
to mark the difference between an unregulated exercise of wit and an orderly composition;
he was the first who adopted the metrical form of language for comedy (tes emmetrou
komoidias archegos egeneto, Schol. Dion. Thrac.; Tzetzes, ap. Cramer). It is not,
however, to be inferred that the comedies of Susarion were written; Bentley has
shown that the contrary is probably true. They were brought forward solely through
the medium of the chorus, which Susarion, doubtless, subjected to certain rules
(Marm. Par. vv. 54, 55). It seems most probable that his plays were not acted
upon waggons. Of the nature of his subjects we know nothing for certain; but it
can hardly be conceived that his comedies were made up entirely of the mere jests
which formed the staple of the Megaric comedy; although there could only have
been a very imperfect approach to anything like connected argument or plots, for
Aristotle expressly tells us that Crates was the first who made logous e muthous
(Poet. v. 6). The improvements of Susarion, then, on the Megaric comedy, which
he introduced into Attica, may be said to have consisted in the substitution of
premeditated metrical compositions for irregular extemporaneous effusions. and
the regulation of the chorus to some extent. It was long before this new species
of composition took firm root in Attica ; for we hear nothing more of it until
eight years after the time of Susarion, where the art revived in the hands of
Euetes, Euxenides, and Myllus, at the very time when the Dorian comedy was developed
by Epicharmus in Sicily.
This text is from: A dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology, 1873 (ed. William Smith). Cited Aug 2005 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
- A dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology (ed. William Smith)
, 560 - 500
Architect, son of Nafstrofos, known for his famous aqueduct "Efpalinos tunnel" at Samos (530 b.C.) The tunnel, as it was admired and described by Herodotus, was constructed to supply water from a spring to the capital city of Samos. For this purpose, Efpalinos, had to "pierce" the mountain Kastro. The tunnel is 1000m. long (7 stadia) and its walls have been lined with small-size polygonal stones in order to prevent earth from falling. Now architects admire Efpalinos for his advanced knowledge in hydraulics.
Byzas (687 BC - circa 650 BC)
Founder of Byzantium, named after him, which was ihabited by the citizens of Megara in 658 b.C. Coins of the ancient city-state bear his head. He was a daring navigator, son of Poseidon (Neptune) the mythical god of the seas. His mother was Kreoussa and he was born circa 687 b.C. When the citizens sent for instructions to the oracle of Delfi as to where they should establish a new settlement they were given the obscure reply: "across the blind people". However none knew a city with this name.
During that summer, quite a few citizens of Megara led by Byzas boarded their vessels setting for a journey to the unknown. They had faith in their leader though. Thus, after much wandering the Megarian fleet reaches the port of Chalcedon in safety. Chalkedon was a settlement of Megarians which had been inhabited 17 years before, in 674 b.C. Soon Byzas realised that the "land of the blind" was Chalcedon as they had failed to understand that the shore across their city was of much greater strategic importance. Moreover, according to Stravon, fishing was an easy matter across the sea. (see Geographika). Having this vision, Byzas led the Megarians to the coast across Chalcedon where they founded the new city and named it BYZANTIUM in 657 b.C.. This city was destined to play a historically significant role in the following years.
Lamprus, of Erythrae, a Peripatetic philosopher, who is mentioned by Suidas as the teacher of Aristoxenus. (Suid. s. v. Aristoxenos.)
Eucleides, Euclides, Euclid
, 430 - 360
Euclid, student of the eleatic school initially, and then of Socrates school, is considered the founder of the Megarian school. During the Peloponesian war, because the state of Megara belonged to the Spartan alliance, Euclid would sneak into Socrates's classes - in Athens - in a woman's disguise, putting his life in danger. After Socrates's execution Plato makes honorary reference to Euclid in his writings. Being a student both of the eleatic school and of Socrates, Euclid has been influenced by both schools thus giving him fatherhood of the Megarian school which supported a mixture of the two philosophies. He combined the Socratic philosophy that virtue is knowledge with the Eleatic concept of the universe as a changeless unity that can be understood only by philosophical reflection
None of the six Euclid's philosophical dialogues, reported by Laertius, has been retained. Reported as distinguished successors of Euclid are Euvoulides and Diodoros Cronus who developed this sophism excessively.
Euclides, (Eukleides). A native of Megara, founder of the Megaric,
or Eristic sect. Endowed by nature with a subtle and penetrating genius, he early
applied himself to the study of philosophy. The writings of Parmenides first taught
him the art of disputation. Hearing of the fame of Socrates, Euclid determined
to attend upon his instructions, and for this purpose removed from Megara to Athens.
Here he long remained a constant hearer and zealous disciple of the moral philosopher;
and when, in consequence of the enmity which subsisted between the Athenians and
Megareans, a decree was passed by the former that any inhabitant of Megara who
should be seen in Athens should forfeit his life, he frequently came to Athens
by night, from the distance of about twenty miles, concealed in a long female
cloak and veil, to visit his master. Not finding his propensity to disputation
sufficiently gratified in the tranquil method of philosophizing adopted by Socrates,
he frequently engaged in the business and the disputes of the civil courts. Socrates,
who despised forensic contests, expressed some dissatisfaction with his pupil
for indulging a fondness for controversy. This cir cumstance probably proved the
occasion of a separation between Euclid and his master; for we find him, after
this time, at the head of a school in Megara, in which his chief employment was
to teach the art of disputation. Debates were conducted with so much vehemence
among his pupils that Timon said of Euclid that he had carried the madness of
contention from Athens to Megara. That he was, however, capable of commanding
his temper appears from his reply to his brother, who, in a quarrel, had said,
"Let me perish if I be not revenged on you.""And let me perish,"
returned Euclid, "if I do not subdue your resentment by forbearance and make
you love me as much as ever."
In argument Euclid was averse to the analogical method of reasoning,
and judged that legitimate argument consists in deducing fair conclusions from
acknowledged premises. He held that there is one supreme good, which he called
by the different names of Intelligence, Providence, God; and that evil, considered
as an opposite principle to the sovereign good, has no existence. The supreme
good, according to Cicero, he defined to be that which is always the same. In
this doctrine, in which he followed the subtlety of Parmenides rather than the
simplicity of Socrates, he seems to have considered good abstractly as residing
in the Deity, and to have maintained that all things which exist are good by their
participation of the first good, and, consequently, that there is, in the nature
of things, no real evil. It is said that when Euclid was asked his opinion concerning
the gods, he replied, "I know nothing more of them than this: that they hate
This text is from: Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities. Cited Nov 2002 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
- Perseus: Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (1898)
Eucleides (Eukleides), a native of Megara, or, according to some less probable accounts, of Gela. He was one of the chief of the disciples of Socrates, but before becoming such, he had studied the doctrines, and especially the dialectics, of the Eleatics. Socrates on one occasion reproved him for his fondness for subtle and captious disputes. (Diog. Laert. ii. 30.) On the death of Socrates (B. C. 399), Eucleides, with most of the other pupils of that philosopher, took refuge in Megara, and there established a school which distinguished itself chiefly by the cultivation of dialectics. The doctrines of the Eleatics formed the basis of his philosophical system. With these he blended the ethical and dialectical principles of Socrates. The Eleatic dogma, that there is one universal, unchangeable existence, he viewed in a moral aspect, calling this one existence the Good, but giving it also other names (as Reason, Intelligence, &c.), perhaps for the purpose of explaining how the real. though one, appeared to be many. He rejected demonstration, attacking not so much the premises assumed as the conclusions drawn, and also reasoning from analogy. He is said to have been a main of a somewhat indolent and procrastinating disposition. He was the author of six dialogues, none of which, however, have come down to us. He has frequently been erroneously confounded with the mathematician of the same name. The school which lie founded was called sometimes the Megaric, sometimes the Dialectic or Eristic. (Diog. Laert. ii. 106-108; Cic. Aead. ii. 42; Plut. de Fratr. Am. 18.)
Aeschylus, (Aischulos). The son of Euphorion, born in the Attic deme
of Eleusis in the year B.C. [p. 36] 525. The period of his youth and early manhood
coincides with the great national struggle which both Asiatic and European Hellas
were forced to wage against the barbarians in the first twenty years of the fifth
century. In this conflict he played the part of a brave soldier at the battles
of Marathon, Salamis, and Plataea, and his works abound in traces of the warlike
and patriotic feeling of those stirring days. His brother Cynegirus met an heroic
death at Marathon, and another distinguished soldier of Salamis, Aminias, is said
to have been of the same family, but this is probably an error. We know little
of the youth and education of Aeschylus, but it is certain that he began his career
as a tragic poet before the age of thirty years, though his first victory was
not gained till 485. About the year 470 he went to Sicily at the invitation of
King Hiero of Syracuse. Here he composed his Aetnaean Women (Aitnaiai), in honour
of the newly founded city of Aetna. His departure from Athens has been ascribed
to an indictment by the Athenians for profanation of the mysteries. But it was
the policy of Hiero to attract literary men to his brilliant court, and the presence
of Aeschylus there needs no more explanation than that of Simonides and Pindar
during the same period. Later in his life he visited Sicily a second time, where
he met his death in 456. Among the many mythical details with which tradition
has surrounded the life of Aeschylus, it is said that he was killed by an eagle
letting fall a tortoise upon his bald head, supposing it to be a stone. The high
honour in which he was held by the Athenians after his death is shown by the fact
that in later times it was made lawful to reproduce his plays in competition for
the prize against new tragedies.
Aeschylus is said to have produced seventy-two, or even ninety dramas,
and to have gained the first prize thirteen times. As each poet competed with
four plays (three tragedies and a satyric drama), it appears that Aeschylus was
successful in more than half of all his contests. Only seven of his tragedies
have come down to us. They will be described in what seems to have been their
(1) The Suppliants (Hiketides) takes its name from the chorus
representing the fifty daughters of Danaus fleeing to Argos for protection from
the sons of Aegyptus. The prominence of the chorus, the small number of characters,
and the absence of a prologue mark this play as the earliest of those of Aeschylus
which we have, and consequently the oldest Greek drama extant. Its undeniable
merits are much obscured by the very corrupt state of the text.
(2) The Persians (Persai) is unique among the Greek tragedies
which we possess in drawing its theme from history rather than from myth. The
central point of interest is found in a splendid narrative of the battle of Salamis,
but by an artifice of the poet the scene of the play is laid in Susa, and the
laments of Atossa and the Persian nobles supply the tragic elements. The Persians
was produced in B.C. 472, as part of a tetralogy consisting of the Phineus, Persians,
Glaucus potnieus, and Prometheus the Fire-kindler (purkaeus).
(3) The Seven against Thebes (Hepta epi Thebas) was produced
in B.C. 467, as the third play in a tetralogy of which the remaining pieces were
the Laius, Oedipus, and the satyric drama called The Sphinx. It includes a magnificent
description of the seven Argive champions and their Theban opponents, with the
final victory of Thebes, and a hint, at the close, of the Antigone-motive, afterwards
so finely worked out by Sophocles. In this play, as in the Persians, the martial
spirit of Aeschylus finds ample room for manifestation. Both dramas are "full
of war," to quote the words of Aristophanes (Frogs, 1021).
(4) The Prometheus Bound (Prometheus desmotes), with its companion
pieces the Prometheus Loosed (luomenos) and the Prometheus the Fire-bearer (purphoros),
treated the history of the rebellious Titan who steadfastly suffered the wrath
of Zeus for his benefactions to mankind. The Prometheus Bound, the only play of
the trilogy which has come down to us, depicts the hero, fettered to a rock in
Scythia, and threatened by Hermes with a penalty still more severe. But he proudly
refuses to submit to the will of the new ruler of Olympus, and at the close of
the play he is struck by the thunderbolt, and, with the rock to which he is fastened,
sinks out of sight. The second play described the final reconciliation and the
liberation of Prometheus; while the third (see Westphal's Proleg. to Aeschylus,
p. 207 foll.) probably celebrated the establishment of Prometheus in Attica as
a benignant deity. No Greek tragedy has been more admired than the Prometheus
Bound. In the grandeur of its action and the sublimity of character displayed,
as well as in the exquisite pathos of some of its scenes, it stands almost unequalled.
The Prometheus trilogy was probably produced either in B.C. 468 or 466 (Christ),
or about ten years earlier (Wecklein).
(5) The trilogy composed of the Agamemnon (Agamemnon), Choephori
(Choephoroi), and Eumenides (Eumenides), comes last in the list, and is of special
interest from the fact that it is the only complete trilogy which is extant from
any of the Greek tragedians. In the Agamemnon the poet describes the return of
the victorious king from Troy, and his murder by Clytaemnestra and her paramour
Aegisthus. In the Choephori, Orestes, son of Agamemnon, now grown to manhood,
returns, and with the help of his friend Pylades avenges the murder of his father
by putting to death the guilty pair, and is himself, in turn, driven frantic by
the Erinyes. In the Eumenides he flees to Athens, where he is tried, and by the
advocacy of Apollo and the casting vote of Athene he is acquitted, and the family
curse comes to an end. This great trilogy shows the genius of Aeschylus in its
loftiest form. Each play is complete in itself, and yet each is but a single act
in the [p. 37] mighty drama of crime, vengeance, and expiation. The Agamemnon
is the most powerful of the three plays, and probably the greatest work of Aeschylus,
if indeed it is not the most impressive tragedy in existence. The trilogy is usually
known as the Oresteia (Oresteia), and, with the satyric play Proteus (Proteus),
was produced in B.C. 458.
The extant works of Aeschylus show a constant progress in dramatic
art. He is said to have added a second actor to the one employed by his predecessors,
and in his later plays he adopts, and uses with full mastery, the third actor
first introduced by his younger rival, Sophocles. The choral parts, at first the
most prominent feature both in extent and importance, gradually give way before
the growth of the dialogue. In the scenic effects, too, Aeschylus made many improvements,
using extraordinary means to excite wonder or awe. Like Wagner, he was both poet
and musician, and, besides training his own choruses, he is said to have taken
part as actor in the performances themselves.
The most characteristic feature of his poetry is its grandeur,
both of thought and style, though he is none the less master of lyric beauty and
tender pathos. His theology is stern and lofty, and pervaded by the idea of a
destiny which controls all things, human and divine. But the hereditary curse
that brooded over the families of Labdacus and Pelops was always aided in its
destrnctive work by the folly and wickedness of the victims themselves. No poet,
in fact, has stated more impressively than Aeschylus the inevitable connection
between guilt and punishment. His style, it must be confessed, is sometimes so
elevated as to seem almost bombastic, but this apparent fault is the natural result
of the poet's mighty current of thought, which could not find vent in the ordinary
channels of expression.
All the existing MSS. of Aeschylus are said by W. Dindorf to
be derived from the Codex Mediceus (Laurentianus), which dates back to the eleventh
century, and contains many valuable scholia taken from the ancient grammarians.
It is the chief authority for the Choephori, of which, however, the text is in
a bad condition. The Prometheus, Seven against Thebes, and Persians are more fully
represented by MSS. than the other plays. Two codices of the fourteenth century
(Florentinus and Farnesianus) supply that portion of the Agamemnon (lines 295-
1026) which is missing from the Codex Mediceus.
This text is from: Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities. Cited Nov 2002 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
- Perseus: Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (1898)
- Aeschylus: Perseus Encyclopedia
Aeschylus (Aischulos) was born at Eleusis in Attica in B. C. 525, so that he was
thirty-five years of age at the time of the battle of Marathon, and contemporary
with Simonides and Pindar. His father Euphorion was probably connected with the
worship of Demeter, from which Aeschylus may naturally be supposed to have received
his first religious impressions. He was himself, according to some authorities,
initiated in the mysteries, with reference to which, and to his birthplace Eleusis,
Aristophanes (Ran. 884) makes him pray to the Elensinian goddess. Pausanias (i.
21.2) relates an anecdote of him, which, if true, shews that lie was struck in
very early youth with the exhibitions of the drama. According to this story, "
When he was a boy he was set to watch grapes in the country, and there fell asleep.
In his slumbers Dionysus appeared to him, and ordered him to apply himself to
tragedy. At daybreak he made the attempt, and succeeded very easily." Such a dream
as this could hardly have resulted from anything but the impression produced by
tragic exhibitions upon a warm imagination.
At the age of 25 (B. C. 499), he made his first appearance as a competitor
for the prize of tragedy, against Choerilus and Pratinas, without however being
successful. Sixteen years afterward (B. C. 484), Aeschylus pained his first victory.
The titles of the pieces which he then brought out are not known, but his competitors
were most probably Pratinas and Phrynichus or Choerilus. Eight years afterwards
he gained the prize with the trilogy of which the Persae, the earliest of his
extant dramas, was one piece. The whole number of victories attributed to Aeschylus
amounted to thirteen, most of which were gained by him in the interval of sixteen
years, between B. C. 484, the year of his first tragic victory, and the close
of the Persian war by Cimon's double victory at the Eurymedon, B. C. 470. The
year B. C. 468 was the date of a remarkable event in the poet's life. In that
year lie was defeated in a tragic contest by his younger rival Sophocles, and
if we may believe Plutarch (Cim. 8), his mortification at this indignity, as he
conceived it, was so great, that lie quitted Athens in disgust the very same year,
and went to the court of Hiero (Paus. i. 2.3), king of Syracuse, where he found
Simonides the lyric poet, who as well as himself was by that prince most hospitably
received Of the fact of his having visited Sicily at the time alluded to, there
can be no doubt; but whether the motive alleged by Plutarch for his doing so was
the only one, or a real one, is a question of considerable difficulty, though
of little practical moment. It may be, as has been plausibly maintained by some
authors, that Aeschylus, whose family and personal honours were connected with
the glories of Marathon, and the heroes of the Persian war, did not symipathise
with the spirit of aggrandisement by which the councils of his country were then
actuated, nor approve of its policy in the struggle for the supremacy over Greece.
The contemporaries of his earlier years, Miltiades, Aristeides, and Themistocles,
whose achievements in the service of their country were identified with those
of himself and his family, had been succeeded by Cimon: and the aristocratical
principles which Aeschylus supported were gradually being supplanted and overborne
by the advance of democracy. From all this, Aeschylus might have felt that he
was outliving his principles, and have felt it the more keenly, from Cimon, the
hero of the day, having been one of the judges who awarded the tragic prize to
Sophocles in preference to himself. (Plut. l. c.) On this supposition, Athens
could not have been an agreeable residence to a person like Aeschylus, and therefore
he might have been disposed to leave it; but still it is more than probable that
his defeat by Sophocles materially influenced his determinations, and was at any
rate the proximate cause of his removing to Sicily. It has been further conjectured
that the charge of asebeia or impiety which was brought against Aeschylus for
an alleged publication of the mysteries of Ceres (Aristot. Eth. iii. 1), but possibly
from political motives, was in some measure connected with his retirement from
iris native country. If this were really the case, it follows, that the play or
plays which gave the supposed offence to the Athenians, must have been published
before B. C. 468, and therefore that the trilogy of the Oresteia could have had
no connexion with it. Shortly before the arrival of Aeschylus at the court of
Hiero, that prince had built the town of Aetna, at the bottom of the mountain
of that name, and on the site of the ancient Catana : in connexion with this event,
Aeschylus is said to have composed his play of the Women of Aetna (B. C. 471,
or 472), in which he predicted and prayed for the prosperity of the new city.
At the request of Hiero, he also reproduced the play of the Persae, with the trilogy
of which he had been victorious in the dramatic contests at Athens (B. C. 472).
Now we know that the trilogy of the Seven against Thebes was represented soon
after the " Persians:" it follows therefore that the former trilogy must have
been first represented not later than B. C. 470. Aristeides, who died in B. C.
468, was living at the time (Plut. Arist. 3). Besides "The Women of Aetna," Aeschylus
also composed other pieces in Sicily, in which are said to have occurred Sicilian
words and expressions not intelligible to the Athenians (Athen. ix.). From the
number of such words and expressions, which have been noticed in the later extant
plays of Aeschylus, it has been inferred that he spent a considerable time in
Sicily, on this his first visit. We must not however omit to mention, that, according
to some accounts, Aeschylus also visited Sicily about B. C. 488, previous to what
we have considered his first visit. The occasion of this retirement is said to
have been the victory gained over him by Simonides, to whom the Athenians adjudged
the prize for the best elegy on those who fell at Maarathon. This tradition, however,
is not supported by strong independent testimony, and accordingly its truth has
been much questionned. Suidas indeed states that Aeschylus had visited Sicily
even before this, when he was only twenty-five years of age (B. C. 499), immediately
after his first contest with Pratinas, on which occasion the crowd of spectators
was so great as to cause the fall of the wooden planks (ikria) or temporary scaffolding,
on which they were accommodated with seats.
In B. C. 467, his friend and patron king Hiero died; and in B. C.
458, it appears that Aeschylus was again at Athens from the fact that the trilogy
of the Oresteia was produced in that year. The conjecture of Bockh, that this
might have been a second representation in the absence of the poet, is not supported
by any probable reasons, for we have no intimation that the Oresteia ever had
been acted before. In the same or the following year (B. C. 457), Aeschylus again
visited Sicily for the last time, and the reason assigned for this his second
or as others conceive his fourth visit to this island, is both probable and sufficient.
The fact is, that in his play of the Eumenides, the third and last of the three
plays which made up the Orestean trilogy, Aeschylus proved himself a decided supporter
of the ancient dignities and power of that " watchful guardian " of Athens, the
aristocratical court of the Areiopagus, in opposition to Pericles and his democratical
coadjutors. With this trilogy Aeschylus was indeed successful as a poet, but not
as a politician : it did not produce the effects he had wished and intended, and
he found that he had striven in vain against the opinions and views of a generation
to which he did not belong. Accordingly it has been conjectured that either from
disappointment or fear of the consequences, or perhaps from both these causes,
he again quitted Athens, and retired once more to Sicily. But another reason,
which if founded on truth, perhaps operated in conjunction with the former, has
been assigned for his last sojourn in Sicily. This rests on a statement made more
or less distinctly by various authors, to the effect that Aeschylus was accused
of impiety before the court of the Areiopagus, and that he would have been condemned
but for the interposition of his brother Ameinias, who had distinguished himself
at the battle of Salamis. (Aelian, V. H. v. 19.) According to some authors this
accusation was preferred against him, for having in some of his plays either divulged
or profanely spoken of the mysteries of Ceres. According to others, the charge
originated from his having introduced on the stage the dread goddesses, the Eumenides,
which he had done in such a way as not only to do violence to popular prejudice,
but also to excite the greatest alarm among the spectators. Now, the Eumenides
contains nothing which can be considered as a publication of the mysteries of
Ceres, and therefore we are inclined to think that his political enemies availed
themselves of the unpopularity he had incurred by his " Chorus of Furies," to
get up against him a charge of impiety, which they supported not only by what
was objectionable in the Eumenides, but also in other plays not now extant. At
any rate, from the number of authorities all confirming this conclusion, there
can be no doubt that towards the end of his life Aeschylus incurred the serious
displeasure of a strong party at Athens, and that after the exhibition of the
Orestean trilogy he retired to Gela in Sicily, where he died B. C. 456, in the
69th year of his age, and three years after the representation of the Eumenides.
On the manner of his death the ancient writers are unanimous (Suidas, s. v. Chelonemion).
An eagle, say they, mistaking the poet's bald head for a stone, let a tortoise
fall upon it to break the shell, and so fulfilled an oracle, according to which
Aeschylus was fated to die by a blow from heavenly. The inhabitants of Gela shewed
their regard for his character, by public solemnities in his honour, by erecting
a noble monument to him, and inscribing it with an epitaph written by himself
(Paus. i. 14.4; Athen. xiv.). In it Gela is mentioned as the place of his burial,
and the field of Marathon as the place of his most glorious achievements; but
no mention is made of his poetry, the only subject of commemoration in the later
epigrams written in his honour. At Athens also his name and memory were holden
in especial reverence, and the prophecy in which he (Athen. viii.) is said to
have predicted his own posthumous fame, when lie was first defeated by Sophocles,
was amply fulfilled. His pieces were frequently reproduced on the stage; and by
a special decree of the people, a chorus was provided at the expense of the state
for any one who night wish to exhibit his tragedies a second time (Aristoph. Achar.
102; Aeschyl. vita). Hence Aristophanes (Ran. 892) makes Aeschylus say of himself,
that his poetry did not die with him; and even after his death, he may be said
to have gained many victories over his successors in Attic tragedy. The plays
thus exhibited for the first time may either have been those which Aeschylus had
not produced himself, or such as had been represented in Sicily, and not at Athens,
during his lifetime. The individuals who exhibited his dramatic remains on the
Attic stage were his sons Euphorion and Bion : the former of whom was, in B. C.
431, victorious with a tetralogy over Sophocles and Euripides (Argum. Eurip. Med.),
and in addition to this is said to have gained four victories with dramatic pieces
of his father's never before represented. Philocles also, the son of a sister
of Aeschylus, was victorious over the King Oedipus of Sophocles, probably with
a tragedy of his uncle's (Argum. Soph. Oed. Tyr.). From and by means of these
persons arose what was called the Tragic School of Aeschylus, which continued
for the space of 125 years.
We have hitherto spoken of Aeschylus as a poet only; but it must not
be forgotten that he was also highly renowned as a warrior. His first achievements
as a soldier were in the battle of Marathon, in which his brother Cynaegeirus
and himself so highly distinguished themselves, that their exploits were commemorated
with a descriptive painting in the theatre of Athens, which was thought to be
much older than the statue there erected in honour of Aeschylus (Paus. i. 21.2).
The epitaph which he wrote on himself, proves that he considered his share in
that battle as the most glorious achievement of his life, though he was also engaged
at Artemisium, Salamis, and Plataea (Paus. i. 14.4). All his family, indeed, were
distinguished for bravery. His younger brother Ameinias (Herod. viii. 84; Diod.
xi. 25) was noted as having commenced the attack on the Persian ships at Salamis,
and at Marathon no one was so perseveringly brave as Cynaegeirus (Herod. vi. 114).
Hence we may not unreasonably suppose, that the gratitude of the Athenians for
such services contributed somewhat to a due appreciation of the poet's merits,
and to the tragic victory which he gained soon after the battle of Marathon (B.
C. 484) and before that of Salamis. Nor can we wonder at the peculiar vividness
and spirit with which he portrays the " pomp and circumstance" of war, as in the
Persae, and the " Seven against Thebes," describing its incidents and actions
as one who had really been an actor in scenes such as he paints.
The style of Aeschylus is bold, energetic, and sublime, full of gorgeous
imagery, and magnificent expressions such as became the elevated characters of
his dramas, and the ideas he wished to express (Aristoph. Ran. 934). This sublimity
of diction was however sometimes carried to an extreme, which made his language
turgid and inflated, so that as Quintilian (x. 1) says of him, " he is grandiloquent
to a fault." In the turn of his expressions, the poetical predominates over the
syntactical. He was peculiarly fond of metaphorical phrases and strange compounds,
and obsolete language, so that he was much more epic in his language than either
Sophocles or Euripides, and excelled in displaying strong feelings and impulses,
and describing the awful and the terrible, rather than in exhibiting the workings
of the human mind under the influence of complicated and various motives. But
notwithstanding the general elevation of his style, the subordinate characters
in his plays, as the watchman in the Agamemnon, and the nurse of Orestes in the
Choephoroe, are made to use language fitting their station, and less removed from
that of common life.
The characters of Aeschylus, like his diction, are sublime and majestic,
-they were gods and heroes of colossal magnitude, whose imposing aspect could
be endured by the heroes of Marathon and Salamis, but was too awful for the contemplation
of the next generation, who complained that Aeschylus' language was not human
(Aristoph. Ran. 1056). Hence the general impressions produced by the poetry of
Aeschylus were rather of a religious than of a moral nature : his personages being
both in action and suffering, superhuman, and therefore not always fitted to teach
practical lessons. He produces indeed a sort of religious awe, and dread of the
irresistible power of the gods, to which man is represented as being entirely
subject; but on the other hand humanity often appears as the sport of an irrevocable
destiny, or the victim of a struggle between superior beings. Still Aeschylus
sometimes discloses a providential order of compensation and retribution, while
he always teaches the duty of resignation and submission to the will of the gods,
and the futility and fatal consequences of all opposition to it.
With respect to the construction of his plays, it has been often remarked,
that they have little or no plot, and are therefore wanting in dramatic interest:
this deficiency however may strike us more than it otherwise would in consequence
of most of his extant plays being only parts, or acts of a more complicated drama.
Still we cannot help being impressed with the belief, that he was more capable
of sketching a vast outline, than of filling up its parts, however bold and vigorous
are the sketches by which he portrays and groups his characters. His object, indeed,
according to Aristophanes, in such plays as the Persae, and the Seven against
Thebes, which are more epical than dramatical, was rather to animate his countrymen
to deeds of glory and warlike achievement, and to inspire then with generous and
elevated sentiments, by a vivid exhibition of noble deeds and characters, than
to charm or startle by the incidents of an elaborate plot. (Ran. 1000.) The religious
views and tenets of Aeschylus, so far as they appear in his writings, were Homeric.
Like Homer, he represents Zeus as the supreme Ruler of the Universe, the source
and centre of all things. To him all the other divinities are subject, and from
him all their powers and authority are derived. Even Fate itself is sometimes
identical with his will, and the result of his decrees. He only of all the beings
in heaven and earth is free to act as he pleases. (Prom. 40)
In Philosophical sentiments, there was a tradition that Aeschylus
was a Pythagorean (Cic. Tus. Disp. ii. 10); but of this his writings do not furnish
any conclusive proof, though there certainly was some similarity between him and
Pythagoras in the purity and elevation of their sentiments. The most correct and
lively description of the character and dramatic merits of Aeschylus, and of the
estimation in which he was held by his contemporaries and immediate successors,
is given by Aristophanes in his "Frogs." He is there depicted as proud and impatient,
and his style and genius such as we have described it. Aristophanes was evidently
a very great admirer of him, and sympathised in no common degree with his political
and moral sentiments. He considered Aeschylus as without a rival and utterly unapproachable
as a tragic poet; and represents even Sophocles himself as readily yielding to
and admitting his superior claims to the tragic throne. But few if any of the
ancient critics seem to have altogether coincided with Aristophanes in his estimation
of Aeschylus, though they give him credit for his excellences. Thus Dionysius
(De Poet. Vet. ii. 9) praises the originality of his ideas and of his expressions,
and the beauty of his imagery, and the propriety and dignity of his characters.
Longinus (15) speaks of his elevated creations and imagery, but condemns some
of his expressions as harsh and overstrained; and Quintilian (x. 1) expresses
himself much to the same effect. The expression attributed to Sophocles, that
Aeschylus did what was right without knowing it (Athen. x.), in other words, that
he was an unconscious genius, working without any knowledge of or regard to the
artistical laws of his profession, is worthy of note. So also is the observation
of Schlegel (Lecture iv.), that " Generally considered, the tragedies of Aeschylus
are an example amongst many, that in art, as in nature, gigantic productions precede
those of regulated symmetry, which then dwindle away into delicacy and insignificance;
and that poetry in her first manifestation always approaches nearest to the awfulness
of religion, whatever shape the latter may assume among the various races of men."
Aeschylus himself used to say of his dramas, that they were fragments of the great
banquet of Homer's table. (Athen. viii.) The alterations, made by Aeschylus in
the composition and dramatic representation of Tragedy were so great, that he
was considered by the Athenians as the father of it, just as Homer was of Epic
poetry and Herodotus of History (Philostr. Vit. Apoll. vi. 11). As the ancients
themselves remarked, it was a greater advance from the elementary productions
of Thespis, Choerilus, and Phrynichus, to the stately tragedy, of Aeschylus, than
from the latter to the perfect and refined forms of Sophocles. It was the advance
from infancy if not to maturity, at least to a youthful and vigorous manhood.
Even the improvements and alterations introduced by his successors were the natural
results and suggestions of those of Aeschylus. The first and principal alteration
which he made was the introduction of a second actor deuteragonistes (Aristot.
Poet. 4.16), and the consequent formation of the dialogue properly so called,
and the limitation of the choral parts. So great was the effect of this change
that Aristotle denotes it by saying, that he made the dialogue, the principal
part of the play (ton logon protagonisten pareskeuasen), instead of the choral
part, which was now become subsidiary and secondary. This innovation was of course.
adopted by his contemporaries, just as Aeschylus himself (e. g. in the Choephoroi
665-716) followed the example of Sophocles, in subsequently introducing a third
actor. The characters in his plays were sometimes represented by Aeschylus himself
(Athen. i.). In the early part of his career he was supported by an actor named
Cleandrus, and afterwards by Myniscus of Chalchis. The dialogue between the two
principal characters in the plays of Aeschylus was generally kept up in a strictly
symmetrical form, each thought or sentiment of the two speakers being expressed
in one or two unbroken lines: e. g. as the dialogue between. Kratos and Hephaestus
at the beginning of the Prometheus. In the same way, in the Seven against Thebes,
Eteocles always expresses himself in three lines between the reflections of the
chorus. This arrangement, differing as it does from the forms of ordinary conversation,
gives to the dialogue of Aeschylus an elevated and stately character, which bespeaks
the conversation of gods and heroes. But the improvements of Aeschylus were not
limited to the composition of tragedy: he added the resources of art in its exhibition.
Thus, he is said to have availed himself of the skill of Agatharcus, who painted
for him the first scenes which had ever been drawn according to the principles
of linear perspective (Vitruv. Praef lib. vii.). He also furnished his actors
with more suitable and magnificent dresses, with significant and various masks,
and with the thick-soled cothurnus, to raise their statue to the height of heroes.
He moreover bestowed so much attention on the choral dances, that he is said to
have invented various figures himself, and to have instructed the choristers in
them without the aid of the regular ballet-masters. So great was Aeschylus' skill
as a teacher in this respect, that Telestes, one of his choristers, was able to
express by dance alone the various incidents of the play of the Seven against
Thebes.The removal of all deeds of bloodshed and murder from the public view,
in conformity with the rule of Horace (A. P. 185), is also said to have been a
practice introduced by Aeschylus, (Philos. Vit. Apol. vi. 11). With him also arose
the usage of representing at the same time a triogy of plays connected in subject,
so that each formed one act, as it were, of a great whole, which might be compared
with some of Shakespeare's historical plays. Even before the time of Aeschylus,
it had been customary to contend for the prize of tragedy with three plays exhibited
at the same time, but it was reserved for him to shew how each of three tragedies
might be complete in itself, and independent of the rest, and nevertheless form
a part of a harmonious and connected whole. The only example still extant of such
a trilogy is the Oresteia, as it was called. A Satyrical play commonly followed
each tragic trilogy, and it is recorded that Aeschylus was no less a master of
the ludicrous than of the serious drama (Paus. ii. 13.5).
Aeschylus is said to have written seventy tragedies. Of these only
seven are extant, namely, the " Persians," the " Seven against Thebes," the "Suppliants,"
the "Prometheus," the " Agamemnon," the " Choephoroe," and " Eumenides ;" the
last three forming, as already remarked, the trilogy of the " Oresteia." The "
Persians" was acted in B. C. 472, and the " Seven against Thebes" a year afterwards.
The "Oresteia" was represented in B. C. 458; the "Suppliants" and the "Prometheus"
were brought out some time between the "Seven against Thebes" and the " Oresteia."
It has been supposed from some allusions in the "Suppliants," that this play was
acted in B. C. 461, when Athens was allied with Argos.
The first edition of Aeschylus was printed at Venice, 1518, 8vo.;
but parts of the Agamemnon and the Choephoroe are not printed in this edition,
and those which are given, are made up into one play. Of the subsequent editions
the best was by Stanley, Lond. 1663, fo. with the Scholia and a commentary, reedited
by Butler. The best recent editions are by Wellauer, Lips. 1823, W. Dindorf, Lips.
1827, and Scholefield, Camb. 1830. There are numerous editions of various plays,
of which those most worthy of mention are by Blomfield, Muller, Klausen, and Peile.
The principal English translations are by Potter, Harford, and Medwin. (Petersen,
De Aeschyli Vita et Fabulis, Havniae, 1814; Welcker, Die Aeschyl. Trilogie Prtomethcus,
Darmstadt, 1824, Nachtrag zur Trilogie, Frankf. 1826, and Die Griech. Tragodien,
Bonn, 1840; Klausen, Thcologumena Aeschyli Tragiei, Berol. 1829.)
This text is from: A dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology, 1873 (ed. William Smith). Cited July 2005 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
- A dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology (ed. William Smith)
The e-texts of the works by Aeschylus can be found in Greece (ancient country) under the category Ancient Greek Writings.
A noble aristocrat who lived an unsettled life as in his time a number of political changes occured in Megara and throughout Greece. Because he was a member of the defeated aristocratic party ge was exiled and moved to Sicilly, Euboea, Viotia and Sparta. Even though he was welcome in all these states he always longed to return home. Indeed he returned home, sided with the new order of things but deeply inside him he remained an aristocrat and never changed his political beliefs. In his elegies, of which only 1389 verses have survived, the reader can see the poet's prejudice for the aristocrats against the democrats.
Theognis. Of Megara, an ancient elegiac and gnomic poet, said
to have flourished B.C. 548 or 544. He may have been born about 570, and would
therefore have been eighty at the commencement of the Persian Wars, 490, at which
time we know from his own writings that he was alive. Theognis belonged to the
oligarchical party in his native city, and in its fates he shared. He was a noble
by birth, and all his sympathies were with the nobles. They are, in his poems,
the agathoi and esthloi, and the commons the kakoi and deiloi, terms which, in
fact, at that period, were regularly used in this political signification, and
not in their later ethical meaning. He was banished with the leaders of the oligarchical
party, having previously been deprived of all his property; and most of his poems
were composed while he was an exile. Most of his political verses are addressed
to a certain Cyrnus, the son of Polypas. The other fragments of his poetry are
of a social, most of them of a festive, character. They place us in the midst
of a circle of friends who formed a kind of convivial society; all the members
of this society belonged to the class whom the poet calls "the good."
The collection of gnomic poetry which has come down to us under the name of Theognis
contains, however, many additions from later poets. The genuine fragments of Theognis,
with some passages which are poetical in thought, have much that helps us to understand
This text is from: Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities. Cited Nov 2002 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
- Perseus: Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (1898)
Theognis. Of Megara, an ancient elegiac and gnomic poet, whose reputed works form
the most extensive collection of gnomic poetry, that has come down to us under
any one name; but, unfortunately, the form in which these remains exist is altogether
unsatisfactory. Most of our information respecting the poet's life is derived
from his writings.
He was a native of Megara, the capital of Megaris, not of Megara Hyblaea,
in Sicily; as Harpocration justly argues from a line of his poetry (v. 783), in
which he speaks of his going to Sicily, evidently as to a country which was not
his native land, and as appears also from other passages of his writings. Harpocration
is, however, in error, when he charges Plato with having fallen into a mistake,
in making Theognis a citizen of Megara in Sicily (Leg. i.); for we can have no
hesitation in accepting the explanation of the Scholiast on Plato, that Theognis
was a native of Megara in Greece, but received also the citizenship as an honour
from the people of Megara Hyblaea, whom he is known to have visited, and for whom
one of his elegies was composed, as is proved by internal evidence. From his own
poems also we learn that, besides Sicily, he visited Euboea and Lacedaemon, and
that in all these places he was hospitably received. The circumstances which led
him to wander from his native city will presently appear.
The time at which Theognis flourished is expressly stated by several
writers as the 58th or 59th Olympiad, B. C. 548 or 544. It is evident, from passages
in his poems, that he lived till after the commencement of the Persian wars, B.
C. 490. These statements may be reconciled, by supposing that he was about eighty
at the latter date, and that he was born about B. C. 570. Cyril and Suidas make
him contemporary with Phocylides of Miletus.
Both the life and writings of Theognis, like those of Alcaeus, are
inseparably connected with the political events of his time and city. The little
state of Megara had been for some time before the poet's birth the scene of great
political convulsions. After shaking off the yoke of Corinth, it had remained
for a time under the nobles, until about the year B. C. 630, when Theagenes, placing
himself at the head of the popular party, acquired the tyranny of the state, from
which he was again driven by a counter revolution, about B. C. 600. The popular
party, into whose hands the power soon fell again, governed temperately for a
time, but afterwards they oppressed the noble and rich, entering their houses,
and demanding to eat and drink luxuriously, and enforcing their demand when it
was refused; and at last passing a decree that the interest paid on money lent
should be refunded (palintokia, Plut. Quaest. Graec. 18). They alto banished many
of the chief men of the city; but the exiles returned, and restored the oligarchy
(Arist. Polit. v. 4.3). Several such revolutions and counter-revolutions appear
to have followed one another; but we are not informed of their dates.
Theognis was born and spent his life in the midst of these convulsions,
to which a large portion of his poetry relates, most of that portion having evidently
been composed at a time when the oligarchical party was oppressed and in exile.
To this party Theognis himself belonged, and in its fates he shared. He was a
noble by birth; and all his sympathies were with the nobles. They are, in his
poems, the agathoi and esthloi, and the commons the kakoi and deiloi, terms which,
in fact, at that period, were regularly used in this political signification,
and not in their later ethical meaning.(1)
It would seem that, in that particular revolution, from which Theognis
suffered, there had been a division of the property of the nobles, in which he
lost his all, and was cast out as an exile, barely escaping with his life, " like
a dog who throws every thing away in order to cross a torrent"; and that
he had also to complain of treachery on the part of certain friends in whom he
had trusted. In his verses he pours out his indignation upon his enemies, " whose
black blood he would even drink". He laments the folly of the bad pilots by whom
the vessel of the state had been often wrecked, and speaks of the common people
with unmeasured contumely. Amidst all these outbursts of passion, we find some
very interesting descriptions of the social change which the revolution had effected.
It had rescued the country population from a condition of abject poverty and serfdom,
and given them a share in the government. "Cyrnus" he exclaims, " this
city is still a city, but the people are others, who formerly knew nothing of
courts of justice or of laws, but wore goat-skins about their ribs, and dwelt
without this city, like timid deer. And now they are the good (agathoi); and those
who were formerly noble (esthloi) are now the mean (deiloi): who can endure to
see these things? " The intercourse of common life, and the new distribution of
property, were rapidly breaking down the old aristocracy of birth, and raising
up in its place an aristocracy of wealth. "They honour riches. and the good marries
the daughter of the bad, and the bad the daughter of the good, wealth confounds
the race (emixe genos). Thus, wonder not that the race of citizens loses its brightness,
for good things are confounded with bad". These complaints of the debasement of
the nobles by their intermixture with the commons are embittered by a personal
feeling; for he had been rejected by the parents of the girl he loved, and she
had been given in marriage to a person of far inferior rank (pollon emou kakion);
but Theognis believes that her affections are still fixed on him. He distrusts
the stability of the new order of things, and points to a new despotism as either
established or just at hand.
Most of these political verses are addressed to a certain Cyrnus,
the son of Polypas; for it is now generally admitted that the same Polupaides,
which has been sometimes supposed to refer to a different person, is to be understood
as a patronymic, and as applying to Cyrnus. From the verses themselves, as well
as from the statements of the ancient writers, it appears that Cyrnus was a young
man towards whom Theognis cherished a firm friendship, and even that tender regard,
that pure and honourable paidepastia, which often bound together men of different
ages in the Dorian states. From one passage it appears that Cyrnus was old enough,
and of sufficient standing in the city, to be sent to Delphi as a sacred envoy
(theoros) to bring back an oracle, which the poet exhorts him to preserve faithfully.
There is another fragment, also of a political character, but in a different tone,
addressed to a certain Simonides; in which the revolution itself is described
in guarded language, which indicates the sense of present danger; while in the
verses addressed to Cyrnus the change is presupposed, and the poet speaks out
his feelings, as one who has nothing more to fear or hope for.
The other fragments of the poetry of Theognis are of a social, most
of them of a festive character. They "place us in the midst of a circle of friends.
who formed a kind of eating society, like the philislia of Sparta, and like the
ancient public tables of Megara itself". All the members of this society belong
to the class whom the poet calls "the good". He addresses them, like Cyrnus and
Simonides, by their names, Onomacritus, Clearistus, Democles. Demonax, and Timagoras,
in passages which are probably fragments of distinct elegies, and in which allusion
is made to their various characters and adventures; and he refers, as also in
his verses addressed to Cyrnus, to the fame conferred upon them by the introduction
of their names in his poems, both at other places, where already in his own time
his elegies were sung at banquets, and in future ages. A good account of these
festive elegies is given in the following passage from Muller: "The poetry of
Theognis is full of allusions to symposia: so that from it a clear conception
of the outward accompaniments of the elegy may be formed. When the guests were
satisfied with eating, the cups were filled for the solemn libation; and at this
ceremony a prayer was offered to the gods, especially to Apollo, which in many
districts of Greece was expanded into a paean. Here began the more joyous and
noisy part of the banquet, which Theognis (as well as Pindar) calls in general
komos, although this word in a narrower sense also signified the tumultuous throng
of the guests departing from the feast. Now the Comos was usually accompanied
with the flute : hence Theognis speaks in so many places of the accompaniment
of the flute-player to the poems sung in the intervals of drinking; while the
lyre and cithara (or phorminx) are rarely mentioned, and then chiefly in reference
to the song at the libation. And this was the appropriate occasion for the elegy,
which was sung by one of the guests to the sound of a flute, being either addressed
to the company at large, or (as is always the case in Theognis) to a single guest".
Schneidewin traces a marked distinction in the style and spirit of those portions
of the poems of Theognis, which he composed in his youth and prosperity, and those
which he wrote in his mature age, and when misfortunes had come upon him.
As to the form in which the poems of Theognis were originally composed,
and that in which the fragments of them have come down to us, there is a wide
field for speculation. The ancients had a collection of elegiac poetry, under
his name, which they sometimes mention as elegeia, and sometimes as epe, and which
they regarded as chiefly, if not entirely, of a gnomic character (Plat. Menon.).
Xenophon says that "this poet discourses of nothing else but respecting the virtue
and vice of men, and his poetry is a treatise (sungramma) concerning men, just
as if any one skilled in horsemanship were to write a treatise about horsemanship"
(Xenoph. ap. Slob. Florileg. lxxxviii). To the same effect Isocrates mentions
Hesiod, Theognis, and Phocylides, as confessedly those who have given the best
advice respecting human life (kai gar toutous phasi men aristous gegenesthai sumboulous
toi bioi toi ton anthropon); and, from the context, it may it inferred that the
works of these poets were used in Greek education (Isocrat. ad Nicoel. 42). Suidas
enumerates, as his works, an Elegy eis tous sothentas ton Supakousion en tei poliorkiai;
Gnomic Elegies, to the amount of 2800 verses (Gnomai di elegeias eis epe bo);
a Gnomology in elegiac verse, and other hortatory counsels, addressed to Cyrnus
(kai pros Kurnon, ton autou epomenon, Gnomologian di edegeion kai heteras hupothekas
parainetikas). Suidas adds, that these poems were all of the epic form (ta panta
epikos), a phrase which can only be explained by taking the word epic in that
wide sense, of which we have several other instances, one of which (Plat. Men.)
has been noticed above, as including poems in the elegiac verse; for all the remains
of Theognis which we possess are elegiac, and there is no sufficient reason to
suppose that he wrote any epic poems, properly so called, or even any gnomic poems
in hexameter verse. Had he done so, the fact would surely have been indicated
by the occasional appearance of consecutive hexameters in the gnomic extracts
from his poems. The passage of Plato, sometimes quoted to show that he wrote epic
poetry, seems to us to prove, if anything, the very opposite.
The poems, which have come down to us, consist of 1389 elegiac verses,
consisting of gnomic sentences and paragraphs, of one or more couplets; which
vary greatly in their style and subjects, and which are evidently extracted from
a number of separate poems. Even in the confused account of Suidas we trace indications
of the fact, that the poetry of Theognis consisted of several distinct elegies.
In what state the collection was in the time of Suidas, we have not sufficient
evidence to determine; but, comparing his article with his well-known method of
putting together the information which he gathered from various sources, we suspect
that the work which he calls Gnomai di elegeias eis epe bo, was a collection similar
to that which has come down to us, though more extensive, and with which Suidas
himself was probably acquainted, and that he copied the other titles from various
writers, without caring to inquire whether the poems to which they referred were
included in the great collection. Xenophon, in the passage above cited, refers
to a collection of the poetry of Theognis; though not, as some have supposed,
to a continuous gnomic poem; and it is evident that the collection referred to
by Xenophon was different from that which has come down to us, as the lines quoted
by him as its commencement are now found in the MSS. as vv. 183--190.
The manner in which the original collection was formed, and the changes
by which it has come into its present state, can be explained by a very simple
theory, perfectly consistent with all the facts of the case, in the following
Theognis wrote numerous elegies, political, convivial, affectionate,
and occasional, addressed to Cyrnus, and to his other friends. In a very short
time these poems would naturally be collected, and arranged according to their
subjects, and according to the persons to whom they were addressed; but at what
precise period this was done we are unable to determine: the collection may have
been partly made during the poet's life, and even by himself; but we may be sure
that it would not be left undone long after his death.
In this collection, the distinction of the separate poems in each
great division would naturally be less and less regarded, on account of the uniformity
of tile metre, the similarity of the subjects, and -in the case especially of
those addressed to Cyrnus- the perpetual recurrence of the same name in the different
poems. Thus the collection would gradually be fused into one body, and, first
each division of it, and then perhaps the whole, would assume a form but little
different from that of a continuous poem. Even before this had happened, however,
the decidedly gnomic spirit of the poems, and their popularity on that account,
would give rise to the practice of extracting from them couplets and paragraphs,
containing gnomic sentiments; and these, being chosen simply for the sake of the
sentiment contained in each individual passage, would be arranged in any order
that accident might determine, without reference to the original place and connection
of each extract, and without any pains being taken to keep the passages distinct.
Thus was formed a single and quasi-continuous body of gnomic poetry, which of
course has been subjected to the common fates of such collections; interpolations
from the works of other gnomic poets, and omissions of passages which really belonged
to Theognis; besides the ordinary corruptions of critics and transcribers. Whatever
questions may be raised as to matters of detail, there can be very little doubt
that the socalled poems of Theognis have been brought into their present state
by some such process as that which has been now described.
In applying this theory to the restoration of the extant fragments
of Theognis to something like their ancient arrangement, Welcker, to whom we are
indebted for the whole discovery, proceeds in the following manner. First, he
rejects all those verses which we have the positive authority of ancient writers
for assigning to other poets, such as Tyrtaeus, Mimniermus, Solon, and others;
provided, of course, that the evidence in favour of those poets preponderates
over that on the ground of which the verses have been assigned to Theognis. Secondly,
he rejects all passages which can be proved to be merely parodies of the genuine
gnomes of Theognis, a species of corruption which he discusses with great skill.
Thirdly, he collects those passages which refer to certain definite persons, places,
seasons, and events, like the epigrams of later times; of these he considers some
to be the productions of Theognis, but others manifest additions. His next class
is formed of the convivial portions of the poetry; in which the discrimination
of what is genuine from what is spurious is a matter of extreme difficulty. Fifthly,
he separates all those paragraphs which are addressed to Polypaides; and here
there can be no doubt that he has fallen into an error, through not perceiving
the fact above referred to, as clearly established by other writers, that that
word is a patronymic, and only another name for Cyrnus. Lastly, he removes from
the collection the verses which fall under the denomination of paidika, for which
Suidas censures the poet; but, if we understand these passages as referring to
the sort of intercourse which prevailed among the Dorians, many of them admit
of the best interpretation and may safely be assigned to Theognis, though there
are others, of a less innocent character, which we must regard as the productions
of later and more corrupt ages. The couplets which remain are fragments from the
elegies of Theognis, mostly addressed to Cyrnus, and referring to the events of
the poet's life and times, and the genuineness of which may, for the most part,
be assumed; though, even among these, interpolations may very probably have taken
place, and passages actually occur of a meaning so nearly identical, that they
can hardly be supposed to have been different passages in the works of the same
poet, but they seem rather to have been derived from different authors by some
compiler who was struck by their resemblance.
The poetical character of Theognis may be judged of to a great extent,
from what has already been said, and it is only necessary to add that his genuine
fragments contain much that is highly poetical in thought, and elegant as well
as forcible in expression.
(1) For a full illustration of the meanings of these words, see
Welcker's Prolegomena ad Theogn., and an excellent note in Grote's History of
Greece: "The ethical meaning of these words is not absolutely unknown, yet
rare, in Theognis: it gradually grew up at Athens, and became popularized by the
Socratic school of philosophers as well as by the orators. But the early or political
meaning always remained, and the fluctuation between the two has been productive
of frequent misunderstanding. Constant attention is necessary, when we read the
expressions hoi agathoi, esthloi, beltistoi, kalokagathoi, chpestoi, &c.,
or on the other hand, hoi kakoi, deiloi, &c., to examine whether the context
is such as to give to them the ethical or the political meaning".
This text is from: A dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology, 1873 (ed. William Smith). Cited Sep 2005 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
- A dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology (ed. William Smith)
One of the most celebrated Greek artists of Eleutherae, in Attica,
an older contemporary of Phidias and Polyclitus, and, like them, a pupil of Ageladas.
His works, chiefly in bronze, were numerous and very varied in subject--gods,
heroes, and especially athletes and representations of animals, which were admired
by the ancients for their life-like truth to nature. Most famous among these were
his statue of the Argive runner Ladas; of Marsyas, of which a marble copy is now
in the Lateran at Rome; his "Discobolus," or quoit-thrower, which we
are enabled to appreciate in several copies in marble, the best being that in
the Palazzo Massimi and one in bronze in the Palazzo Lancelotti in Rome; and his
"Cow on the Market-place at Athens," which received the very highest
praise among the ancients, was celebrated in thirty-six extant epigrams in the
Greek anthology, all quoted in Overbeck's Schriftquellen. 550-588, and may be
regarded as his masterpiece. He was also the first to represent what is really
a genre portrait in his "Drunken Old Woman"; but this is now attributed
to another artist, one Socrates.
This text is from: Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities. Cited Dec 2002 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
- Perseus: Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (1898)
Myron of Eleutherai
Eleutherai was just inside Attica on the Boeotian border, which is
why Pausanias (6.8.4, etc.) calls him an Athenian. Once again the only synoptic
account of his oeuvre is Pliny's:
Myron was born at Eleutherae and was a pupil of Hageladas. He was particularly
famous for his statue of a heifer, celebrated in well-known epigrams -- for most
people owe their reputations more to someone else's talent than their own. He
also made a dog, a discobolus, a Perseus and the sea-monsters (?), a satyr marveling
at the flutes and a Minerva, pentathletes at Delphi, pancratiasts, and a Hercules
now in the shrine dedicated by Pompey the Great at the Circus Maximus. Erinna
also mentions in her poems that he made a cicada and a locust. He also made an
Apollo which Antony the triumvir took from the Ephesians, but the deified Augustus
restored it again after being warned in a dream. He seems to have been the first
to extend the representation of natural truth, being more rhythmical in his art
than Polykleitos and more careful over proportion (symmetria); yet though he was
very attentive to the bodies of his figures he does not seem to have expressed
the feelings of the mind, and also did not treat the hair and the pubes any more
correctly than did the rude art of old.(Pliny, N.H. 34.57-8)
Pliny places him third in the "Xenokratic" sequence of bronze-workers,
between Polykleitos (Pliny,
N.H. 34.55-6) and Pythagoras (Pliny,
N.H. 34.59), and consequently the late Hellenistic source (Pliny,
N.H. 35.49-52) gave him a floruit of 420-417; for an explanation as to why,
see the commentary (Pliny,
N.H. 34.59), above. Contradicted by (a) his supposed apprenticeship to Hageladas
10.10.6); (b) the "histories" of Cicero
and Quintilian; (c) his Aeginetan commission (no. 1), presumably pre-dating
the Athenian conquest of 457/6; and (d) the activities of his son Lykios in the
440s and 430s (Jeffery 1980b), this erroneous chronology also suggests that his
allegedly greater attentiveness to symmetria than -- of all people! -- Polykleitos
N.H. 34.57-8) could simply be a rationalization introduced by Xenokrates or
N.H. 34.55-6) to save this evolutionary scheme, rigidly formalistic as it
The full list of his works, all bronzes except possibly no. 1 (a xoanon , Paus.
2.30.2) is as follows:
Divinities and mythological groups
- Hekate (single-bodied) in Aegina
- Colossal Zeus, Athena, and Herakles in the Heraion at Samos; removed by Mark
Antony; the Athena and Herakles returned by Augustus
- Apollo at Ephesos, removed by Antony but returned by Augustus (Pliny,
- Apollo at Akragas, stolen by Verres in 73-70
- Dionysos at Orchomenos, later re-dedicated on Mt. Helikon by Sulla
- Nike killing a bull
- Athena and Marsyas
- Erechtheus at Athens
- Herakles at Messana, stolen by Verres
- Herakles, later in Rome (Pliny,
- Perseus, on the Akropolis
- The runner Ladas, perhaps at Argos (Anthologia
- A diskobolos (Pliny,
N.H. 34.57-8) & (Lucian,
- The horse breeder Lykinos of Sparta, at Olympia (twice)
- The pankratiast Timanthes of Kleonai, at Olympia
- The boy-boxer Philippos of Pellana, at Olympia
- The hoplite-runner Chionis of Sparta, at Olympia
- Pentathletes and pankratiasts, at Delphi (Pliny,
- A dog (Pliny,
- A cow, on the Akropolis (Pliny,
N.H. 34.57-8), later taken to Rome
- Four oxen, later in Rome
- A sea-monster
- Embossed vessels in silver
The Diskobolos (no. 13; Rome, Terme
126371; Stewart 1990, fig. 300) is the only work identified beyond doubt in
the copies, owing to a rare detailed description of one allegedly displayed with
the Tyrannicides, Polykleitos's Diadoumenos, and Demetrios' Pellichos (Stewart
1990, figs. 227-31; 383-85; Lucian, Philopseudes 18, with commentary) in a house
"When you came in the hall," he said, "didn't you notice a totally gorgeous statue
up there, by Demetrios the portraitist?" "Surely you don't mean the discus-thrower,"
said I, "the one bent over into the throwing-position, with his head turned back
to the hand that holds the discus, and the opposite knee slightly flexed, like
one who will spring up again after the throw?" "Not that one, he said, that's
one of Myron's works, that Diskobolos you speak of..." (Lucian, Philopseudes 18)
On the Athena and Marsyas, often identified as a group after Paus.
1.24.1, see Stewart 1990, 147, figs. 290-91, and the copy Louvre 2208; as for
the others, optimists have recognized nos. 2, 8, 10, and 11 in Roman copies (though
the Perseus is just as regularly given to Pythagoras), while Mingazzini 1972-3
and others attribute nos. 12 and 16 to namesakes of the Hellenistic period (contra
e.g. Moretti 1957, nos. 260, 319, 529, 535). These individuals are shadowy figures
at best: one, the Myron "of Thebes" whose signatures graced a dedication at Pergamon
(along with Praxiteles' and Xenokrates': Pergamon, 8.1, nos. 135-140) and another
found in Rome may well be a Hellenistic fiction perpetuated by locals charged
with furnishing new bases for war-booty, for Eleutherai was disputed between Athens
and Boeotia. Certainly, the epigrams describing the Ladas are by no means incompatible
with early classical experimentation:
Just as you were in life, Ladas, flying before wind-footed Thymos, touching the
ground with the tips of your toes, So did Myron cast you in bronze, on all of
your body Stamping your expectation of an Olympian crown.(Anthologia Palatina
On the other hand, Pliny's attribution of a marble "Drunken old Woman"
at Smyrna (N.H. 36.32) has been universally rejected, not least because its most
unclassical theme recurs in a copy of a work of advanced Hellenistic date, in
Rome (Munich 437; Bieber 1961b, 81; Laubscher 1982, 118-21; Stewart 1990, figs.
753-54). To connect this with the Myron of Athens who worked on Delos ca. 140
(Marcade 1957, 57) is tempting but purely arbitrary.
Many have pondered over Myron's signal contribution to Greek sculpture; yet one
must remember that in antiquity, though his statues of men were justly renowned
Alexandrini 7.3-9), his most famous work was not the Diskobolos but his cow
(no. 20), whose realism inspired countless epigrams (Overbeck 1868/1959, nos.
550-591, etc.), mostly vacuous in the extreme. His son Lykios carried on his work,
also gaining major commissions at Olympia and Athens.
(Select bibliography: in the URL below)
This extract is from: Andrew Stewart, One Hundred Greek Sculptors: Their Careers and Extant Works. Cited August 2004 from
Perseus Project URL below, which contains extracts from the ancient literature, bibliography & interesting hyperlinks.
The strength and malleability of bronze allowed innovative sculptors like the Athenian Myron and Polyclitus of Argos to push the development of the free-standing statue to its physical limits. Myron, for example, sculpted a discus thrower crouched at the top of his backswing, a pose far from the relaxed and serene symmetry of early archaic statuary. The figure not only assumes an asymmetrical pose but also seems to burst with the tension of the athlete's effort. Polyclitus' renowned statue of a walking man carrying a spear is posed to give a different impression from every angle of viewing. The feeling of motion it conveys is palpable. The same is true of the famous statue by an unknown sculptor of a female (perhaps the goddess of love Aphrodite) adjusting her diaphanous robe with one upraised arm. The message these statues conveyed to their ancient audience was one of energy, motion, and asymmetry in delicate balance. Archaic statues impressed a viewer with their appearance of stability; not even a hard shove looked likely to budge them. Free-standing statues of the classical period, by contrast, showed greater range in a variety of poses and impressions. The spirited movement of some of these statues suggests the energy of the times but also the possibility of change and instability.
- Thomas R. Martin, An Overview of Classical Greek History from Mycenae to Alexander
Myron was a Greek sculptor of the middle of the 5th century BC. He
was born at Eleutherae on the borders of Boeotia
He worked almost exclusively in bronze: and though he made some statues
of gods and heroes, his fame rested principally upon his representations of athletes,
in which he made a revolution, by introducing greater boldness of pose and a more
perfect rhythm. His most famous works according to Pliny were a cow, Ladas the
runner, who fell dead at the moment of victory, and a discus thrower. We are fortunate
in possessing several copies of the discobolus, of which the best is in the Massimi
palace at Rome. The athlete
is represented at the moment when he has swung back the discus with the full stretch
of his arm, and is about to hurl it with the full weight of his body.
The ancient critics say of Myron that, while he succeeded admirably
in giving life and motion to his figures, he did not succeed in rendering the
emotions of the mind. This agrees with the extant evidence, in a certain degree,
though not perfectly. The bodies of his men are of far greater excellence than
the heads. The face of the Marsyas is almost a mask; but from the attitude we
gain a vivid impression of the passions which sway him. The face of the discus-thrower
is calm and unruffled; but all the muscles of his body are concentrated in an
A recently discovered papyrus from Egypt
informs us that Myron made statues of the athlete Timanthes, victorious at Olympia
in 456 BC, and of Lycinus, victorious in 448 and 444. This helps us to fix his
date. He was a somewhat older contemporary of Pheidias and Polyclitus.
This extract is cited July 2003 from the Malaspina Great Books URL below, which contains image.
Myron (Muron), one of the most celebrated of the Greek statuaries, and also a
sculptor and engraver, was born at Eleutherae, in Boeotia, about B. C. 480. (Plin.
H. N. xxxiv. 8. s. 19.3) Pausanias calls him an Athenian, because Eleutherae had
been admitted to the Athenian franchise. He was the disciple of Ageladas, the
fellow-disciple of Polycleitus, and a younger contemporary of Phi dias. Pliny
gives for the time when he flourished the 87th Olympiad, or B. C. 431, the time
of the beginning of the Peloponnesian war. (H. N. xxxiv. 8. s. 19.)
The chief characteristic of Myron seems to have been his power of
expressing a great variety of forms. Not content with the human figure in its
most difficult and momentary attitudes, he directed his art towards various other
animals, and he seems to have been the first great artist who did so. To this
characteristic Pliny no doubt refers, when he says, Primus hic nmultiplicasse
veritatem videtur, numerosior quam Polycletus (l. c.3). To this love of variety
he seems in some degree to have sacrificed accuracy of proportion and intellectual
expression. (Plin. l. c.; comp. Cic. Brut. 18.) Neither did he pay much attention
to minute details, distinct from the general effect, such as the hair, in which
he seems to have followed, almost closely, the ancient conventional forms.
Quinctilian (xii. 10) speaks of his works as softer than those of
Callon, Hegesias, and Calamis. The author of the Rhetorica ad Herennium (iv. 6)
speaks of his heads as especially admirable.
Myron's great works were nearly all in bronze, of which he used the
variety called Delian, while Polycleitus preferred the Aeginetan. (Plin. H. N.
xxxiv. 2. s. 5; Dict. of Antiq. s. v. ues.)
The most celebrated of his statues were his Discobolus and his Cow.
The encomiums lavished by various ancient writers on the latter work might surprise
us if we did not remember how much more admiration is excited in a certain stage
of taste by the accurate imitation of an object out of the usual range of high
art, than by the most beautiful ideal representation of men or gods; and there
can be no doubt that it was almost a perfect work of its kind. Still the novelty
of the subject was undoubtedly its great charm, which caused it to be placed at
the head of Myron's works, and celebrated in many popular verses. Pliny says of
it: " Myronem bucula maxime nobilitavit, celebratis versibus laudata." The Greek
Anthology contains no less than thirty-six epigrams upon it, which, with other
passages in its praise, are collected by Sontag in the Unterhaltungen fur Freunde
der alten Literatur, pp. 100-119. Perhaps the best, at least the most expressive
of the kind of admiration it excited, is the following epigram, which is one out
of several epigrams on Myron's Cow by Ausonius (Epig. 58.):--
"Bucula sum, caelo gentoris facta Myronis Aerea;
nec factam me puto, sed genitam.
Sic me taurus init: sic proxinma bucula mugit :
Sic vitulus sitiens ubera nostra petit.
Miraris, quod fallo gregem? Greis ipse magister
Inter pascentes me numerare solet.'
These epigrams give us some of the details of the figure. The cow was represented
as lowing and the statue was placed on a marble base, in the centre of the largest
open place in Athens, where it still stood in the time of Cicero (Cic. in Verr.
iv. 60). In the time of Pausanias it was no longer there; it must have been removed
to Rome, where it was still to be seen in the temple of Peace, in the time of
Procopius (Bell. Goth. iv. 21).
A work of higher art, and far more interesting to us, was his Discobolus,
of which there are several marble copies in existence. It is true that we cannot
prove by testimony that any of these alleged copies were really taken from Myron's
work, or from imitations of it; but the resemblance between them, the fame of
the original, and the well-known frequency of the practice of making such marble
copies of celebrated bronzes, all concur to put the question beyond reasonable
doubt. Of these copies we have the good fortune to possess one, in the Townley
Gallery of the British Museum, which was found in the grounds of Hadrian's Tiburtine
Villa, in 1791: another, found on the Esquiline in 1782, is in the Villa Massimi
at Rome: a third, found in Hadrian's Villa, in 1793, is in the Vatican Museum;
a fourth, restored as a gladiator, is in the Capitoline Museum. To these may,
in all probability, be added (5) a torso, restored as one of the sons of Niobe,
in the gallery at Florence; (6) the torso of an Endymion in the same gallery;
(7) a figure restored as a Diomed, and (8) a bronze in the gallery at Munich (Muller,
in the Amalthea, vol. iii. p. 243). The original statue is mentioned by Quinctilian
and Lucian. The former dilates upon the novelty and difficulty of its attitude,
and the triumph of the artist in representing such an attitude, even though the
work may not be in all respects accurate (ii. 13). Lucian gives a much more exact
description: -Mon ton diskeuonta, en d ego, pheis, ton epikeknphota kata to chema
tes apheseos, apestrammenon eis to diskophoron, erema oklazonta doi heteroi, eoikota
xunastesomenoi meta tes boles ; ouk ekeinon, n d hos, epei kai Muronos ergon en
kai touto estin, ho diskthbolos dn legeis. We have given the passage at length
in order to make manifest the absurdity of supposing that the figure was not in
the action of throwing the quoit, but merely stretching back the hand to receive
the quoit from some imaginary attendant who held it (ton diskophoron). The real
meaning is that the head was turned round backwards towards the hand which held
the quoit. The two most perfect copies, the Townley and the Massimi, agree with
Lucian's description, except that the former has the head in quite a different
position, bending down forwards. Barry preferred this position; but the attitude
described by Lucian, and seen in the Massimi statue, gives a better balance to
the figure. There is, also, great reason to doubt whether the head of the Townley
statue really belongs to it. On the whole, the Massimi copy is the best of all,
and probably the most faithful to the original.
Of Myron's other works Pliny (xxxiv. 8. s. 19.3) enumerates the following
: a dog; Perseus, which Pausanias saw in the Acropolis at Athens (i. 23.8); sea-monsters
(pristas, see Bottiger, inf. cit.); a satyr admiring a double flute and Minerva,
probably a group descriptive of the story of Marsyas; Delphic pentathletes; pancratiasts;
a Hercules, which, in Pliny's time, was in the temple of Pompey, by the Circus
Maximus; and an Apollo, which was taken away from the Ephesians by M. Antonius,
and restored to them by Augustus, in obedience to an admonition in a dream. The
words in the passage of Pliny, fecisse et cicadae monumentum ac locustae carminibus
suis Erinna siynifieat, are a gross blunder, which Pliny made by mistaking the
name of the poetess Myro in an epigram by Anyte (or Erinna, Anth. Pal. vii. 190)
for that of the sculptor Myron.
In addition to Pliny's account, the following works of Myron are mentioned
by other writers: Colossal statues of Zeus, Hera, and Heracles, at Samos, the
three statues on one base. They were removed by M. Antonius, but restored by Augustus,
except the Zeus, which he placed on the Capitol and built a shrine for it (Strab.
xiv.). A Dionysius in Helicon, dedicated by Sulla (Paus. ix. 30.1). A Hercules,
which Verres took from Heius the Mamertine (Cic. Verr. iv. 3). A bronze Apollo,
with the name of the artist worked into the thigh, in minute silver letters, dedicated
in the shrine of Aesculapius at Agrigentum by P. Scipio, and taken away by Verres
(Cic. Verr. iv. 43). A wooden statue of Hecate, in Aegina. (Paus. ii. 20.2). Several
statues of athletes (See Sillig, s. v.). Lastly, a striking indication how far
Myron's love of variety led him beyond the true limits of art, a drunken old woman,
in marble, at Smyrna, which of course, according to Pliny, was inprimis inclyta
(Plin. H. N. xxxvi. 5. s. 4). His Cow was not his only celebrated work of the
kind: there were four oxen, which Augustus dedicated in the portico of the temple
of Apollo on the Palatine, B. C. 28 (Propert. ii. 23. 7); and a calf carrying
Victory, derided by Tatian.
He was also an engraver in metals: a celebrated patera of his is mentioned
by Martial (vi. 92).
Nothing is known of Myron's life except that, according to Petronius (88), he
died in great poverty. He had a son, Lyclus, who was a distinguished artist.
This text is from: A dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology, 1873 (ed. William Smith). Cited July 2005 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
- A dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology (ed. William Smith)