Above: Mosaic plaque depicting comic mask of a brothel keeper; Hellenistic/Roman, Egypt (?), 1st c. BCE to 1st c. CE.
Source/creator: Princeton University Art Museum. License: Public domain.

Slaves and Slavery in Ancient Greek Comic Drama

ed. Ben Akrigg & Rob Tordoff, 2013

How did audiences of ancient Greek comedy react to the spectacle of masters and slaves? If they were expected to laugh at a slave threatened with a beating by his master at one moment but laugh with him when they bantered familiarly at the next, what does this tell us about ancient Greek slavery? This volume presents ten essays by leading specialists in ancient Greek literature, culture and history, exploring the changing roles and representations of slaves in comic drama from Aristophanes at the height of the Athenian Empire to the New Comedy of Menander and the Hellenistic World. The contributors focus variously on individual comic dramas or on particular historical periods, analysing a wide range of textual, material-culture and comparative data for the practices of slavery and their representation on the ancient Greek comic stage.

Aristophanes and the Poetics of Competition

Zachary P. Biles, 2011

Athenian comic drama was written for performance at festivals honouring the god Dionysos. Through dramatic action and open discourse, poets sought to engage their rivals and impress the audience, all in an effort to obtain victory in the competitions. This book uses that competitive performance context as an interpretive framework within which to understand the thematic interests shaping the plots and poetic quality of Aristophanes' plays in particular, and of Old Comedy in general. Studying five individual plays from the Aristophanic corpus as well as fragments of other comic poets, it reveals the competitive poetics distinctive to each. It also traces thematic connections with other poetic traditions, especially epic, lyric, and tragedy, and thereby seeks to place competitive poetics within broader trends in Greek literature.

Laughter, Humor, and Comedy in Ancient Philosophy

Pierre Destrée and Franco V. Trivigno, 2019

Aristophanes' engagement with tragedy is one of the most striking features of his comedies: Euripides appears repeatedly as a character in these plays, jokes about tragedy and tragic poets abound, and parodies of tragedy frequently underlie whole scenes and even the plots of these plays. Tragedy on the Comic Stage contextualizes this engagement with tragedy within Greek comedy as a genre by examining paratragedy in the fragments of Aristophanes' contemporaries and successors in the fifth and fourth centuries. Farmer organizes these fragments under two rubrics. First, he discusses fragments that show characters discussing tragedy, use tragic poets as characters, or make reference to the dramatic festivals; these fragments, Farmer argues, develop a "culture of tragedy" within Greek comedy, a consistent set of tropes and devices that depict tragedy as part of the world inhabited by the characters of these plays. Second, he assembles fragments that show tragic parody, imitations of tragedy that render tragic language humorous or ironic by juxtaposing it with the base characters and quotidian circumstances that make up Greek comedy. Tragedy on the Comic Stage then illustrates these features of fragmentary paratragedy within three intact Aristophanic comedies: Wasps, Women at the Thesmophoria, and Wealth. These new readings of Aristophanes' plays show the value of reading Aristophanes in conjunction with the comic fragments, and insist on the subtlety and complexity of Aristophanic paratragedy.

Philosophy and Comedy: Aristophanes, Logos, and Eros

Bernard Freydberg, 2008

Aristophanes' comedies have stood the test of time as some of the greatest comic literature ever produced. While there have been numerous commentaries on Aristophanes and his world, until now there has been no systematic philosophical treatment of his comedies. In Philosophy and Comedy, Bernard Freydberg illuminates the philosophical insights in Aristophanes' texts by presenting close readings of Clouds, Wasps, Assemblywomen, and Lysistrata, addressing their comic genius at the same time. Freydberg challenges notions that philosophy is best served by a tragic disposition and arrives at a new assessment of the philosophical importance of comedy.

Relief of a seated poet (Menander) with masks of New Comedy, 1st century BCE/early 1st century CE. Source/creator: Princeton University Art Museum. License: Public domain.

The pervasive and unrestrained use of obscenity has long been acknowledged as a major feature of fifth-century Attic Comedy; no other Western art form relies so heavily on the sexual and scatological dimensions of language. This acclaimed book, now in a new edition, offers both a comprehensive discussion of the dynamics of Greek obscenity and a detailed commentary on the terminology itself. After contrasting the peculiar characteristics of the Greek notion of obscenity to modern-day ideas, Henderson discusses obscenity's role in the development of Attic Comedy, its historical origins, varieties, and dramatic function. His analysis of obscene terminology sheds new light on Greek culture, and his discussion of Greek homosexuality offers a refreshing corrective to the idealized Platonic view. He also looks in detail at the part obscenity plays in each of Aristophanes' eleven surviving plays. The latter part of the book identifies all the obscene terminology found in the extant examples of Attic Comedy, both complete plays and fragments. Although these terminological entries are arranged in numbered paragraphs resembling a glossary, they can also be read as independent essays on the various aspects of comic obscenity. Terms are explained as they occur in each individual context and in relation to typologically similar terminology. With newly corrected and updated philological material, this second edition of Maculate Muse will serve as an invaluable reference work for the study of Greek drama.

This is the first book that examines how ancient Greek tragedy engages with the genre of comedy. While scholars frequently study paratragedy (how Greek comedians satirize tragedy), this book investigates the previously overlooked practice of paracomedy: how Greek tragedians regularly appropriate elements from comedy such as costumes, scenes, language, characters, or plots. Drawing upon a wide variety of complete and fragmentary tragedies and comedies (Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, Rhinthon), this monograph demonstrates that paracomedy was a prominent feature of Greek tragedy. Blending a variety of interdisciplinary approaches including traditional philology, literary criticism, genre theory, and performance studies, this book offers innovative close readings and incisive interpretations of individual plays. Jendza presents paracomedy as a multivalent authorial strategy: some instances impart a sense of ugliness or discomfort; others provide a sense of light-heartedness or humor. While this work traces the development of paracomedy over several hundred years, it focuses on a handful of Euripidean tragedies at the end of the fifth century BCE. Jendza argues that Euripides was participating in a rivalry with the comedian Aristophanes and often used paracomedy to demonstrate the poetic supremacy of tragedy; indeed, some of Euripides' most complex uses of paracomedy attempt to re-appropriate Aristophanes' mockery of his theatrical techniques. This work theorizes a new, ground-breaking relationship between Greek tragedy and comedy that not only redefines our understanding of the genre of tragedy, but also reveals a dynamic theatrical world filled with mutual cross-generic influence.

This book is a wide-ranging collection of new studies of the comic theatre of Athens, from its origins until the 340s BCE. Fifteen international scholars employ an array of approaches and methodologies that will appeal to Classics and Theatre scholars while still remaining accessible to students. By including discussions of fragmentary authors alongside Aristophanes, the collection provides a broad understanding of the richness of Athenian comedy. The collection showcases the best of the new scholarship on Old and Middle Comedy, using the most up-to-date texts and tools. This work has been prepared in tribute to Professor Ian Storey of Trent University (Peterborough, Ontario), whose work on Athenian comedy will continue to shape scholarship for many years to come.

Athenian Comedy in the Roman Empire

ed. C.W. Marshall & Tom Hawkins, 2015

Athenian comedy is firmly entrenched in the classical canon, but imperial authors debated, dissected and redirected comic texts, plots and language of Aristophanes, Menander, and their rivals in ways that reflect the non-Athenocentric, pan-Mediterranean performance culture of the imperial era. Although the reception of tragedy beyond its own contemporary era has been studied, the legacy of Athenian comedy in the Roman world is less well understood. This volume offers the first expansive treatment of the reception of Athenian comedy in the Roman Empire. These engaged and engaging studies examine the lasting impact of classical Athenian comic drama. Demonstrating a variety of methodologies and scholarly perspectives, sources discussed include papyri, mosaics, stage history, epigraphy and a broad range of literature such as dramatic works in Latin and Greek, including verse satire, essays, and epistolary fiction.

Henry Gillard Glindoni (1852-1913), etching of the 1883 University of Cambridge production of Aristophanes' Birds. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Creator: Wellcome Collection. License: Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International.

The Cambridge Companion to Greek Comedy

ed. Martin Revermann, 2014

Greek comedy flourished in the fifth and fourth centuries BC, both in and beyond Athens. Aristophanes and Menander are the best-known writers whose work is in part extant, but many other dramatists are known from surviving fragments of their plays. This sophisticated but accessible introduction explores the genre as a whole, integrating literary questions (such as characterisation, dramatic technique or diction) with contextual ones (for example audience response, festival context, interface with ritual or political frames). In addition, it also discusses relevant historical issues (political, socio-economic and legal) as well as the artistic and archaeological evidence. The result provides a unique panorama of this challenging area of Greek literature which will be of help to students at all levels and from a variety of disciplines but will also provide stimulus for further research.

Parody, Politics and the Populace in Greek Old Comedy

Donald Sells, 2018

This book argues that Old Comedy's parodic and non-parodic engagement with tragedy, satyr play, and contemporary lyric is geared to enhancing its own status as the preeminent discourse on Athenian art, politics and society. Donald Sells locates the enduring significance of parody in the specific cultural, social and political subtexts that often frame Old Comedy's bold experiments with other genres and drive its rapid evolution in the late fifth century. Close analysis of verbal, visual and narrative strategies reveals the importance of parody and literary appropriation to the particular cultural and political agendas of specific plays. This study's broader, more flexible definition of parody as a visual – not just verbal – and multi-coded performance represents an important new step in understanding a phenomenon whose richness and diversity exceeds the primarily textual and literary terms by which it is traditionally understood.

Satyric Play: The Evolution of Greek Comedy and Satyr Drama

Carl Shaw, 2014

This is the first book to offer an integrated analysis of Greek comedy and satyr drama. Using a literary-historical approach, Carl A. Shaw argues that comedy and satyr plays influenced each other in nearly all stages of their development. Although satyr drama was written by tragedians and employed a number of formal tragic elements, the humorous chorus of half-man, half-horse satyrs encouraged sustained interaction between poets of comedy and satyr play. From sixth-century proto-drama, through classical productions staged at the Athenian City Dionysia, to bookish Alexandrian plays of the third-century, the remains of comic and satyric performances reveal a range of literary, aesthetic, historical, religious, and geographical connections. Shaw analyzes the details of this interplay diachronically, looking at a wide range of literary and material evidence. He shows that ancient critics and poets allude to comic-satyric associations in surprising ways, vases depict fascinating performative connections, and the plays themselves share titles, plots, modes of humor, and occasionally even a chorus of satyrs. Satyric Play uncovers and examines the complex, shifting relationship between comedy and satyr drama, offering insight into the development of these genres and the Greek theatrical experience as a whole.

Aristophanic Humour: Theory and Practice

ed. Peter Swallow & Edith Hall, 2020

This volume sets out to discuss a crucial question for ancient comedy – what makes Aristophanes funny? Too often Aristophanes' humour is taken for granted as merely a tool for the delivery of political and social commentary. But Greek Old Comedy was above all else designed to amuse people, to win the dramatic competition by making the audience laugh the hardest. Any discussion of Aristophanes therefore needs to take into account the ways in which his humour actually works. This question is addressed in two ways. The first half of the volume offers an in-depth discussion of humour theory – a field heretofore largely overlooked by classicists and Aristophanists – examining various theoretical models within the specific context of Aristophanes' eleven extant plays. In the second half, contributors explore Aristophanic humour more practically, examining how specific linguistic techniques and performative choices affect the reception of humour, and exploring the range of subjects Aristophanes tackles as vectors for his comedy. A focus on performance shapes the narrative, since humour lives or dies on the stage – it is never wholly comprehensible on the page alone.

Roman mosaic depicting choregos and actors; House of the Tragic Poet, Pompeii, 2nd c. BCE. Source: Wikimedia Commons. Creator: Marie-Lan Nguyen. License: Public domain.

Aristophanes has enjoyed a conspicuous revival in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Greece. Here, Gonda Van Steen provides the first critical analysis of the role of the classical Athenian playwright in modern Greek culture, explaining how the sociopolitical "venom" of Aristophanes' verses remains relevant and appealing to modern Greek audiences. Deriding or challenging well-known figures and conservative values, Aristophanes' comedies transgress authority and continue to speak to many social groups in Greece who have found in him a witty, pointed, and accessible champion from their "native" tradition. The book addresses the broader issues reflected in the poet's revival: political and linguistic nationalism, literary and cultural authenticity versus creativity, censorship, and social strife. Van Steen's discussion ranges from attitudes toward Aristophanes before and during Greece's War of Independence in the 1820s to those during the Cold War, from feminist debates to the significance of the popular music integrated into comic revival productions, from the havoc transvestite adaptations wreaked on gender roles to the political protest symbolized by Karolos Koun's directorial choices. Crossing boundaries of classical philology, critical theory, and performance studies, the book encourages us to reassess Aristophanes' comedies as both play-acts and modern methods of communication. Van Steen uses material never before accessible in English as she proves that Aristophanes remains Greece's immortal comic genius and political voice.

The Language of Greek Comedy

ed. Andreas Willi, 2002

The contributions to this volume illustrate how the linguistic study of Greek comedy can deepen our knowledge of the intricate connections between the dramatic texts and their literary and socio-cultural environment. Topics discussed include the relationship of comedy and iambus, the world of Doric comedy in Sicily, figures of speech and obscene vocabulary in Aristophanes, comic elements in tragedy, language and cultural identity in fifth-century Athens, linguistic characterization in Middle Comedy, the textual transmission of New Comedy, and the interaction of language and dramatic technique in Menander. Research in these topics and in related areas is reviewed in an extensive bibliographical essay. While the main focus is on comedy, the diversity of the approaches adopted ensures that much of the work applies to different genres and is relevant also to linguists and literary scholars.

Two views of a red-figure calyx-krater (mixing bowl) depicting satyrs and scenes from the Pandora myth. Source/creator: British Museum.
License: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International.