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Ancient comedy playwrites

Comoedia (Comedy)

TRIPODISKOS (Ancient settlement) MEGARA
Comoedia (komoidia).

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 and ridicule.
  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 known.
  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 and Saltatio.
  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, see Theatrum
  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 (see Crocota). 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 Histrio). 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 diverbia.
  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


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



MEGARA (Ancient city) GREECE
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.

Historic figures

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.


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 inquisitive persons."

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

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.)



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 his times.

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

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 manner.
  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

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