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Choe'rilus

1. Choerilus of Athens, a tragic poet, contemporary with Thespis, Phrynichus, Pratinas, Aeschylus, and even with Sophocles, unless, as Welcker supposes, he had a son of the same name, who was also a tragic poet. (Welcker, Die Griech. Tragöl. p. 892.)

His first appearance as a competitor for the tragic prize was in B. C. 523 (Suid. s.v.), in the reign of Hipparchus, when Athens was becoming the centre of Greek poetry by the residence there of Simonides, Anacreon, Lasus, and others. This was twelve years after the first appearance of Thespis in the tragic contests; and it is therefore not improbable that Choerilus had Thespis for an antagonist. It was also twelve years before the first victory of Phrynichus. (B. C. 511.) After another twelve years, Choerilus came into competition with Aeschylus, when the latter first exhibited (B. C. 499); and, since we know that Aeschylus did not carry off a prize till sixteen years afterwards, the prize of this contest must have been given either to Chocrilus or to Pratinas. (Suid. s.vv,. Αἰσχύλος, Πρατίνας.) Choerilus was still held in high estimation in the year 483 B. C. after he had exhibited tragedies for forty years. (Cyrill. Julian. i. p. 13,b.; Euseb. Chron. sub. Ol. 74. 2; Syncell. p . 254, b.) In the statement in the anonymous life of Souhocles, that Sophocles contended with Choerilus, there is very probably some mistake, but there is no impossibility; for when Sophocles gained his first victory (B. C. 468), Choerilus would be just 80, if we take 25 as the usual age at which a tragic poet first exhibited. (Compare Welcker, l.c. and Näke, p. 7.)

Of the character of Choerilus we know little more than that, during a long life, he retained a good degree of popular favour. The number of his trgedies was 150, of his victories 13 (Suid. s. v.). being exactly the number of victories assigned to Aeschylus. The great number of his dramas not only establishes the length of his career, but a much more important point, namely, that the exhibition of tetralogies commenced early in the time of Choerilus; for new tragedies were exhibited at Athens only twice a year, and at this early period we never hear of tragedies being written but not exhibited, but rather the other way. In fact, it is the general opinion, that Choerilus was the first who composed written tragedies, and that even of his plays the greater number were not written.

Some writers attributed to him the invention or great improvement of masks and theatrical costume (τοῖς προσωπείοις καὶ τῆ σκεύη τῶν στολῶν ἐπεΧείρησε are the words of Suidas, s. v.). These inventions are in fact ascribed to each of the great tragedians of this age; and it is remarkable that the passages on the authority of which they are usually attributed to Aeschylus imply not so much actual invention as the artistic perfection of what previously existed in a rude form. It is evident, moreover, that these great improvements, by whomsoever made, must have been adopted by all the tragedians of the same age. The poetical character and construction of the plays of Choerilus probably differed but little from those of Thespis, until the period when Aeschylus introduced the second actor --a change which Choerilus of course adopted, for otherwise he could not have continued to compete with Aeschylus. The same remark applies to the separation made by Pratinas of the satyric drama from the regular tragedy. It is generally supposed that Choerilus had some share in effecting this improvement, on the authority of a line from an unknown ancient poet (apud Plotium de Metris, p. 2633, ed. Putsch.),

ἡνίκα μὲν Βασιλεὺς ἦν Χοιρίλος ἐν Σατύροις
. But it seems more natural to take the words ἐν Σατύροις to mean the tragic Chorus, at the time when the persons composing it retained the costume of satyrs.

The name of Choerilus is mentioned in a very curious fragment of the comic poet Alexis, from his play Linus. (Athen. 4.164c.; Meineke, Fray. Com. Graec. iii. p. 443.) Linus, who is instructing Hercules, puts into his hand some books, that he may choose one of them to read, saying,

Ὀρφεὺς ἔνεστιν, Ἡσίοδος, τραγῳδία, Χοιρίλος, Ὅμηρος, Ἐπίχαρμος, συγγράμματα παντοδαπά.

Here we have a poet for each sort of poetry: Orpheus for the early mystic hymns, Hesiod for the didactic and moral epos, Homer for the heroic epos, Epicharmus for comedy; but what are τραγωδία, Χοιρίλος ? The usual answer of those critics who abstain from evading the difficulty by an alteration of the text is, Tragedy and the Satyric Drama: but the question is a very difficult one, and cannot be discussed here. (See Näke, p. 5.) Possibly the passage may refer, after all, to the epic poet, Choerilus of Samos, and there may be some hit at his ὀψοφαγία (see below) in the choice of Hercules, who selects a work on ὀψαρτυσία.

The Latin grammarians mention a metre which they call Choerilian. It was in fact, a dactylic hexameter stript of its final catalexis. It must not be supposed that this metre was invented by Choerilus, for the Greek metrical writers never mention it by that name. Perhaps it got its name from the fact of the above-mentioned line, in praise of Choerilus, being the most ancient verse extant in this metre. (See Näke, pp. 257, 263; Gaisford's edition of Hephaestion, notes, pp. 353, 354.)


Works

Of all the plays of Choerilus we have no remnant except the statement by Pausanias (1.14.2) of a mythological genealogy from his play called Ἀλόπη.

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