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Sophron

Σώφρων), of Syracuse, the son of Agathocles and Damnasyllis, was the principal writer, and in one sense the inventor, of that species of composition called the Mime (μῖμος), which was one of the numerous varieties of the Dorian Comedy.

For this reason he is sometimes called a comic poet, a denomination which has led Suidas (s. v.) and, after him, some modern writers, into the mistake of distinguishing two persons of the name, the one a comic poet, and the other the mimographer.

The time at which Sophron flourished is loosely stated by Suidas as "the times of Xerxes and Euripides ;" but we have another evidence for his date in the statement that his son Xenarchus lived at the court of Dionysius I., during the Rhegian War (B. C. 399-387; see Clinton, F. H. s. a. 393). All that can be said, therefore, with any certainty, is that Sophron flourished during the middle, and perhaps the latter part of the fifth century B. C., perhaps about B. C. 460-420. rather more than half a century later than Epicharmus.


Works


Mimes

When Sophron is called the inventor of mimes, the meaning is, as in the case of similar statements respecting the other branches of Dorian Comedy, that he reduced to the form of a literary composition a species of amusement which the Greeks of Sicily, who were pre-eminent for broad humour and merriment, had practised from time immemorial at their public festivals, and the nature of which was very similar to the performances of the Spartan Deicelistae. Such mimetic performances prevailed throughout the Dorian states under various names. Thus the δεικηλισταί of Sparta seem to have been represented by the ὀρχησταί of Syracuse; and we meet also with similar exhibitions under the names of θαύματα, θεάματα, &c. (Respecting these various terms, see Grysar, de Comoed. Dor. pp. 59, foll.) The religious festivals with which these amusements were connected seem to have been, at all events chiefly, those of Dionysus; and hence one species of them was the representation of incidents in the life of that divinity, as in the interesting specimen which Xenophon has preserved of a θέαμα, in which the marriage of Dionysus and Ariadne was represented (Conviv. 9). But they also embraced the actions and incidents of every day life; thus the common performance of the Deicelistae was the imitation of a foreign physician, or other person, stealing fruit and the remains of meals, and being caught in the act.

Whether the term μῖμος originally included any kind of imitation without words, or whether it was, like those just spoken of, a distinct species of that general kind of exhibition, we are not sufficiently informed; but it is clear that the Mimes of Sophron were ethical, that is, they exhibited not only incident, but characters. Moreover, as is implied in the very fact of their being a literary composition, words were put into the mouths of the actors, though still quite in subordination to their gestures; and, in proportion as the spoken part of the performance was increased, the mime would approach nearer and nearer to a comedy. Of all such representations instrumental music appears to have formed an essential part. (See Xenoph. l.c.

One feature of the Mimes of Sophron, which formed a marked distinction between them and comic poetry, was the nature of their rhythm. There is, however, some difficulty in determining whether they were in mere prose, or in mingled poetry and prose, or in prose with a peculiar rhythmical movement but no metrical arrangement. Suidas (s. v.) expressly states that they were in prose (καταλογάδην); and the existing fragments confirm the general truth of this assertion, for they defy all attempt at scansion. Nevertheless, they frequently fall into a sort of rhythmical cadence, or swing, which is different from the rhythm of ordinary prose, and answers to the description of an ancient scholiast on Gregory Nazianzen, who says of Sophron, οὗτος γὰρ μόνος ποιητῶν ῥυθμοῖς τισι καὶ κώλοις ἐχρήσατο, ποιητικῆς ἀναλογίας καταφρονήσας (Bibl. Coislin. p. 120; Hermann, ad Aristot. Poet. 1.8). The short, broken, unconnected sentences, of which the extant passages of Sophron generally consist, containing a large number of short syllables, and mostly ending in trochees like the choliambic verses, produce the effect, described by the scholiast, of a sort of irregular halting rhythm (ῥυθμὸς κῶλος). The following is a fair specimen (Fr. 52) : -- Ἴδε καλᾶν κουρίδων : ἴδε καμμάρων : ἴδε φἰλα ὡς ἐρυθραί τ̓ ἐντὶ καὶ λείοστρακιῶσαι.

This prosaic structure of the mimes of Sophron has given rise to a doubt whether they were ever intended for public exhibition; a doubt which appears to us very unreasonable. Not to insist on the fact that Sophron lived at a period when no works, except of history and philosophy, were composed for private reading, we have before us the certainty that the Mime was, in its very nature, a public exhibition, and, in accordance with the analogy of all similar improvements at that period, we must infer that all the efforts of Sophron were directed, not to withdraw it from its appropriate sphere, but to adapt it to the growing requirements of a more refined age, and to make it acceptable to spectators less easily satisfied than those who had welcomed its ruder forms. Moreover, to suppose that these mimes were not acted, is to divest them of their essential feature, the exhibition by mimetic gestures, to which the words were entirely subordinate ; and it is hardly credible that the Greeks of that age, who lived in public, and who could witness the masterpieces of the old Doric and the new Attic drama in their theatres, would be content to sit down and pore over so dull a jest book as the mimes of Sophron must have been when the action was left out. To these arguments from the nature of the case may be added the express statement of Solinus (Polyhist. 5), that in Sicily "cavillatio mimica in scena stetit."

The dialect of Sophron is the old Doric, interspersed with Sicilian peculiarities; and it appears to have been chiefly as a specimen of the Doric dialect that the ancient grammarians made his works a particular object of study. Apollodorus, for example, wrote commentaries on Sophron, consisting of at least four books, the fragments of which are preserved in Heyne's edition. The fragments of Sophron frequently exhibit anomalous firms, which are evidently imitations of vulgar provincialisms or personal peculiarities of speech (see an example in the Etym. Mag. s. v. ὑγιής). There are also many words coined in jest, such as οἰὸς οἰότερον (Fr. 96). Further information on the dialect of Sophron will be found in the work of Ahrens, who has collected the Fragments. (Ahrens, de Graecae Linguae Dialectis, lib. ii., de Dialecto Dorica, vol. ii. pp. 464, &c.)

With regard to the substance of these compositions, their character, so far as it can be ascertained, appears, as we have said above, to have been ethical ; that is, the scenes represented were those of ordinary life, and the language employed was intended to bring out more clearly the characters of the persons exhibited in those scenes, not only for the amusement, but also for the instruction of the spectators. There must have been something of sound philosophy in his works to have inspired Plato with that profound admiration for their author which will presently be mentioned ; something, probably, of that same sound practical wisdom which, in Aristophanes, produced the same effect on Plato's mind. Unfortunately, however, we know nothing of the philosophical complexion of Sophron's mimes, except that they abounded in the most pithy proverbs, thrown together often two or three at a time, and worked into the composition with an exuberance of fancy and wit which the ancients compared with the spirit of the Attic Comedy. (Demetr. de Eloc. 156, 127, 128.) In fact, we think it would not be far wrong to speak of the mimes of Sophron as being, among the Dorians, a closely kindred fruit of the same intellectual impulse which, among the Athenians, produced the Old Comedy; although we do not mean to place the two on any thing like the same footing as to their degrees of excellence.

The serious purpose which was aimed at in the works of Sophron was always, as in the Attic Comedy, clothed under a sportive form; and it can easily be imagined that sometimes the latter element prevailed, even to the extent of obscenity, as the extant fragments and the parallel of the Attic Comedy combine to prove. Hence the division, which the ancients made of these compositions, into μῖμοι σπουδαῖοι and γελοῖοι, though most of Sophron's works were of the former character (Ulpian. ad Demosth. Ol. p. 50) Plutarch distinguishes the mimes which existed in his time into two classes, in a manner which throws an important light both on the character and the form of these compositions. (Quaest. Conviv. 7.8.4.) He calls the two classes of mimes ὑποθέσεις and παίγνια, and considers neither species suitable for performance at a banquet; the former on account of their length and the difficulty of commanding the proper scenic apparatus (τὸ δυσχορηγήτον, another proof, by the way, that they were intended for public performance, and not for private reading), the latter on account of their scurrility and obscenity. Although neither here, nor in the description given by Xenophon of a very licentious mime (l.c.), is the name of Sophron mentioned, vet it would be too much to assume that his compositions were all of the better kind. Lastly, Aristotle ranks Sophron as among those who are to be considered poets, on account of their subject and style, in spite of the absence of metre. (Poet. 1.8, and more fully in his περὶ ποιητῶν, apud Ath. xi. p. 505. c.)

It has been asserted that Sophron was an imitator of Epicharmus; but there is no proof of the fact, although it can hardly be doubted that the elder poet had some considerable influence on his later fellow-countryman. It is, however, certain that Sophron was closely imitated by Theocritus, and that the Idyls of the latter were, in many respects, developments of the mimes of the former. (Argum. ad Theocr. Id. ii. xv.)

The admiration of Plato for Sophron has been already referred to. The philosopher is said to have been the first who made the mimes known at Athens, to have been largely indebted to them in his delineations of character, and to have had them so constantly at hand, that he slept with them under his pillow, and actually had his head resting upon them at the moment of his death (Suid. s.v. Diog. 3.8; Quint. Inst. 1.10. 17.)


Editions

The fragments of Sophron have been collected by Blomfield, in the Classical Journal for 1811, No. 8, pp. 380-390, and more full in the Museum Criticum, vol. ii. pp. 340-558, 559, 560, Camb. 1826; and by Ahrens, as above quoted. The titles will also be found in Fabricius.


Further Information

Fabric. Bibl. Graec. vol. ii. pp. 493-495; Müller, Dorier, bk. 4.7.5; Hermann and Ritter, ad Aristot. Poet. 1.8; Grysar, de Sophrone Mimographo, Colon. 1838; Bernhardy, Grundriss d. Griech. Lit. vol. ii. pp. 908-911.

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