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 (Poët.
“seriously cultivated from the beginning. And it was only
quite recently that the archon gave a chorus of comedians; before
that they were ‘volunteers’ (ἐθελονταί
). 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 (Poët.
) he seems to define it as μίμησις τοῦ γελοίου
: but perhaps we should
suppose with Mahaffy (Hist. of Greek Lit.
1.466) 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 (Poët.
4), with those who led off the phallic songs (ἀπὸ τῶν ἐξαρχόντων τὰ φαλλικά
) of the band of
), 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 (αὐτοσχεδιαστική,
4) witticisms with which the revellers assailed the bystanders (see the
description of the phallophori at Sicyon in Athen. 14.622
), 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 κωμῳδία,
which undoubtedly means “the song of the
” This appears
both from the testimony of Aristotle that it arose out of the phallic
songs and from Demosthenes (c. Mid.
p. 517), where we
find mentioned together ὁ κῶμος καὶ οἱ
(Comp. Müller, Hist. of Gr.
vol. ii. p. 4, Dor.
Bode, Gesch. der Hellen. Dichtk.
vol. iii. part 2, p. 4,
&c.; Kanngiesser, Die alte komische Bühne zu
p. 32; Schömann, Gr. Alt.
ii.3 491.) Other derivations of the name were,
however, given even in antiquity. The Megarians, conceiving it to be
connected with the word κώμη,
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. Poët.
3). This derivation was also adopted by several of the old grammarians
(see Tzetzes, in Cramer's Anecd. Gr.
vol. iii. pp. 335,
337; Anonym. περὶ κωμῳδίας
Meineke, Hist. Crit. Comic. Graec.
pp. 535, 538, 558,
where a very absurd account of the origin of comedy is given, but the
important point that personal censure is of the essence of comedy is
indicated: cf. Bekk. Anecd. Gr.
747, 10, κωμῳδία ἐστιν ἡ ἐν μέσῳ λάου κατηγορία ἤγουν
), and has the sanction of Bentley, W.
Schneider, Bernhardy (Grundriss d. Griech. Lit.
pt. 2, p. 450), and Mahaffy (Hist. of Greek Lit.
Passing by the Homeric Margites,
in which Aristotle sees
the origin of comedy (Poët.
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.
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. Wasps 57
, with the Schol.; Anthol.
11.440; Suidas, s. v. γέλως
: Bode, vol. iii. pt. 2, p. 27); 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 δεικηλικταί,
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. 14.621
; Plut. Ages. 21
, p. 607 D; Schol. ad
4.6.9; Bernhardy, l.c.
p. 454.) Among the forerunners of comedy
must be mentioned the Phallophori and Ithyphalli at Sicyon, who,
Athenaeus says (xiv. p. 621 e), are the same as the δεικηλικταί.
It was here, where at an early
period the dithyramb also was dramatised, that the κῶμος
first assumed a more dramatic form, and Dionysus
was even said to have invented comedy at Sicyon (Anthol.
11.32). 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. (Athen. l.c.
) 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. 10.445
Such pieces have been styled lyrical comedies by many scholars (as
Böckh, Corp. Inscript.
No. 1584, note; and
Müller, Hist. of the Lit. of Greece,
vol. ii. p.
6), to distinguish them from the comedy proper. Lobeck and Hermann,
however, [p. 1.515]
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.
(Hermann, de Tragoedia Comoediaque Lyrica,
vol. vii. p. 211, &c.; cf. A.
p. 388.) The dispute is
more about names than about things; and there seems no great objection
to applying the term lyrical tragedy
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. (Schol. ad
Dionys. Thrac. in Meineke, i. p. 559; Aspasius, ad
Aristot. Eth. Nic.
4.2, 20, fol. 53, B.)
Icaria was the oldest seat of the worship of Dionysus in Attica (Athen. 2.40
), 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
(Müller, Hist. of Lit. of Gr.
vol. i. p. 178;
Hesychius, s. v. Γεφυρισταί
s. v. γεφυρίζων
: Schol. Arist.
708). 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 τὰ ἐξ ἁμάξης
(Schol. Arist. Nub.
Suidas, s.v. Ulpianus ad
Demosth. de Cor.
p. 268, ed. Reiske; Bode, l.c.
p. 22; Photius, Lex.,
s. v. τὰ ἐκ τῶν
: cf. πομπεία,
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 [DIONYSIA
]. 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. ep. 54, 55, in Böckh's Corpus Inscript.
vol. ii. p. 301). 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 (Schol. ad
Dionys. Thrac. ap. Bekker, Anecd. Gr.
p. 748; Meineke,
p. 559). 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 (Poët.
100.5), Crates was the
first who ἦρξεν ἀφέμενος τῆς ἰαμβικῆς
ἰδέας καθόλου ποιεῖν λόγους ἢ μύθους.
Schömann (Gr. Alt.
491), 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. l.c.;
Bentley, Dissert. on the Ep. of Phal.
p. 259, ed. Dyce). 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 τρυγῳδία
or lee-song. Others connected the name with
the circumstance of a jar of new wine (τρύξ
) being the prize for the successful poet, or of the
exhibition being held at the time of the vintage (τρύγη
). (Athen. 2.40
ap. Meineke, l.c.
p. 535; Acharn.
851, 603, Vesp.
650, 1537; Schol. ad
397, 498; Schol. ad
Plat. de Rep.
iii. p. 928, ed.
Bait. et Orell.; Bentley, Dissert. on the Ep. of Phal.
vol. i. p. 351, &c. ed. Dyce; Bode, l.c.
p. 22.) An important gloss in the Sangallensis MS. edited by Usener
28.418) says of these
early comedies: In fabulas primi eam contulerunt
[om. MS.] magnas ita ut non excederent
in singulis versus trecenos
MS.]. Leo in Rhein.
33.140, note 2, thinks that Magnes
is concealed under magnas.
It is to be remarked, however, that Wilamowitz in
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
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. (Bentley, l.c.
p. 250, &c.;
Anonym. de Com.
ap. Meineke, l.c.
p. 540; Bode, l.c.
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. Ver.
; Quintil. [p. 1.516]
6.3.41.) 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 (Hephaestion,
p. 49, ed. Gaisf.). The performers were called αὐτοκάβδαλοι,
i.e. improvisatores (Athen. 14.622
Magn. s. v.
Hesych. sub voce
Aristot. Rh. 3.7.1
; Bode, l.c.
p. 7, &c.), and subsequently
There is no evidence that
they belonged exclusively to Sicily. The Italians called them φλύακες
: the Thebans, ἐθελονταί
: and some people apparently σοφισταί
e). Their entertainments being of a
choral character were, doubtless, accompanied by music and dancing.
Athenaeus (xiv. p. 629) mentions a dance called the ἰαμβική,
which was quieter than the
but as he ranks it with
the Μολοσσικὴ ἐμμέλεια,
the σίκιννις Περσικὴ,
and the κόρδαξ,
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. Ἐπίχαρμος;
); this, however, is true only
of that more artistical shape which he gave to it. (Bernhardy, l.c.
p. 460.) “He was the first who
recovered the disjecta membra
comedy, and effected many improvements” (οὗτος πρῶτος τὴν κωμῳδίαν διερριμμένην
ἀνεκτήσατο πολλὰ προσφιλοτεχνήσας,
Anonym. de Com.
ap. Meineke, 1.535). 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 (O. Müller, op. cit.
57, note). He wrote three kinds of
plays: (1) travesties of the myths, e.g. the Marriage of
in which the gluttony of Heracles is represented. (2)
Character comedies, e. g. Ἐλπὶς ἢ πλοῦτος,
(3) Dialectical arguments, e. g.
Γᾶ καὶ θάλασσα.
He is said to
have first introduced the drunkard, though this is also attributed to
Crates (O. Müller, p. 57), and to have invented the character
of the parasite
(in the Ἐλπίς
): see Athen. 6.236
. 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
1.406; cf. Hermathena,
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
) retain their dignity (Mahaffy, p. 401). O.
Müller, however (op. cit.
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
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
(cf. ἔρωτα πνεῖν
(= ὁ ἁλιεὺς
Theocritus is said
to have borrowed his Φαρμακευτρίαι
from the Ἀκεστρίαι
of Sophron (Mahaffy, pp. 406-408).
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. Χιωνίδης
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. (Bode, l.c.
pp. 29-36.) 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.
(Anonym. de Com.
ap. Meineke, 536.) Another
(p. 534) says that, according to the proverb, γυμνῇ τῇ κεφαλῇ τίθησι<*>τὰς βλασφημίας
κατὰ τῶν ἁμαρτανόντων,
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. (Anonym. de Com.
ap. Meineke, p.
540.) But Crates is spoken of as the first who began καθόλου ποιεῖν λόγους ἢ μύθους
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 τὰ καθ᾽ ἕκαστον
and τὰ καθόλου,
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.
(Anonym. de Com.
ap. Meineke, p. 536.)
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 [p. 1.517]
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
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.
; Hor. Sat.
1.4, 1; Dion. Chrys.
2.4, Reiske.) 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. (Mahaffy, p. 436.)
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
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 Ἀγαθοὶ ἢ ἀργύρου ἀφανισμός,
we find mythical
subjects treated of by Cratinus in the Nemesis
(e. g. the birth of Helen) and
and literary criticism in the
the latter of which Homer and Hesiod are introduced. Literature is also
treated of in the Musae
of Phrynichus, and in the
Aristophanes. The guessing of riddles (γρῖφοι
), a note of the New Comedy, is found in the
of Cratinus; Teleclides represents the
golden age in the Amphictyones,
Eupolis in the Χρύσουν γένος;
Hermippus wrote the Birth of Athena
(and we know γοναὶ
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,
its love-intrigue and recognition presents two of the most prominent
features of the New Comedy plots.
Mahaffy (op. cit.
i. p. 435) 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. Kn. 541
)--thus Crates and
Pherecrates, we are told, were actors (Anonym. de
ap. Meineke, 1.536); 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
(Schol. ad Eq.
1291); and they brought out plays under other people's names, e. g.
Aristophanes brought out the Nubes
the names of Philonides and Callistratus (Schol. on Nub.
531). In the year B.C. 440, a law was passed τοῦ
(Schol. Arist. Acharn.
which remained in force for three years, when it was repealed. Some (e.
g. Clinton, F. H. s. a.
) understand the law to have been
a prohibition of comedy altogether; others (Meineke, l.c.
p. 40; Bernhardy, p. 943) a prohibition against bringing
forward individuals in their proper historical personality and under
their own name, in order to ridicule them (μὴ
). To the same period probably
belongs the law that no Areopagite should write comedies. (Plut. de Glor. Ath. p. 348
C.) About B.C. 415, apparently at the
instigation of Alcibiades, the law of 440, or at all events a law
μὴ κωμῳδεῖν ὀνομαστί,
passed on the motion of one Syracosius (Schol. Arist. Aves,
1297). But the law only remained in force for a
short time (Meineke, p. 41). 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 (Schol. Arist.
1149). 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 [p. 1.518]
altogether. On this
account, Strattis wrote a play against him called
in which he styled him χοροκτόνος
404; cf. Schol. Ran.
Agyrrhius, though when is not known, got the pay of the poets lessened.
(Schol. Arist. Eccl.
102.) 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. (Anon. de Com.
ap. Meineke, p. 535; Bode, l.c.
p. 108.) An excellent and compendious
account of these poets is given by Bernhardy. (Grundriss der
vol. ii. pp. 515-525.) A more extended account
will be found in Meineke (Hist. Crit. Comic. Graec.
forming vol. i. of his Fragm. Com. Graec.
), and in Bode
(Gesch. der Hellen. Dichtk.
vol. iii. pt. ii. p. 108,
&c. &c.). The reader is also referred to the articles
Crates, Cratinus, Pherecrates, Hermippus, Eupolis, and Aristophanes in
the Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and
(Comp. Rötscher, Aristophanes und
and Schlegel's Lectures on Dramatic
Art and Literature.
) 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 μαισωνικά
: cf. Ath. xiv. p. 659 a),
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.
4; Bode, l.c.
p. 28), and the Oscum ludicrum
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. (Aristoph. Cl. 530
, with the Schol.
Ald.) But this is all a fiction (see A. Müller, op. cit.
p. 351, note). 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. (Schol. ad
445; Hesych. sub voce
For details concerning
the appointment of judges and the course of procedure in the production
of plays, see THEATRUM; and for the chorus of
comedy, see CHORUS
As the old Attic comedy was the offspring of the political and social
vigour and freedom of the age during which it flourished, it naturally
declined and ceased with the decline and overthrow of the freedom and
vigour which were necessary for its development. It was replaced by a
comedy of a somewhat different style, which was known as the Middle
Comedy, the age of which lasted from the end of the Peloponnesian war to
the overthrow of liberty by Philip of Macedon (Ol. 94-110). During this
period, the Athenian state had the form but none of the spirit of its
earlier democratical constitution, and the energy and public spirit of
earlier years had departed. The comedy of this period accordingly found
its materials in satirising classes of people instead of individuals, in
criticising the systems and merits of philosophers and literary men,
especially the Platonists and Pythagoreans (see the Epicrates
of Alexis), and in parodies of the compositions
of living and earlier poets, and travesties of mythological subjects. It
formed a transition from the Old to the New Comedy, and approximated to
the latter in the greater attention to the construction of plots, which
seem frequently to have been founded on amorous intrigues (Bode, p.
396), 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 (λογικὰς ἔχουσι τὰς ἀρετάς, ὥστε σπάνιον ποιητικὸν εἶναι
χαρακτῆρα παρ᾽ αὐτοῖς,
Anonym. ap. Meineke, 537).
Aristotle notices (Eth. N.
4.8, 6) that in the Old Comedy
the laugh was at coarse language (αἰσχρολογία
), but in the later comedy at innuendo (ὑπόνοια
). 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
Cratinus, the Aeolosicon
of Aristophanes, and very many of the dramas of the
Old Comedy. The word χορὸς
found at the end of the acts in the Plutus,
but the gap was doubtless filled up by a musical interlude. (Platonius,
de Differ. Com.
ap. Meineke, p. 532.)
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. p. 336 d) says that he had
read above 800 dramas of the Middle Comedy. Only a few fragments are now
extant. Meineke (Hist. Crit. Com. Gr.
p. 303) gives a
list of thirty-nine poets of the Middle Comedy. The most celebrated were
Antiphanes and Alexis. (Bode, l.c.
&c.; Bernhardy, pp. 592-603.) Anaxandrides is said to have
invented that kind of play so common in later comedy, in which (as in
of Terence) a girl is seduced
and afterwards married to the hero (Suidas, s. v. Ἀναξανδρίδης
), though we have found such a play in the
of Aristophanes. Alexis or
Ararus first brought on the Attic stage the parasite under that name;
the character, however, was invented by Epicharmus. Mahaffy (1.473)
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 [p. 1.519]
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 (cf. Meineke, vol. i. pp. 436-439, 471). 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: (ὦ Μένανδρε καὶ βίε,
πότερος ἄρ᾽ ὑμῶν πότερον ἀπεμιμήσατο
p. 33). The New Comedy might be described
in the words of Cicero (de Rep.
“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
1.15, 17). In the New Comedy there was no
chorus, and the dramas were commonly introduced by prologues, spoken by
allegorical personages, such as Έλεγχος,
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.
(Bernhardy, p. 603 ff., &c.; Meineke, l.c.
p. 435, &c.)
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 (vol. ii. p. 11) the following reasons for rejecting
the Middle. (1) The latter is not recognised till the age of Hadrian:
for Aristotle (Eth. N.
4.8, 6), the Alexandrine critics,
Quintilian (10.1, 65-72), Velleius (1.16, 3), Plutarch
7.712 a), even the anonymous writer de Comoedia
ap. Meineke, 1.539, only recognise
the Old and the New Comedy. (In the latter τὸ δὲ
is an obvious insertion, as the next sentence
shows: cf. Fielitz, de Atticorum comoedia
1866.) (2) The Old Comedy had been originally
divided (e. g. by Diomedes, 488-9, Keil; and Tzetzes, de divers.
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
As to the occasions on which comedies were
(1) the original festival at which dramas were exhibited
was the Lesser Dionysia,
or the Διονύσια τὰ κατ᾽ ἄγρους,
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.
§ 157), Aixone, Eleusis, Thoricus
(Schömann, Gr. Alt.
492). 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
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,
were all produced at it, and
comedies continued to be acted at the Lenaea down to the second century
(C. I. A.
2.977, fr. i. m-n
Tragedies began to be acted again at this festival in 464 B.C. (Bergk,
34.302). 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.
2.972) and the preceding comic agon (A.
Müller, op. cit.
327). 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.
8.90). (3) At the Greater Dionysia
or Διονύσια τὰ ἐν ἄστει
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.
Schol. on Ran.
406). It is disputed whether dramatic
performances were held on three of the days, viz. 11, 12, 13, as Sauppe,
A. Mommsen, and A. Müller hold; on two (Schneider); or on six
(Geppert). See A. Müller, op. cit.
note 2. That comedies were acted is quite certain, as may be proved from
the famous inscription, C. I. A.
2.971, frag. a:
Ξενοκλείδης ἐχορήγει Μάγνης ἐδίδασκεν
Τραγῳδῶν Περικλῆς Χολαργεὺς ἐχορήγει Αἴσχυλος
(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
B.C.), Schol. to Ran.
404, C. I. A.
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.
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.
B.C.), 975 (second century), for the number could be increased as the
chorus [p. 1.520]
had disappeared. The administration was
in the hands of the ἄρχων ἐπώνυμος
(Poll. 8.89). There were no comedies performed at the Anthesteria (11-13
Anthesterion=Jan.-Feb.): for the law of the orator Lycurgus, τὸν περὶ τῶν κωμῳδῶν ἀγῶνα τοῖς Χύτροις
ἐπιτελεῖν ἐφάμιλλον ἐν τῷ θεάτρῳ
Vit. X. Or.
7.1, 10 =2.841 e), refers to the agon of
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.
517.10; C. I. A.
refer to Aves,
785, 789, to prove that
tragedies were played in the morning and comedies in the evening; but
perhaps ἐφ᾽ ἡμᾶς
only means “to
us in the theatre,” for tragedy and comedy formed one single
and connected entertainment (Wecklein, Philolog.
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
(opp. to καινή
). In the comic agon of 354 four new
comedies are mentioned (C. I.
2.972, 50.16); in 352 there is a tragedy of Euripides (ib.
973): but not till the second century (C. L. A.
col. 3) 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.
502 D; Legg.
2.658 C, 7.817 C).
The literature on both sides of the question is collected by A.
Müller, op. cit.
pp. 289, 290. 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
964 foll.; for the New Comedy in
Alciphr. 2.3, 10; and for Roman times by certain seats in the Dionysiac
theatre being marked as belonging to priestesses (C. I.
3.313, 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,
Boys were certainly present (Nub.
537, 765; Pax,
56; Eupolis, frag. 244, ed. Kock ; cf.
4.17, 9, τοὺς δὲ νεωτέρους οὔτε ἰάμβων οὔτε κωμῳδίας
θεατὰς θετέον, πρὶν ἤ τὴν ἡλικίαν λάβωσιν ἐν ᾗ
( “seat at table” ) ὑπάρξει κοινωνεῖν ἤδη,
where it is no
doubt intended to censure a prevailing custom. For details as to the
public at dramatic performances, see THEATRUM
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 φλύακες
or comedies of
that country, which were in many ways similar to the comedy at Athens
(O. Müller, Arch.
§ 390, 7): for
undoubtedly one represents the first scene of the Ranae.
When we remember that comedy started from phallic
songs (Aristot. Poët.
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 (Nub.
Schol.), and was sometimes hung round the neck (Suidas, s. v. φαλλοί
). The σωμάτιον
was a kind of tights, generally drawn over padding
for the chest and stomach (προστερνίδιον,
), and so often confused with the latter (A.
Müller, op. cit.
230). This σωμάτιον
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 σωμάτιον
was made sometimes of leather, sometimes of woven
stuffs. Dividing the rest of the dress of the body into ἐνδύματα
the former consisted of a tunic either with
two sleeves (ἀμφιμάσχαλος,
Hesych. sub voce
882), worn only by freemen, or else the ἐξωμίς
], which was the same as the ἑτερομάσχαλος
(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 διφθέρα
444), which appears to have been similar to
Poll. 7.70). The χιτὼν
mentioned by Aristophanes; but at times we find certain kinds of it, the
318), the κροκωτίδιον
(ib. 332), and the κροκωτὸς
(ib. 879) worn by women [CROCOTA
]. The principal
for men was the ἱμάτιον
poorer kind was the λῃδάριον
915 and Schol.) and the τριβώνιον
882). The χλαῖνα
was a comfortable cloak for old men
738, 1132; Poll. 10.123); and the σισύρα
was a sheepskin blanket, also used
for a thick cloak (Schol. on Vesp.
738). Women, too, wore
250), a special kind of which was the ἔγκυκλον
(ib. 261 and Schol.), which appears to have been
of a round cut. Compare generally the instructive scene in
253 ff., where the parts of the woman's dress are
put on in this order: σωμάτιον, κροκωτός,
( “girdle” ), ἔγκυκλον.
As to what was worn on the head, there is
mention of κυνῆ
269), and all sorts of hats appear in pictures: e. g. the πέτασος
on Hermes. Crowns, too, were worn on
certain occasions (Pax,
We find women wearing nets (κεκρύφαλοι
), snoods (μίτραι
), and wigs (κεφαλαὶ
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 ἐμβάδες
1157) worn by men, and Περσικαὶ
734) worn by women
]. The κόθορνος,
which was a woman's shoe
346; cf. 319), was probably similar to the
latter. Besides this ordinary dress, the dramatis
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 [p. 1.521]
For the dress of the chorus,
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 σωμάτιον
is often found, but without the excessive
padding of the Old Comedy. With men the χιτὼν
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 ιμάτιον
was worn by men
of all ranks, the lower part of it being thrown over the left shoulder.
was worn by soldiers (Plaut.
4.7, 40). The mysterious κοσύμβη
(Suid., Hesych. sub
) appears to have been a sort of shawl wound round the body
or thrown over the shoulders; and the ἐγκόμβωμα
(Poll. 4.119) or ἐπίρρημα
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 διπλῆ
of cooks (Poll. 4.119) was an apron. A covering for
the head is rarely found in representations. The soldier has a round
flat hat (Baumeister, Denkmäler,
fig. 910). As
covering for the feet the actors wore the EMBAS
or else shoes which left the toes bare:
stockings also are sometimes found (A. Müller, op. cit.
264, note 2; cf. Becker-Göll,
3.284). Women wore the χιτὼν
reaching to the feet, which was often
(Poll. 7.54), and as
an over-covering the ἱμάτιον.
Heiresses used to wear ἱμάτια
fringes (Poll. 4.120). 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 (καμπύλη,
Poll. 4.119); rustics (ib.) a
straight staff (λαγωβόλον
), and leathern tunic
); procurers a straight
stick called ἄρεσκος
(ib. 120); the
parasite a strigil (στλεγγις
) and an
cf. Plaut. Stich.
1. 3, 75);
and the soldier a sword (Plaut. Mil.
The different colours
of the dress of the
different stock-characters are much insisted on both by Pollux and
Donatus (de Comoedia et Tragoedia
old men wore white, younger men (νεώτεροι
) red or dark purple (φοινικὶς ἤ μελαμπόρφυρον ἱμάτιον,
purple (ib.), though
Donatus (11, 21) says it was party-coloured (discolor
). Parasites had black or grey (φαιός
) cloaks (cf. οἱ μελάνες
Ath. vi. p. 237 b; Cic.
). The soldier has
a chlamys purpurea
(Donatus, 11, 24),
slaves and artisans white ἱμάτια
2.3). Old women wore apple-green
) or dark blue (ἀερίνγ
) dresses, except priestesses, who
wore white. Young women had white dresses. Procuresses had a purple band
round their heads (Poll. 4.119). There was a law at Athens that hetaerae
should wear bright-coloured costume (ἄνθινα
Suidas, s. v.), and pictures show them with red
and yellow chitons and white and yellow himatia. The soubrette (ἅβρα περίκουρος
) wore a white chiton, and
the hetaera's servant (παράψηστον
) a saffron-coloured chiton (Poll. 4.154). For
the masks of comedy, see PERSONA
The most important work on the costume of the drama is
Wieseler, Theatergebäude und Denkmäler des
(1851), the main results of which are
collected and criticised in the light of more recent researches by A.
Müller, Die griechischen
(1886), who is chiefly
followed in the above sketch.
Besides the works cited in the text, the reader is referred to the
Denkmäler des klassischen Altertums,
that on Comoedia
in Daremberg and Saglio,
Dict. des Antiquités.
The account which is given by Livy (7.2
) 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
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
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
) and set to the music
of the flute (descripto jam ad tibicinem
), 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
]. 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
as due to the imitation of
Etruscan actors: there is no reason to doubt that they were, as Virgil
2.385) and Horace (Hor. Ep. 2.1
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.
(Cf. Mommsen, Hist.
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 [p. 1.522]
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
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.
For the distinction
between the cantica
and 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
) and Terence (ib.,
), 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
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
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. (Diomed., iii. p. 489, K.) 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
The mimes are sometimes classed with the
Latin comedies. (Hermann, de Fabula togata:
Opusc. vol. v. p. 254, &c.) 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.
prol. 2.1). Sometimes the prologue is spoken
by one of the dramatis personae (Plaut. Amph.; Mil. Glor.;
), or by some supernatural or personified being, as the Lar
familiaris in the Aulularia
Arcturus in the Rudens,
Auxilium in the
Luxuria and Inopia in the
(Baden, von dem
Prologe im Röm. Lustsp.
1.3, p. 441, &c.; Becker, de com.
p. 89, &c.; Wolff, de Prologis Plautinis.
) Pliny (Plin. Nat. 36.204
) 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
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. p.356
a), that the name
of ludi Osci
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 (Hist.
3.455) 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. Fam. 9.1. 6
), who continued to play
them under the empire (Tac. Ann. 4.14
as after-pieces (exodia
) to more serious
dramas. Among the standing characters were Pappus or Casnar, Bucco,
Maccus, and Dossennus (Mommsen, Unterital. Dial.
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.).
From the extant fragments the language seems to have been extremely [p. 1.523]
coarse, and the jokes mostly obscene (Teuffel,
§ 125). (C. E. Schober,
Ueber die Atellanen,
Lips. 1825; Weyer, Ueber
Mannheim, 1826; Munk, de
Breslau, 1840; Mommsen, Hist.;
Bähr, Gesch. der
§ § 9, 10).