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MIMUS (μῖμος) properly signifies an imitation or imitator of a situation or person.


In Greek literature the word mime is associated with the name of Sophron of Syracuse (fifth century B.C.) and his son Xenarchus (Suid. s. v. ῥηγίνους). What we know about Sophron is mainly derived from Suidas (s. v. Σώφρων) and the other lexicographers, the Scholiasts on Nicander and Theocritus, and Athenaeus (see Gaisford's Suidas). We are told that he wrote μίμους ἀνδρείους and μίμους γυναικείους in the Doric dialect, that they were in prose and imitated by Plato, who used to keep a copy of Sophron under his pillow. The names of some of the mimes are ἄγγελος, θυννοσθήρας, γέροντες ἁλιεῖς, and ἀκεστρίαι, νυμφοπόνος, πενθέρα, Ἰσθμιάζουσαι. The Second Idyll of Theocritus is borrowed from the Ἀκεστρίαι ( “The Women Quacks” ), and the Fifteenth from the Ἰσθμιάζουσαι. Mahaffy (Hist. of Greek Literature, § 240) supposes that Sophron's compositions were, like the so-called poems of Walt Whitman, written in a rhythmical prose (οὗτος γὰρ μόνος, says an old Scholiast, τῶν ποιητῶν ῥυθμοῖς τισι καὶ κώλοις ἐχρήσατο ποιητικῆς ἀναλογίας καταφρονήσας), and were clever delineations of ordinary character, full of patois, wise saws and outspokenness. He further considers that they may have been performed in private society, like the marriage of Dionysius and Ariadne at the end of Xenophon's Symposium. Besides Plato, Persius was also said to have imitated Sophron (Lyd. de Magistr. 1.41). Botzon has collected the fragments of Sophron in a Programm, 1867. For further, see Fuhr, De Mimis Graecorum, 1860.

2. Roman

The Roman mimus (a term applied to the piece as well as to the actor) was, like the Atellan farce, an improvised character play of ordinary life, but without the stock character-masks and buskins; and it was more concerned with the humorous side of the low life of the town than of the country. It was indigenous in Latium, and developed out of the dances in character to the flute which were performed in the pit of the theatre during the intervals between the acts, and sometimes in private circles to amuse the guests during dinner (Mommsen, Rom. Hist. 4.579). Later it assumed a certain amount of stage wisdom and wise saws from the works of the Greek New Comedy, which are known chiefly from the great number of Sententiae in Iambic verse of Publilius Syrus. (See the list of over 500 certain instances in Ribbeck, Com. Lat. Reliquiae, 261 ff.) But the chief function of the mime was to raise a laugh, and so the language was that of the lower orders, coarse and vulgar. Mimi and mimae first appear about the time of Sulla (Auct. ad Herenn. 1.14, 24, 2.13, 19; Plin. Nat. 7.158; Plut. Sull. 2, 36), and in Cicero's time the mime was often given as an afterpiece instead of the Atellana (Cic. Fam. 9.1. 6, 7); hence a mimus may fairly be called an exodium (cf. Suet. Dom. 10), though that term is generally applied only to the Atellanae (Liv. 7.2, 11). They were played in front of the stage before the siparium (Juv. 8.185, and Schol.; Senec. de Tranquill. An. 11). The actor had no buskins (planipes, Juv. 8.181; Gel. 1.11, 12; excalceatus, Senec. Ep. 8, 8), and no mask: he wore a sort of harlequin costume (centunculus, Apul. Apol. 13), with the ricinium (Festus, s.v. Marquardt, Privatl. p. 558) [RICINIUM], and the phallus (Schol. on Juv. [p. 2.173]6.66; Arnob. 7.33). Along with the principal character (mimus or archimimus) was a sort of pantaloon called parasitus or stupidus (Wilmanns, 2635), got up with puffed cheeks and shaved head, who used to have to stand a great deal of noisy slapping (alapae) and abuse from the principal actor (Mart. 2.72, 4; Tert. Spect. 23; Arnob. l.c.). This stupidus, as well as the other actors of the secondary parts, had as his rôle to imitate the chief actor (Hor. Ep. 1.18, 14; cf. Suet. Cal. 57). The female parts were played by women: for example, Thymele in Juv. 1.36, 6.66; Arbuscula (Cic. Att. 4.1. 5, 6), Dionysia (ib. Rose. Com. 8, 23), Cytheris (ib. Phil. 2.8, 20), Claudia Hermione (Orelli, 4760), Luria privata mima vixit annis xix. (Wilm. 2634; cf. C. I. G. 6335, 6750), a burial-ground sociarum mimarum in Wilm. 326. Their performances, originally at the Floralia, later at all the exhibitions, were decidedly loose (ut mimae nudarentur postulare, V. Max. 2.10, 8). The dancing in the mimus was of a grotesque nature, accompanied by extravagant grimaces and obscene gestures and jokes (Ov. Tr. 2.497 ff., 515), with plenty of ribald abuse and blows (Mart. l.c.; Juv. 8.192, and see especially Mayor on Juv. 5.171).

The subjects were of the most varied kinds (see the long list, with the fragments which preserved, in Ribbeck, Com. Lat. Reliquiae, 237 ff.), but they nearly always involved some incident of an amorous nature in which ordinary morality was set at defiance (Ov. l.c.; Juv. 6.44; V. Max. 2.6, 7). There were often sudden changes of fortune introduced, beggars becoming millionaires (Cic. Phil. 2.27, 65) and vice versâ (Senec. Ep. 114, 6), mimicking and parodies of people of the day, such as lawyers for example (Wilm. 2627), general character pieces (e. g. Augur, Colax, Ephebus, Hetaera, Virgo), scenes from the life of tradesmen (e. g. Restio, Fullo) or of foreigners (e. g. the Etruscan Women, the Gauls), subjects with ghosts in them (Descensus ad Inferos by Laberius, Phasma by Catullus), description of popular festivals (Compitalia, Parilia, Saturnalia, reminding one of Sophron's mimes), representation of careers that attracted the imagination of the people (e. g. that of Laureolus, the Dick Turpin of the ancients, Juv. 8.187), mythological caricatures (moechum Anubim et masculam Lunam, Dianam flagellatam et Jovis mortui testamentum recitatum et tres Hercules famelicos, Tert. Apol. 25). In Imperial times they were sometimes intricate enough (Quint. 4.2, 53): Plutarch (de sollert. Anim. 19 = 973, 46) tells us of a mime in which a dog took a prominent part. There was always a great deal of political criticism allowed in the mimes (Macr. 2.7, 5; Cic. Att. 14.3, 2; Suet. Aug. 53, 68, Tib. 45; Friedländer, ii.3 420 ff.).

The principal writers of mime under the late Republic were Laberius and Publilius Syrus. The mimographi under the Empire are numerous: Catullus (Juv. 8.186), Lentulus and Hostilius (Tert. Apol. 15), Aemilius Severianus (C. I. L. 4092), Philistion (Suet. ed. Roth, p. 299, 3). As the mimes were not so fashionable as the pantomimes, we hear less about their performers. Still we occasionally hear of them, e. g. Latinus and Panniculus (Mart. l.c.), Alytyros (Joseph. Vita, 3), &c.; and at times they were advanced to great honours, e. g. a mimus Eutyches was made a decurio at Bovillae, and he was so rich as to be able to give a distribution of money to the citizens (Wilm. 2624, cf. 2625). The epitaph of the actor Vitalis says of his profession as mime, Hinc mihi larga domus hinc mihi census erat (Anthol. Lat. ii. p. 89, ed. Meyer).

For further, see Friedländer, Sittengeschichte Roms, ii.3 416-422; Teuffel, Röm. Litteratur-geschichte, § 8 (who however confuses mimes and pantomimes); Patin, Études sur la Poésie latine, 2.346-365.


hide References (24 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (24):
    • Cicero, Letters to Atticus, 14.2
    • Cicero, Letters to Atticus, 14.3
    • Cicero, Letters to Atticus, 4.1.5
    • Cicero, Letters to Atticus, 4.1.6
    • Cicero, Philippics, 2.27
    • Cicero, Philippics, 2.65
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 7, 11
    • Suetonius, Divus Augustus, 53
    • Suetonius, Divus Augustus, 68
    • Suetonius, Caligula, 57
    • Suetonius, Domitianus, 10
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 7, 2
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 1.11
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 1.12
    • Plutarch, Sulla, 2
    • Plutarch, Sulla, 36
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 2.4
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 2.72
    • Horace, Epistulae, 1.14
    • Horace, Epistulae, 1.18
    • Valerius Maximus, Facta et Dicta Memorabilia, 2.10
    • Valerius Maximus, Facta et Dicta Memorabilia, 2.6
    • Valerius Maximus, Facta et Dicta Memorabilia, 2.7
    • Valerius Maximus, Facta et Dicta Memorabilia, 2.8
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