previous next


*Krati=nos), Comic poets.

1. One of the most celebrated Athenian comic poets of the old comedy, the rise and complete perfection of which he witnessed during a life of 97 years. The dates of his birth and death can be ascertained with tolerable certainty from the following circumstances :--In the year 424 B. C., Aristophanes exhibited his Knights, in which he described Cratinus as a drivelling old man, wandering about with his crown withered, and so utterly neglected by his former admirers that he could not even procure wherewithal to quench the thirst of which he was perishing. (Equit. 531-534.) This attack roused Cratinus to put forth all his remaining strength in the play entitled Πυτίνη (the Flagon), which was exhibited the next year, and with which he carried away the first prize above the Connus of Ameipsias and the Clouds of Aristophanes. (Arg. Nub.) Now Lucian says that the Πυτίνη was the last play of Cratinus, and that he did not long survive his victory. (Macrob. 25.) Aristophanes also, in the Peace, which was acted in 419 B. C., says that Cratinus died ὅθ̓ οἱ Λάκωνες ἐνέβαλον. (Pax, 700, 701.) A doubt has been raised as to what invasion Aristophanes meant. He cannot refer to any of the great invasions mentioned by Thucydides, and we are therefore compelled to suppose some irruption of a part of the Lacedaemonian army into Attica at the time when the armistice, which was made shortly before the negotiations for the fifty years' truce, was broken. (B. C. 422.) Now Lucian says (l.c.) that Cratinus lived 97 years. Thus his birth would fall in B. C. 519.

If we may trust the grammarians and chronographers, Cratinus did not begin his dramatic career till he was far advanced in life. According to an Anonymous writer on Comedy (p. xxix), he gained his first victory after the 85th Olympiad, that is, later than B. C. 437, and when he was more than 80 years old. This date is suspicious in itself, and is falsified by circumstantial evidence. For example, in one fragment he blames the tardiness of Pericles in completing the long walls which we know to have been finished in B. C. 451, and there are a few other fragments which evidently belong to an earlier period than the 85th Olympiad. Again, Crates the comic poet acted the plays of Cratinus before he began to write himself ; but Crates began to write in B. C. 449-448. We can therefore have no hesitation in preferring the date of Eusebius (Chron. s. a. Ol. 81. 3; Syncell. p. 339), although he is manifestly wrong in joining the name of Plato with that of Cratinus. According to this testimony, Cratinus began to exhibit in B. C. 454-453, in about the 66th year of his age.

Of his personal history very little is known. His father's name was Callimedes, and he himself was taxiarch of the Φυλή Οἰνήϊς. (Suid. s. vv. Κρατῖνος, Ἐρειοῦ δειλότερος.) In the latter passage he is charged with excessive cowardice. Of the charges which Suidas brings against the moral character of Cratinus, one is unsupported by any other testimony, though, if it had been true, it is not likely that Aristophanes would have been silent upon it. Probably Suidas was misled by a passage of Aristophanes (Aristoph. Ach. 849, 850) which refers to another Cratinus, a lyric poet. (Schol. l.c.) The other charge which Suidas brings against Cratinus, that of habitual intemperance, is sustained by many passages of Aristophanes and other writers, as well as by the confession of Cratinus himself, who appears to have treated the subject in a very amusing way, especially in his Πυτίνη. (See further on this point Meineke, Hist. Crit. Com. Graec. pp. 47-49.)


Cratinus exhibited twenty-one plays and gained nine victories (Suid. s.v. Eudoc. p. 271; Anon. de Com. p. xxix), and that παμψηφεί, according to the Scholiast on Aristophanes. (Equit. 528.)

Cratinus was undoubtedly the poet of the old comedy. He gave it its peculiar character, and he did not, like Aristophanes, live to see its decline. Before his time the comic poets had aimed at little beyond exciting the laughter of their audience : it was Cratinus who first made comedy a terrible weapon of personal attack, and the comic poet a severe censor of public and private vice. An anonymous ancient writer says, that to the pleasing in comedy Cratinus added the useful, by accusing evil-doers and punishing them with comedy as with a public scourge. (Anon. de Com. p. xxxii.) He did not even, like Aristophanes, in such attacks unite mirth with satire, but, as an ancient writer says, he hurled his reproaches in the plainest form at the bare heads of the offenders. (Platonius, de Com. p. xxvii.; Christodor. Ecphrasis, 5.357 ; Persius, Sat. 1.123.) Still, like Aristophanes with respect to Sophocles, he sometimes bestowed the highest praise, as upon Cimon. (Plut. Cim. 10.) Pericles, on the other hand, was the object of his most persevering and vehement abuse.

License of attack institutions and individuals

It is proper here to state what is known of the circumstances under which Cratinus and his followers were permitted to assume this license of attacking institutions and individuals openly and by name. It evidently arose out of the close connexion which exists in nature between mirth and satire. While looking for subjects which could be put in a ridiculous point of view, the poet naturally fell upon the follies and vices of his countrymen. The free constitution of Athens inspired him with courage to attack the offenders, and secured for him protection from their resentment. And accordingly we find, that the political freedom of Athens and this license of her comic poets rose and fell together. Nay, if we are to believe Cicero, the law itself granted them impunity. (De Repub. 4.10: "apud quos [Graecos] fuit etiam lege concessum, ut quod vellet comoedia de quo vellet nominatim diceret.") The same thing is stated, though not so distinctly,by Themistius. (Orat. viii. p. 110b.) This flourishing period lasted from the establishment of the Athenian power after the Persian war down to the end of the Peloponnesian war, or perhaps a few years later (about B. C. 460-393). The exercise of this license, however, was not altogether unopposed. In addition to what could be done personally by such men as Cleon and Alcibiades, the law itself interfered on more than one occasion. In the archonship of Morychides (B. C. 440-439), a law was made prohibiting the comic poets from holding a living person up to ridicule by bringing him on the stage by name (ψήφισμα τοῦ μὴ κωμφδεῖν ὀνομαστί, Schol. Arist. Acharn. 67; Meineke, Hist. Crit. p. 40). This law remained in force for the two following years, and was annulled in the archonship of Euthymenes. (B. C. 437-436.) Another restriction, which probably belongs to about the same time, was the law that no Areopagite should write comedies. (Plut. Bell. an Pac. praest. Ath. p. 348c.) From B. C. 436 the old comedy flourished in its highest vigour, till a series of attacks was made upon it by a certain Syracosius, who is suspected, with great probability, of having been suborned by Alcibiades. This Syracosius carried a law, μὴ κωμῳδεῖσθαι ὀνομαστί τινα, probably about B. C. 416-415, which did not, however, remain in force long. (Schol. Arist. Av. 1297.) A similar law is said to have been carried by Antimachus, but this is perhaps a mistake. (Schol. Arist. Acharn. 1149 ; Meineke, p. 41.) That the brief aristocratical revolution of 411 B. C. affected the liberty of comedy can hardly be doubted, though we have no express testimony. If it declined then, we have clear evidence of its revival with the restoration of democracy in the Frogs of Aristophanes and the Cleophon of Plato. (B. C. 405.) It cannot be doubted that, during the rule of the thirty tyrants, the liberty of comedy was restrained, not only by the loss of political liberty, but by the exhaustion resulting from the war, in consequence of which the choruses could not be maintained with their ancient splendour. We even find a play of Cratinus without Chorus or Parabasis, namely, the Ὀδυσσεῖς, but this was during the 85th Olympiad, when the above-mentioned law was in force. The old comedy, having thus declined, was at length brought to an end by the attacks of the dithyrambic poet Cinesias, and of Agyrrhius, and was succeeded by the Middle Comedy (about B. C. 393-392; Meineke, pp. 42, 43).

Influence on the outward form of comedy

Besides what Cratinus did to give a new character and power to comedy, he is said to have made changes in its outward form, so as to bring it into better order, especially by fixing the number of actors, which had before been indefinite, at three. (Anon. de Com. p. xxxii.) On the other hand, however, Aristotle says, that no one knew who made this and other such changes. (Poet. 5.4.)

Character of Cratinus

The character of Cratinus as a poet rests upon the testimonies of the ancient writers, as we have no complete play of his extant. These testimonies are most decided in placing him in the very first rank of comic poets. By one writer he is compared to Aeschylus. (Anon. de Com. p. xxix.) There is a fragment of his own, which evidently is no vain boast, but expresses the estimation in which he was held by his contemporaries. (Schol. Arist. Equit. 526.) Amongst several allusions to him in Aristophanes, the most remarkable is the passage in the Knights referred to above, where he likens Cratinus to a rapid torrent, carrying everything before it, and says that for his many victories he deserved to drink in the Prytaneium, and to sit anointed as a spectator of the Dionysia. But, after all, his highest praise is in the fact, that he appeared at the Dionysia of the following year, not as a spectator, but as a competitor, and carried off the prize above Aristophanes himself. His style seems to have been somewhat grandiloquent, and full of tropes, and altogether of a lyric cast. He was very bold in inventing new words, and in changing the meaning of old ones. His choruses especially were greatly admired, and were for a time the favourite songs at banquets. (Aristophanes, l.c.) It was perhaps on account of the dithyrambic character of his poetry that he was likened to Aeschylus, and it was no doubt for the same reason that Aristophanes called him ταυροφάγον (Ran. 357; comp. Etym. Mag. p. 747, 50 ; Apollon. Lex. Hom. p. 156, 20.) His metres seem to have partaken of the same lofty character. He sometimes used the epic verse. The "Cratinean metre" of the grammarians, however, was in use before his time. [TOLYNUS.] In the invention of his plots he was most ingenious and felicitous, but his impetuous and exuberant fancy was apt to derange them in the progress of the play. (Platonius, p. xxvii.)


Among the poets who imitated him more or less the ancient writers enumerate Eupolis, Aristophanes, Crates, Telecleides, Strattis, and others. The only poets whom he himself is known to have imitated are Homer and Archilochus. (Platonius, l.c. ; Bergk, p. 156.) His most formidable rival was Aristophanes. (See, besides numerous passages of Aristophanes and the Scholia on him, Schol. Plat. p. 330.) Among his enemies Aristophanes mentions οἱ περὶ Καλλίαν (l.c.). What Callias he means is doubtful, but it is most natural to suppose that it is Callias the son of Hipponicus.

Plays wrongly attributed to Cratinus

There is much confusion among the ancient writers in quoting from his dramas. Meineke has shewn that the following plays are wrongly attributed to him :--Γλαῦκος, Θράσων, Ἥρωες, Ἰίαδες, Κρήσσαι, Ψηφίσματα, Ἀλλοτριογνώμονες. These being deducted, there still remain thirty titles, some of which, however, certainly belong to the younger Cratinus. After all deductions, there remain twenty-four titles, namely, Ἀρχίλοχοι, Βουκόλοι, Δηλιάδες, Διδασκαλίαι, Δραπετίδες, Ἐμπιπράμενοι or Ἰδαῖοι, Εὐνεῖδαι, Θρᾷτται, Κλεοβουλῖναι, Δάκωνες, Μαλθακοί, Νέμεσις, Νόμοι, Ὀδυσσεῖς, Πανόπται, Πυλαία, Πλοῦτοι, Πυτινη, Σάτυροι, Σερίφιοι, Τροφώνιος, Χειμαζόμενοι, Χείρωνες, Ὧραι. The difference between this list and the statement of the grammarians, who give to Cratinus only twenty-one plays, may be reconciled on the supposition that some of these plays had been lost when the grammarians wrote, as, for example, the Σάτυροι and Χειμαζόμενοι, which are mentioned only in the Didascalia of the Knights and Acharnians.

Dateable Plays

The following are the plays of Cratinus, the date of which is known with certainty :--

B. C.

>About 448.


In 425.

Χειμαζόμενοι, 2nd prize. Aristophanes was first, with the Acharnians.

424. Σάτυροι, 2nd prize. Aristophanes was first, with the Knights.


Πυτίνη, 1st prize.

2nd. Ameipsias, Κόννος.

3rd. Aristoph. Νεφέλαι.

Ancient Commentators

The chief ancient commentators on Cratinus were Asclepiades, Didymus, Callistratus, Euphronius, Symmachus, Aristarchus, and the Scholiasts.


Meineke, Frag. Com. Graec. i. pp. 43-58, ii. pp. 13-232.

Further Information

Bergk, Comment. de Reliq. Com. Alt., the first part of which is upon Cratinus only.

hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
448 BC (2)
437 BC (2)
436 BC (2)
393 BC (2)
519 BC (1)
460 BC (1)
454 BC (1)
453 BC (1)
451 BC (1)
449 BC (1)
440 BC (1)
439 BC (1)
425 BC (1)
424 BC (1)
423 BC (1)
422 BC (1)
416 BC (1)
415 BC (1)
405 BC (1)
392 BC (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: