), the chief comic poet among the Dorians, was born in the island of Cos about the 60th Olympiad (B. C. 540). His father, Elothales, was a physician, of the race of the Asclepiads, and the profession of medicine seems to have been followed for some time by Epicharmus himself, as well as by his brother.
At the age of three months he was carried to Megara, in Sicily; or, according to the account preserved by Suidas, he went thither at a much later period, with Cadmus (B. C. 484). Thence he removed to Syracuse, with the other inhabitants of Megara, when the latter city was destroyed by Gelon (B. C. 484 or 483). Here he spent the remainder of his life, which was prolonged throughout the reign of Hieron, at whose court Epicharmus associated with the other great writers of the time, and among them, with Aeschylus, who seems to have had some influence on his dramatic course.
He died at the age of ninety (B. C. 450), or, ac cording to Lucian, ninety-seven (B. C. 443).
The city of Syracuse erected a statue to him, the inscription on which is preserved by Diogenes Laertius. (D. L. 8.78
; Suid. s.v. Lucian, Macrob.
25; Aelian, Ael. VH 2.34
; Plut. Moral.
pp. 68, a., 175, c.; Marmor Parium,
In order to understand the relation of Epicharmus to the early comic poetry, it must be remembered that Megara, in Sicily, was a colony from Megara on the Isthmus, the inhabitants of which disputed with the Athenians the invention of comedy, and where, at all events, a kind of comedy was known as early as the beginning of the sixth century B. C. [SUSARION.] This comedy (whether it was lyric or also dramatic, which is a doubtful point) was of course found by Epicharmus existing at the Sicilian Megara; and he, together with Phonnis, gave it a new form, which Aristotle describes by the words τὸ μύθους ποιεῖν
6 or 5, ed. Ritter), a phrase which some take to mean comedies with a regular plot; and others, comedies on mythological subjects.
The latter seems to be the better interpretation; but either explanation establishes a clear distinction between the comedy of Epicharmus and that of Megara, which seems to have been little more than a sort of low buffoonery.
With respect to the time when Epicharmus began to compose comedies, much confusion has arisen from the statement of Aristotle (or an interpolator), that Epicharmus lived long before
3; CHIONIDES.) We have, however, the express and concurrent testimonies of the anonymous writer On Comedy
(p. xxviii.), that he flourished about the 73rd Olympiad, and of Suidas (s. v.
), that he wrote six years before the Persian war (B. C. 485-4). Thus it appears that, like Cratinus, he was an old man before he began to write comedy; and this agrees well with the fact that his poetry was of a very philosophic character. (Anon. de Com. l.c.
) The only one of his plays, the date of which is certainly known, is the Νᾶσοι
, B. C. 477. (Schol. Pind. Pyth.
1.98; Clinton, sub ann.
) We have also express testimony of the fact that Elothales, the father of Epicharmus, formed an acquaintance with Pythagoras, and that Epicharmus himself was a pupil of that great philosopher. (Diog. Laert. l.c.;
Suid. s.v. Plut. Numa,
8.) We may therefore consider the life of Epicharmus as divisible into two parts, namely, his life at Megara up to B. C. 484, during which he was engaged in the study of philosophy, both physical and metaphysical, and the remainder of his life, which he spent at Syracuse, as a comic poet.
The question respecting the identity of Epicharmus the comedian and Epicharmus the Pythagorean philosopher, about which some writers, both ancient and modern, have been in doubt, may now be considered as settled in the affirmative. (Menag. ad Laert. l.c.;
Perizon. ad Aelian. V. H.
2.34; Clinton, Fast. Hell.
vol. ii. Introd. p. xxxvi.)
The number of the comedies of Epicharmus is differently stated at 52 or at 35.
There are still extant 35 titles, of which 26 are preserved by Athenaeus.
The majority of them are on mythological subjects, that is, travesties of the heroic myths, and these plays no doubt very much resembled the satyric drama of the Athenians.
The following are their titles:--Ἀλκύων
, Ἤβης γάμος
, Ἤφαιστος ἢ Κωμασταί
, Λόγος καὶ Λογείνα
, Ὀδυσσεὺς αὐτόμολος
, Ὀδυσσεὺς ναυαγός
But besides mythology, Epicharmus wrote on other subjects, political, moral, relating to manners and customs, and, it would seem, even to personal character; those, however, of his comedies which belong to the last lead are rather general than individual, and resembled the subjects treated by the writers of the new comedy, so that when the ancient writers enumerated him among the poets of the old comedy, they must be understood as referring rather to his antiquity in point of time than to any close resemblance between his works and those of the old Attic comedians.
In fact, we have a proof in the case of CRATES that even among the Athenians, after the establishment of the genuine old comedy by Cratinus, the mythological comedy still maintained its ground.
The plays of Epicharmus, which were not on mythological subjects, were the following:--Ἀγρωστῖνος
(Sicilian Greek for Ἀλροῖκος
, Γᾶ καὶ Θάλασσα
, Ἐλπὶς ἢ Πλοῦτος
, Ἑορτὰ καὶ Νᾶσοι Ἐπινίκιος
, Ὀρύα, Περίαλλος
A considerable number of fragments of the above plays are preserved, but those of which we can form the clearest notion from the extant fragments are the Marriage of Hebe,
or the Revellers.
Miller has observed that the painted vases of lower Italy often enable us to gain a complete and vivid idea of those theatrical representations of which the plays of Epicharmus are the type.
The style of his plays appears to have been a curious mixture of the broad buffoonery which distinguished the old Megarian comedly, and of the sententious wisdom of the Pythagorean philosopher His language was remarkably elegant: he was celebrated for his choice of epithets: his plays abounded, as the extant fragments prove, with γνωμαί
, or philosophical and moral maxims, and long speculative discourses, on the instinct of animals for example. Müller observes that "if the elements of his drama, which we have discovered singly, were in his plays combined, he must have set out with an elevated and philosophical view, which enabled him to satirize mankind without disturbing the calmness and tranquillity of his thoughts; while at the same time his scenes of common life were marked with the acute and penetrating genius which characterized the Sicilians."
In proof of the high estimate in which he was held by the ancients, it may be enough to refer to the notices of him by Plato (Theact.
p. 152e.) and Cicero. (Tusc.
1.8, ad Att.
It is singular, however, that Epicharmus had no successor in his peculiar style of comedy, except his son or disciple Deinolochus.
He had, however, distinguished imitators in other times and countries. Some writers, making too much of a few words of Aristotle, would trace the origin of the Attic comedy to Epicharmus; but it can hardly be doubted that Crates, at least, was his imitator. That Plautus imitated him is expressly stated by Horace (Hor. Ep. 2.1.58
Plautus ad exemplar Siculi properare Epicharmi.
The parasite, who forms so conspicuous a character in the plays of the new comedy, is first found in Epicharmus.
The formal peculiarities of the dramas of Epicharmus cannot be noticed here at any length. His ordinary metre was the lively Trochaic Tetrameter, but he also used the Iambie and Anapaestic metres.
The questions respecting his scenes, number of actors, and chorus, are fully treated in the work of Grysar.
Some writers attribute to Epicharmus separate philosophical poems; but there is little doubt that the passages referred to are extracts from his comedies. Some of the ancient writers ascribed to Epicharmus the invention of some or all of those letters of the Greek alphabet, which were usually attributed to Palamedes and Simonides.
The fragments of Epicharmus are printed in the collections of Morellius (Sententiae vet. Comic., Paris, 1553, 8vo.)
, Hertelius (Collect. Fragm. Comic., Basil. 1560, 8vo.)
, H. Stephanus (Poesis Philosophica, 1573, 8vo.)
, and Hugo Grotius (Excerpt. ex Trag. et Comoed., Paris, 1626, 4to.)
, and separately by H. P. Kruseman, Harlem. 1834.
Additions have been made by Welcker (Zeitschrift für die Alterthumswissenschaft, 1835, p. 1123)
, and others.
The most important modern work on Epicharmus is that of Grysar, de Doriensium Comoedia, Colon. 1828; the second volume, containing the fragments, has not yet appeared.
See also Fabric. Bibl. Graec.
vol. ii. p. 298; Harless, de Epicharmo,
Essen, 1822; Müller, Dorians,
bk. 4.100.7; Bode, Geschichte d. Hellen. Dichtkunst,
vol. iii. part i. p. 36.