Ancient Greek comedy
Ancient Greek comedy was one of the final three principal dramatic forms in the theatre of classical Greece (the others being tragedy and the satyr play). Athenian comedy is conventionally divided into three periods, Old Comedy, Middle Comedy, and New Comedy. Old Comedy survives today largely in the form of the eleven surviving plays of Aristophanes, while Middle Comedy is largely lost, i.e. preserved only in relatively short fragments in authors such as Athenaeus of Naucratis. New Comedy is known primarily from the substantial papyrus fragments of Menander. The philosopher Aristotle wrote in his Poetics (c. 335 BC) that comedy is a representation of laughable people and involves some kind of blunder or ugliness which does not cause pain or disaster. C. A. Trypanis wrote that comedy is the last of the great species of poetry Greece gave to the world.
Earliest Middle Comic poets. For ancient scholars, the term may have meant little more than "later than Aristophanes and his contemporaries, but earlier than Menander". Middle Comedy is generally seen as differing from Old Comedy in three essential particulars: medians who wrote in the same genre.
The other two comedians are Philemon and Diphilus. Philemon was a comedian whose comedies dwelt on philosophical issues and Diphilus was a comedian whose comedies were noted for their broad comedy and farcical violence. Philemon's comedies have come down to us in fragments but Diphilus' comedies were translated and adapted by Plautus. Examples of these comedies are Plautus' Asinaria and Rudens. Based on the translation and adaptation of Diphilus comedies' by Plautus, one can conclude that he was skilled in the construction of his plots.
Substantial fragments of New Comedy have survived, but no complete plays. The most substantially preserved text is the Dyskolos ("Difficult Man, Grouch") by Menander, discovered on a papyrus, and first published in 1958. The Cairo Codex (found in 1907) also preserves long sections of plays as Epitrepontes ("Men at Arbitration"), Samia ("The Girl from Samos"), and Perikeiromene ("The Girl who had her Hair Shorn"). Much of the rest of our knowledge of New Comedy is derived from the Latin adaptations by Plautus and Terence.
The playwrights of the Greek New Comedy genre built on a considerable legacy from their predecessors, drawing upon a vast array of dramatic devices, characters and situations their predecessors had developed. Prologues to shape the audience's understanding of events, messengers' speeches to announce offstage action, descriptions of feasts, sudden recognitions, ex machina endings were all established techniques which playwrights exploited and evoked in their comedies.
The satirical and farcical element which featured so strongly in Aristophanes' comedies increasingly diminished in importance as time went on. It was eventually given up more or less completely and was not to be revived. The de-emphasis of the grotesque, whether in the form of choruses, humour or spectacle opened the way for increased representation of daily life and the foibles of recognisable character types.
Unlike their predecessor, Aristophanes, some of whose comedies departed from the Athenian setting or covered mythological themes and subjects, their plays were seldom placed in a setting other than their everyday world (Diphilus was a notable exception). Gods and goddesses in Greek New Comedy were personified abstractions who seldom appeared in their plays. There are generally no miracles or metamorphoses.
The Greek playwrights from the genre Greek New Comedy not only developed a literary style that differed from their predecessors in multiple ways, they also made considerable innovations in literature. Examples of their innovations were the development of a whole series of distinct stereotype characters which were to become the stock characters of Western comedy and the contributions they made to the development of the play.
The cast of Menander's plays included a number of minor characters drawn from a limited number of one-dimensional stock types such as cooks or parasites who introduced familiar jokes and recognisable patterns of speech. Other stock characters in Menander's plays were the senex iratus, or "angry old man", the domineering parent who tries to thwart his son or daughter from achieving wedded happiness, and who is often led into the same vices and follies for which he has reproved his children,the bragging soldier who talked about the number of enemies he killed and how well they'll treat their woman and the kind shrewd prostitute who hid her heart behind a facade of fierce commercialism.
Menander gave stereotype characters a sense that they were character types. In his comedies, they were expected to react the way they were supposed to behave but some resist. These stock characters appear as rich unlayered humans in a new dimension. It was this human dimension that was one of the strengths of Menander's plays. He used these stereotype characters to comment on human life and depict human folly and absurdity compassionately, with wit and subtlety.
An example of such a character is Cnemon from Menander's play Dyskolos. He was an insufferably rude and objectionable character who showed how foolish and absurd humans could be. However rude and objectionable he was, he proved ultimately to be a character who was not necessarily closed to reason. He accepted that other views were possible, proving willing to compromise with life after he was rescued from a well. The fact that this character was not necessarily closed to reason makes him a character whom people can give compassion to.
For the first time, love became a principal element in the drama. The new comedy depicted Athenian society and the social morality of the period, presenting it in attractive colors but making no attempt to criticize or improve it.
The 5-act structure later to be found in modern plays can first be seen in Menander's comedies. Where in comedies of previous generations there were choral interludes, there was dialogue with song. The action of his plays had breaks, the situations in them were conventional and coincidences were convenient, thus showing the smooth and effective development of his plays.
- Euxenides 485 BC* Magnes 472 BC
- Cratinus (c. 520 - 420 BC), won a series of victories from 454 BC to 423 BC
- Euphonius 458 BC
- Crates c. 450 BC
- Callias Schoenion
- Hermippus 435 BC
- Hegemon of Thasos, 413 BC
- Phrynichus, won 4 victories between 435 BC and 405 BC
- Lycis, before 405 BC
- Eupolis (c. 446 - 411 BC)
- Aristophanes (c. 456 – 386 BC), won more than 12 victories between 427 BC and 388 BC
- Ameipsias (c. 420 BC)
- Aristomenes, between 431-388 BC
- Telecleides 5th century BC
- Pherecrates 420 BC
- Archippus, 415 BC
- Polyzelus, c. 364 BC
- Eunicus 5th century BC
- Apollophanes c. 400 BC
- Nicomachus, c. 420 BC
- Cephisodorus 402 BC
- Metagenes, c. 419 BC
- Cantharus 422 BC
- Nicochares (died c. 345
- Strattis (c. 412 - 390 BC)
- Alcaeus, 388 BC
- Xenarchus, around 393 BC
Middle Comedy 
New Comedy 
Poets of Uncertain Date 
- Lexiphanes (either Middle Comic or New)
See also 
- Competitions (agon) at the Dionysia (mixed audiences) and Lenaia (local Athens audience only) festivals
- Cult of Dionysus
- Phallic processions
- Theatre of Dionysus
- Aristotle, Poetics, line 1449a: "Comedy, as we have said, is a representation of inferior people, not indeed in the full sense of the word bad, but the laughable is a species of the base or ugly. It consists in some blunder or ugliness that does not cause pain or disaster, an obvious example being the comic mask which is ugly and distorted but not painful."
- Cf. Trypanis, Greek Poetry from Homer to Seferis, Chapter 4, p.201
- The Drama: Its History, Literature and Influence on Civilization, vol. 1. ed. Alfred Bates. London: Historical Publishing Company, 1906. pp. 30-31.
- Seth Lerer, Comedy through the Ages (recorded lecture series), Springfield, Virginia: The Teaching Company, 2000.
- Won a second prize with his Κουνος in 423 BC and won a first prize in 414 BC with his Κωμασται. Ancientlibrary.com
- Wrote two plays, Συντροφοι and Εαυτον πενθων. Athenaeus quotes one long fragment from the former and one short fragment from the latter. He is comtempoary with Epicurus, who mentions him. Ancientlibrary.com
- Google Books
- Brown, Andrew. 1998. "Ancient Greece." In The Cambridge Guide to Theatre. Ed. Martin Banham. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 441-447. ISBN 0-521-43437-8.
- Brockett, Oscar G. and Franklin J. Hildy. 2003. History of the Theatre. Ninth edition, International edition. Boston: Allyn and Bacon. ISBN 0-205-41050-2.
- Carlson, Marvin. 1993. Theories of the Theatre: A Historical and Critical Survey from the Greeks to the Present. Expanded ed. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press. ISBN 978-0-8014-8154-3.
- Csapo, Eric, and William J. Slater. 1994. The Context of Ancient Drama. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0-472-08275-2.
- Freund, Philip. 2003. The Birth of Theatre. Illustrated ed. Vol 1. of Stage by Stage. London: Peter Owen. ISBN 978-0-7206-1167-0.
- Janko, Richard, trans. 1987. Poetics with Tractatus Coislinianus, Reconstruction of Poetics II and the Fragments of the On Poets. By Aristotle. Cambridge: Hackett. ISBN 0-87220-033-7.
- Ley, Graham. 2006. A Short Introduction to the Ancient Greek Theater. Rev. ed. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press ISBN 0-226-47761-4.
- Olson, S. Douglas, ed. 2007. Broken Laughter: Select Fragments of Greek Comedy. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-928785-7.
- Taplin, Oliver. 1993. Comic Angels and Other Approaches to Greek Drama Through Vase-Painting. Oxford: Clarendon Press ISBN 0-19-814797-X.
- Trypanis, Constantine Athanasius. 1981. Greek Poetry from Homer to Seferis. Chicago: University of Chicago Press ISBN 0-226-81316-9.
The Blackwell Introductions to the Classical World — Classical Literature — A Concise History by Richard Rutherford. The Making of Menander's Comedy by Sander M Goldberg The New Greek Comedy by Philippe Legrand
Further reading 
- Cornford, Francis Macdonald, The Origin of Attic Comedy, Cambridge: University Press, 1934.
- Padilla, Mark William (editor), "Rites of Passage in Ancient Greece: Literature, Religion, Society", Bucknell University Press, 1999. ISBN 0-8387-5418-X
- Rozik, Eli, The roots of theatre : rethinking ritual and other theories of origin, Iowa City : University of Iowa Press, 2002. ISBN 0-87745-817-0