The so-called Charition mime is a Greek theatre play, in fact more properly to be called a farce or burlesque rather than a mime, which is found in Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 413. The manuscript, which is possibly incomplete, is untitled, and the play's name comes from the name of its protagonist.
The plot of the farce is remotely derived from Euripides' Iφιγένεια ἡ ἐν Ταύροις (Iphigeneia in Tauris), with the scene of action transposed to India. The introduction of humorous elements suggest that it may originally have been written as a spoof (Danielou 1985). The play's character makes it almost a burlesque, representing a type of drama which was prior to the play's discovery not known in antiquity. The manuscript contains signs at various points which are almost certainly instructions to play percussion instruments and - possibly - the auloi, a Greek double-piped reed instrument, which suggests that the use of music in Greek mime was much more extensive than was earlier thought (Hall 2002, 5). Whilst the exact date of the play is unknown, it cannot have been later than the 2nd century CE, and was possibly earlier.
One of the most interesting features of the skit is the appearance of a number of characters who speak dialogues in an unknown, possibly Indian, language. Shortly after the papyrus' publication, Dr. E. Hultzsch, a noted German indologist who had a strong command of the Dravidian languages, claimed that the words represented an ancient form of Kannada, and suggested possible readings for the dialogues in question which made sense in the context in which they were uttered (Hultzsch 1904). However, his findings were criticised by others at the time for being speculative. However, even most of Hultzsch's critics accept that the language must have been a Dravidian tongue (Salomon 1991). Recently, an Indian scholar P. S. Rai claimed that the language is Tulu. An even more recent hypothesis has been made that the Indian languages might be Sanskrit and Malayalam. However, well known historian B. A. Saletore's explanation of the locale of the story and Shastri's analysis of the language of the play again suggest it is a form of Kannada. The subsequent discovery of the Halmidi inscription, which contains a form of Kannada much earlier than the forms known at the time Hultzsch wrote his article, confirms many of his theories on the evolution of the language and might therefore add support to his readings.
In spite of the prevalence of the Dravidian hypothesis, the divergent solutions proposed till date are not only mutually exclusive, but each of them is also problematic on several levels. The most important points of criticism that in general may be leveled against them are firstly, a neglect of formal indications provided by the manuscript itself, as well as of textual and contextual indications offered by the Greek parts of the text, and secondly, the near total absence of linguistic confirmation of the proposed identifications and translations through the establishment of regular correspondences between Dravidian sounds and Greek graphemes.
- Danielou, Alain (1985), Histoire de l'Inde, Fayard, Paris. ISBN 2-213-01254-7.
- Hall, Edith (2002), "The singing actors of antiquity" in Pat Easterling & Edith Hall, ed., Greek and Roman Actors: Aspects of an Ancient Profession, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. ISBN 0-521-65140-9.
- Hultzsch, E. (1904), "Remarks on a papyrus from Oxyrhynchus", Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1904: 399-405.
- Salomon, R. (1991), "Epigraphic Remains of Indian Traders in Egypt," Journal of the American Oriental Society, 111(4): 7-16.
- Tsitsiridis, Stavros, "Greek Mime in the Roman Empire (P.Oxy. 413: Charition and Moicheutria", Logeion 1 (2011) 184-232.