Menander with masks depicting New Comedy characters: youth, false maiden, and the old man.
|Chorus||Worshippers of Pan|
|Date premiered||c. 317–16 BC|
|Place premiered||Lenaia Festival, Athens|
|Original language||Ancient Greek|
|Setting||A country road in Phyle outside Athens near several farmsteads and a shrine of Pan.|
Dyskolos (Greek: Δύσκολος, translated as The Grouch, The Misanthrope, The Curmudgeon, The Bad-tempered Man or Old Cantankerous) is an Ancient Greek comedy by Menander, the only one of his plays, and of the whole New Comedy, that has survived in almost complete form. It was first presented at the Lenaian festival in 317–16 BC, where it won Menander the first-place prize. It was long known only through fragmentary quotations; but a papyrus manuscript of the nearly complete Dyskolos, dating to the third century, was recovered in Egypt in 1952 and forms part of the Bodmer Papyri.
The play is set in motion by the mischievous Pan, who speaks the prologue and whose personality dominates the play. Pan makes young Sostratos fall in love with a peasant girl he has glimpsed. Sostratos sends his servant to see the girl's father. This ends in violence, as the father is Knemon, a misanthropic farmer who becomes enraged at anyone who ventures onto his land or tries to converse with him. His wife and stepson have left him; only his daughter (who has no name) and an old servant woman live with him.
Sostratos meets Knemon’s stepson, Gorgias, and enlists his assistance in getting Knemon to allow Sostratos to wed his daughter. According to Gorgias, Knemon has vowed that he will permit only a man like himself to marry his daughter. Therefore, Sostratos dons a rough sheepskin coat so as not to appear a gentleman of leisure, and sets to work nearby as a laborer.
A cry goes up that Knemon has accidentally fallen down his own well. Gorgias jumps in to rescue him. Sostratos, although entirely preoccupied with admiring the beautiful daughter, pulls the rope to haul the misanthrope out, nearly killing the old man by his inattention. Having nearly drowned and believing himself about to die, Knemon sees the error of his ways and grants all his property to Gorgias, telling him also to take his daughter and find a husband for her. Gorgias introduces Sostratos to Knemon, who gives his indifferent approval.
The jubilant Sostratos tells his own father, Kallippides, of the wedding plan and suggests a second marriage between Gorgias and Sostratos' sister. Kallippides balks for a moment at taking two paupers into the family. Sostratos scolds his father, pointing out that wealth is inherently unstable, "and everything you have is not yours but luck's." Therefore, Kallippides should not begrudge sharing wealth with others; money can't be held forever, and luck will simply assign that wealth to someone else someday, perhaps to someone less deserving. Sostratos argues out that wealth imposes upon its owner a responsibility to act nobly, and to "make rich as many people as you can by your own efforts. For this act never dies." Summarizing the play's key theme, Sostratos explains that what goes around comes around: By acting nobly now, Kallippides may himself—in a future moment of need—benefit from someone else's kindness. (The implicit argument is grounded earlier in the story, when Sostratos had benefited from Gorgias' kindness, and Knemon had benefited from Sostratos' kindness). Sostratos finally persuades Kallippides that it is far better to have "a visible friend than invisible wealth which you keep buried away."
At the celebration that follows, the recovering Knemon awakes from his sleep as cantankerous as ever, and the cook and his friend have much fun tormenting him until he agrees to go out and dance and sing with the others.
- "out of a total of about 969 verses there are only about 9 verses missing—in two places in the fourth act; but about 30 verses in the first and second acts are incomplete; and approximately 200 require some emendation", remarks Penelope J. Photiades, in "Pan's Prologue to the 'Dyskolos' of Menander" Greece & Rome, Second Series, 5.2 (October 1958:108–122) p. 108.
- Balme, Maurice (2001). Menander: The plays and fragments. Oxford University Press.
- Qi Peng (2007). The Grouchy Guy [Dyskolos]. White Rook.
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