In the theatre of ancient Greece, the eirôn (Ancient Greek: εἴρων) was one of three stock characters in comedy. The eirôn usually succeeded in bringing down his braggart opponent (the alazôn) by understating his own abilities.
The eirôn developed in Greek Old Comedy and can be found in many of Aristophanes' plays. For example, in The Frogs after the God Dionysus claims to have sunk 12 or 13 enemy ships with Cleisthenes (son of Sibyrtius), his slave Xanthias says 'Then I woke up.'
The philosopher Aristotle names the eirôn in his Nicomachean Ethics, where he says: "in the form of understatement, self-deprecation, and its possessor the self-deprecator" (1108a12). In this passage, Aristotle establishes the eirôn as one of the main characters of comedy, along with the alazôn.
The modern term irony is derived from the eirôn of the classical Greek theatre. Irony entails opposition (not mere difference) between the actual meaning and the apparent meaning of something. The eirôn would frequently triumph over the alazôn by understating his own abilities.
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