Samia (play)

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A scene from Act 4 of Menander's Samia on a mosaic (late 3rd or early 4th century AD)

Samia (Greek: Σαμία), translated as The Girl From Samos, or The Marriage Connection, is an Ancient Greek comedy by Menander, it is the second most extant play with up to 116 lines missing compared to Dyskolos’s 39. The date of its first performance is unknown, with 315 B.C. and 309 B.C. being two suggested dates. [1] The surviving text of Samia comes from the Cairo Codex found in 1907 and the Bodmer Papyri from 1952.

Plot[edit]

Samia takes place in a street in Athens, outside the houses of Demeas, a wealthy bachelor, and Nikeratos, his less wealthy business partner. Prior to the events in the play Demeas had taken in a Samian girl, Chrysis, as his mistress despite misgivings. Chrysis becomes pregnant and was under orders from Demeas to dispose of the illegitimate child. At the same time Moschion, the adopted son of Demeas, seduced the daughter of Nikeratos, Plangon, and she too is pregnant. Both babies are born around the same time, however Chrysis' dies and she takes Plangon's to nurse instead.

These events are narrated in a prologue speech by Moschion, at the outset of the play Nikeratos and Demeas are away on a business trip. When the play begins Chrysis is overhearing a conversation between Moschion and his father's servant Parmenon regarding the return of Nikeratos and Demeas. Moschion is nervous about facing his father as he wishes to ask his father's permission to marry Nikeratos' daughter. When the two men return from their trip they have already made just such a marriage arrangement for Moschion and Plangon. Demeas finds the child within his house and believing it to be Chrysis', kept against his will, wishes to expel her from his house. Moschion convinces him to keep the child and broaches the question of marriage. Demeas is pleased at Moschion's willingness to go along with his plan and they agree to have the wedding that very day. However in the course of preparations Demeas overhears Moschion's nurse remarking that the child is Moschion's and seeing Chrysis breastfeeding the child is sufficient to convince him that Moschion has had an affair with his mistress.

Demeas consults Parmenon about it but his anger frightens the servant into silence and he is unable to gain any reliable information. The aggression of Demeas and the fear of Parmenon result in a misunderstanding as Parmenon admits the child is Moschion's but does not reveal that the mother is Plangon, and that Chrysis is only nursing it. Demeas, not wishing to blame Moschion, accuses Chrysis of seducing him. When he confronts Chrysis there is a further misunderstanding as Demeas, wishing to keep the scandal secret, does not explicitly say he believes she seduced Moschion, instead he evicts her from his house because she kept the baby.

Nikeratos takes pity on Chrysis and escorts Chrysis into his house and takes a mediating role. However he, like Demeas, also possesses only half the truth. He questions Moschion who informs Nikeratos that Demeas has evicted Chrysis and eagerly tries to hurry ahead the wedding plans despite the current turmoil. Demeas arrives and Moschion and Nikeratos both question him about Chrysis, they both wish for her to be returned to the house. However, Demeas’ unspoken assumption about Moschion and Chrysis having an affair causes him to become enraged yet again. Demeas then admits that he knows the child is Moschion's but again, does not mention Chrysis. This specific misunderstanding ignites a debate between the three men, with Nikeratos leaving to remove Chrysis from his house as he has been led to believe the same as Demeas. At this point Moschion admits to his seduction of Plangon to them and that the child is theirs.

This revelation ends the conflict between Demeas and Moschion, however Nikeratos returns after having seen his own daughter feeding the baby. Moschion flees the scene and Nikeratos, believing that his wife and daughter have turned against him in support of Chrysis, goes to kill them. Chrysis flees from his house carrying the baby and Demeas ushers her into his own. He then proceeds to placate Nikeratos and convinces him to proceed with the marriage as planned.

Despite being reconciled with his adoptive father Moschion is upset that Demeas would think to accuse him of seducing Chrysis, he decides that he is going to leave Athens and join the military. However, after a comic scene with Parmenon Demeas arrives and confronts Moschion, apologizing for the assumptions he made. Nikeratos also arrives and there is a brief altercation as the old man believes Moschion is trying to run away from the wedding. This is quickly put to rest and the marriage proceeds as planned.

Discussion[edit]

Moschion's prologue[edit]

In contrast to Dyskolos, Epitrepontes, Perikeiromene and other, more fragmentary plays, the prologue of Samia is given by a human character. By having Moschion deliver the opening exposition the audience is given a subjective opinion, not objective divine omniscience. This is a more technically sophisticated method, but its suitability depends on the plot of the play. Given that this is a play driven by miscommunication between characters, the bias of this prologue highlights the distinction between what Moschion lead us to expect and what actually takes place. Furthermore, Moschion knows all the cast of Samia as they are his family and neighbors and therefore he can introduce them all, whereas in Dyskolos a divinity is needed as no human character can introduce all those involved to an audience. [2]

Social and legal context[edit]

Samia, like much of New Comedy operates in a social sphere, drawing on legal and social practice to provide the plot. The social misdemeanor that sets the events of the play in motion at a fast pace is Moschion's seduction of Plangon. [3] Although Moschion formally confirms that the child is his own, it is illegitimate. An illegitimate child within a play by Menander must be made legitimate by the conclusion as it is required by the natural justice of the play. The legal device used here, and also in Epitrepontes, is that a child conceived by a couple prior to their wedding will become legitimate after the wedding, hence why Moschion acts with such haste to ensure the marriage takes place before his actions are discovered.

However, the fate of the child is entirely ignored by Menander in the closing scene, forcing scholars to speculate about its future. Two different viewpoints have been adopted. The child could be returned to its natural parents or stay in the care of Chrysis. [4] The reasons for Menander's silence on the matter could stem from a lack of dramatic interest in the child or from conclusions that were self-evident to an ancient audience but not a modern one.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ T.B.L. Webster offers 321-319 B.C. as the date for the performance of Samia based upon the evacuation of Samos as a potential inspiration for the plot and the mention of Chairephon and Androkles within the text.
  2. ^ For a detailed comparison of the divine prologue of Dyskolos and the human prologue of Samia see S. Ireland (1992), pp. 3-4 and 34-5.
  3. ^ It is important to note that although within the text of Samia the suggestion of rape is not explicit, within the worlds of Menander a respectable girl, like Plangon, would never voluntarily engage in pre-marital sex.
  4. ^ For a detailed assessment of both viewpoints see S.Ireland (1992), p.61-2

References[edit]

  • Ireland, S. (1992). Menander Dyskolos, Samia and Other Plays. Bristol Classical Press. 
  • Miller, N (1987). Menander: Plays and Fragments. Penguin Books. 
  • Webster, T.L.B. (1974). An introduction to Menander. Manchester University Press.