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 Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 413. The manuscript, which is possibly incomplete, is untitled, and the play's name comes from the name of its protagonist. It is approximately dated to the second century, and the play was probably performed in Egypt, where the manuscript was found.
The play alludes to earlier texts such as Iphigenia in Tauris and Odyssey. Charition (Χαριτίων), the protagonist, is a Greek girl held captive at a temple in India (like Iphigenia), and her brother comes to her rescue. The Greeks escape by get the Indian king drunk, an element possibly borrowed from Odyssey. The introduction of humorous elements suggest that it may originally have been written as a spoof. 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.
Chariton, a beautiful Greek girl, is captured by (or sold to) the king of a coastal kingdom in India. The king keeps her at the temple of the moon goddess (as a temple girl or a priestess). A Greek search party, including her brother and a jester, arrives to rescue her, after crossing the Indian Ocean. As Chariton, her brother and the fool are discussing their escape, a group of Indian women returning from a hunt encounter them. The jester defends the Greeks with his farts. He asks Chariton to steal items from the temple, but she refuses arguing that robbery would make the gods angry. On the brother's suggestion, the Greeks serve wine to the Indian king and his subjects, intoxicating them. The characters, including the king, then perform a dance for the moon goddess. The Greeks then discuss tying up the king, who has tripped over (as suggested by loud drums at the end of the music). The end of the play is lost, but the Greeks escape to their ship.
Indian language dialogues
One of the most interesting features of the skit is the appearance of a number of characters who speak dialogues in an unknown language. This language may partly or wholly represent a Dravidian language of South India. It was included as amusing gibberish for the contemporary audience, who did not understand it.
Shortly after the papyrus' modern 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. His findings were criticised by others at the time for being speculative, but even most of Hultzsch's critics accepted that the language must have been a Dravidian language.
- Apart from Hultzsch, B. A. Saletore's explanation of the locale of the story and Shastri's analysis of the language of the play 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.
- According to the Indian scholars Shivaprasad Rai (1985) and U. Padmanabha Upadhyaya (1996), the Indian language used in the play is Tulu. Manohar Laxman Varadpande identified the kingdom mentioned in the play with Malpe (which lies in the Tulu Nadu region).
- M.Z. Thattunkal's hypothesis is that the Indian languages might be Sanskrit and Malayalam.
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.
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- Hultzsch, E. (1904), "Remarks on a papyrus from Oxyrhynchus," Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1904: 399-405.
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- Varadpande, Manohar Laxman (1987). History of Indian theatre, Volume 1. Abhinav Publications. p. 260. ISBN 978-81-7017-221-5.
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- Manohar Laxman Varadpande (2014). Ancient Indian and Indo-Greek Theatre. Abhinav. p. 98.
- Thattunkal, Zachariah Mani, Charition Greek Drama and the Christians of Kerala (2013)