Ancient Greek Comedy

What Is Ancient Greek Comedy?

Theatrical masks of comedy and tragedy on Roman mosaic.
Theatrical masks of comedy and tragedy on Roman mosaic.


Aristotle describes the genre of comedy in his , especially as to how it differs from tragedy. Among other distinctions, Aristotle says comedy represents men as worse than they are in real life, whereas tragedy shows them better. Tragedy uses real people, whereas comedy uses stereotypes. Aristotle says the plot for comedy came originally from Sicily.

Greek comedy is divided into Old, Middle, and New Comedy. Aristophanes is the author of the earliest Old Comedy we possess, The Acharnians, produced in 425. Middle Comedy (c.400-c.323) ran from roughly the end of the Peloponnesian War until the death of Alexander the Great. No complete plays from this period survive. New Comedy (c.323-c.263) is exemplified by Menander.

In ancient Athens, there were annual competitions not only in tragedy but also in comedy at the City Dionysia, starting in 486 B.C. The Lenaea festival started having comedy competitions in 440. There were normally 5 comedies that competed, but during the Peloponnesian War, the number was reduced to 3. Unlike the writers of tragedy who put on a series of 4 plays, the writers of comedy produced one comedy apiece.


  • "Comedy" The Concise Oxford Companion to Classical Literature. Ed. M.C. Howatson and Ian Chilvers. Oxford University Press, 1996.
  • Aristotle Poetics

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Also Known As: Attic Comedy