Ancient Greek Comedy

Mosaic with Theatrical Masks, from Villa Adriana, Lazio

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Aristotle describes the genre of comedy and especially 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.

Also Known As: Attic Comedy

Types of Greek Comedy

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.

The Lenaea Festival

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.

Sources:

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