Greek comedy

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The Greek comedy is a literary genre of stage works with mostly comic effects and usually a happy ending. The Greek comedy and the Greek tragedy establish the long tradition of comedy and tragedy in Europe, the most important genres of European drama . A conflict is often designed in comedy that exposes supposed values ​​or exposes human weaknesses and the solution of which causes laughter. It's hard to clearly define comedy. Even the comic has limited validity as a main feature, since comedy also includes combinations with serious or absurd genres such as tragic comedy or the grotesque .

The content of a Greek comedy is (in the time of the Old Comedy) the mocking confrontation with prominent citizens or well-known personalities. The theme is to tell stories from the life of the polis . The task of a comedy is to impart certain values ​​through laughter (to be taught something through laughter).

The comedy, like the tragedy, arose from the cult of Dionysus , with phallo-bearers singing songs in honor of Dionysus in order to exert a vegetation magic. The Doric comedy, of which Epicharmus of Kos was the most important representative, was partly based on this tradition . Since 488 BC There were the first performances of comedies in Athens , which two years later expanded into annual poetry competitions, the Lenées in January / February and the Dionysia in March / April.

The further development of comedy can be roughly divided into old comedy and new comedy.

Old comedy

Kratinos is considered to be the founder of Attic comedy . With his humor and ridicule, he laid the foundation for other comedy poets such as Hermippus and Eupolis . The most famous poet of this time is Aristophanes (around 448 - 385 BC). With his satires and caricatures such as B. by Socrates in his play " Clouds " he inspired the audience and criticized at the same time political conditions and scientific currents.

The representatives of the old comedy are also known from the winners lists, some of which have been handed down to us, in which the following poets are most frequently named:

  • Magnes: 11 victories at Lenaen and Dionysia
  • Kratinos : 3 victories in the Lenaen, 6 victories in the Dionysia
  • Telekleides: 5 victories at the Lenées, 3 victories at the Dionysia
  • Eupolis : 3 victories in the Lenaen, 4 victories in the Dionysia
  • Aristophanes : at least 4 victories in the Lenaen, at least 2 victories in the Dionysia
  • Hermippus : 4 victories in the Lenaen, at least 1 victory in the Dionysia
  • Phrynichos : 2 victories in the Lenaen, at least 1 victory in the Dionysia
  • Pherekrates : 2 victories in the Lenaeans, 1 victory in the Dionysia
  • Ameipsias : at least 1 victory in the Dionysia
  • Plato : at least 1 victory in the Dionysia

New comedy

With the rule of Macedonian kings in later times, democracy and freedom of speech were over. As a result, the poet could no longer use allusions to people or caricatures in his plays. So the content shifted from biting satire to depicting different types of people.

The most important poet of this time was Menander (around 342/41 - 291/90).

Scenic representation

One of the problems with research on comedy is to find out exactly how the plays were performed. The problem here is that in the original text only the individual dialogue parts have been handed down, no stage directions or other references that say anything about the representation. This can be shown by the example of the clouds of Aristophanes , where in the original Greek text there are several jumps in the plot, for example when Strepsiades decides to go into the phrontisterion of Socrates . The transition at this point takes place in just two verses:

ἀλλ 'εὐξάμενος τοῖσιν θεοῖς διδάξομαι
αὐτὸς βαδίζων εἰς τὸ φροντιστήριον.
πῶς οὖν γέρων ὢν κἀπιλήσμων καὶ βραδὺς
λόγων ἀκριβῶν σκινδαλάμους μαθήσομαι;

But, by the gods, I want to be taught
by going into phrontisterion myself
So how am I, the forgetful and slow old man that I am,
to learn the subtleties of precise words?
(Aristophanes, clouds v. 127-130)

It is to be assumed that Strepsiades arrives at the phrontisterion with or after speaking of verse 128. But what the actor did on stage and how much time actually passed during the performance of the play remains unclear. Unfortunately, there is almost no archaeological evidence on this question , as the ancient theaters in earlier times were mostly made of wood and have therefore not been preserved for posterity.

Editions and translations


  • Gregory W. Dobrov (Ed.): Brill's Companion to the Study of Greek Comedy . Brill, Leiden and Boston 2010, ISBN 978-90-04-10963-6
  • David Harvey, John Wilkins (Eds.): The Rivals of Aristophanes. Studies in Athenian Old Comedy . Duckworth, London 2000, ISBN 0-7156-3045-8
  • James F. McGlew: Citizens on Stage. Comedy and Political Culture in the Athenian Democracy . The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor 2002, ISBN 0-472-11285-6
  • Heinz-Günther Nesselrath : The Attic medium comedy. Your position in ancient literary criticism and literary history . De Gruyter, Berlin and New York 1990, ISBN 3-11-012196-4
  • Peter Reinders: Demos Pyknites. Investigations into the representation of the demo in the old comedy . Stuttgart and Weimar 2001, ISBN 3-476-45269-7 (also dissertation Düsseldorf 1999)
  • Alan H. Sommerstein: Talking about Laughter and other studies in Greek comedy . Oxford University Press, Oxford 2009, ISBN 978-0-19-955419-5
  • Bernhard Zimmermann : The extra-Attic comedy. The Attic Comedy . In: Bernhard Zimmermann (Hrsg.): Handbook of the Greek literature of antiquity , Volume 1: The literature of the archaic and classical times . CH Beck, Munich 2011, ISBN 978-3-406-57673-7 , pp. 664-800
  • Bernhard Zimmermann: The Greek Comedy . Verlag Antike, Frankfurt a. M. 2006, ISBN 978-3-938032-10-7