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An Encyclopedia of Greek Comedy
Alan H. Sommerstein, University of Nottingham
Early in 2013 I accepted the ambitious task of editing the Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Greek Comedy – a counterpart to the Encyclopedia of Greek Tragedy recently published under the editorship of Hanna Roisman, to which I had made a small contribution. By November I had finalized the table of contents and recruited nearly two hundred contributors from twenty-two countries (including twenty-six from Italy, which supplied more contributors than any other country except the UK and USA), and before very long the articles were beginning to come in. It is too soon to be able to say that the project is running to schedule (or that it is not), but both the publishers and the editor hope that the Encyclopedia will appear (both in print and online) during 2016.
The Encyclopedia will consist of three volumes and will contain more than 1300 articles, ranging in length from 5000 words (Aristophanes) to 50 or less (many articles on minor comic dramatists, often known from a single epigraphic reference). They will of course be ordered alphabetically, but from a commissioning editor's point of view they fall into a dozen categories.
1. Authors and Directors: two hundred and thirty comic dramatists and didaskaloi, ranging in time from the possibly mythical Susarion to the Christian bishop Synesius, and in fame from Aristophanes and Menander to Theochares, who won three first prizes at the City Dionysia in the early fourth century BCE and was never heard of again until a few decades ago when a new fragment of the Dionysian victor-list was identified.
2. Plays: articles on fifty-three comedies (including all that are fully or largely extant, and fragmentary plays which for one reason or another are of special importance) by Epicharmus, Cratinus, Eupolis, Aristophanes, Menander, and Apollodorus of Carystus (the originals of Terence's Phormio and Hecyra).
3. Persons or types of person who appear or are mentioned in comedy: this section, with more than 260 entries, covers three subcategories:
(a) Significant named characters in comedies (e.g. Dicaeopolis, Lysistrata, Knemon). In those cases, mostly but not entirely in New Comedy, especially, where fictitious characters in different plays are given the same name, all bearers of the name are discussed in a single article; this is not meant to prejudge the question of whether such characters have anything in common beyond their name.
(b) Character-types such as old men, female slaves, cooks, hetairai, etc.; where these types appear in comedies of different periods, there are sometimes separate articles for each period – the profile of an old man in Aristophanes is something very different from the profile of an old man in Menander.
(c) Komodoumenoi, real-life individuals who appear on stage in a comedy (e.g. Euripides, Socrates, Meton, or the long-dead Aristeides) or – much more often – are mentioned, usually in a disparaging fashion, in its script (e.g. Philocles the tragic poet, the politician Agyrrhius, or his grandson Callimedon "the Crayfish"). The following draft (it is only a draft) will give some idea of what one type of entry in class (a) might look like; small capitals signal a cross-reference to another article.
Xanthias ("Blondie") is the name of a SLAVE in five plays of ARISTOPHANES (ACHARNIANS, CLOUDS, WASPS, BIRDS and FROGS). In other comedy the name appears only in a fragment of his younger contemporary CEPHISODORUS (fr. 3) and in a wordlist that includes several New Comedy character-names (CGFP 106.118), though another name referring to hair color, PYRRHIAS, is borne by at least three slaves in MENANDER and one in TERENCE. The slaves named Xanthias in Acharnians and Birds are non-speaking characters who exist only to receive and carry out orders; likewise the Xanthias of Clouds (1485), unless he is the slave who flees from a threatened beating at 58 having spoken a line and a half. In Wasps Xanthias at first acts as a PROTATIC CHARACTER, but he remains a significant presence throughout the play, assisting BDELYCLEON in his attempts to control and then to re-educate his father PHILOCLEON, and serving as the main interface between action and audience in the last scene (1474-1515) – in which Bdelycleon does not appear – as he did in the first. Xanthias in Frogs is a far more important character, in part because he is the only living human in the play (everyone else being either a GOD or an ANIMAL or a departed soul): he has often been seen, together with KARION in WEALTH, as foreshadowing the active, plot-shaping slaves of NEW COMEDY (Dover 1972, 206; Akrigg 2013).
He accompanies DIONYSUS almost throughout his journey to the underworld, often exposing the god’s many inadequacies, especially his cowardice. Twice he takes over from Dionysus the club and lion-skin of Heracles, when Dionysus is fearful of arrest and punishment on account of Heracles’ past underworld misdeeds. This eventually enables him to turn the tables on his master by treating him as his slave and having him flogged (Xanthias is flogged himself too, but he is used to it), and Dionysus dare not punish him for this (741-3). He acts as a protatic character in the “second prologue” (738-813) which precedes the AESCHYLUS-EURIPIDES contest. He is not present during the contest itself, but may reappear as a silent character in the final scene, attending Aeschylus and carrying the instruments of death which PLUTO gives the dramatist for distribution to CLEOPHON and others (Sommerstein 1996, 295, who remarks that “Xanthias, the lowly character for ever debunking his superiors, has represented better than anyone in the play the spirit of comedy”).
4. Varieties of comedy (and related genres): major articles on Old, Middle and New Comedy, and others on Megarian and Sicilian comedy and other related kinds of performance (mime, phlyakes, deikelistai etc.)
5. Environments: this section, with eighty-nine entries in all, includes places where comedy is known to have been performed, festivals at which it is known to have been performed, gods honoured at these festivals, and one or two outstanding human patrons (such as Demosthenes of Oenoanda). Away from Athens the major articles are on Sicily and southern Italy, plus Delos, Delphi and Rome.
6. Theater and Performance: eighty-five entries on the theatrical and competitive settings of Greek comedy and on aspects of its production and performance; the biggest are "audience", "chorus", "costumes", "masks" and "Theatre of Dionysus".
7. Composition and Technique: linguistic, literary, poetic, musical, etc., aspects of comedy – 144 articles, including "characterization", "joke patterns", "love", "parabasis", "paratragedy", "plot structure", "properties", "recognition", "rejuvenation", "songs", "utopias" and "values, ethical".
8. Comedy and Society: aspects of the real or imaginary world of those by and for whom comedy was written, and how they are reflected or refracted in comedy – 112 articles, including "citizenship", "demagogues", "elite and masses", "festivals", "food", "friendship and enmity", "gender", "inheritance", "mystery-cults", "peace and war", "philosophy" and "town and country" (to mention only a dozen of the 33 articles of 1000 words or more).
9. Comedy and Literature: the reception by comedy of various forms of poetry and prose literature – 22 articles, including two on tragedy and three or four on comedy's reception of… comedy (the comedy of previous generations, of contemporary rivals, and – not least – comic dramatists' "reception" of their own earlier works).
10. Transmission: 65 articles on aspects of the process by which comic texts and fragments were preserved and transmitted – or were not: on scholars from Callimachus to Gustave Lefebvre (first editor of the Cairo codex of Menander and Eupolis) and on such topics as the ancient book-trade, medieval manuscripts, scholia, textual criticism, and the loss and recovery of Menander.
11. Reception: responses to Greek comedy at all periods from the dramatists’ nearcontemporaries to the present day. This is the most varied section, and one of the largest (230 entries); a dip into the list at fairly regular intervals yields Alexander the Great, Mikhail Bakhtin, the emperor Claudius, the modern Greek director Spyros Evangelatos, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the Lysistrata Project, the Elizabethan dramatist Thomas Nashe, Plato, modern productions (in 13 regions of the world), schools, television adaptations, and Richard Wagner.
12. Critical Approaches: modern methods of literary analysis and criticism, and how they can be / have been applied to Greek comedy.
All articles will be in English; I have made myself responsible for translating those which are submitted in other languages. I trust this work will become a valuable tool for specialists and non-specialists alike.
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