The line between old and middle comedy is not very clearly marked, Aristophanes and others of the latest writers of the one becoming the earliest writers of the other. The latter was indeed merely an offshoot of the former, but differed from it in three essential particulars: it had no chorus, public characters were not personated on the stage, and the objects of its ridicule were general rather than personal, literary rather than political. The one was caricature and lampoon, the other was criticism and review.
The period of the middle comedy extended from the close of the Peloponnesian war to the enthralment of Athens by Philip of Macedon; that is to say, from the closing years of the fifth to nearly the middle of the fourth century B.C. It was extremely prolific in plays, but not especially so in genius. The favorite themes were the literary and social peculiarities of the day, which, together with the prominent systems of philosophy, were treated with light and not ill-natured ridicule. The grandest tragedies of Æschylus and Sophocles, the noblest passages of Homer, and the most beautiful lyrics of Pindar and Simonides were freely parodied, and in the same way were treated subjects taken directly from ancient mythology. In dealing with society, classes rather than individuals were attacked, as courtesans, parasites, revellers, and especially the self-conceited cook, who, with his parade of culinary science, was always a favorite target for the shafts of middle comedy.
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