MENANDER AND HIS COMEDIES

This document was originally published in The Drama: Its History, Literature and Influence on Civilization, vol. 2. ed. Alfred Bates. London: Historical Publishing Company, 1906. pp. 75-76.

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Menander, the son of Diopeithes, a well-known general, was born at Athens, B.C. 342. He passed his youth in the house of his uncle and received from him and from Theophrastus instruction in poetry and philosophy, probably deriving from the latter in some measure the knowledge of character for which he was noted. His first comedy was produced when he was twenty-one years of age, and from that time until his death, which occurred some thirty years later while bathing in the harbor of the Piraeus, he wrote more than a hundred plays, eight of them winning the prize. He was a disciple of the Epicurean school, and is described by Phaedrus as an effeminate voluptuary, while his amours with the courtesan, Glycera, were notorious. Menander is accepted as the best writer of the comedy of manners among the Greeks. We have a few specimens of the ingenuity of his plots in some of the plays of Terence, whom Julius Caesar used to call a demi-Menander. He was an imitator of Euripides, and we may infer from what Quintilian says of him that his comedies differed from the tragi-comedies of that poet only in the absence of mythical subjects and a chorus. Like Euripides, he was a good rhetorician, and Quintilian is inclined to attribute to him some orations published in the name of Charisius. The every-day life of his countrymen, and manners and characters of ordinary occurrence, were the objects of his imitation. His plots, though skillfully contrived, are somewhat monotonous, and there are few of his comedies which do not bring on the stage a harsh father, a profligate son and a roguish slave. Yet he was greatly esteemed in Athens, where a statue was erected to his memory in the theatre of Dionysus.

NOTE: Since the publication of this article, the complete text of Dyskolos, a play by Menander, has been rediscovered. It is the only example of New Comedy to have survived in its entirety. A few long fragments by Menander have survived as well from such plays as The Arbitration, The Girl from Samos, The Shorn Girl, and The Hero.

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