From Homer to Menander: Forces in Greek Poetic Fiction

By L. A. Post | Go to book overview

VIII
The Comedy of Menander

ATHENIAN tragedy was most harsh in its view of the divine just at the end of the Periclean Age, when the Oedipus Tyrannus of Sophocles and the Hippolytus of Euripides appeared. Both are in great part tragedies of misunderstanding and rashness, and of peripety, or turning the tables, and in both of them events seem to be intentionally designed by some god to destroy an innocent victim. Sophocles enhances the spectator's sense of the insecurity of life by bringing no visible god into the argument, and in his masterpiece there is a confusion of identity that does not appear in the play of Euripides. In his work there is a misunderstanding of facts and motives that leads Hippolytus to condemn Phaedra unheard, and Theseus to condemn Hippolytus unheard. There is also peripety in both plays in the sense that both heroes are instrumental in bringing about their own downfall. Aristotle strongly approves both the unhappy ending for tragedy and the play with complex plot in which events are artfully made to produce results that surprise the characters, while the audience can see on reflection that causal relations have been such as to make the result probable or inevitable. This is the kind of plot that is more philosophical than history, for history as a rule lacks the neat timing and subtle irony of the productions of art. There is more poetic justice in fiction than in real life. If Aristotle had not insisted on treating plot and character as two separate things, he might have included the play with psychological discovery in his category of the complex. But for Aristotle psychology belongs to character, not to plot. Hence a plot that confines itself to psychological motivation is not for Aristotle complex, and it does not provide the kind of surprises that Aristotle prefers both in tragedy

-214-

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From Homer to Menander: Forces in Greek Poetic Fiction
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • To Five Great Teachers v
  • Preface vii
  • Contents ix
  • 1- The Pattern of Success 1
  • II- The Tragic Pattern of the Iliad 27
  • III- The Social Consciousness of Aeschylus 56
  • IV- Sophoclean Tragedy 88
  • V- Euripidean Tragedy 122
  • VI- Propaganda, Idealism, and Romance 156
  • VII- Vacillation, Burlesque, and Variety 186
  • VIII- The Comedy of Menander 214
  • IX- Aristotle and the Philosophy of Fiction 245
  • Notes 271
  • Index 323
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