The City as Comedy: Society and Representation in Athenian Drama

By Gregory W. Dobrov | Go to book overview

HEINZ-GüNTHER NESSELRATH
The Polis of Athens in Middle Comedy

Greek comedy has always been one of the most valuable sources for investigating and reconstructing the life of that Greek polis where most of the plays about which we still know something were written and performed: Athens. Within the roughly 250 years of development that Athenian comedy went through, the depiction of Athenian life changed considerably. In the so-called Old Comedy we get a really broad, all-encompassing view of Athens and its inhabitants, of their public and private life, of the functioning of their political institutions, and of their numerous involvements with the outside world. In New Comedy many of these aspects have either vanished completely or have been reduced to a minimum: what we now usually see is a quiet street in some residential quarter of Athens, with a few people pursuing their private lives and having to cope with some temporary disturbances that befall them, Of politics we hear almost nothing, and the only contact with the big outside world--in most cases--may be a pompous mercenary soldier who blunders into this little bourgeois world and usually plays a prominent part in its temporary disruption.

Between Old and New Comedy, there lie six to eight decades of what is usually called Middle Comedy What does Athens look like in the comic plays of this period? Answering this question is much more difficult than for either Old or New Comedy, because instead of complete plays (as in Old Comedy) or nearly complete plays (as in New) we have to make do with a mass of mostly unconnected and unconnectable fragments, which in very many cases look

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