The City as Comedy: Society and Representation in Athenian Drama

By Gregory W. Dobrov | Go to book overview

TIMOTHY P. HOFMEISTER


αἱ πα + ̑σαι πόλεις
Polis and Oikoumenê in Menander

Where then is the polis in Menander? For some time it has been assumed that in Menander the polis is not present. After Athens had mostly ceased to project its power, or even in some instances to rule itself without outside interference, Menander turned away, it is said, from the depressing political failure of the city-state. The stage of New Comedy no longer reflected the enterprise of a dynamic, hegemonistic Athens; its world entailed instead a widely spread network of Greeks, which was forged in the expedition of Alexander and shaped by his successors. 1

New Comedy reveals this changed background most by confining itself within a sharply restricted foreground. The setting of its plays represents a stereotypical locale found anywhere, purportedly, in the cities of an increasingly homogeneous Hellenistic world. The plots elaborate a variety of universal concerns about marriages, property, citizen rights, and relations within families and between neighbors, while characters enact common traits of personality (impetuosity, avarice, naiveté) and basic biological and social roles (father, neighbor, master). Comedy has exchanged the parochial for the ecumenical. Consider the first plays (of those extant) of Aristophanes and Menander, Acharnians and Dyskolos, for example. In the former, Dikaiopolis, the sooty Acharnians whom he defies, and the Boeotians and starving Megarians whom he welcomes into his entrepôt all have identities that are geographically and historically particular; in Dyskolos, by contrast, two pairs of fathers and (step)sons, Kallipedes and Sostratos, Knemon and Gorgias, individually represent certain

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