Two Plays of Menander: The Rape of the Locks, the Arbitration

Two Plays of Menander: The Rape of the Locks, the Arbitration

Two Plays of Menander: The Rape of the Locks, the Arbitration

Two Plays of Menander: The Rape of the Locks, the Arbitration

Excerpt

One of the most conspicuous gaps in our salvage of Greek literature is the loss of the plays of Menander, the most famous representative of the "New Comedy." Born in 342 B.C., about 140 years after Euripides, 80 years after Plato, 40 after Aristotle, he was a contemporary of Epicurus and Zeno the Stoic. Like Sophocles he wrote over a hundred plays. Like Euripides he was not successful with the official judges, but attained, over their heads as it were, immense and lasting fame throughout the Hellenic world. Anthologies are extant purporting to give famous apophthegms and "single verses" of Menander. The quotations from him collected in Kock Comicorum Fragmenta number over 1,100. The Roman stage of the first century B.C. subsisted entirely on translations or adaptations of the New Comedy, somewhat blunted or coarsened to suit Roman taste, and Terence in particular based himself on Menander. Indeed, if Aeschylus is called the inventor of tragedy, Menander or his older contemporary, Philêmon, may be considered the inventor of polite comedy in the modern sense.

At the beginning of this century it looked as if the great gap was perhaps going to be filled. Papyrus manuscripts began to be discovered in Egypt, and in 1907 M. Lefèvre of the French Institute in Cairo published one containing 34 pages of Menander. Five plays were represented, none of them complete or nearly complete. The find was extremely tantalizing.

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