Comic Angels: And Other Approaches to Greek Drama through Vase-Paintings

Comic Angels: And Other Approaches to Greek Drama through Vase-Paintings

Comic Angels: And Other Approaches to Greek Drama through Vase-Paintings

Comic Angels: And Other Approaches to Greek Drama through Vase-Paintings


This book opens a neglected chapter in the reception of Athenian drama, especially comedy, and gives center stage to a particularly attractive and entertaining series of vase-paintings which have generally been regarded as marginal curiosities. These are the so-called "phylax vases," nearly all painted in Greek cities of South Italy in the period 400 to 360 B.C. Until now, they have been taken to reflect a sort of local folk-theater, but Taplin argues that most, if not all, reflect Athenian comedy of the sort represented by Aristophanes. His bold thesis brings up questions about the relation of tragedy as well as comedy to vase painting, the cultural climate of the Greek cities in Italy, and the extent to which Athenians were aware of drama as a potential "export." It also enriches appreciation of many key aspects of Aristophanic comedy. The book has assembled 46 photographs of vase-paintings, many printed here for the first time outside specialist publications not readily accessible.


Most of this book was written in one year. This was partly because of the limited time afforded by a British Academy Research Readership, but also partly because I wanted to respond promptly to important new vase-paintings, the latest first published in August 1991. I am grateful to Hilary O'Shea of Oxford University Press for seeing the point of a hot rather than a cool, if more considered, reaction.

I hope that this haste is not damaging. There are two ramifications of the subject which I have reluctantly left unexplored for lack of time. One is New comedy: I have stopped my coverage of texts at about 330 bc, which is about the time when the relevant vases cease production. Secondly there are the comic terracotta figurines (on which see p. 10). I am fairly confident that, while both of these would yield interesting relevant material, neither would radically change the picture.

I have been very fortunate to find expert colleagues who were willing to read the whole typescript and to let me have their comments; between them they have greatly improved the book, and purged some error. So I am indebted to Professors Eric Csapo (Toronto), Dick (J. R.) Green (Sydney), Eric Handley (Cambridge), Michael Silk (London), Bert (R. R. R.) Smith (New York), and Dr Christiane Sourvinou-Inwood (Oxford). Professor Green has been generous in letting me see an important unpublished article. I should also like to thank Ewen Bowie, Sir John Boardman, Peter Brown, Madeline Littlewood, Jean-Marc Moret, Robin Osborne, Nicholas Purcell, Adele Scafuro, and Greg Woolf There are yet more debts in the acknowledgements for the plates.

I also feel special gratitude to Professor Dale Trendall. Although I have come to his sovereign province as an outsider, and to some extent a dissenter, he has given me unstinting encouragement. He has also been very helpful in letting me see the proofs of forthcoming publications and in supplying photographs that I could not have obtained from elsewhere.

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