Epicharmus of Kos

Epicharmus of Kos in Wikipedia

Epicharmus (Ancient Greek: Ἐπίχαρμος) is considered to have lived within the hundred year period between c. 540 and c. 450 BC. He was a Greek dramatist and philosopher often credited with being one of the first comic writers, having originated the Doric or Sicilian comedic form[1]. Aristotle (Poetics 5 1449b5 [2]) writes that he and Phormis invented comic plots (muthos).[3] Most of the information we have about Epicharmus comes from the writings of Athenaeus, Suda and Diogenes Laertius, but fragments and comments come up in a host of other ancient authors as well. There have also been some papyrus finds of longer sections of text, but these are often so full of holes that it is difficult to make sense of them. Plato mentions Epicharmus in his dialogue Gorgias [4] and in Theaetetus. In the latter, Socrates refers to Epicharmus as "the prince of Comedy", Homer as "the prince of Tragedy", and both as "great masters of either kind of poetry".[5] More references by ancient authors can be found discussed in Pickard-Cambridge's Dithyramb, Tragedy, Comedy [6] and they are collected in Greek in Kassel and Austin's new edition of the fragments in Poetae Comici Graeci, (2001). Life and work Epicharmus' birth place is not known, but late and fairly unreliable ancient commentators suggest a number of alternatives. The Suda (E 2766) records that he was either Syracusan by birth or from the Sikanian city of Krastos. Diogenes Laertius (VIII 78) records that Epicharmus was born in Astypalea, the ancient capital of Kos on the Bay of Kamari, near modern-day Kefalos. Diogenes Laertius also records that his father, was the prominent physician Helothales, moved the family to Megara, Sicily when Epicharmus was just a few months old. Although raised according to the Asclepiad tradition of his father, as an adult Epicharmus became a follower of Pythagoras.[7] All of this biographical information could be treated as suspect. More references to alternative origins and discussion of their likelihood can be found in Pickard-Cambridge's Tragedy, Comedy, Dithyramb, and more recently in Rodriguez Noriega Guillen's Epicarmo di Siracusa: Testimonios y Fragmentos.[8] The standard edition of his fragments by Kaibel has now been updated with the publication of Kassel and Austin's Poetae Comici Graeci. It is most likely that sometime after 484 BC, he lived in Syracuse, and worked as a poet for the tyrants Gelo and Hiero I. The subject matter of his poetry covered a broad range, from exhortations against intoxication and laziness to such unorthodox topics as mythological burlesque, but he also wrote on philosophy, medicine, natural science, linguistics, and ethics. Among many other philosophical and moral lessons, Epicharmus taught that the continuous exercise of virtue could overcome heredity, so that anyone had the potential to be a good person regardless of birth. He died in his 90s (according to a statement in Lucian [9], he died at ninety-seven). Diogenes Laertius records that there was a bronze statue dedicated to him in Syracuse, by the inhabitants, for which Theocritus composed the following inscription [10]: "As the bright sun excels the other stars, As the sea far exceeds the river streams: So does sage Epicharmus men surpass, Whom hospitable Syracuse has crowned." Theocritus Epigram 18 (AP IX 60; Kassel and Austin Test. 18) is also written in his honor. Works Epicharmus wrote somewhere between thirty-five and fifty-two comedies, though many have been lost or exist only in fragments. Along with his contemporary Phormis, he was alternately praised or denounced for ridiculing the great mythic heroes. His two most famous works were Agrostinos which dealt humorously with the agricultural lifestyle, and Marriage of Hebe to Hercules, in which Hercules was portrayed as a glutton. Additional works include Odysseus automolos, Cyclops, Amykos, and Promytheus. Quotations "Judgement, not passion should prevail." "The mind sees and the mind hears. The rest is blind and deaf." "A mortal should think mortal thoughts, not immortal thoughts." "The best thing a man can have, in my view, is health." "The hand washes the hand: give something and you may get something." "Then what is the nature of men? Blown up bladders!" [11]

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Epicharmus in Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities

(Ἐπίχαρμος). The first Greek comic writer of whom we have any definite account. He was a Syracusan, either by birth or emigration (Theocr. Epig. 17). Some writers make him a native of the island of Cos, but all agree that he passed his life at Syracuse. It was about B.C. 500, thirty-five years after Thespis began to exhibit, eleven years after the commencement of Phrynichus, and just before the appearance of Aeschylus as a tragedian, that Epicharmus produced the first comedy properly so called. Before him, this department of the drama was little more than a series of licentious songs and sarcastic episodes, without plot, connection, or consistency. (See Comoedia; Drama.) He gave to each exhibition continuity, and converted the loose interlocutions into regular dialogue (Aristot. Poet. v. 5). The subjects of his Doric comedies, as we may infer from the extant titles of thirty-five of them, were partly parodies of mythological subjects, and, as such, not very different from the dialogue of the satyric drama, and partly political, and in this respect may have furnished a model for the dialogue of the Athenian comedy. (See Rhinthonica Fabula.) Tragedy had, some years before the era of Epicharmus, begun to assume its dignified character. The woes of heroes and the majesty of the gods had, under Phrynicus, become its favourite themes. The Sicilian poet seems to have been struck with the idea of exciting the mirth of his audience by the exhibition of some ludicrous matter dressed up in all the grave solemnity of the newly invented art. Discarding, therefore, the low drolleries and scurrilous invectives of the ancient κωμῳδία, he opened a novel and less objectionable source of amusement by composing a set of burlesque dramas upon the usual tragic subjects. They succeeded, and the turn thus given to comedy long continued; so that when it once more returned to personality and satire, as it afterwards did, tragedy and tragic poets were the constant objects of its parody and ridicule. The great changes thus effected by Epicharmus justly entitled him to be called the Inventor of Comedy (Theocr. Epig. 17), though it is probable that Phormis or Phormus preceded him by a few Olympiads (Aristot. Poet. iii. 5). But his merits do not rest here: he was distinguished for elegance of composition as well as originality of conception. Demetrius Phalereus says that Epicharmus excelled in the choice and collocation of epithets, on which account the name of Ἐπιχάρμιος was given to his kind of style, making it proverbial for elegance and beauty. So many were his dramatic excellences that Plato terms him the king of comic writers, and in a later age and foreign country Plautus chose him as his model (Epist. ii. 1.58) and is thought to have borrowed from him the plot of the Menaechmi. The parasite who figures so greatly in the plays of the New Comedy and in those of Plautus was first brought upon the stage by Epicharmus. The plays of Epicharmus, to judge from the fragments still left us, abounded in apophthegms, little consistent with the ideas we might otherwise have entertained of their nature from our knowledge of the buffooneries whence his comedy sprang and of the writings of Aristophanes, his partially extant successor. Epicharmus, however, was a philosopher and a Pythagorean (Diog. Laert. viii. 78). We find Epicharmus still composing comedies B.C. 485 (Suidas, s. v. Ἐπίχ.), and again during the reign of Hiero, B.C. 477. He died at the age of ninety or ninety-seven years. Epicharmus is said by some authorities to have added the letters ξ, η, ψ, ω to the Greek alphabet, but inscriptions show that these characters were in use at Miletus half a century before his reputed birth. See Clermont-Gannean, Origine des Caractères Complémentaires de l'Alphabet Grec in the Mélanges Graux (Paris, 1884). See also Lorenz, Leben und Schriften des Epicharmus (1864); Klein, Griechisches u. römisches Drama (1865); and Donaldson's Theatre of the Greeks, pp. 187-88 (8th ed. 1875).

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