We owe it to each other to tell stories - Neil Gaiman

Friday, 6 January 2012

The Original Classics

The Original Classics is something that I came up with one Sunday Evening whilst watching Top Gear. I was thinking about how you look at authors like Austen, Dickens, Wilde, Bronte and Verne as writers of the Classics. But what about the works that were there before, the works that inspired Shakespeare and others? What about the Original Classics? Then I thought "Hey, I am studying Classics - ancient Greek and Roman texts - plays, poems, novels... why not get other people interested in it too?" So here we have the child of the thought that I had whilst watching Top Gear - The Original Classics. I hope that you'll enjoy and that you too will pick up an Original Classic and be as enthralled with them as I am.

So the maiden post on the Original Classics will cover Greek Comedy - this is going to be a long one - quite epic - be warned.

Greek Comedy

As far as Original Classics go - the Greeks deserve all the glory - they came up with everything first. The ancient Greeks had a pantheon of 12 Olympian gods - each with their own characteristics, temples, shrines and religious rituals. These religious rituals were very important to the Greeks - because the gods were in control of everything and had to be appeased.

Festivals grew out of simple ceremonies. Some festivals lasted several days - as many as 5 or 6, of which certain days were devoted to public performances such as athletic competitions, poetry recitations and dramatic performances.

The deity who was honored with dramatic performances was Dionysus. Originally worshipers of Dionysus took part in processions and sang songs honoring him whilst relating stories and myths or his life in the komos. Since Dionysus was the god of wine whose motto seems to have been to generally live it up, the stories were quite ribald. Most scholars assume that these singers eventually became the Chorus, and their importance in comedy is indicated by the fact that many of the early comedies are named for the Chorus - e.g. The Birds, The Frogs, The Wasps etc.

While the origins and early development of comedy may be obscure- we possess the names and even fragments of some of the earliest comedy writers. Early comedies - either burlesque pieces relating episodes from mythology, especially from the tales of Dionysus, Herakles and Odysseus, or exaggerated everyday life scenes - were already being produced in Greek cities on the island of Sicily towards the end of the 6th and beginning of the 5th centuries BC.

Greek comedy was divided into three categories during the 2nd century - which we still use today - Old, Middle and New.

Old Comedy

Old Comedy dates from the origin of the genre to the end of the 5th Century BC. Aristophanes is the chief exponent of this period - with 11 of his 40 comedies still surviving. Old comedy can broadly be defined as topical satire - for the most part centred around a deeply serious theme: the health and future of the state of Athens.

Middle Comedy

Middle Comedy covers comedies written from the beginning of the 4th Century BC to the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 BC. During this period Athens had recently been defeated by Sparta - the world that had fostered the Old Comedy never returned - despite Athens' political and economic revival. From the beginning of the 4th Century people wanted lighter, more escapist amusement and became more interested in the general presentations of life than in political issues.

Although Middle Comedy retained the feature of personal invective that was so prevalent in Old Comedy - invective against types - parasites, gluttons, catamites, and so on, became more popular (instead of attacks against Socrates and Euripides).

New Comedy

New Comedy lasted until the end of Greek drama in athens. New Comedy was a feature of the Hellenistic period. New Comedy presented for the first time the 'comedy of manners' which was to serve as a model for Roman and European comic drama. The chief exponent of New Comedy was Menander - of whom we possess 2 comedies almost entirely intact, and many fragments of others. The trials and tribulations of star-crossed lovers are the main topic of New Comedy.

Well that was quite a mouth full - I do hope that you found it interesting - I really would love to hear or rather read your thoughts on this new feature. Next week I'll be looking at Aristophanes' The Assembly Women and I promise it won't be this long :)

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