Myth-making in Greek and Roman comedy
Dixon, Dustin W.
MetadataShow full item record
Challenging the common notion that mythological comedies simply burlesque stories found in epic and tragedy, this dissertation shows that comic poets were active participants in creating and transmitting myths and argues that their mythical innovations influenced accounts found in tragedy and prose mythography. Although no complete Greek mythological comedy survives, hundreds of fragments and titles reveal that this type of drama was extremely popular; they were staged in Greece, Sicily, and Southern Italy and make up about one-half of all comedies produced in some periods. These fragments, supplemented by Plautus' Amphitruo (the only nearly complete mythological comedy), vase-paintings, and ancient testimonia, shed light on the vibrant tradition of comic mythology. In chapter one, I argue that ancient scholars' and prose mythographers' citations of comedies invite us to view comedians as authoritative myth-makers. I then survey the development of mythological comedy throughout the fifth and fourth centuries BCE. The plays' titles reveal common mythical topics as well as a number of comic myths that survived independent of the tragic tradition. In chapter two, I argue that Cratinus' Dionysalexandros and Epicharmus' Odysseus the Deserter are wildly innovative comedies that challenge previous accounts for mythological authority. In chapter three, Epicharmus' Pyrrha and Prometheus, Pherecrates' Antmen, and Cratinus' Wealth Gods are studied to show how comedians created new stories by fusing myths together and by combining myth and historical reality. In chapter four, I look at the affairs of Zeus to show the dramatists' different approaches to the same mythical material. While tragedians tend to focus on the suffering of Zeus' victims, comedians feature Zeus' humorously outlandish and usually harmless seductions. In chapter five, on the Amphitruo, I show how Plautus has transformed a myth about the birth of Heracles into a story about Jupiter's long-term affair with a pregnant woman. In chapter six, I enter the debate about comedy's influence on tragedy and argue that mythical variants invented by the comic poet Cratinus have been incorporated into Euripides' Trojan Women and Helen, which demonstrates that, as early as the fifth century, comic poets were seen as mythological authorities.