In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Greek New Comic Fragments

  • Introduction
  • Defining New Comedy
  • General Overviews
  • Editions and Translations
  • Structure, Plot, and Characters
  • New Comedy and Society
  • Women and Rape
  • New Comedy, Tragedy and Literary Criticism
  • Staging, Performance, and Contemporary Audiences
  • Visual Evidence

Classics Greek New Comic Fragments
Sebastiana Nervegna
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 September 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 September 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0354


The expression “Greek New Comedy” traditionally indicates a specific phase of Attic Comedy dated to the late 4th and 3rd centuries BCE, although New Comedies continued to be written well into the Imperial period. New Comedies bring onto the stage fictional characters, domestic situations, and love-stories, and their plots tend to repeat common elements. Ancient sources identify over sixty New Comedy poets and consistently name three dramatists as the main representatives of this genre: Menander, Diphilus, and Philemon. Menander was born in 342/1 and died around 290 BCE; the biographies of his two rivals are largely obscure but Philemon was reportedly older than Menander while Diphilus was one of Menander’s contemporaries. Unlike Menander, they were both born outside Athens. Two or three more authors were added to the list of the best New Comedy poets: Philippides, Apollodorus of Carystus, and Posidippus. New Comedy poets were generally more prolific than their 5th-century colleagues, but their plays are largely lost. Menander is the only author whose comedies survive thanks to a series of lucky papyrus findings in the 20th century: we have one complete comedy, Dyskolos, and substantial portions of several more. The dramas written by other New Comedy poets survive only in short fragments preserved by a few papyri and, most often, by ancient authors largely interested in linguistic peculiarities or moralizing excerpts. The standard collection of the fragments (F) of Greek Comedy and the testimonia (T) for Greek comic poets is Kassel and Austin 1983–2001 (Poetae Comici Graeci, cited under Editions and Translations), which is generally abbreviated as “K-A.” While surviving fragments are typically not very informative, an important source for our knowledge of Greek New Comedies is Roman Comedy. Roman poets adapted select plays into Latin, often disclosing the titles, the authors, and other details of their Greek models. Roman comedies give us indirect access to their now lost Greek originals.

Defining New Comedy

Ancient scholars working in the Library of Alexandria seem to have been the first to identify three chronological phases in the history of Greek Comedy: Old Comedy (5th and early 4th centuries BCE), Middle Comedy (spanning most of the fourth century BCE), and New Comedy (late 4th through to the 3rd century BCE). Later ancient scholars followed them in presenting the evolution of Greek Comedy in different stages: in the most elaborate discussions, Old Comedy was considered as the mode of radical democracy, Middle Comedy as a response to oligarchy, and New Comedy to Macedonian domination (see the texts collected by Koster 1975). Ancient authors also classified playwrights as composing specific types of plays according to their engagement with contemporary politics and both the amount and type of personal abuse that they featured. Sometimes they disagreed on how to label Greek dramatists: Apuleius, for instance, calls Philemon a poet of Middle rather than New Comedy (Flor. 16, p. 24.4 Helm; T 7). Although modern handbooks tend to retain the tripartite division of comedy into Old-Middle-New, several studies have rightly challenged this view. Green 1994 shows that the visual record points to the early emergence of non-satirical, plot-based comedy. Csapo 2000 and Sidwell 2000 argue against the ancient classification of comedies and comic poets, and Papachrysostomou 2012–2013 identifies several features shared by Middle and New Comedy. Luraghi 2012 and Henderson 2013 include discussion of political comedy in early Hellenistic Athens, and the edited volume Chronopoulos and Orth 2015 contains more recent work on comedy and periodization. For New Comedy and politics, see also Major 1997 and Lape 2004 (cited under New Comedy and Society).

  • Chronopoulos, Stylianos, and Christian Orth, eds. 2015. Fragmente einer Geschichte der griechischen Komödie/Fragmentary history of Greek Comedy. Heidelberg, Germany: Verlag Antike.

    Three contributions discuss issue of periodization from different perspective: Zimmermann (pp. 9–15) and Nesselrath (pp. 16–34) deal with ancient scholarship on Greek Comedy, Henderson (pp. 146–158) considers comic texts.

  • Csapo, Eric. 2000. From Aristophanes to Menander? Genre transformation in Greek Comedy. In Matrices of genre: Authors, canons, and society. Edited by Mary Depew and Dirk Obbink, 115–133. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

    Argues against the traditional view of the development of Greek Comedy and suggests that different comic styles coexisted in the 5th century as in later periods.

  • Green, J. R. 1994. Theatre in ancient Greek society. London: Routledge.

    Major study of the archaeology of Greek theater, from the Archaic period until Late Antiquity. It reconstructs the role of theater across the ancient world, shedding light on both its reception and its influence. For artifacts showing the early emergence of non-satirical comedies, see especially pp. 34–38, 63–88.

  • Henderson, Jeffrey. 2013. A brief history of Athenian political comedy (ca. 440-ca. 300). Transactions of the American Philological Association 143.2: 249–262.

    Discusses the production pattern of political comedies, showing that this type of play was infrequent and staged only under specific circumstances in the 5th as in the 4th century.

  • Koster, Willem J. W. 1975. Scholia in Aristophanem. Pars. I: Prolegomena de Comoedia. Scholia in Acharnenses, Equites, Nubes. Fasc. IA: Prolegomena de Comoedia. Groningen, The Netherlands: Bouma’s Boekhuis B.V.

    Collects all the prolegomena (“treatises”) related to the history of Attic Comedy in both Greek and Latin. They are generally arranged in a chronological order: ancient and Byzantine material first, then the works by Tzetses (12th century) and Demetrius Triclinius (early 14th century).

  • Luraghi, Nino. 2012. Commedia e politica tra Demostene e Cremonide. In La commedia greca e la storia. Edited by Franca Perusino, 337–361. Pisa, Italy: Edizioni ETS.

    Discusses political comedy in the late 4th and early 3rd centuries and includes important remarks on two “New Comedy” poets, Philippides and Archedicus.

  • Papachrysostomou, Athina. 2012–2013. Continuity and change in the comic genre or how it all ended up with Menander: The case of “sub-trends. Ordia prima 11–12:156–189.

    Identifies a series of “sub-trends” shared by Greek comedies, arguing for continuity in the history of the genre.

  • Sidwell, Keith. 2000. From old to middle to new? Aristotle’s poetics and the history of Athenian Comedy. In The rivals of Aristophanes: Studies in Athenian Old Comedy. Edited by David Harvey and John Wilkins, 247–258. London: Duckworth.

    Reconsiders the ancient sources for the division of Greek Comedy into Old, Middle, and New, arguing that Middle Comedy was a later invention and that what we call Old and New Comedy were already distinct from each other by the end of the 5th century.

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