Phlyax play

Phlyax play

A Phlyax play ( _gr. , also phlyakes, or hilarotragedy) was a burlesque dramatic form that developed in the Greek colonies of Magna Graecia in the 4th century BCE. Its name derives from the Phlyakes or “Gossip Players” in Dorian Greek. From the surviving titles of the plays they appear to have been a form of mythological burlesque, which mixed figures from the Greek pantheon with the stock characters and situations of Attic New Comedy. There are only five authors associated with the genre: Rhinthon and Sciras of Taranto, Blaesus of Capri, Sopater of Paphos and Heraklides. No complete play survives, only a few fragments and titles bear witness to the genre [See Rudolf Kassel, Colin Austin Poetae Comici Graeci, vol. I, pp. 257–88. 2001.] , however a substantial body of South Italian vases are believed to represent comic performances of the phlyakes, and from these much speculation on Greek stagecraft and dramatic form has flowed. Nossis of Locri’s epitaph of Rhinthon is our closest contemporary explanation of the genre, she writes: “Pass by with a loud laugh and a kindly word/For me: Rhinthon of Syracuse am I,/The Muses’ little nightingale; and yet/For tragic farce I plucked an ivy wreath” [Anthologia Palatina 7.414] .

Combining the textual and archaeological evidence of these burlesques and travesties of mythology and daily life still gives an incomplete picture of the phenomenon. For example it is commonly speculated that they were probably improvised on no better grounds, it would seem, than that no complete script survives. Yet from the testimony of vase painting we may draw some conclusions; they were performed on a raised wooden stage with an upper gallery, and the actors wore grotesque costumes and masks similar to those of the Attic Old Comedy. Acrobatics and farcical scenes were a major ingredient of the phlyax. The phlyakes seems to die out by the late 3rd century, however the Oscan inhabitants of Campania subsequently developed a tradition of farces, parodies, and satires influenced by late Greek models, which became popular in Rome during the 3rd century BC. This genre was known as Atellan Farce (Atella being the name of a Campanian town). The Atellan Farce introduced a set of stock characters, such as Maccus and Bucco to Latin comedy, who may be the direct ancestors of the characters to be found in Plautus [Certainly his critics make the comparison, see Horace, Epistles II, 1, 170 ff.] , and more remotely, commedia dell'arte. A more direct influence on Plautus’s Amphitruo by Rhinthon has also been mooted [ Z Stewart , The ‘Amphitrue’ of Plautus and Euripides ‘Bacchae’ TAPhA 89, 1958, 348–73.] , disrupting the previously held consensus view that Attic Greek comedy was the only possible source of Roman comedy.

The so-called Phlyax vases (of which185 were known as of 1967 [Trendall, Phlyax Vases, 1967.] ) are our principal source of information on the genre. Depictions of theatre and especially comedy are rare in fabrics other than the South Italian, so it would seem natural that there is a connection between these vases and the native colonial comic tradition, this was first made by H Heydemann in "Die Phlyakendarstellungen der bemalten Vasen" of 1886. Recent scholarship, in particular the work of Oliver Taplin, has cast doubt on this ascription of the vases to the phlyakes seeing them instead as depictions of Attic Old Comedy. The vases first appeared at the end of the 5th century BCE, most are 4th century. They may be characterised by the representation of comic mask, grotesque characters and the props of comic performance: ladders, baskets, open windows, etc. Some one quarter of them depict a low wooden temporary stage, whether this was actually used is also a point of contention [Margarete Bieber, The History of Greek and Roman Theater, 1961, takes a rather literal reading of this whereas W. Beare, The Roman Stage, 1964, insists this is a matter of the painter’s interpretation.] . The work of Trendall and Webster in correlating Greek and Roman painted linen comic masks with their representation on the vases has found a high degree of verisimilitude. [Trendall, Webster, Illustrations of Greek Drama, 1971] . The Wurzburg Telephus Travestitus vase (Bell krater, H5697) has crystallized the problem of attributing such vases to the Dorian tradition. Originally identified in 1980 as a phlyax vase [Kossatz-Deissmann, in Tainia: Festschrift für Roland Hampe, 1980] , however Csapo [E. Csapo, A Note on the Wurzburg Bell-Krater H5697, Phoenix 40, 1986, 379–92.] and Taplin [ O. Taplin, Classical Philology, Icongraphic Parody and Potted Aristophanes, Dioniso 57, 1987, 95–109.] independently suggested it represents Aristophanes’s Thesmophoriazousai, evidence Taplin claims of the performance of Attic Old Comedy outside Athens after death of Aristophanes.



*Rudolf Kassel, Colin Austin, Poetae Comici Graeci, 2001.
* Klaus Neiiendam, Art of Acting Antiquity: Iconographical Studies in Classical, Hellenistic and Byzantine Theatre
* Oliver Taplin, Comic Angels: And Other Approaches to Greek Drama Through Vase-Paintings
* Arthur Dale Trendall, Phlyax Vases, 1967.
*AD Trendall and TBL Webster, Monuments Illustrating Greek Drama, 1971.

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