CRATINUS (c. 520-423
comic poet Cratinus was the chief representative of the old,
and founder of political, comedy. Hardly anything is known of
his life, and only fragments of his works have been preserved.
But a good idea of their character can be gained from the opinions
of his contemporaries, especially Aristophanes.
His comedies were chiefly distinguished by their direct and vigorous
political satire, a marked exception being a burlesque dealing
with the story of Odysseus in the cave of Polyphemus, probably
written while a law was in force forbidding all political references
on the stage. They were also remarkable for the absence of the
parabasis and chorus. Persius calls the author "the bold,"
and even Pericles
at the height of his power did not escape his vehement attacks,
as in the Nemesis and Archilochi, the last-named
a lament for the loss of the recently deceased Cimon, with whose
conservative sentiments Cratinus was in sympathy. The Panoptae
was a satire on the sophists and omniscient speculative philosophers
of the day. Of his last comedy the plot has come down to us.
It was occasioned by the sneers of Aristophanes and others, who
declared that he was no better than a doting drunkard. Roused
by the taunt, Cratinus put forth all his strength, and in 423
B.C. produced the Bottle, which gained the first prize
over the Clouds
of Aristophanes. In this comedy, good-humouredly making fun of
his own weakness, Cratinus represents the comic muse as the faithful
wife of his youth. His guilty fondness for a rival--the bottle--has
aroused her jealousy. She demands a divorce from the archon;
but her husband's love is not dead and he returns penitent to
her side. In Grenfell and Hunt's Oxyrhynchus Papyri, iv.
(1904), containing a further instalment of their edition of the
Behnesa papyri discovered by them in 1896-1897, one of the greatest
curiosities is a scrap of paper bearing the argument of a play
by Cratinus--the Dionysalexandros (i.e. Dionysus in the
part of Paris) aimed against Pericles; and the epitome reveals
something of its wit and point. The style of Cratinus has been
likened to that of Aeschylus;
and Aristophanes, in the Knights,
compares him to a rushing torrent. He appears to have been fond
of lofty diction and bold figures, and was most successful in
the lyrical parts of his dramas, his choruses being the popular
festal songs of his day. According to the statement of a doubtful
authority, which is not borne out by Aristotle, Cratinus increased
the number of actors in comedy to three. He wrote 21 comedies
and gained the prize nine times.
This article was originally
published in Encyclopedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition.
F.T.M. Cambridge: University Press, 1911.