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EPICHARMUS

The following biography is reprinted from The Theatre of the Greeks: A Series of Papers Relating to the History and Criticism of the Greek Drama. John William Donaldson. Cambridge: Pitt Press, 1836. pp. 97-8.

EPICHARMUS, the son of Helothales, whom Theocritus calls the inventor of Comedy, and who, according to Plato, bore the same relation to Comedy that Homer did to Tragedy, was a native of Cos, and went to Sicily with Cadmus, the son of Scythes, about the year 485 B.C. after residing a short time at Megara. Diogenes Laertius states that he was then only three months old: but this is contradicted by his own statement, that Epicharmus was one of the auditors of Pythagoras, who died in 497 B.C., by the statement of Aristotle, that he was long before Chionides and Magnes, and by the fact that he was a man of influence in the reign of Hiero, who died eighteen years after the date of Epicharmus arrival in Sicily. Besides being a Pythagorean and a comic poet, he is said to have been a physician, as was also his brother. This has been considered an additional proof of his Coan origin. He was ninety or ninety-seven years old when he died. The comedies of Epicharmus were partly parodies of mythological subjects, and as such, not very different from the dialogue of the satyrical Drama; partly political, and in this respect may have furnished a model for the dialogue of the Athenian Comedy. He must have made some advance towards the Comedy of Character, if it be true that the Menaechmi of Plautus was founded upon one of his plays. It is not stated expressly that he had choruses in his comedies; it seems, however, probable from the title of one of them that he had. His style was not less varied than his subjects, for while, on the one hand, he indulged in the wildest buffoonery, he was fond, on the other hand, of making his characters discourse most philosophically on all topics, and we may discern in many of his remaining lines that moral and gnomic element which contributed so much to the formation of the dialogue in the Attic Tragedy. Aristotle charges him with using false antithesis, the effect probably of an insufficient education. The titles of thirty-five of his comedies are known.

Although Epicharmus is mentioned as the inventor of comedy, it is probable that Phormis, or Phormus, preceded him by a few Olympiads; for he was the tutor to the children of Gelon, Hiero's predecessor. He is supposed to have been the same with the Phormis of Maenalus, who distinguished himself in the service of Gelo and Hiero in a military capacity. From the titles of his plays, it is presumed that they were mythological parodies. He is said to have been the first to cover the stage with purple skins.

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