the exception of the more or less fragmentary Poetics
of Aristotle there is very little
in Greek literature touching upon the subject of dramatic theory.
What we possess are (1) quotations from Greek writers like Theophrastus
(in the Ars Grammatica of Diomedes), and from Greek dramatists
(in The Deipnosophists of Athenæus); (2) passages
from Aristophanes; and (3)
works or fragments of a more general character, of such writers
as Plato and Dionysus of Halicarnassus; and (4) the Scholia,
or commentaries on the dramatists.
Of dramatic criticism proper there is nothing
either in Plato or Aristophanes; Plato's Republic, Phdrus,
Ion, Laws, and other dialogues contain a good deal on the
subject of poetry, and much on dramatic poetry, but, as might
be expected, the philosopher is concerned rather with the moral
and philosophic than the purely literary and dramatic aspects.
in particular is full of dramatic criticism of an indirect kind,
but it is neither so objective nor so organized as to entitle
it to serious consideration as a distinct theory of the drama.
It is only by inference that the student may form any definite
idea of Aristophanes' aesthetic ideals. In M. Egger's indispensable
Histoire de la Critique chez les Grecs there is quoted
a passage attributed to Antiphanes on tragedy and comedy. Another
short passage, attributed to Simylus, practically completes the
It was not likely that any considerable
body of dramatic theory should be formulated before the close
of the great dramatic epoch ushered in by Aeschylus,
so that the absence of any such work as the Poetics during
that period is not surprising. Aristotle had before him the masterpieces
of his country and was able to set forth a complete body of doctrine.
While it has been pointed out that he was at a decided disadvantage
in not knowing the literature of at least one other nation besides
his own, it is doubly fortunate that so well-balanced a philosopher
should have happened at the right time to sum up the dramatic
theory of the age which immediately preceded him.
Of the rhetoricians and grammarians who
followed Aristotle, of the great mass of Scholia on the tragedians
and Aristophanes, there is very little to be said. Most of the
commentators were concerned almost altogether with questions
of philology, grammar, and the more formal aspects of the drama.
Much later, Plutarch--in his Comparison of Aristophanes and
and elsewhere--turns to the drama, but his remarks are applicable
mainly to the moral and stylistic side. Athenæus (in the
third century A.D.) did no more than collect passages from earlier
writers, some few of which are concerned with the drama.
This article was originally
published in European Theories of the Drama. Barrett H.
Clark. Cincinnati: Stewart & Kidd Company, 1918..