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WITH 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, Phœdrus, 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. Aristophanes' Frogs 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 list.

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 Menander 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..


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