The following essay was originally published in Manual of Greek Literature from the Earliest Authentic Periods to the Close of the Byzantine Era. Charles Anthon. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1853.
The first writer of satyric dramas was Pratinus, of Phlius, a town not far from Sicyon. For some time previous to this poet, and probably as early as Thespis, tragedy had been gradually departing more and more from its old characteristics, and inclining to heroic fables, to which the chorus of satyrs was not a fit accompaniment. But the fun and merriment caused by them were too good to be lost, or displaced by the severe dignity of the Aeschylean drama. Accordingly, the satyric drama, distinct from the recent and dramatic tragedy, but suggested by the sportive element of the old dithyramb, was founded by Pratinus, who, however, appears to have been surpassed in his own invention by Choerilus.
It was always written by tragedians, and generally three tragedies and one satyric piece were represented together, which, in some instances at least, formed a connected whole, called a tetralogy. The satyric piece was acted last, so that the minds of the spectators were agreeably relieved by a merry after-piece, at the close of an earnest and engrossing tragedy. The distinguishing feature of this drama was the chorus of satyrs, in appropriate dresses and masks, and its subjects seem to have been taken from the same class of the adventures of Bacchus and of the heroes as those of tragedy; but, of course, they were so treated and selected, that the presence of rustic satyrs would seem appropriate. In their jokes, and drollery, and naïveté, , consisted the merriment of the piece; for the kings and heroes who were introduced into their company were not of necessity thereby divested of their epic and legendary character, though they were obliged to conform to their situation, and suffer some diminution of dignity from their position. Hence the satyric drama is not unaptly called "a playful tragedy", being both in form and materials the same as tragedy.
It must, however, be observed, that there were some characters and legends which, as not presenting any serious or pathetic aspects, were not adapted for tragedy, and therefore were naturally appropriated to the Satyric drama. Such were Sisyphus, Autolycus, Circe, Callisto, Midas, Omphale, and the robber Sciron. Hercules, also, as he appears in Aristophanes and in the Alcestis of Euripides, was a favorite subject of this drama, as being no unfit companion for a drunken Silenus and his crew. The only extant satyric drama is the Cyclops of Euripides, though we possess numerous fragments of others.
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