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Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology/Menander of Athens

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MENANDER (Μένανδρος), of Athens, the most distinguished poet of the New Comedy, was the son of Diopeithes and Hegesistrate, and flourished in the time of the successors of Alexander. He was born in Ol. 109. 3, or B. C. 342–1, which was also the birth-year of Epicurus; only the birth of Menander was probably in the former half of the year, and therefore in B. C. 342, while that of Epicurus was in the latter half, B. c. 341. (Suid. s. v.; Clinton, F. H. sub ann.) Strabo also (xiv. p. 526) speaks of Menander and Epicurus as συνεφήϐους. His father, Diopeithes, commanded the Athenian forces on the Hellespont in B. C. 342—341, the year of Menander's birth, and was defended by Demosthenes in his oration περὶ τῶν ἐν Χερσονήσῳ. (Anon. de Com. p. xii.) On this fact the grammarians blunder with their usual felicity, not only making Menander a friend of Demosthenes, which as a boy he may have been, but representing him as inducing Demosthenes to defend his father, in B. C. 341, when he himself was just born, and again placing him among the dicasts on the trial of Ctesiphon, in B. C. 330, when he was in his twelfth year. (Meineke, Menand. Reliq. p. xxiv.) Alexis, the comic poet, was the uncle of Menander, on the father's side (Suid. s. v. Ἄλεξις); and we may naturally suppose, with one of the ancient grammarians (Anon. de Com. p. xii.), that the young Menander derived from his uncle his taste for the comic drama, and was instructed by him in its rules of composition. His character must have been greatly influenced and formed by his intimacy with Theophrastus and Epicurus (Alciph. Epist. ii. 4), of whom the former was his teacher (Diog. Laërt. v. 36), and the latter his intimate friend. That his tastes and sympathies were altogether with the philosophy of Epicurus is proved, among numerous other indications, by his epigram on "Epicunis and Themistocles." (Brunck, Anal. vol. i. p. 203, Anth. Pal. vii. 72, vol. i. p. 327, Jacobs.)

Χαῖρε, Νεοκλείδα δίδυμον γένος, ὧν ὁ μὲν ὐμῶν
Πατρίδα δουλοσύνας, ὁ δ᾽ ἀφροσύνας.

From Theophrastus, on the other hand, he must have derived much of that skill in the discrimination of character which we so much admire in the Χαρακτῆρες of the philosopher, and which formed the great charm of the comedies of Menander. His master's attention to external elegance and comfort he not only imitated, but, as was natural in a man of an elegant person, a joyous spirit, and a serene and easy temper, he carried it to the extreme of luxury and effeminacy. Phaedrus (v. l. 11, 12) describes him, when paying his court to Demetrius Phalereus, thus:

"Unguento delibutus, vestitu adfluens,
Veniebat gressu delicato et languido."

His personal beauty is mentioned by the anonymous writer on comedy (l. c.), though, according to Suidas, his vision was somewhat disturbed, στραϐὸς τὰς ὄψεις, ὀξὺς δὲ τὸν νοῦν. He is represented in works of sculpture which still exist, and of one of which Schlegel gives the following description: "In the excellent portrait-statues of two of the most famous comedians, Menander and Posidippus (to be found in the Vatican), the physiognomy of the Greek New Comedy seems to me to be almost visibly and personally expressed. They are seated in arm-chairs, clad with extreme simplicity, and with a roll in the hand, with that ease and careless self-possession which always marks the conscious superiority of the master in that maturity of years which befits the calm and impartial observation which comedy requires, but sound and active, and free from all symptoms of decay; we may discern in them that hale and pithy vigour of body which bears witness to an equally vigorous constitution of mind and temper; no lofty enthusiasm, but no folly or extravagance; on the contrary, the earnestness of wisdom dwells in those brows, wrinkled not with care, but with the exercise of thought, while, in the searching eye, and in the mouth, ready for a smile, there is a light irony which cannot be mistaken." (Dramatic Lectures, vii.) The moral character of Menander is defended by Meineke, with tolerable success, against the aspersions of Suidas, Alciphron, and others. (Menand. Reliq. pp. xxviii. xxix.) Thus much is certain, that his comedies contain nothing offensive, at least to the taste of his own and the following ages, none of the purest, it must be admitted, as they were frequently acted at private banquets. (Plut. de Fals. Pud. p. 531, b., Sympos. viii. p. 712, b.; Comp. Arist. et Men. p. 853, b.) Whether their being eagerly read by the youth of both sexes, on account of the love scenes in them, is any confirmation of their innocence, may at least be doubted. (Ovid. Trist. ii. 370.)

Of the actual events of Menander's life we know but little. He enjoyed the friendship of Demetrius Phalereus, whose attention was first drawn to him by admiration of his works. (Phaedrus, l. c.) This intimacy was attended, however, with danger as well as honour, for when Demetrius Phalereus was expelled from Athens by Demetrius Poliorcetes (B. C. 307), Menander became a mark for the sycophants, and would have been put to death but for the intercession of Telesphorus, the son-in-law of Demetrius. (Diog. Laërt. v. 80.) The first Greek king of Egypt, Ptolemy, the son of Lagus, was also one of his admirers; and he invited the poet to his court at Alexandria; but Menander seems to have declined the proffered honour. (Plin. H. N. vii. 29. s. 31; Alciphr. Epist. ii. 3, 4.) Suidas mentions some letters to Ptolemy as among the works of Menander.

The time of his death is differently stated. The same inscription, which gives the date of his birth, adds that he died at the age of fifty-two years, in the archonship of Philippus, in the 32nd year of Ptolemy Soter. Clinton shows that these statements refer to the year B. C. 292–1 (F. H. vol. ii. p. xv. and sub ann. 342, 291); but, to make up the fifty-two years, we must reckon in both extremes, 342 and 291. The date is confirmed by Eusebius (Chron.); by the anonymous writer on comedy (p. xii.), who adds that Menander died at Athens; by Apollodorus (ap. Aul. Gell. xvii. 4); and by Aulus Gellius (xvii. 21). Respecting the manner of his death, all that we know is that an old commentator on Ovid applies the line (Ibis, 593)

"Comicus ut medius periit dum nabat in undis"

to Menander, and tells us that he was drowned while swimming in the harbour of Peiraeeus; and we learn from Alciphron (Epist. ii. 4) that Menander had an estate at Peiraeeus. He was buried by the road leading out of Peiraeeus towards Athens. (Paus. i. 2. § 2). There are two epigrams upon him in the Greek Anthology: the one an epitaph by Diodorus (Brunck, Anal. vol. ii. p. 188, Anth. Pal. vii. 370, vol. i. p. 413, Jacobs), the other anonymous. (Brunck, Anal. vol. iii. p. 268, Anth Pal. ix. 187, vol. ii. p. 63, Jacobs.)

Notwithstanding Menander's fame as a poet, his public dramatic career, during his lifetime, was not eminently successful; for, though he composed upwards of a hundred comedies, he only gained the prize eight times. (Aul. Gell. xvii. 4; comp. Martial. v. 10.) His preference for elegant exhibitions of character above coarse jesting may have been the reason why he was not so great a favourite with the common people as his principal rival, Philemon, who is said, moreover, to have used unfair means of gaining popularity. (Gell. l. c.)

Menander appears to have borne the popular neglect very lightly, in the consciousness of his superiority; and once, when he happened to meet Philemon, he is said to have asked him, "Pray, Philemon, do not you blush when you gain a victory over me?" (Gell. l. c.; comp. Athen. xiii. p. 594, d.; Alciphr. Epist. ii. 3). The Athenians erected his statue in the theatre, but this was an honour too often conferred upon very indifferent poets to be of much value: indeed, according to Pausanias, he was the only distinguished comic poet of all whose statues had a place there. (Paus. i. 21. § 1; Dion Chrysost. Or. xxxi. p. 628, 13.)

The neglect of Menander's contemporaries has been amply compensated by his posthumous fame. His comedies retained their place on the stage down to the time of Plutarch (Comp. Men. et Arist. p. 854, b.), and the unanimous consent of antiquity placed him at the head of the New Comedy, and on an equality with the great masters of the various kinds of poetry. The grammarian Aristophanes assigned him the second place among all writers, after Homer alone (Brunck, Anal. vol. iii. p. 269). To the same grammarian is ascribed the happy saying, Ὦ Μένανδρε, καὶ βίε, πότερος ἄρ᾽ ὑμῶν πρότερον ἐμιμήσατο (or, according to Scaliger's correction, πότερον ἀπεμιμήσατο). Among the Romans, besides the fact that their comedy was founded chiefly on the plays of Menander, we have the celebrated phrase of Julius Caesar, who addresses Terence as dimidiate Menander. (Donat. Vit. Terent. p. 754.) Quintilian's high eulogy of him is well known (x. 1).

The imitations of Menander are at once a proof of his reputation and an aid in appreciating his poetic character. Among the Greeks, Alciphron and Lucian were, in various degrees, indebted to his comedies. (Meineke, p. xxxv.) Among the Romans, his chief imitators were Caecilius, Afranius, and Terentius. How much Caecilius was indebted to him may be conjectured from the titles of his plays, of which there are very few that are not taken from Menander. Respecting Afranius we have the well-known line of Horace (Epist. ii. l. 57):—

"Dicitur Afrani toga convenisse Menandro."

Plautus was an exception, as we learn from the next line of Horace:—

"Plautus ad exemplar Siculi properare Epicharmi Dicitur;"

and his extant plays sufficiently show that the ruder energy of the old Doric comedy was far more congenial to him than the polished sententiousness of Menander, whom, therefore, he only followed in a few instances, one of the most striking of which is in the Cistellaria (i. l. 91; comp. Meineke, Menand. Reliq. p, 208, Frag. Com. Graec. vol. iv. p. 243). With respect to Terence, the oft-repeated statement, that he was simply a translator of Menander, is an injustice to the latter. That Terence was indebted to him for all his ideas and very many of his lines, is true enough; but that from any one play of Terence we can form a fair notion of the corresponding play of Menander, is disproved by the confession of Terence himself (Prolog, in Andr.) that he compressed two of Menander's plays into one; while the coolness with which he defends and even boasts of the exploit, shows how little we can trust him as our guide to the poetical genius of Menander. The one merit of Terence was felicity of expression; he had not the power of invention to fill up the gaps left by the omissions necessary in adapting a Greek play for a Roman audience, and therefore he drew again upon the rich resources of his original. It was this mixing up of different plays that his contemporaries condemned when they said, "Contaminari non decere fabulas," and that Caesar pointed to by the phrase O dimidiate Menander. In the epigram in which that phrase occurs, Caesar expressly intimates that the spirit of the Greek original had greatly evaporated in Terence:—

"Tu quoque, tu in summis, o dimidiate Menander,
Poneris, et merito, puri sermonis amator.
Lenibus atque utinam scriptis adjuncta foret vis;
Comica ut aequato virtus polleret honore
Cum Graecis, neque in hac despectus parte jaceres.
Unum hoc maceror et doleo tibi deesse, Terenti."

The following epigram is worth quoting by the side of Caesar's (Burmann, Anth. Lat. vol. i. p. 140):—

"Tu quoque, qui solus tecto sermone, Terenti,
Conversum expressumque Latina voce Menandrum
In medio populi sedatis vocibus effers."

Still, the comedies of Terence are a valuable contribution to our knowledge of Menander, especially considering the scantiness of the extant fragments.

Meineke well remarks that the quality which Caesar missed in Terence was what the Greeks call τὸ παθητικόν, which Menander had with admirable art united with τῷ ἠθικῷ. And thus the poetry of Menander is described as διὰ πολλῶν ἀγομένη παθῶν καὶ ἠθῶν by Plutarch, in his Comparison of Menander and Aristophanes (p. 853, d.), which is the most valuable of the ancient testimonies concerning our poet. The style of his language is described by an old grammarian as λέξις λελυμένη καὶ ὑποκοιτική, which may be contrasted with another writer's description of the diction of Philemon, as συνερτημένην καὶ οἷον ἠσφαλισμένην τοῖς συνδέσμοις. (Meineke, pp. xxxvi, xxxvii.)

To criticise the poetry of Menander is to describe the whole spirit and genius of the New Comedy, of which his plays may be safely taken as the normal representatives. This has been done with a most masterly hand by Schlegel, in his seventh lecture, from which the following passage is quoted:—"The New Comedy, in a certain point of view, may indeed be described as the Old Comedy tamed down: but, in speaking of works of genius, tameness does not usually pass for praise. The loss incurred in the interdict laid upon the old, unrestricted freedom of mirth, the newer comedians sought to compensate by throwing in a touch of earnestness borrowed from tragedy, as well in the form of representation, and the connection of the whole, as in the impressions, which they aimed at producing. We have seen how tragic poetry, in its last epoch, lowered its tone from its ideal elevation, and came nearer to common reality, both in the characters and in the tone of the dialogue, but especially as it aimed at conveying useful instruction on the proper conduct of civil and domestic life, in all their several emergencies. This turn towards utility Aristophanes has ironically commended in Euripides, (Ran. 971—991.) Euripides was the forerunner of the New Comedy; the poets of this species admired him especially, and acknowledged him for their master. Nay, so great is this affinity of tone and spirit, between Euripides and the poets of the New Comedy, that apophthegms of Euripides have been ascribed to Menander, and vice versa. On the contrary, we find among the fragments of Menander maxims of consolation, which rise in a striking manner even into the tragic tone." (It may be added, that we have abundant testimony to prove that Menander was a great admirer and imitator of Euripides. An elaborate comparison of the parallel passages is instituted by Meineke in an Epimetrum to his Trag. Com. Graec. vol. iv. p. 705.)

"The New Comedy, therefore, is a mixture of sport and earnest. The poet no longer makes a sport of poetry and the world, he does not resign himself to a mirthful enthusiasm, but he seeks the sportive character in his subject, he depicts in human characters and situations that which gives occasion to mirth; in a word, whatever is pleasant and ridiculous."

Menander is remarkable for the elegance with which he threw into the form of single verses, or short sentences, the maxims of that practical wisdom in the affairs of common life which forms so important a feature of the New Comedy. Various "Anthologies" of such sentences were compiled by the ancient grammarians from Menander's works, of which there is still extant a very interesting specimen, in the collection of several hundred lines (778 in Meineke's edition), under the title of Γνῶμαι μονόστιχοι. Respecting the collection entitled Μενάνδροι καὶ Φιλιστίωνος σύγκρισις, see Philistion.

The number of Menander's comedies is stated at a few more than a hundred; 105, 108, and 109, according to different authorities. (Suid. s.v.; Anon. de Com. p. xii.; Donat. Vit. Ter. p. 753; Aul. Gell. xvii. 4.) We only know with certainty the date of one of the plays, namely, the Ὀργή, which was brought out in B. C. 321, when Menander was only in his twenty-first year. (Clinton, F. H. sub ann.; Meineke, p. xxx.) We have fragments of, or references to, the following plays, amounting in all to nearly ninety titles:—Ἀδελφοί (imitated by Terence, who, however, has mixed up with it the Συναποθνήσκοντες of Diphilus), Ἀλαεῖς not Ἀλαί Ἀραφηνίδες, Ἁλιεῖς, Ἀνατιθεμένη ἢ Μεσσηνία, Ἀνδρία (mixed up with the Περινθία in the Andria of Terence), Ἀνδρόγυνος ἢ Κρής, Ἀνεψιοί, Ἄπιστος, Ἀῤῥηφόρος ἢ Αὐλητρίς, Ἀσπίς, Αὑτὸν πενθῶν, Ἀφροδίσια, Βοιωτία, Γεωργός, Δακτύλιος, Δάρδανος, Δεισιδαίμων, Δημιουργός, Δίδυμαι, Δὶς ἐξαπατῶν, Δύσκολος, Ἑαυτὸν τιμωρούμενος (copied by Terence), Ἐγχειρίδιον, Ἐμπιπραμένη, Ἐπαγγελλόμενος, Ἐπίκληρος, Ἐπιτρέποντες (the plot of which was similar to that of the Hecyra of Terence), Εὐνοῦχος (imitated by Terence, but with a change in the dramatis personae), Ἐφέσιος, Ἡνίοχος, Ἥρως, Θαΐς, Θετταλή, Θεοφρουμένη, Θησαυρός (translated into Latin by Lucius Lavinius), Θρασυλέων, Ἱέρεια, Ἰμϐρίοι, Ἰπποκόμος, Κανηφόρος, Καρίνη, Καρχηδόνιος (from which Plautus probably took his Poenulus), Καταψευδόμενος, Κερκύφαλος, Κιθαριστής, Κνιδία, Κόλαξ (partly followed in the Eunuchus of Terence), Κονειαζόμεναι (perhaps better Κωνιαζόμεναι), Κυϐερνῆται, Λευκαδία, Λοκροί, Μέθη, Μηναγύρτης, Μισογύνης (reckoned by Phrynichus the best of all Menander's comedies, Epit. p. 417), Μισούμενος (another of his best plays, Liban. Orat. xxxi. p. 701), Ναύκληρος, Νομοθέτης, Ξενολόγος, Ὀλυνθία, Ὀμοπάτριοι, Ὀργή, Παιδίον, Παλλακή, Παρακαταθήκη, Περικειρομένη, Περινθία, Πλόκιον, Πρόγαμοι, Προεγκαλῶν, Πωλούμενοι, Ῥαπιζομένη, Σαμία, Σικυώνιος, Στρατιῶται, Συναριστῶσαι, Συνερῶσα, Συνέφηϐοι, Τίτθη, Τροφώνιος, Ὑδρία, Ὑμνίς, Ὑποϐολιμαῖος ἢ Ἄγροικος, Φάνιον, Φάσμα, Φιλάδελφοι, Χαλκεῖα, Χαλκίς, Χήρα, Ψευδηρακλῆς, Ψοφοδεής. There are also about 500 fragments which cannot be assigned to their proper places. To these must be added the Γνῶμαι μονόστιχοι, some passages of the Γνῶμαι (or Σύγκρισις) Μενάνδρου καὶ Φιλιστίωνος, and two epigrams, one in the Greek Anthology (quoted above), and one in the Latin version of Ausonius (Epig. 139). Of the letters to Ptolemy, which Suidas mentions, nothing survives, and it may fairly be doubted whether they were not, like the so-called letters of other great men of antiquity, the productions of the later rhetoricians. Suidas ascribes to him some orations, λόγους πλείστους καταλογάδην, a statement of which there is no confirmation; but Quintilian (x. 1. § 70) tells us that some ascribed the orations of Charisius to Menander.

Of the ancient commentators on Menander, the earliest was Lynceus of Samos, his contemporary and rival [Lynceus]. The next was the grammarian Aristophanes, whose admiration of Menander we have spoken of above, and whose work, entitled παράλληλοι Μενάνδρου τε καὶ ἀφ᾽ ὧν ἔκλεψεν ἐκλογαί, is mentioned by Eusebius (Praep. Evan. x. 3), who also mentions a work by a certain Latinus or Cratinus, περὶ τῶν οὐκ ἰδίων Μενάνδρου. Next comes Plutarch's Comparison of Menander and Aristophanes: next Soterides of Epidaurus, who wrote a ὑπόμνημα εἰς Μένανδρον (Eudoc. p. 387; Suid. vol. iii. p. 356); and lastly Homer, surnamed Sellius, the author of a work entitled περιοχαί τῶν Μενάνδρου δραμάτων. (Suid. vol. ii. p. 690.) The Menandrean letters of Alciphron also contain some valuable information [Alciphron]. They are printed by Meineke in his edition of Menander.

The fragments of Menander were first printed in the collection of Sententiae, chiefly from the New Comedy, by Morellius, Greek and Latin, Paris, 1553, 8vo. (see Hoffmann, Lexicon Bibliograph.); next in the similar collection of Hertelius, Greek and Latin, Basel, 1560, 8vo.; next in that of H. Stephanus, Greek and Latin, with the Tractatus of Stephanus, De habendo Delectu Sententiarum quae γνῶμαι a Graecis dicuntur, and the Dissertatio de Menandro of Greg. Gyraldus, 1569 (this curiously shaped little volume, which is 4½ inches long, by scarcely 2 wide, contains extracts from several poets of the Middle and New Comedy); next, Menandri et Philistionis Sententiae Comparatae, Graece, cur. Nic. Rigaltii, excud. R. Stephanus, 1613, 8vo.; Menandri et Philistionis ϹϒΓΚΡΙϹΙϹ, c. vers. Lat. et not. Rutgersii et D. Heinsii, 1618. 8vo. (in the Var. Lect. of Rutgers); Menandri Fragmenta, Graec. et Lat. in H. Grotii Excerpt. ex Trag. et Com. Graec. Paris, 1626, 4to.; Menandri Sententiae, in Winterton's Poet. Min. Graec., Cantab, et Lond. 1653. The first attempt at a complete critical edition was the following:—Menandri et Philemonis Reliquiae, quotquot reperire potuerunt, Graece et Latine, cum notis Hug. Grotii et Joh. Clerici, &c., Amst. 1709, 8vo.: this edition was reprinted in 1732, 1752, 1771, and 1777, but has been very generally condemned. Since the publication of that work there has been no edition of Menander worthy of notice, except that his Γνῶμαι have had a place in the various collections of the gnomic poets, until the appearance of Meineke's Menandri et Philemonis Reliquiae, Berol. 1823, 8vo.: this admirable edition contains, besides the fragments, dissertations on the lives and writings of the two poets, and Bentley's emendations on the fragments. The fragments are reprinted by Meineke (with the annotations somewhat condensed) in the fourth volume of his Fragmenta Comicorum Graecorum, Berol. 1841, 8vo.; but in the first volume of that work, which contains the Historia Critica Comicorum Graecorum, he passes over the lives of Menander and Philemon, referring the reader to his former work. Meineke's collection has been also reprinted (carefully revised, and with the addition of a Latin version), by Dübner, as an appendix to the Aristophanes of Didot's Bibliotheca Scriptorum Graecorum, Paris, 1840, roy. 8vo. (For the works on Menander, see Hoffman, Lexicon Bibliograph.: the chief authorities, besides Meineke, are Fabric. Bibl. Graec. vol. ii. pp. 454—469; Bernhardy, Grundriss der Griechischen Litteratur, vol. ii. p. 1014; Müller, Grk. Lit.)

[P. S.]