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Dr Valeria Cinaglia (Exeter) Ethics: Ancient Greek Comedy

The fragmentary nature of Middle Comedy, and what is left of Old and New Comedy beyond Aristophanes and Menander, makes it difficult to carry out a comprehensive enquiry into the ethical dimension of Greek Comedy. My attempt will be, therefore, to reconstruct an outline of the topic building mainly on the extant works of Aristophanes and Menander, while supporting my general argument with what is left of other Ancient Greek Comic texts, as far as the evidence can be stretched. In this paper I identify two themes, which, I argue, help shaping my inquiry into the ethical aspects of Ancient Greek Comedy. Accordingly, in part (i) I will start with exploring how Old Comedy reflects on the role of the individual with respect to other people – i.e. his household, community of friends or fellow citizens – the value of reciprocity, the danger of isolation and the search for the right balance among all these factors. In part (ii) I will focus on the different kinds of figures discussed by Aristophanes and Menander, with a brief glance at the pivotal importance that Middle Comedy most probably played in this shift. On the one hand, Aristophanes presents figures in a way that does not immediately invite us to analyse them as realistically presented ethical agents, and it is sometimes difficult to identify a development in their ethical character or an interest in elaborating a reasoning conducive to an improved ethical understanding. In Menander, on the other hand, we can document in more detail a specific interest in describing complex ethical situations and in presenting a clear analysis of the figures’ ethical character development and how this is linked with the presence or absence of ethical understanding. We will see, however, that it is difficult to ascribe this apparent variance in focus to the whole genre. My conclusion is, thus, that some of the fundamental ethical themes do remain consistent throughout time. And indeed, even when we find an apparent sharp difference in ethical focus among comedies written in different periods, we should question whether we have enough evidence to assess this variance.

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Amory B106