Alice Dryden (huskyteer) wrote,
Alice Dryden

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A funny thing happened on the way to the Vatican

addedentry pointed out this thrilling story about lost fragments of Menander's plays turning up in the Vatican.

Thrilling to me, anyway, as I studied Menander at university - he formed a major part of the Greek And Roman Comedy course, which is how I know the following.

<frankiehowerd>Now it came to pass</frankiehowerd> that for many years we had no Menander at all. We knew his name, the fact that his contemporaries spoke highly of him, and the titles of some of his plays, but of the plays themselves nothing remained.

We knew, however, that many of the Roman playwright Plautus's wildly popular comedies, some of which are still performed today (and as comedies, rather than for the sake of scholarship, too), borrowed heavily from Menander. Molière's comedies were based in turn on those of Plautus, as were A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum and TV spinoff Up Pompeii.

Because of the format of his plays (cast of predictable stereotypes gets into wacky scrapes thanks to harebrained schemes and humorous misunderstandings), Menander was seen as the father of modern comedy, and there was much speculation as to how mindblowingly funny his plays must have been before they were diluted by translation into namby-pamby Latin and French. The lodestone of laffs, if you will.

So imagine the rejoicing when some sizeable chunks of Menander's works were at last found. The world of classical study was set ablaze, with excitement unmatched since it was discovered that Troy wasn't just a figment of Homer's imagination.

Then someone - I always think of the little boy in The Emperor's New Clothes at this point - remarked that the plays weren't actually very funny.

Various excuses were made: the manuscripts were faked; they'd happened to find all the plays he wrote on an off day; the best puns were lost in translation. But eventually everyone had to admit that the Father of Comedy had a terrible sense of humour. Which will come as no surprise to anyone who saw the last series of Friends.

Who knows, maybe the new bits will change all that?

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