Athenian Comedy in the Roman Empire opens with a scene from Pliny the Younger's Letters (6.21): one Vergilius Romanus (otherwise unknown) recites his latest composition, his first attempt at Old Comedy (comoedia vetus), before a small audience, to great acclaim. Pliny's brief account of this performance raises many questions, all unanswerable, about matters ranging from genre to staging. Ignorance about the details of such comic performances inspired C.W. Marshall and Tom Hawkins to solicit papers exploring receptions of Old and New Comedy in the Roman Empire. The resulting volume, as a whole, is rewarding. Marshall and Hawkins have assembled a diverse and stimulating collection of essays, which will prove to be a valuable resource for future work in this area.
The collection contains 12 chapters and an Introduction co-authored by the editors ("Ignorance and the Reception of Comedy in Antiquity"). The Introduction—a model of clarity—provides a history of comedy and identifies the methodological problems with which the volume's contributors will grapple. Especially important is the recognition that any scholarship concerned with "strands of comic influence" must take care "to establish clear criteria by which comic influence can be recognized, defended and analyzed" (7 and 12).
The first two chapters in the volume address receptions of Old and New Comedy in Latin literature. Mathias Hanses ("Juvenal and the Revival of Greek New Comedy at Rome") examines Juvenal's Satires 1–6 for critical reactions to theatrical trends at Rome around the turn of the first century ce, notably a vogue for productions of Menander. Hanses argues that Juvenal's satires draw upon Greek New Comedy even as they adopt a critical posture toward the genre, thus creating a dissonance that plays into the poet's incoherent persona. Julia Nelson Hawkins ("Parrhesia and Pudenda: Speaking Genitals and Satiric Speech") explores how Horace, Petronius, and Martial redeploy images of speaking genitals found in Aristophanes. She proposes [End Page 467] that these images of speaking genitals, as expressions of "male hysteria" (59), tend to arise in times of political anxiety and constrained speech, such as the Peloponnesian War and the Roman Empire.
With Tom Hawkins' contribution ("Dio Chrysostom and the Naked Parabasis"), the volume turns to receptions of Old and New Comedy in Imperial Greek literature. This interesting chapter explores Dio Chrysostom's adoption of a "parabatic voice" (passim) in his Alexandrian Oration and First Tarsian Oration (32 and 33). Hawkins argues that Dio constructs a genealogy of civic chastisement, extending from the Old Comic parabasis through Socratic parrhesia, and culminating in his own frank criticism of his Alexandrian and Tarsian audiences. Dio, a slippery if not ordinarily comic author, thus manages to finesse the awkwardness of his position as a foreign critic by linking his abrasive speech to an established comic tradition.
Ryan B. Samuels ("Favorinus and the Comic Adultery Plot") proposes that Favorinus' paradoxical self-identification as a eunuch tried for adultery plays off traditional comic plots involving adulterers who masquerade as women or eunuchs. Samuels traces these comic adultery plots back to Menander, and after surveying constructs of eunuch sexuality in ancient medical and scientific texts, speculates that Favorinus deployed this motif of disguised virility defensively during his notorious feud with Polemo.
Fritz Graf ("Comedies and Comic Actors in the Greek East: An Epigraphical Perspective") surveys epigraphic evidence for dramatic productions in the second and third centuries ce. By examining prize lists from theatrical festivals, especially at Aphrodisias, Oenoanda, and Thespiae, Graf establishes that new comedies and tragedies were staged alongside revivals of classical plays in this period. Graf also argues that local theatrical festivals drew upon the professional talents of the empire-wide Guild of Dionysiac Artists, whose activities under the emperor's patronage served to promote cultural and political cohesion.
Ralph Rosen contributes the first of two chapters on Lucian's engagement with the comic tradition ("Lucian's Aristophanes: On Understanding Old Comedy in the Roman Imperial Period"). This thought-provoking chapter argues that...