ElAnt v2n4 - Personal Relationships and Other Features of Menander

Volume 2, Number 4
December 1994


Stanley Ireland,
Department of Classics, 
University of Warwick,
Coventry, CV4 7AL,
e-mail: CLRAL@snow.csv.warwick.ac.uk

The rediscovery of Menander this century has been one of the great success stories of Classical Studies in recent times, bringing within our grasp the opportunity not only to read again a literature that later antiquity ranked second only to Homer in popularity, but also to gauge for ourselves the accuracy of that ancient verdict. The initial enthusiasm which greeted the publication of the texts in the early decades, however, gave way in time to a certain disappointment that in some respects the plays did not come up to expectation. This was perhaps inevitable and the natural result of scholars expecting too much. They forgot, for instance, that Menander's genre was social comedy and that his plots were based on everyday life, not the fantastic absurdities of Aristophanes or the horrors of some tragedies. Another cause of disappointment comes when students read the plays as if they were novels, as if the total effect were blatantly visible on the surface. This is not the case, as I hope to demonstrate. As Plutarch recognised at Moralia 853-4, Menander is a sophisticated playwright who produces his effect by a careful manipulation of both language and situation, and his depiction of human relationships is, I think, one of the major products of his skill.

In any discussion of Menander, Dyskolos is almost inevitably the prime candidate for initial consideration. As the playwright's most complete work it presents what is ostensibly the best potential for studying virtually every aspect of his dramatic technique. For an analysis of human relationships on the other hand, one might be forgiven for wondering if it is worth examining at all, since Menander has injected into the love intrigue that is the usual basis of his plays an obstacle that is the very antithesis of inter- relationships: Knemon. So extreme a character is given to this old man, and he assumes such prominence within the action -- for all that his appearance on-stage amounts to so little -- that some scholars, like Armin Schaefer in his excellent study of the play,( 1 ) have suggested the development within the action of two plots not one: the love of Sostratos for the old man's daughter, and the character development of Knemon himself. In other words, Schaefer suggests that Knemon's character prevents any meaningful contact between the two themes and, by implication, prevents much development of personal relationships across this divide.( 2 ) Though this extreme view has, I think, been adequately challenged,( 3 ) we cannot deny that Menander does present a problem with Knemon, not least for himself. Here, after all, is a character clearly based on Timon, the archetypal misanthrope of the 5th century BC, whose total antipathy towards company was celebrated by Aristophanes, and in later antiquity was to be further developed by writers such as Lucian. How then was the playwright to include such a character in the development of the drama? In the prologue to the play the god Pan produces a description that would seem to offer little hope of much dramatic development at all, and this is seen by some as contributory evidence for the suggestion that by 317/6 BC Menander was still not in full control of his comic technique.

What I hope to demonstrate, however, is that Menander is indeed in control of his material and that the picture we are given does have relevance to the theme of personal relationships. The image we are presented with is admittedly extreme. Knemon is apanthropos tis anthropos l.6, remote from men both psychologically and physically . His farm, close to the border with Boeotia, is deliberately placed to the left of the stage, that side which by convention was farthest from the centre of Athens. He is 'bad- tempered towards everyone' and 'takes no pleasure in company': that is, he is fundamentally anti-social, l.7. Of his limited contact with the outside world Menander says 'in all his life he's never spoken willingly to anyone' l.9f.: that is, he is devoid of the most basic human graces, except when awe for the divine forces him unwillingly to address the god as he passes his shrine (10ff. cf. Theocritus 1. 15ff.). There is much in this description that is in fact reminiscent of the extreme cynic, something that has already been well discussed ekourakis.( 4 ) Elsewhere in the prologue there are further references, discussed by Goldberg,( 5 ) which underline the isolation of Knemon, and these are expanded upon in the course of the action when Knemon is approached by the slave Pyrrhias (103ff.), only to drive him off amidst a shower of stones, clods of earth and wild pears. We next see this misanthropy when Knemon forces the young man Sostratos to withdraw in the face of his hostile sarcasm (168ff.). It reappears when Knemon reacts first with disgust at the arrival of Sostratos' mother and her party (431ff.), and then with verbal and physical abuse when Getas and Sikon attempt to borrow cooking equipment (466ff.). We see it finally when Knemon rejects all offers of help in the task of rescuing his mattock from the well (600f.). There is, of course, comic potential in this portrayal of Knemon in the very failure of others to communicate with him, but if the aim of the play is to effect a marriage between Sostratos and Knemon's daughter, we might indeed wonder if the creation of Knemon is too extreme to allow this to happen without the forced intervention of major dramatic inconsistency. Yet I would suggest that Menander sows the seeds of escape from a problem of his own making in that very section of the drama where it is first encountered -- in the prologue. This Menander does by honestly admitting the problem, before introducing those factors that finally lead to the play's happy ending. For Knemon's antisocial attitudes and behaviour, introduced in 6-12, contain within them an element of instability which Menander introduces in l.13 with the telling word 'nevertheless':

'Nevertheless, in spite of having such a character'

Despite his Timon qualities -- and his mania for self-sufficiency developed in later lines -- Knemon married a widow with a son by her previous marriage, and then produced a daughter. By this means Menander, almost by way of an aside, introduces material that contains a limiting factor for the old man's misanthropy and seclusion, material that is then developed in the course of the action and sets in train a series of events and developments that lead ultimately to the necessary resolution of the plot. That word 'nevertheless' is one of the most important in the play. It is the word that introduces Knemon's vulnerable spot, the flaw in his longed-for isolation, and once this weakness has been revealed it can never be covered up again. Menander does try to do just this in what follows -- he has no immediate desire to give up the comic potential of developing a character like Knemon -- but the essence of Knemon's weakness as an extreme personality is already there, ready to be called upon when needed.

How does Menander seek to minimise the weakness he has just introduced? How does he cover it up again for the sake of the drama? First, he introduces the rupture in the marriage of Knemon and Myrrhine, using such vivid terms as zugomachon in l.17, evocative of Atossa's dream in Aeschylus Persai and repeated at Dyskolos 250. Through such words he calls attention to the difficulties the couple encountered. The word with its built-in imagery illustrates well in fact the importance Menander places upon vocabulary and structure in this prologue. Here it is that the playwright must gain and then hold the attention of the audience whilst giving them in a short space of time those details that make the action credible. To do this successfully requires no small skill, as I hope has already been demonstrated by myself,( 6 ) and by Ramage.( 7 ) To back up his use of words Menander also employs enjambment -- taking sentence-endings beyond their natural position at the ends of lines, thus emphasising their contents, e.g. 'It was a miserable existence' (l.19). And he minimises the positive effect of the daughter by making her virtually the cause of the marriage's collapse when Myrrhine went back to her son, and thus little more than a negative appendage to Knemon's life. Take for instance the virtual illogicality of 30f:

'The old man lives alone with his daughter and an old serving woman'

Knemon lives alone -- and the word 'alone' occupies an important position in the line -- though he has a daughter. The old serving woman Simiche suffers even greater marginalisation: the enjambment in which she is mentioned makes her little more than an afterthought for the sake of complete information. So Menander paints an extreme picture, while adding those elements that work against total solitude. Here in the prologue their impact upon the sense is minuscule. Later, though, Simiche in particular is to have a profound effect upon Knemon, since it is her actions that lead to his accident when she loses first the pot then the mattock down the well, forcing Knemon to attempt a rescue that merely results in him falling in.

Immediately following the description comes the theme of Knemon's constant work, 31f.:

'Fetching wood, digging, forever working'

It is a theme that runs through the whole play, as many have recognised, and it is a factor that links Knemon's stepson Gorgias to him, and thus allows Gorgias to form the bridge, first thematically but later in reality, between the old man and Sostratos, and a bridge means of course contact -- another breach in the wall of unsociability Knemon seeks to build. As we learn later, the hard work that Knemon inflicts upon himself -- and I use the word "inflict" deliberately since it is clear that his farm would allow hired help (cf. Gorgias' words 328ff. 'He persists in farming it all on his own without a single living soul to help out -- no household slave, no hired labourer from round about, no neighbour') -- this hard work stems from a mania for self-sufficiency 713f.:

'I thought I was the one person in the world who could be self- sufficient and would never need anyone's help'

Yet once again the failure of Knemon's self-sufficiency -- the admission of which comes so late -- is already signalled in the prologue with the mention of the marriage and the existence of the daughter and Simiche. For though these two characters seem mere additions in the way they are presented at 30f., subsequent events show Knemon dependent upon them, even if this dependence is depicted openly by making Simiche and the daughter mere providers of hot water. This may at first seem a very unimportant task until we remember that Knemon is also in the habit of taking the girl with him when he goes to work (333f.); yet today he has left her behind. As a result it is she who must try to get water from the shrine because Simiche has lost the water pot into the well; in consequence she comes into contact with Sostratos; this is then seen by Daos, whose report of the event to Gorgias prompts him to intervene. In the context of Knemon the existence of the daughter is a limitation on his desire for total independence, and an element he cannot altogether control. Indeed Knemon himself activates that limitation when his return home forces the girl into a situation in which Sostratos can intervene, producing the only direct contact he has with her in the whole play.

It is indeed paradoxical to our 20th century minds that Sostratos marries a girl he hardly knows and Gorgias later becomes betrothed to one he has yet to meet. On another level Gorgias' subsequent intervention is surely a deliberate contrast between what is seen as Knemon's neglect of the girl -- which itself betokens the failure of his self-sufficiency (cf. Daos' criticism of Knemon at 222ff.) -- and Gorgias' recognition of his own family responsibility (241ff., 'Her father may not want to have anything to do with us, but don't let us base our actions on his bad-tempered ways'), a foreshadowing of his later generosity in rescuing Knemon from the well. Ironically too, the neglect Daos complained about at 220ff. -- leaving the girl a prey to potential rape -- is a charge that Gorgias himself launches against the slave at 233ff.

The antisocial attitude attributed to Knemon in the prologue and which manifests itself each time the old man is brought into unwilling contact with others, is given further poignancy when it becomes clear that even his own daughter is afraid of him (204ff. 'Is father coming? I'll get a good hiding if he catches me outside'). Yet, as we gradually discover in the course of the action, this forbidding picture built up is softened by such factors as Getas' description at 603ff. -- that Knemon's rough behaviour is typical of Attic farmers and stems from the lives they lead -- and from Sostratos' view that the girl's positive character (384ff.) stems from her upbringing by a father who is a 'hater of evil' (388). In the event both analyses are largely correct, though there is little to indicate their correctness at the time; their relevance becomes clear only during Knemon's justification of his lifestyle (713ff.) when the limitation I mentioned as existing in the prologue gets its full explanation. Such analyses by Getas and Sostratos are also dramatically necessary since Menander could not have produced Knemon's apologia vitae suae without preparatory mitigation of his earlier unsociability.

I have already mentioned Knemon's mania for isolation and his anti-social ways. At 147, faced by the approach of the old man, Sostratos refers to this as a lack of philanthropia :

'He doesn't look to me at all friendly',

which is soon to contrast strongly with the philanthropia that is characteristic of Gorgias and which reveals itself in the protective attitude he displays towards his sister (234ff., 289ff.), his desire to see her married (353f.), and this despite Knemon's own attitude to his extended family (241f.). We see it too in the concern that Gorgias has for his mother (22ff., 617ff.), the readiness with which he accepts Sostratos' assurances of good faith (315ff.), and his immediate assistance in rescuing from the well a character who himself recognises in it an act of disinterested and undeserved act of charity (722ff., cf. Diogenes Laertius 3.98). It would be all too easy in circumstances such as this to attribute to Gorgias a character over-endowed with philanthropia -- to make him a total contrast to Knemon -- but to do so would be a total misrepresentation of the way Menander has Gorgias approach personal relations, and it would in fact damage his role as bridge between Knemon and Sostratos. The first glimpse we get of Gorgias, at the beginning of Act II, is hardly endowed with philanthropia . His opening words criticise Daos for not ordering Sostratos out of the area straight away; he then reacts with undisguised hostility at the mere sight of Sostratos when the young man re-enters ('A scoundrel and no mistake from the look of him', 258). These two factors serve instead to strengthen the picture given first in the prologue (25f.) and later by Daos (207): of someone overburdened with work -- something Gorgias later admits (343f.) when he claims he has never been in love because his hard life has never allowed him to be.

This emphasis on work connects Gorgias closely with Knemon, whose own hard work, mentioned at 31f., suggests the production of a similar anti-social character, and indeed our first impression of Gorgias would seem to bear this out. Similarly, at no stage in Act II -- or in the whole play for that matter -- does Gorgias actually offer Sostratos practical help. Instead he tries to open Sostratos' eyes to what he regards at 322ff. as the impossibility of winning the girl, and in his introduction to the fragmentary section (349f.) mentioning the possibility of Sostratos accompanying him to the fields: 'You won't get her' is specifically designed to emphasise that Sostratos will not succeed. Yet as Ramage p.209 states, Gorgias does not hesitate to give Sostratos real help when the chance actually occurs, any more than he hesitates to rescue Knemon. This contrasts strongly with Chaireas who was very ready to offer help but actually gave none. Gorgias is even prepared to indulge in what Arnott ( 8 ) regards as inconsistency of character by telling a supposed lie at 754f. In my own view I would not be so harsh: to help his friend Gorgias merely goes along with a fiction Knemon has himself introduced:

Kn.: Well, he's certainly been in the sun. Is he a farmer? Go.: Very much so, Father. He's no dandy or the type to stroll about idly all day.

And in any case Gorgias' role (albeit passive) in the plan for Sostratos to work on Gorgias' land (350-70) suggests a willingness at least to go along with deceit.( 9 )

So on the one hand Gorgias' 'experience of life' mentioned in 29 produces characteristics typical of the rustic Knemon type, while he retains features that allow a ready interaction with Sostratos -- exactly what we might expect from a character whose dramatic function is to span those two worlds of town and country. To do this effectively, of course, Menander has had to produce a skilful balance in his presentation of Gorgias. Just as his rustic qualities cannot be expressed in terms too close to those of Knemon, so too his friendship with Sostratos must be kept under control -- hence the altogether natural reluctance to leave his mother alone longer than is absolutely necessary at 617ff., in response to Sostratos' invitation to the sacrificial party, and the reluctance to accept without objection Sostratos' plans to marry Gorgias to his sister in Act V. Gorgias is someone with a mind of his own, and while that mind is open to persuasion, it does require persuasion. Here too Menander provides a balance for the personality of Sostratos, whose attitude to other people is consistently parasitic -- he expects them to do whatever he wants and to accept what he has decided is good for them.

Again Menander is faced with a problem of his own making: how to present the possibility of such a character while retaining audience sympathy. The solution exists to a large extent in the way Sostratos' relationships with others are presented. Although Sostratos expects help from others, and this reveals a large degree of selfishness in his character, he is rarely allowed to succeed in this. He relies on the slave Pyrrhias to make contact with Knemon, and Pyrrhias is driven off. He seeks the help of the parasite Chaireas, who retreats at the mere description of Knemon. He goes off to enlist the help of Getas, but Getas is not available. He tries to use Gorgias and is blatantly transparent in his attempts to fasten on to Gorgias' admission of friendship (317ff.); yet Gorgias is doubtful if he can help at all. Sostratos persists and hopes to use the possibility of working on Gorgias' land to attract the attention of Knemon; yet Knemon fails to appear, ironically because of the arrival of Sostratos' own mother and her party. And the turning point of the whole play, the accident down the well, is brought about by events that have little to do with Sostratos. The only consciously motivated success that Sostratos has in the whole play is in persuading his father Kallippides to accept Gorgias as his son- in-law, and even here Gorgias' resistance to this later and unexpected development is overcome not by Sostratos but by Kallippides, and what convinces Kallippides of Gorgias' worth are not Sostratos' arguments -- those at 797-812 merely concern the use of wealth -- but rather what convinces Kallippides is Gorgias' own reluctance to accept a life of ease based on an advantageous marriage (829-40). This is the mirror image of Kallippides' own earlier objections to a penniless son-in-law. What rescues Sostratos from the negative aspects of his character, then, are:

1) his very failure to achieve anything himself: the comedy of disappointment,( 10 )

2) his eternal optimism, such as we see at 864f.:

'In a single day I've achieved a marriage no one would ever have thought at all possible'

3) his ability to smile at his own failure -- first when all his hard work in the fields apparently comes to nothing (522ff.), and then at the ineffectiveness of his part in rescuing Knemon (666ff.),

and 4) the humour inherent in the fact that Sostratos spends so much energy in this attempts to impress Knemon yet fails, but his work does in fact impress the one man who really matters -- Gorgias -- since it is Gorgias who ultimately performs the betrothal.( 11 )

Sostratos' ability to manipulate his father in the sphere of finance forms only a minor element in Dyskolos . In Samia on the other hand attempts to manipulate a father by his son assume more wide-ranging and dramatically more important proportions. In terms of character development for the young man involved, however, Moschion fares no better than Sostratos did. He ends the play virtually no different from what he was at the beginning. Yet personal relationships lie at the very heart of the action in Samia , and in consequence have attracted considerable attention from commentators.( 12 )

It is perhaps the importance of this theme of personal relationships -- in particular that of Demeas and Moschion, his adopted son -- that accounts for the relative simplicity of the plot. In the absence of his father Demeas Moschion has got the girl next door pregnant. Despite promises to marry her he cannot bring himself to reveal the fact of the child to his father on his return, preferring instead to maintain the fiction that the child really belongs to Demeas and his mistress Chrysis. When Demeas learns half the truth -- that the child is really Moschion's -- he drives Chrysis out of his house in the belief that there has been an affair between the boy and Chrysis while he has been away, and he refuses even to consider that Moschion is in any way the guilty party. Moschion attempts to persuade Demeas to restore Chrysis and even to allow her to attend the marriage between Moschion and Plangon that Demeas and his neighbour Niceratos have arranged for their children in the meantime To Demeas Moschion's suggestion is monstrous, but with Niceratos on stage he continues his attempt to preserve his son's reputation until Niceratos finds his daughter suckling the baby and Moschion can at last reveal the whole situation to his father in one of the brief intervals that Niceratos is offstage. By the end of Act IV all seems to have been restored; Niceratos has been persuaded at least to accept a situation he cannot change, and the marriage that all concerned have been trying to bring about since Act I is at last on the point of going ahead. In Act V, however, Moschion's annoyance that his father should believe him capable of an affair with Chrysis leads to a sham and ridiculous pretence of going abroad as a soldier. His aim is to punish Demeas, but the plot fails and the intervention of Niceratos provides the excuse for Moschion to give up his scheme.

I have already mentioned the adoptive status of Moschion, and scholars have rightly seen this as the reason why father and son are apparently so careful to take one another’s feelings into account,( 13 ) or to explain Demeas' indulgent attitude towards Moschion.( 14 ) Yet this care actually disguises an instability in that relationship, the first signs of which are apparent in the 'prologue', just as was the case with Dyskolos . This instability in fact forms the driving force of the action we see.( 15 ) The monologue with which Samia opens, and which serves as prologue, differs from that of Dyskolos in being delivered by Moschion himself -- a personal statement detailing his early upbringing, the part he played in enabling Demeas to take Chrysis as his mistress despite the old man's worries, Moschion's own adventure with Plangon next door and his promise of marriage. As prologue speaker we tend to give Moschion the same level of trust for accuracy and objectivity as we would to a divine prologue speaker. This is clearly what Menander wants, since his aim is to surprise us when developments turn out otherwise. What is especially important about Moschion's speech is the importance he gives to himself, even in the account of the affair between Demeas and Chrysis, and the condescending tone he adopts -- describing the affair as 'a human enough occurrence' at 22. Demeas, he says, was embarrassed by it, so it was up to Moschion to see to his father's welfare, 23f.:

'I realised he was unwilling and I reckoned that...'

For all his 'care' Moschion shows himself to be a character given to calculation -- here for the good of his father, at the beginning of Act V as part of his growing annoyance in 619f.,( 16 ) but in both cases it is Moschion himself who lies at the centre. As a result, despite his feelings for his father, it is self-interest that prevents Moschion from revealing the truth in the opening scene of Act II when Demeas makes clear his annoyance at finding that Chrysis has chosen to rear a child he has apparently fathered on her. Instead, Moschion indulges in sophistry on what constitutes legitimacy and illegitimacy and allows Chrysis to take the blame for him, just as Pamphilus allows his mother to take the blame in Terence's Hecyra , a play based on an original by Apollodorus, who tradition suggests was very dependent upon Menander. Worse still is Moschion's reaction when Demeas drives Chrysis from the house. One can argue that the presence of Niceratos on stage prevents the young man from being totally open about what he did to Plangon, but again Moschion is thinking of himself not Chrysis, attempting to restore her to her rightful position by methods that rely upon Demeas' previous indulgent attitude.

To state that the problem inherent in the situation is caused by the inherent instability of the relationship between father and son may seem strange; after all in the opening monologue Moschion had emphasised that he owed everything to Demeas and had tried to show himself worthy of his father's generosity. Similarly Demeas has shown that he is prepared to make considerable sacrifices for the sake of his son -- even giving up a mistress he loves. Yet their relationship is unstable because it involves two characters who are totally opposite in their personalities. I have already mentioned Moschion's tendency to calculation shown in the emphasis he placed vocabulary like 'I reckoned' l.24; it resurfaces when at 95 he goes off to contemplate how he will raise the subject of marriage when his father returns and it is shown very clearly at the beginning of Act V with 619f.. Added to this is his cowardice, shown in the early scene with Parmeno 65ff. Demeas in contrast has a tendency to jump to conclusions on only partial information and a resultant rashness: for instance, his initial reaction to the baby at the beginning of Act II, his behaviour at the beginning of Act III where he has to force himself into a false calmness to tell the audience what he has just seen, and then he allows his anger to prevent both Parmenon and Chrysis revealing the full facts. This difference of temperament is also shown in the quite opposite reactions both characters show towards the situation in which they find themselves. Moschion remains constantly self-centred, unprepared to risk anything, even to prevent Chrysis becoming the permanent victim of his father's unjustified anger. Even his plan to punish Demeas in Act V is shown to be a sham from the very outset when he states he is not in fact prepared to go through with his plot (623ff., esp. 630f.):

'As it is I'll not do anything brave because of you, my darling Plangon'.

This, we may note, is in stark contrast to Demeas, who was prepared to give up his love.

Once again Menander produces a paradox: this time a father and son whose affection for one another is genuine enough, but whose characters do not converge in agreement. Instead, each creates difficulties that threaten their individual happiness, one through timidity, the other through rashness. As in Dyskolos they need a bridge to restore them to the relationship described at the beginning, and that bridge strangely enough is Niceratos. His intervention at 713ff., threatening to arrest Moschion to prevent him going abroad, avoids the need for any embarrassing climb-down or apology by Moschion after the mild lecture on past kindnesses from Demeas, and it is the threat -- not his father's moderation -- that enables Moschion to accept this outside force as the excuse for giving up his so-called plan to go abroad. Those who talk of a reconciliation between father and son ( 17 ) are clearly wrong since there is no recognition by Moschion that he has done wrong, no recognition that he has in fact been the major obstacle in the path of his own happiness. His words at 724f.:

'If you had done this straight away, Father, you wouldn't have needed to philosophise just now'

show him still failing to accept responsibility for what has happened. But is this without parallel within Menander? No, it is precisely the situation in Dyskolos where Sostratos too remains blind to his own failings -- his inability to act for himself -- when at 864f. he innocently claims responsibility for achieving his marriage. So too in Samia Moschion begins and ends the play dependent upon the goodwill of his father -- a less sympathetic figure than Sostratos -- and indicating what I think would prove axiomatic of Menander if only we had more plays: that the thought processes of young bachelors do not change within the action.

Balancing the contrast between Moschion and Demeas is the contrast in personality between Demeas and Niceratos, which is apparent from the moment we first see them in Act I. The problem of attribution of speaking parts in the scene when the two old men enter discussing their recent journey to Byzantium and the Black Sea has already been sufficiently resolved for us to see in the scene features that recur later in the play. There is for instance Niceratos' tendency to short explosive statements (98ff., cf. 410ff., 416ff.). On Demeas' side there is his imaginative interpretation of the weather they encountered, which is balanced later by his equally imaginative introduction of the myth of Danae as a 'parallel' to Plangon's pregnancy (589ff.). We see too in this early scene Demeas' concern for the apparent financial differences between himself and Niceratos over the question of the marriage. By taking the initiative in raising the issue here, Menander, through Demeas, makes the marriage of the children seem less unequal -- he avoids the charge that Niceratos is merely seeking an advantageous marriage for his daughter. Yet what appear in this scene as complementary differences, differences that draw the old men together in mutual respect and concern, are again unstable, as we later see in their quite different reactions to the crisis of Act IV. While Demeas continues in his attempt to hide the apparent disgrace his son has been engaged in, Niceratos seems positively determined that all the world should know the meaning of what he has discovered in his own house and the significance of finding his daughter feeding the baby -- and this not once but twice -- 535f. & 540f., lines which use phases deliberately designed to echo one another and through that echo to reinforce one another. The contrast here is clearly designed for humour, like the two fathers' reactions at the end of the play, but it is a contrast that does nothing to advance the plot in the direction of marriage. So, Demeas at 586f. is made to return to the type of role he had in Act I -- seize the initiative and lead his neighbour to acceptance of a marriage between their children. It is a role he also filled in Act II, when in a fragmentary section of the text Demeas had to persuade Niceratos to hold the marriage ceremony that very day. Niceratos for some reason regarded this as an impossibility and had to be won over by Demeas.( 18 )

Before we leave Samia a few words can be added on the relationship between Demeas and Chrysis, in reality a minor theme of the play, whereas we with our modern susceptibilities might have expected it to assume greater importance. The reason for this is the greater significance Menander attached to the father-son axis. However, the references that the relationship does receive in the course of the play reveal the same underlying rationale as exists in plays such as Epitrepontes , Perikeiromene and Misoumenos : a rupture in relations caused by the intervention of outside factors, in this case, as with Epitrepontes , the existence of a baby.

In terms of human feeling the rift between Demeas and Chrysis contains great poignancy and there is no need to try to minimise the tragic overtones of Chrysis' expulsion from Demeas' house. Menander himself recognised the pathos by inserting the intervention of the cook and bringing on-stage the comic figure of Niceratos with the sheep at 399 precisely to re-establish a lighter, less tragic, atmosphere after the expulsion scene. Why then is there no corresponding scene of reconciliation between the pair? Why are we made simply to assume and accept the fact of reconciliation from 1) the return of the woman to Demeas' house after she is expelled from the house of Niceratos, where she had earlier sought refuge from her lover, and 2) the reference to her at 730 ('Chrysis, send out the women')? The answer is that for all the seriousness of the expulsion scene Menander has already established that Demeas is an unwilling participant in the rupture of relations, that the expulsion damages himself emotionally hardly less than it does Chrysis, that the loss of Chrysis is the price he is prepared to pay to protect Moschion. Demeas' words at 349ff. show this clearly (pace Keuls):

'You've got to be a man now, Demeas. Forget your affection, stop your love for her, and hide the unhappy event as best you can for your son's sake'.

It is words like these that show Demeas, for all his hot-headedness, as much a victim of his son's inability to face his responsibilities and his reliance on others as is Chrysis herself.( 19 ) Emergence of the truth at 528f. removes the problem in the Demeas-Chrysis relationship and hence restores it to its former state.

The young men we have looked at so far have been essentially light-weight characters, incapable of producing what Goldberg in his book (p.80 f.) calls the potential for psychological tensions. They remain characters we view only skin-deep. They exist either as the carriers and instigators of the plot -- as in the case of Sostratos -- or as obstacles to it in the case of Moschion. In their respective plays the real dramatic focus resides in older males. This verdict is also true of Moschion in Perikeiromene and Sikyonios , but in both these plays, as indeed in Epitrepontes , Menander does develop that revelation of emotional relationships through the words of characters that gives these plays greater depth and allows greater audience involvement.

Despite this overall increase in the depth of feelings Menander is still able to provide considerable variation in the way he displays it. It is for instance one of the remarkable features of Epitrepontes that the main participants in the plot, Pamphile and Charisios do not appear until Act IV. The cause is readily understandable and has long been recognised: the fact that there can be no meaningful contact between them until the factor that has led Charisios to leave his wife -- the baby -- is shown to be the offspring of the young couple after all. Even then there is no touching scene of reconciliation between them. Menander simply does not indulge this level of sentimentality; it is assumed in the events of Act IV. Until that point the action is carried by surrogates, characters who, as it were, carry the drama in the place of the young couple. The most significant of these is Habrotonon, the music girl hired by Charisios in his vain attempt to blot out from his mind the fact that he has left his wife. In many ways indeed Habrotonon comes to represent aspects of both Charisios and Pamphile, and it is certainly she who provides the preparatory indications that will allow Charisios to resume relations with his wife. Like Polemon in Perikeiromene , Charisios is in dramatic terms in a difficult position. As the audience will have learned from the opening scenes of the play, including the now lost expository prologue, Charisios has wronged his wife twice over: first in raping her before their marriage, and secondly in moving out of his house when he learned about the result of that rape, the existence of a baby he as yet does not realise is his own. Though he has not publicly rejected his wife for this, as Athenian law allowed and indeed required, he is still the perpetrator of injustice and as such needs greater effort on the part of Menander to be shown worthy of the happiness that awaits him. So it is that Habrotonon pointedly describes Charisios as not enjoying life away from his wife -- first perhaps in 166ff. and certainly at the beginning of Act III -- 432- 441. In this same Act Habrotonon's reaction to the baby also places her in the position of quasi-mother, a stand-in for the mother who, driven to hide her shame, abandoned it. This position is emphasised by her sympathetic concern for both child and its mother. We see it in the description of the suffering inflicted on the girl raped at the Tauropolia festival, which Habrotonon attended in her role as music girl; we see it in her reluctance to discover the identity of the girl in question, who is rightly suspected of being the mother of the abandoned baby, until Habrotonon has first confirmed that Charisios is indeed the father. In this she mirrors Charisios' own unspoken, yet implicit, reluctance to disgrace his wife by revealing her shame. We see it also in the way she describes how at the time of the Tauropolia she too was still a virgin. This carries the implication that she has also lost her virginity since then, and that as a slave girl she had no more control over that loss than the girl had in being raped.

In turning to Act IV we are fortunate in the publication within the last decade of more text from the opening scene which, though fragmentary, produces a more balanced and direct view of how the young couple regard each other -- their personal relationship. In response to the attempts by Smikrines, the girl's father, to bring about a divorce on the wholly unjustified grounds of Charisios' supposedly riotous life away from his wife, Pamphile makes what is clearly a spirited defence of her marriage and of her husband personally, and she shows herself still loyal to him even after his treatment of her. The departure of Smikrines and the arrival of Habrotonon then brings about the reunion of mother and baby, a deliberately engineered coincidence to rescue Pamphile from what is otherwise the depths of despair, and as a result no less satisfying, for it makes the reunion a clear reward for her loyalty to her husband and constitutes one of those instances of the intervention of natural justice that are so prominent in Menander.

For his part Charisios has overheard the conversation between Smikrines and Pamphile and in a scene of considerable self- reproach -- partly reported by Onesimos (878ff.) and partly revealed by Charisios himself (908ff.) -- shows openly those feelings for Pamphile that have motivated his reported behaviour. More importantly, however, his outpouring here demonstrates that he has actually learned something from recent events -- the hypocrisy of his earlier behaviour in rejecting a wife who was the victim of rape while he, the perpetrator of rape, has chosen to occupy the moral high ground. Once Charisios has demonstrated this, once he has shown the true depth of love he has for his wife, his reward too is not slow in coming in the form of information that the child is his too. In the face of the evident affection husband and wife declare for one another, once the factor that separates them is removed, their reconciliation is a foregone conclusion.

Perikeiromene mirrors many of the features we have seen at work in Epitrepontes : a young man, Polemon, this time the lover not the husband of the heroine Glykera, feels himself wronged by her when she failed to repulse Moschion's kiss and wrongs her in turn by cutting off her hair. Like Charisios he soon comes to regret his action -- and properly so since expository information given in the prologue reveals he is totally wrong in his interpretation of the event to which he has taken exception. In his case, however, he is more concerned about producing a reconciliation with Glykera, who is the one to leave home this time, angered at her treatment and rightly so, since she will eventually turn out to be free-born and must be shown to have that innate sense of nobility that was the hallmark of the free within drama. Yet despite her deep sense of grievance which threatens to make the rift between them irreversible Menander inserts subtle indications that Glykera has not abandoned all feelings for Polemon. In Act IV (745f.) Glykera's failure to respond to Pataikos' question as to whether she has totally given up Polemon suggests in itself that she has not. This indeed is necessary, and the line is an important one, since by the end of the play she is betrothed to Polemon. In the meantime Polemon's continuing love for Glykera -- his rough handling of her was described in the prologue as out of character -- has been amply demonstrated in its own right through the torment of guilt he feels. This comes out well again with Pataikos, the bridge figure (and ultimately Glykera's long-lost father) in Act III with some remarkably perceptive insights into the male psyche in the emphasis he places on the wardrobe he gave her -- saying it with flowers as it were, and Fortenbaugh ( 20 ) is correct to see the wardrobe as a sign of how well Glykera has been treated in the past

One factor in this play that we might look at is Menander's handling of the recognition scene. In Act IV Glykera indicates her resolve to leave Polemon for ever. To do this she asks Pataikos to retrieve some items from the soldier's house. They are brought out by the maid Doris and are discovered to be tokens of identity left with Glykera when she was abandoned in infancy. They are immediately recognised by Pataikos at 771ff. yet the formal act of recognition is delayed until 824 (despite 800). So what is happening and why does Menander delay the development so long? The passage in question is a dialogue formed mainly out of stichomythia and highly reminiscent of tragedy in the application of stricter, tragic rules of metre, in the echoes of Euripidean phrasing at 788 (Eur. Fr. 484), and 809 ( Troades 88), and in the adherence to the stichomythic form even if this requires the insertion of space-fillers to complete lines (780, 785, 799, 805, 807). In the dialogue we first hear of the circumstances that led to the exposure of Glykera and her brother, so structured that in the first part it is Pataikos who asks the questions, but at 799 the initiative shifts to Glykera. This balance is deliberate, if somewhat artificial, since it produces a demonstration of the pain involved for both sides in the story of exposing the children, which in turn excuses any initial cruelty in the act. The logic of the dialogue we have to admit is indeed odd, since the recognition and reunion should come much earlier, but in emotional terms the delay is essential and allows the insertion of considerable pathos. The scene is noteworthy too since it is overheard by Moschion and allows a double recognition of identity without detracting from its force by an enforced replay involving the young man, something to be avoided since he is throughout treated as a lightweight character

For much of the play Moschion has been under the impression that because Glykera did not reject his initial advance she has been in love with him. The audience, of course, know from the prologue that her behaviour is caused by the fact that she knows Moschion is her brother. This knowledge in fact controls her relationship with Moschion till the end of Act IV, but to achieve this Menander has to introduce a problem for himself. In order to restore relations with Polemon, Glykera need only have revealed the true nature of her relationship to Moschion, but this would have meant both the premature end of the play and would have made Glykera, who is the victim of violence, responsible for the reconciliation -- impossible if she is to prove to be freeborn and therefore endowed with natural nobility. At the same time, since reconciliation and marriage is the aim of the action, Polemon's initial violence cannot be made natural to him, and we learn from Agnoia in the prologue that it is not, but like Charisios in Epitrepontes he must earn his happiness through the pain of remorse and regret. What is there, therefore, which produces this necessary delay which in turn allows the full development of emotion in both Glykera and Polemon? It is simply the current status of Moschion himself, who is being passed off as the legitimate son of Myrrhine, and hence of full citizen status, though in fact he is no more entitled to this before the recognition scene than is Glykera herself. Through a touching display of loyalty to her brother, which prevents her from disgracing him, the moral worth of Glykera is built up; it lasts in fact even into the recognition scene, since Glykera still refuses to involve her brother as late as 789f.:

'I could tell you everything. But ask what is relevant to myself; for I can tell you this'.

It would, of course, be possible to take this investigation further and to delve into the personal relationships that figure in Aspis , as Smikrines attempts to claim for himself his nephew's estate by insisting on marrying the young man's sister, or Sikyonios with its rivalry over a girl, or Misoumenos with its rejected lover, but they would probably add little that would fundamentally alter the picture built up -- of the importance of personal relationships to the plays of Menandeer. Curiously, though, it will have become clear that time and again the playwright presents these personal relationships in a negative light, showing us either the difficulties that beset their establishment, as in Dyskolos , or the dangers that threaten to shatter them, as a supposedly illegitimate infant comes between husband and wife ( Epitrepontes ), or an impetuous act breaks a bond of trust ( Perikeiromene ). Then again, what we repeatedly see are difficulties in relationships brought about by a failure to communicate -- only too apparent in Samia , but underlying virtually all the situations dealt with. Another feature of these situations is their concentration upon the male. This is perhaps understandable in terms of the male-centricity of ancient society, but there are many areas of male-female relationships within the plays that are worthy of study, as Brown( 21 ) has recently shown with his excellent study of love and marriage in New Comedy, not least the nature of young men's feelings of love as depicted in many plays and the reaction of the ancient audience to the prospect of a love-match: whether it was regarded as an absurd distortion of the arranged marriage format, or whether personal preferences were a definite factor in many real marriages, so that what we see in the plays mirrors that reality, even if in a somewhat sentimentalised manner. At all events, though, it is clear that Menander's plays continue to reveal aspects of composition that serve to arouse our interest and, as is often the case, surprise us.


1. A. Schaefer, Menander's Dyskolos, Untersuchungen zur dramatischen Technik (Meisenheim am Glan, 1965).

2. Schaefer's view has gained support for from N. Zagagi, 'Sostratos as a Comic, Over-active and Impatient Lover', ZPE 36 (1979), pp.39-48; W.G.Arnott, 'A Study in Relationships: Alexis' Lebes , Menander's Dyskolos , Plautus' Aulularia ', QUCC 33.3 (1989), pp.27-38.

3. M.Anderson 'Knemon's Hamartia', G&R 17 (1970), pp.199- 217; cf. N. Holzberg, Menander, Untersuchungen zur dramatischen Technik (Nürnberg, 1974); P.G.McC. Brown, 'The Construction of Menander's Dyskolos, Acts I-IV', ZPE 94 (1992), pp.8-20.

4. D.Tsekourakis, 'Kynika stoicheia stis komodies tou Menandrou' (Thessaloniki, 1977).

5. S. M.Goldberg, 'The Style and Function of Menander's Dyskolos Prologue', SO 53 (1978), pp.57-68.

6. S. Ireland, 'Prologues, Structure and Sentences in Menander', Hermes 109 (1981), pp.178-88.

7. E.S.Ramage, 'City and Country in Menander's Dyskolos ', Philologus 110 (1966), pp.194-211.

8. 'Study in Relationships', pp.29 f., cf. B.A.van Groningen, 'The Delineation of Character in Menander's Dyskolos ', in Recherches de Papyrologie I (1961), pp.95-122.

9. Brown, 'Construction of Menander's Dyskolos', pp.15 f.

10. S. Ireland, 'Menander and the Comedy of Disappointment', Liverpool Classical Monthly 8 (1983), pp.45-7.

11. Brown, 'Construction of Menander's Dyskolos', p.11.

12. J.N. Grant, 'The Father-Son Relationship and the Ending of Menander's Samia ', Phoenix 40 (1986), pp.172-84; E. Keuls, 'The Samia of Menander, an Interpretation of its Plot and Theme', ZPE 10 (1973), pp.1-20; H-D Blume, Menanders Samia, Eine Interpretation (Darmstadt, 1974); Holzberg Menander, Untersuchungen zur dramatischen Technik ; H. Lloyd-Jones, 'Menander's Samia in the Light of the New Evidence', YCS 22 (1972), pp.119-144; J-M Jacques, Menandre, La Samienne (Paris, 1971); W.S. Anderson, 'The Ending of the Samia and Other Menandrian Comedies', in Studi classici in onore di Quintino Cataudella 2 (Catania, 1972), pp. 155-79; S. M. Goldberg, The Making of Menander's Comedy (London, 1980); D. Bain, Menander Samia (Warminster, 1983).

13. Keuls, ' Samia of Menander', p.20.

14. A.W. Gomme & F.H. Sandbach, Menander, A Commentary (Oxford, 1993), p. 544, cf. Blume, Menanders Samia, Eine Interpretation , p.140.

15. 'Shame' is an important bridge-word since it is felt by both father and son in the course of the play.

16. Cf. Grant, 'Father-Son Relationship', pp.181 f.

17. Holzberg, Menander, Untersuchungen zur dramatischen Technik , p.133.

18. See further Keuls, ' Samia of Menander', pp.9 f.

19. Keuls, ' Samia of Menander', p.6, emphasises Demeas' success in overcoming his feelings of affection in the expulsion scene, implying that this weakens the depiction of the tie between them, yet the harshness of the expulsion I would argue is actually evidence of Demeas' continuing strong feelings for her -- he needs to employ harshness to counteract those feelings.

20. W.W. Fortenbaugh, 'Menander's Perikeiromene : Misfortune, Vehemence and Polemon', Phoenix 28 (1974), pp. 430-43.

21. P.G.McC. Brown, 'Love and Marriage in Greek New Comedy', Classical Quarterly 43 (1993), pp. 189-205.

Stanley Ireland

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Electronic Antiquity Vol. 2 Issue 4 - December 1994
edited by Peter Toohey and Ian Worthington
ISSN 1320-3606