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The Birth of Comedy

, 816 pages

42 halftones, 1 line drawing

October 2016



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The Birth of Comedy

Texts, Documents, and Art from Athenian Comic Competitions, 486–280


Aside from the well-known plays of Aristophanes, many of the comedies of ancient Greece are known only through fragments and references written in Greek. Now a group of distinguished scholars brings these nearly lost works to modern readers with lively English translations of the surviving texts.

The Birth of Comedy brings together a wealth of information on the first three generations of Western comedy. The translations, presented in chronological order, are based on the universally praised scholarly edition in Greek, Poetae Comici Graeci, by R. Kassel and C. A. Austin. Additional chapters contain translations of texts relating to comedy at dramatic festivals, staging, audience, and ancient writers on comedy. The main text is supplemented by an introduction assessing the fragments' contributions to the political, social, and theatrical history of classical Athens and more than forty illustrations of comic scenes, costumes, and masks. A glossary of komoidoumenoi—the ancient word for "people mentioned in comedies"—provides background information on the most notorious comic victims. A full index includes not only authors, play titles, and persons mentioned, but themes from the whole Greek comic sphere (including politics, literature and philosophy, celebrities and social scandals, cookery and wine, sex, and wealth).

Jeffrey Rusten is a professor of classics at Cornell University. Jeffrey Henderson is the William Goodwin Aurelio Professor of Greek Language and Literature at Boston University. David Konstan is a professor of classics at New York University. Ralph Rosen is the Vartan Gregorian Professor of the Humanities and Classical Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Niall W. Slater is the Dobbs Professor of Latin and Greek at Emory University.

"A unique resource for the serious study of comedy, this book is vast in scope and of incalculable value for those who do not read Greek."

"This book is a landmark, which has come to stay."

"This volume, which is aimed at general readers... and whose generous dimensions rival the size of an Oxford Classical Dictionary, will be an essential resource for anyone who wants to inquire into what is known of Athenian comedy beyond the surviving plays of Aristophanes and Menander... Rusten offers a concise and balanced account."

" The Birth of Comedy is a singularly ambitious and very welcome work."

"A true reference book, to be dipped into when certain facts or information are required and thoughtfully arranged in an accessible style. Scholarly and academic in both approach and scope, this is a valuable resource for anyone interested in or researching not only Ancient Greek comedy but also the history of comic plays, theatre and drama. After twenty years spent compiling the material it is a resource that will not date and one that should provide for interesting scholarly debate and research outcomes."

"A valuable scholarly enterprise."

"It will certainly be appearing on my reading lists in future."

"The scholarship is painstaking and thoroughly reliable; the translations are clear and enjoyable; the introductions are concise and interesting. I can’t think of another scholarly book this length that I so much enjoyed, and profited from, reading from beginning to end."

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