Menander Biography


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)


Menander (meh-NAN-dur) came of age in Athens just as the democracy fell. He reportedly belonged to the circle of Demetrius Phalereus, who ruled Athens for Macedonia from 317 to 307 b.c.e. In thirty years, Menander wrote more than one hundred plays, winning in dramatic competition eight times. His plays set the standard for refined domestic “situation” comedies. Although he was extremely popular in antiquity, his writings were lost for centuries until some were recovered at the beginning of the twentieth century. Only Dyskolos (317 b.c.e.; The Bad-Tempered Man, 1921, also known as The Grouch) survives complete, but it is not as good as his reputation. Better are the nearly complete Samia (321-316 b.c.e.; The Girl from Samos, 1909) and partial Epitrepontes (after 304 b.c.e.; The Arbitration, 1909), which display the complex plots and subtle characters that are Menander’s hallmark. Menander writes smooth, witty Greek that lends itself easily to being quoted for philosophical maxims.


Menander became the model for virtually all situation comedy in the Western tradition, primarily through the Roman adaptations of his plays by Plautus and Terence. The comedies of the English playwright William Shakespeare and the French playwright Molière and even modern television situation comedies ultimately go back to Menander’s legacy. Famous quotes of Menander were popular in antiquity in their own right, and he is the only pagan author to be quoted in the New Testament.

Further Reading:

Allinson, Francis G. Introduction to Menander: The Principal Fragments....

(The entire section is 702 words.)

Menander Biography

(Historic Lives: The Ancient World, Prehistory-476)

Article abstract: Greco-Bactrian king of India (r. c. 155-c. 135 b.c.e.){$I[g]India and Sri Lanka;Menander (Greco-Bactrian king)}{$I[g]Greece;Menander (Greco-Bactrian king)}{$I[g]Central Asia;Menander (Greco-Bactrian king)} Menander extended the Greco-Bactrian domains in India more than any other ruler. He became a legendary figure in a Pāli book as a great patron of Buddhism.

Early Life

Menander (muh-NAN-duhr), not to be confused with the more famous Greek dramatist of the same name, was born somewhere in the fertile area to the south of the Paropamisadae or present Hindu Kush Mountains of Afghanistan. The only reference to this location is in the semilegendary Pāli Milindapañha (first or second century c.e.; The Questions of King Milinda, 1890-1894), a series of questions put to a Buddhist sage by King Milinda, along with their answers, which says that he was born in a village called Kalasi near Alasanda, some two hundred yojanas (about eighteen miles) from the town of Sāgala (probably Sialkot in the Punjab). Alasanda refers to the Alexandria in Afghanistan and not to the one in Egypt. No evidence exists on the issue of whether Menander was an aristocrat, a commoner, or of royal lineage.

All surmises about the life of Menander are based on his coins, for information in Greek sources is very sparse. All that remains of a more extensive history of the east by Apollodorus of Artemita are two sentences in Strabo’s Geōgraphica (c. 7 b.c.e.; Geography, 1917-1933) that the Bactrian Greeks, especially Menander, overthrew more peoples in India than did Alexander the Great. Strabo is dubious that Menander “really crossed the Hypanis River [Beas] toward the east and went as far as the Isamos [Imaus, or Jumna River?].” Plutarch in his Ethika (after c. 100 c.e.; Moralia, 1603) calls Menander a king of Bactria who ruled with equity and who died in camp, and after his death, memorials were raised over his ashes. If Menander became a convert to Buddhism, this could mean that Buddhist stupas, covering reliquaries, were built over his remains, which were divided among different sites. The final classical source that mentions Menander, the work of Pompeius Trogus, simply calls him a king of India together with Apollodorus.

The Milindapañha contains no historical data save those about Menander’s birth, which may be legend, as well as moral precepts beloved to Buddhists. Another text of the period, the Vāyū Purāna, only mentions Menander as a Greek king in India. The last reference to Menander occurs in an inscription on a relic casket dedicated in the reign of Mahārāja Minedra (Menander), which is not informative. Modern students are left with the coins, the styles and legends of which have provided the basis of hypothetical reconstructions of the life of Menander. That he was married to a certain Queen Agathocleia, daughter of Demetrius, is suggested by historian W. W. Tarn on the basis of the coin style of Agathocleia, especially the figure of Pallas Athena,...

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Menander Biography

(Historic Lives: The Ancient World, Prehistory-476)

Article abstract: Greek dramatist{$I[g]Greece;Menander (dramatist)} Noted for his careful plotting, his accurate depiction of middle-class society, and his sympathetic treatment of character, Menander is considered the finest writer of Greek New Comedy.

Early Life

Although there is some disagreement about the exact date of his birth, Menander (muh-NAN-dehr) was probably born in 342 in Athens, Greece. His father was Diopeithes of Cephisia. Menander’s family was evidently involved in both the social and the cultural life of Athens. His uncle Alexis was an important playwright in the tradition of Middle Comedy; he had some two hundred plays to his credit. Menander attended the lectures of Theophrastus, who had succeeded Aristotle as head of the Peripatetic school and who was also a notable writer, now known chiefly for his Charactēres ethikōi (c. 319 b.c.e.; Characters, 1616), sketches of human types, which undoubtedly influenced Menander and the other dramatists of New Comedy.

Like all Athenian men, between the ages of eighteen and twenty Menander served a year in the military. It was at that time that he became a close friend of Epicurus, whose philosophy was influential in Menander’s works. Another of Menander’s early friends was important in his later life: Demetrius of Phalerum, a fellow student. When Menander was in his mid-twenties, Demetrius was appointed by the Macedonians as ruler of Athens. During the following decade, Demetrius constructed magnificent buildings in the city and drew the most brilliant and talented men of Athens to his court. Among them was Menander, who was already recognized as a playwright, having written his first work when he was nineteen or twenty.

The bust that has been identified as that of Menander suggests what an addition he would have been to the court of Demetrius. The classic features, well-defined profile, penetrating eyes, and strong jaw testify to strength of mind and character; the sensitive mouth and wavy hair soften the general impression. All in all, he was a strikingly handsome man.

When Demetrius fell, Menander is said to have been in some danger, and he was offered the protection of Ptolemy Soter if he would follow his friend Demetrius to Alexandria, Egypt. The playwright declined, however, as he also is said to have declined an invitation to Macedonia, and he spent the remainder of his life in Athens.

Life’s Work

In somewhat more than thirty years, Menander wrote some one hundred comedies. Most of his work, however, has been lost. Until 1905, he was represented primarily by hundreds of lines quoted by other writers and by the four plays of Plautus and four others of Terence that were based on certain of his lost plays. Then, a fifth century c.e. papyrus book was discovered in Egypt; it contains one-third to one-half of three of Menander’s plays, Perikeiromenē (314-310 b.c.e.; The Girl Who Was Shorn, 1909), Epitrepontes (after 304 b.c.e.; The Arbitration, 1909), and Samia (321-316 b.c.e.; The Girl from Samos, 1909). In 1958, another papyrus book was found in a private collection in Geneva; it holds not only a complete play, Dyskolos (317 b.c.e.; The Bad-Tempered Man, 1921, also known as The Grouch), but also half of Aspis (c. 314 b.c.e.; The Shield, 1921) and the almost complete text of The Girl from Samos.

Because so much of Menander’s work is lost, and because the dating of those plays and fragments that have survived is very uncertain, it is difficult to analyze the playwright’s development. It is known that his first work was written about 322 b.c.e. The only complete play that has survived, The Bad-Tempered Man, is an early one, performed in 317, which incidentally was the year that another of Menander’s plays, now lost, won for him his first prize.

In The Bad-Tempered Man one can see the careful plot construction and the realistic but sympathetic treatment of characters for which Menander was noted. The title character of the play is Cnemon, a misanthrope whose wife has left him because of his nasty temper and who lives alone with his daughter and a servant, while his virtuous stepson lives nearby. In the prologue to the play, the god Pan announces that he intends to punish Cnemon because he has offended against the principles Pan prizes, in particular good fellowship and love. It is not surprising, then, that this comedy, like Menander’s other plays, must move toward suitable marriages, which symbolize reconciliation and which sometimes are accompanied by the reform of an...

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Menander Biography

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Little of the information or gossip that has survived has a direct bearing on Menander’s work. The Suda (a literary and historical encyclopedia compiled around the end of the tenth century c.e. and preserving, albeit in corrupt form, much ancient scholarship) describes him as an Athenian of good family, son of Diopeithes and Hegestrate. The comedian Alexis (by some accounts his maternal uncle) is said to have taught him his craft, and Diogenes Laertius says that he studied philosophy under Theophrastus, Aristotle’s successor as head of the Peripatetic school. Although politically inactive himself, his political associations with the oligarchic faction in Athens brought his career and even...

(The entire section is 225 words.)

Menander Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

With the work of Menander (muh-NAN-dur), born in Athens in 342 b.c.e., Greek New Comedy came into being. New Comedy involved plays in which such devices as the chorus and intervention by the gods were replaced by themes of commonplace Athenian life, treated with subtle humor. Through his influence on such Romans as Plautus and Terence (who was even called “Half-Menander,”) Menander determined the form of later comedies of manners. From Homer he took his “call of the blood” theme (the recognition of lost relatives), but his thematic treatments of a good woman sinned against and of a man reformed by a woman’s love were of his own devising.

Menander was the son of wealthy Athenians,...

(The entire section is 328 words.)