Explain the origins of ancient Greek comedy and the difference between old comedy and new comedy.

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Comedy orginated in ancient Greek religious festivals dedicated to the wine god Dionysus. Originally, groups of young men would carry a large phallus and sing obscene songs to celebrate the god of wine and his companions. The comos, or group of young men, would be clad in ludicrous or grotesque costumes with prominent phalluses, and would should abuse as well as singing. The purpose of these rituals was to promote fertility.

Old Comedy, exemplified by the plays of Aristophanes, includes comic choruses which take on the function of the comus, and up to three actors on stage at a time. Like tragedy, it alternates between episodes dominated by actors and choral odes, with actors and chorus wearing elaborate costumes and masks. Aristophanic comedy includes both poltical, obscene, and scatological humour. Many of the settings are fantastic and the plot revolve around everyday people caught up in improbable or fantastic situations, such as the farmer flying to Olympus on a dung beetle in the Peace.

New Comedy, exemplified by Menander, contains ordinary people as both choruses and actors. The plots are realistic and often romantic. The humour is more subdued than that of Old Comedy.

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