Life

(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Cratinus (kruh-TI-nuhs) produced comedies successfully for some thirty years, from the 450’s to the 420’s b.c.e. More than twenty of his plays are known and numerous fragments exist, but there are no complete plays and no fragments more than ten complete consecutive lines. An ancient summary of the Dionysus Alexander tells us that the play spoofed the origin of the Trojan War. A clowning Dionysus takes the place of Paris (also known as Alexander) to kidnap Helen and consequently start the Trojan War. Another play, Nemesis, told a silly version of the birth of Helen. Besides the mythological travesty, these plays satirized prominent Athenians of the day, most notably Pericles. Cratinus earned a reputation as a vicious satirist, although he was capable of producing apolitical comedy such as the Odysseuses, which parodied the Cyclops episode from Homer’s Odyssey (c. 800 b.c.e.; English translation, 1616). In his later years, Cratinus was mocked by Aristophanes as a washed-up drunk. Cratinus retaliated in 423 b.c.e. with Pytine (The Bottle), in which he staged his own rejection of alcoholism in favor of his allegorical wife, Comedy. He resoundingly beat Aristophanes in competition with the play, and this competition is the last known activity of Cratinus.