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.)


(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,...

(The entire section is 1272 words.)