Though not extremely popular in his own lifetime—winning only eight victories in the dramatic festivals at Athens—Menander was lionized in the generations following his death as the greatest of some seventy authors of New Comedy. He was the acknowledged leader in the canonical triad of New Comedy writers recognized by Hellenistic critics: Philemon, Diphilus, and Menander. The fact that of the comic writers only Menander’s work survives in any quantity among the papyrus rolls of Egypt attests his overwhelming supremacy among readers in the Hellenistic and Roman periods. Further evidence of his influence is his survival in the Latin adaptations of Plautus and Terence, for whose plays he was not the only but a favorite source. As the first grand master of domestic, romantic comedy, Menander can claim through his Roman imitators a vast literary progeny that includes William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, Molière, Restoration comedy, P. G. Wodehouse, and even the flood of situation comedy that gluts the modern television screen.
Perhaps because his plays were not included in the traditional school curriculum of late antiquity, Menander did not survive the decline of learning in the Middle Ages. Where texts of more edifying authors such as Homer and Sophocles found their way into the monastic libraries of Western Europe before the great libraries of Byzantium were burned, Menander’s work was completely lost, and until the twentieth century nothing was known of him directly save for a few quotations. Only his reputation survived, so that such Romantic philhellenes as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe were tempted to extravagant—but highly speculative—estimations of his literary worth. Following Napoleon’s entry into Egypt in 1798, the infant science of papyrology began investigating hordes of papyrus texts—used for mummy wrappings, stuffed in the hides of alligators, and stored in long-buried libraries—and in 1898, the first lines of Menander appeared in the form of eighty nearly complete lines of the Georgos (fourth century b.c.e.; the farmer). It was not until the twentieth century, with the discovery in 1905 of the Aphroditopolis papyrus and its publication two years later, that Menander reentered literary history with considerable parts of The Arbitration, The Girl Who Was Shorn, and The Girl from Samos, and smaller fragments of two other plays. The subsequent trickle of fragments was punctuated dramatically in 1959 when a papyrus acquired by a Swiss collector, M. Bodmer, added The Bad-Tempered Man, the most complete text so far, to the corpus. Smaller important accretions came in 1965 and 1969, bringing the usable total of Menander up to a plump three-hundred-plus pages (F. H....
(The entire section is 1131 words.)
Allinson, Francis G. Introduction to Menander: The Principal Fragments. Translated by Francis G. Allinson. 1921. Reprint. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1970. This brief but extremely scholarly essay includes a clear description of Menander’s historical placement, concise comments about the playwright’s use of prologue, plot, and character, and a statement about his Greek style.
Dover, K. J., ed. Ancient Greek Literature. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. A concise and accurate treatment of the subject. For a full understanding of Menander’s place in Greek literature, it would be helpful to read the entire book, although Menander is specifically treated in the chapter headed “Comedy.”
Goldberg, Sander M. The Making of Menander’s Comedy. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980. An outstanding scholarly discussion of Menander’s work. Explains clearly his relation to Old and Middle Comedy, delineates the problems of scholarship, and then proceeds to a lucid analysis of each of the surviving works.
Katsouris, Andreas G. Menander Bibliography. Thessalonike, Greece: University Studio Press, 1995. A bibliography listing the works on and by Menander. Indexes.
Pickard-Cambridge, Arthur W. The Dramatic Festivals of...
(The entire section is 466 words.)