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Neaira: A Greek New Comedy: From Renaissance Italy to Athens in 1985


Royal Holloway University of London

Dimitrios Moschos, a Greek intellectual from Sparta who lived in Renaissance Italy, wrote a comedy in prose entitled Neaira, published it in Italy around 1475/8 (Bouboulides 1966 and 1977), and dedicated it to the Duke of Mantova, Gonzaga, to whose circle he probably belonged (Geanakoplos 1962: 77 and 124). According to Andreas Moustoxidis (1845: 402-03), the first editor, as far as we know, of Neiara in 1845, the play contributed greatly to the revival of dramatic productions (mainly comedies) in the regions of Mantua and Florence in the 15th century. Moustoxidis notes that Moschos’ play relies largely on Terence’s comedies (the ‘semi-Menander’, as he dubs him, after Caesar) rather than Plautus, but stresses also the influence of Lucian’s Dialogues of the Courtesans. Neaira, however, is a blend of genres: its plot and characters are in dialogue with a number of literary models (comedy, mime, satire, rhetorical speeches) and cultures (Hellenistic Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Renaissance). In my paper, I will briefly present the plot and the characters of Neaira to underline the various genres that inform this unique play.  However, the focus of my paper will be the first and only, so far, modern Greek production of Neaira, which is of great interest for the reception of Greek comedy in Greek modern culture.

            Neaira was staged during a summer theatrical festival in Penteli, a deme of Attica, in 1985 by the late director Spyros Evangelatos, who had previously successfully produced Menander’s Epitrepontes (in 1980 and 1985) for the Epidauros Summer Festival (Kiritsi 2014). The play was translated in modern Greek by the late Tassos Roussos, a classicist who had translated numerus plays of Sophocles, Euripides, Aeschylus, Aristophanes, Menander, Terence, Plautus for modern Greek production, several them staged by the Greek National Theatre. Evangelatos adjusted the original play to make it attractive to a wider modern Greek audience that was unfamiliar not only with plays of Neaira’s type but also with New Comedy in general and with Menander’s plays in particular. Evangelatos addressed an audience who at that time identified comedy with Aristophanes, modern TV comedies, or modern theatrical revues which satirized contemporary political and social issues and characters.

In my paper I will discuss how far Evangelatos’ production reshaped the form of the original play; how his adaptation interacted with the original play and the genres which initially influenced Moschos as well as with other modern theatrical genres, such as the Commedia Dell’ arte and the comedy of manners; to what extent Evangelatos’ previous production of Menander’s Epitrepontes influenced his production of Neaira; in what ways the modern Greek comic popular tradition interacts with the original play; and finally, the humour and wit of the original play and whether and how it was adapted to modern expectations of the comic of the modern production.

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Gender and Reception

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