It is generally accepted that from 449 to 432 B.C. three contests were instituted specially for the actors of Attic drama: for tragic and comic actors at the Lenaean festival, and for tragic actors at the Dionysia (Csapo and Slater 221-55, Rusten 119-24, 417). But a Dionysian comic actors’ contest has typically been downdated to the late fourth century on the basis of two inscriptions, the “Fasti” and “Didaskaliai” (IG ii2 2318 and 2319-23, respectively). The former runs from the year 472 to 328 (with many a lacuna), and while it begins to record victorious tragic protagonists in 449 (or less likely, 447), it never includes comic actors. These appear in the latter inscription, whose extant records begin in 311, leading many scholars to deduce that the contest was established in the gap between 328 and 311 (Csapo and Slater 228). I argue, however, that it began much earlier, around the time we would expect in light of the other three contests, and in any case not later than 421.
The dating of the Dionysian comic actors’ contest has been addressed most recently by Niall Slater (1988) and John Whitehorne (2001). Slater attempted to prove the contest’s fifth-century existence by recourse to the final, corrupt words of the third hypothesis of Aristophanes’ Peace; following Rose, he reads á¼νÎ¯κα á¼ρμων á½‘ποκριτÎ®ς (in place of the paradosis †á¼¡νÎ¯κα á¼‘ρμá¿†ν λοιοκρÏŒτης†). If Hermon won, then there must have been an actors’ competition for him to win. However, Whitehorne rightly replied that conjectural evidence alone is insufficient proof. My paper reasserts Slater’s position, but using secure evidence overlooked by both scholars. First, I examine the language of the hypothesis closely in order to determine its relationship to each of the relevant inscriptions. The type of information preserved in the hypothesis, together with particulars of language and phrasing, demonstrates that it draws on the Didaskaliai or something very like it, not the Fasti; there has been too much reliance on the Fasti’s silence vis-à-vis comic actors when in fact there is no reason to believe that it ever included them. Second, I discuss the hypothesis’ announcement that an actor named Apollodorus (otherwise unknown) played the lead role of Peace. As neither Apollodorus nor his play won first prize, it is unlikely that his name could have been preserved anywhere other than an official inscription (like the Didaskaliai, which records both winning and losing protagonists). If my reasoning on this point is correct, then Slater’s qualification that the contest may have been “in some sense unofficial” (1989: 81 n.26) becomes unnecessary. Further, the notice about Apollodorus belongs to the soundly transmitted portion of the hypothesis, so Whitehorne’s objection to Slater’s reliance on conjectural evidence does not apply.
Once it has been proven (through Apollodorus) that the competition did exist in the fifth century, Rose’s conjecture may be reconsidered less contentiously. I accept Slater’s arguments against other proposed conjectures, which bring in a reference to the actor who played Hermes (Ranke, Blaydes, Olson) or invent otherwise unknown actors (such as Olson’s Iokrotes or Richter’s and Blaydes’ Leokrates). Rose’s conjecture, which introduces Hermon, an actor previously known from an anecdote in Pollux (Onomasticon 4.88), remains the best proposal so far.
Given the increasing social prominence of actors in the mid- to late fifth century, it is not surprising that they were given their own competitions, besides those for the playwrights. What would be surprising is that Dionysian comic actors alone had to wait until c. 320 B.C., while all other actors could compete a century or more earlier. A proper appreciation of Apollodorus’ significance in the third hypothesis of Peace brings the Dionysian comic actors’ contest back into line with the rest of theater history. While the precise date of this contest’s inauguration cannot be known, the other three suggest an approximate date, and the hypothesis sets a terminus ante quem in the year 421.
- Blaydes, F.H.M. Aristophanis Comoediae V: Pax. Halle, 1883.
- Csapo, E. and W.J. Slater. The Context of Ancient Drama. Ann Arbor, 1994.
- Olson, S.D. Aristophanes: Peace. Oxford, 1998.
- Ranke, C.F. De Aristophanis Vita. Leipzig, 1846.
- Richter, J. Aristophanis Pax. Berlin, 1860.
- Rose, V. Aristoteles Pseudepigraphus. Leipzig, 1863.
- Rusten, J. The Birth of Comedy: Texts, Documents, and Art from Athenian Comic Competitions, 486-280. Trans. J. Henderson, D. Konstan, R. Rosen, J. Rusten, N.W. Slater. Johns Hopkins, 2011.
- Slater, N.W. “Problems in the Hypotheses to Aristophanes’ Peace.” ZPE 74 (1988): 43-57.
- ---. “Aristophanes’ Apprenticeship Again.” GRBS 30.1 (1989): 67-82.
- Whitehorne, J. “The Third Hypothesis to Aristophanes’ Peace Again.” AC 70 (2001): 143-6.