Was ancient Greek theater regional? Attic drama is so dominant in the historical record that it comes to stand for all ancient Greek theater in modern scholarship New work on the spread of Attic drama outside Athens has even raised the possibility that Greeks throughout the Mediterranean basin considered Attic theater to be more generally Greek and appropriated it as their own.
In this paper, I examine two cases where the movement of a playwright and the performance of his work in a new region create enough friction to allow some tracing of ancient views of regional theater in the historical record. In the first case, at a very early period in the development of Greek drama, Aeschylus seems to have travelled to Sicily, where his Persians and Women of Aetna were staged. I juxtapose the reception of his plays with that of his Sicilian contemporary, the comic playwright Epicharmus. In the second case, in the late 4th and early 3rd centuries, Philemon, likely of Syracuse, is known to have travelled to Athens and developed a career there, writing many plays in the New Comic genre. I examine his career and dramatic work in comparison with that of Rhinthon, perhaps also of Syracuse and roughly contemporary with Philemon, who appears to have continued to live and work in the west.
After reviewing later ancient sources, many of which are careful to note the city with which the playwright is primarily identified, I propose that ancient fascination with the cultural heritage of the playwright does in some cases also suggest the recognition of a regional style of theater. Although Attic drama, particularly, though not exclusively, New Comedy, was carried far and wide throughout the Greek world, evidence suggests that dominant Attic forms did not everywhere become the local drama, but rather complemented local theater and delighted local audiences with their recognizably Attic sophistication.