'Fictions of Space from Old to New Comedy' with Professor Niall Slater (Emory University)

5:00pm - 6:00pm / Tuesday 17th April 2018
Type: Seminar / Category: Department / Series: Classics and Ancient History Seminar Series
  • Admission: Free.
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Location: Walbank Seminar Room, 12 Abercromby Square, University of Liverpool

Comedy navigates a fascinating path from a poetics of truth to a poetics of fiction in its representation and manipulation of space. The earliest comedies may have had little need for a conscious poetics of space. The world of padded dancers and animal choruses, reaching down to the comedies of Magnes, required a space no more articulate than the here and the now, in which mockery and animal performance stood far closer to the world of lyric immediacy. With the introduction of more organized notions of comic plot, by Epicharmus in Sicily and in Attica in the generation before Aristophanes, new narrative fictions demanded more specificity of space as their realm of performance, gradually if not consciously growing closer to tragic mimesis.

The political comedies of Aristophanes' early career begin to sketch out the parameters of both domestic and public space, yet these spaces remain highly elastic, fully dependent on the needs of the plot as imagined by the poet. The Old Comedy of Cratinus, Euopolis, and Aristophanes can expropriate the spaces of the heavens or the underworld from tragic representations, but primarily as extensions of the fluid space of the polis rather than entities with their own controlling structures.

Only in the world of New Comedy does dramatic space commit itself firmly to representation and a developed poetics of fiction, both in the public space the audience beholds on stage and in the often richly delineated spaces that the poet creates behind the house and temple façades and off either end of the street that runs across the stage. In the works of Menander the poet places new demands on the audience's ability to follow the offstage contributions of characters and action to the main plot. A poetics of fictional space goes hand-in-hand with more complex fictions of character.

Image: The so-called ‘Chiron vase’ at the British Museum. A red-figured vase from Puglia dated to ca. 380 BC depicting an aged Chiron being helped up the stairs by a slave called Xanthias.