73. Epicarmo (ca. 528 a.C. – ca. 431 a.C.)

Main representative of the Sicilian Doric comedy, native of Syracuse, Epicarmo wrote about 52 plays and, according to the testimony of the ancients, he was the first to give artistic unity to comedy.

The comedies of Epicarmo can be divided in two series: one mythical, and one human. From “Odyssey”, the poet drew topics for “Cyclops”, the “Ulysses deserter”, the “shipwrecked Ulysses” and the “Sirens”. From the legend of Hercules, he took elements for “the Marriage of Hebe”, the “Hercules to conquer the girdle”, “Hercules at Folio”. Other titles are legendary comedies: “Alcyone”, “Friend”, “Backhoe”, “Dionisi”, “Hephaestus”, “Prometheus and Pyrrha”, “Scion”, “Sphinx”, “Trojans”, “Philoctetes”.

Human comedies, instead, were “The Campagnolo”, “Looting”, “Land and Sea”, “Hope or wealth”, “Feast and Islands”, “Epinicion”, “Speech and discorses”, “Megarese”, “Months”, “Persians”, “Dancers”. The fragments lefty of these comedies are neither many nor long: the longest are a fragment of the Marriage of Hebe (verse 11), a fragment of ‘Ulysses deserter (verse 10), a fragment of the Sirens (verse 6), one of Hope or wealth (verse 15). We also have come several fragments of comedies that do not mention the title. Interesting are those fragments of a philosophical nature, in which Alcimus, Sicilian rhetorician and historian (Sec. IV-III a. C.), wanted to find the antecedents of the Platonic theory of ideas.

Defined as “sententious, inventive, ingenious” by his contemporaries, he was also considered to be the most prominent representative of burlesque poetry by Plato -the way that Homer was the prominent representative of the serious. The comedies of Epicarmo were not only parodies of myths or of divine/heroic legends, known to the people, but also of human facts, including political events or local events. Epicarmo even drew inspiration from some known fable or some proverbial phrases.

Works were not very large. They lacked the choir and some certainly consisted of a simple contrast between the two characters representing, for example, different arts (Land and sea = farmer and fisherman) or who personified different aspects of the same manifestation of the human spirit (eg. Speech and discorsa). What distinguished the comedy epicarmea was not the complexity of the plot, but instead the movement of the action and the typical representation of certain characters in specific circumstances. One of his limitations was his prolixity. An example is offered by the endless mention of food (especially fish), served during the banquet for the wedding of Hercules with Hebe.

Epicarmo preferred the tetramer trochaic -he also worked in trimeter iambic. Comedies and Dancers’ epinicion are tetrameters anapaestic cataleptic. His dialect is epirotico. His comedies undoubtedly exercised great influence on the Attic comedy.

Read More:
1. Wikipedia, https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epicarmo
2. Treccani, http://www.treccani.it/enciclopedia/epicarmo_(Enciclopedia-Italiana)/

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