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Ancient Greek Theater

Aristotle contrasted the genres of comedy and tragedy. He said comedy represents men as worse than they are in real life, whereas tragedy shows them as better. Tragedy uses real people, whereas comedy uses stereotypes. Athenian New Comedy (c.323--c.263 BCE) offers a mildly satiric view of contemporary Athenian society, especially in its familiar and domestic aspects.

The story, “The Brother,” is about the disappearance of an almost complete edition of an Athenian New Comedy. It begins with Phoebe barging into Miriam’s house:

“Miriam! Miriam!” The urgency in Phoebe’s voice rang through the house.

A moment later, my best friend was plunging through the ceiling-high, double mahogany doors of my study. I looked up from my desk and had to remind myself to breathe.

Her cheeks flushed, her shoulders rigid, she stared at me with wild eyes before dropping into the chair opposite me. To calm my own blood hammering like a clapper inside a bell, I focused on the scent of alarm in her perspiration.

“Tell me, Phoebe.”

Wringing her hands together, she squeezed out the bitter words. “It’s gone, absolutely gone. Menander’s Dyskolos. Bion bought it for me in Athens. It’s still regarded as the best example of Athenian New Comedy.”

Later, Miriam goes to Bion’s, Phoebe’s husband’s, bookstore:

I followed his stubby shadow as it looped around the stacks of manuscripts and knots of customers buzzing about the counters, tables, and shelves until we reached the empty cabinet at the front of the shop.

“How much could that scroll be worth today?”

His voice dropped to a whisper. “About 2000 drachmas, enough to buy the grandest house.”

A fishy reflux rose in my gorge.

I won't tell you right now whether the manuscript was ever recovered, but the good news is you won’t have to pay 2000 drachmas for a copy of “The Brother.” Just click here.


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