Women at the Thesmophoria Mockery

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Old comedy apparently originated in fertility rites centered on Priapus at festivals to Dionysos or in the komos, a drunken revel in his honour. It became a part of the city Dionysia and the Lenaea in 486 BC. Aristotle seems to credit Kratinos with originating Old Comedy. The only complete extant examples of Old Comedy are by Aristophanes.

Old Comedy deals with either politics, literary satire (Euripides comes in for a fair amount of abuse) or religious or moral foibles in a frank, outrageous, often obscene, frequently unfair manner. At the same time, they resemble in some respects a poetic musical comedy, with moments of great beauty, all encased in an atmosphere at once fantastic and unrealistic. At its best, it resembled Saturday Night Live at its best, and served many of the same purposes. While there was mass appeal and coarse humour, the underlying satirical intent was never far from the surface.

The characters are all low comedy types falling into three general categories:

1. Gods, heroes and well known figures from hyth and legend, e.g. Dionysus in The Frogs (who is quite a different figure from the Dionysus in The Bacchae)

2. Characters based on contemporary figures, e.g. Kleon, Euripides, Socrates, etc.

As often not, unkind caricatures resulted.

3. Fictional characters that were totally the invention of the poet, e.g. Lysistrata. One of Aristophanes' favourites was an old, cynical Athenian who always made rustic good sense.

The khoros is often non-human: wasps, birds, frogs, etc.

The typical structure of an Old Comedy is less formal than tragedy, with loose, seemingly carelessly constructed plots which focus on broad farce and buffoonery. The plots generally include the following elements:

1. Prologos in which the leading character conceives the happy idea (an extravagantly imaginative or absurdly impractical solution to some problem.)

2. Parodos or the entrance of the khoros which are usually non-human.

3. Agon in which the merits of the happy idea are debated. The opponents of the happy idea always lose. How could we proceed unless Lucy gets to launch her improbable scheme? 

4. Parabasis (the interlude itself, the parabeinein) or the coming forward of the khoros to directly address the audience and express the poet's opinions on a number of subjects in the manner of a Will Rogers, or perhaps a Jackie Mason.

5. Episodes. A series of episodes depict the implementation of the happy idea and the consequences of that absurdly impractical solution on the leading character and typical Athenian citizens. The episodes are usually not sequently related, but are arranged in such a way that they rise to an 'emotional' climax of sorts, the more outrageous the scene the later in the plot.

6. Feast. These plays frequently end witjh a feasr, almost always with strong seual overtones. Slaves would often scatter fruits and nuts in the audience to curry flavour. These efasts show up in several Medieval plays.

Some peculiar recurrent features of these plays include a pnigos, literally 'choker…

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