Magnes, Testimonia and Fragments

LCL 514: 338-339

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The Poets of Old Comedy


For the early comic poets, the testimonia outweigh the actual remains of both titles and fragments. This is especially unfortunate as Magnes was the first great name in the history of Greek comedy. Aristophanes (T 8) recalls that Magnes “set up the most trophies of victory,” a claim which the eleven victories recorded on the victors’ list (T 5) and by the anonymous writer on comedy (T 3) supports. But the ancients seem to have had very little of his work to study or to cite. Only eight fragments remain, two each from Lydians and the comedies about Dionysus, and one apiece from Herb-Woman and Pytakides. Also worrying are the statements by Athenaeus (T 4) about “the works attributed to Magnes” (ad F 1–2, from Dionysus). The scholiast to Knights (T 9) lists a number of titles, which are clearly his deductions from what Aristophanes has said in the text; only Lydians is known independently. Two sources tell us that Lydians was revised—by Magnes or by a later adaptor?

At Knights 518–25 (T 8) Aristophanes is ostensibly complimenting Magnes’ comedy, but to both bring him down later and criticise the fickle tastes of the Athenian audience. From what he says we get the picture of a creator of plays with animal choruses, with an emphasis on the




visual and the aural (“flapping wings,” “making all sorts of sounds”), but whose comedy in the last part of his career was no match for the vigorous and satirical comedy of Cratinus and others. In this regard, the verb skōptein at Knights 525, in which quality Magnes was lacking, usually means “personal jokes.” Is it here that Magnes was seen as especially falling short, especially given the personal and topical comedy that Cratinus and Hermippus were creating in the 430s?

Magnes won a victory at the Dionysia of 472 (T 6), perhaps also in 471 (T 7). Since Aristophanes expects his spectators to remember Magnes’ failure as an older poet, he must have been active into the 430s. If his victory in 472 is an early success, then we may place his career from the late 470s to the early 430s; but if he had already won several victories, we may wish to move him back to the late 480s. It has been thought that the two victories recorded by the Suda (T 1) could have been at the Lenaea, but the list of victors at that festival begins with Xenophilus (c. 440), with no room for Magnes.

Recent bibliography: E. Spyropoulos, Aristophane (Thessalonica 1988) 177–216.

DOI: 10.4159/DLCL.magnes-testimonia_fragments.2011