With seventeen or twenty-four plays attributed to him (T 1, 3), Theopompus is more than a minor player in the latter years of Old Comedy. On the victors’ lists his name appears among poets of the late fifth or early fourth century. Some of the references to people and events show him active as early as the late 410s (F 25—Leotrophides, F 40— Laespodias, F 61—Acestor), while the allusions to Peron (F 1, 17) and Callistratus (F 31) belong after 380, and in the case of Callistratus perhaps later. We should be safe with dates of c. 410 to c. 380. His father’s name is variously given as Theodectas or Theodorus (T 1) and Teisamenus (T 2).
The titles suggest first of all a poet of mythological burlesque. We may cite Admetus, Althaea, Aphrodite, Theseus (where F 18 suggests a journey to Persia), Odysseus, Penelope (one of which may have dramatised their meeting at the end of the Odyssey—see F 34), Sirens, Phineus. But in most cases we have no way of knowing what aspect of a particular myth was stressed. Some titles suggest comedies about women, Batyle, Barmaids, Pamphile and Nemea (or Nemeas), perhaps also Aphrodite. In the fragments we hear of a woman with a full golden cup (F 4), eating seafood (F 6), having a lover “Attis” (F 28), flirting with a fellow slave (F 33), drinking and misbehaving (F 42–43,
80), learning something from her great-grandmother (F 44), playing old tunes (F 51), twisting her neck to drink from a misshapen vessel (F 55), serving in the army (F 56–57, 82), and being described as ripe as a melon (F 76).
But personal jokes are not absent from his comedy. Of the ninety or so fragments, at least fifteen contain allusions to real persons, some of them casual (F 1, 17 to Peron the perfumer; F 4 to Telestes the poet), but others more overtly political, such as Callistratus bribing “the sons of the Achaeans” (F 31) and the mentions of Philonides (F 5), Isaeus (F 19), Anytus (F 58), and Laespodias (F 40).We get allusions to the tragic poets Euripides (F 35) and Acestor (F 61), and perhaps the first mention of Plato in comedy (F 16). The title, Callaeschrus, might refer to one of the known men of that name, but could equally well be a made-up compound (“fine” + “disgusting”), while Teisamenos might refer to the legal commissioner of the late fifth century, in which case we might have a political comedy named after its target, or to the son of Orestes in myth. But Peace and She-Soldiers seem like comedies of the familiar Aristophanic sort—see F 8 (Peace) in particular, and F 57 for a woman in command. Unfortunately we cannot date either comedy, nor do we know what “peace” the former comedy may have referred to, if in fact to any specific event.