Sositheus and his 'new' satyr play

Sebastiana Nervegna

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3 Citations (Scopus)


Active in Alexandria during the second half of the third century, Dioscorides is the author of some forty epigrams preserved in the Anthologia Palatina. Five of these epigrams are concerned with Greek playwrights: three dramatists of the archaic and classical periods, Thespis, Aeschylus and Sophocles, and two contemporary ones, Sositheus and Machon. Dioscorides conceived four epigrams as two pairs (Thespis and Aeschylus, Sophocles and Sositheus) clearly marked by verbal connections, and celebrates each playwright for his original contribution to the history of Greek drama. Thespis boasts to have discovered tragedy; Aeschylus to have elevated it. The twin epigrams devoted to Sophocles and Sositheus present Sophocles as refining the satyrs and Sositheus as making them, once again, primitive. Finally, Machon is singled out for his comedies as 'worthy remnants of ancient art (Greek text)'. Dioscorides' miniature history of Greek drama, which is interesting both for its debts to the ancient tradition surrounding classical playwrights and for the light it sheds on contemporary drama, clearly smacks of archaizing sympathies. They drive Dioscorides' selection of authors and his treatment of contemporary dramatists: both Sositheus and Machon are praised for consciously looking back to the masters of the past. My focus is on Sositheus and his 'new' satyr-play. After discussing the relationship that Dioscorides establishes between Sophocles' and Sositheus' satyrs, and reviewing scholarly interpretations of Sositheus' innovations, I will argue that Dioscorides speaks the language of New Music. His epigram celebrates Sositheus as rejecting New Music and its trends, and as composing satyr plays that were musically old fashioned and therefore reactionary.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)202-213
Number of pages12
JournalThe Classical Quarterly
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - May 2019

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