Friday, May 18, 2018


Federico Favi, Fliaci testimonianze e frammenti. Studia comica, 7. Heidelberg: Verlag Antike, 2017. Pp. 532. ISBN 9783946317043. €89,00.

Reviewed by Sebastiana Nervegna, Monash University (

Version at BMCR home site

To most classicists, the word phlyax brings to mind one poet, Rhinton, who hailed from Syracuse but worked in Taras between the late fourth and the early third centuries BC, and a series of South Italian vases once associated with his plays. As Favi's work clearly shows, there is much more to be said about the whole topic. This book deals with both the testimonia related to the term phlyax and the testimonia and fragments related to the poets that ancient writers identify, or allow us to identify, as phlyax-writers: Rhinton, Sciras, Blaesus and Sopater. These sources have been already treated in three or four editions, including the work by Kassel and Austin, whose text and general organization Favi follows with some changes.1 For instance, he provides a different critical apparatus, includes another fragment by Rhinton (*fr. 26) present in earlier editions but excluded by Kassel and Austin, and considers a larger number of testimonia related to the term phlyax. But Favi's work goes well beyond the analysis of these testimonia and fragments. This is the first book to contextualise these sources and to identify their contribution to an increasingly popular field of study, 'theatre outside Athens' and, more generally, post-Classical dramatic production.2

The first chapter considers the testimonia related to the word phlyax, which Favi combines with select testimonia on Rhinton, Sopater and another author otherwise excluded from this work, Sotades. Favi reads the evidence carefully, paying due attention to a passage from Athenaeus (XIV 621d-f), and explores two key issues, the origin of the term phlyax and its relationship to the Greek West. He argues against the modern interpretation that has phlyax derive from the verb φλέω ('I teem with abundance') and indicate some sort of 'demon of abundance' belonging to the entourage of Dionysus. Earlier scholars identified this demon with the satyr-like figures appearing on the vases from South Italy once considered to reproduce phlyakes. Favi builds his case on the ancient testimonia relating phlyax to the verb φλυαρέω ('I talk nonsense') and points out the mistaken association between the phlyakes and the pictorial record, which is instead related to Attic comedy. In addition to having nothing to do with Dionysus, the phlyakes cannot be exclusively framed within a Western-Greek prospective. After reviewing and ultimately questioning various interpretations of the term phlyax, Favi concludes that it cannot be considered either Western Greek or Doric (although the case for the verb φλουάζω is more complicated). Favi then formulates a new definition of phlyax by tracing its various uses. Originally indicating simply ridiculous people, it was later applied to interpreters of farcical performances that did not constitute a specific dramatic genre. These are the phlyakes mentioned by Athenaeus, who records that this terminology was familiar in the Greek West although not exclusive to this area. Afterwards, phlyax came to indicate a type of Western (Tarantine) drama, a form of comedy dealing with paratragedy made famous by Rhinton. But since phlyax was not a label for a specific genre with its own sets of conventions, it was also applied to other literary products sharing some basic features. This is the case of the works by Sopater and Sotades, which were as parodic as Rhinton's plays.

Rhinton takes up the second chapter. Of the thirty-eight dramas ascribed to him, we have only twenty-five (or twenty-six) fragments. Before examining them, Favi reviews the testimonia for Rhinton and offers a wide-ranging discussion of Rhinton's biography, cultural milieu, his plays and their relationship with other kinds of drama, including the Atellana. Ancient sources never label Rhinton's plays 'comedies' but describe them as a mixture of tragedy and comedy. This suggests mythological comedy, which is attested from the beginning of comic theatre, flourished in Athens between the late fifth and early fourth centuries BC, and fell out of fashion by the time Rhinton started his career. At the same time, ancient writers also paint Rhinton as an innovator, the father of a new type of drama called hilarotragoidia. Favi examines the sources to identify what made Rhinton stand out: he wrote only mythological comedies, combined international and local elements (note here how Favi cleverly reads side-by-side the epigram whereby Nossis celebrates Rhinton and those in which she comments on her own work, AP 7.414; 7.718, 5.170; pp. 69–72) and used the dialect spoken at Taras. This was Rhinton's base-language, although the fragments also present Attic forms, be they restored, or, perhaps more likely, due to Rhinton's use of tragic models, and non-Greek forms drawn from Italic languages. These forms were commonly used in Rhinton's Taras, although we may not exclude that Rhinton brought onto the stage foreign speakers. Here as throughout his work, Favi pays particular attention to the linguistic element of Rhinton's fragments. After all, except for a proverb-like expression preserved by Cicero (fr.*12), these fragments do owe their survival to their linguistic and metrical peculiarities.

The nature of the evidence makes it hard to say much about the content of Rhinton's plays, and Favi keenly points out the few interesting bits. First of all, the coincidence between Rhinton's play-titles and those by Euripides, with Iphigenia among the Taurians and Iphigenia in Aulis as the most interesting cases. The word Kalabria, one of the many terms whereby the Greeks referred to modern Puglia, is first attested in Rhinton (fr. 16). This shows that his plays, just like mythological comedies in general, contained references to local realities. Also intriguing is the metrical parody of another fragment that mentions Hipponax (fr. 8) and sheds some light on Rhinton's plays and his audiences. They were both sophisticated.

The following two chapters are dedicated to two obscure authors: Sciras of Taras (two testimonia and one fragment) and Blaesus of Capri (two testimonia and five fragments). They are considered phlyax-writers because Johannes Lydus (Mag. 1.41) associates them with Rhinton. Sciras is otherwise called 'a poet of the so-called Italic comedy' while Blaesus is mentioned as 'a poet of those who mix serious and funny' (Athen. IX 402b, cod B; Steph. Byz. κ 69 Billerbeck).' Favi teases out of the evidence any possible clue to their dramas and their links to Rhinton's. The one surviving fragment from Sciras' Meleager recalls Euripides' Hippolytus (75–6), thus suggesting that Sciras and Rhinton drew inspiration from similar models. Tragic parody is not evident in either one of the titles attested for Blaesus, Mesotribas and Satournos, although the latter implies a mythological topic. Blaesus' fragments, however, do seem to be linguistically close to those by Rhinton, thus suggesting some continuity between these two dramatists and their works.

The final chapter deals with a better-known author, Sopater (six testimonia and twenty-five fragments), who is variously labelled παρῳδός, comic poet and phlyax-writer. While Rhinton, Sciras and Blaesus were all active in South Italy, ancient sources tell us that Sopater hailed from Paphos, on the island of Cyprus. Several reasons, however, suggest that he worked in Alexandria during the reign of Ptolemy II, to whom Sopater referred in one of his plays. Favi discusses what we know of dramatic activities in Cyprus (very little) and in Ptolemaic Alexandria (much more), concluding that Sopater was active in Egypt, as generally supposed. Another element that marks Sopater from the other poets discussed in this volume is his language: Sopater's fragments are all in Attic dialect and interestingly include forms typical of the raising koiné. Here too Favi does his best to examine the fragments, which are all preserved by Athenaeus, searching for clues to the content of the original plays. At least some fragments may have been spoken by cooks. One play, Nekyia, dealt with Odysseus' katabasis (fr. 13), and other titles too suggest mythological parody. We also have one instance of philosophical parody (fr. 6) and several examples of parody targeting tragic and dithyrambic diction. The twelve hapax legomena that we find in the twenty-five fragments ascribed to Sopater contribute to suggesting that he wrote learned plays. This feature, along with the parodic element and the circulation of Sopater's works within a regional context, makes Sopater close to Rhinton (who was one of his contemporaries).

The book closes with four helpful indices: sources for the testimonia and the fragments treated, select passages discussed, Greek words and topics of interest.

Favi's discussion is always detailed, lucid and cautious in handling the evidence, even when dealing with questionable sources (see for example his discussion of Johannes Lydus' claim that Rhinton used hexameters, pp. 91–3). Favi takes on philological minutiae and linguistic analysis as well as broader issues related more generally to the history of Greek drama. In a work of this scope, some topics are necessarily treated in more detail than others. I missed more discussion on the tragedy-related vases from fourth-century South Italy (mentioned on p. 86). Favi stresses the links between Rhinton's plays and Middle Comedy, and in discussing individual dramas refers only to the comedy-related vases possibly relevant to the myths treated by Rhinton (incidentally, one regrets the use of the expression 'vasi fliacici' although given in quotation marks). But some interesting questions spring to mind. Is it a coincidence that virtually all the Euripidean tragedies with which Rhinton more or less probably engaged can be identified in the tragedy-related vases, and that the same can be said for the two Euripidean plays more or less securely recalled by Sciras's fragment? More importantly, could we find some role for performance as the medium whereby Rhinton and his audiences familiarised themselves with tragedy? One of the most debated issues on the spread of Greek drama involves the Italic populations (see the references given on p. 86 n. 139). In the vast majority of cases, the tragedy-related vases from South Italy come from Italic tombs scattered across Apulia, Lucania, Campania and Sicily, raising interesting questions about the circulation of Greek tragedy among the Italic populations, or at least the commissioning clients. The Italics' exposure to Greek tragedy and their familiarity with the Greek language are two controversial issues, and Favi and the material that he discusses shed some light on them. Rhinton's fragments present non-Greek forms (fr. 5, 7, 17 and more tentatively fr. 1) that, as Favi points out, are to be considered loans from Italic languages. This kind of loan characterises the literary production from the Greek West, including Sicily, and betrays the cultural interactions between Greeks and non-Greeks in this area (see the references given on pp. 82, 124–5). Obscure as he is, Blaesus is a very interesting figure. His name and his hometown, Capri, identify him as an Osco-Italic (see on p. 251) yet he wrote drama, and did so in Doric. His chronology remains elusive, but we may compare him to Mamercus, the Italic mercenary with an Oscan name who seized Catania when Timoleon invaded Sicily. Mamercus wrote poems and tragedies, and he also thought highly of his poetic skills (Plut. Tim. 31.1).

Favi's book is timely and much needed. By combining a detailed and insightful analysis of the ancient sources with a wide-ranging discussion of the spread of Greek drama outside Athens, Favi has produced a work of great interest for philologists, linguists, historians and anyone interested in ancient theatre and drama. It will be mandatory reading for all of them.


1.   G. Kaibel, Comicorum Graecorum Fragmenta (Berlin 1899, 19582); A. Olivieri, Frammenti della commedia greca e del mimo nella Sicilia e nella Magna Grecia II. Frammenti della commedia fliacica (Naples, 19472), R. Kassel and C. Austin, Poetae Comici Graeci Vol I: Comoedia Dorica, Mimi, Phlyaces (Berlin, 2001). For Rhinton, see also the edition by E. Völker, Rhintonis fragmenta (Halle, 1887) and the study by M. Gigante, Rintone e il teatro in Magna Grecia (Naples, 1971).
2.   The expression comes from the volume edited by K. Bosher, Theater Outside Athens: Drama in Greek Sicily and South Italy (Cambridge, 2012).

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