Theses Doctoral

The Life of Comedy after the Death of Plautus: The Palliata in Roman Life and Letters

Hanses, Mathias

This dissertation examines Roman comedy (comoedia palliata) and its influence from the stage onto the pages of Latin literature. I argue that the plays of Plautus and Terence (and increasingly also their Greek model, Menander) continued to be performed during the late Roman Republic and early Empire. Orators like Cicero impressed their audiences by tapping into fond memories of such performances, and from Catullus onwards, a new generation of authors experimented with ways of ‘updating’ the plays. One popular solution was to have allusions to comedy contrast with neighboring references to other attractions at the Roman festival, ranging from pantomime dances to gladiatorial combats. Especially under the Empire, authors like Horace, Propertius, Ovid, and Juvenal came to blend comedy with elements from darker dramas, such as tragedy or mime. Comedy thus emerged as an indispensible component in the creation of ‘new’ genres like Roman love elegy and Imperial satire, or the new Ovidian branch of Latin epic. In closing, I suggest that the vicarious experience provided by episodic television shows (as described by David Foster Wallace and Umberto Eco) can help explain this enduring popularity of Roman comedy: TV viewers and theatrical audiences both find themselves transported into a world whose rules are slightly easier to grasp than those of their own, and they fantasize about navigating their lives as efficiently as a comedic trickster.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Volk, Katharina
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 7, 2015