1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Epicharmus
EPICHARMUS (c. 540–450 B.C.), Greek comic poet, was born in the island of Cos. Early in life he went to Megara in Sicily, and after its destruction by Gelo (484) removed to Syracuse, where he spent the rest of his life at the court of Hiero, and died at the age of ninety or (according to a statement in Lucian, Macrobii, 25) ninety-seven. A brazen statue was set up in his honour by the inhabitants, for which Theocritus composed an inscription (Epigr. 17). Epicharmus was the chief representative of the Sicilian or Dorian comedy. Of his works 35 titles and a few fragments have survived. In the city of tyrants it would have been dangerous to present comedies like those of the Athenian stage, in which attacks were made upon the authorities. Accordingly, the comedies of Epicharmus are of two kinds, neither of them calculated to give offence to the ruler. They are either mythological travesties (resembling the satyric drama of Athens) or character comedies. To the first class belong the Busiris, in which Heracles is represented as a voracious glutton; the Marriage of Hebe, remarkable for a lengthy list of dainties. The second class dealt with different classes of the population (the sailor, the prophet, the boor, the parasite). Some of the plays seem to have bordered on the political, as The Plunderings, describing the devastation of Sicily in the time of the poet. A short fragment has been discovered (in the Rainer papyri) from the Ὁδυσσεὺς αὐτόμολος, which told how Odysseus got inside Troy in the disguise of a beggar and obtained valuable information. Another feature of his works was the large number of excellent sentiments expressed in a brief proverbial form; the Pythagoreans claimed him as a member of their school, who had forsaken the study of philosophy for the writing of comedy. Plato (Theaetetus, 152 E) puts him at the head of the masters of comedy, coupling his name with Homer and, according to a remark in Diogenes Laërtius, Plato was indebted to Epicharmus for much of his philosophy. Ennius called his didactic poem on natural philosophy Epicharmus after the comic poet. The metres employed by Epicharmus were iambic trimeter, and especially trochaic and anapaestic tetrameter. The plot of the plays was simple, the action lively and rapid; hence they were classed among the fabulae motoriae (stirring, bustling), as indicated in the well-known line of Horace (Epistles, ii. 1. 58):
“Plautus ad exemplar Siculi properare Epicharmi.”
Epicharmus is the subject of articles in Suidas and Diogenes Laërtius (viii. 3). See A. O. Lorenz, Leben und Schriften des Koers E. (with account of the Doric drama and fragments, 1864); J. Girard, Études sur la poésie grecque (1884); Kaibel in Pauly-Wissowa’s Realencyclopädie, according to whom Epicharmus was a Siceliot; for the papyrus fragment, Blass in Jahrbücher für Philologie, cxxxix., 1889.