Muted Voices: Andria and Women in New Comedy
New Comedy refers to plays originally performed in Athens in the late fourth and early third century BC. It is known primarily from the substantial papyrus fragments of Menander. Other important playwrights were Diphilus1 and Philemon2. New Comedy deals with themes concerning young lovers triumphing over the opposition of their elders, long-lost children unexpectedly returned to their parents, attempted trickery and its discovery. There are many cheeky slaves, boastful soldiers, cheats, con-men, silly old fools, misers and beautiful slave girls in these plays. The plays of Menander and his contemporaries were adapted by Roman authors of “comoedia palliata”3, of whom the most notable are Plautus and Terence.
The plots of New Comedy are generally built around a young man’s sexual affair. These affairs are always presented from the point of view of young men. The woman is merely the object of his attention. Her inner feelings and emotions are scarcely explored, her character is rarely developed beyond the needs of the male-centred plot, and in some plays she does not even appear on stage. Yet the comedies do tell us something about these women, at least enough to show that the roles they play are essentially stereotypes familiar to both the playwright and the audience. Almost all of the sexual affairs which young men have in New Comedy fall into one of following patterns: Rape, liaisons with young women which are sanctioned by their mothers or female guardians, affairs with young women who are slaves exploited by their owners and affairs with independent prostitutes. But surprisingly, there is no full-length treatment either of women or of romantic affairs in New Comedy.
The young men whose sexual affairs make up the plots of New Comedy are almost all in their early twenties. For both the Greeks and the Romans they belonged to a distinct age category, too old to be considered children, but not yet fully adult...