As the only surviving representative of New Comedy, Menander offers an interesting case-study of how ancient perceptions of genre definition, qualification and categorization may be subjected to ongoing renegotiation, but also how this ever-changing appreciation influences our understanding of the evolution of Comedy, both in Greece and in Rome. More specifically, with the discovery of Menander the genre of Ancient Comedy acquired a third area, ‘New’ Comedy – a ‘Newness’ originally perceived chronologically, but in recent decades, increasingly in terms of poetics. From a different perspective, the fortune of the Menander discovery (and the lack of other extant texts from New Comedy authors) resulted to the (uncritical) designation of Menander as representative par excellence of New Comedy, a designation that most recent research, however, has come to disprove. Roman Comedy was likewise appreciated, to a considerable degree, in comparison to Menander; and within the very genre of Roman Comedy, more or less close observance of Menander’s ‘archetypal’ plays served as criterion for the characterization of Plautus as more ‘Roman’ and appealing, while Terence, famously described by Caesar as ‘half-Menander’ – itself a characterization open to both a positive and a negative interpretation – turned off the Roman audiences because of his alleged closeness to the Menandrian comic language. Performance theory, however, and the acknowledgement of the decidedly oral (namely, largely improvised) character of Plautine plays, have dissociated the appreciation of Roman Comedy from the Menandrian model. This, in turn, has led to a new appreciation of Menander as the exception rather than the mainstream voice of New Comedy.
Menander, New Comedy, Plautus, Terence, Roman Comedy, Stereotyped Genre, Comic Style