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  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: January 2014

Four - Satyrs and Comic Parody


South Italian Vase-painting:

The only visual humour that most classicists are usually aware of are the so-called phlyax scenes painted on South Italian vases and possibly inspired from Old Comedy. I will therefore rapidly discuss visual humour within South Italian vase-painting before focusing on the satyr and his central role in Greek visual humour. Most aspects of these South Italian phlyax scenes have been treated systematically by Trendall and more recently by Taplin (2007). What was the purpose of representing actors on stage? Was it an ‘interesting’ subject, which painters knew would delight their buyers because it reminded them of a funny play they may have seen? Were they intended to be funny not just by their reference to stage comedy but through their visual representation?

This section is a very brief incursion into South Italian (Apulian, Paestan, and Lucanian) humorous iconography rather than a survey. It is beyond the scope of the present work to probe South Italian iconography beyond this admittedly cursory examination. During the early day of the Roman Republic, there seemed to have been a local genre of tragic parody known as hilarotragodia or phlyax plays. The word meant ‘gossip’ plays (in the plural phlyakes). A number of vases from various regions in Southern Italy depict mock-heroic scenes. Although the debate has centred on a local versus Old Greek Comedy (Aristophanic) origin for the inspiration of these vases, some scholars, such as Green and Handley (1995: 53), have suggested the possibility of a Greek ‘classic revival’ in Southern Italy, and Taplin also proposed that a number of these phlyax vases were actually visual parodies of ‘serious’ Italian imagery.

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