Scholia Reviews ns 13 (2004) 27.
Elizabeth Ivory Tylawsky, Saturio's Inheritance: The Greek Ancestry of the Roman Comic Parasite. Artists and Issues in the Theatre Volume 9. New York: Peter Lang, 2002. Pp. 192. ISBN 0-8204-4128-7. SFr.89.00.
University of Durham
Tylawsky's book traces the Greek literary and social ancestry of the Plautine parasite of her title. In agreement with some judgements by Athenaeus (6.236c, not directly quoted by Tylawsky, and referring to Hector's companion Podes), she draws in a wide field of 'ancestors' throughout Greek literary history, from the Odyssey and archaic poetry through Old and Middle Comedy to Menander and his contemporaries. Her main argument is that Roman comedy still shows many particularly Greek elements in the character of the flatterer. Tylawsky is especially interested in the social realities of the parasitical lifestyle and primarily tries to trace historical sources (and literary sources as an indication of their contemporary society) for the stage character, and points out the similarities between some literary characters from the earliest Greek texts and the characterisation of the Plautine parasite.
In Chapter One, 'Ragged Opportunism in Early Greek Poetry and Society' (pp. 7-16), she analyses Odysseus in disguise as a beggar as a precursor of the parasite, since he is, like the parasite, on society's margins attempting to be admitted to the table of the suitors, and thus to society. The hangers-on of the suitors, Iros the beggar, Phemios the bard, and Medon the herald, she argues, are 'protoparasites' in the sense that they are, in their different ways, dependent on the suitors but excluded from their proper society, and their various elements would later develop into the distinctive role of the comic parasite. A stranger without close connections to one household and unable to forge those with another soon becomes reliant on people to provide him with food and comforts in return for his entertaining them. This figure can take the form of a beggar, herald, rhapsode, companion, or philos, depending on the circumstances. Similar characterisations are also found in the poetry of Asios of Samos (who is credited with the first evidence for the description of the flatterer as kolax or knisokolax) and Epicharmos' Wealth; all these flatterers are willing to undergo humiliations in order to procure food and comforts for themselves.
Chapter Two, 'Beggarly Interlopers and the Democracy: Aristophanes' Acharnians, Knights, and Wasps' (pp. 17-28), and Chapter Three, 'Fashionable Philosophizing: Clouds and Contemporary Society' (pp. 29-42), are dedicated to the portrayal in the plays mentioned and in Eupolis of disreputable characters who have similar characteristics as hungry opportunists, namely good entertainment skills and tolerance of abuse or ridicule. These plays, she argues, show different ways in which flattery could be used by playwrights in the 420's, ranging from demonstrating the art of flattering in Knights to putting flatterers on stage in Kolakes (perhaps the first instance of a kolax on stage). In Acharnians, the earliest of these plays, Dikaiopolis borrows the beggar's outfit of Telephos from Euripides in order to make himself look more miserable. In Knights, Paphlagon-Cleon (an outsider to the household of Demos, as his slave-name indicates) flatters Demos with his clever tongue and, despite being low-born himself, becomes a successful opportunist. Both he and the Sausage-Seller have the gift of the gab, and both use it to flatter Demos. Thus Cleon and his political companions are exposed as flatterers by Aristophanes, a relationship further explored in the Wasps; both Cleonymus and Theorus, Cleon's aides, are kolakes, flatterers of the people and opportunists, willing to undergo humiliations in order to achieve their goals. In Clouds, Aristophanes derides Socrates and the sophists as flatterers imposing on a credulous public (p. 34). Socrates is an ironic version of the sophist, and Chaerephon, his friend and admirer, becomes his flatterer, whilst Socrates himself manages to obtain food and clothes (primarily cloaks) from the fashionable youths of Athens.
Chapter Four, 'The Forging of a Stereotype: Society in the 420's and Eupolis' Flatterers' (pp. 43-58), discusses Eupolis' play (421 BC), which portrays Callias and his circle of sophists and flatterers. Tylawsky carefully reconstructs the play (including some possible dress of the chorus of flatterers) with its cooks called in to provide a feast for the flatterers (possibly including the sophist Protagoras as Callias' main guest, or, as Eupolis mischievously indicated, his main flatterer), an incident which is in many ways reminiscent of Middle and New Comedy plots and thus perhaps closer to what a parasite (until now, the character is a kolax rather than a parasite) should be like. The chorus of flatterers, in an extant fragment, claims that nothing and no one would prevent them from getting their dinner, a similar notion to those found in Plautine parasite monologues.
Chapter Five, 'Athenaeus, the Flatterer, and Middle Comedy' (pp. 59-78), offers the full-blown study of the development of the flatterer into a stock character in Middle Comedy and our main source for it, Athenaeus. He attempts a definition as well as a historical sketch of kolax and 'parasite'. Tylawsky in general follows and illustrates Athenaeus' discussion of the characters' development (6.234-62), and argues that parasitos 'designated the person, kolakeia the activity' (p. 62). She argues that the word kolax is used at first for both flatterers and parasites, until in Middle Comedy the word parasitos was adapted for this particular branch of hanger-on restricted to comedy. The parasite developed his particular characteristics fully in this period (for example, being beaten up at dinner parties for the sake of good food, and the importance of having a nickname, which integrates the parasite into the in-crowd). Some named parasites and their historical origins are discussed. Chaerephon, mentioned by name by several comic writers, the archetypal anecdotal parasite, she argues, is based on the comic portait of Socrates' follower Chaerephon in Old Comedy, as in Aristophanes' Clouds, turning the philosopher into a stereotyped ancestor of the stock character. Philoxenos the dithyrambist underwent a similar fate and became another stereotypical comic parasite.
Chapter Six, 'The Flatterer and Contemporary Themes' (pp. 79-92), deals with situations in which the parasite functioned as the butt for criticism of contemporary party life. Themes ridiculed were contemporary philosophy, fashionable young men, their rowdy party behaviour and love for drink and prostitutes, all by association with the typical character traits of stage parasites: gluttony, entertaining talk and ability to bear insults if necessary to procure a meal.
Chapter Seven, 'Flatterers and New Comedy' (pp. 93-106), illustrates how characters became more and more realistic, and the parasite became much quieter and less noticeable (p. 94), but Menander provided him with more variety in the role: Chaereas in the Dyscolus is a foil to the more sensitive Sostratos in handling love affairs, and the several flatterers pandering to Menander's soldiers show other aspects in which Menander varied the stock character by giving its role more diverse functions depending on the necessities of the play.
Chapter Eight, 'Saturio's Inheritance' (pp. 107-24), turns to Roman palliata. In the course of his development, the flatterer had acquired some props, bathing equipment, and a sack for provisions. Tylawsky discusses in detail the various connotations of these props, and concludes (among other things) that the subdued clothes of the parasite and the lÍkythos are the signs of 'the career idler' and associate the bearer with a Greek lifestyle. The parasite, she argues convincingly, is still recognisably Greek (and thus suspicious to the Roman audience) in his appearance and attitude to life. She associates especially the parasite and Cynic philosophers, since both share the same impoverished life-style. This special reference to the Cynic philosopher as a source for the stock character of the parasite indeed matches well with the characterisation of Saturio, who mentions the Cynics in his speeches, but Tylawsky struggles to extrapolate this particular philosophical attitude in Plautus' other parasites.
Plautus continued to let his parasites have long speeches in which they brag and describe their professional eating skills, with added Plautine exuberance. Like Menander's characters, Plautus' are adaptable to the situation and needs of the play. Their task is to be funny (ridiculus): if they are not, they are thrown out. Saturio's monologue, in many respects, is the true heir to the speeches of Greek comedy. There is, she argues, no true parallel to the parasite in Roman society (thus standing in direct opposition to the thesis of Damon,[] who argues the Roman client system is reflected in the relationship between the parasite and his rex).
After such a wide-ranging introduction to the development of the character, this last chapter with its concentration on the props appears a bit narrow. Other Plautine incarnations of the stock character other than Saturio disappear into the background, and the stress on the possible philosophical origin of the parasite's props as derision of the Cynics and the continued perception of 'Greekness' of the character is perhaps too limited, an attempt to draw a straight line from Chaerephon to Saturio. The discussion does not allow enough space to the typically Plautine exuberance of characterisation, or the often metatheatrical elements in the speeches of Plautus' parasites.
Overall, however, the study offers a good history of the long ancestry of this character, which did not all spring new-formed from Plautus' pen, but stands at the end of a long development and derives from many and various sources. The book is a valuable study of the development of the parasite's Greek into the Roman stage personality and the continuity of some persistent features in this stock character from the Greek beginnings of comedy into Plautus.
[] Cynthia Damon, The Mask of the Parasite (Michigan 1997).