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Eupolis (c. 446 BC-411 BC) was an Athenian poet of the Old Comedy, that flourished in the time of the Peloponnesian War.

He exhibited his first drama in his seventeenth year, 429 BC, two years before Aristophanes, who was nearly of the same age with him. The date of his death is uncertain. The common story was, that Alcibiades, when sailing to Sicily, 415 BC, threw Eupolis into the sea, in revenge for an attack which he had made upon him in his Baptae. But, to say nothing of the improbability of even Alcibiades venturing on such an outrage, or the still stranger fact of its not being alluded to by Thucydides, or any other trustworthy historian, the answer of Cicero is conclusive, that Eratosthenes mentioned plays produced by Eupolis after the Sicilian expedition.

He is ranked by Horace, along with Cratinus and Aristophanes, as the greatest writer of his school. With a lively and fertile fancy Eupolis combined a sound practical judgment. He was reputed to equal Aristophanes in the elegance and purity of his diction, and Cratinus in his command of irony and sarcasm.

Although be was at first on good terms with Aristophanes, their relations subsequently became strained, and they accused each other, in most virulent terms, of imitation and plagiarism.

Of the 17 plays attributed to Eupolis, with which he obtained the first prize seven times, only fragments remain. Of these the best known were:

the Kolakes, in which he pilloried the spendthrift Callias, who wasted his substance on sophists and parasites;

Maricas, an attack on Hyperbolus, the successor of Cleon, under a fictitious name

the Baptae, against Alcibiades and his clubs, at which profligate foreign rites were practised.

Other objects of his attack were Socrates and Cimon. The Demoi and Poleis were political, dealing with the desperate condition of the state and with the allied (or tributary) cities.

The chief characteristic of the poetry of Eupolis seems to have been the liveliness of his fancy, and the power which he possessed of imparting its images to his audience. This characteristic of his genius influenced his choice of subjects, as well as his mode of treating them, so that he not only appears to have chosen subjects which other poets might have despaired of dramatizing, but we are expressly told that he wrought into the body of his plays those serious political views which other poets ex pounded in their parabases, as in the Demoi, in which he represented the legislators of other times deliberating on the administration of the state.

To do this in a genuine Attic old comedy, without converting the comedy into a serious philosophic dialogue, must have been a great triumph of dramatic art. The introduction of deceased persons on the stage appears to have given to the plays of Eupolis a certain dignity, which would have been inconsistent with the comic spirit had it not been relieved by the most graceful and clever merriment. In elegance he is said to have even surpassed Aristophanes, while in bitter jesting and personal abuse he emulated Cratinus. Among the objects of his satire was Socrates, on whom he made a bitter, though less elaborate attack than that in the Clouds of Aristophanes. The dead were not even exempt from his abuse, for there are still extant some lines of his in which Cimon is most unmercifully treated. A close relation subsisted between Eupolis and Aristophanes, not only as rivals, but as imitators of each other. Cratinus attacked Aristophanes for borrowing from Eupolis, and Eupolis, in his Baptae, made the same charge, especially with reference to the Knights.

The scholiasts specify the last parabasis of the Knights as borrowed from Eupolis. On the other hand, Aristophanes, in the second (or third) edition of the Clouds, retorts upon Eupolis the charge of imitating the Knights in his Maricas, and taunts him with the further indignity of jesting on his rival's baldness. The number of the plays of Eupolis is stated by Suidas at seventeen, and by another authority at fourteen. The extant titles exceed the greater of these numbers, but some of them are very doubtful. The fragments of Eupolis have been edited by Runkel, Pherecratis et Eupolidis Fragm., Lips., 1829, and are also given by Meineke, Fragm. Comic. Graze., vol. i., p. 158, seqq., ed. min.

Literature

Ian C. Storey, Eupolis. Poet of Old Comedy. Oxford: 2003. ISBN 0-19-925992-5.

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