▪ Greek poet

born c. 530 BC
died c. 440 BC

      Greek poet who, according to the Suda lexicon of the 10th century AD, was the originator of Sicilian (or Dorian) comedy. He was born in a Dorian colony, either Megara Hybaea or Syracuse, both on Sicily, or Cos, one of the Dodecanese islands. He has been credited with more than 50 plays written in the Sicilian dialect; titles of 35 of his works survive, but the remains are scanty.

      Many of Epicharmus' plays were obviously mythological burlesques in which even the gods were satirized. Major features of his works were set debates, and the stock characters, such as the parasite and the rustic, were later characteristic of Middle and New Comedy. Some of his titles suggest parodies of tragedies. Though they seem to have had some musical accompaniment, the plays had no chorus.

      Epicharmus' style was lively, and his comedies seem more akin to mime and to New Comedy than to the Old Comedy of his time. They were apparently short and largely farcical but contained an admixture of philosophical moralizing in the form of gnomic maxims. These maxims were later collected separately and sometimes forged; hence, perhaps, his posthumous reputation in antiquity as a philosopher. Ancient authorities also attributed to him works on ethics and medicine, and tradition made him a pupil of Pythagoras.

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