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Classical Drama and Society


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A Guide to Writing in History and Classics

 

SECTION 3: ANCIENT GREEK COMEDY

Reading 6: Greek Mime


TEXT: The Oxyrhynchus Mime ("The Adulteress")


Questions to Ponder Concerning This Text:

• What does the subject matter say about the audience and their expectations of the production? Are the actions of mute actors implied in the archimime's lines? Do there need to be mute actors at all?

• With only the archimime speaking and, thus, playing all the spoken parts, how was the acting handled, especially the interchange of dialogue in Scene VIII?

• What technical elements are required to mount this type of production successfully? What kind of crew would an archimime need?

• No ancient mime survived the Middle Ages. Do you suppose that happened more because of difficulties caused by the subject matter, or because texts like these were incomprehensible as naked scripts outside of a theatre and a tradition of mime in performance?


Introduction: The text of this mime is found on a papyrus which emerged in the sands of the Egyptian desert near an ancient site called Oxyrhynchus. It is, thus, called the "Oxyrhynchus Mime," because we have no idea what the date or who the author of this mime might be. Still, it is all but complete. If anything is missing, it is only the very end. The plot concerns an adulterous wife in love with one of her servants who is not in love with her.

The action takes place in eight scenes. (I) After the servant rejects her, the eponymous "adulteress" condemns to death both him and the female servant he loves. (II) Their fellow servants who were ordered to execute them engineer some sort of escape for them, pretending they got away because of the intervention of the gods. (III) The female servant returns, and the adulteress condemns her to death a second time. (IV) In another attempt to save the lovers, the household including servants named Malacus and Spinther pretends her would-be lover has died and brings on his corpse. The adulteress mourns him, while everyone chuckles at her deception. (V) In grief, the adulteress decides to murder her old husband, steal his money and run away. (VI) She enlists the aid of his side-kick (parasite). (VII) She orders a drug prepared with which to poison the old man and goes inside to administer it. The drug is, of course, not really poison. (VIII) The old man is brought out "dead" and the household again pretends to mourn. The old man suddenly rises up and the household feigns shock. The text breaks off at this point, but surely the adulteress was suitably punished in the end.

 

SCENE I So, slaves, seize that man and drag him to
His fate. Bring out now that woman, too, just as she is,
Gagged. To you slaves I say, take them away
To the Twin Peaks and tie them up to the trees
That are there, setting them far apart
From each other, and see to it that they do not look at
One another or, filled with the sight of each other,
Rejoice as they die. Cut their throats and then
Meet me inside. I have spoken. I am going
Inside.
 

 

SCENE II What are you trying to tell me? Oh, really? The gods
Appeared to you all, and you were frightened and they have
<Gotten away?>; I'll tell you this, if those two
Escaped you, they will not escape the mountain guards.
Now I must pray to the gods, Spinther.
Swear! . . . <half a line is missing> . . . Say
The part for the sacrifice. When the gods to our good
Will appear before us, then sing like you mean it,
Sing the gods. Scoundrel, can't you do what you're told?
What's wrong? Are you crazy? Go inside and see who it is!
 

 

SCENE III What did he say? Was she there? See if our arrogant friend
Isn't in, too. I tell you, take this woman off and hand her
Over to the mountain guards. Tell them to put her in chains
And watch her carefully. Drag her, tug her, snatch her off!
And you who are tracking that man, murder
Him! Throw down his corpse for me to see!
Come, Spinther! Malacus, with me!
 

 

SCENE IV   I have come outside
  . . . to try and see for sure if he is dead,
That man, so jealousy may never cross my path again. And thus,
. . . these things thus. Oh, look there! Oh god, you
Wretch! So you'd rather be cast to the dogs than be my
Lover? He lies there, says nothing. How should I mourn him? Now that he's dead,
All my anger, if ever there was any, is gone. Stop!
. . . I will comfort my troubled heart.
Spinther, why is your glance so subdued? So, come up
To me here, you rascal, so I can strain off some wine. Come in,
Come in, you rascal! Well, go on! Where are you strolling off to?
Turn this way!

 

SCENE V   Where is the other half of your tunic? Half of it?
  I'll tell you everything about everything. I have
Made up my mind, Malacus. I'll kill them all and sell
Their possessions and go far away somewhere. Now as to the old man,
I need power of attorney before he gets wind of this. Fortunately
I have a lethal drug which I will strain into his wine
And give to him to drink. So, you go to the big door and
Call him — say you want to talk things out. Let's go and let's,
the two of us, discuss this business of the old man with his side-kick.

 

SCENE VI Oh, boy! Boy! This is the situation, side-kick! Who is this?
And who's she? What happened to her? Take off her veil, so I can see
Her. I need your help. This is the situation, side-kick.
I've thought about it and I want to talk things out with the old man.
So, go and see him. Bring him to me. I'm going in to
Prepare you your lunch.
 

 

SCENE VII   Good job, Malacus, so quickly done!
  The drug, have you mixed it? And the lunch,
Is it ready? What? Malacus! Okay, take the honey-wine.
Poor fool! I think our side-kick's in hot water. Poor fool, he is laughing!
Follow him, everyone, so that nothing befalls him. It's just as
I wanted it to turn out. Let's go in and make more definite plans
Concerning the rest. Malacus, everything's happened for us
Just like we planned, as long as we can still kill the old man.

 

SCENE VIII Sidekick! What happened? Oh god! How? Yes, yes! Now I have power
Over everyone!
    [SPINTHER] Let's go, side-kick! What do you want?
  [SIDE-KICK] Spinther, give me means to kill myself!
    [SPINTHER] Side-kick, I can hardly keep
  From laughing.
    [MALACUS] Well said!
    [SIDE-KICK] I agree. What should I say?
  Father! Master! What are you leaving me to? I am stripped of my
Freedom of speech, my good name, the light of my liberty. You were my master and he . . .
[MALACUS] Forget it! I'll do the dirge. Woe is you, poor man, without lot,
With outrage, without sex! Woe is you!
    [OLD MAN] Woe is me! I know what
  Sort of man you are now. Spinther, to the stocks with this man! Who is this again?
[SPINTHER] They're still alive, master . . . <the text breaks off>


Consider the following comments by D.L. Page, a modern scholar and the editor of this text:

This is a fine piece of writing in its class. The construction is elaborate and dramatically good; the language is powerful, picturesque, sometimes even poetical. This author, who probably lived near the end of the 1st c. CE, controls the Greek language easily, and affects a pleasing directness and economy of style. This Archimima (archimime) has indeed an excellent part to play, varied and vivid—first furious and vindictive, then repentant and sentimental; first exultant, then subtly cunning and sinister.


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