A Sicilian writer of comedy, was active during the first quarter of the 5th cent. bc, as is clear from his reference to the Anaxilas tyrant of Rhegium (fr. 98) and possibly to Aeschylus (fr. 214). He was probably a native of Syracuse (our earliest evidence for this is Theoc. Epigr. 18 and Marm. Par. 71), but other cities laid claim to him; Arist. Poet. 1448a32 is ambiguous, but may mean that the Sicilian Megarians (i.e. the people from Megara Hyblaea) regarded him as their own. Aristotle surprisingly says that he was ‘much earlier than Chionides and Magnes’, and if this is true he must have been an established poet during the last part of the 6th cent.
The titles, citations, and fragments of his plays (now significantly augmented by papyri) indicate that he was particularly fond of mythological burlesque; Heracles and Odysseus were the ‘heroes’ of some of these burlesques. Logos and Logina is shown by fr. 87 to have been mythological in character, a fact which could hardly have been guessed from its title. Some titles, like those of Attic comedies, are plurals, e.g. Islands, Persians, Sirens. No fragment enables us to decide beyond doubt how many actors these plays required or whether they required a chorus. The abundance of plural titles constitutes a prima facie case for a chorus. Certain fragments (6, 34) suggest that there may have been three actors on stage simultaneously, but this evidence is far from decisive. The scale of his plays is also uncertain. His language is Sicilian Doric, and is as colourful and sophisticated as that of Old Comedy; he uses a variety of metres kata stichon (‘according to the line’), but there are no lyrics among the extant fragments.
A considerable number of philosophical and quasi-scientific works were attributed to Epicharmus in antiquity. The hard core of these may have been a collection of maxims made from his plays (cf. Theoc. Epigr. 18), but as early as the 4th cent. bc the Pseudepicharmeia were regarded as forged (Aristox. fr. 45 Wehrli), and continued to be so regarded by critical historians, though the less critical treated them without scruple as genuine works of Epicharmus. A certain Alcimus argued that Plato derived much of his doctrine from Epicharmus (Diog. Laert. 3. 9 ff.), but it is hardly credible that the passages cited in support of this allegation were composed early in the 5th cent.; one of them (fr. 171) appears to parody the technique (panu men oun, ‘yes, no doubt’) of Platonic dialogue. The tradition that Epicharmus was a Pythagorean (see PYTHAGORAS) first appears in Plutarch (Num. 8).
Kenneth James Dover
Subjects: Classical Studies.