Old Cantankerous, also known as The Grouch, The Misanthrope, Dyskolos (Δύσκολος), and similar names, is a play by Menander, the 4th Century B.C. Greek playwright. His works are an example of Ancient Greek New Comedy, which influenced the likes of William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, and William Congreve, as well as the Roman playwrights Terence and Plautus of the 2nd Century B.C. However, of the estimated 108 comedies only one survives in its almost entirety - Old Cantankerous - and of the others, only fragments remain. Furthermore, Old Cantankerous was discovered relatively recently by Egyptian archaeologists in 1952 along with further fragments of The Girl from Samos and The Shield as well as some key Christian texts. These are known as the Bodmer Papyri, which are currently held in the Vatican library.
Old Cantankerous was first performed in about 316 B.C. at the Lenaian festival (usually held in January) where it won first prize. In the prologue, the god Pan explains the story: he has cast a spell on Sostratos to make him fall madly in love with Myrrhine, a young peasant girl, however there is one thing that gets in their way: Myrrhine's father Knemon, or 'old cantankerous'. Pan tells us about Knemon:
... he's a real hermit of a man, who snarls at everyone and hates company - 'company' isn't the word: he's getting on now, and he's never addressed a civil word to anyone in his life! He's never volunteered a polite greeting to anyone except myself (I'm the god Pan); and that's only because he lives beside me, and can't help passing my door. And I'm quire sure that, as soon as he does, he promptly regrets it.
Pan, he goes on to explain, has made Sostratos fall in love with Myrrhine as she has been very good and "careful in her service to the Nymphs... and so we think it proper to take some care of her". When Sostratos realises his love for Myrrhine he sends his servant to see Knemon about the matter, however he is beaten off the land, and when Knemon sees Sostratos he dismissed too. However he remains after Knemon is gone and helps Myrrhine with one her tasks. He is then spotted by Gorgias' slave: Gorgias is the step-brother of Myrrhine who runs the farm. When he is convinced that Sostratos truly loves Myrrhine he plans to intervene and talk to Knemon himself, and in order to gain some favour with Knemon Gorgias advises Sostratos to help on the farm as a labourer rather than appear to be so very much 'above' them. He does help, and that evening they enjoy a dinner together, during which Simiche, Knemon's maid, has an accident and loses the bucket for the well. Unsurprisingly she is beaten by Knemon off-stage but, also off-stage, Knemon cries out: he himself falls down the well. Gorgias and Sostratos rescue him, and such is his gratitude he agrees to let Sostratos marry Myrrhine and Gorgias marry a sister of Sostratos. The festivities take place, but Knemon remains in bed issuing all kinds of awkward demands, which does not, however, bring down the good mood.
I mentioned before that Terence was greatly inspired by Menander and re-wrote several (if not more) of Menander's plays. Given I have, I must admit, a bit of an aversion to Terence I wasn't greatly excited about reading Menander, however I thoroughly enjoyed Old Cantankerous. It was fun, warm, and light, and very entertaining to read. From here I'm going to go on to the fragments, which include The Girl from Samos, The Arbitration, The Rape of the Locks, The Shield, and more, and I'll post about them in the coming weeks.