Evanzio, De fabula, introduzione, testo critico, traduzione e note di commento a cura di G. Cupaiuolo, Napoli 1992 (I. ed. 1979).
English Translation: Preminger, A., O. B. Hardison Jr., and K. Kerrane (edd.). 1974. Classical and Medieval Literary Criticism: Translations and Interpretations. New York.
English Translation: Nugent, S. G. 1980. “Ancient Theories of Comedy: The Treatises of Evanthius and Donatus,” in M. Charney, ed. Shakespearean Comedy. New York: 259-80.
The De fabula has come down to us in four chapters, followed by another section on the same theme that is separated in some manuscripts by a new title (De comoedia). Critics now agree that the two are decidedly separate works that cannot be attributed to the same author.
The first chapter discusses the common origins of tragic and comic theater in contests connected with the god Dionysus; the etymologies of the words ‘tragedy’ and ‘comedy’; masks; the relative chronology of the two dramatic genres, with the priority of tragedy relative to comedy. At the end of the chapter the author postpones the treatment of tragedy and deals with comedy, to which the works of Terence belong. This conclusion reveals that the work is closely associated with a commentary on Terence, either already when it was written or in the form, perhaps fruit of a reuse, that we can read now.
The theme of the second chapter is the history of Greek comedy, which is subdivided into “Old” and “New.” The genre began with a single actor and a chorus that recited with the accompaniment of music; over time, it came to employ an increasing number of actors - settling at five - as well as masks, costumes, and boots that helped to differentiate the characters from one another. The text, meanwhile, came to be divided into five acts. In the earliest periods, Old Comedy portrayed real people who were addressed with their own names and were easily recognizable by the audience; abuse and defamation, however, led to a ban on using the names of living people. This gave birth to satire, which employed vulgar jokes (as before), but without implicating real individuals. With Lucilius, satire broke from the dramatic genres. New Comedy did not focus on specific individuals, but rather on types; this was more pleasing because each member of the audience could recognize certain behaviors. Representatives of this style include Menander and Terence.
The third chapter offers deeper analysis of New Comedy’s defining characteristics, beginning with the abandonment of the chorus, which was no longer accessible to the audience, and the resulting difficulty of recognizing divisions between acts. It then spends some time considering the proem, which played an important role in the comedies of Terence, and the deus ex machina, which that author does not employ (though he does tend to utilize characters irrelevant to the main plot - something that other comic authors avoided). Terence also innovated in his use of meter: Greek comic playwrights were already slightly freer in their use of resolution in the iambic trimeter, but the Latin comedian produced texts that were virtually prose. Another difference is his tendency to place only good characters on stage, a preference that runs contrary to the genre’s precepts concerning character types. His skill is nevertheless apparent in the attention with which - unlike other Latin authors - he avoids excessively lofty, pathetic, or tragic themes, always keeping himself far from both tragedy and mime. Other qualities that distinguish him from Plautus are his refusal to break dramatic illusion with actors who address the audience directly and the ability to combine a larger number of plots into a single comedy.
Lastly, the fourth chapter treats other forms of Latin drama: the fabulae togatae; comedy on Roman themes (cf. the fabulae praetextae, tragedies inspired by Roman history); Atellane farce; Rinthonic plays; comoediae tabernariae; and mimes. It concludes with a comparison of tragedy and comedy; an identification of Livius Andronicus as the first Roman playwright; the subdivisions of comedies into motoriae, action, fabulae statariae, diction, and mixtae; and a list and definition of the parts of a comedy, viz. the prologue, protasis, epitasis, and the catastrophe. [G. Polara; tr. C. L. Caterine].