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Atellan Farce

The Atellan Farce (Latin: Atellanae Fabulae or Fabulae Atellanae, "favola atellana" ; Atellanicum exhodium, "Atella comedies"), also known as the Oscan Games (Latin: ludi Osci, "Oscan plays"), were masked improvised farces. It was very popular in Ancient Rome, and usually put on after longer plays like the pantomime. The name is believed to have been derived from Atella, an Oscan town in Campania, who were one of the first to have a theatre and the hypothesized point of origin of Atellan Farce. They were originally written in Oscan and imported into Rome in 391 BC. In later Roman versions, only the ridiculous characters read their lines in Oscan, while the others used Latin.

Some of the hypothesized stock characters included:

There has been some debate of these characters connection to similar stock characters in Commedia dell'arte, as well as Punch and Judy. Atellan Farce and Commedia were both improvised masked comedies. Some Historians argue that the stock characters in Atellan Farce are the beginnings of what would become the stock characters of Commedia dell'arte.

Some of the theorized character progressions are as follows:

However, the connection of Atellan Farce to Commedia dell'arte and assumption that Atellan Farce is the precursor to Commedia dell'arte is still under debate. As for Atellan Farce's connection to Punch and Judy, the similarities between Punch and the Commedia dell'arte character Pulcinella are notable. However, many historians still debate whether or not Punch's derivation can be traced back to Pulcinella.

In regard to authorship, it is believed that the dictator Sulla wrote some; Quintus Novius, who flourished 50 years after the abdication of Sulla, wrote some fifty Atellan Fables, including Macchus Sexul ("Exiled Macchus"), Gallinaria ("The Henhouse"), Surdus ("The Deaf One"), Vindemiatores ("The Harvesters"), and Parcus (“The Treasurer”).

Lucius Pomponius, of Bologna, is known to have composed a few, including Macchus Miles ("Macchus the Soldier"), Pytho Gorgonius, Pseudoagamemnon, Bucco Adoptatus, and Aeditumus. Fabius Dorsennus and a "Memmius" were also authors of these comedies; Ovid and Pliny the Younger found the work of Memmius to be indecent.

  • Maccus (a hunchbacked, beak nosed character)
  • Buccus (the country booby)
  • Manducus (the arrogant soldier)
  • Pappus (the old man)
  • Centunculus (the comic slave)
  • Dosseunus (the pompous doctor)
  • Fragments of the Atellan Fables can be found in the Poetarum latinorum scen. fragmenta, Leipzig, 1834
  • Maurice Meyer, Sur les Atellanes; Manheim, 1826, in-8°;
  • C. E. Schober, Über die Atellanen, Leipzig, 1825, in-8°;
  • M. Meyer, Etudes sur le théâtre latin, Paris, 1847, in-8°.
  • Otto Ribbeck, Comicorum Romanorum praeter Plautum et Terentium Fragmenta
  • Eduard Munk, De Fabulis Atellanis (1840).


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