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Character Drawing in Menander's Dyskolos: Misanthropy And Philanthropy

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image of Mnemosyne

Menander's Dyskolos is based on the moral concepts of δυσκoλíα (or μισανϑρωπíα) and ιλανϑρωπíα, notions that Aristotle discussed in his Nicomachean Ethics. Diogenes Laertius' definition of philanthropy stresses the importance of social intercourse, hospitality, and generosity. In the play the characters display different stages of philanthropy. The first level, an excess of friendliness (obsequiousness), is represented in some minor characters. The second and best level, friendliness or philanthropy, is exhibited by Knemon's antagonists, Gorgias and Sostratos. While Sostratos has a pleasant character and is the perfect host, Gorgias illustrates the moral basis of the virtue. Gorgias runs the risk of turning into a misanthropist like Knemon, the main character, if his economic situation would remain as hard as it is. The basic elements (distrust, hardship) are present. Moreover Knemon seems to have started life as a philanthropist. He now represents the last level of the three: a lack of friendliness, or misanthropy. His disillusion turned him into a misanthrope. While Gorgias is an image of what Knemon might have been if his life had been easier, Knemon is what Gorgias might become if his life is hard. Thus Menander offers us the picture of a man's transformation in his play.


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