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Phrynichus, a disciple of Thespis, represented on the stage the capture of Miletus, and the whole audience burst into tears. The art of the poet was considered criminal in thus forcibly reminding the Athenians of a calamity which was deemed their own: he was fined a thousand drachmae, and the repetition of the piece forbidden--a punishment that was but a glorious homage to the genius of the poet and the sensibility of the people. Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Athens: Its Rise and Fall

Phrynichus, son of Polyphradmon and pupil of Thespis, was one of the earliest of the Greek tragedians.

Some of the ancients, indeed, regarded him as the real founder of tragedy. He gained his first poetical victory in 511 BC. His famous play, the Capture of Miletus, was probably composed shortly after the conquest of that city by the Persians (see Ionian Revolt). The audience was moved to tears, the poet was fined for reminding the Athenians of their misfortunes, and it was decreed that no play on the subject should be produced again.

In 476 Phrynichus was successful with the Phoenissae, so called from the Phoenician women who formed the chorus, which celebrated the defeat of Xerxes at the Battle of Salamis four years earlier. Themistocles acted as choragus (leader of the chorus), and one of the objects of the play was to remind the Athenians of his great deeds. The Persians of Aeschylus (472) was an imitation of the Phoenissae. Phrynichus is said to have died in Sicily.

Some of the titles of his plays, Danaides, Actaeon, Alcestis, Tantalus, show that he treated mythological as well as contemporary subjects. He introduced a separate actor as distinct from the leader of the chorus, and thus laid the foundation of dialogue. But in his plays, as in the early tragedies generally, the dramatic element was subordinate to the lyric element as represented by the chorus and the dance. According to the Suda, Phrynichus first introduced female characters on the stage (played by men in masks), and made special use of the trochaic tetrameter.

Fragments in A Nauck, Tragicorum graecorum fragmenta (1887).


Another Phrynichus was a poet of the Old Attic comedy and a contemporary of Aristophanes. His first comedy was exhibited in 429 BC. He composed ten plays, of which the Solitary (Μονοτροποσ) was exhibited in 414 along with the Birds of Aristophanes and gained the third prize. The Muses carried off the second prize in 405, Aristophanes being first with the Frogs, in which he accuses Phrynichus of employing vulgar tricks to raise a laugh, of plagiarism and bad versification.

Fragments in T Kock, Comicorum atticorum fragmenta (1880).

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