Did the plays of Menander survive to the renaissance

I was very tired last night, and in need of something gentle to read.  So I took Andrew Lang’s Books and Bookmen to bed with me.  The name of Andrew Lang is one that I knew when I was a lad, for Tolkien refers to him often in his essay on fantasy, as the author of the Blue Fairy Book and other collections of literary. 

The essay was published in Tree and Leaf, which, like many another Tolkien fan I bought and found somewhat uncomfortable.  The ‘leaf’ story, Leaf by Niggle, was charming, although I was oblivious to the deeper meaning that only time could bring.  But as for ‘tree’, the essay, it was a puzzle. I had never heard of literary criticism, when I read it; nor, indeed, of Andrew Lang, who is perhaps a forgotten author these days.

The copy of Books and Bookmen itself was a century old, on good paper, and a delight to read and handle.  Stamps at various places indicated that it had once belonged to Norwich public library, which had foolishly disposed of it.  So I read of the Elzevir editions, of the bibliophilia of France, of the famous Derome blue binding which fades so badly, and of other things of no real importance to a poor man like myself, but curiously soothing.

In the middle of the book was an essay on literary forgeries, itself of considerable interest and relevance today, when the so-called Jordan Lead Codices are being touted.  But one passage caught my eye:

After the Turks took Constantinople, when the learned Greeks were scattered all over Southern Europe, when many genuine classical manuscripts were recovered by the zeal of scholars, when the plays of Menander were seen once, and then lost for ever, it was natural that literary forgery should thrive.

Is it so?  Were the plays of Menander then extant?

I don’t know what Lang’s source is for this remark, and I can’t find any leads.  If any reader does know, perhaps he would share his knowledge with us?

In the mean time, tonight, I shall continue to read Books and Bookmen.

12 thoughts on “Did the plays of Menander survive to the renaissance

  1. D. Harlfinger in art. referenced in Wikipedia says ‘Menander’s text didn’t make it through the Middle Ages’… Lang may have thrown in the name on a whim (after all the “complete” Menander is in fact lost) – unless he’s referring to some other Menander.
    The Wiki art. needs slight clarification. The “new” Vatican palimpsest’s Syriac text is 9th cent. The underlying Greek (c.200 lines of Menander’s Dyskolos + c.200 lines of unknown – possibly Menander), and the codex, is dated to 4th cent. (A.D.) and (as Harlfinger notes) cost a small fortune to make.

  2. The “new” Vatican palimpsest does not contain Dyskolos but “Aetia the Nurse”. Last news I heard about it was about 2 years ago, they had in the British Library a papyrology day and the evening speech was open to the public during which they discussed their morning’s finding and mentioned that bit I just told you. I was hoping that by now it would have been published already

  3. Thanks for the additional information about the palimpsest – a quick look on Google throws up a claim (by N.J.Lowe) that the palimpsest proves that Menander survived into the Middle Ages, obviously assuming that this was a medieval manuscript.

  4. It is news to me that the palimpsest contains not Dyskolos but ‘Aetia the Nurse’ – what is this, part of another unknown play, or something else?

  5. Interesting that we have a manuscript contains Titthe (The Nurse)along with ‘Aetia the Nurse’.

  6. I have just had it confirmed that the palimspest DOES contain Dyskolos (and Titthe) as first stated. I don’t know fromvwhere this ‘Aetia the Nurse’ has come.

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