Carcinus (writer)

This article is about the Greek tragedian. For the crab genus of the same name, see Carcinus.

Carcinus (Greek: Καρκίνος) was an Ancient Greek tragedian, and was a member of a family including Xenocles (a father or uncle) and his grandfather Carcinus of Agrigentum. He received a prize for only one out of his one hundred and sixty plays, many of them composed at the court of Dionysius II of Syracuse. Only nine titles, with associated fragments, of his plays have survived: Achilles, Aerope or Thyestes, Ajax, Alope, Amphiaraus, Oedipus, Orestes, Semele, and Tyro. He and his sons were lampooned by Aristophanes at the end of The Wasps and in Peace.

All three of those sons became playwrights.

Carcinus is mentioned briefly by Aristotle. In the Poetics, Chapter 17 (1455a lines 22 to 29), Aristotle discusses the necessity for a playwright to see the composition on the stage, rather than just in print, in order to weed out any inconsistencies. Aristotle points to an unnamed play of Carcinus which had a character, Amphiaraus, exit a temple. For some reason (presumably the events prior), this seemed outrageously inconsistent when viewed on the stage, and the audience "hissed" the actors right off the stage. It seems this particular inconsistency was not easily recognised by merely reading the script.

Since 2004, we know a fragment of a musical papyrus written by Carcinus that contains parts of its Medea play (Louvre E 10534). It has been identify thanks to a quote by Aristotle. It contains two arias, one by Medea and one by Jason. In this version, Medea didn't killed her children but is unable to prove it. The study of this papyrus has been presented to the Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres by Annie Bélis.[1]


  1. Bélis, Annie (2004). "Un papyrus musical inédit au Louvre". Comptes-rendus des séances de l'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres (in French). 148: 1305–1329.

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