From Playbills to Playdough: 
Terracotta Actor Figurines of Greek Middle Comedy

Stacey L. McGowen

University of Virginia

Terracotta figurines were produced in the Greek world for some 4,000 years, with the main period of production extending from the middle of the 7th century B.C. to the 1st century B.C.  Starting in the early 5th century, figurines were fashioned through the use of molds, which allowed them to be made inexpensively and to be easily mass-produced.  Beginning late in 5th century, a prevalent motif of terracotta figurines was the masked comic actor.   Due to mass-produced nature of these objects, it seems likely that theater patrons would purchase them as relatively inexpensive souvenirs.  The actor figurines seem to have originated at Athens, but production quickly spread throughout the Greek world.  Both originals and copies have been found in Boeotia, Melos, Delphi, Corinth, Crete, Rhodes, Thasos, Olynthus, Asia Minor, South Russia, Northern Africa, Taranto, Paestum, Syracuse, Morgantina, Lipari, and Ampurias, and this wide distribution indicates the popularity not only of the figurines but also of Athenian comedy during the beginning of the 4th century.  Although most of the comic actor figurines have been discovered in isolation, a group of fourteen was found in a tomb in Athens.   The fourteen statuettes are now housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and are often called the "New York Fourteen."  Since they date to c. 400-350 B.C., a period during which only two complete comedies have survived, they are a valuable visual record of types of characters of these lost plays.   In addition, as the figurines wear the costume of Old Comedy but represent the stock characters of New Comedy, they illustrate the janiform nature of Middle Comedy, which looks back to Old Comedy as well as forward to New Comedy.  The paper will examine the fourteen statuettes and will consider the possibility that these figurines correspond to two seven-member casts, although it seems more probable that they represent instead individual stock characters of early Middle Comedy.

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