Agathon

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Agathon (Greek: Ἀγάθων) (ca. 448–400 BC) was an Athenian tragic poet whose works, up to the present moment, have been lost. He is best known for his appearance in Plato's Symposium, which describes the banquet given to celebrate his obtaining a prize for his first tragedy at the Lenaia in (416). He is also a prominent character in Aristophanes' comedy the Thesmophoriazusae. Agathon was the life-long companion of Pausanias, with whom he appears in both the Symposium and in Plato's Protagoras.[1] Together with Pausanias, Agathon later moved to the court of Archelaus, king of Macedon, who was recruiting playwrights; it is here that he probably died around 401 BC. Agathon introduced certain innovations into the Greek theater: Aristotle tells us that the characters and plot of his Antheus were original and not, as was usual at the time, borrowed from mythological subjects.[2] Agathon was also the first playwright to write choral parts which were apparently independent from the main plot of his plays.

Agathon is portrayed by Plato as a handsome young man, well dressed, of polished manners, courted by the fashion, wealth and wisdom of Athens, and dispensing hospitality with ease and refinement. The epideictic speech in praise of love which Agathon recites in the Symposium is full of beautiful but artificial rhetorical expressions, and has led some scholars to believe he may have been a student of Gorgias. In the Symposium, Agathon is presented as the friend of the comic poet Aristophanes, but this alleged friendship did not prevent Aristophanes from harshly criticizing Agathon in at least two of his comic plays: the Thesmophoriazousae and the (now lost) Gerytades. In a later play, the Frogs, Aristophanes softens his criticisms, but even so it may be only for the sake of punning on Agathon's name (ἁγαθός = "good") that he makes Dionysus call him a "good poet".

Agathon was also a friend of Euripides, another recruit to the court of Archelaus of Macedon.

Contents

Physical Appearance

Agathon's extraordinary physical beauty is brought up repeatedly in the sources; the historian W. Rhys Roberts observes that "ὁ καλός Ἀγάθων has become almost a stereotyped phrase."[3] Our most detailed description of Agathon can be found in Aristophanes' comedy, the Thesmophoriazousae, in which Agathon appears as a pale, cleanshaven young man, dressed in women's clothes. Regrettably, it is hard to determine how much of Aristophanes' portrayal is fact and how much mere comic invention.

After a close reading of the Thesmophoriazousae, the historian Jane McIntosh Snyder observed that Agathon's costume was almost identical to that of the famous lyric poet Anacreon, as he is portrayed in early 5th-century vase-paintings. Snyder theorizes that Agathon might have made a deliberate effort to mimic the sumptuous attire of his famous fellow-poet, although by Agathon's time, such clothing, especially the κεκρύφαλος (an elaborate covering for the hair) had long fallen out of fashion for men. According to this interpretation, Agathon is mocked in the Thesmophoriazousae not only for his notorious effeminacy, but also for the pretentiousness of his dress: "he seems to think of himself, in all his elegant finery, as a rival to the old Ionian poets, perhaps even to Anacreon himself."[4]

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