Atellan Farce  

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This page Atellan Farce is part of the Ancient Rome series.  Illustration: Antichita Romanae (1748) by Piranesi
This page Atellan Farce is part of the Ancient Rome series.
Illustration: Antichita Romanae (1748) by Piranesi

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Roman literature, Golden Age of Latin literature

The Atellan Farce (Atellanae fabulae or fabulae Atellanae, "Atellan fables"), also known as the Oscan Games (ludi Osci, "Oscan plays"), were a collection of vulgar farces, containing lots of low or buffoonish comedy and rude jokes. It was very popular in Ancient Rome, and usually put on after longer plays like the pantomime. Named after Atella, an Oscan town in Campania, where they were invented, they were originally written in Oscan and imported into Rome in 391 BC. In later Roman versions, only the ridiculous characters read their lines in Oscan, while the others used Latin.

Played by young men of good family, the stock characters included:

  • Macchus (a Pulcinella-type figure)
  • Bucco (the fat man)
  • Manducus (a greedy clown)
  • Samnio (a Harlequin-type figure)
  • Pappus (a doddery old man)

These later formed the basis for characters of the Commedia dell'arte, as well as Punch and Judy. Largely improvised, the Atellan Farce was performed after tragedies and represented the habits of the lower classes (as the upper classes saw them).

In regard to authorship, it is believed that the dictator Sulla wrote some; Quintus Novius, who flourished 50 years after the abdication of Sulla, wrote some fifty Atellan Fables, including Macchus Exsul ("Exiled Macchus"), Gallinaria ("The Henhouse"), Surdus ("The Deaf One"), Vindemiatores ("The Harvesters"), and Parcus (“The Treasurer”).

Lucius Pomponius, of Bologna, is known to have composed a few, including Macchus Miles ("Macchus the Soldier"), Pytho Gorgonius, Pseudoagamemnon, Bucco Adoptatus, and Aeditumus. Fabius Dorsennus and a "Memmius" were also authors of these comedies; Ovid and Pliny the Younger found the work of Memmius to be indecent.

See also


  • Fragments of the Atellan Fables can be found in the Template:Lang, Leipzig, 1834
  • Maurice Meyer, Sur les Atellanes; Manheim, 1826, in-8°;
  • C. E. Schober, Über die Atellanen, Leipzig, 1825, in-8°;
  • M. Meyer, Etudes sur le théâtre latin, Paris, 1847, in-8°.

The works of Pomponius and Novius can be found in

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