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date: 17 July 2018


A stock character of Greek and Roman comedy. At first called kolax (‘toady’, ‘flatterer’, as in Eupolis' Kolakes of 421 bce, named after its chorus), the type acquired as a joke in the 4th cent. the alternative label parasitos or ‘sponger’ (in origin a ‘fellow diner’, particularly denoting certain religious functionaries). Thereafter the two terms were largely interchangeable, though sometimes distinguished, and they overlap with other character-labels such as the sykophantēs (‘swindler’; see sycophants).

Parasites attach themselves to their social superiors for their own advantage, above all for free meals; in return they flatter or entertain their patron, run errands, and suffer much ill-treatment. Sometimes the patron is a vainglorious soldier, and soldier and parasite made a stock pair.

Athenaeus (1) 6. 234 ff. preserves many anecdotes and quotations from Greek comedy (from Epicharmus onwards), several mocking notorious parasites from real life. The studies of parasites in Lucian's Parasitos, Alciphron's Epistles, and Libanius' Declamations 28, 29 are partly indebted to comedy.


O. Ribbeck, Kolax (1883).Find this resource:

E. W. Handley on Menander, Dyskolos 57ff.Find this resource:

W. G. Arnott, Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies 1968.Find this resource:

H.-G. Nesselrath, Lukians Parasitendialog (1985).Find this resource:

H.-G. Nesselrath, Die attische mittlere Komödie (1990), 309 ff.Find this resource:

P. G. McC. Brown, Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 92 (1992).Find this resource:

C. Damon, The Mask of the Parasite (1997).Find this resource:

M. J. Pernerstorfer, Wiener Studien 2006.Find this resource:

M. J. Pernerstorfer, Wiener Studien 2008 (on Menander's Kolax).Find this resource:

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