Classical Quarterly 49 (1):320-321 (1999)
AbstractAt Aristophanes, Equites 230–2, one of the slaves who speak the prologue informs the audience that, when the Paphlagonian appears onstage, his mask will not resemble him, for the σκεoπoιoí were afraid to make one that depicted him accurately. In an important article, K. J. Dover argued that it must in fact have been very difficult to create easily recognizable portrait-masks, and suggested that the joke in Eq. 230–2 may be that the Paphlagonian's mask is horribly ugly but allegedly still nowhere near ugly enough. In response, D. Welsh, following an anonymous ancient commentator on Lucian, argued that Cratinus fr. 228 K-A shows that the historical Kleon had strikingly unattractive eyebrows. Had anyone wished to caricature the demagogue's physical appearance, therefore, he coule easily have done so, and portrait-masks may not have been so uncommon after all. Welsh's argument is at first glance quite appealing, and has been endorsed without further comment or argument by Sommerstein and Storey. I suggest, however, that the ancient commentator was confused, and that Cratinus’ remark is much more easily explained by reference to what is known about the use of facial expression as a communicative strategy in classical and early Hellenistic Athens, particularly as it appears in the comic poets. Kleon's eyebrows were probably no more ugly than those of anyone else, although he may have used them in an offensive way, and as Dover saw long ago, Eq. 230–2 cannot be taken as evidence for the use of portrait-masks on the late 5th-century comic stage.
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