PHILEMON, the oldest poet of the New Attic Comedy, was the son of Damon, and was born at Soli in Cilicia, or, according to others, at Syracuse ; but early in life he settled at Athens. Since he died in 262 B.C. at an age variously stated at from 96 to 101 years, lie must have been born somewhere about 360. He was thus older than his contemporary and great rival llenander, whom he fre-quently vanquished in poetical contests, and whom he long survived. Posterity, however, reversed the judgment of their contemporaries and assigned the palm to Menander. Philemon's first play was put on the stage about 330, while Menander did not exhibit until 321. It appears that, once being worsted in a poetical competition, Philemon went into exile. He certainly made a journey to the East, but whether on the occasion of his exile or in compliance with the invitation of Ptolemy, king of Egypt, we cannot say. On this journey, being driven by a storm to the coast of Cyrene, he was treated with cool contempt by Magas, king of Cyrene, whom he bad satirized. From the various legends told about his death he would seem to have died in the full enjoyment and use of his poetical powers. Of the ninety-seven plays which lie is said to have composed none are extant ; the titles of fifty-three have been preserved, but some of these may have been the work of his son, the younger Philemon, who is said to have composed fifty-four comedies. The Merchant and The Treasure of Philemon were the originals respectively of the Mercator and Trinunzmus of Plautus. The New Attic Comedy, of which Philemon was in a sense the founder, dealt mainly with subjects drawn from private life, which were worked up in elaborate plots and treated in a prosaic style, to the exclusion, on the whole, of the political tendency, stinging personal satire, and warm poetical colouring, which had marked the Old Attic Comedy. These characteristics of the New Comedy had already appeared, though in a less degree, in the Middle and even in the Old Attic Comedy ; so that to Philemon belongs the credit, not of inventing, but of developing a style which had occasionally been employed before. In its absence of poetical idealism and restriction to the prosaic realism of daily life the New Comedy stands to the Old somewhat as the comedies of Moliere or Sheridan stand to those of Shakespeare. Its repertoire was limited to a few stock characters - the imprudent lover, the designing fair, the stingy father, the greedy parasite, the blustering swashbuckler - and its plots rang the changes on the well-worn theme of thwarted but faithful love, rescued from its difficulties by the discovery of a long-lost relative and ending in marriage. In the many fragments of Philemon preserved by Stobteus, Athenwus, and other writers there is much wit and good sense.
The fragments have been collected and edited by Meineke, Menandri et Philemonis Religuix, Berlin, 1823 ; and again in his Fragmenta Comieorum Ortecorum, vol. iv., Berlin, 1841. They are also appended to the Didot edition of Aristophanes (Paris, 1839).