Hellenistic reliefs (336-30 BC) often show scenes from the “new comedy”. Comic poets of this literary genre are allegorizing certain types of people to make the audience laugh. The most famous representative of the “new comedy” is Menander (approx. 342-291 BC). The so-called Menander relief, today exposed in the Vatican Museums, shows the poet looking at masks. Perhaps it could be an allegory for the process and inspiration of poetizing itself.
In antiquity all forms of exercitation were valid as divine gifts, mediated by the Muses. For this reason our relief shows the poet with “his” Muse. Menander, portrayed heroized, is looking at one of three masks. The other two masks, together with votive offerings for the Muses and a scroll on a lectern, are lying on the table.
Alternatively, the Muse depicted here could also be the poet’s girlfriend, Glycera.