- A type of partly improvised farce popular in the earlyRoman theater. It was named after its birthplace, the town of Atellain southern Italy. Its coarse rustic humour derived from its originalpurpose of amusing local people on market day (early atellanaehave such titles as The Farmer and The She-Goat). Thefive main characters, each of whom wore distinctive masks and costumes,were the fat Bucco, the rural Maccus, the hunchback Dossennus, theogre Manducus, and old Pappus. Scholars have remarked on the similaritiesto the early form of the commedia dell'arte.
When the Atellan farce moved to Rome it gradually lost itsimpromptu nature. It achieved a more sophisticated literary statusin the first century BC, when the dramatists Pomponius andNovius began to write down the plots of the short comedies and touse them as curtain-raisers. Under the dictator Sulla (138 - 78BC) the fabula atellana was the only indigenous Romandrama. It later evolved into, and was replaced by, mime.