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Aristophanes's response to the Peloponnesian war and the defeat of the comic hero.

This article discusses the experience of the Peloponnesian war through the plays of Aristophanes, tracing the writer's career and examining the way the civil conflict is reflected in his work. It underlines how the experience and outcome of the war was progressively shaped into trauma not only for the Athenians but also for Aristophanic comedy itself. It focuses on three Aristophanic comedies: Acharnians, Peace, and Lysistrata. It also examines Frogs, Aristophanes's comedy which discusses the salvation of his city. Language, motifs, the comic hero, and the (impossibility of the) solution provided becomes the indicator of the political and military condition.

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Our knowledge of Old Comedy is shaped mainly by Aristophanes, if only because eleven of his comic plays have survived, providing an almost exclusive representation of the literary genre. (1) Aristophanic comedy is political comedy (2) because it revolves around, and stages, the life of the polis (city), tackling contemporary political, social, literary, as well as philosophical issues. The time span of his plays ranges from 425 BCE (Acharnians) to 388 BCE (Wealth)--a period which roughly coincides with the Peloponnesian war (431-404 BCE).

The reality of the war between Athens and Sparta provides a constant background against which Aristophanes's plays are projected and performed; more than just a recurrent motif, the war-peace idea becomes the main topic in three of his comedies: Acharnians, Peace and Lysistrata. Focusing on these plays, as well as on Frogs, which was staged only a year before the defeat of Athens (405 BCE), the present article discusses the significance of the war as a catalyst for the changes that take place in the Aristophanic plays, and argues that the war trauma defines the fate of the literary genre (3) because it damages irreparably the model of the comic hero.

Aristophanes's "peace plays" reflect the war as experienced contemporaneously in Athens. (4) Whether as a true pacifist, or simply for the sake of his audience (or for the first prize in the dramatic festival), the playwright creates comic heroes who support peace. (5) In each play, the comic hero's peace-plan reflects the contemporary war situation while Athens's actual strength in the war defines the character's conciliatory tone and his desire (or lack thereof) to negotiate with the enemy.

The progress and final outcome of the war, however, does not simply affect the negotiation strategies of the comic hero. From Acharnians to Peace, Lysistrata, and Frogs, one follows the gradual changes in the genre as depicted through the development of the comic protagonist. I do not intend to "bring owls to Athens" by arguing that Assemblywomen (Ecclesiazusae, 392/391 BCE) and Wealth (Ploutos, 388 BCE) introduce new elements which do not conform to the principal model of Old Comedy; rather they anticipate the poetic practices of Middle Comedy. (6) Old Comedy is broadly accepted as coming to an end with Frogs whose production almost coincides with the end of the Peloponnesian war. (7)

I shall argue that the war necessitates such modifications in the identity of the comic hero that gradually bring Old Comedy (as formed in Aristophanes's plays, from Acharnians to Frogs) to an end. Accordingly, Aristophanic comedy 'photographs' the birth and growth of the war trauma in Athenian society, but does not overcome it; the war experience disrupts the genre in a way from which Aristophanes's (Old) Comedy never recovers.

Acharnians, Peace, Lysistrata: Ceasefire!

Acharnians is the earliest extant Aristophanic play (8) about the quest for peace in Athens at a time when the city feels victorious and powerful (even arrogant) enough to turn down any peace offer. Dicaeopolis, the main hero, is an Athenian farmer who longs for peace and all the luxuries that come with it. He is firm in his decision to sign peace with the enemy, but since his countrymen, belligerent Acharnians, do not share his view, Dicaeopolis acquires his personal peace treaty and declares the yard of his house a non-war zone. In his 'yard of peace,' he proceeds to trade freely with all, including the enemies of Athens. Dicaeopolis embodies the ideal Aristophanic hero, who, despite his humble origins, overcomes all problems and is powerful enough to achieve all he wants; he is omnipotent, powerful like the gods, and ruler of the comic war-free cosmos which he has established on his own. (9)

Not only does the war uproot Dicaeopolis from his village and confine him within the walls of the city, it also forces the Aristophanic hero to perform horrendous acts: the acquisition of peace involves "a fearful and mighty deed" (deinon ergon kai mega; l. 128). Dicaeopolis is now willing to buy the peace treaty (l. 130), although back in his village he was not familiar with any "buy" practice (oud' eidei 'prio'; l. 35). (10) Faced with the new reality, he compromises and adopts the tactics of the city against his own desire in order to secure peace. Dicaeopolis's diversion is conscious, and foreshadows a series of changes which derive from the war and oblige the comic hero to critically modify his behavior.

Apart from any psychological strain, the war experience and the new way of life in Athens cause Dicaeopolis physical pain, a fact which he communicates to the audience from the beginning of the play. The vocabulary of pain marks the entrance of the comic hero. In his opening monologue, he extensively describes overwhelming feelings of stress, pain, as well as joy: dedegmai ten emautou kardian ("I have bitten my own heart"; l. 1); hesthen ("I was delighted"; ll. 2, 4, and 13); Odunethen ("I have suffered"; ll. 3 and 9); chairedonos ("delectation"; l. 4); euphranthen idon ("I was rejoiced at seeing"; l. 5); eganothen ("I exulted"; l. 7); and eseise ten kardian ("It shook my heart"; l. 12).

Surprisingly enough, Dicaeopolis's pain, discomfort, and relief emanate mainly from his theatrical experience and not the war raging around Athens. (11) It is as if the war, which started only recently, has not yet seriously threatened the city and, therefore, peace is not treated as an urgent or even necessary matter by the Prytaneis: eirene d' hopos estai protimos' ouden ("but about peace they do not care at all"; ll. 26-27). Dicaeopolis is exasperated: o polis polis ("oh city, my city!"; l. 27); it is soon revealed, though, that his exasperation is not for the sake and fate of the polis--which he actually hates (stugon men astu; l. 33)--but for his village which he longs for (ton d'emon demon pothon; l. 33). (12)

Dicaeopolis is a farmer (13) who has not managed to integrate into city life. He is the collective voice of Athenian farmers whose land was the first to endure the enemy's attacks at the outskirts of Athens. (14) He represents people who suffered most, having to leave their villages and move into the city, becoming refugees in their own country. In the city, he feels alienated, and is treated as a parasite and inferior: katheso, siga ("sit down, be quiet"; l. 59) and, again, siga ("silence!"; l. 64). Dicaeopolis dreams of his village and longs to return to it. The unaccomplished nostos (return) turns into nosos (illness), and displacement develops into war trauma for the comic hero.

Six years after Acharnians, and only a fortnight before the actual peace treaty of Nicias was signed, (15) Aristophanes presented Peace. The protagonist, Trygaeus, rides a gigantic beetle and flies to heaven to claim Eirene (Peace) back from the gods, for the sake and benefit of all Greeks. Longing for peace, the comic hero suffers more than Dicaeopolis: Dicaeopolis's physical pain (nosos) caused by the war is now replaced by Trygaeus's mania (madness, frenzy): mainetai ("he is mad"; l. 54); ton manion ("insanities"; l. 65).

As equally omnipotent as Dicaeopolis but more generous, Trygaeus is willing to share peace with all Greeks from the beginning (ll. 105-08 and 435-38). In real non-dramatic time, the forthcoming peace treaty, although not satisfactory for all, is highly anticipated. (16) Trygaeus's magnanimous act of sharing peace preemptively celebrates the peace agreement soon to be signed.

The optimism reflected in Peace could hardly be repeated in the next comic play which treats the subject of war. In Lysistrata, (17) staged after the Sicilian expedition and the ensuing catastrophe of the Athenian fleet, peace is replaced by reconciliation (diallage), as the result of the women's sex strike and their seizing of the Acropolis. Their actions lead men to despair because of sexual frustration and deprivation of the city's war funds.

Like Dicaeopolis and Trygaeus, Lysistrata suffers because of the war, but she succeeds in achieving her goal. And yet, she is different from Dicaeopolis and Trygaeus. The first and most obvious modification in the comic hero is, of course, the change of sex. In this third peace comedy, the omnipotent male comic hero who can fly to heaven and have all his wishes fulfilled, mightier than any mythological model, (18) has now been replaced by a woman who, by classical Greek standards and law, is inferior to man. (19)

While Dicaeopolis declares that women are not responsible for the war (l. 1062), (20) Lysistrata emerges as the leader of an "army" of women who decide the fate of war and men alike, and claims that the war is "a woman's affair too" (ll. 506-614). (21) It is not only that Lysistrata impresses us with her "serious" personality, (22) as compared to Trygaeus and Dicaeopolis. After all, the impossibility of a woman leader in classical Greece equals Trygaeus's wondrous flight to heaven, and must have been received as hilarious because it would have been considered absolutely unrealistic. For the Athenian audience at the time, Lysistrata is no less an escapist comedy than Birds; Lysistrata's peace scheme is not 'doable,' although it may seem so compared to Trygaeus's act. Women were generally invisible in public-especially in public offices. Lysistrata's deed lies purely in the sphere of imagination, and this is why it is considered laughing matter; with the power of a dream, comedy actualizes the impossible. (23)

Lysistrata is not a unique example of the female comic protagonist. Aristophanes started investigating the possibilities of women playing main roles in 411 BCE when he presented Thesmo-phoriazusae, a comedy where women dominate the stage, although the protagonist is a man. (24) With the war still raging and Athens having received a severe blow after the failure of the Sicilian expedition, Athenian men do not seem able to provide a solution, whether in real or dramatic life. The war experience now urges the poet to modify his heroic model, look into new material, and explore alternatives. (25) Lysistrata is successful, of course, and her plan brings peace but not without a price for Aristophanic comedy which has substituted the allpowerful male hero with a heroine. Lysistrata, one of the most commonly staged Aristophanic plays, marks the poet's subtle compromise in modifying the model of the city's savior.

The kind of peace achieved in each of the three plays gives a clear indication of the power of the war in defining the comic hero's plans and defying his omnipotence. From Dicaeopolis to Lysistrata, there is a gradual regression regarding the hero's peace plan and his ability to achieve it. Dicaeopolis does not really ask for peace but for truce (spondai) which comes in the form of wine. (26) Selectively, he chooses the thirty-year truce as compared to the five-year or the ten-year truce options. (27) He then simply declares his yard a peace-zone. Dicaeopolis acts on his own while his fellow Acharnians (the chorus) oppose him, initially reject his plan, and consider him a traitor: prodota tes patridos ("traitor of the homeland"; l. 290). The hero risks his life and in the end manages to win them over. Reflecting Athens's success at war, the play presents Dicaeopolis having more trouble convincing the hot-tempered Acharnians to accept the truce than to obtain it in the first place. The peace treaty comes almost leisurely; it is actually Amphitheos, a semidivine figure that brings the spondai for Dikaiopolis. The enemy is nowhere to be seen and poses no threat; on the contrary, once Dicaeopolis has established his personal peace, the enemy befriends him quickly and starts trading with him. He is now able to enjoy all the luxuries and delicacies he was deprived of thus far because of the war. Furthermore, the comic hero applies his own peace criteria and is willing to share his treasure with some, but not with all.

In Peace, Trygaeus needs to try harder than Dicaeopolis to reach his goal; half the play is about retrieving Eirene while it is announced from the beginning that Trygaeus wants peace for the sake and benefit of all Greeks. Trygaeus faces the threat of Polemos, the personification of war itself, who is visible on stage; he has, however, the support of all Greeks--collectively represented by the chorus--who soon appear in heaven to assist him. Eventually, Trygaeus's mission is accomplished and the hero returns not only with Eirene, but also with Opora (Fullfruit) and Theoria (Showtime). (28) After ten years of war, the Athenians have been deprived of a lot more than just Dicaeopolis's delicacies; accordingly, the personification of abundance (Opora) is a fitting image for their increasing desires.

By the time Lysistrata is presented, the war progress obliges Aristophanes to offer even more help to his heroine, and consequently reduce her independence. Like Trygaeus, Lysistrata wants peace for all Greece; unlike Trygaeus, however, Lysistrata cannot perform miracles. Instead, she needs the help of others to see her plan through. For the realization of her plan and its success she relies on the women's chorus and even on the enemy represented mainly by Lampito, the Spartan, who is invited to collaborate in the peace scheme. Moreover, Lysistrata's plan is fought from within, (29) and when the goal is reached, peace is achieved through reconciliation. The peace agreement involves mutual understanding and takes place on stage.

Aristophanes's work does not advocate peace at any cost. If in Lysistrata the Spartans agree to withdrawals and concessions in order to achieve peace, it is because the Athenians have to do so first. (30) Whereas Trygaeus offered peace to all Greeks without any negotiations, Lysistrata's peace, and, accordingly, the heroine's power, cannot be unconditional anymore; the war has traumatized her omnipotence and independence and forced both the comic protagonist and the playwright into reconciliation.

From Acharnians to Peace to Lysistrata, one can detect the subtle, yet significant, change in the power and performance of the comic hero. Between Lysistrata and the following extant play, Frogs, there are only few surviving fragments which do not allow us to form a clear idea of further changes (if any) which take place in Aristophanes's writing. Frogs, however, is a revelation. Presented one year before the end of the war and Athens's defeat, Frogs is about the god of drama, Dionysus, who descends to the underworld in his quest for Euripides but ends up with Aeschylus after having judged a literary contest between the two tragedians. It is not a play about peace; nonetheless, contemporary war politics is of extreme importance to the play: the idea of salvation of Athens and the proposed solution become the main criteria for the declaration of the winner of the tragic contest. The most striking presence is that of Dionysus, an established religious figure, in the role of the comic hero on Athenian stage. Regardless of any comic horseplay, divine Dionysus is undoubtedly omnipotent, matching the previous comic heroes. As if reversing Trygaeus's ascension to heaven, Dionysus performs a descent to the underworld (katabasis), and by the end of the play is about to return to Athens with a long-dead poet who can hardly be compared to Trygaeus's trophy.

Despite the brilliant victory of the Athenian fleet at Arginusae the year before (406 BCE), (31) many could see that disaster was a matter of time. Frogs is performed with Athens's defeat looming over the city. It attempts to offer relief, employing a god in the main role, as if to guarantee success. At the same time, this choice reveals the magnitude of the trauma in comedy itself. From a male hero to a female character and then a god, each choice appears more fantastic than the previous one. Closer to the end, no (human) comic character can offer encouragement and inspiration; no Dicaeopolis or Trygaeus or Lysistrata can secure peace or safety for Athens. It seems that only a divinity can perform the ultimate miracle: the salvation of the city. The god appears to be Aristophanes's last resort for Athens and drama itself. Nevertheless, Dionysus's presence underscores the deterioration of the comic hero, and, consequently, of Aristophanic comedy, not because he is rendered as cowardly and un-heroic but because his presence proves the human comic protagonist--who has so far sustained the poet's work--inadequate. (32) Dionysus's achievement leaves much to be desired. The actual resurrection of Aeschylus does not take place on stage. This is in sharp contrast to Trygaeus's return with Eirene. In dramatic time, Aeschylus never leaves Hades and does not reach Athens; Dionysus's plan never comes to success, and the god becomes the dying echo of the once-powerful comic hero. The end of the play is far from happy or exhilarating; it is a 'memorial service' to a polis, an era, a political institution, and a literary genre.

From the male comic hero to a woman to a god, Aristophanes gradually dissociates the comic hero from the audience, while adjusting the hero's plan for peace. With Lysistrata's plan in particular, the poet leaves behind Trygaeus's heaven and looks for peace on earth, in the acropolis of Athens. The dramatic actualization of Lysistrata's plan, however, would be likely to leave a bitter aftertaste; whereas Trygaeus's deed enhances the audience's fantasy (e.g., man flying to heaven, or man as powerful as the gods), Lysistrata's stratagem plays on men's actual fear of women rebelling in a society which acknowledges male supremacy by law. Obviously, the comic play does not advocate women's emancipation and rights; nonetheless, the image of women who overturn the established order is likely to arouse real fears and phobias in the male audience. (33) What makes it even more 'dangerous' is that Lysistrata is successful in her plan; men in the play have been defeated. In times of need, the 'enemy' becomes an ally, and comedy uses all possible means to fight the war even at its own expense.

Reaching Lysistrata, the war does not only destabilize the social order of comedy, it also threatens the comic hero's sexual prowess. Dicaeopolis and Trygaeus are rejuvenated by the end of the play and celebrate their victory with sexual indulgence; sex confirms peace and the fulfillment of their plan, (34) while the female body (Opora, Diallage) heals the trauma of the war. In Lysistrata, though, sex is the bait well before it becomes the award, and the female body symbolizes the battlefield, as well as the desired and divided land. Despite the playful and amusing stance, sex in Lysistrata appears problematic and is initially forbidden to both men and women. What is taken for granted in previous comedies now has to be claimed and fought for.

The worst is yet to come. Sex, which so far has celebrated life, hope, and the victory of the comic hero, disappears in Frogs, and not only because Aeschylus is not sexually rejuvenated in the end of the play--after all Aeschylus is not the comic hero. Even for Dionysus, sex is unattainable. In the more farcical first part of the play, while still at the threshold of Hades, the divine comic protagonist has to "compete" with his slave for the enjoyment of the young dance girls who are waiting inside (11. 513-14). Once in Hades, Dionysus does not pursue this further and the episode is forgotten. Of course, sex equals life and, as such, would have no place in the world of the dead. (35) Taking it a step further, Frogs condemns sex altogether and makes it unavailable for the comic hero: even the tragic heroines who are mentioned in the literary contest (Phaedra and Stheneboia, ll. 1043, 1049, and 1052) are condemned on the grounds of their sexual licentiousness. (36)

In addition to sex, the degree of theatrical knowledge and experience is another indicator of the degradation of the comic hero model. In his opening monologue, Dicaeopolis comments on plays, poets, and comic actors (ll. 5-16 and 139-40) and reveals his engagement with theater as an active theater-goer. (37) Furthermore, in his attempt to win over the chorus, he dresses up and performs the role of Telephus (ll. 393-556) as it had been presented by Euripides. In his metatheatrical presence, Dicaeopolis offers a parody/criticism of the tragedian's work. In Peace, Trygaeus appears aware of Bellerophon's flight and fall as staged by Euripides (ll. 126-79), but stays away from the tragic hero model and reaches Olympus in his comic gear. As for Eirene's concern about Athens, she starts with the politicians but ends up asking about the dramatic festivals, underlining the necessity and priority of drama in the life of the polis (ll. 670-705). While theater embellishes Trygaeus's peace plan, it has no place in Lysistrata where women are not concerned with theater at all. Regarding Dionysus's association with theater and dramatic poetry in Frogs, the god exhibits inconsistent behavior, confirming a significant aspect of the comic character. (38) On his way to Hades, he seems aware of the contemporary theatrical stage in Athens and appears determined to retrieve Euripides (ll. 66-82). Once in Hades, though, faced with the literary contest, not only does he change his mind regarding Euripides, he also seems to lose any critical ability he previously exhibited. Ignorant, silly, gullible, and confused, Dionysus ends up choosing Aeschylus whose victory is as arbitrary as Dionysus's final decision. The divine patron of drama is the last Aristophanic character concerned with theater, and it is the god who draws the final curtain.

Along with his theatrical knowledge, the comic hero's participation in politics and war decreases as well. Dicaeopolis is aware of the war situation and comments that both sides are responsible (ll. 309-10), and even offers a (comedic) explanation of the cause of the war blaming it on Pericles (ll. 526-34). He introduces himself as "a good citizen... a combatant" (polites chrestos ... stratonides; l. 595). Both Trygaeus and Lysistrata are aware of the political status quo but the first is too old to fight and the second cannot. Nonetheless, Lysistrata underlines women's participation in the war by means of giving birth and providing men for the war, albeit involuntarily. In Frogs, Aristophanes takes advantage of an existing image to bid farewell to the model of the politically engaged comic hero. Dionysus, a proverbial coward in comedy, (39) appears idle and soft (ll. 203-04); even Xanthias, the slave, refuses to fight, wasting his chance for freedom (ll. 191-92). So from Dicaeopolis, an active soldier (hoplites), to Trygaeus, a veteran old citizen (polites), to a woman (with no political rights), to a lazy god, to a selfish slave, the comic plays resonate with the outcome of the war and the courage of the comic hero regresses. It is as if the loss of men at war affects comedy directly, and the male comic hero has become scarce.

A Pyrrhic Victory

Frogs does not focus on peace although peace was more desired than ever in Athens at the time of production; aptly Frogs discusses salvation instead. The play reflects the instability of contemporary politics and abounds with 'inconsistencies': it is a comedy which discusses tragedy; the divine judge wishes to retrieve Euripides but chooses Aeschylus; the god refuses to justify his choice and remains silent. The patron god of drama has nothing to say regarding Aeschylus's victory, as if he has regretted his decision already.

Indeed, tragedy as established by Aeschylus is now retrieved but is not the same. Aeschylus's style in Frogs is full of rhetoric and makes use of Euripidean techniques against Euripides himself, brags about his pure and wise characters--purity and wisdom (sophrosyne) being main concerns of Euripidean dramaturgy (40)--and attempts to prove his literary superiority by 'usurping' the style of his competitor. (41) The final straw comes with his last comment: his warning to Sophocles to guard the throne of tragedy and protect it from Euripides is far from reminiscent of his grandiose tragic style (ll. 1515-23) and suggests that any prospects of return to the heroic era of Marathon and Salamis has irrevocably vanished.

By rescuing tragedy, comedy attempts to rescue itself. (42) Aristophanes's work is interwoven with Euripidean tragedy in particular, and the poet's literary relation with Euripides was already known and attacked by his rivals. (43) Contrary to expectations, Dionysus does not save Euripides but Aeschylus, who had fought against the Persians in Marathon and whose plays are imbued with Athens's heroic past (ll. 1015-17). Euripides and all that his tragedy stands for have no place in Athens any more. The era of democracy and political debate seems to have reached an end. The war calls for a state of emergency and needs military rather than freely roaming, intellectual, and independent minds; it requires few leaders, many soldiers, and no objections. Dionysus acknowledges the urgency of the situation and acts accordingly. Aeschylus, with his long silences and pompous adjectives inspiring 'awe and terror,' is considered more appropriate to save Athens, but this choice dictated by war backfires on comedy; the poet whose work unfolds the heroic past and glory of Athens is not compatible with comedy. Euripides's metaphoric loss in Frogs sheds light on a growing trauma which comedy cannot heal and to which it eventually succumbs.

Frogs is a tragic omen for Aristophanic comedy, "a tragedy in comic form." (44) The final scene in Frogs is a reversal of Peace where Hermes, Trygaeus, and Eirene discuss the political and literary situation in Athens (ll. 670-705). Eirene, although a divinity, is not aware of the recent changes in the political scene in Athens, and is briefly informed by Trygaeus while the god is only the mediator. The differences between the two plays are striking. It is not surprising that Trygaeus has the answers to Eirene's questions; he is the powerful comic hero; he even knows the cause of conflict between the Athenians and the Spartans which Eirene is ignorant of. (45) In Frogs, the agon between the two poets, although literary, is determined by a question that concerns the politics and the city; nevertheless, it is not the comic hero--and judge of the contest--who has the answers but Aeschylus whose sibylline response contrasts with Trygaeus's clarity. Aeschylus's attitude clashes with, and annihilates, a vital characteristic of Aristophanic comedy: Comedy is by definition incompatible with loss, and the comic plays have so far offered positive answers and instant gratification; there have been no uncertainties for the comic hero who does not negotiate success and whose plan always proves right. In Frogs, however, the war keeps the city's problems pending and does not allow for quick fixes. The invincible Athenian hegemony has now been defeated; so has Aristophanic comedy that reflected this power in the stories of comic heroes with incredible and unlimited powers. The Aristophanic plays produced after Frogs are more concerned with the oikos (the house) rather than the polis. The comic world leaves the open air and the agora and becomes domesticated, almost introverted. (46) The imaginary extravaganza and its exuberant protagonist have become a memory; worse than that, the magic is lost.

Notes

* All translations from Greek in this article are mine unless otherwise stated.

(1) For a concise discussion of the conventional division of Greek comedy into Old, Middle, and New, see A. H. Sommerstein, Achamians (Warminster, Wilts.: Aris and Philips, Ltd., 1992), 8-13. On the interrelation of the three periods and the transition from one period to the other, see K. Sidwell, "From Old to Middle to New? Aristotle's Poetics and the History of Athenian Comedy," The Rivals of Aristophanes: Studies in Athenian Old Comedy, eds. D. Harvey and J. Wilkins (London: Duckworth and The Classical P of Wales, 2000), 247-58.

(2) See A. Lesky, A History of Greek Literature, trans. James Willis and Comelis de Heer (NY: Crowell, 1966), 418. "'Political' comedy is not meant as comedy dealing with current politics, although Old Comedy does take much of its material from that source: the epithet rather refers to the intimate association of the genre with the common life of the polis, an association which in its closeness is unequalled anywhere else in Greek literature." On the relation of Old Comedy and the polis, and on the influence of the comic poets on the civic ideology, see J. Henderson, "The Demos and Comic Competition," Nothing to Do with Dionysos?: Athenian Drama in its Social Context, eds. J. Winkler and F. I. Zeitlin (Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1992), 271-313.

(3) For the purpose of this article, Aristophanic comedy from Acharnians to Frogs is taken as synonymous to Old Comedy, since Aristophanes is the only representative of Old Comedy whose plays survive intact (albeit a quarter of the poet's total production) and whose development we can follow with relevant consistency.

(4) Old Comedy often depicted the role of Athens in the war before Aristophanes treated the subject. In Dionysalexandros, Cratinus apparently attacks Pericles's decisions and opposes his war policy as early as 430 BCE (probable date of production of the play); see J. McGlew, Citizens on Stage: Comedy and Political Culture in the Athenian Democracy (Michigan, MI: U of Michigan P, 2002), 25-56. Pericles dies in 429 BCE, two years before Aristophanes presents his first comedy.

(5) Aristophanes's political beliefs and personal views regarding the war have been extensively discussed. See A. W. Gomme, "Aristophanes and Politics," Oxford Readings in Aristophanes, ed. E. Segal (Oxford: Oxford LIP, 1996), 29-41 and G. E. M. de Ste Croix, "The Political Outlook of Aristophanes," Oxford Readings in Aristophanes, 42-64. On Aristophanes's possible influence outside the theater, M. Heath argues that "Aristophanic comedy is ... political, in the sense that contemporary political life is its point of departure.... But the product of the fantasising process did not and was not intended to have a reciprocal effect on political reality; comedy had no designs on the political life from which it departed, and in that sense was not political. Politics was the material of comedy, but comedy did not in turn aspire to be a political force." See Political Comedy in Aristophanes (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1987), 28. On pacifism, patriotism, and Aristophanic comedy, see Newiger, "War and Peace in the Comedy of Aristophanes," Oxford Readings in Aristophanes, 143-61. More recently, discussing Aristophanes's objection to the civil war, Segal notes that the poet "is on the side that will get him the most laughs." See Segal, The Death of Comedy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2001), 45.

(6) Most scholars agree that Assemblywomen and Wealth are more or less specimens of Middle Comedy; see H. G. Nesselrath, Die Attische Mittlere Komodie (Berlin and NY: Walter de Gruyter, 1990); D. Olson, "Aristophanes and Athenian Old Comedy," Greek awl Roman Comedy: Translations and Interpretations of Four Representative Plays, ed. S. O'Bryhim (Austin, TX: U of Texas P, 2001), 3-13. For Segal, the change in style has already started with Frogs which "is no longer Aristophanes as we have come to know him" (The Death of Comedy 102). For an opposite view regarding Assemblywomen in particular see K. Reckford who classifies it as Old Comedy in Aristophanes' Old-age-New Comedy. Volume I: Six Essays in Perspective (Chapel Hill, NC and London: North Carolina UP, 1987), 32. On the originality of the last two Aristophanic plays and their diversion from the standards of Old Comedy, see H. Flashar, "The Originality of Aristophanes' Last Plays," Oxford Readings in Aristophanes, 314-28.

(7) Throughout the present article, the term Aristophanic comedy refers to the Old Comedy period of Aristophanes, from Acharnians to Frogs.

(8) Presented at the Lenaia festival in 425 BCE, it won the first prize.

(9) The wondrous deeds and divine-like qualities of the comic hero are best exemplified in Birds, where Peisetairos founds Nephelokokkygia, a city in the clouds, lives in the sky and establishes a comic cosmos where he is the absolute and unparalleled archon. On Peisetairos's comic cosmos and the unlimited power of the comic hero, see V. Kotini, The Dialectics of Myth in Aristophanic Comedy, Ph.D. diss. University of London, 2005, 179-258.

(10) For a detailed discussion of the financial problems and complaints of Dicaeopolis, see Olson, "Dicaeopolis' Motivations in Aristophanes' Acharnians," JHS 111 (1991): 200-03.

(11) I agree with N. W. Slater who notes that the reference to Cleon (Ach. 6) is not related to real-life politics but to a theatrical performance which satirized the politician causing Dicaeopolis overwhelming joy. See Spectator Politics, Metatheatre and Performance in Aristophanes (Philadelphia, PA: U of Pennsylvania P, 2002), 44-45.

(12) G. Compton-Engle argues that this picture changes as Dicaeopolis moves from a country persona in the beginning of the play to an urban one in the second part, where he even establishes his own market. See "From Country to City: The Persona of Dicaeopolis in Aristophanes' Acharnians," CJ 94.4 (1999): 359-73.

(13) Old Comedy praises life in the country; both Trygaeus in Peace and Strepsiades in Clouds are farmers.

(14) Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War, II.19.2.

(15) Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War, V. 19.1.

(16) On the problems of the peace of Nicias, see D. Kagan, The Peace of Nicias and the Sicilian Expedition (Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1991), 19-32.

(17) Staged (probably) at the Lenaia festival in 411 BCE. For the date of production, see Sommerstein, "Aristophanes and the Events of 411," JHS 97 (1977): 112-26 and Sommerstein, Lysistrata (Warminster, Wilts.: Aris and Philips, Ltd., 1990), 7-15.

(18) Note how Trygaeus flies to heaven and succeeds where Bellerophon failed. For a detailed discussion of the omnipotent comic hero and his unlimited power as compared to any mythological heroic figure, see Kotini.

(19) See S. Blundell, Women in Ancient Greece (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1995), 113-29 for a thorough analysis of the position of women in classical Athens.

(20) Hotie gune 'sti tou polemou t'ouk aitia ("because she is a woman and she is not responsible for the war"; Ach. l. 1062).

(21) For a discussion of the impact of the Peloponnesian war on women as depicted in contemporary art and literature, see L. Tritle, The Peloponnesian War (Westport, CT: Greenwood P, 2004), 79-94.

(22) Lysistrata does not comply with the standard representation of women in Aristophanic comedy as drunken, deceitful, and lustful. See, for example, how women are rendered in Thesmophoriazusae, ll. 383-519. On Lysistrata's masculinity, see L. Taaffe, Aristophanes and Women (London and NY: Routledge, 1994), 72ff.

(23) Segal discusses the dream-like characteristics of comedy (The Death of Comedy 1-9), noting that "in both dream and comedy, the impossible wish comes true" (2).

(24) Aristophanes's 'female' extant plays include Lysistrata (411 BCE), Thesmophoriazusae (411 BCE), and Assemblywomen (392/391 BCE)and explore the possibility of female characters in main and male roles. Women also feature in a number of Aristophanic fragments but no safe conclusions can be reached regarding the role of women in these plays due to the nature of the evidence. On the presence of women in comic fragments, see Olson, Broken Laughter: Select Fragments of Greek Comedy (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007), 321-51.

(25) In changing the identity of the comic hero, Aristophanes could have also been influenced by Euripides who extensively uses female characters in his war plays: Hecuba, Trojan Women, and Andromache expose the cruelty of the Trojan War, the horrible fate of the city of Troy and its people. Euripides also discusses civil war in his Suppliants and Phoenician Women whose theme is borrowed from Theban myth. The war theme in Euripides's tragedies is discussed by D. Konstan, "War and Reconciliation in Greek Literature," War and Peace in the Ancient World, ed. K. A. Raaflaub (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2007), 191-205.

(26) With a double entendre on the term for truce (spondai) and for libation (sponde); therefore, Dicaeopolis's peace is a 'wine-peace.'

(27) Slater underlines the relation between the five-, ten-, and thirty-year peace treaties and the geography of Athens. The longer the peace treaty, the farther away from the city it takes the comic hero, until it reaches the countryside where "the fantasy space finally breaks free and becomes self-sufficient" (45).

(28) The translation of the names Opora and Theoria follows Sommerstein, ed., Peace (Warminster, Wilts.: Aris and Philips, Ltd., 1990).

(29) The women in Lysistrata find it increasingly difficult to keep their oath and abstain from sex (Lys. ll. 717-68).

(30) Heath notes that "Given Athens' highly unfavourable military situation in 411, no one could have expected Sparta to open negotiations or, if Athens took the initiative, to offer tolerable terms" (6). On negotiations in Lysistrata, see Sommerstein, Talking about Laughter: And Other Studies in Greek Comedy (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009), 223-36.

(31) Discussing the aftermath of the sea-battle at Arginusae, R. A. Bauman notes that "the Athenians were presumably pleased with the victory.., but their elation is buried under an avalanche of accusations and counter-accusations." See Political Trials in Ancient Greece (London: Routledge, 1990), 69-70.

(32) Dionysus is the only divine protagonist in extant Aristophanic comedy; other plays feature gods on stage, like Hermes in Peace or Poseidon in Birds, but not in the main role. Names of gods feature in a few more comedies of which only the titles and/or a few fragments survive. Divine presence in Old Comedy, though, is not necessarily limited to the plays which feature a god in their title, as the case of Frogs indicates.

(33) See J. F. Gardner, "Aristophanes and Male Anxiety--the Defence of the Oikos," G&R 36.1 (1989): 51-62.

(34) On the (revived) sexuality of Dicaeopolis and Trygaeus, see Segal, The Death of Comedy 44-67 and 68-84, respectively.

(35) Sex and fertility are far from being the dominant theme in Frogs. On the contrary, "the imagery of death pervades all" (Segal, The Death of Comedy 102). Aeschylus is revived but not rejuvenated; he actually seems to detest anything related to sexuality and sexual pleasure and proudly announces that he does not allow it in his tragic work (Frogs ll. 1043-45).

(36) Aristophanes attempts to return to the theme of sex in Assemblywomen, the first extant comedy after Frogs; nonetheless, sex appears rather problematic and becomes even punishment instead of joy. In addition, the play lacks the powerful comic hero who enjoys sex unconditionally. As for Wealth, sex is non-existent, and the model of the comic hero who identifies his victory with sexual indulgence has been abandoned.

(37) In addition, Dicaeopolis's comments on Euripides's works and props reveal solid knowledge of the Euripidean tragedy (Ach. ll. 415-78).

(38) On inconsistency as a main characteristic of the Aristophanic hero, see M. S. Silk, Aristophanes and the Definition of Comedy (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2002), 207-55.

(39) Dionysus features in two more Aristophanic plays of which only the titles survive: Babylonians and Dionysos Shipwrecked According to the Vita Aristophanis, Dionysos Shipwrecked was spurious (test. 1.59, K-A, vol. 3.2, p. 1, in R. Kassel and C. Austin, eds., Poetae Comici Graeci [Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1989]). From the Scholia in Peace (741) we learn that the "cowardly Dionysos" was a familiar feature of the plays of Eupolis and Cratinus.

(40) See P. Neils Boulter, '"Sophia' and 'Sophrosyne' in Euripides' Andromache," Phoenix 20.1 (1966): 51-58; C. Segal, "Shame and Purity in Euripides' Hippolytus," Hermes 98.3 (1970): 278-99.

(41) This line of thought has been stimulated by S. Halliwell's inspiring talk "Aristophanes' Frogs and the Failure of Poetics" at the conference "Comic Interactions: Comedy across Genres and Genres in Comedy' in University College London, 2009.

(42) Slater notes that "The Frogs presents itself initially as such a literary comedy: the god of theater goes to get a poet from Hades to save his choruses and keep them singing. In the play's second half, however, we discover that the frame of view is more encompassing--the choruses can be saved only if the city is saved, and that means saved in the war" (181).

(43) On the relation between Aristophanic comedy and Euripidean tragedy, see Silk 42-97.

(44) C. Whitman, Aristophanes and the Comic Hero (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1964), 231.

(45) Dicaeopolis claims to know the reason of the war and proceeds to explain it to the chorus (Ach. ll. 496-556).

(46) Segal writes: "This growing tendency toward domestication and financialization culminates in the Plutus (288 BC) and then in middle comedy" (The Death of Comedy 114). Middle comedy is concerned with private and not public business; it flourishes on stock scenes (rapes and recognitions, etc.) and stock characters (the cook, the parasite, the doctor, the slave, the soldier, etc.) and employs predictable plots which are based on variations of a known theme.
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Author:Kotini, Vassiliki
Publication:Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 1, 2010
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