Rethinking Aristophanes’ Comic Hero: Utopianism, Ambiguity, and Athenian Politics

in Polis: The Journal for Ancient Greek Political Thought
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Abstract

This paper aims to reconsider the so-called ‘comic heroism’ in Aristophanes’ extant plays. The comic hero does not always express the collective self-image, like Dicaeopolis in Acharnians and Trygaios in Peace; Knights, as early as 424 bc, is a telling instance of Aristophanes’ will to introduce a much more nuanced picture of both the imaginary and the real Athens. Clouds and Wasps also provide further variations. But the real turning point comes in 414 with Birds, whose much disputed political meaning deserves the closest attention. After the ambiguous, disquieting Peisetaerus, comic heroes will not entirely disappear from Aristophanic comedy, yet their nature will never be the same again. Good ideas may come from a clever woman (Lysistrata), a cowardly god (Dionysus in Frogs), or even Apollo’s shrine (in the late Plutus), no longer from the Attic ‘common man’ of the earlier plays. The political evolution of Athens during the Peloponnesian War appears to have altered Aristophanes’ (alleged) trust in some kind of ‘saviour’ emerging from the erratic mass of Athenian male citizens.

Rethinking Aristophanes’ Comic Hero: Utopianism, Ambiguity, and Athenian Politics

in Polis: The Journal for Ancient Greek Political Thought

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