The Sycophant in Episodic Scenes of Aristophanic Comedy

in Polis: The Journal for Ancient Greek Political Thought
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Abstract

The sycophant, a true ‘plague’ for Athenian society in the classical age, is dramatis persona in some episodic scenes of Aristophanic comedy. An analysis of the peculiarities of such scenes shows how the sycophant’s negative features were pushed to the extreme by the distorting lens of the greatest poet of Old Comedy, producing a surreal, monstrous comic mask apt to strike the imagination of an Attic audience, accustomed as it was to the sad reality of trials and tribunals, where those shady characters used to rage by accusing both Athenian and foreigners, offering testimonies for the prosecution, and demanding a sentence. Aristophanes’ plays, having sycophants mauled and expelled, thus expressed the common desire of Athenian citizens to punish such individuals and get rid – on the stage at least – of their ominous presence.

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