Aristophanes and His Tragic Muse

Comedy, Tragedy and the Polis in 5th Century Athens


Despite the many studies of Greek comedy and tragedy separately, scholarship has generally neglected the relation of the two. And yet the genres developed together, were performed together, and influenced each other to the extent of becoming polar opposites. In Aristophanes and His Tragic Muse, Stephanie Nelson considers this opposition through an analysis of how the genres developed, by looking at the tragic and comic elements in satyr drama, and by contrasting specific Aristophanes plays with tragedies on similar themes, such as the individual, the polis, and the gods. The study reveals that tragedy’s focus on necessity and a quest for meaning complements a neglected but critical element in Athenian comedy: its interest in freedom, and the ambivalence of its incompatible visions of reality.

Prices from (excl. VAT):

Add to Cart
Stephanie Nelson, author of God and the Land: the metaphysics of farming in Hesiod and Vergil and of numerous papers on Joyce’s Ulysses and the Odyssey, is Associate Professor of Classics and Director of the Core Curriculum at Boston University.
"This lengthy and detailed study takes its place as the most extensive examination to date of the interplay of tragic and comic drama in fifth-century Athens. (...) Nelson’s prose flows rather well and she comes across as engaging and involved in the material and ideas. In a number of places a reader can sense the voice of an experienced teacher unpacking a complex text for her students. She has taken pains to make the volume accessible for non-specialists and motivated students, offering passages in translation (mostly without the original Greek), providing ample background and support (e.g., the glossary and synopses), and glossing technical terms so that the book is relatively light on jargon." - Wilfred E. Major, in: Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2017.02.15
"Then again, if the claims of originality made by the book perhaps indulge in a bit of overstatement, that is, after all, something Aristophanes himself would surely appreciate; and it does nothing to diminish the insightful links Nelson draws between comedy and tragedy and, in particular, the many interpretative revelations the drawing of those links generates about particular plays, about comedy as a genre, and about the Athenian polis. These contributions make Aristophanes and His Tragic Muse necessary reading for students of ancient tragedy and comedy." - John Zumbrunnen, in: Polis 36 (2019)


1 The Festivals and Genre
2 The Comic and the Serious
3 Overview: A Developmental Study

1 Comedy and Tragedy in Athens
1 The Development of Comedy and Tragedy
2 Masks, Costumes, Choruses, Language, and Props
3 Comedy, Tragedy, and Euripides

2 Satyr Drama and the Cyclops: Where Tragedy and Comedy Meet
1 Comic Satyrs/Tragic Tales
2 Satyr Play: Net-Draggers, Festival-Goers, Trackers
3 The Cyclops

3 The Acharnians and the Paradox of the City
1 Tragedy, Comedy, and Politics
2 The Oresteia and the Bacchae: The City in a Greater Whole
3 The Double Vision of the Acharnians

4 The Wasps: Comic Heroes/Tragic Heroes
1 Comic and Tragic Consistency
2 Ajax and Medea: A Focus on Identity
3 Wasps: The Hero as Chameleon
4 Aristophanes and the Three Stooges: Pitying Your Betters, Envying Inferior Men

5 Oedipus Tyrannos and the Knights: Oracles, Divine and Human
1 Oedipus Tyrannos: Human and Divine Meaning
2 The Human Oracles of the Knights
3 Hidden Meanings and the Rejuvenation of Demos
4 Comedy and Carnival or Tragedy Upside Down

6 Persians, Peace, and Birds: God and Man in Wartime
1 The Persians: War, Empire, and the Divine
2 The Peace: Finding a God for Athens
3 The Birds: An Athenian on Olympus

7 Women at the Thesmophoria and Frogs: Aristophanes on Tragedy and Comedy
1 Parody, Metatheater, and Dialogue
2 Women at the Thesmophoria: Comedy and Tragedy Talk
3 Frogs: Comedy—and Tragedy—Save the City

Conclusion: The Dionysia’s Many Voices

All interested in Greek drama, both comedy and tragedy, including those in literary studies, Classics, philosophy and comparative literature, including specialists, graduate students, advanced undergraduates and a general readership.