Restoring and Overturning Athenian Democracy in Aristophanes: Paradigmatic Truths and ‘Carnival’ Reversals

In: Polis: The Journal for Ancient Greek and Roman Political Thought
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  • 1 Sapienza – Università di Roma, Roma, Italy


The two historical examples used by Lysistrata in her peace speech (Ar. Lys. 1137-1156) are not comical distortions, but, just as in actual assembly orations, they rather represent a characteristic ‘modulation du paradigme’, according to which the examples are adapted to support the orator’s objective. The aim of Lysistrata’s speech, in particular, is to enable a shift from the upside-down world of gynecocracy that she herself established, to a full restoration of democratic Athens. Quite different is the situation in Ecclesiazusai, where the upside-down world created by Praxagora is an anti-democratic state from which it is impossible to return. It seems necessary to distinguish Aristophanes’ older dramas in which the subverted society returns to normal democracy, from his later works (Ecclesiazusai, Plutus), the only ones in which the overturning is permanent.


The two historical examples used by Lysistrata in her peace speech (Ar. Lys. 1137-1156) are not comical distortions, but, just as in actual assembly orations, they rather represent a characteristic ‘modulation du paradigme’, according to which the examples are adapted to support the orator’s objective. The aim of Lysistrata’s speech, in particular, is to enable a shift from the upside-down world of gynecocracy that she herself established, to a full restoration of democratic Athens. Quite different is the situation in Ecclesiazusai, where the upside-down world created by Praxagora is an anti-democratic state from which it is impossible to return. It seems necessary to distinguish Aristophanes’ older dramas in which the subverted society returns to normal democracy, from his later works (Ecclesiazusai, Plutus), the only ones in which the overturning is permanent.

I Ar. Lys. 1137-1156: Restoring Democracy

The sex-strike called by Lysistrata and her women-friends to put an end to the hostilities between Sparta and Athens was successful. Accompanied by Reconciliation – a woman who, with her provocative forms, indiscreetly attracts the attention of the delegates of both Sparta and Athens – Lysistrata illustrates the advantages of peace by bringing to mind two episodes from the past: the Athenian Kimon’ assistance to the Spartans during the Third Messenian War (462 bc),1 and the Spartan king Kleomenes’ liberation of Athens from the tyranny of Hippias (510/9 bc):2

(Λυ.) εἶτ᾿, ὦ Λάκωνες, πρὸς γὰρ ὑµᾶς τρέψοµαι,
οὐκ ἴσθ᾿ ὅτ᾿ ἐλθὼν δεῦρο Περικλείδας ποτὲ
ὁ Λάκων Ἀθηναίων ἱκέτης καθέζετο
ἐπὶ τοῖσι βωµοῖς ὠχρὸς ἐν φοινικίδι 1140
στρατιὰν προσαιτῶν; ἡ δὲ Μεσσήνη τότε
ὑµῖν ἐπέκειτο χὠ θεὸς σείων ἅµα.
ἐλθὼν δὲ σὺν ὁπλίταισι τετρακισχιλίοις
Κίµων ὅλην ἔσωσε τὴν Λακεδαίµονα.
ταυτὶ παθόντες τῶν Ἀθηναίων ὕπο 1145
δῃοῦτε χώραν, ἧς ὑπ᾿ εὖ πεπόνθατε;
(Πρ.α) ἀδικοῦσιν οὗτοι νὴ Δί᾿, ὦ Λυσιστράτη.
(Πρ.λ) ἀδικίοµες· ἀλλ᾿ ὁ πρωκτὸς ἄφατον ὡς καλός.
(Λυ.) ὑµᾶς δ᾿ ἀφήσειν τοὺς Ἀθηναίους <µ᾿> οἴει;
οὐκ ἴσθ᾿ ὅθ᾿ ὑµᾶς οἱ Λάκωνες αὖθις αὖ 1150
κατωνάκας φοροῦντας ἐλθόντες δορὶ
πολλοὺς µὲν ἄνδρας Θετταλῶν ἀπώλεσαν,
πολλοὺς δ᾿ ἑταίρους Ἱππίου καὶ ξυµµάχους,
ξυνεκβαλόντες τῇ τόθ᾿ ἡµέρᾳ µόνοι
κἠλευθέρωσαν κἀντὶ τῆς κατωνάκης 1155
τὸν δῆµον ὑµῶν χλαῖναν ἠµπέσχον πάλιν;

(Lysistrata) Next, Laconians – for I will now turn to you – don’t you know how Pericleidas the Laconian came here once and sat at the altars supplicating the Athenians, deathly pale in his scarlet cloak, begging for an army? You were hard pressed then by Messene, and also at the same time by the god and his earthquake; and Kimon went with four thousand hoplites and saved all Lacedaemon. That is how the Athenians have treated you: do you ravange a country at whose hands you have received benefits?

(Athenian Delegate) By Zeus, Lysistrata, they’re in the wrong.

(Spartan Delegate) [aside absent-mindedly]: We’re in the wrong. But that bum is unspeakably beautiful!

(Lysistrata) You think I’m going to let you Athenians off, do you? Don’t you know how the Laconians, contrariwise, when you were all wearing slaves’ smocks, came in arms and killed many men of Thessaly and many comrades and allies of Hippias? On that day they alone helped you to expel him; they liberated you, and instead of the slave’s smock they cloathed your people in a warm cloak once again.3

This passage represents the only surviving case of a deliberative speech, in Aristophanes’ works, in which a character relies on historical paradigms (παραδείγµατα, exempla) as arguments (πίστεις, argumentationes), rather than on enthymemes (ἐνθυµήµατα, enthymemata).4 Reliance on paradigms is in fact appropriate, given that, as the author of Rhetoric to Alexander teaches, it is precisely when illustrating the benefits of an alliance that one should remember the advantages of a previous, similar agreement.5 However, for Rogers, Lysistrata’s choice of the two paradigms is unsatisfactory.6 Kimon’s men, in fact, rather than saving Sparta, were sent back on suspicion that they were sympathizers for the Messenian rebels.7 As for Kleomenes, he did indeed defeat the tyranny of Hippias, but later (508 bc) also opposed Kleisthenes’ democratic reforms to the point that, after escaping a siege on the Acropolis carried out by the democratic Athenians, he nearly restored Hippias to power in Athens.8 It has been suggested that the two paradigms in Ar. Lys. 1137-1156 appear to be distortions of collective memory9 or, possibly, alternative historical versions,10 even if Lysistrata’s speech is generally recognized as serious in its intention. To repeat the de Ste. Croix’s assessment,11 the speech testifies to Aristophanes’ support for a ‘Kimonian’ democracy favourable to an agreement between Athens and Sparta.

A contrary reading, however, is offered by Wilson and MacDowell,12 for whom the historical omissions found in Lysistrata’s speech, together with its playful context, would attest to its being intentionally nonsense. ‘[Lysistrata] – writes Wilson – is distorting history. Should one not at least consider the possibility that the distortion was evident to the public and at the same time amusing to them because of the speaker’s ignorance of well known facts?’.13 Wilson’s assessment, if correct, would support those who consider not only Lysistrata, but all of Aristophanes’ theatre, entertainment devoid of seriousness. There is reason, however, to reject the idea that Lysistrata’s speech presents a mere comic deformation of historical memory.

I am not negating, obviously, the presence of comic distortions of previous history in Lysistrata. Such is the case of Lys. 271-280, where the Semichorus of Old Men, intent on assaulting the women, brags about having taken part, in their youth, in the previously mentioned assault of Kleomenes and for having ousted the Spartan king, ‘not unscathed’ (Lys. 274-275: οὐδὲ … ἀψάλακτος), when in truth he had left the Acropolis untouched after two days, having made a pact with the attackers.14 Another such case is Lys. 667-669 ἀλλ᾿ ἄγετε λυκόποδες, / οἵπερ ἐπὶ Λειψύδριον / ἦλθοµεν ὅτ᾿ ἦµεν ἔτι, in which the Old Men, calling themselves λυκόποδες (‘wolf-feet’), compare the current siege on the Acropolis with that on Leipsydrion’s fortress in 513 bc, in which they also claim to have taken part. They do not realize that in so doing they equate themselves with supporters of the tyrants, given that ‘wolf-feet’ was an epithet referring to Hippias’ private militias, and that the conquest of Leipsydrion was a victory of the tyrants against the Alcmaeonidae.15 However, regardless of the evidently impossible chronology (the siege of Leipsydrion had occurred more than a century earlier, and the Old Men of the chorus could not have taken part in it!), it is the context of their discussion that gives it its comic tone. Derided and humiliated by the women, in fact, the Old Men recall the past their own way, making themselves even more ridiculous.

Markedly different is Lysistrata’s serious evocation of the past in a way that seems to draw from actual speeches delivered in the Assembly. This, together with the use of historical paradigms, brings to the fore a stylistic device strangely overlooked by the commentators: the formula οὐκ ἴσθ᾿ ὅτε …; ‘Don’t you know how …?’ (Lys. 1138, 1150). Thus Lysistrata begins her two addresses to the Spartans and the Athenians, notably similar to the formulas τίς γὰρ οὐκ οἶδε ὅτι …; (‘who doesn’t know that …?’: e.g., Lycurg. 106; Isoc. 15.108, 14.7 etc.), τίς οὐκ ἀκήκοκεν ὅτι …; (‘who has not heard that …?’: e.g., Lycurg. 62), οἶµαι ἅπαντας εἰδέναι ὅτι … (‘I believe everyone knows that …’: e.g., And. 3.8) etc., with which, in actual Assembly speeches, paradigms were introduced.16 Nothing would suggest that Lysistrata’s use of such device is parody. Lysistrata’s aim, rather, is to employ the actual style of Assembly speeches, not to deride it.17 As for those historical distortions that she does introduce, they are of the type one would expect from political oration.

Paradigm and enthymeme – Aristotle points out – are to the politician what inductive reasoning (ἐπαγωγή) and sillogism (συλλογισµός) are to the philosopher.18 If dialectics aims for the truth, the politician’s (ῥήτωρ) speech aims for that which is convincing. Paradigm, therefore, being credibile while not necessarily true, must be adapted to the needs of the speech (‘modulation du paradigme’ in Nouhaud’s definition).19 Thus, as Aristotle explains in Politics, the incident of king Sardanapallus, whose effeminacy provoked the rebellion of his people, has paradigmatic value regardless of whether the episode is historically true.20 What counts, in fact, is not the episode’s historical reliability but its ability to convince. Quintilian, for his part, reports that ‘paradigm is remembering an event that occurred, or that could have occurred, in the past,’21 which incidentally explains why a distinction between mythical and historical paradigms is senseless, and why in contrast, a mythic tale would have the same probative value has a historical one.22

It is clear that, in order to be effective, a paradigm must refer to events that occurred in the remote past. Lysistrata is not without reason, therefore, in projecting onto the distant past those same events that the Chorus of Old Men comically attempted to include among the exploits of their youth. If she also omits that the endeavours of Kimon and Kleomenes met an unhappy end, this should not be ascribed to a deliberate comic distortion, nor to the existence of historical versions diverse from that of Herodotus. Rather, we are dealing with a ‘modulation du paradigme’ by which Lysistrata, like the orators of actual Assembly speeches, adapts the historical event to her own needs.23 Lysistrata’s method is no different from, for example, Isocrates’, who in the Panegyric (86-87), needing to describe the benefits of the Spartan-Athenian alliance, makes use of the paradigm of the Athenians who attacked the Persians immediately following their landing at Marathon, and of the Spartans who came in aid without hesitation. Both are cases of altered historical data, given that in reality the Athenians waited nine days before attacking, and that the Spartans delayed their departure by many days.24 With such ‘adjustments’, however, Isocrates made the paradigm fit the needs of his speech, focused on the noble rivalry between the Spartans and the Athenians in their struggle against their common foe. That Lysistrata’s paradigms, like those of Isocrates, were made functional to her speech and not comically distorted, is clear in the light of a further consideration.

Forty years after the performance of Lysistrata (371 bc), the Spartans defeated at Leuctra requested the aid of the Athenians. The Spartan ambassadors appealed to the Athenian Assembly using the same paradigms as Lysistrata: Kimon’s assistance to Sparta in the Third Messenian war, and Kleomenes’ defeat of the tyrant Hippias (x. hg 6.5.33):

ἀνεµίµνῃσκόν τε γὰρ τοὺς ᾿Αθηναίους ὡς ἀεί ποτε ἀλλήλοις ἐν τοῖς µεγίστοις καιροῖς παρίσταντο ἐπ᾿ ἀγαθοῖς· αὐτοί τε γὰρ ἔφασαν τοὺς τυράννους συνεκβαλεῖν ᾿Αθήνηθεν, καὶ ᾿Αθηναίους, ὅτε αὐτοὶ ἐπολιορκοῦντο ὑπὸ Μεσσηνίων, προθύµως βοηθεῖν.

They reminded the Athenians that from all time the two peoples had stood by one another in the most important crises for good ends; for they on their side, they said, had aided in expelling the tyrants from Athens, while the Athenians, on the other hand, gave them zealous assistance at the time when they were hard pressed by the Messenians.25

Should we believe that Xenophon was not serious or, as one scholar has actually posited, that he was taking inspiration from Aristophanes26 ? Such reasoning, obviously, is senseless. The speech made by the Spartan ambassadors and told by Xenophon, rather, is as much a serious ‘modulation du paradigme’ as that made by Lysistrata. Only acknowledging such seriousness, moreover, can we make sense of the final scenes of Lysistrata, those following Lysistrata’s speech advocating peace.

At this point, in fact, the Spartan representative begins to sing. In the song, the rediscovered harmony between Spartans and Athenians is based on two historical paradigms: the naval battle of Artemision and the land-battle at Thermopylae (Lys. 1247-1261):

(Πρ.λ) ὅρµαὁν τῷ κυρσανίῳ,
Μναµόνα, τὰν τεὰν
Μῶἁν, ἅτις οἶδεν ἁµὲ τώς τ᾿ ᾿Ασαναί-
ως, ὅκα τοὶ µὲν ἐπ᾿ ᾿Αρταµιτίῳ 1250/1
πρώκροον σιείκελοι
ποττὰ κᾶλα τὼς Μήδως τ᾿ ἐνίκων·
ἁµὲ δ᾿ αὖ Λεωνίδας
ἆγεν ἇπερ τὼς κάπρως σά- 1255
γοντας, οἰῶ, τὸν ὀδόντα· πολὺς δ᾿
ἀµφὶ τὰς γένυας ἀφρὸς ἄνσεεν,
πολὺς δ᾿ ἁµᾶ καττῶν σκελῶν ἵετο. 1258/9
ἦν γὰρ τὤνδρες οὐκ ἐλάσσως 1260
τᾶς ψάµµας τοὶ Πέρσαι.

(Spartan Delegate) To this young man, / O Memory, send thy daughter / the Muse, who knows about us and about the Athenians, / that time when at Artemision / they assaulted those ships, / fighting like gods, and vanquished the Medes; / while we were led by Leonidas, / whetting our teeth, I ween, / like wild boars, and much foam / ran out around our cheeks, / and much also poured down our legs. / For the men were as many / as the sands on the shore, were the Persians.27

The battle of Artemision is presented here as an Athenian victory, despite the participation of other allied cities and the battle’s ambiguous outcome. The description of the battle of Thermopylae exalts Spartans’ heroism, avoiding mention of its inauspicious, although glorious, ending.28 This occurs because, just as in Lysistrata’s speech and in those made in the Assembly, here too historical paradigm is adapted to the needs of the moment. Specifically, the battle of Artemision is presented as an exclusively Athenian victory in Isocrates’ Panegyric (90-92), just as in the two λόγοι ἐπιτάφιοι from the Lysian and Platonic corpora (Lys. 2.30-31; Pl. Menex. 241a), both of which associate the battle with the events of Thermopylae.29 It follows that, beginning with Lysistrata’s speech advocating peace, the alliance between Sparta and Athens is made possible by the use of a series of historical paradigms, that, far from being comically distorted, are rather adapted to the needs of the speech, and maintain their tone of seriousness.30 We could have expected as such, after all, from the way Lysistrata announces her speech (Lys. 1124-1127):

(Λυ.) ἐγὼ γυνὴ µέν εἰµι, νοῦς δ᾿ ἔνεστί µοι.
αὐτὴ δ᾿ ἐµαυτῆς οὐ κακῶς γνώµης ἔχω, 1125
τοὺς δ᾿ ἐκ πατρός τε καὶ γεραιτέρων λόγους
πολλοὺς ἀκούσασ᾿ οὐ µεµούσωµαι κακῶς.

(Lysistrata) I am a woman, but I have got a mind: I am not badly off for intelligence on my own account, and I am not badly educated either, having heard a great deal of the talk of my father and other older men.31

Recalling verses from Euripides’ Melanippe Wise (E. fr. 482 Kann. = Ar. Lys. 1124), in which the protagonist asserts her wisdom despite being a woman, Lysistrata affirms here the full reliability of her arguments. The commentators, justifiably, compare the verses with those of the Acharnians, in which Dicaeopolis emphasizes the seriousness of his speech in favour of peace, repeatedly referring to Euripides’ Telephus (Ach. 497-501 [497-498 ≅ E. fr. 703 Kann.]):32

(Δι.) µή µοι φθονήσητ᾿, ἄνδρες οἱ θεώµενοι,
εἰ πτωχὸς ὢν ἔπειτ’ ἐν ᾿Αθηναίοις λέγειν
µέλλω περὶ τῆς πόλεως, τρυγῳδίαν ποῶν.
τὸ γὰρ δίκαιον οἶδε καὶ τρυγῳδία. 500
ἐγὼ δὲ λέξω δεινὰ µέν, δίκαια δέ.

(Dicaeopolis) Be not indignant with me, members of the audience, if, though a beggar, I speak before the Athenians about public affairs in a comedy. Even comedy is acquainted with justice; and what I have to say will be shocking, but it will be right.33

More than these verses of the Acharnians, however, Lysistrata’s audience would have had in mind the words of the previous scene (Lys. 649-655), in which the Semichorus of Old Women advised the Athenians not to be prejudiced against women’s speeches, if they are appropriate to the situation:

(Χο.) εἰ δ᾿ ἐγὼ γυνὴ πέφυκα, τοῦτο µὴ φθονεῖτέ µοι,
ἢν ἀµείνω γ᾿ εἰσενέγκω τῶν παρόντων πραγµάτων. 650
τοὐράνου γάρ µοι µέτεστι· καὶ γὰρ ἄνδρας εἰσφέρω.
τοῖς δὲ δυστήνοις γέρουσιν οὐ µέτεσθ᾿ ὑµῖν, ἐπεὶ
τὸν ἔρανον τὸν λεγόµενον παππῷον ἐκ τῶν Μηδικῶν
εἶτ᾿ ἀναλώσαντες οὐκ ἀντεισφέρετε τὰς εἰσφοράς,
ἀλλ᾿ ὑφ’ ὑµῶν διαλυθῆναι προσέτι κινδυνεύοµεν. 655

(Chorus [Women’s Leader]): And if I was born a woman, don’t be indignant with me on that account if I make some suggestions that are better than the situation we’ve got. I have a stake in the common wealth: I contribute men to it. You wretched old man have no stake; you’ve squandered the so-called ‘fund of grandfathers’,34 that came from the war with the Medes, and now you don’t pay your property-taxes in return – indeed we’re positively in danger of liquidation thanks to you.35

These verses and Lysistrata’s peace speech are connected not only by a similarity in their claims (even a woman can speak the truth), but by the seriousness that transcends the comical context, made possible, once again, by employing the same rhetorical devices as actual speeches of democratic Athens. In particular, if Lysistrata draws on paradigms in her speech in favour of peace, in ll. 648-655 the chorus makes use of topoi from λόγοι ἐπιτάφιοι, beginning with the motif of the cash contributions (ἔρανος) that the women made to their city by offering the lives of their own sons in defence of the city.36

Aristophanes’ aim for the second part of Lysistrata is at this point clear: thanks to the gradual and increasing use of historical paradigms and arguments common to actual political speeches, Lysistrata and her women-friends make possible the transition from a playful subversion of the polis, that they themselves had brought about, to the restoration of the true democratic Athens. Lysistrata’s ultimate aim, in fact, is not imposing a permanent dominion of women upon Athens, but the restoration, by means of her own revolutionary action, of the ‘normal’ democratic polis.

II Ar. Ec. 214-228: Overturning Democracy

The first lines of Ecclesiazusae seem to bring us again to the same situation as Lysistrata, performed twenty years earlier.37 Like Lysistrata, in fact, Praxagora too summons the women to meet and plots to take control of Athens. But here the similarities between the two dramas end. To begin with, as much as Praxagora denounces the misery of the coeval Corinthian War (Ec. 193-200), her plan does not aim to restore tranquillity to all of Greece, as in Lysistrata, but to Athens alone. Further, if Lysistrata’s endeavour was immediately apparent to the men of Athens, Praxagora’s plan was intended to remain in the shadows. No man, in fact, would even realise that it was women dressed as men who had entered the Assembly and voted for a law that gave them permanent control of the city.38 The reason for this difference is clear: for Lysistrata, occupying the Acropolis and a sex-strike were means to bring peace to Greece and re-establish order in the democratic polis of Athens. In contrast, Praxagora’s revolt was designed to install in Athens a permanent gynaecocracy that would dismantle the city’s democratic principles and lead to its total upending. It is true that Praxagora never explicitly declares that her goal is the end of the Athenian democratic system, to the point that, once the reform had been instituted, an Old Woman continues to affirm that the regime she lives in is democratic.39 Actually, however, Praxagora’s endeavour is a pure and simple undermining of Athenian democracy. The regular and periodic turnover of power, which Aristotle saw as the quintessence of the democratic system,40 is replaced by the absolute power of Praxagora, elected permanent στρατηγός of Athens.41 Moreover, when Praxagora’s women-friends declare their desire to ‘submit completely and in every way’ (ὑπακούειν) to her,42 they use the verb ὑπακούειν, the same used by the Melians in Thucidides’ speech to describe the subjugation imposed on them by the Athenians.43 Only when she obtains full power, in fact, does Praxagora reveal the more revolutionary aspects of her plan (Ec. 588-688): the sharing of private property and of the women. Regardless of the implicit comic ridiculousness of sexual communism,44 it is noteworthy that the sharing of property amounts to dismantling the rigid separation between individual management of private property and public management of the state, cornerstone of the Periclean idea of democracy.45

In Lysistrata, we have seen, the return to the normality of democratic Athens is set forth by Lysistrata’s employment of the paradigms of the city’s glorious past. In Ecclesiazusae, conversely, historical paradigms are absent, with one exception. That is, the memory of the Athenian Myronides, winner of the Battle of Oenophyta (457 bc),46 in the song that accompanies the women as they exit, soon to commit their coup d’état (Ec. 304-305):

(Xo.) ἀλλ᾿ οὐχί, Μυρωνίδης
ὅτ᾿ ἦρχεν ὁ γεννάδας,
οὐδεὶς ἂν ἐτόλµα
τὰ τῆς πόλεως διοι-
κεῖν ἀργύριον φέρων 305

(Chorus) It wasn’t like this when the noble / Myronides was general: / no one then would have had the audacity / to draw pay for managing / the City’s affairs.47

It may seem paradoxical to hear praises of the ‘good old days’ from the mouths of those about to deceive and undermine the Assembly. The paradigm of Myronides, however, does not serve to reconcile the women with the one time ideals of Athens, but to highlight the difference Aristophanes sees between the Athens of yore, in which one did not receive indemnity for participating in the Assembly, and the wretchedness of his day, in which the only remedy for the rampant absenteeism was to offer Assembly-pay for citizens who showed up to the meetings.48 Aristophanes here uses the technique of antithesis (‘once it was like this, but now …’), the same that will become ever more frequent in political oration of the fourth century bc, most notably Demosthenes.49 Historical paradigms, moreover, are entirely absent from the speech in which Praxagora prepares herself to conquer the Assembly (Ec. 171-240). When she presents her arguments (πίστεις), in fact, Praxagora makes use of enthymeme, logically deduced from the following premise: given that it was the Athenians’ ingrained restlessness and yearning for newness and innovation that led to Athens’ demise, the women assert their ability to save the city thanks to their ability to maintain their domestic habits (and their dishonest vices!), without introducing changes (Ec. 214-228):

(Πρ.) ὡς δ᾿ εἰσὶν ἡµῶν τοὺς τρόπους βελτίονες
ἐγὼ διδάξω. πρῶτα µὲν γὰρ τἄρια 215
βάπτουσι θερµῷ κατὰ τὸν ἀρχαῖον νόµον
ἁπαξάπασαι, κοὐχὶ µεταπειρωµένας
ἴδοις ἂν αὐτάς. ἡ δ᾿ ᾿Αθηναίων πόλις,
εἰ τοῦτο χρηστῶς εἶχεν, οὐκ ἂν ἐσῴζετο,
εἰ µή τι καινὸν ἄλλο περιηργάζετο. 220
καθήµεναι φρύγουσιν ὥσπερ καὶ πρὸ τοῦ.
ἐπὶ τῆς κεφαλῆς φέρουσιν ὥσπερ καὶ πρὸ τοῦ.
τὰ Θεσµοφόρι᾿ ἄγουσιν ὥσπερ καὶ πρὸ τοῦ. 223
πέττουσι τοὺς πλακοῦντας ὥσπερ καὶ πρὸ τοῦ. 223b
τοὺς ἄνδρας ἐπιτρίβουσιν ὥσπερ καὶ πρὸ τοῦ.
µοιχοὺς ἔχουσιν ἔνδον ὥσπερ καὶ πρὸ τοῦ. 225
αὑταῖς παροψωνοῦσιν ὥσπερ καὶ πρὸ τοῦ.
οἶνον φιλοῦσ᾿ εὔζωρον ὥσπερ καὶ πρὸ τοῦ.
βινούµεναι χαίρουσιν ὥσπερ καὶ πρὸ τοῦ.

(Praxagora) I will also show that they have better qualities than we do. In the first place, they mantain, one and all, their ancient custom of dyeing wool in hot water, and you won’t ever see them experimenting with anything different; whereas the Athenian state, if that was satisfactory, wouldn’t want to preserve it – quite the contrary, they’d be pointlessly busying themselves with some innovation or other. Women parch corn sitting on their haunches, just like in the old days. They carry things on their heads, just like in the old days. They keep the Thesmophoria just like in the old days. They bake their flate-cakes just like in the old days. They make life hell for their husbands just like in the old days. They keep lovers in the house just like in the old days. They buy extra food for themselves just like in the old days. They like good strong wine just like in the old days. They enjoy getting fucked just like in the old days.50

The typical Athenian compulsion for radical change (νεωτεροποιία) condemned here is the same as that mentioned often in Thucidides’ work.51 Praxagora contrasts this with the women’s constancy, within the walls of the home, of their domestic duties (and their misdeeds!), repeating, without altering, everything as was done by their mothers. It could be, as Vetta has hypothesized, that the refrain ‘like in the old days’ (ὥσπερ καὶ πρὸ τοῦ: ll. 221-228), employed to emphasize female constancy in maintaining customs, is derived from political speeches delivered after 404 bc, that called to restore a vaguely defined Constitution of the Fathers (πάτριος πολιτεία).52 Be that as it may, Praxagora does not mention any episode from Athens’ past, not even the paradigm that more than any other would be so appropriate in exalting women’s actions, that of the heroic Telesilla, who, with her courage, was able to stand her ground in the Spartan attack against Argo in 494 bc.53 Anyhow, the women of Ecclesiazusae do not aspire to any kind of male virtue, but to transfer the laws of οἶκος (the traditional domain of women) to the πόλις.54 The result is an upturning of democracy and its natural division between the private sphere (to which the οἶκος pertains) and the public sphere (managing the πόλις). Therefore, if Lysistrata’s speech aimed to valorise the heroic past, a necessary precondition for restoring the democratic polis, Praxagora offers a string of misogynist commonplaces typical of comedy: women’s love for wine55 and their libido. It follows that, differently from the events of Lysistrata, Praxagora’s intervention leads to the overturning of normality, not leading to a restoration of Athens and its values, but to a permanent transformation of Athenian democracy into an upside-down world, destined to remain as such until the end of Ecclesiazusae.

III In and Out of Athens, Out and In of Carnival

Morwood has recently suggested that the concluding scene of Lysistrata, in which the protagonist returns the women to their husbands, bringing an end to the gynaecocracy (Ar. Lys. 1273-1276),56 should be interpreted as the end of a carnival. ‘The holiday – Morwood writes – is soon over. […] Lysistrata is the Lady of Misrule, who must bow once more to male supremacy’.57 This is, on closer inspection, an imperfect application of the Bakhtinian category of ‘carnival’ that does not follow a basic truth that Bakhtin expressed with crystal clarity: the return to normality can never be part of a carnival performance as such. The carnival spectacle, rather, precisely by its very nature, requires the permanent triumph of the overturned world.58 Bakhtin writes:

Carnival is not a spectacle seen by the people; they live in it, and everyone participates because its very ideas embraces all the people. While carnival lasts, there is no other life outside it. During carnival time life is subject only to its laws, that is, the laws of its own freedom. It has a universal spirit; it is a special condition of the entire world, of the world’s revival and renewal, in which all take part. Such is the essence of carnival, vividly felt by all its participants.59

Such can be exemplified by the Mascherata del mondo che va alla riversa [Masquerade of the upside-down world], a sixteenth-century Italian canto carnascialesco, which seems to present situations analogous to those of the ancient comedy: women exercising power instead of men; young, rather than old, men in charge of the Senate; every catamite become a soldier.60 However, the song concludes by declaring that one must burn their bridges with normality in order to permanently live the upside-down world. A return to normality is never mentioned because it is outside the logic of the carnival (ll. 57-60):

Chi vuol star bene in quest’oscuro clima,
Alla riversa faccia le sue opre,
E ponga al basso chi vuol stare in cima,
Ché ‘l mondo ne và tutto sottosopre 60

Whoever wishes to be well in this world of darkness / Should do their work backwards. / Those below should be held high / Because the world is upside-down.

Quite different are the events of Lysistrata, where the upturned world established by the women is not the aim towards which they act, but the means to restore the democratic polis that, for the theatre audience, represents the quintessence of normal life. Things are no different in Aristophanes’ other comedies.

In the Acharnians, in fact, Dicaeopolis’ efforts are not intended to establish an upside-down Athens, but to return to the true democratic polis, with its festivities and its markets; in Knights the Sausage-seller upends every value but, at the end of the comedy, from the rascal that he was, becomes a gentleman and Athens returns to the glory of the times of Marathon; in Peace Trygaeus flies through the sky in the kingdom of fantasy to return to the real Athens regenerated by the imminent peace of Nicias; in Frogs Aeschylus returns from the underworld to restore the true democratic polis of Athens. We could say that in each of these cases, Aristophanes’ comedy is a near-carnival, because the reality of democratic Athens, even if utopically projected in the ideals of the good old days, is never replaced by a permanent upside-down carnivalesque world.61 An exception, obviously, is the overturned world established in Birds that remains intact until the end of the drama, supported by the authoritarian power of Peisetairos, the contrary of every democracy.62 However one might interpret Birds,63 it remains true that the permanent carnivalesque upturning does not occur in Athens, but in the fantastical city of Nephelokokkygia, half-way between sky and earth.64 It is only in the later dramas, rather, that democratic Athens is permanently transformed into a carnival, complete with the overturning of its values. In Ecclesiazusae, in fact, the gynaecocracy and the end of private property established in Athens are a stable subversion intended to last triumphantly until the end of the comedy. In Plutus the new order established in Athens by means of a utopian redistribution of wealth represents a complete obliteration of Athenian democracy with its rigid separation between public and private spheres.65

As limited as our knowledge of Aristophanes may be, based on approximately a quarter of his original work, we may say that there exists a net distinction between Aristophanes’ later comedies (Ecclesiazusae; Plutus), in which the action culminates in a permanent, and therefore carnivalesque, upturning of democratic Athens, and the previous dramas, in which the comic hero aimed to restore the true democratic Athens based on erstwhile values.66

Therefore, if the Bakhtinian category of carnival has been often used (and abused) to circumvent, rather than to face, the question of the seriousness of the political message in Aristophanes’ comedy,67 it might be more promising to use the category in a purely heuristic way, and identify two phases in Aristophanes’ theatre: an earlier phase in which the action does not conclude in a carnivalesque overturning of reality, and aims to reconstruct the democratic polis, thus bearing a serious political message, even if not offering a precise political direction; and a later phase (Ecclesiazusae; Plutus) characterized by the impossibility to transcend the carnivalesque reversal and return to reality.

Olson has recently remarked: ‘Although the disappearance of explicitly political material has traditionally been regarded as one mark of the transition to “Middle Comedy”, […] it might be better to think of political Old Comedy as an aberration that lasted a generation of so, after which the genre returned to more traditional material.’68 Aristophanes’ political engagement, therefore, far from needing to be rejected, may represent a transient aspect of his work and, in general, of the history of Athenian comedy, followed by the return of unengaged laughter. To attempt to reduce Aristophanes to mere nonsense amounts to failing to comprehend the extent of the novelty of this unique season of engaged comic theatre, of which Cratinus and Eupolis, together with Aristophanes, were its greatest representatives.69


While Kimon’s intervention can be plausibly dated to 462 bc, the chronology of the Third Messenian War remains uncertain. The claim made by Th. 1.101-103, of a decades-long conflict born in the same year as the Athenian siege of Thasos (465/4 or 464/3 bc. Cf. Paus. 4.24.5), has been both challenged (A. W. Gomme, A Historical Commentary on Thucydides, i [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1945], pp. 401-404), and accepted (D. Musti, Storia Greca. Linee di sviluppo dall’età micenea all’età romana [Roma – Bari: Laterza, 19902], pp. 338-339). For further data, see L. Piccirilli, Plutarco. Le vite di Cimone e di Lucullo (Milano: Mondadori, 1990), pp. 257-258. The early dating of the beginning of the war posited by D.S. 11.63-4 (469/8 bc) and schol. Ar. Lys. 1142b + 1144a Hang. (Philochoros? Hellanikos? 468/7 bc), although implausible, justifies the duplication of Kimon’s interventions attested in Plut. Cim. 16-17, on which see below, n. 10.


Cf. Hdt. 5.63-65; Th. 6.54.4; Arist. Ath. 19.5-6.


Transl. by Sommerstein (modified).


For an analysis of deliberative speeches in Aristophanes see C. T. Murphy, ‘Aristophanes and the Art of Rhetoric’, Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, 49 (1938), pp. 69-113, pp. 101-113. On arguments, enthymemes, paradigms, cf. Arist. Rh. 1393a23-1394b18 (παραδείγµατα), 1395b21-1403b3 (ἐνθυµήµατα), 1417b21-1418b39 (πίστεις); [Arist.] Rh.Al. 1427b39-1429a20 (πίστεις), 1429a21-1430a13 (παραδείγµατα), 1410a23-39 (ἐνθυµήµατα). On paradigm, see M. Nouhaud, L’utilisation de l’histoire par les orateurs attiques (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1982), pp. 8-25, 44-53; R. Nicolai, La storiografia nell’educazione antica (Pisa: Giardini, 1992), pp. 40-49; K. Damoen, ‘A Paradigm for the Analysis of Paradigms. The Rhetorical Exemplum in Ancient and Imperial Greek Theory’, Rhetorica, 15 (1997), pp. 125-158; M. P. Schittko, Analogien als Argumentationstyp. Vom Paradeigma zur Similitudo, (Göttingen: Vandenhoek & Ruprecht, 2003); R. Nicolai, ‘Ai confini del paradigma: παραδείγµατα οἰκεῖα e antefatti paradigmatici,’ Seminari Romani di cultura greca, 12 (2009), pp. 1-19. On paradigm in Greek theatre (esp. tragedy), see J. Ober and B. Strauss, ‘Drama, Political Rhetoric, and the Discourse of Athenian Democracy,’ in J. J. Winkler and F. I. Zeitlin (eds.), Nothing to Do with Dionysos? Athenian Drama in Its Social Context (Princeton nj: Princeton University Press 1990), pp. 237-270, 246-250; R. Nicolai, ‘L’emozione che insegna. Parola persuasiva e paradigmi mitici in tragedia’, Sandalion, 26-28 (2003-2005), pp. 61-103; R. Nicolai, ‘La crisi del paradigma: funzioni degli exempla mitici nei cori di Sofocle’, in A. Rodighiero and P. Scattolin (eds.), «… un enorme individuo dotato di polmoni soprannaturali ». Funzioni, interpretazioni e rinascite del coro drammatico greco (Verona: Fiorini, 2011), pp. 1-36; R. Nicolai, ‘Mythical Paradigms in Euripides: the Crisis of the Myth’, in A. Markantonatos and B. Zimmermann (eds.), Crisis on Stage. Tragedy and Comedy in Late Fifth-Century Athens (Berlin – Boston: De Gruyter 2012), pp. 103-120. On paradigm as a typical argumentatio in deliberative speeches cf. Arist. Rh. 1394a2-5, 1417b12-16, on which see Nouhaud, L’utilisation, pp. 24, 45, 52-53; Nicolai, La storiografia, p. 48. I note, in passing, that Ar. Lys. 1137-1156 would be enough to correct the current idea (e.g., Nouhaud, L’utilisation, pp. 8-9, 29, 41-43; F. Pownall, Lessons from the Past. The Moral Use of History in Fourth-Century Prose [Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press 2004], p. 39; I. Worthington, History and Oratorical Exploitation, in I. Worthington [ed.], Persuasion: Greek Rhetoric in Action [London: Routledge, 1994], pp. 109-129, p. 110; etc.), according to which historical paradigms, typical of oratory in the fourth century bc, would have been rare in the previous century, which favoured the use of mythical paradigms. Although to distinguish between mythical and historical paradigms would not be a proper thing to do (see below, n. 22), it is evident that the impression of the rare use of historical examples among fifth-century orators is due chiefly to the paucity of surviving documentation. Cf. Antipho 5.67-68 (historical paradigm involving Ephialtes in an oration of the 5th century bc).


[Arist.] Rh.Al. 1424b35-40. Cf. Arist. Rh. 1393a32-1393b4 (political speeches made on the basis of comparison with analogous events of the past).


See B. B. Rogers, The Comedies of Aristophanes, iv: Lysistrata (London: G. Bell and Sons, 1911), pp. 133-134. Of the same opinion: U. von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, Aristophanes Lysistrate (Berlin: Weidmann 1927), p. 189; Henderson, Aristophanes. Lysistrata, pp. 201-203; Sommerstein, Aristophanes: Lysistrata, pp. 213-215.


Cf. Th. 1.102.3-4; D.S. 11.64; Paus. 4.24.6; Plut. Cim. 17.


Cf. Hdt. 5.69-73; Arist. Ath.Pol. 20.1-4. It is curious that Nouhaud, L’utilisation, pp. 39-40, and D. Harvey, ‘Lacomica: Aristophanes and the Spartans’, in A. Powell and S. Hodkinson (eds.), The Shadow of Sparta (London – New York: The Classical Press of Wales, 1994), p. 46 (clearly due to the influence of Ar. Lys. 274-280, on which see below) believe that the events surrounding Kimon, but not those involving Kleomenes, were intentionally modified, when in fact it is evident that both paradigms employed by Lysistrata make use of the same ‘modulation du paradigm’ (on which see below, esp. n. 17).


See Wilamowitz, Lysistrate, p. 189; J. Henderson, ‘Old Comedy and Popular History,’ in J. Marincola, L. Llewellyn-Jones, and C. Maciver (eds.), Greek Notions of the Past in the Archaic and Classical Eras. History without Historians (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press 2012), pp. 144-159, pp. 156-159.


See N. Luraghi, Der Erdbebenaufstand und die Entstehung der messenischen Identität, in D. Papenfuss and V. M. Strocka (eds.), Gab es das griechische Wunder? Griechenland zwischen dem Ende des 6. und der Mitte des 5. Jahrhunderts v.Chr. (Mainz am Rhein: Philipp von Zabern 2001), pp. 279-301, pp. 282-289. For this scholar two versions of Kimon’s endeavour existed: a) a first version (occurring in Ar. Lys. 1137-1156; schol. Ar. Lys. 1142b + 1144a Hang.; x. hg 6.5.33 [on which see below]), according to which the episode was successful; and b) a second version (to be found in Th. 1.101-103; D.S. 11.63-64; Paus. 4.24.5-7), according to which the Spartans ignominiously dismissed the Athenians. Plut. Cim. 16-17 would be born from the conflation of the two (two interventions, the first successful and the second ending in shameful dismissal). Similarly, L. Bertelli, ‘La memoria storica di Aristofane,’ in Vv.Aa., Storiografia locale e storiografia universale. Forme di acquisizione del sapere storico nella cultura antica (Bologna, 16 – 18 dicembre 1999) (Como: New Press, 2001), pp. 41-99, p. 66, posits the existence of an alternative version of the liberation of Athens, favourable to Kleomenes, which is silent regarding the role of the Alkmaeonidae. However, as noted by F. Perusino, ‘La commedia greca e la storia: alcune considerazioni’, in S. Daris and G. Tedeschi (eds.), Memoria Renovanda. Giornata di studi in memoria di Carlo Corbato (Trieste, 11 ottobre 2006) (Trieste: Deputazione storia patria per la Venezia Giulia, 2007), pp. 51-56, p. 55, Plut. Cim. 16-17 is a clumsy attempt to resolve the problems about the date of the Third Messenian War (see above, n. 1), by creating a hybrid between Th. 1.101-103 and Ar. Lys. 1137-1156, which Plutarch expressly quotes. Regarding the paradigm of Kleomenes, Ar. Lys. 271-280 (on which see below) demonstrates that Aristophanes is well aware of the disagreement between Kleomenes and Kleisthenes that culminated in the siege of the Acropolis, leading us to believe that in Ar. Lys. 1150-1156 we are dealing not with an alternative version, but with a deliberate distortion of the facts.


See G. E. M. de Ste. Croix, The Origins of the Peloponnesian War (London: Duckworth, 1972), pp. 368-369.


See N. G. Wilson, ‘Two Observations on Aristophanes’ Lysistrata,’ Greek Roman and Byzantine Studies, 23 (1982), pp. 157-163, pp. 160-161; D. M. MacDowell, Aristophanes and Athens. An Introduction to the Plays (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), p. 245.


See Wilson, ‘Two Observations’, p. 161 (my emphasis).


Cf. Hdt. 5.72; Arist. Ath. 20.3. According to Rogers, Lysistrata, p. 35 (followed by Harvey, ‘Lacomica’, p. 43, and Bertelli, ‘La memoria storica’, p. 63) a further comic distortion would be the fact that Ar. Lys. 280 ἓξ ἐτῶν ἄλουτος (scil. Κλεοµένης) testifies that Kleomenes’ siege lasted six years, not two days. In truth, Aristophanes’ joke refers to the Spartans’ proverbial carelessness (Kleomenes went six years without taking a bath!), and not to the required effort in laying a prolonged siege. See F. H. Bothe, Aristophanis Comediae, iii: Equites, Lysistrate, Ecclesiazusae (Lipsiae: Libraria Haniana, 1829), p. 171; F. H. M. Blaydes, Aristophanis Comoediae, ii: Lysistrata (Halis Saxonum: Orphanotrophei Libraria, 1880), p. 193; Henderson, Aristophanes. Lysistrata, p. 103.


See F. Perusino, ‘I coreuti “piedi di lupo” nella Lisistrata di Aristofane’, Quaderni Urbinati di Cultura Classica, n.s. 58 (1998), pp. 57-67, who, in reading Ar. Lys. 667 λυκόποδες (codd. : λευκ- Hermann, Henderson), returns to the explanation in Arist. fr. 394 R. ap. schol. Ar. Lys. 664 Hang. (λυκόποδες epithet of Hippias’ guards: cf. also Phot. Lex. λ 455 Theod.; Suid. λ 812 Adl.), and not to the alternative one offered by the same scholion (and also by Hsch. λ 1392 Hansen; Phot. Lex. λ 455 Theod.; Suid. λ 812 Adl.), who erroneously assigns the epithet to the Alkmaeonidae. On Leipsydrion’s endeavour cf. Carm.Conv. 24 Page (= 24 Fabbro); Hdt. 5.62; Arist. Ath. 19.3.


Bertelli’s claim (‘La memoria storica’, p. 42), that Aristophanes ‘non può usare le formule tipiche dell’oratoria per appellarsi alle conoscenze storiche condivise “come tutti voi ben sapete etc.” ’ is therefore not valid, at least in this case. On the so-called ‘everyone-knows topos’ (J. Ober, Mass and Elite in Democratic Athens. Rhetoric, Ideology, and the Power of the People [Princeton nj: Princeton University Press, 1989], p. 150), see L. Pearson, ‘Historical Allusions in the Attic orators’, Classical Philology, 36 (1941), pp. 209-229, pp. 216-217; R. Thomas, Oral Tradition and Written Record in Classical Athens (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1989), p. 201 n. 14; Ober, Mass and Elite, pp. 149-150; Ober and Strauss, Drama, Political Rhetoric’, p. 253; Worthington, ‘History’, p. 114.


The possibility that a comic poet might seriously engage in the form and context of actual assembly speeches is strongly emphasized by J. Henderson, ‘The Dēmos and the Comic Competition’, in Winkler and Zeitlin, Nothing to do with Dionysos?, pp. 271-313, pp. 285-293 (pace M. Heath, ‘Aristophanes and the Discourse of Politics’, in G. Dobrov [ed.], The City as Comedy. Society and Representation in Athenian Drama [Chapel Hill – London: The University of North Carolina Press, 2006], pp. 230-249, pp. 237-238).


Arist. Rh. 1356b.2-6. On the equivalence between ῥήτωρ and ‘politician’ see I. Worthington, ‘Rhetoric and Politics in Classical Greece: Rise of the Rhētores’, in I. Worthington (ed.), A Companion to Greek Rhetoric (Malden – Oxford – Victoria: Blackwell, 2007), pp. 255-271, pp. 257-263.


On ‘modulation du paradigme’ (Nouhaud, L’utilisation, p. 359) – a device largely used in Andocides’ On the Peace (see Pearson, ‘Historical Allusions’, p. 210; Nouhaud, L’utilisation, pp. 230-234), and in Plato’s Menexenus (see M. M. Henderson, ‘Plato’s Menexenus and the Distortion of History’, Acta Classica, 18 [1975], pp. 25-46; Nouhaud, L’utilisation, pp. 264-265, 272, 280; M. Tulli, ‘Etica e storia nel Menesseno di Platone,’ in M. Migliori, L. M. Napolitano Valditara, and D. Del Forno [eds.], Plato Ethicus. La filosofia è vita, [Brescia: Morcelliana, 2008], pp. 323-335) – see H. Lamar Crosby, ‘Athenian History and the Athenian Public’, in Vv.Aa., Classical Studies Presented to Edward Capps on His Seventieth Birtday (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1936), pp. 72-85; Pearson, ‘Historical Allusions’; S. Perlman, ‘The Historical Exemple, Its Use and Importance as Political Propaganda in the Attic Orators,’ Scripta Hierosolymitana, 7 (1961), pp. 150-166, pp. 150-153; K. J. Dover, Greek Popular Morality in the Time of Plato and Aristotle (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1974), pp. 11-13; Nouhaud, L’utilisation, pp. 17-18, 354-361; Nicolai, La storiografia, p. 15; Worthington, ‘History and Oratorical Exploitation’, pp. 109-118; R. Nicolai, ‘Verità della storia e verità del paradigma: riflessioni su Isocrate (con un’appendice platonica)’, in A. I. Bouton-Touboulic and F. Daspet (eds.), Dire le vrai. Acte de la Journée d’Études du XLIIe Congrès international de l’A.P.L.A.E.S., Bordeaux 23 mai 2009 (Bordeaux: aplaes, 2012), pp. 9-37, pp. 9-21. Thomas’ choice (Oral Tradition, pp. 201-202, 237) to limit the orators’ intentionality in correcting historical paradigms, is not supported by the evidence. As Pearson, ‘Historical Allusions’, p. 214, Nouhaud, L’utilisation, p. 111 and Nicolai, La storiografia, p. 40 point out, the orators never accuse each other of mystifying history (with the exception of the verbal crossfire between Aeschin. 1.25-26 and D. 19.251-252, on which see R. Nicolai, Solone sulla tribuna: le testimonianze degli oratori e di Plutarco, in I. Moreno and R. Nicolai [eds.], La representación de la actio en la historiografía griega y latina [Roma: Quasar, 2016], pp. 29-44).


Arist. Pol. 1312a1-4 αἱ δὲ (scil. αἰτίαι τῶν ἐπιθέσεων) διὰ καταφρόνησιν, ὥσπερ Σαρδανάπαλλον ἰδών τις ξαίνοντα µετὰ τῶν γυναικῶν (εἰ ἀληθῆ ταῦτα οἱ µυθολογοῦντες λέγουσιν· εἰ δὲ µὴ ἐπ᾿ ἐκείνου, ἀλλ᾿ ἐπ᾿ ἄλλου γε ἂν γένοιτο τοῦτο ἀληθές) κτλ., ‘And other attacks on monarchs have been on account of contempt, and somebody killed Sardanapallus when he saw him carding wool with women (if this story told by the narrators of legends is true – and if it did not happen with Sardanapallus, it might quite well be true of somebody else’ (the translation is from H. Rackham, Aristotle. The Politics [London – New York: W. Heinemann, Putnam 1932], with a few modifications). See Nicolai, La storiografia, pp. 44-45.


Quint. Inst. 5.11.6: exemplum id est rei gestae aut ut gestae […] commemoratio. It is strange that Nouhaud, L’utilisation, p. 47 holds that the nexus ut gestae refers to the use of mythical paradigms, rather than the practice of ‘modulation du paradigme’.


On the impossibility to distinguish myth from history in fifth century bc Greece, see Nouhaud, L’utilisation, p. 47; Nicolai, La storiografia, p. 42. I note, in passing, that ‘modulation du paradigme’ is also in play in the distortions of the two mythical paradigms of Melanion and Timon in Ar. Lys. 781-796, 805-820, the first presented as misogynist (despite his love for Atalanta), and the second as a lover of women (even though Timon generally despises both women and men in equal measure). The objective of these changes, as others have already seen, is to establish the preconditions for the reconciliation between men and women, that will take place beginning in Ar. Lys. 1014-1071. See B. Zimmermann, ‘Aristoph. Lys. 785-92’, Museum Criticum, 23-24 (1988-1989), pp. 255-256; T. Hawkins, ‘Seducing a Misanthrope: Timon the Philogynist in Aristophanes’ Lysistrata’, Greek Roman and Byzantine Studies, 42 (2001), pp. 143-162, pp. 161-162; Mastromarco ap. G. Mastromarco and P. Totaro, Aristofane. Commedie, ii (Torino: Utet, 2006), pp. 384, 386 n. 161; S. Schirru, La favola in Aristofane (Berlin: Verlag Antike, 2009), pp. 143-149.


A similar solution was already offered by Nouhaud, L’utilisation, pp. 39-40 (with the limitations indicated in n. 7) and M. Heath, Political Comedy in Aristophanes (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1987), p. 15 n. 22 (who tends, in any case, towards the thesis of comic distortion, like Wilson, ‘Two Observations’, p. 161).


Cf. Hdt. 6.103-120 (the Athenians waited nine days before attacking, and the Spartans did not depart from their own city until the end of the Carneia). On the ‘modulation du paradigme’ at play in Isoc. 4.86-87 (the same as in Lys. 2.23, where Lysias also speaks of the Athenians’ quick reaction to the invasion of Marathon: Thomas, Oral Tradition, p. 222) see Pearson, ‘Historical Allusions’, p. 210; Nouhaud, L’utilisation, p. 151.


The translation is from C. L. Brownson, Xenophon, I-II: Hellenica (London – New York: W. Heinemann, Putnam 1932).


Such is the surprising idea put forward by E. Visser, ‘Zu Lysistrata 1137-1156,’ in Vv.Aa., Κωµωιδοτραγήµατα. Studia aristophanea Viri aristophanei W. J. W. Koster in honorem (Amstelodami: A. M. Hakkert, 1957), pp. 150-154, pp. 152-154.


Transl. by Sommerstein.


Cf. Hdt. 8.16, where the historian speaks of the battle of Artemision ending ‘in a draw’ (παραπλήσιοι), in which the Athenians consisted of 200 triremes (127 led directly, 20 entrusted to the Chalcidians, 53 as reinforcements: cf. Hdt 8.1, 14) of the 333 (or 331) total ships. The ‘modulation du paradigme’ that Aristophanes employs for the battles of Artemision and Thermopylae is pointed out by M. Moggi, ‘Aristofane e la storia: conoscenza e manipolazione’, in F. Perusino and M. Colantonio (eds.), La commedia greca e la storia. Atti del Seminario di studio (Urbino, 18-20 maggio 2010) (Pisa: ets, 2012), pp. 27-54, pp. 29-31 (but see also Wilamowitz, Lysistrate, p. 196). On the Athenians’ tendency to ascribe the merits of the victories in the Second Persian War wholly to themselves see N. Loraux, L’invention d’Athènes. Histoire de l’oraison funèbre dans la “cité classique” (Paris – La Haye – New York: Mouton, 1981), pp. 134-135; Nouhaud, L’utilisation, pp. 140-141, 149, 153; Thomas, Oral Tradition, pp. 221-237; M. Sonnino, Euripidis Erechthei quae exstant (Firenze: Le Monnier, 2010), p. 89.


See Nouhaud, L’utilisation, p. 155 (the battle of Artemision), and pp. 183-184 (associating the battles of Thermopylae and Artemision); G. Mastromarco, ‘Aristofane e le Termopili’, in M. Taufer (ed.), Studi sulla commedia attica (Freiburg i.Br. – Berlin – Wien: Rombach, 2016), pp. 21-38, p. 29.


The same could be said, obviously, of the ‘modulation du paradigme’ at play in evoking the Persian Wars (confusing Marathon, Salamis, [and Thermopylae?] as a single Athenian battle) in Ar. V. 1078-1090, on which see Moggi, ‘Aristofane e la storia’, pp. 27-29; Mastromarco, ‘Aristofane e le Termopili’, pp. 21-27; Z. P. Biles – S. D. Olson, Aristophanes. Wasps (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), pp. 400-401.


Transl. by Sommerstein.


See Henderson, Aristophanes. Lysistrata, p. 197. On professing seriousness in Ar. Ach. 497-501 see A. H. Sommerstein, ‘Old Comedians on Old Comedy’, in B. Zimmermann (ed.), Antike Dramentheorien und ihre Rezeption (Stuttgart: M & P, 1992), pp. 14-33 (repr. cum add. in: A. H. Sommerstein, Talking about Laughter and Other Studies in Greek Comedy [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009], pp. 116-135, pp. 130-131; R. Lauriola, Aristofane serio-comico. Paideia e geloion (Pisa: ets, 2010), pp. 31, 52.


Transl. by Sommerstein.


On the correct reading τὸν λεγόµενον (codd. : γενόµενον Geel) παππῷον see P. Vannicelli, ‘Moritur et ridet. Indizi di logos epitaphios nella Lisistrata di Aristofane’, Quaderni Urbinati di Cultura Classica, 3 (2002), pp. 63-72, p. 66 n. 7.


Transl. by Sommerstein (modified).


See Vannicelli, ‘Moritur et ridet’, pp. 66-72, who compares Lys. 650 with Th. 2.43 κάλλιστον δὲ ἔρανον αὐτῇ [sc. patriae] προιέµενοι (from Pericles’ speech for the fallen Athenian soldiers), where the orator says that those who gave their life for their city ‘have offered to the city the best possible “cash contribution” (ἔρανον)’. On the motif of the ἔρανος see also J. van Leeuwen, Aristophanis Lysistrata cum prolegomenis et commentariis (Lugduni Batavorum: A. W. Sijthoff, 1903), p. 95; S. Hornblower, A Commentary on Thucydides, i: Books 1-3 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), p. 312.


No explicit evidence survives for Ecclesiazusae’s dating. Its date of production, anyway, should be 391 (rather than 393 or 392) bc on the basis of historical references found in ll. 193-200. See J. C. Carrière, Le carnaval et la politique. Une introduction à la comédie grecque suivie d’un choix de fragments (Besançon: Presses Universitaires de Franche-Comté, 19832), pp. 177-182; M. Vetta, Aristofane. Le donne all’Assemblea (Milano: Mondadori, 1989), pp. xxx-xxxii; Sommerstein, Aristophanes: Ecclesiazusae, pp. 1-8.


This limits the truth of that stated by Ober and Strauss, Drama, Political Rhetoric,’ p. 269, according to which ‘[t]he plot (scil. in Ecclesiazusae) does not depend on continued deception, because the new regime was legally instituted’.


Ar. Ec. 944-945 κατὰ τὸν νόµον ταῦτα ποιεῖν / ἔστι δίκαιον, εἰ δηµοκρατούµεθα. Praxagora’s neighbour as well deludes himself that the reforms are instituted for the sake of democracy (Ar. Eccl. 631 καὶ δηµοτική γ᾿ ἡ γνώµη). On this passage, see, also, Lauriola in this volume (above, esp. p. 361).


Arist. Pol. 13167a40-1317b3 ὑπόθεσις µὲν οὖν τῆς δηµοκρατικῆς πολιτείας ἐλευθερία […]. ἐλευθερίας δὲ ἓν µὲν τὸ ἐν µέρει ἄρχεσθαι καὶ ἄρχειν. On the representation of democracy in Aristotle see D. Musti, Demokratía. Origini di un’idea (Bari: Laterza, 1995), pp. 273-294, pp. 289-290.


Cf. Ar. Ec. 246-247, 491, 500, 727, 835, 870 (in these last two cases Aristophanes makes use of the rare feminine στρατηγίς, found only in comedy [e.g., Pherecr. fr. 269 K.-A., on which see Sommerstein, Aristophanes: Ecclesiazusae, p. 9]). Justifiably, Sommerstein, Aristophanes: Ecclesiazusae, p. 161, observes that ‘it is possible that Praxagora’s position as sole general (whereas the male Athenian generals served as a board of ten) might seem to some spectators a sinister feature of her government’. See also A. H. Sommerstein, ‘Nephelokokkygia and Gynaikopolis: Aristophanes’ Dream Cities’, in M. H. Hansen (ed.), The Imaginary Polis. Symposium January 7-10, 2004. Acts of the Copenhagen Polis Centre vol. 7 (Copenhagen: The Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters, 2005), pp. 73-99, p. 84; A. H. Sommerstein, ‘An Alternative Democracy and an Alternative to Democracy in Aristophanic Comedy’, in U. Bultrighini (ed.), Democrazia e antidemocrazia nel mondo greco. Atti del Convegno internazionale di Studi (Chieti 9-11 aprile 2003) (Alessandria: Edizioni dell’Orso, 2005), pp. 195-207 (repr. cum add. in: Sommerstein, Talking about Laughter, pp. 204-222). See also below, n. 62.


Ar. Ec. 515 ὅ τι σοι δρῶσαι ξύµφορον ἡµεῖς δόξοµεν ὀρθῶς ὑπακούειν. As the commentators point out (Ussher, Aristophanes. Ecclesiazusae, p. 147; Sommerstein, Aristophanes: Ecclesiazusae, p. 184), the sentence is sinisterly ambiguous given that the pronoun σοι could be governed by δόξοµεν (‘we will seem to you’), ξύµφορον (‘what that is advantageous to you’) or ὑπακούειν (‘to obey you’). The last two cases amount to a declaration of subjugation to Praxagora.


Th. 5.98.1 (cf. 3.91.2; 5.84.2) ὑµεῖς (scil. Athenians) τῶν δικαίων λόγων ἡµᾶς (scil. Melians) ἐκβιβάσαντες τῷ ὑµετέρῳ ξυµφόρῳ ὑπακούειν πείθετε. The comparison is already found in Ussher Aristophanes. Ecclesiazusae, p. 147.


The sexual communism Praxagora proposes is indeed comic, despite the seriousness with which a similar project is presented in Plato’s Republic (456d). On the problem of the relationship between Aristophanes’ text and that of Plato, the balanced position offered by Sommerstein, ‘Nephelokokkygia and Gynaikopolis’, p. 92 n. 22 (complementing, if not correcting, Sommerstein, Aristophanes: Ecclesiazusae, pp. 13-18) seems preferable over indemonstrable historical reconstructions.


On public and private in the democratic ideology of 5th-century Athens see D. Musti, ‘Pubblico e privato nella democrazia periclea’, Quaderni Urbinati di Cultura Classica, 20 (1985), pp. 7-17; Musti Demokratía, pp. 14-19.


On the mythicization of Myronides and his battle of Oenophyta (Th. 1.108.2-3) see de Ste. Croix, The Origins, pp. 188-190, 315; Nouhaud, L’utilisation, p. 224.


Transl. by Sommerstein.


See D. Musti, ‘Dalla polemica delle Vespe all’utopia delle Ecclesiazuse’, in Perusino and Colantonio (eds.), La commedia greca e la storia, pp. 17-25, pp. 21-25.


Cf., e.g., D. 2.24, 26; 3.26, 30 etc. See Nouhaud, L’utilisation, pp. 67-70.


Transl. by Sommerstein.


Cf. Th. 1.70.2-3, 102.3; 3.88.5. See Musti, Storia Greca, p. 325.


See Vetta, Aristofane. Le donne al parlamento, p. 166. Ober and Strauss, Drama, Political Rhetoric, p. 253, also speak of ‘rhetorical appeal to the authority of past traditions’. On the propagandist slogan πάτριος πολιτεία see M. Ostwald, From Popular Sovereignty to the Sovereignty of Law. Law, Society, and Politics in Fifth-Century Athens (Berkeley – Los Angeles – London: University of California Press, 1986), pp. 387-411.


Cf. Paus. 2.20.8-10. A. M. Bowie, Aristophanes. Myth, Ritual and Comedy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1993), pp. 257-258 maintains that the legend of Telesilla is the mythical pattern upon which Ecclesiazusai is constructed. It is evident, however, that Praxagora’s role does not involve any military aspect, despite the title στρατηγός attributed to the protagonist (see above, n. 41).


See H. P. Foley, ‘The “Female Intruder” Reconsidered: Women in Aristophanes’ Lysistrata and Ecclesiazusae’, Classical Philology, 77 (1982), pp. 1-21, pp. 15-21.


See M. Sonnino, ‘Aristofane, Lisistrata 61-68: note critico-testuali e registiche’, Rivista di Filologia e istruzione Classica, 144 (2016), pp. 25-53, pp. 28-36.


I do not believe there is reason to doubt that Lysistrata pronounced these words, as Bonini has indicated in his editio princeps (E. Bonini, Ἐν τῇδε µικρᾷ βίβλῳ τάδ᾿ ἔνεστιν. Ἀριστοφάνους Θησµοφοριάζουσαι. Τοῦ αὐτοῦ Λυσιστράτη. In hoc parvo libro haec insunt. Aristophanis Cereris celebrantes. Eiusdem Lysistrate [Florentiae: Giunta, 1515, but actually 1516]), and as held by others, including: P. Händel, Formen und Darstellungsweisen in der aristophanischen Komödie (Heidelberg: Winter, 1963), pp. 164-165; Sommerstein, Aristophanes: Lysistrata, pp. 221-222; A. H. Sommerstein, ‘Nudity, Obscenity, and Power: Modes of Female Assertiveness in Aristophanes’, European Studies Journal, 17-18 (2000-2001), pp. 9-24 (repr. cum add. in: Sommerstein, Talking about Laughter, pp. 237-253, esp. pp. 244-245); Sommerstein, Nephelokokkygia and Gynaikopolis, p. 94 n. 39; N. G. Wilson, Aristophanis fabulae, ii, Oxford 2007, p. 63. Contra: Wilamowitz, Lysistrate, pp. 192-194; Henderson, Aristophanes. Lysistrata, pp. 214-215 (restated in: J. Henderson, Aristophanes. Birds, Lysistrata, Women at Thesmophoria [Cambridge Ms.- London: Harvard University Press, 2000], p. 436); C. F. Russo, Aristophanes. An Author for the Stage (London: Routledge 1994), pp. 170-172. Mastromarco ap. Mastromarco and Totaro, Aristofane. Commedie, pp. 428-429 n. 228, prefers to think that it was the Athenian delegate to return the women to their husbands.


See J. Morwood, ‘The Upside-down World of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata’, in D. Stuttard (ed.), Looking at Lysistrata. Eight Essays and a new Version of Aristophanes’ Provocative Comedy (Bristol: Bloomsbury, 2010), pp. 20-28, p. 25, from which the quote is taken.


This point, it seems to me, is not taken into due account by the more steadfast ‘carnivalists’: Carrière Le carnaval et la politique; W. Rösler, ‘Michail Bachtin e il “Carnevalesco” nell’antica Grecia’, in W. Rösler and B. Zimmermann, Carnevale e utopia nella Grecia antica (Bari: Levante, 1991, pp. 15-51); P. von Möllendorff, Grundlagen einer Ästhetik der Alten Komödie. Untersuchungen zu Aristophanes und Michail Bachtin (Tübingen: Gunter Narr Verlag, 1995); Ch. Platter, Aristophanes and the Carnival of Genres (Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 2007). For a summary of the use of Bakhtin’s categories in the study of ancient comedy see Ch. Platter, ‘Modern Theory and Aristophanes’, in P. Walsh (ed.), Brill’s Companion to the Reception of Aristophanes (Leiden – Boston: Brill 2016), pp. 22-43, pp. 32-36. For a close examination of the limits of a ‘mechanical’ application of the category ‘carnival’ in Aristophanes’ comedy see S. Goldhill, The Poet’s Voice. Essays on Poetics and Greek Literature (Cambridge – New York – Port Chester – Melbourne – Sydney: Cambridge University Press, 1991), pp. 176-201; L. E. Rossi, ‘La polis come protagonista eroico della commedia antica’, in Vv.Aa., Il teatro e la città. Poetica e politica nel dramma attico del quinto secolo. Atti del Convegno Internazionale Siracusa, 19-22 settembre 2001 (Palermo: Palumbo, 2003), pp. 11-28, p. 15. I add only that: a) the equation ‘carnival = humour disengaged from serious political purposes’ risks being more a product of the Bakhtinian classical philologists who deal with comedy, rather than of Bakhtin himself, for whom Aristophanes’ comedy was never of great interest (see Rösler, ‘Michail Bachtin’, p. 22); b) that not all of those who negate Aristophanes’ serious intention are necessarily carnivalists (such a definition, obviously, could not be said either of A. W. Gomme, ‘Aristophanes and Politics’, Classical Review, 52 [1938], pp. 97-109, nor to Heath, Political Comedy, even if, as a general rule, the opposite could be true); c) the same Carrière (on whose work see M. Bastin-Hammou, ‘Introduction. Le “Carnaval”, Trente ans aprés’, in M. Bastin-Hammou and Ch. Orfanos [eds.], Carnaval et comédie. Actes du colloque international organisé par l’ équipe plh-crata les 9-10 décembre 2009 à l’Université de Toulouse – Le Mirail [Toulouse: Presses universitaires de Franche-Comté, 2015], pp. 9-16) reaffirms that his was an ‘utilisation analogique du concept moderne de fête carnevalesque’ (Carriére, Le carnaval et la politique, p. 30), rather than a declaration of faith in a genetic nexus between ancient Κρόνια and Saturnalia, and the modern carnival.


M. Bakhtin, Rabelais and his World (Indiana: Indiana University Press, 19842 – ed. or. Moscow 1965), p. 7 (my emphasis). The entire introduction (Bakhtin, Rabelais, pp. 1-58), in any case, revolves around the idea of carnival as a permanent substitution of the real.


From M. R. Bracci (ed.), Tutti i trionfi, carri, mascherate o canti carnascialeschi andati per Firenze dal tempo del magnifico Lorenzo De’ Medici, fino all’anno 1559, parte prima (Lucca: F. M. Benedini, 1750), pp. 531-533: vv. 17-18, 25-28: ‘Voglion le donne diventar mariti, / Cercan portar le brache, e dominare; […] Li giovan voglion reggere il senato, / Gli esperti vecchj son posti in un canto (cf. Ar. Ach. 703-718); / Ogni bardassa far vuole il soldato etc.’ [The wives want to become husbands / to wear pants [like men] and take control / / The young want to be in charge of the Senate / and the old senators deposed; / Every catamite wants to be a soldier]. It is enough to remember that Astrateutoi ē Andrógynoi [Not-combatants or Effeminates] was the title of a lost drama by Eupolis (frr. 35-47 K.-A.), and Stratiotides [Soldieresses] (rather than Stratiotai [Soldiers]) a similar drama by Hermippus (frr. 51-60 K.-A.).


Such a near-carnival, incidentally, could create contrasts of light and shadow in the conclusion of this part of Aristophanes’ production, recently discussed in M. Napolitano, ‘Alcune riflessioni sui finali di Aristofane,’ in Taufer, Studi sulla commedia attica, pp. 81-102.


See Sommerstein, Nephelokokkygia and Gynaikopolis, pp. 79-84; Sommerstein, An Alternative Democracy, pp. 213-214. Peisethairos is called ἄρχων (Av. 1123: see N. Dunbar, Aristophanes. Birds, [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995], p. 595; Sommerstein, Nephelokokkygia and Gynaikopolis, p. 81), just as Praxagora is called στρατηγός (see above, n. 41). Yet, given that in Praxagora’s autocratic Athens it was possible to delude oneself into believing they were in a democracy (see above, n. 39), thus Peisethairos was able to convince Heracles that the fowl the former had cooked to please his guest had conspired ‘against the democratic birds’ (Av. 1584: τοῖς δηµοτικοῖς ὀρνέοις). See Sommerstein, Nephelokokkygia and Gynaikopolis, p. 83 (who justifiably emphasizes this verse’s importance. Contra: Dunbar, Aristophanes. Birds, p. 720, who speaks of ‘passing joke against the Athenians’).


For a close examination of the diverse opinions see E. Magnelli, ‘Sovversioni aristofanee. Rileggendo il finale degli Uccelli’, in A. Camerotto (ed.), Diafonie. Esercizi sul comico (Padova: s.a.r.g.o.n., 2007), pp. 111-128.


Sommerstein, Nephelokokkygia and Gynaikopolis, p. 73, considers the situation of Birds as quite similar to that of Ecclesiazusae, observing that if Peisethairos’ Nephelokokkygia is an imaginary city, the one reformed by Praxagora is, rather, ‘an Athens so totally altered that hardly any of its former civic structure is recognisable’. All true, obviously. But the point is: in Birds the action occurs outside Athens, in Ecclesiazusae it is the opposite!


See M. Rostovtzeff, The Social and Economic History of the Roman Empire. Revised by P. M. Fraser, i-ii (Oxford: Oxford University Press 19572), p. 2, who notes that plans for the redistribution of land (the traditional form of wealth) were so feared by the Athenian well-to-do bourgeois class, that, in 401 bc, a clause was introduced into the oath of the Heliasts, which forbade the putting of such an issue to vote. See also A. H. Sommerstein, The Comedies of Aristophanes, xi: Wealth (Warminster: Aris and Phillips, 2001), pp. 19-20 n. 83.


That Ecclesiazusae and Plutus, not unlike Aristophanes’ previous comedies, are based on the same basis, a brilliant idea turned into reality by a comic hero was demonstrated by A. H. Sommerstein, ‘Aristophanes and the Demon Poverty’, Classical Quarterly, 34 (1984), pp. 314-333 (repr. cum add. in E. Segal [ed.], Oxford Readings in Aristophanes [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996], pp. 252-281), who claims that the two dramas should be read as ironic. This does not detract from the difference between a return to the true Athens, in the older dramas, and the impossibility of escaping the carnivalesque fantasy world in Ecclesiazusae and Plutus.


For a balanced review of the question about ‘Aristophanes and Politics’ see Rossi ‘La polis come protagonista’, pp. 11-16; S. D. Olson, ‘Comedy, Politics, and Society’, in G. Dobrov (ed.), Brill’s Companion to the Study of Greek Comedy (Leiden – Boston: Brill, 2010), pp. 35-69. On serious aspects of Aristophanes’ theatre see Lauriola, Aristofane serio-comico.


See Olson, ‘Comedy, Politics, and Society’, p. 61 n. 28.


This paper, originally written in Italian, has been translated in English by Dr. Bar Zecharya.

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