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
The central decades of the twentieth century saw many a distinguished Hellenist reflecting on the concept of ‘heroism’ in Attic drama.1 As far as tragedy is concerned, the work of Bernard Knox on Sophocles has been especially influent – and deservedly so.2 In the field of Old Comedy, a major contribution came from the pen of Cedric Whitman, who, after two books devoted to Sophocles and Homer respectively, produced his most famous work under the title Aristophanes and the Comic Hero.3 That study had some merits, and, to be sure, many more flaws.4 At any rate, it turned out to be ‘undoubtedly a very important book’, as a reviewer endowed with the gift of foresight once wrote.5 Many ideas of Whitman’s were either ill-founded or too imaginative, and his overall interpretation of Aristophanic comedy did not stand close examination of the texts: but he had the merit of pointing out the role of ‘comic heroism’ as a constitutive element of Aristophanes’ plays. In the following ages, this topic has been dealt with from time to time,6 but no comprehensive re-assessment has been carried out. While it is undoubtedly true that some comedies of Aristophanes’ feature a ‘redresseur de torts’7 who has the power ‘to express the collective self-image’ and to achieve ‘something that ordinary people would have liked to achieve but could not’,8 a closer reading of all his extant plays will show (a) that even in his first period he exploited the ‘hero’-type in a number of ways, and (b) that Athenian politics and the Peloponnesian War had a deeper influence on ‘comic heroism’ than we used to think: in particular, I will argue that Birds – possibly Aristophanes’ absolute masterpiece – are a real turning point in this evolutive process. I will not engage in a detailed refutation of Whitman’s interpretations of either single passages or the meaning of a given play: this falls beyond the scope of my paper, and is, I think, not necessary at all. What I want to highlight is just a difference in our perspectives: while Whitman strived to extract affinity from diversity, trying to define what ‘heroism’ is and how it contributes to the very nature of comedy,9 I am rather concerned with the variety of Aristophanic ‘heroes’ (cunning or naive, successful or unsuccessful, joyful or cruel) in their relation to Athenian politics, and more specifically to the decline of Athenian democracy. I will not propose a new definition of ‘comic hero’, but will at least try to distinguish between characters who simply have an idea of any kind, like Bdelycleon in Wasps or Euripides in Thesmophoriazusae (let me say it clear: ‘protagonist’ does not invariably mean ‘hero’), and those (a) who really embody both the identity and the hopes of Athenian people, and (b) whose ideas and efforts produce a true change in society and/or politics. From this point of view, Dicaeopolis, in spite of all his lecherous and selfish behaviour, in fact becomes a comic hero. Bdelycleon, himself a far more dignified and respectable figure, hardly deserves such title.
Aristophanes’ first comedy, Banqueters (427
One year later, at the Lenaea of 424
The Clouds, first produced in 423
Years passed, and the Peace of Nicias faded very soon. Little remains of Aristophanes’ dramatic output between 420 and 415
ΗΡ. τὰ δὲ κρέα τοῦ ταῦτ᾿ ἐστίν; ΠΙ. ὄρνιθές τινες
ἐπανιστάµενοι τοῖς δηµοτικοῖσιν ὀρνέοις
(HERACLES) What kind of meat is this? (PEISETAERUS) Certain birds who have been found guilty of attempting to rebel against the democratic ones.
Here Peisetaerus subverts two traditional motifs of Old Comedy: the final banquet, recurring in many Aristophanic plays and still used by New Comedy poets, and the so called ‘Land of Plenty’, an escapist fantasy set in either wealthy, exotic countries or imaginary worlds.42 Cloudcuckootown was in fact planned to be a Land of Plenty, where one could ‘be overburdened with goods’ (κοπιᾶν ὑπὸ τῶν ἀγαθῶν, l. 735). What the audience would expect in answer to Heracles’ question is a detailed list of gastronomic delicacies, such as that of Acharnians 1085-1131. Such expectations are utterly frustrated: Peisetaerus does not describe the food at all, contenting himself with a ‘political’ statement on those birds’ guilt. Are the spectators to trust his words? Some of them will doubt, and their doubts will presumably increase after Peisetaerus’ further comment at ll. 1688-1689:
Well, these birds have been butchered43 at the right time for the wedding.
In all likelihood, the alleged anti-democratic Putsch did not even take place: it was just a pretext to kill and roast them.44 The birds’ champion has become their ruthless, cannibal exploiter.45 From this point on, Peisetaerus’ φύσις τυραννική emerges clear and unrestrained, and the audience can now understand what his ambiguous behaviour ultimately aimed at. The Messenger, at l. 1708, celebrates him as τύραννος, and then (ll. 1712-1714) announces that he
is arriving with a wife46 whose beauty is impossible to describe, brandishing the thunderbolt, Zeus’ winged weapon.
The thunderbolt clearly evokes Salmoneus, the impious mythical king pretending to master Zeus’ instrument of power,47 while ll. 1712-1713 could recall the most famous tyrant of Athenian history, Peisistratus (similar to Peisetaerus even in his name),48 who, according to Herodotus 1.60, after his first exile came back to Athens on a chariot carrying with him a pretty tall woman disguised as Athena.49 Peisetaerus is now a tyrant for all intents and purposes. In the very last line of Birds, he is even called ‘O highest of gods!’ (δαιµόνων ὑπέρτατε, l. 1765). He enjoys total success – but not the kind of success the audience expected. In the first half of the play, his genial idea suggested that he could become a greater Trygaeus, a hero of cosmic, not just Hellenic, significance: when all is said and done, he turns out to be the exact opposite of the protagonist of Peace. In the spring of 414
After the disquieting Peisetaerus (and the horrible news of the Sicilian disaster in 413), comic heroes will not entirely disappear from Aristophanic comedy, yet their nature will never be the same again. Lysistrata, produced in 411 shortly before the oligarchic revolution,50 features an extraordinary protagonist: Lysistrata is intelligent, resolute, eloquent, and truly concerned with public good. From this point of view, she is possibly the last ‘comic hero’ of the old stamp, and surely one of the best, ‘an advocate of traditional values for all Greeks male and female’.51 Nonetheless, she is untypical for two reasons. One one side, she is a woman (albeit ‘the most manly/courageous of all’: πασῶν ἀνδρειοτάτη, l. 1108), and decided to take action just because men proved no longer capable of doing the right thing: more than Aristophanes’ alleged ‘feminism’,52 the play reveals his very low opinion of his male fellow-citizens. On the other side, the social subversion that she created and defended is a temporary solution: gynecocracy ends as soon as the ‘normal’ democratic system can be safely restored in a peaceful Greece. Unlike Dicaeopolis and Trygaeus (for the better) or Peisetaerus (for the worse), she is not seeking to impose a permanent new order. At any rate, her enterprise, short-lived as it may be, is quite utopian: ‘did Aristophanes or anyone else really believe that peace, however desirable, was to be had in 411 without concessions which would weaken and impoverish the Athenians more than they would tolerate?’53
No proper ‘hero’ appears in Thesmophoriazusae (produced in 411 as well, few months later than Lysistrata):54 both Euripides and his old kinsman are too clumsy and untimely to achieve any important result, though the former, at the end of the comedy, manages to rescue the latter in a very entertaining way. It must be said that the play is less concerned with Athenian politics than most of the other extant ones. In Frogs (405
All in all, I hope to have demonstrated that the typological development of Aristophanes’ comic heroes cannot just be explained in terms of artistic variation. The influence of fifth-century politics on this literary theme is deeper and more complex than Whitman and other scholars believed. After the bitter experience of Birds, comic heroism has to evolve into new forms. Good ideas may now come from a clever woman (Lysistrata; Praxagora’s ones are not so appealing), a cowardly god (Dionysus), or even Apollo’s shrine (in Plutus), no longer from the Attic ‘common man’ of the earlier plays. The political decline of Athens during and after the Peloponnesian War appears to have altered Aristophanes’ (alleged) trust in some kind of ‘saviour’ emerging from the erratic mass of Athenian male citizens.
I express my gratitude to my co-editor and dear friend, Rosanna Lauriola, for her advice, help, and great patience. Translations of Greek passages (very few, in fact, and very short) are mine; so are the shortcomings still lurking in these pages.
B. M. W. Knox, Oedipus at Thebes (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1957), and The Heroic Temper. Studies in Sophoclean Tragedy (Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 1964). Much has been written on this subject after Knox, and some theories of his are now regarded with skepticism (see, e.g., P. J. Finglass, Sophocles. Ajax [Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2011], pp. 42-46): yet our appreciation of the ‘heroic temper’ in, say, an Antigone on an Ajax still owes much to Knox’s work.
Sophocles: A Study of Heroic Humanism (Cambridge,
See the review by C. Austin, Gnomon, 37 (1965), pp. 618-620, whose strictures were well deserved indeed. K. Dover, Classical Review, 16 (1966), pp. 159-161 offers a more balanced assessment.
C. J. Herington, Phoenix, 19 (1965), pp. 314-323: p. 314. See also H. L. Stow, American Journal of Philology, 87 (1966), pp. 111-113.
Cf. J. Henderson, ‘Comic Hero versus Political Elite’, in A. H. Sommerstein, S. Halliwell, J. Henderson and B. Zimmermann (eds.), Tragedy, Comedy and the Polis (Bari: Levante, 1993), pp. 307-319; T. Pappas, ‘Le sauveur chez Aristophane: approche anthropologique’, Hellenika, 43 (1993), pp. 293-309; F. Jouan, ‘Héros comique, héros tragique, héros satyrique’, in P. Thiercy and M. Menu (eds.), Aristophane: la langue, la scène, la cité (Bari: Levante, 1997), pp. 215-228; B. Zimmermann, ‘Aristophanes’, in M. Fontaine and A. C. Scafuro (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Greek and Roman Comedy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), pp. 132-159: pp. 145-147. On the possible links between comic heroism and popular magic, see A. Bierl, ‘Le “chamanisme” et la comédie ancienne. Recours générique à un atavisme et guérison (avec une application à l’exemple de la Paix d’Aristophane)’, Methodos, 7 (2007) (https://methodos.revues.org/625). I could not find in Italian libraries Pappas’ recent monograph Ἀριστοφάνης. Ὁ Ποιητὴς καὶ τὸ Ἔργο του (Athens: Gutenberg, 2016): from the review by A. Fountoulakis, Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2017.05.48 (http://bmcr.brynmawr.edu/2017/2017-05-48.html), I learn that he deals with comic heroism in Chapter 3 (pp. 111-151). R. M. Torrance, The Comic Hero (Cambridge,
‘Old Comedy is a heroic form. However it may comprise political or social satire and all the rest, these do not define it […]. It is the heroic dimension, and the nature of the comic hero, which are decisive’ (Aristophanes and the Comic Hero, p. 24).
A. C. Cassio, Aristofane. Banchettanti (Δαιταλῆς): i frammenti (Pisa: Giardini, 1977); M. Pellegrino, Aristofane. Frammenti (Lecce: Pensa Multimedia, 2015), pp. 138-167.
See Pellegrino, Aristofane. Frammenti, pp. 69-82, quoting previous literature. On the possible role of Dionysus as a comic would-be sailor, cf. especially J. Starkey, ‘Soldiers and Sailors in Aristophanes’ Babylonians’, Classical Quarterly, 63 (2013), pp. 501-510.
A recent caveat, together with important methodological remarks, in S. D. Olson, ‘Cratinus’ Cyclops – and Others’, Dionysus ex Machina, 5 (2014), pp. 55-69.
Even ‘he who makes the polis just’ (-πολις, not -πολίτης), with C. F. Russo, Aristofane autore di teatro (Firenze: Sansoni, 19842), p. 61. On his name see C. Bailey, ‘Who Played ‘Dicaeopolis’?’, in Greek Poetry and Life. Essays Presented to Gilbert Murray on His Seventieth Birthday (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1936), pp. 231-239: pp. 236-238; S. D. Olson, Aristophanes. Acharnians (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), pp. 179-180; R. Lauriola, Aristofane serio-comico. Paideia e geloion: con una lettura degli Acarnesi (Pisa:
Olson, Aristophanes. Acharnians, p. 113, rightly points out the similar πρᾶγµα δεινὸν καὶ µέγα at Pax 403 and Thesm. 581. But in those passages, πρᾶγµα means ‘trouble’, ‘disgrace’, and has nothing to do with the protagonist’s deeds: at Ach. 128, on the contrary, ‘great’ has both heroic and ethical nuances (cf. Camerotto, ‘Come diventare un eroe’, p. 278 with n. 97).
K. J. Dover, Aristophanic Comedy (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1972), p. 87, adding that ‘in this respect he is strikingly different from Trygaios in Peace’.
Cf., e.g., Lauriola, Aristofane serio-comico, pp. 15-36, 151-174 and 193-228. Olson, Aristophanes. Acharnians, pp. xl-lii is a bit more skeptical.
Not unlikely at all: cf. G. Mastromarco, ‘Pubblico e memoria teatrale nell’Atene di Aristofane’, in Thiercy and Menu, Aristophane, pp. 529-548; M. Revermann, ‘The Competence of Theatre Audiences in Fifth- and Fourth-Century Athens’, The Journal of Hellenic Studies, 126 (2006), pp. 99-124.
As Z. P. Biles and S. D. Olson, Aristophanes. Wasps (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), pp. xlvi-xlvii observe, if Demos (i.e. the Athenian people) ‘regularly insists on letting someone else run his affairs, one can reasonably assume, he will eventually be fooled again, a point Aristophanes’ play declines to pursue in favour of a nominally happy ending’. Similar (and convincing) arguments in M. Napolitano, ‘Alcune riflessioni sui finali di Aristofane’, in M. Taufer (ed.), Studi sulla commedia attica (Freiburg i. B.: Rombach, 2015), pp. 81-101, p. 90, and S. Pirrotta, ‘Triumph or Hilarity? Some Reflections on the Structure and Function of the Final Scenes in Aristophanic Comedy’, Trends in Classics, 8 (2016), pp. 33-54, pp. 36-45. Different interpretations are summarized by M. F. Di Bari, Scene finali di Aristofane. Cavalieri Nuvole Tesmoforiazuse (Lecce: Pensa Multimedia, 2013), pp. 44-49.
Even Whitman, Aristophanes and the Comic Hero, p. 120 acknowledged this. See K. J. Dover, Aristophanes. Clouds (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968), pp. xxiii-xxv (rightly noting that during the years 424-422
See, e.g., D. M. MacDowell, Aristophanes. Wasps (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971), pp. 7-8; Paduano in E. Fabbro and G. Paduano, Aristofane. Le Vespe (Milano:
Bdelycleon’s candidacy is most recently championed by M. J. Schere, ‘El problema del héroe cómico en Avispas’, Synthesis, 21 (2014) (http://www.synthesis.fahce.unlp.edu.ar/article/view/Synthesisv21a07). L. 56, ‘do not expect from us something too grand’ (µηδὲν παρ᾿ ἡµῶν προσδοκᾶν λίαν µέγα: italics mine), should be taken into account here. ‘Xanthias and Sosias put Aristophanes’ poetic cards on the table […]: the current play will not aspire to the high-minded and adventurous themes undertaken in earlier (sc. Aristophanic) comedies’ (Biles and Olson, Aristophanes. Wasps, p. xxix).
On the historical background of the play, see S. D. Olson, Aristophanes. Peace (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), pp. xxv-xxxi.
A paratragic passage, maybe reminiscent – as commentators know: cf. M. Platnauer, Aristophanes. Peace (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964), p. 141 – of Euripides’ notorious ἔσωσά σ᾿, ὡς ἴσασιν Ἑλλήνων ὅσοι (Medea 476). The final κινεῖν τε καὶ καθεύδειν, ‘screw and sleep’ (l. 867: probably not βινεῖν, see the parallel at l. 341 with N. G. Wilson, Aristophanea. Studies on the Text of Aristophanes [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007], p. 105), amusingly contrasts with the lofty tone of the preceding lines. On Trygaeus’ ‘Pan-Hellenic’ perspective, see also Dover, Aristophanic Comedy, pp. 136-139; Camerotto, ‘Come diventare un eroe’, pp. 266 and 277.
When he tried to use a thin ladder, he ‘fell down and broke his head’ (ξυνετρίβη τῆς κεφαλῆς καταρρυείς, l. 71).
His servant’s words at l. 90, ὦ δέσποτ᾿ ἄναξ, turn out to have a proleptic function. As Platnauer, Aristophanes. Peace, p. 74, remarks, ‘the slave regards his master, now on his way to heaven, as already deified’ (a more skeptical view in Olson, Aristophanes. Peace, p. 85). Whitman, Aristophanes and the Comic Hero, p. 116 remarked that ‘Trygaeus is the only figure in Greek literature who climbs the heavens by his own effort, puts the gods in their places, and walks home’.
A new critical edition with detailed commentary in F. Delneri, I culti misterici stranieri nei frammenti della commedia attica antica (Bologna: Pàtron, 2006), pp. 69-124, citing previous literature. Cf. also Pellegrino, Aristofane. Frammenti, pp. 327-336.
So, e.g., Whitman, Aristophanes and the Comic Hero, pp. 167-199; A. H. Sommerstein, The Comedies of Aristophanes, vi: Birds (Warminster: Aris&Phillips, 1987), pp. 3-5; D. M. MacDowell, Aristophanes and Athens. An Introduction to the Plays (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), pp. 221-228; N. Dunbar, Aristophanes. Birds (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995), pp. 1-6 and 11-14, and ‘Sophia in Aristophanes’ Birds’, Scripta Classica Israelica, 15 (1996), pp. 61-71. Further bibliography in 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: pp. 113-114 with nn. 11-14.
This exegetical path was first trodden by J. W. Süvern, Über Aristophanes Vögel (Berlin, 1827). Cf. also J. Dalfen, ‘Politik und Utopie in den Vögeln des Aristophanes (Zu Ar., Vögel 451-638)’, Bollettino dell’Istituto di Filologia Greca, 2 (1975), pp. 268-285; Zanetto, in G. Zanetto and D. Del Corno, Aristofane. Gli Uccelli (Milano: Mondadori, 1987), pp. 307-309; E. Corsini, ‘Gli “Uccelli” di Aristofane: utopia o satira politica?’, in R. Uglione (ed.), La città ideale nella tradizione classica e biblico-cristiana (Torino: Regione Piemonte, 1987), pp. 57-136; A. Nicev, ‘L’énigme des Oiseaux d’Aristophane’, Euphrosyne, 17 (1989), pp. 9-30 (a sound, intelligent paper, deserving more attention than it has received hitherto); T. K. Hubbard, The Mask of Comedy: Aristophanes and the Intertextual Parabasis (Ithaca,
Πεισέταιρος (Bergk’s excellent emendation), not Πεισθέταιρος/Πισθέταιρος. See B. Marzullo, ‘L’interlocuzione negli “Uccelli” di Aristofane’, Philologus, 114 (1970), pp. 181-194, pp. 181-183; Dunbar, Aristophanes. Birds, pp. 128-129; Kanavou, Aristophanes’ Comedy of Names, pp. 105-110.
See E. W. Scharffenberger, ‘Peisetaerus’ ‘Satyric’ Treatment of Iris: Aristophanes Birds 1253-6’, Journal of Hellenic Studies, 115 (1995), pp. 172-173; E. Fabbro, ‘Pistetero vs Zeus: strategie di assalto al cielo’, Dioniso, N.S. 1 (2013), pp. 97-128, pp. 107-111.
Cf. G. Bonnin, ‘Mélos face à l’appétit athénien (426-416 a.C.): à propos de la “faim mélienne” d’Aristophane’, Revue des Études Anciennes, 112 (2010), pp. 333-351; Fabbro, ‘Pistetero vs Zeus’, p. 100 with n. 15.
See M. Pellegrino, Utopie e immagini gastronomiche nei frammenti dell’archaia (Bologna: Pàtron, 2000); M. Farioli, Mundus alter. Utopie e distopie nella commedia greca antica (Milano: Vita & Pensiero, 2001), pp. 27-137.
Note the sinister κατακόπτω, here ‘to butcher’ rather than just ‘to kill’ (cf. Dunbar, Aristophanes. Birds, p. 738). For Peisetaerus they are just food, not fellow-citizens.
Nicev, ‘L’énigme des Oiseaux’, p. 22; A. H. Sommerstein, ‘An Alternative Democracy and an Alternative to Democracy in Aristophanic Comedy’, in U. Bultrighini (ed.), Democrazia e antidemocrazia nel mondo greco (Alessandria: Edizioni dell’Orso, 2005), pp. 195-207, p. 203.
N. Dunbar, ‘Aristophane, ornithophile et ornithophage’, in Thiercy and Menu, Aristophane, pp. 113-129: pp. 118-120 is surely right in noting that we should not infer from this play that Aristophanes did not enjoy eating birds: but I cannot agree with M. S. Silk, Aristophanes and the Definition of Comedy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), p. 289 n. 68, when he writes that Peisetaerus’ bird-cooking ‘has no realist-logical significance: the joke is at the expense of such logic, not at the expense of ‘the birds’ themselves’. It is Peisetaerus, not the poet, who has become the birds’ leader and, to some extent at least, a bird himself: here he is behaving like a true (not metaphorical!) δηµοβόρος βασιλεύς.
Basileia, a personification of Zeus’ power now transferred to the birds – better said, to their pretended tutor. See H.-J. Newiger, Metapher und Allegorie. Studien zu Aristophanes (München: Beck, 1957), pp. 92-103; Kanavou, Aristophanes’ Comedy of Names, p. 125.
A mythical figure well known in fifth-century Athens: Sophocles, Euripides and Astydamas the Younger all wrote on either Salmoneus or his daughter Tyro (see Magnelli, ‘Sovversioni aristofanee’, p. 118 n. 41).
As noted by C. Bonner, ‘Sovereignty and the Ambitious Hero’, American Journal of Philology, 64 (1943), pp. 208-210, p. 210; cf. also K. J. Reckford, Aristophanes’ Old-and-New Comedy (Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 1987), p. 333, and A. M. Bowie, Aristophanes: Myth, Ritual and Comedy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), p. 165.
This was suggested, rightly in my view, by Bonner, ‘Sovereignty and the Ambitious Hero’: cf. more recently Bowie, Aristophanes, p. 165, and now C. Anderson and T. K. Dix, ‘Prometheus and the Basileia in Aristophanes’ Birds’, Classical Journal, 102 (2006-2007), pp. 321-327. More details and further literature in Magnelli, ‘Sovversioni aristofanee’, p. 118.
But probably written in the previous year: see S. D. Olson, ‘Lysistrata’s Conspiracy and the Politics of 412
For a sensibile criticism of modern feminist readings of Lysistrata, see Mastromarco in G. Mastromarco and P. Totaro, Commedie di Aristofane, ii (Torino:
Prato in C. Prato and D. Del Corno, Aristofane. Le donne alle Tesmoforie (Milano: Mondadori, 2001), pp. xi-xvii; C. Austin and S. D. Olson, Aristophanes. Thesmophoriazusae (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), pp. xxxiii-xxxvi. On a second version of the play, staged at least two years later, see F.-S. Karachalios, ‘Aristophanes’ Lost Thesmophoriazusae Revisited: on the Date and Plot’, Leeds International Classical Studies, 5 (2006) (https://web.archive.org/web/20141129161242/http://lics.leeds.ac.uk/2006/200602.pdf).
On this character see M. Telò, Eupolidis Demi (Firenze: Le Monnier, 2007), pp. 54-61. Aristophanes’ Gerytades (shortly before 405
Nan Dunbar, in her review in Journal of Hellenic Studies, 86 (1966), pp. 182-183, rightly criticized Whitman for excluding these two plays from his analysis: ‘might not this debatable contrast have been usefully examined in terms of the presence or absence of this ‘central heroic figure’?’.
Sonnino’s contribution to this volume provides a detailed (and convincing) analysis of the differences between the two plays.
That she, oddily enough, disappears after l. 727 has to do with structure and compositional technique, not with ideology or characterization. See Vetta in M. Vetta and D. Del Corno, Aristofane. Le donne all’assemblea (Milano: Mondadori, 1989), pp. xxii-xxv.
N. W. Slater, Spectator Politics: Metatheatre and Performance in Aristophanes (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002), pp. 228-232. Similarly, e.g., MacDowell, Aristophanes and Athens, pp. 322-323 (‘a delightful dream’); A. Capra, Aristofane. Donne al Parlamento (Roma: Carocci, 2010), especially pp. 28-31.
See R. G. Ussher, Aristophanes. Ecclesiazusae (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973), pp. xv-xx. The most recent and detailed attempt is that of L. Canfora, La crisi dell’utopia. Aristofane contro Platone (Roma and Bari: Laterza, 2014).
On this point, I totally agree with the late Massimo Vetta (Aristofane. Le donne all’assemblea, pp. xxiv-xxv); cf. also Thiercy, ‘Utopie et contre utopie’, pp. 235-238. H. Flashar, ‘Zur Eigenart des aristophanischen Spätwerks’, Poetica, 1 (1967), pp. 154-175, remains pivotal.
A traditional, widespread folkloric motif (see Bowie, Aristophanes, p. 278 n. 44). Frankly speaking, Apollo’s suggestion was not very original. All jokes aside, the parallel of Knights easily comes to mind.