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Laughter as/at the Rhetoric of Democracy
Unformatted Document Text:  14 cities, working at a mill. 65 If such reconstructions are accurate, then the hostile reaction to Babylonians is hardly surprising, given the play’s rather direct critique of Athenian imperialism in front of Athens’ allied cities / imperial subjects. 66 At the very least, the scene indicates the propensity of Aristophanic comedy to critique the city and its practices, and the potential for such critiques to be met with hostility. What Dikaiopolis, and the poet, will present to the city of Athens will not be a false eulogy, but rather, critical ideas that might be shocking to those who hear them. In preparing himself for his defense speech and his critique of the city’s war policies, Dikaiopolis goes to the house of Euripides in order to deck himself out in the tragic raiment of a beggar. In a literal sense, Dikaiopolis dons the tragic garb of Telephus in hopes of concealing from the hostile chorus the truth of his identity. Figuratively, Aristophanes adopts the authority of tragic poetry in his attempt to educate the citizens of Athens and in doing so, claims a place for comic poetry as a rival to tragic poetry. As it is constructed, the entire scene offers the audience a view of political persuasion in action, one that exposes the means by which politicians manipulate the emotions of their audience, flattering and deceiving the citizenry of Athens to pursue a war that was, at least from the perspective of farmers such as Dikaiopolis, contrary to their own best interests; it also reveals the techniques that tragedy employs to stir an emotional response within its audience. At the same time, Aristophanes shows comic poetry engaging with these same techniques, demonstrating, rather metatheatrically, how Dikiaopolis goes about deceiving the Acharnian chorus. Nevertheless, it is a form of deception that is, oddly enough, utterly transparent; while the chorus might be ignorant of Dikaiopolis’ ruse, the audience in the theater is fully aware of the protagonist’s actions and motivations. As a whole, the scene performs, quite ingeniously, the claim that Dikiaopolis makes for comic poetry’s ability to educate the city. By showing the audience the techniques by which they might be deceived, the comic poet educates the audience to be better spectators, both in the theater, and in the Assembly and law-courts. 67 Aristophanes’ rivalry with political oratory is indicative of a similar pattern. In the Knights, Aristophanes’ biting satire of the politician Cleon, the poet allows us to draw certain crucial comparisons between Cleon’s upstart political rival, the Sausage-Seller, and the poet himself. Both men are new to their respective scenes, the Sausage- Seller having been taken just that morning from the agora and thrust into the political spotlight while the poet is engaged in the task of producing his own play for the first time. Moreover, the arrivals of both the politician and poet have been prophesied after a succession of politicians and comic poets, respectively. Hence, the comic poet is cast as competing both with his poetic rivals and the politicians for the affections of the dêmos. Yet, as the play progresses, we learn that this competition is heavily one-sided. Politicians like Cleon seek only their own private interest; they flatter, manipulate, and deceive the people in order to advance these interests; and they succeed, for the 65 For attempts to reconstruct the plot of Babylonians, see Norwood (1930) and Henderson (2008). 66 At the City Dionsyia festival, where Babylonians was produced in 426, representatives from the allied cities would be in attendance, and would present their tribute payments to officials of the city. For general accounts of the pre-performance rituals at the City Dionysia, see Pickard-Cambridge (1968) and Goldhill (1990) and (2000). 67 A number of scholars have written on the metatheatrical aspects of Aristophanic comedy. Dobrov (2001) is mostly concerned with the metatheatrical relationship between Aristophanic comedy and Greek tragedy. While Slater (2002) is more concerned with the political dimensions of metatheatricality, he focuses mainly on the ways in which Aristophanic comedy performs, and makes visible, the act of theatrical production.

Authors: Lombardini, John.
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background image
14
cities, working at a mill.
65
If such reconstructions are accurate, then the hostile reaction to Babylonians is hardly
surprising, given the play’s rather direct critique of Athenian imperialism in front of Athens’ allied cities / imperial
subjects.
66
At the very least, the scene indicates the propensity of Aristophanic comedy to critique the city and its
practices, and the potential for such critiques to be met with hostility. What Dikaiopolis, and the poet, will present
to the city of Athens will not be a false eulogy, but rather, critical ideas that might be shocking to those who hear
them.
In preparing himself for his defense speech and his critique of the city’s war policies, Dikaiopolis goes to
the house of Euripides in order to deck himself out in the tragic raiment of a beggar. In a literal sense, Dikaiopolis
dons the tragic garb of Telephus in hopes of concealing from the hostile chorus the truth of his identity.
Figuratively, Aristophanes adopts the authority of tragic poetry in his attempt to educate the citizens of Athens and
in doing so, claims a place for comic poetry as a rival to tragic poetry. As it is constructed, the entire scene offers
the audience a view of political persuasion in action, one that exposes the means by which politicians manipulate the
emotions of their audience, flattering and deceiving the citizenry of Athens to pursue a war that was, at least from
the perspective of farmers such as Dikaiopolis, contrary to their own best interests; it also reveals the techniques that
tragedy employs to stir an emotional response within its audience. At the same time, Aristophanes shows comic
poetry engaging with these same techniques, demonstrating, rather metatheatrically, how Dikiaopolis goes about
deceiving the Acharnian chorus. Nevertheless, it is a form of deception that is, oddly enough, utterly transparent;
while the chorus might be ignorant of Dikaiopolis’ ruse, the audience in the theater is fully aware of the
protagonist’s actions and motivations. As a whole, the scene performs, quite ingeniously, the claim that Dikiaopolis
makes for comic poetry’s ability to educate the city. By showing the audience the techniques by which they might
be deceived, the comic poet educates the audience to be better spectators, both in the theater, and in the Assembly
and law-courts.
67
Aristophanes’ rivalry with political oratory is indicative of a similar pattern. In the Knights, Aristophanes’
biting satire of the politician Cleon, the poet allows us to draw certain crucial comparisons between Cleon’s upstart
political rival, the Sausage-Seller, and the poet himself. Both men are new to their respective scenes, the Sausage-
Seller having been taken just that morning from the agora and thrust into the political spotlight while the poet is
engaged in the task of producing his own play for the first time. Moreover, the arrivals of both the politician and
poet have been prophesied after a succession of politicians and comic poets, respectively. Hence, the comic poet is
cast as competing both with his poetic rivals and the politicians for the affections of the dêmos. Yet, as the play
progresses, we learn that this competition is heavily one-sided. Politicians like Cleon seek only their own private
interest; they flatter, manipulate, and deceive the people in order to advance these interests; and they succeed, for the
65
For attempts to reconstruct the plot of Babylonians, see Norwood (1930) and Henderson (2008).
66
At the City Dionsyia festival, where Babylonians was produced in 426, representatives from the allied cities
would be in attendance, and would present their tribute payments to officials of the city. For general accounts of the
pre-performance rituals at the City Dionysia, see Pickard-Cambridge (1968) and Goldhill (1990) and (2000).
67
A number of scholars have written on the metatheatrical aspects of Aristophanic comedy. Dobrov (2001) is
mostly concerned with the metatheatrical relationship between Aristophanic comedy and Greek tragedy. While
Slater (2002) is more concerned with the political dimensions of metatheatricality, he focuses mainly on the ways in
which Aristophanic comedy performs, and makes visible, the act of theatrical production.


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