Here at Balladeer’s Blog I’ve been reviewing ancient Greek comedies for years and a fair amount of people have recently asked me why I didn’t take the traditional view of Aristophanes’ comedy The Birds. That traditional view claims that The Birds was written at least partially as a commentary on the failed military expedition to Sicily.
FOR MY EXAMINATION OF THE BIRDS CLICK HERE
ANSWER: I omitted any reference to the Sicilian Expedition from my blog post on The Birds for a variety of reasons. For starters, it’s been covered to death by others who INSIST that that is the main subject of the comedy, so there’s no lack of alternate sources who cover that particular angle.
Next, I disagree with the notion that The Birds had much – if anything – to do with the disasters suffered by the Athenian forces in Sicily. It all comes back to my overall view that too many people force interpretations into Aristophanes’ comedies just because he’s the only ancient Greek comedian whose plays have survived in something resembling complete form.
Let’s revisit my usual spiel about the way most study of Aristophanes’ comedies takes place in a virtual vacuum of “All Aristophanes and nothing BUT Aristophanes.” Much of that is understandable since the other comedians’ works came down to us only in fragmentary form.
As I’ve made clear in my examinations of comedies by Eupolis, Cratinus and others it really opens your mind about the entirety of Attic Old Comedy to read the many, many academic works analyzing the fragments of the other comedians’ works. Too few people do this, I guess because most people aren’t as boring as I am. Continue reading
Here’s a rerun of Balladeer’s Blog’s examination of the Ancient Greek Comedy called The Knights by Aristophanes. For background info on ancient Greek comedies see my original post on the topic: https://glitternight.com/2011/09/22/at-long-last-my-ancient-greek-comedy-posts-begin/
This comedy deals with the still-relevant situation in which honest people stand no chance against vile, corrupt demagogues.
In The Knights Aristophanes pioneered a new sub-genre of Attic Old Comedy: the Demagogue Comedy. The villain of this masterpiece of political satire was a figure called the Paphlagonian, who was patterned on Cleon, a notorious Athenian politician of the time period. I’ll have Continue reading
Balladeer’s Blog presents another examination of an ancient Greek political satire.
TAXIARCHOI (Tax Collectors) – By Eupolis. Tax Day is the most appropriate day to examine this comedy because its premise serves as a pointed reminder of the inherent ugliness in all taxation – that the power to impose and collect taxes is, ultimately, backed up by the use of force. (If you doubt me go without paying your personal property taxes. Then we’ll discuss how much you truly “own” your home or your car.)
In Taxiarchoi the god Dionysus is depicted joining the title military unit. Those Taxiarchoi units would periodically collect the “taxes” or – in its most honest form – “tribute” from the various regions, not only of Athens proper but of the Athenian subject states. Military units were necessary for such tasks for the reasons you would expect – attempted resistance on the part of those being taxed and/or attempted robbery by bands of thieves after the taxes had been collected.
Sometimes a particular community might try to poor-mouth their circumstances and provide the taxiarchs with less money than had been assessed against them. In such cases the officer in charge was empowered to either seize portable property to make up the difference or to ransack the town and its vicinity to determine if the citizens were simply hiding their wealth. Continue reading
With Boycott-mania sweeping the country what better time for this look at the fragmentary remains of this ancient Greek Comedy by Aristophanes?
Ancient Greek Merchant Ship
Balladeer’s Blog presents another examination of an ancient Greek political satire. In this case it is one of those works of Aristophanes which have survived only in very fragmentary condition.
Merchant Ships was written and publicly staged in approximately 424 B.C. to 421 B.C. according to the available data. It was another of Aristophanes’ comedies protesting the pointlessness of the Greek city-states warring among themselves instead of uniting against the encroachments of the Persian Empire.
I can’t help but view this particular comedy in light of my own country’s current plight of having the rival criminal gangs called the Democratic and Republican Parties pointlessly rob the country blind and run it into the ground while virtually ignoring external threats.
In this comedy the captains of two separate merchant ships – one from Athens and one from their foe Sparta – have grown weary of the pointless conflict and make a separate peace with each other. They and their crew members get to spend the play enjoying the food and drink from their cargoes and living out a metaphorical return to the prosperous days before the Peloponnesian War when peace reigned among the various Greek city-states.
Franchises aka Merchant Ships
For a modern-day adaptation (as opposed to a straight translation) the situation could be depicted by having a Chick Fil-A restaurant right next to a Starbucks coffee shop. The managers and employees of these stereotypically Republican (Chick Fil-A) and stereotypically Democratic (Starbucks) establishments could grow tired of the political feuding, especially since both political parties often call for boycotts of the opposing business. Continue reading
Balladeer’s Blog presents another look at an ancient Greek Comedy. This time around it’s one written by Eupolis who – along with Aristophanes and Cratinus – was one of the Big Three of Attic Old Comedy.
MARIKAS (c 421 B.C.) – This was the second comedy to emerge in the new subgenre of Attic Old Comedy called “the Demagogue Comedy”. Aristophanes led the way a few years earlier with The Knights, his comedy attacking the politician Cleon. The play Marikas finds Eupolis attacking the demagogue Hyperbolus, whose reputation for character assassination by way of overstatement lives on in our language by way of the word “hyperbole”.
As with most ancient Greek comedies Marikas has survived only in fragmentary form. Those fragments, along with contemporary references in surviving works, provide what is known about the play. Marikas, the title character, was used by Eupolis to represent the politician Hyperbolus the same way Aristophanes had used the Paphlagonian to represent Cleon in The Knights.
The ancient Greek comedies made a point of breaking the fourth wall on a regular basis (despite the way so many people have convinced themselves that that is a “postmodern” development) and Marikas opened up with a character assuring the audience that the play they were about to see was NOT just a rehashing of The Knights. Continue reading
Anteia was written by the comic poet Philyllius. This comic poet’s career seems to have spanned approximately from the 410s BCE to 390 BCE. One of his comedies won 1st prize at a Lenaea festival in the 390s and he won 1st prize at an unknown Dionysia. His fellow comedian Strattis credited him with being the first Attic Old Comic to use real torches on stage.
My favorite random line from Philyllius’ fragments: “The most important element of health is to breathe clean and unsullied air.”
ANTEIA – This comedy was an example of the sub-genre of Attic Old Comedy called Hetaera Plays. The term hetaera is often lazily translated as “prostitute” but the reality was a bit more complex. I’ve always felt that “kept woman” would be a better way to capture the concept. Hetaerae (plural) did NOT walk the streets and were not just for quickies like the lower-level prostitutes. They had their own luxurious digs with the expenses being footed by whichever wealthy man was enjoying bedroom privileges at the moment.
A hetaera could move from man to man or keep one man for extended periods. What they were was openly known but the hetaerae occupied the top rung in the open “sex for pay” business in ancient Greece. Political figures could be publicly known as a hetaera’s steady man and it was not a career ender, but the man would be in for a lot of ribbing in the comedies of the time, usually as the butt of jokes pointing out how such an “ugly” man could ONLY get such a beautiful sex partner by paying her. Continue reading