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The Court of Comedy

Aristophanes, Rhetoric, and Democracy in Fifth-Century Athens

Wilfred E. Major

Publication Year: 2013

The Court of Comedy: Aristophanes, Rhetoric, and Democracy in Fifth-Century Athens, by Wilfred E. Major, analyzes how writers of comedy in Classical Greece satirized the emerging art of rhetoric and its role in political life. In the fifth century BCE, the development of rhetoric proceeded hand in hand with the growth of democracy both on Sicily and at Athens. In turn, comic playwrights in Athens, most notably Aristophanes, lampooned oratory as part of their commentary on the successes and failures of the young democracy. This innovative study is the first book to survey all the surviving comedy from the fifth century BCE on these important topics. The evidence reveals that Greek comedy provides a revealing commentary on the incipient craft of rhetoric before its formal conventions were stabilized. Furthermore, Aristophanes’ depiction of rhetoric and of Athenian democratic institutions indicates that he fundamentally supports the Athenian democracy and not, as is often argued, oligarchic opposition to it. These conclusions confirm recent work that reinterprets the early development of rhetoric in Classical Greece and offer fresh perspectives on the debate over the role of comedy in early Greek democracy. Throughout, Major capitalizes on recent progress in the understanding of the performance dynamics of Classical Greek theater.

Published by: The Ohio State University Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-4


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pp. v-5


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pp. vi-6

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pp. vii-viii

This book has been so long in gestation, more than half of my life, that even an extensive list of names of individuals who were essential and invaluable to the final product would be woefully inadequate. Therefore, my being so limited and selective in naming a few should not diminish the importance of so many others. First, I want to thank the many scholars and performers ...

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pp. 1-22

Aristotle is working out the characteristics of the discipline of rhetoric (????????), when he makes a sharp distinction about those attending a speech: ?????? ?? ??? ???????? ? ?????? ????? ? ??????, ?The listener must be either a spectator or a judge? (Rhet. He then divides judges into those who judge about the future, as in the Assembly, ...

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1. Sicilian Pioneers of Comedy and Rhetoric and Their Transmission to Athens

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pp. 23-35

Both comedy and rhetoric have Sicilian pioneers who preceded the better-preserved and better-known later Athenian practitioners. Also common to the early history of both comedy and rhetoric is that recovering the accom-plishments of these pioneers is hobbled by limited fragmentary remains and by later pseudographic sources that distort what little information has been ...

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2. Old Comedy and Proto-Rhetoric in Athens before 425 B.C.E.: The Age of Pericles

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pp. 36-50

The historical range for this study in general is the fifth century down to 404 b.c.e., the year of Athens? surrender to Sparta at the end of the Pelopon-nesian War and the year of the encore performance of Aristophanes? Frogs. The following year saw the reconstitution of the Athenian democracy, and subsequent comedy sees changes in form and topic; thus the fourth century ...

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3. The Young Comic Playwrights Attack, 425-421 B.C.E.

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pp. 51-114

Aristotle laments the role of rhetoric in political deliberation and even ide-alizes political decision making that is devoid of rhetoric, but when Aristo-phanes composed comedies for performance in the 420s b.c.e., he had no reason to reckon the novel turns in language of the time as fundamentally distinct from political discourse. Indeed, the presence of unorthodox lan-...

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4. The Years of Confidence, 421-414 B.C.E.

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pp. 115-132

When Thucydides concludes his account of the ten years of war from 431 to 421 b.c.e. and embarks on the next stage of his narrative, he argues briefly that the period of the armistice, lasting nearly seven years, in retrospect was not a period of peace but of low-level hostilities leading to renewed conflict (5.26). His compressed survey of events between the Peace of Nicias and ...

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5. Crawling from the Wreckage, 411 B.C.E.

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pp. 133-145

After the celebration of Peace in 421 and the ebullient confidence of Birds in 414, Aristophanes? next extant play, Lysistrata, of 411, finds Aristophanes back in attack mode, and the situation in Athens at the time leaves little doubt about why. Externally Athens was engaged again in war operations against Sparta, now allied with Persia, and internally major changes were ...

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6. Tongues, Frogs, and the Last Stand

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pp. 146-178

Aristophanes? plays being ever topical, the breakneck pace of change in Ath-ens after 411 b.c.e. is crucial for understanding the drive behind, context for and reception of Frogs. From 411 to the first production of Frogs, in 405, the stability of the democracy and role of tragedy for democracy became increas-ingly critical topics, with the survival of each at stake in very real ways. ...

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pp. 179-184

More than a decade intervenes between Frogs and the next extant comedy. That these were the years of the tyranny of the Thirty and the more expansive reincarnation of the Athenian democracy makes it all the more regrettable that there is so little to reconstruct of comedy?s characterization of this dif-ficult but fascinating period. Legal speeches of the time testify to continuing ...

Appendix: Catalog of Terminology, Practitioners, and Institutions Related to Rhetoric in the Remains of Fifth-Century Comedy

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pp. 185-206


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pp. 207-220

Index locorum

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pp. 221-224

General Index

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pp. 225-232

Back Cover

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p. 241-241

E-ISBN-13: 9780814271070
E-ISBN-10: 0814271073
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814212240
Print-ISBN-10: 0814212247

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2013