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Aristophanes' Frogs Notes

Classics Notes > Greek Literature of the 5th Century BC Notes

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"Could Aristophanic comedy claim to make people better member of their poleis?" Aristophanic comedy, written around the time of the Peloponnesian war, provides a valuable insight into the politics of the time by giving an impression of the way certain politicians and topical events were perceived. However did Aristophanes' scything personal attacks and political commentary make people better members of their poleis? In order to answer this it must be considered what it means to be a good citizen, how a comic poet could be influential and whether or not the good advice he claims to be giving is actually beneficial or not. The main audience for the comic plays were Athenians and all plays were performed at two festivals in Athens herself; the Lenaia and the Great Dionysia. The city at this time was, of course, a democracy and this meant that all adult male citizens were expected to be in the assembly and were fined if they were found in the market. In this highly politically orientated society the citizens were responsible for all decisions; officials selected by lot had little real power and famous men such as Pericles had to convince them to vote in the way they wanted with convincing speeches. Therefore a good citizen was a man who was well informed on all political matters and, just as important, on the character and motivations of those men who held sway in the assembly. This was necessary so he could vote in ways which benefited the interests of the city; in essence the city was the assembly and to be a good member of the assembly you needed to be informed. This is where the comic poet is influential; he was a key purveyor of information to the masses, especially those who had little opportunity to attend the day to day business of the assembly, such as citizen farmers, and perhaps would only come when big decisions, such as whether to go to war, were being decided. It could, in a way, be seen as a kind of ancient media service and Jebb even claims it to be a form of journalism. Furthermore it must be remembered that exactly the same people (plus non-voting members of the community) attended the festivals as were present in the assembly so on a simplistic level it could be argued, if the comic poet was perceived to have this function, that anything said with serious political intent would be seen in the same way as a speech made in the assembly or in the law courts. It is highly likely that this would be true because in ancient times political opponents were allowed to publicly vilify each other (see Nicias attacks on Alcibiades at the beginning of Thucydides book 6 before the start of the Sicilian expedition), whereas today comedy and politics are separated, they were almost one in the same in ancient Athens. If this is even partly true then a comic poet could go a long way towards making influential suggestions which would benefit the city, and in so doing the audience would be better citizens because they are in turn benefiting their city. The festivals were governed with the same political systems as the assembly itself and it is accurate to say that they had a

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