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Aristophanes' Thesmophoriazousae Notes

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

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'A play about mimesis.' Discuss this view of the Thesmophoriazousae. The Thesmophoriazousae is a play which is dominated by imitation, which is used for its comedic effects and for the sake of parodying tragedy. There are several types of imitation; a mock of tragic style and diction, direct tragic parody, transvestism and the copying of men by the women. The essential aim of Aristophanes, other than his main purpose of raising a laugh, is to do so by making fun of tragedy and show the superiority of comedy as a dramatic form and the greater range and potential it has. He does this in the opening sequences of the play by imitating tragic diction and style in attempt to show how dense, meaningless and fragile it is compared with its comic counterpart by juxtaposing the two. For example Euripides' overly high flown description of hearing and seeing: "Let me explain how all these things were sorted out in the first place, when Ether first split herself up, and creatures capable of movement came into being with her, for purposes of visual perception she created the eye- in imitation of the disc of the eye. For hearing, however, she provided a funnel, known as the ear." The slightly idiotic response of the relative and especially the fact he calls this particular speech intellectual highlights how ridiculous what he has just said sounds; not to mention how unintelligent it really is, making Mnesilochus' words ironic. His words are further undermined when his relative asks him to teach him how to be a beggar lame in both legs like the fellow in his play. This continues when Agathon's servant enters and his lordly tones, which far surpass those of Euripides in terms of pompousness, seem even more ridiculous because he is only a servant; a servant who clearly has ideas far above his station simply because his master is a tragic poet. "Let all the people keep silence, and be ye closed, O ye mouths! Inasmuch as the Muses in mellifluous concourse do grace these lordly halls with their presence! Let not the air be moved with any commotion of breezes; and the blue waves of the sea, let it not roar." Mnesilochus, who is most definitely a comic figure, again undermines this tragic diction; first he makes silly noises whenever the servant speaks and then when he asks who was disturbing him Mnesilochus responds, imitating his imitation, that it was a commotion of breezes. Finally, after the servant likens the writing of a tragedy to the construction of a ship and talks about the turning of verses on a lathe, Mnesilochus immediately lowers the tone and shows that the simplest comic technique, a rude joke, can undermine even the most elaborate tragic description. "Maxim and metaphor doth he hammer out, yeah, in melted wax doth he mould his creation: he rolleth it till it be round; he casteth it- And stuffeth it up his fanny." Agathon then sings skilfully and takes the parts of the chorus and chorus leader but it is very over-florid, and when Mnesilochus calls it feminine, voluptuous and sexy it highlights how ridiculous this man must have looked both for his tones and his dress. The ludicrously attired and androgynous Agathon is himself a tragic poet and although this is a slightly crude way of taking a cheap shot at tragedy it is nevertheless effective because it is coupled with his high-flown, yet flawed, diction. They build a very negative impression of the figure of the tragic poet, especially when Agathon says, "A dramatic writer has to merge his whole personality into what he is describing. If he is describing a woman's actions, he has to participate in her experience, body and soul." If Aristophanes had gone this far when he described frogs or wasps he would have been though mad, but what Agathon is doing is not too far removed from this. The final shot against tragic diction comes, unsurprisingly, from

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