Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2007.09.20

Rossella Saetta Cottone, Aristofane e la poetica dell'ingiuria. Per una introduzione alla loidoria comica. AGLAIA. Dipartimento di Studi Greci, Latini e Musicali. . Università di Palermo.   Roma:  Carocci Editore, 2005.  Pp. 387.  ISBN 88-430-3432-4.  €27.20.  

Reviewed by Rosanna Lauriola, University of Richmond (
Word count: 2119 words

Table of Contents

The everlasting debate over Aristophanes' so-called seriousness1 and his politics, which generally leads to polarized viewpoints (was he a satirist or a clown? a democratic or a conservative?) and thus to either a complete identification or divorce of comedy and politics, is revisited by Saetta Cottone (hereafter S.C.), who tries to overcome the impasse in a different way by analyzing a typical aspect of Aristophanes' comedic language, i.e. the "abuse-insult" (λοιδορία). By focusing on abuse ad personam, S.C. points out the dichotomous approaches of the existing scholarship on the topic according to which the presence of abuse either traces back to the license and freedom characterizing the festivals and rites housing the dramatic performances, or aims at producing criticism and thus an impact on the socio-political reality. While the first approach tends to minimize the possible influence of comedy on the contemporary, real situation of Athens, the second tends to assert that influence by emphasizing some analogies between comic discourse and contemporary oratory. S.C. looks for a compromise in order to demonstrate how closely interrelated both aspects are.2 To reach this target, S.C. focuses on the forms that λοιδορία takes in the dramatic event and tries to identify the relationship between the λοιδορία and contemporary reality.

S.C. articulates her analysis in four long chapters: 1. "Problems and scholarship. New perspectives" (pp. 31-89); 2. "Comic abuse and praise-abuse in the poetic tradition" (pp. 91-170); 3. "The abuse in Aristophanes. The anti-rhetorics" (pp. 171-263); 4. "For a poetics of comic abuse: The Acharnians and the Thesmophorians" (pp. 265-349). An Introduction (pp. 17-30) and Conclusions (pp. 351-4) open and end the essay. The book is completed by a well organized Bibliography (pp. 355-75) and an Index Locorum (pp. 377-87). Each chapter is enriched by a large quantity of footnotes, many of which are devoted to accurate lexical analysis. Nor does the author neglect to properly acknowledge other scholars' contributions. Each chapter is also enriched by Greek quotations, with translation, from Aristophanes and other ancient sources.

The first two chapters are mostly introductory. In Chapter 1, S.C. draws a very detailed overview of the main critical trends within which she contextualizes her viewpoint. After distinguishing two kinds of λοιδορία, the one between the characters on the stage, and the other addressed to people outside of both the stage and the dramatic events (pp. 31-3), she argues that the second type, due to its reference to extra-dramatic figures, belongs to those elements of comedy that interrupt the fictional dimension of the play by incorporating the spectators in the dramatic game (pp. 38-9; pp. 352-4).3 Of some interest is the last section of the chapter (L'ingiuria, metafora e nome, pp. 71-89) where S.C. analyzes λοιδορία as metaphor, and the act of abusing as similar to that of naming.4

The second chapter discusses λοιδορία within the poetic tradition. She refers to the well-known relationship between Comedy and Iambic poetry (pp. 161-70), and also to Epic (ὀνείδεα ἔπεα, pp. 91-122)5 and Tragedy (pp.130-143). In Epic and Tragedy, literary genres traditionally devoted to the αἶνος, the abuses are "expressive?", i.e. are mostly meant to express emotions, but in both Comedy and Iambic poetry, which traditionally are deputed to the ψόγος, they tend to stigmatize a precise figure, an enemy. However, while in Iambics it is necessary to introduce the so-called persona loquens, in Comedy the λοιδορία is delivered by a personage in the 1st person and so becomes a component of the dramatic interaction both among the characters on the stage, and between characters and spectators (pp. 164-5; pp. 353-4). This is what makes Aristophanes' λοιδορία different from the traditional abuses of Iambic poetry.

The third chapter offers new contributions. It is focused on Aristophanes' surviving production and consists of a detailed analysis of λοιδορία as it occurs in each formal part of Aristophanes' comedy, i.e. prologue, parodos, pro-agon, agon, parabasis, iambics, exodos. S.C. begins by restating the communis opinio that Aristophanes' prologues present a fixed pattern which consists of having the protagonist plot a fantastic or utopian plan to face a crisis-situation. She then goes on to describe the main function of the abuses in the prologue--to stigmatize the protagonists' enemies, whether these are real antagonists or simply secondary personages who do not appear on the stage. These enemies are abused since they represent the main obstacle to the execution of the protagonist's plan (p. 172).

I think that this prologue formula, as given by S.C., is too schematic.6 Furthermore, in selecting a few portions of Aristophanes' prologues in order to demonstrate the above mentioned point, S.C. seems to miss the overall context. For instance, S.C. notes that in Frogs' prologue (92-5: pp. 173-4) Dionysus rails against the contemporary tragic poets who disgrace Art (93), and to save Tragedy from those 'murderers of Art' he plans to undertake a katabasis in order to bring Euripides back to life. S.C. seems to neglect the important fact that Dionysus abuses Euripides (Frogs, 80) to the same degree as he abuses the 'murderers of Art' against whom he plots his plan to return Euripides to life.7 Moreover, S.C. dismisses the other abuses that fill the first part of the prologue (1-18), both those generally addressed to the spectators, and those ad personam against contemporary comic poets.8

As to the parodos, S.C. notes that in this section the chorus abuses only when it has been informed about the situation and thus has already made its choice against one of the personages. Therefore, the basic function of the chorus' abuses is to advance and prepare for the real comic conflict which takes place in the following sections (pp. 189-90). As to the pro-agon and the agon (pp. 193-212), S.C. emphasizes a specific detail, i.e. the large number of occurrences of the verb λοιδορέω and its cognates in this section of the comedy, which is evidence of the close connection between the abuse and the phase of the dramatic action that the pro-agon represents. S.C.'s main point is that pro-agon abuse has the basic function to prepare the real conflict that the characters will fully perform during the agon, by creating an emotional climax. The discussion is very detailed and focuses mostly on the pro-agon of Clouds and Thesmophorians. In the author's opinion, a double function characterizes the λοιδορία in the agon (p. 211): it is a way both to attack the antagonist directly and to offend outsiders, i.e. persons who are not on the stage and belong to a specific category of opponents to the current speaker.

Concerning λοιδορία in the parabasis S.C. seems too cursory. After briefly recalling the function of the parabasis in Old Comedy, S.C. simplifies the nature of the poet's abuses in the anapestic section by saying that they are mostly meant to stigmatize the comic poets who were rivals to Aristophanes in the dramatic competition (p. 213) and refers to a few lines from the parabasis of Clouds as an example. Yet, in Clouds' and all other comedies' parabases abuses against other contemporary enemies or adversary figures occur (see, e.g., Clouds 549-51; Wasps 1030-5, 1037-42; Peace 752-60; Birds 692; Thesm. 803 ff.).9 I would think that these kinds of λοιδορία must be taken into consideration to determine "una poetica dell'ingiuria comica", which is what S.C. means to draw in her book.

S.C. then goes on to discuss the functions of abuse in the iambics and in the exodos (218-23). As to the iambics, since their function is to show the effects of the protagonist's plan, the abuses constitute the main weapon to attack those who try either to damage or oppose the new situation created by the comic hero. S.C. analyzes the iambics of Acharnians, Clouds, Women at Parliament, and Wealth to demonstrate her point. As to the exodos, the discussion is very short (ca. 8 lines): the function of the abuses is simply to consecrate and seal the final victory of the comic hero.

Of some interest in the third chapter is the section concerning λοιδορία and name-games ("Ingiurie e giochi onomastici", pp. 238-43). While recalling some previous scholarly essays, S.C. points to the presence of specific abuses beyond some name-games. She lists the different ways Aristophanes exploited the chances a simple name gave him to abuse his typical target-persons. She goes on to discuss some of the well-known names, such as Strepsiades, Kolakonumos (Wasps 592), Philoxenos (Wasps, 84), Kometamunias (Wasps 466) and so on. Among the examples, S.C. missed Κάνθαρος, a good example of re-etymologizing of actual names and patronymics. In Peace 1-48, where the name Κάνθαρος occurs, it is possible to identify an abusive joke against both the comic poet named Kantharos -- as being author of low standard comedies -- and Cleon, the political figure associated to the food typical of a κάνθαρος and symbolizing, in Aristophanes' poetics, the product of the rival, comic poets, which in turn constitute one of the basic targets of Aristophanes' abuses.10

The chapter ends with a detailed analysis of the λοιδορία in the second parabasis of Knights (namely, 1274-89) focusing on the lines introducing the couple Arignotus-Ariphrades (1274-5), where the poet says that there is no disgrace in abusing (λοιδορεῖν) the unworthy, it is rather an honor to the honest (pp. 247-8).11 S.C. claims that Aristophanes plays with the opposition praise-blame, which belongs to the poetic tradition, and comically subverts it (pp. 251-2; 262-3) by making the traditional opposition abuse-praise be a cue for the wordplay on the names Arignotus and Ariphrades. This conveys the precise poetic position of the playwright in relation to the literary tradition of lyric poetry, which is recalled just to produce comic effects (pp. 246; 250; 252; 263).

Also, it is worth noting that S.C.'s attempt to explain the epirrhema of Knights' second parabasis in term of a comic refusal of traditional, poetic motifs (p. 263) does not note that the λοιδορία continues in the antode and antepirrhema (1290-315). If we take into account Aristophanes' comic usage of the praeteritio, which characterizes the ode, and interpret the pretentious praise of Arignotus as disguised blame, we can say that the whole second parabasis is devoted to the λοιδορία of πονηρία, as is the abuse of Paphlagon-Cleon, the πονηρός number one in Knights. Thus there is continuity throughout the entire comedy in terms of λοιδορία.

The last chapter is devoted to a detailed analysis of both the Acharnians' parabasis (pp. 265-84) and the parody of tragedy in the Thesmophorians (pp. 285-349). According to S.C. in the λοιδορία of the Athenians in Acharnians' parabasis, beyond the parodic usage of the language of Pindar's Epinician odes, Aristophanes creates a model of democratic and egalitarian poetry against the aristocratic model of lyric poetry (p. 281). But, looking beyond the Acharnians' parabasis, we find that, in addition to lyric poetry, Aristophanes parodies previous and contemporary comedy, which certainly cannot be regarded as a model of aristocratic poetry, as well as tragedy, whose social status is questionable. In other words, the social and political role of Aristophanes cannot be confined to his mastery in manipulating and parodying poetic material that has a specific social and political connotation for the purpose of creating a democratically connoted poetry. Aristophanes is a teacher for Athens not simply for his mastery in re-using traditional poetic material (p. 282), but also -- and foremost -- for his ability to give sage counsel to improve civic life (see Frogs 1008-9; cf. also 1030-6).

S.C.'s analysis of the parody of Euripidean tragedy concentrates on the parody of Telephus within the Thesmophorians and the Acharnians. In S.C.'s opinion, the first imitates the second.12 Euripides' abuses against the women, and the prosecution against Euripides, intentionally and parodically evoke the motif of Cleon's prosecution against Aristophanes, but where Dicaeopolis succeeds, In-Law fails and the In-Law's failure comically throws light on the limits of Euripidean realism by echoing Dicaeopolis' success (pp. 321-4; 347-9). The reading S.C. proposes is certainly original and of interest. However, I would find it a little limited to interpret Aristophanes' parody of Euripides only in terms of ridiculing the tragic playwright's realism.

S.C.'s book presents several valuable observations on the motif of λοιδορία in general and with special reference to Aristophanes, although at times S.C. misses analyzing passages of an undoubted importance for the topic. Moreover, the basic assumption of this study -- that λοιδορία reconciles the two polarized views of Aristophanes' poetics and throws light on the interaction between fiction and actuality -- is, at times, lost from sight. Finally, given the abundance of material and themes on which S.C. touches, an index both of the Greek key words and of the topics that are discussed would have been of great help for any scholars and readers interested in Aristophanes' overall poetics.


1.   See M. S. Silk, Aristophanes and the Definition of Comedy (Oxford 2000) pp. 37-8.
2.   This is not the only and/or the first attempt to reconcile the two polarized viewpoints of Aristophanes' production. Recently, a very important contribution in this direction has been produced by N. W. Slater, especially in Spectator Politics. Metatheatre and Performance in Aristophanes (Philadelphia 2002), where the author shows how the playwright meant not simply to entertain, but also seriously to teach his audience to become self-aware citizens. It is a pity that S.C. misses taking this study into account given that she discusses the question of the interference between fiction and actuality, and considers it a fundamental component of Aristophanes' poetics of abuse. Such interference is an important factor of Aristophanes' metatheatrical poetics, as well, which is the focus of Slater's essay.
3.   In doing so, S.C. faces the well-known question of the so-called 'dramatic illusion' and thus the problem of the interference between fiction and actuality, alias the interruption of the scenic illusion (p. 35). Beside the scholars S.C. mentions, I would add D. Bain, Actor and Audience. A study of asides and related conventions in Greek drama (Oxford 1977), esp. pp. 6-7); F. Muecke, "Playing with the Play: Theatrical Self-consciousness in Aristophanes", in Antichthon 11 (1977), pp. 52-67, esp. pp. 52-5; and Slater (see above n.2).
4.   With reference to this topic S.C.'s analysis of the occurrences of καλέω and examples of naming in both the poetic tradition and Aristophanes (pp. 72-7) is detailed and persuasive.
5.   S.C. properly also examines the relationship of ὀνείδεα with νεῖκος and ἔρις, i.e. words and actions both linked to abuse in epic.
6.   S.C. misses taking into account an important contribution by W. G. Arnott, "Comic Openings", in: N. W. Slater - B. Zimmermann (edd.), Intertexualität in der griechisch-römischen Komödie (Stuttgart 1993) pp. 14-33. Of some interest is also M. Okal, "Les Prologues des Comédies d'Aristophane", Studia Minora Facultatis Philosophiae Universitatis Brenensis (1991), pp. 109-14.
7.   On the other hand the abuse against Euripides, who is addressed as panoûrgos, reveals Aristophanes' criticism of Euripides' tragedy, which is at issue in Frogs. As a matter of fact, in Aristophanes' production the πανουργία is a characteristic typical of several categories of persons who constitute the target of the playwright's criticism, such as Cleon (see, e.g., Knights 249-50, 803); or sophists-charlatans (see, e.g., Clouds 1310; Birds 1695).
8.   See also S. Beta, "Il linguaggio nelle commedie di Aristofane. Parola positiva e parola negativa nella commedia antica", in Bollettino dei Classici (Suppl. n. 21/22). Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, 2004, pp. 73-6.
9.   S.C. mentions Cleon with reference to the epirrhema of the Clouds' parabasis (i.e. 581-2 and 591: p. 214 n. 72), whereas Aristophanes has already mentioned him in the anapestic section (ll. 549-51). Moreover S.C. seems to think that the only sure allusions to the courage of the playwright in his fight against Cleon are in Knights 510-1 and in the Clouds' epirrhema, whereas we can identify such an allusion in the Wasps' and Peace's anapestic lines I mentioned above. In this regard see also G. Mastromarco "L'eroe e il mostro (Aristofane, Vespe 1029-1044)", Rivista di Filologia e Istruzione Classica 117 (1989), pp. 410-23; and "Il commediografo e il demagogo" in A. H. Sommerstein, S. Halliwell, J. Henderson, B. Zimmermann (edd.), Tragedy, Comedy and the polis (Bari 1993), pp. 341-57. S.C. mentions a few other categories of persons who do not have anything to do with the comic action, yet are abused in portions of parabasis other than the anapestic lines (pp. 216-7 and notes), but a deeper analysis would have been helpful.
10.   See, e.g., D. Lanza, "L'attore comico sulla scena", in Dioniso 59 (1989), pp. 307-311; S. D. Olson Aristophanes. Peace Oxford 1998, p.68; and R. Lauriola (forthcoming), Aristofane σπουδαιογέλοιος: paidea e comicita. Con una lettura degli Acarnesi, Giardini Editori (Collana: Biblioteca degli Studi Antichi) Pisa 2008.
11.   See. e.g., R. M. Rosen, Old Comedy and the Iambographic Tradition, Atlanta 1988, p. 77. As for S.C.' s statement that the other scholars have never analyzed carefully the meaning of the two introductory lines (p. 248), one should note P. Totaro, Le seconde parabasi di Aristofane (Stuttgart 2002) pp. 42-4.
12.   However, S.C. is not the first to claim a possible relationship between the two comedies. See, for example, Slater op. cit. 2002, pp. 163-4.

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