Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2009.07.38

Alberto Camerotto (ed.), Diafonie. Esercizi sul Comico. Atti del Seminario di Studi Venezia, 25 maggio 2006. Quaderni del Dipartimento di Scienze dell'Antichità e del Vicino Oriente, 3.   Padova:  S.A.R.G.O.N. Editrice e Libreria, 2007.  Pp. 164 (pb).  ISBN 978-88-95672-01-4.  

Reviewed by Rosanna Lauriola, University of Idaho (
Word count: 1985 words

This is a collection of essays on Greek Comedy (mostly on Aristophanes), originally presented in a seminar organized by the Department of Classical Antiquity and the Near Eastern World at the University of Venice "Ca' Foscari". The book consists of a Preface (pp. 7-12), seven contributions (pp. 13-154) and three indices (Index locorum, Index verborum, Index rerum, pp. 157-164).

The Preface by the editor Alberto Camerotto includes, in addition to the genesis of the book, a summary of the contributions, acknowledgements, and an explanation of the title Diafonie, referring to the "dissonances" identifiable in comedy that seem to work as a tool of communication and composition.

"Giocare con le parole" ("Playing with words", pp. 13-43) by Simone Beta (hereafter B.) is the opening essay. By re-thinking some of the topics he discussed in a recent book,1 B. identifies four techniques through which comic poets played with and created words: 1. montaggio (assembling), the creation of a neologism through the juxtaposition of two different words; 2. smontaggio (disassembly), separating the components of a compound noun and often giving birth to neologism; 3. fusione, fusion -- not simply juxtaposition -- of two words; 4. mobilitá dei confini (mobility between borders), playing with the ambiguous meaning that the sound of two words' borders may produce. The technique most used is that of assembling. B. distinguishes the compounds made through assembling on the basis of morphology (e.g., compounds with a preposition; compounds with the patronymic suffixes), and theme (e.g., women; politics and politicians; peace and war; justice and the legal system; food). As to disassembly the author focuses on compounds with the suffix -πωλες in Knights 129-140 (where the result is not simply a neologism but also a hapax legomenon), and πηιλο in Wasps 75-88). Regarding the fusion technique, B. discusses examples from Cratinus and Aristophanes, such as Ἀνδροκολωνοκλῆς (Cratinus, fr. 281) and δωροδοκιστί (Knights 996). The fourth technique, i.e., mobility between borders, is among the more interesting things B. has identified. The comic effect of this way of manipulating language relies on the sounds that the rhythmic pronunciation of words might cause by combining the borders of the words themselves. A good example occurs in Peace 41 where Aristophanes might be playing with the nexus Διὸς καταιβάτου, given that the actor might have doubled the sound of the final ς of Διὸς to make the audience hear Διὸς σκαταιβάτου, thus referring to the leitmotiv of the prologue, i.e., σκῶρ.2

The overall taxonomy is helpful in analyzing Aristophanes' wordplay. However, I have the impression that these techniques may sometimes overlap, above all assembling and fusion; for example, the neologism Καταγέλα (Acharnians 606), analyzed as a result of assembling with a preposition, might be also analyzed as a result of fusion between Κατάνη and γελάω with the first part recalling a city -- in line with the previous names -- and the second one recalling the laughter already evoked through the name of the city Γέλα.

In "L'aprosdoketon in Aristofane. Alcune riflessioni" ("Reflections on the aprosdoketon in Aristophanes", pp. 44-72), Michele Napolitano (hereafter N.) investigates the dissonance that the technique of aprosdoketon creates in order to unmask reality while at the same time provoking laughter. Following previous scholarship that distinguishes two kinds of spectators (the intelligent/smart spectators, and ordinary ones), N. thinks that Aristophanes' aprosdoketon might have a double purpose: mere laughter for the less aware; mature awareness, persuasion and understanding through laughter for the smart. In this light N. discusses two specific examples: Thesmoporiazusae 39-63 (pp. 49-53) and especially Knights 58-60 (pp. 53-64), where two aprosdoketa can be identified: βυρσίνη for the expected μυρσίνη and τοὺς ῥήτορας for the expected τὰς μυίας. By involving a clear reference to Cleon, both aprosdoketa aim at persuading the audience and creating a consensus with reference to a theme already foreshadowed (Cleon's manipulation of Demos), rather than at just surprising people and making them laugh.

In "Simposi Imperfetti" ("Defective Symposia", pp. 73-89) Roberto Campagner (hereafter C.) discusses the meaning of the symposium-theme throughout Aristophanes' comedies, called "defective" because any symposium scene presents anomalies whether of sequence or number of elements characterizing the traditional pattern of symposium. Thus Aristophanes' symposium is a way to interpret and criticize the surrounding realities. C.'s discussion is based on a thematic classification of sympotic scenes: War and Symposium; Politics and Symposium; Symposium and the Justice System; Symposium and Society. "War and Symposium" in my opinion, best shows C.'s main points,. C. first argues for the connection between war and symposium by focusing on a game that is linked to the excess and transgression that uncontrolled drinking of wine may cause. The game is κότταβος, which, together with a state of drunkenness, is mentioned as the cause of the Peloponnesian War in Acharnians 525 ff. In C.'s opinion, a connection between κότταβος and the war, which in turn attests to a connection between war and symposium, may also be identified in Peace 1242-1244. Except for these two passages where the symposium seems to be an occasion for displaying aggressive behavior, C. emphasizes how the symposium is more suitably connected to peace (p. 74), as in Peace 1127-1190 and Lysistrata 181-239, and he might have added Acharnians with its overt connection between wine and peace and the σψμποτικὰ τὰ πράγματα Dicaeopolis is about to celebrate (ll. 1142 ff.).

Francesco Valerio's (hereafter V.) essay, "Il catasterismo di Ione di Chio e la Stella del mattino" (= "Ion's transformation into a star and The Morning Star", pp. 91-97) discusses 832-837 of Aristophanes' Peace and suggests restoring the manuscripts' lectio which has the servant simply ask Trygaeus at l. 834 whether it is true that one who dies becomes a star, rather than locating the question mark after "Ion, the Chian" in the following line (l. 835). V. argues that the servant might have asked for the confirmation of a common belief, and Trygaeus might then have confirmed it by giving a concrete example. The only problem I see is that V. seems to give Aristophanes' joke a positive tone, paying homage to Ion; yet, one of the targets of Aristophanes' invective is the so-called new music as represented by the contemporary dithyrambic poets whose compositions are "airy" and vacuous, hence the typical portrayal of the dithyrambographers as "floating/swanning" spirits in the air and as collecting preludes (anabolai) in the sky (see Peace 827-831; Birds 1383-1385).3 Ion the Chian is mentioned in a way that makes him one of swanning poets collecting preludes in the air, a "morning star roaming in air" as he sang in the prelude of Aoios (Ἀοῖον ἀεροφοίταν).

In "Parodia e pastiche musicali in Aristofane" ("Parody and musical pastiche in Aristophanes", pp. 99-110) Elena Rocconi (hereafter R.) emphasizes the musical component of passages subjected to parody, suggesting that it would be more appropriate to speak of a musical pastiche, i.e., simple imitation without any parodic intention, even though scholars find a denigratory tone where the objects of such imitations are lyric and tragic poets practicing the so-called new music. R. focuses on Euripides and argues that, if there is parodic and critical intention, it pertains to the questionable ethical essence of Euripides' poetry rather than to the technical aspects of his musical style. Thus in the lyric contest between Aeschylus and Euripides in Frogs, by treating whore ditties, Meletus' drinking songs, pipe tunes from Caria, dirges and dance music as Euripides' musical sources (ll. 1296-1308), and, by mentioning Euripides' introduction of "Cirene's twelve tricks" in his music (ll.1326-1327), Aristophanes criticizes the ethical degradation of Euripides' tragedy, and the musical imitation simply helped the audience to recognize the musical style of the imitated author.

I would agree that not all parodies involving a musical component convey criticism of the technical aspects of the performance of the music itself, but R.'s examples are confusing. For example, as R. herself recognizes (p. 106 n. 41), the number twelve appears in the context of criticism of music in Pherecrates, Chiron (fr. 155 K-A, 24 ff.), which to me means that the Cirene's twelve tricks implies a criticism not only of the ethical essence of Euripides' songs and their sources, but also of the technical way in which they are produced.

In "Sovversioni Aristofanee. Rileggendo il finale degli Uccelli" ("Subversion of traditional themes in Aristophanes. A further reading of the Birds finale", pp. 111-128), Enrico Magnelli (hereafter M.) proposes an original reading of the finale of Birds that also gives the key to an overall re-interpretation of both the characteristics of the protagonist Peisetairos and the meaning of the comedy. M., persuaded that Birds is a political allegory of contemporary Athens, argues that this meaning of the comedy surfaces gradually. Peisetairos is not a negative character from the beginning; on the contrary he has qualities and engages in actions that are typical of Aristophanes' comic hero. The plot itself, for the first 1500 lines, is an expected one but reverses with the answer Peisetairos gives Heracles about the stuff he is cooking: "It's just some birds found guilty of an oligarchic plot against the state" (ll. 1583-1585). In M.'s opinion, this unexpected thing is the result of a subversion of two traditional themes -- the final banquet- and the land of plenty-themes --, a subversion due to the fact that the final banquet does not consist of marvelous dishes but of rebellious birds that have been executed, making clear the real character, the final intentions of Peisetairos and his egocentrism. Nephelokokkygia is not an alternative to Athens, it is a reduplication of the current Athens, characterized by demagogy, fear of tyranny, manipulation of language, people aiming at oligarchic government, and so forth.

The last essay is by Alberto Camerotto (hereafter C.), "Guerra e pace. Poteri della parodia" ("War and Peace. The power of parody", pp. 129-154). C. proposes an interesting re-analysis of how Aristophanes' use of parody becomes a tool of communication working not simply through words but also through concrete objects. Hence the possibility of identifying what C. calls "parodia degli oggetti" (parody of objects, p. 11, 131, 137). Both words and objects are susceptible of being reversed to such a point as to convey meanings that are contrary to their own original ones. C. applies his re-analysis of parody to the dichotomy war and peace. C. explains very clearly how the objects that are symbola of war become tools for peace through the parodic re-usage of those objects. For instance, in Peace, 1193-1194, an (unidentified) object belonging to the experience of war is re-used to wipe tables for the banquet, a typical feature of a world at peace. A similar reversion into an object of daily life in time of peace takes place for the crest (l. 1218), the trumpet (ll.1240-1244), and so forth. In "parodia della parola" C. focuses on Lysistrata 185 ff. where the women decide to swear an oath before undertaking their action. This oath is a parody of the famous oath in Aeschylus' Seven against Thebes. The fact that the original poetry subjected to parody is a "play full of Ares" (Frogs 1021) implies and foreshadows a series of reversions: from males, from whom such an oath (as well as the protection of the land) is expected, to women and from Ares to Aphrodite, given that the weapons women will use are those of seduction (ll.42-54). C. ends with the parodic re-use of other poets' auctoritas that enables Aristophanes to realize on the stage what might be impossible in reality. For instance, in Peace, the incredible flight of Trygaeus to Olympus becomes possible through the parodic re-use of Euripides' Pegasus and Bellerophontes: Trygaeus could devise a hippokantharos by using Euripides as his model.

Overall, despite the few doubts I have expressed above, the book is pleasant and provides a wealth of suggestions for a reconsideration of various aspects of Aristophanes' comedy. The variety of the topics will satisfy readers with different interests and the exposition is clear.


1.   Simone Beta, Il linguaggio nelle commedie di Aristofane. Parola positiva e parola negativa nella commedia antica. Roma: Suppl. n. 21/22 al Bollettino dei Classici. Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, 2004 (review: BMCR 2005-10-05)
2.   To B.'s list of related scholarly discussion (n. 96), add G. Mastromarco, Commedie di Aristofane Torino 1983, vol 1, p. 573 n. 4, where a similar hypothesis on the fusion of sounds is given.
3.   See G. Comotti, "L'anaboleée il ditirambo" in Quaderni Urbinati di Cultura Classica, XXXI, 1989, 111-117; G. Mastromarco - P. Totaro, Commedie di Aristofane, Torino 2006, vol. 2, p. 264, n. 291. V. misses the anabole detail. He does touch on the 'air' and 'flight' theme of the new dithyramb (p. 91 and n.3), but he points to a mocking tone behind that theme rather than a critical one.

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