In this book Theodoros G. Pappas provides a comprehensive, detailed and balanced overview of the art of Aristophanes, while he manages to elucidate various more specific aspects of the playwright’s work. The tradition of the text, the structure of Aristophanic comedy, the language and style employed by Aristophanes, the lyric elements of his plays, his use of the masks and the gaze, and the function of Aristophanic laughter are the main topics addressed by this study. Pappas is well-known for his anthropological approaches to Aristophanic comedy. 1 He is also the author of Ὁ Φιλόγελως Ἀριστοφάνης, one of the most illuminating monographs on Aristophanes published in Modern Greek. 2 With his new book, some parts of which have already appeared in scholarly journals, edited volumes and conference proceedings (chs. 2, 3 and 7), Pappas manages to expand the horizons of his earlier book to new fields of exploration, while taking into account recent trends and developments in the study of Greek comedy, most of which are reflected in a number of recent monographs and collections of essays on Aristophanes and Greek comedy. 3
In the Introduction (pp. 13–34) Pappas discusses the origins of comedy, the form of the Dionysiac festivals and the organization of dramatic contests in their context. Drawing attention to both internal and external evidence (e.g. Aristophanes, Acharnians 263–70 or Aristotle, Poetics 1449a 9–13), he places comedy’s alleged origins in the phallic songs and the rituals of Dionysus, and examines its affiliations with Megarian farce, Sicilian comedy and iambic poetry. The useful information provided on the Athenian dramatic festivals is complemented with perceptive observations on the agonistic context of comic performance and its ramifications with respect to the content of comedy as well as its impact upon the audience.
Chapter 1 (pp. 35–60) focuses on the persona of the comic poet. Pappas adduces evidence mainly from Aristophanic plays (e.g. Knights 512–6, 541–4 or Wasps 1018–22) in order to reconstruct the poet’s position in the social, political and intellectual milieu of late fifth- and early fourth-century Athens, while he wisely avoids biographical interpretations of plays surviving either in wholes or in fragments. These plays are assigned to different periods of the poet’s career with a fair discussion of the formal and thematic preferences of each period, while there is a useful critical survey of recent editions and translations of Aristophanes’ fragmentary plays.
In Chapter 2 (pp. 61–110) there is an illuminating discussion of the textual tradition of Aristophanic comedy from the playwright’s original texts to the Aldina of 1498, Bekker’s edition of 1829 and Wilson’s 2007 edition in the OCT series. Attention is also paid to the contributions of ancient scholars such as Lycophron of Chalcis, Eratosthenes of Cyrene, Didymus and Crates of Mallus, in places as diverse as Alexandria and Pergamum, to the preservation of Aristophanes’ text and the writing of relevant treatises and extensive scholia. Taking into account modern research on the transmission of the Aristophanic text, 4 Pappas focuses in particular on the medieval manuscript tradition of Aristophanes and provides a lucid and detailed account of it.
The structure of Aristophanes’ plays and the dramatic function of the comic character within the boundaries of their action form the topics of Chapter 3 (pp. 111–51). Pappas examines the conventional structure of Aristophanic comedy in the forms it assumes in the playwright’s extant works, and highlights the use of the structural elements explored in the folktale by Propp and detected by Sifakis in Aristophanes. 5 In addition to an acute exploration of the values endorsed by the comic hero, particular attention is paid to the scenic and dramatic function of the character of the Hero-Saviour. 6 This is perceptively examined often beyond conventional schemas relating to ritual or traditional patterns of action.
Chapter 4 (pp. 153–202) raises questions pertaining to language and style in Aristophanic comedy. While Pappas never loses sight of the fact that the language of Aristophanes has features aiming at the construction of the comic atmosphere of his plays, he aptly underlines the fact that it reflects the spoken Attic dialect of late fifth-century Athens, which explains to a certain extent the survival of those plays through their use as school texts throughout the Byzantine period. The diction of Aristophanes’ comedies is examined in the light of modern research on Aristophanic language and style from the perspectives of phonology, morphology, syntax and style, while attention is paid to the use of significant names, verbal accumulation, figures of speech, neologisms, puns, metaphors, diminutives, compounds and even non-Attic elements for comic effect. 7 This linguistic variety is further enriched through the use of parody of the formal speech of oracles and decrees or even of genres such as tragedy and oratory. 8 As Pappas points out, such parody results in a comically inverted use of vocabulary and style borrowed from those genres, which is often contrasted with the use of obscene language that stands out as an important feature of Aristophanic satire and humour.
The lyric countenance of Aristophanic comedy forms the focal point of Chapter 5 (pp. 203–54). Returning to a topic various aspects of which he had admirably explored in his earlier monograph,9 and taking into account more recent relevant works, Pappas manages to elucidate a multi-levelled variety attested in the lyric parts of Aristophanic comedy. 10 Cletic hymns and various choral songs, in particular, are permeated in Aristophanes by a variety of linguistic, stylistic and metrical features as well as by complex imagery. Such a variety often combines registers of high poetry known from Greek epic and lyric with the language of ritual as well as of ordinary social experience. This combination is perceptively explored by Pappas who in this context also provides an astute account of the dramatic function of the comic Chorus.
Chapter 6 (pp. 255–86) is devoted to satire and politics, and addresses thus some of the most important aspects of the comedies of Aristophanes. Avoiding the pitfall of biographical interpretation, Pappas considers Aristophanic comedy in the context of the adventures of democracy of late fifth-century Athens as well as in light of the formative dimension of dramatic poetry within the polis under the shadow of the Peloponnesian war and the appearance of demagogues or of intellectual movements such as that of the Sophists. 11 Closer readings of plays such as the Knights or the Wasps manage to highlight Aristophanes’ respect for democracy and yet his critical attitude towards contemporary politics and society as well as the nature of his satire not only with respect to the sphere of politics, but also with reference to other poets such as Euripides or contemporary thinkers such as Socrates. And all this is aptly done in connection with a consideration of the comic nature of the genre.
The dramatic function of the mask and the gaze forms the main topic of Chapter 7 (pp. 287–302). With the examination of the occurrence of terms such as πρόσωπον, προσωπεῖον, βλέμμα or ὄμμα in Aristophanes, Pappas reassesses the formulation of scenic action in both tragedy and comedy. He argues that in tragedy the visual perception of the tragic mask on the part of the audience leads to a perception of otherness. By contrast, the comic mask is considered by Pappas as a perverted way of rendering the face of the spectator and subsequently the portrait of a grotesque society. The gaze of the comic characters appears thus to meet the gaze of the spectators in a way which associates the on-stage action with social reality and enables the comic poet to comment upon society through the conventions of the comic genre and the production of comedy.
In the book’s Epilogue (pp. 303–13) Pappas sheds light on Aristophanes’ unique combination of a social and political sensibility with the reconstruction of an imaginary world within the context of the democratic polis. The key element of such a combination is the production of laughter, which is associated with a culturally specific notion of humour. Drawing upon recent, mainly anthropological works on Greek perceptions of laughter, 12 Pappas notes the social and cultural origins of Aristophanic humour and explores the ways in which laughter becomes the principal tool that contributes to the joyous reversals of the comic genre, while it constitutes a generic feature leading to the comic catharsis.
The book also contains a useful glossary relating to Greek drama (pp. 315–26) as well as a chronological index referring to authors, plays and major theatrical events and developments in relation to their historical context (pp. 327–45). Thus the reader may easily find the meaning of terms such as ἀναγνώρισις, ἐπιρρηματικὸς ἀγὼν or περίακτοι, while being provided with an overview of important people, works and events concerning ancient drama from the 6th century B.C. to modern times. Most of the Greek quotations are translated into Modern Greek and this makes the book more accessible to a wide readership. Its Bibliography is equally useful. Extending to almost two hundred pages (pp. 347–545), it provides the reader with an impressively full list of editions, translations, commentaries and scholarly books and articles concerning Aristophanes and Greek comedy, which appeared up to 2015. This valuable tool for the student of comedy is accompanied by a list of internet sites (pp. 546–7) relating to Greek literature and drama as well as by indexes of Aristophanic passages, names and topics (pp. 548–57).
With this monograph, which stands out for its clarity and fair-minded criticism, Theodoros G. Pappas manages to illuminate a variety of important aspects of Aristophanes’ plays. It is a learned, well-documented, up-to-date, carefully produced, reliable and indispensable work for both the non-expert who embarks upon a journey in the field of Greek comedy, and the specialist who may be interested in more advanced, thought-provoking and sophisticated approaches to specific topics relating to the comedy of Aristophanes.
1. See, among his works, Pappas, Th. (1990). Anthropologie de la comédie grecque ancienne (Athens).
2. Pappas, Th.G. (1996). Ὁ Φιλόγελως Ἀριστοφάνης, 2nd edn. (Athens).
3. See e.g. Silk, M. S. (2000). Aristophanes and the Definition of Comedy (Oxford); Revermann, M. (2006). Comic Business: Theatricality, Dramatic Technique, and Performance Contexts of Aristophanic Comedy (Oxford); Sidwell, K. (2009). Aristophanes the Democrat: The Politics of Satirical Comedy during the Peloponnesian War (Cambridge); Sommerstein, A. H. (2009). Talking about Laughter and Other Studies in Greek Comedy (Oxford); Dobrov, G. (ed.), (2010). Brill’s Companion to the Study of Greek Comedy (Leiden; Boston); Ruffell, I. (2011). Politics and Anti-Realism in Athenian Old Comedy (Oxford); Bakola, E., Prauscello, L., Telò, M. (eds.), (2013). Greek Comedy and the Discourse of Genres (Cambridge); Revermann, M. (ed.), (2014). The Cambridge Companion to Greek Comedy (Cambridge); Fontaine, M., Scafuro, A. C. (eds.), (2014). The Oxford Handbook of Greek and Roman Comedy (Oxford).
4. See e.g. Dover, K. J. (1988). “Explorations in the History of the Text of Aristophanes”. In The Greeks and Their Legacy. Collected Papers, II: Prose Literature, History, Society, Transmission, Influence (Oxford) 223–65; Wilson, N. G. (2007). Aristophanea: Studies on the Text of Aristophanes (Oxford) 1–14.
5. Sifakis, G. M. (1992). “The Structure of Aristophanic Comedy”. JHS 112, 123–42.
6. For the dramatic mechanisms employed by Aristophanes for the depiction of character, cf. Silk (2000) 206–55.
7. Cf. Silk (2000) 98–159; Willi, A. (2003). The Languages of Aristophanes: Aspects of Linguistic Variation in Classical Attic Greek (Oxford) 232–69.
8. For this variety mainly in terms of religious, technical or female speech, cf. Willi (2003) 8–225.
9. Pappas (1996) 89–177.
10. Cf. Silk (2000) 160–206.
11. On Aristophanes’ political treatment of these topics, cf., among others, Sidwell (2009).
12. See e.g. Desclos, M.-L. (ed.), (2000) Le rire des Grecs. Anthropologie du rire en Grèce ancienne (Grenoble). Cf. Halliwell, S. (2008). Greek Laughter: A Study of Cultural Psychology from Homer to Early Christianity (Cambridge).