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” (
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
The second chapter discusses
The third chapter offers new contributions. It is focused on Aristophanes’ surviving production and consists of a detailed analysis of
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
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
The chapter ends with a detailed analysis of the
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
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
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
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
5. S.C. properly also examines the relationship of
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
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
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.