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Space in Aristophanes: Portraying the Civic and Domestic Worlds in Acharnians, Knights, and Wasps

Papathanasopoulou, Evgenia

This dissertation explores the treatment of the scenic and diegetic space in Aristophanes' Acharnians, Knights, and Wasps, and the comedies' attitude towards a variety of domestic and civic spaces, taking into consideration the cultural context in which the plays were composed. I argue that by using visual creativity and the available staging resources, Aristophanes calls attention to the consequences of the Peloponnesian war on the Athenians' civic and domestic life. Acharnians, Knights, and Wasps all literalize in an imaginative way the impact of the dysfunction of the polis - the assembly, the agora, the boule, the lawcourts - on the oikos and the householder. The plays not only explore what happens to the oikos itself, but also the implications for a polis in which the oikos loses its place of prominence. Acharnians displays an example of the polis' dysfunction in an assembly meeting at the Pnyx, and traces an individual's frustration with this polis and his journey back to his oikos. We witness the reactions of Dikaiopolis and the Acharnians, both of whom have been forced out of their oikoi, have had their properties ravaged, and experience their estrangement with nostalgia or anger. I argue that through a private peace treaty Dikaiopolis is able to return to his oikos, and then expand his domestic space in order to be reintegrated into a functional community. Knights presents an invaded oikos both as allegory for the dysfunction of the polis, and as a way of connecting Athens' foreign policy decisions to the concerns of the individual Athenian householder. The play's allegorical significance, present also in the double persona of Demos who represents both a household master and the people of Athens, conveys the impression that events taking place in the political realm have an impact also on the domestic lives of Athenian citizens. Wasps calls attention to the mismanagement of civic institutions by presenting the contrasting perspectives of a father and a son on particular domestic and civic spaces. Here I argue that the play presents the space of the oikos as a microcosm for the polis of Athens within which social and political divisions can be observed. The play focuses on the lawcourts' accumulation of power within the astu as the single place in which all cases were tried during the war. By making the protagonist Philocleon defy his own oikos, Aristophanes turns his focus onto new problems in the management of individual households, and explores what happens when the oikos or the polis becomes a citizen's primary locus of allegiance. All three plays present their central conflict in terms of a struggle to return to, enter, or escape from the oikos: spatial restrictions on the citizens imposed by war policy (Acharnians); the threat of invasion of the oikos by elements foreign to it (Knights); and the threat to the integrity of the oikos imposed by the dysfunctional jury system (Wasps). The first chapter looks at the importance of the visual component of Greek drama and provides a survey of previous works on this topic. I discuss the stage resources Aristophanes would be using; I explain my choice of examining together Acharnians, Knights and Wasps; and I give an overview of the plays' historical context. Chapters two, three, and four are dedicated respectively to each of the three plays, and examine the space and staging of each play sequentially. In a brief conclusion I suggest that Aristophanes might be considered among the first authors to display interest in domestic economy, by turning the Athenians' focus to the welfare of the oikos and its importance for the prosperity of the polis.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Classics
Thesis Advisors
Foley, Helene
Degree
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 18, 2013