Making the Case for the Oligarchs’ Amnesty: A Close Reading of Aristophanes Frogs 686–705

  Papachrysostomou, Athina. 2023. “Making the Case for the Oligarchs’ Amnesty: A Close Reading of Aristophanes Frogs 686–705.” In “Γέρα: Studies in honor of Professor Menelaos Christopoulos,” ed. Athina Papachrysostomou, Andreas P. Antonopoulos, Alexandros-Fotios Mitsis, Fay Papadimitriou, and Panagiota Taktikou, special issue, Classics@ 25.

In 1993, in the introduction to his commentary on Aristophanes’ Frogs, Kenneth James Dover wrote: “Aristophanes had made his contribution to the rehabilitation of some of his friends, and they, influential in the changed climate of opinion, showed their gratitude”. [1] Of course, Dover refers to the memorable epirrhema of the parabasis, where Aristophanes urged the Athenian citizens to grant amnesty and restore to full citizenship those who participated in the oligarchic coup of the Four Hundred in 411 BCE; [2] for this advice Aristophanes was famously awarded an olive wreath and the play was allowed to be reperformed. [3]
Regardless of whether we agree with Dover’s perspective, the truth remains that the epirrhema of Frogs is an exceptionally powerful text, which—enveloped by the previous events at Arginusae and the following events at Aigos Potamoi—contributed (to an unknown degree) to the amnesty of 403 BCE. The present study engages in a close reading of this text, [4] in an attempt to demonstrate how Aristophanes peerlessly choreographed the entire piece and how he meticulously selected almost every single word, in order to produce an exemplarily wrought text and fervently advocate the case in favor of amnesty for the oligarchs and their collaborators.
First, I consider it useful that we remind ourselves of the Greek text, the twenty lines that make the epirrhema (686—705):

          τὸν ἱερὸν χορὸν δίκαιόν ἐστι χρηστὰ τῇ πόλει
          ξυμπαραινεῖν καὶ διδάσκειν. πρῶτον οὖν ἡμῖν δοκεῖ
          ἐξισῶσαι τοὺς πολίτας κἀφελεῖν τὰ δείματα.
          κεἴ τις ἥμαρτε σφαλείς τι Φρυνίχου παλαίσμασιν,
690    ἐγγενέσθαι φημὶ χρῆναι τοῖς ὀλισθοῦσιν τότε
          αἰτίαν ἐκθεῖσι λῦσαι τὰς πρότερον ἁμαρτίας.
          εἶτ᾿ ἄτιμόν φημι χρῆναι μηδέν᾿ εἶν᾿ ἐν τῇ πόλει·
          καὶ γὰρ αἰσχρόν ἐστι τοὺς μὲν ναυμαχήσαντας μίαν
          καὶ Πλαταιᾶς εὐθὺς εἶναι κἀντὶ δούλων δεσπότας·
695    κοὐδὲ ταῦτ᾿ ἔγωγ᾿ ἔχοιμ᾿ ἂν μὴ οὐ καλῶς φάσκειν ἔχειν,
          ἀλλ᾿ ἐπαινῶ· μόνα γὰρ αὐτὰ νοῦν ἔχοντ᾿ ἐδράσατε·
          πρὸς δὲ τούτοις εἰκὸς ὑμᾶς, οἳ μεθ᾿ ὑμῶν πολλὰ δὴ
          χοἰ πατέρες ἐναυμάχησαν καὶ προσήκουσιν γένει
          τὴν μίαν ταύτην παρεῖναι ξυμφορὰν αἰτουμένοις.
700    ἀλλὰ τῆς ὀργῆς ἀνέντες, ὦ σοφώτατοι φύσει,
          πάντας ἀνθρώπους ἑκόντες ξυγγενεῖς κτησώμεθα
          κἀπιτίμους καὶ πολίτας, ὅστις ἂν ξυνναυμαχῇ.
          εἰ δὲ ταῦτ᾿ ὀγκωσόμεσθα κἀποσεμνυνούμεθα,
          τὴν πόλιν καὶ ταῦτ᾿ ἔχοντες κυμάτων ἐν ἀγκάλαις,
705    ὑστέρῳ χρόνῳ ποτ᾿ αὖθις εὖ φρονεῖν οὐ δόξομεν
It’s right and proper for the sacred chorus to help give good advice
and instruction to the city. First then, we think that
all the citizens should be made equal, and their fears removed
and if anyone was tripped up by Phrynichus’ holds,
I say that those who slipped up at that time should be permitted
to dispose of their liability and put right their earlier mistakes.
Next I say that no one in the city should be disenfranchised,
for it’s a disgrace that veterans of a single sea battle
should forthwith become Plataeans, turning from slaves into masters;
not that I have any criticism to voice about that—
indeed I applaud it as being your only intelligent action—
but in addition to that it’s fitting, in the case of people who have fought
many a sea battle at your side, as have their fathers, and who are your blood relations,
that you pardon this one misadventure when they ask you to.
Now relax your anger, you people most naturally sage,
and let’s readily accept as kinsmen and as citizens
in good standing everyone who fights on our ships.
If we puff ourselves up about this and are too proud to do it,
especially now that we have a city “embraced by high seas,”
there will come a time when we’ll seem to have acted thoughtlessly. [5]

In 1993 (the same year when Dover’s commentary appeared) Aristophanes’ Frogs was performed in the ancient theatre of Epidaurus by the Greek Art Theatre (Theatro Technis) Karolos Koun, with a Modern Greek translation by Kostas Stamatiou. The play’s parabasis is featured at this link: The epirrhema can be found at 1:02–3:30.

Stamatiou’s translation is faithful enough; yet he did add a tiny bit that is absent from the original text. In line 692 the Greek text reads εἶτ᾿ ἄτιμόν φημι χρῆναι μηδέν᾿ εἶν᾿ ἐν τῇ πόλει, which means “next I say that no one in the city should be disenfranchised.” Instead, Stamatiou has the chorus saying (1:54–2:02 in the video) κανένας μες στην πόλη, ό,τι κι αν κάνει, τα δικαιώματά του δεν πρέπει να τα χάνει “no one in the city, no matter what they do, should ever be disenfranchised.” The part ό,τι κι αν κάνει “no matter what they do” is Stamatiou’s own addition to the text. Aristophanes’ assertion in this line that “no one in the city should be disenfranchised,” which epitomizes the epirrhema’s advice, is highly questionable as it is. Stamatiou’s supplement adds to the line’s debatability from both a political and an ethical point of view. The assertion that no one should ever lose their citizenship regardless of what they do (and in the case of the oligarchic coup this included political assassinations and cold-blooded murders) is highly problematic and precarious for a city-state.
But let me now delve into the very threads of the textual fabric. This Aristophanic epirrhema, which sets off with an idiosyncratic introductory statement in third-person speech (686 and the first half of 687), is unusual for more than one reason. From the very beginning, line 686, Aristophanes describes the chorus as being ἱερός (sacred). This characterization is presented as a fact, a given, and serves Aristophanes for what is to follow next. Of course, one might associate this claim with the fact that the chorus members of the Frogs are initiates celebrating in Hades; yet no reference to their dramatic identity is made [6] and, after all, for the parabasis the chorus members used to famously remove their masks—thus symbolically stepping out of character. It is conspicuous and noteworthy that nowhere else in Greek drama (comedy or tragedy) is the adjective ἱερός used to describe the chorus. [7] To label the chorus as sacred is Aristophanes’ strategic trick, since the notion of sanctity appeals directly to the subconscious of the spectators, making them susceptible to unconditionally accepting anything that the sacred chorus will say next. And indeed this is how Aristophanes proceeds: it is δίκαιον, fair, right, and proper, for the sacred chorus to give beneficial advice (χρηστά) to the city (τῇ πόλει) and instruct the citizens. Already in the very first line of the epirrhema (686) Aristophanes masterfully manages to call upon three notions that are fundamental for the city: the notion of sanctity (ἱερόν), justice (δίκαιον), and virtuous serviceability (χρηστά). The quality of sanctity is prioritized and the importance of the agent, the sacred chorus, is memorably emphasized. Thus, in the first line of the epirrhema the poet has already delineated the frame of his advice to his fellow citizens; it is all about sanctity, justice, and good service to the city. In addition, this entire introductory claim in third-person speech (which extends to the first half of the next line, 687) is aptly articulated as a non-negotiable programmatic statement, [8] which seizes the attention and takes the audience by surprise. To put this exceptionally uncommon statement into perspective, we need to remind ourselves that the rest of the surviving Aristophanic epirrhemas lack this kind of introductory, third-person point-of-view statement and simply begin with a verb in first-person plural or else with a second-person plural address to the audience before switching to first-person plural narrative. [9] Yet at the beginning of the epirrhema of the Frogs we hear the poet’s voice subtly controlling our emotions, directing our thoughts, and anticipating our judgement; Aristophanes assumes, albeit briefly, the role of an omniscient narrator, reassuring the audience about the infallibility of the comic chorus.
Once the righteous nature of the chorus has been irrevocably established, the poet’s voice recedes to the background, along with the third-person narrative. Now the chorus can speak for themselves for the first time (second half of line 687): πρῶτον (first) is what the chorus leader says—appositely enough—as the first-person plural is used for the first time; what dominates the chorus’ thoughts (πρῶτον οὖν ἡμῖν δοκεῖ) is the belief that (688) “all citizens should be made equal” (ἐξισῶσαι τοὺς πολίτας). If isolated from its original context, this claim can most easily sound like (and be misinterpreted as) a radical, revolutionary aspiration that resists and rejects all sorts of discriminations. But if we carefully study the text in combination with the historical data, we understand that what Aristophanes advocates is not citizens’ equality but a crooked and distorted version of equity. The infinitive ἐξισῶσαι, which is emphatically positioned first in line 688, does not advocate equality, but instead champions a highly controversial political equity, since it would mean (as it eventually meant after the amnesty implementation) that the righteous and law-abiding citizens are to be reduced to a level with the culpable and disgraced individuals who were involved in the oligarchic coup of 411 BCE. This situation could never be described as “equality.” This is one of the many cases where Aristophanes handles with exemplary dexterity the diachronic tool of populism. As Ruffell argues (2020:60):

The writing on politics in Old Comedy has been bedeviled by attempts to locate Aristophanes on one side of a political argument that has been anachronistically framed in terms of “Left” and “Right,” or their close synonyms “radical” and “conservative.” Neither truly radical nor truly conservative, the politics of Aristophanes are better understood through the prism of populism, which explains both the choice of individual targets and the mode of comic argumentation. Populism eschews logic and expertise and is suspicious of complexity.

In the Frogs, Aristophanes’ call for civic equity, which is camouflaged as equality, is a textbook example of populist argumentation.

Next, in line 689, the poet introduces the wrongdoings of the culprits, adopting an admirably rhetorical approach; he employs a conditional clause to refer to the perpetration of known offences. All past crimes are now euphemistically presented as a supposition (689 κεἴ τις ἥμαρτε “and if anyone failed”), and they are reduced to a tiny word, the indefinite pronoun τι (κεἴ τις ἥμαρτε … τι “and if anyone failed somehow”). The very historicity of the facts is shrouded by the rhetorical language of the first form of conditions. Of course, the poet does not seek to deny the facts, [10] i.e. the criminal behaviour of the ἄτιμοι—on the contrary: for the argument to be complete, it is necessary that the facts be mentioned in the text, but only in passing, as lightly and as cursorily as possible, as a vague memory; and this need is ideally served by the conditional clause that Aristophanes strategically chooses to employ. Moreover, the elaborate content (syntax and ideas) of the protasis of this conditional clause (κεἴ τις ἥμαρτε σφαλείς τι Φρυνίχου παλαίσμασιν) deserves further attention. The verb ἥμαρτε “failed” is paired with the supplementary participle σφαλείς “having been tripped up,” which significantly narrows the meaning of the verb and specifies the details of the failure: [11] the failure is downsized, as it is specifically identified as being merely a trip. Even so, this trip is not acknowledged as the defendants’ own fault; but, as we are promptly told next, this was caused “by the wrestling holds and tricks of Phrynichus” (Φρυνίχου παλαίσμασιν). What is also noteworthy here is the passive mood of the participle σφαλείς “having been tripped up,” which immediately mitigates the proactive engagement in the coup implied by ἥμαρτε; thus, Phrynichus (who is dead anyway) is turned into a scapegoat, while the coup participants are absolved of (much of) the guilt, merely blamed for being naïve, imprudent, and uncritical followers of a ruthless leader (a charge much less serious than having had a strong personal opinion and having acted out on their own). The wrestling imagery generated by σφαλείς [12] and παλαίσμασιν (689) is nicely matched by ὀλισθοῦσιν “to those who have slipped up” in the next line (690). The present case is one of the extremely rare cases in Greek literature where the verb ὀλισθάνω “to slip” is used metaphorically, [13] and the single case where the verb occurs within a context of political morality and is used to describe and downplay serious offences.
In the same line (690) the presence of φημὶ χρῆναι “I say it is right” should not be overlooked. This emphatic expression, which is repeated two lines down the text, is articulated by the sacrosanct chorus who has the city’s best interests at heart, as the poet took care to tell the spectators at the very beginning of the parabasis (686–687); φημὶ χρῆναι is a conspicuously strong recommendation, boosted by its very own syntactic connotations: the determination implied by the indicative mode, the topicality attached to the present tense, and the directness of the first-person singular (φημί), along with the notion of exigent necessity conveyed by χρῆναι, create an air of unequivocal course of action, which is promptly conveyed to the spectators, subtly inviting them to embrace the argument. [14] In that regard, it is conspicuous that this is the only parabasis where Aristophanes employs this assertive expression to straightforwardly present and advance his recommendations towards his fellow citizens. [15]
Next, the notion of failure, which had already featured in line 689 in verbal form (ἥμαρτε), recurs in line 691 as a noun (ἁμαρτίας). Thus, in combination with line 690, the crimes of the oligarchs are reduced to a mere failure, a trip (ἥμαρτε σφαλείς), being the result of a slip up (ὀλισθοῦσιν), caused by a couple of wrestling tricks (παλαίσμασιν) of someone who—conveniently enough—is now dead. The poet strongly recommends (φημὶ χρῆναι) that the coup collaborators, “having got rid of the charge” against them (αἰτίαν ἐκθεῖσι), be permitted “to atone for, to make up for” these failures (λῦσαι), although he does not specify how. Even the participial expression αἰτίαν ἐκθεῖσι is elusive: the chorus does not specify how and most importantly why, on what grounds, the offenders are getting rid of this charge; the disposal of liability is not even articulated as a straightforward recommendation, but it is tucked away in a parenthetic participial expression, as an arbitrary and unquestionable given.
Next, there comes the pivotal line 692: εἶτ᾿ ἄτιμόν φημι χρῆναι μηδέν᾿ εἶν᾿ ἐν τῇ πόλει “I say that no one in the city should be disenfranchised.” To the unsuspecting spectator, this may sound radically democratic, romantic, and idealistic; it may sound like a bold call for equality, traceable to Solon’s timocratic reform and the abolition of the criterion of origin as a requirement to wield political power or access any political office. Yet, unlike Solon (who did not hesitate to deprive unworthy citizens of their civic rights [16] ), Aristophanes’ call for equality regarding citizenship is dangerously unconditional. Line 692 of the Frogs is not only the most politically charged line within the entire Aristophanic corpus, but it also features a remarkable oxymoron: this is a blatantly pro-oligarchic declaration, which however uses the language and logic of democracy. [17]
In the following lines (693–694) Aristophanes reminds the Athenian spectators that they were magnanimous enough to grant citizenship rights to the slaves who rowed in the naval battle of Arginusae the previous year (406 BCE), and although he goes on to praise his fellow citizens for this initiative (696), it is more than evident that the reason for bringing this up is merely to draw attention on what he considers to be a flagrant incongruity on the Athenians’ part, who were quick to reward a single contribution (originating from slaves—the insinuation is always lurking), but are still holding a grudge against their forefathers who are their blood relatives (697–698); the implication here is that the latter are autochthonous Athenians who (should) have by definition, and precisely because of their origin, the inalienable right to citizenship—no matter what they do (as Stamatiou says). This perspective is deeply undemocratic, quintessentially arbitrary, and potentially dystopian. Yet the poet propounds the (arbitrary) view that it is “fitting and equitable” (εἰκός 697) that the Athenians “disregard” (παρεῖναι 699) this one “misfortune” (συμφοράν 699) of the oligarchs; the poet does not appeal to the reason but to the emotion of the audience. And, most importantly, Aristophanes does not ask the Athenians to forgive the oligarchs for their crimes; instead, he calls for something milder: he asks them to disregard a mere misfortune (συμφοράν). At this point I deviate from both Henderson’s translation and Liddell-Scott’s explanation, [18] who interpret παρεῖναι metaphorically as “pardon.” Ι believe that the poet’s perspective is best served if we understand παρεῖναι (verb παρίημι) in its original/literal sense as “let fall, drop, disregard.” Aristophanes is subtle throughout this epirrhema; he would not and does not ask for forgiveness; he asks the Athenians simply to disregard a misfortune (besides, a misfortune—technically—cannot be forgiven, but only disregarded).
In line 691 the oligarchs’ crimes were already called ἁμαρτίας “failures”; eight lines later they have been downplayed even further, having become a mere misfortune. The choice of the term συμφορά is symptomatic of the poet’s intention to systematically make the case for the oligarchs’ reinstatement. By definition, the term συμφορά entails a passive mood and a passive state of being; a συμφορά is a misfortune / an affliction / a stroke of bad luck that unexpectedly and unforeseeably happens to people, without the human agent being able to predict, avert, or eschew it, but only to bear it. The offences that the oligarchs and their collaborators carried out were anything but a συμφορά; they were premeditated crimes, and nothing about them was passive. These crimes did not just happen; they were conscious and proactive choices, the result of the perpetrators’ deliberation and free will. On the level of poetic dramaturgy, this is an outstanding case of comic ingenuity; on the level of political ethics, this is the single case in Greek literature where a writer has the guts to whitewash so openly and so drastically a series of political crimes, to the point that they end up being called a misfortune.
Line 700 accommodates both a piece of advice and a captatio benevolentiae towards the spectators (who are first encouraged to let go of their anger and then are called “wisest by nature”), before the poet returns to the idea of kinship (701), which had already been introduced in line 698. This time Aristophanes drives the idea to a crescendo, as he masterfully manages to inextricably merge the notions of kinship, citizenship, and fighting in battle side by side (701–702). Of course, the notions of citizenship and fighting in battle were already interconnected in the Greek world (besides, many among those fighting were relatives). Aristophanes deftly uses this mindset to call for a reconsolidation of this pattern that had been shattered and violated, as it were, because of the exclusion of oligarchic kinsmen from citizenship.
In the three final lines of the epirrhema (703–705), Aristophanes visualizes what will happen if the Athenians fail to follow his instructions, predicting an unfavorable judgment on behalf of future generations, should they now remain obstinate and bumptious.
To conclude, the epirrhema of the parabasis of Frogs evinces the incomparability of Aristophanes’ dramaturgic abilities. At that historic moment the oligarchs needed to prove somehow to the city that they were worthy of being trusted with citizenship rights again, but no promise, no oath whatsoever regarding their future behaviour is made. Yet through an exemplary use of Greek language (syntax, choice of words, notions, and implications), Aristophanes manages to turn the tables; instead of future promises and guarantees on the oligarchs’ behalf, the poet searches for answers and justifications in the past (697–699), insisting that all commendable past behaviour (along with the asset of origin) should be more than enough to exculpate the oligarchs and their sympathizers from any guilt. A diametrically opposite view regarding the evaluation of anyone’s past behaviour is advanced about half a century later (349 BCE) by Demosthenes, who in his first Olynthiac (§11) ardently maintains that “every action in the past is judged in the light of the final issue” [19] (πρὸς γὰρ τὸ τελευταῖον ἐκβὰν ἕκαστον τῶν πρὶν ὑπαρξάντων κρίνεται).
At the end of the parabasis, the spectators of 1993 in Epidaurus burst into a huge round of applause, and went into raptures over what they heard, [20] which they clearly misinterpreted as a progressive and egalitarian manifesto, as a daring democratic stunt on Aristophanes’ behalf, and not as an attempt to exonerate a bunch of anti-democrats who had been involved both in the overthrow of the democratic regime and in gruesome political crimes. I suspect that had modern spectators known the political background and had they understood what Aristophanes was really advocating, they probably would not have been so ecstatic in their response to the poet’s call to reinstate the oligarchs and their sympathizers. Of course, in their defense, the spectators had just heard an exceptionally powerful text, overridden with emotion, and spiced up by the modern Greek translation.
As an epilogue, I would like to call attention to an equally powerful, equally emotional, and masterfully written passage, which could be considered as the antipode (or just an eloquent response) to the Aristophanic epirrhema of the Frogs; it is the last paragraph (§100) of Lysias’ speech Against Eratosthenes, delivered by Lysias in 403 BC (shortly after the amnesty) against Eratosthenes, one of the Thirty Tyrants. Eratosthenes, who had also been active in the cause of the oligarchy in 411 BCE, had murdered Polemarchus, Lysias’ brother, and—on account of the amnesty—he had just been reinstated and acquitted of all wrongdoing, within the general tendency towards pacification. This is how Lysias concludes his pleading to the judges:

οἶμαι δ᾿ αὐτοὺς ἡμῶν τε ἀκροᾶσθαι καὶ ὑμᾶς εἴσεσθαι τὴν ψῆφον φέροντας, ἡγουμένους, ὅσοι μὲν ἂν τούτων ἀποψηφίσησθε, αὐτῶν θάνατον κατεψηφισμένους ἔσεσθαι, ὅσοι δ᾿ ἂν παρὰ τούτων δίκην λάβωσιν, ὑπὲρ αὐτῶν τιμωρίας πεποιημένους. Παύσομαι κατηγορῶν. ἀκηκόατε, ἑωράκατε, πεπόνθατε, ἔχετε· δικάζετε.
I believe that they (sc. the dead) are listening to us, and they will find out how you vote, feeling that those of you who acquit these men (sc. the accused) will have passed sentence of death on them (sc. the dead), while those who inflict the merited penalty will have acted as their avengers. I will here conclude my accusation. You have heard, you have seen, you have suffered; you have the guilty: give judgement. [21]


Bierl, A. 2009. Ritual and Performativity: The Chorus in Old Comedy. Hellenic Studies Series 20. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.
Dover, K. J. 1993. Aristophanes. Frogs. Oxford.
Henderson, J. 2002. Aristophanes. Frogs, Assemblywomen, Wealth. Loeb Classical Library 180. Cambridge, MA.
Lamb, W. R. M. 1930. Lysias. Loeb Classical Library 244. Cambridge, MA.
Marshall, C. W. 2020. Aristophanes. Frogs. London.
Monoson, S. S. 2000. Plato’s Democratic Entanglements: Athenian Politics and the Practice of Philosophy. Princeton.
Ober, J. 1998. Political Dissent in Democratic Athens. Intellectual Critics of Popular Rule. Princeton.
Rosen, R. M. 2015. “Reconsidering the Reperformance of Aristophanes’ Frogs.” Trends in Classics 7.2:237–256.
Ruffell, I. A. 2020. “Conservative and Radical: Aristophanic Comedy and Populist Debate in Democratic Athens.” In Aristophanes and Politics: New Studies, ed. R. Rosen and H. Foley, 60–89. Leiden.
Sidwell, K. C. 2009. Aristophanes the Democrat: The Politics of Satirical Comedy During the Peloponnesian War. Cambridge.
Smyth, H. W. 1956. Greek Grammar. Cambridge, MA.
Sommerstein, A. H. 1996. Aristophanes. Frogs. Warminster.
Teegarden, D. A. 2012. “The Oath of Demophantos, Revolutionary Mobilization, and the Preservation of the Athenian Democracy.” Hesperia 81.3:433–465.
Vince, J. H. 1930. Demosthenes. Orations. Vol. I. Loeb Classical Library 238. Cambridge, MA.


[ back ] 1. Dover 1993:74–75.
[ back ] 2. The oath of Demophantus of 410 BCE, which was sworn by all Athenians, spared the collaborators who remained, though they were disenfranchised. Cf. Teegarden 2012.
[ back ] 3. On the ancient testimonies on reperformance and for a reevaluation of the reasons of reperformance, see Rosen 2015.
[ back ] 4. Both the historic context and the political ramifications of this epirrhema (and of the entire play) have been exhaustively analyzed by Dover (1993) and many other scholars (the bibliography is vast; see e.g. Sommerstein 1996, Sidwell 2009:283–298, Marshall 2020—all with further bibliography). The present essay focuses on specific terms and expressions that evince the conscious (and successful) attempt on Aristophanes’ behalf to downplay the severity of the crimes committed during the oligarchic coup of 411 BCE.
[ back ] 5. Translation by Henderson 2002 (which I occasionally adapt throughout this chapter).
[ back ] 6. Contrast how elsewhere Aristophanes does refer to the chorus’ dramatic identity when this is relevant to the text/plot; for example, the chorus in Thesmophoriazusae 947–1000 explicitly acknowledges—in a self-referential apostrophe—the ritual nature of their dancing. See Bierl 2009, chapter one.
[ back ] 7. Although we may occasionally feel that the chorus is (or acts as) an agent of sanctity (e.g. in Sophocles Oedipus Tyrannus 895–910, Euripides Medea 410–414, 439–441, etc.), the term ἱερός is nowhere else used to describe the chorus.
[ back ] 8. This claim can be considered as building on the legacy of previous Aristophanic claims of comparable nature; e.g. Acharnians 500 τὸ γὰρ δίκαιον οἶδε καὶ τρυγῳδία “for even comedy knows about what’s right,” etc.
[ back ] 9. For example, the first line of the epirrhema of the Acharnians reads (676): οἱ γέροντες οἱ παλαιοὶ μεμφόμεσθα τῇ πόλει “we old men, the elderly, have a complaint against the city”; likewise, the first line of the epirrhema of the Knights reads (565): εὐλογῆσαι βουλόμεσθα τοὺς πατέρας ἡμῶν “we want to praise our forebears,” while the epirrhema of the Clouds begins by directly addressing the audience (575–576): ὦ σοφώτατοι θεαταί, δεῦρο τὸν νοῦν προσέχετε· / ἠδικημέναι γὰρ ὑμῖν μεμφόμεσθ᾿ ἐναντίον “most sage spectators, give us your attention, for we are going to reproach you with the wrong you have done us.”
[ back ] 10. “Even when the supposition is true according to the real opinion of the writer, this form of condition is employed” (Smyth 1956:517).
[ back ] 11. “With verbs signifying to do well or ill, to surpass or be inferior, the participle specifies the manner or that in which the action of the verb consists. … So with καλῶς ποιῶ, ἀδικῶ, ἁμαρτάνω” (Smyth 1956:469).
[ back ] 12. See LSJ s.v. σφάλλω: “make to fall, overthrow, properly by tripping up, trip up in wrestling.”
[ back ] 13. Cf. Anthologia Palatina 7.233 νοῦσον ὅτ᾿ εἰς ὑπάτην ὠλίσθανε “when he fell into his last illness.”
[ back ] 14. The expression φημί χρῆναι occurs frequently in fourth-century rhetorical texts; e.g. Isocrates 3.48, 6.73, 8.16, 5.30, 5.154; Demosthenes 14.10, 14.16, 14.24.
[ back ] 15. The only other instance within the surviving Aristophanic corpus where the poet employs the expression φημὶ χρῆναι is in Ecclesiazusae 210 (when Praxagora calls for the city to be turned to women).
[ back ] 16. See [Aristotle] Athenian Constitution 8.5, Plutarch Solon 20.1.
[ back ] 17. This is not the only such occasion in ancient Greek literature. Whilst studying the vast issue of critique against democracy, Ober notes (1998:28), “while the critic’s primary intended audience might be his fellow elites, among his implied interlocutors and the targets of his criticism were the logic and language of democracy itself,” before concluding that “when reading any classical Athenian text critical of popular rule, much can be gained from an appreciation of the democratic political culture in which the author lived and to which he attempted to respond.” Likewise, commenting on Plato’s Menexenus, Monoson notes (2000:182): “Menexenus shows how much Plato’s thought is indebted to practices of Athenian democracy, even as it delivers a critique of Athenian politics.”
[ back ] 18. LSJ s.v. παρίημι III.3.
[ back ] 19. Translation by Vince 1930:11 (adapted).
[ back ] 20. For the final applause go to 6:47–6:57 (
[ back ] 21. Translation by Lamb 1930:277 (adapted).