The City as Comedy: Society and Representation in Athenian Drama

By Gregory W. Dobrov | Go to book overview

RALPH M. ROSEN


The Gendered Polis in Eupolis' Cities

Ever since Antiphanes brought on the stage a character, perhaps Comedy herself, complaining that comedy was more difficult to compose than tragedy (fr. 189.17-23 K.-A.), it has become something of a truism to say that the poets of Old Comedy had at their disposal much richer and less generically restricted literary possibilities than their colleagues working in tragedy In the area of the chorus this is certainly the case: whereas a tragedian was limited in his choice of a chorus by the demands of the particular myth he was dramatizing, the comic poet's great freedom in plot construction led to enormous variations in the composition and deployment of his choruses. The extant plays of Aristophanes give us a fair sampling of the range of choruses available to the comic poet, from the animal choruses of Birds and Frogs, through the quasi-divine meteorological chorus of Clouds, to the choruses representing various human constituencies involved in the plot (e.g., knights, demesmen, women). But it so happens that the extant Aristophanic plays offer no examples of another important type of comic chorus, known to us from the fragmentary authors, in which the chorus members represented allegorically inanimate abstractions or institutions.

Although, as so often happens with the fragmentary material, we can capture only a fleeting glimpse of how this conceit might have been employed in the plays, some cases are particularly tantalizing for what they seem to reveal about how the Athenians conceptualized the abstractions represented by these choruses. Theatrical allegory, after all, compels the playwright to conceive of abstractions in ways that go beyond ordinary discourse, since he must ascribe flesh and blood to a lifeless intellectual construct. A "law," a "demos," an

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