Rhetoric, Comedy, and the Violence of Language in Aristophanes' Clouds

Rhetoric, Comedy, and the Violence of Language in Aristophanes' Clouds

Rhetoric, Comedy, and the Violence of Language in Aristophanes' Clouds

Rhetoric, Comedy, and the Violence of Language in Aristophanes' Clouds

Synopsis

This is an intelligent and unusually thought-provoking reading of Aristophanes' Clouds. O'Regan focuses on logos, or the power of argument, and its effects, and on the self-awareness of the second Clouds as a comedy of logos directed toward an audience made resistant by devotion to the body. Within and without the play, logos meets defeat when confronted with human nature and desire. The argument conveys much insight into fifth-century thought and the play's workings, the more so because it balances rhetoric with comedy, and reminds the reader that this is a comic logos--explored in the comic mode, and connected with the intentions and vicissitudes of the first and second Clouds.

Excerpt

It is well known that fifth-century Attic comedy was a profoundly public art. Like other expenses mandated by the city in its own interests, it was paid for through taxation (as were, for example, warships), while it was produced and acted by citizens as part of their civic responsibilities or privileges. The resulting plays were staged in comic competitions that were but one part of much larger festivals; for our Clouds, this was the City (or Great) Dionysia, a celebration whose events and ceremonies were dedicated to expressing (and reinforcing) Athenian ideology, while at the same time displaying the democratic city's power and prestige. The participants in this festival and the audience for comedy were the Athenian citizens. Gathered in the theater in "civic assembly," they were the same group, seated in similar order, as that which elsewhere voted the political and legal decisions of the city. Thus political (and judicial) rhetoric and theatrical discourse would have influenced each other reciprocally, the audience for each conditioned by its experience of the other. Likewise, the tasks of a comedian were, in one sense, those of any other speaker: he had to further his own (and the public) good by winning over his listeners, who, in judging his logos, or speech, to be best, would render him victorious over his rivals.

Thus the audience, context, and requirements of the comic contest paralleled other public, political institutions in which speech played a decisive role in the democracy, while the spectators reproduced their civic duties in performing their theatrical ones. Comedy itself, moreover, could legitimately be expected to address subjects as topical, difficult, and profound as any raised in assembly, court, or even tragedy (yet another form of speech before the same audience), but in the comic mode. For its spectators brought to each individual comedy all that they had learned not only outside the theater but inside it as well. They came to the comic competition prepared to enjoy further productions in a recognized and conventional genre. The comic play was set apart by distinctive costumes, character types, staging, meters, and time of performance. Generic norms shaped its form and established its creative tools: the use of farce and wit, stereotypical characters and situations, slapstick, wild dancing, obscenity, insult, puns, and sophisticated allusions to mock a wide variety of political, social, and theatrical butts.

Given the premium Athenian democracy placed on language ideologically, practically, and festively, it should come as no surprise that the Clouds itself is a play obsessed with logos: its teachers, its speakers, and its listeners. But the Clouds' interest is more topical than this summary indicates, for its subject is sophistic . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.