University of New Hampshire
Mentor: Dr. Harriet Fertik & Dr. Stephen Trzaskoma, Department of Classics, Humanities, & italian Studies
Understanding Athenian Sentiments towards Democracy: A Study of Aristophanes’ Ecclesiazusae
The Greek comic playwright Aristophanes wrote his Ecclesiazusae in the early 4th century B.C.E. Assembly participation is a major element of the play since the women of Athens seize the Assembly and vote to turn control of the polis over to the Athenian women. The Ecclesiazusae thus provides important insight into how Athenians understood Assembly participation during the period of the radical democracy that develops in Athens in 403 B.C.E. I will distinguish Aristophanes’ views of democracy from those of his contemporaries, and I will show how Aristophanes perceived the role that participation played in Athenian democracy. Following the end of the Peloponnesian war, the Spartan victors instituted an oligarchy as a condition of their victory in 404 BCE; by By 403 B.C.E the Athenian oligarchy fell and Athens restored its democracy. In order to discern Aristophanes’ particular understanding and critique of democracy, I will examine other Athenian discussions of democracy, especially the Old Oligarch, Thucydides, and Plato. Each of these writers serves as an example of a different genre including rhetoric, history, and philosophy. However,How the comic genre allows Aristophanes to invent and exaggerate issues that are relevant to the time period in a way that may not be possible in other genres. The Ecclesiazusae suggests that there is a potential for radical shifts in policy under a democratic body, since such a body of government relies directly on who participates. While at the beginning of the play Athens is controlled by the men of the city, within a day the Athenian women seize authority over the polis. The contradictory actions of the protagonist, Praxagora, reveal that a disregard for customs is at the heart of this radical change. Thus, the Ecclesiazusae suggests that a system of government driven by participation of the body politic is susceptible to both damaging and radical shifts in policy.