Aristophanes and the Cloak of Comedy"Affect, Aesthetics, and the Canon"

Aristophanes and the Cloak of Comedy"Affect, Aesthetics, and the Canon"

Mario Telò

Print publication date: 2016

ISBN: 9780226309699

Publisher: University of Chicago Press

Abstract

Aristophanes, whose eleven surviving plays are all that remain of Old Comedy, has been stereotyped since ancient times as the poet who brought order and stability to this rowdy theatrical genre. But how did this image arise, and why were the rivals Cratinus and Eupolis relegated to secondary status and merely fragmentary survival? This book traces Aristophanes’ supremacy, paradoxically, back to the defeat of his Clouds at the Great Dionysia in 423 BCE. Both Wasps (422) and the revised Clouds (419–417), the two plays at the center of this study, depict the earlier Clouds as a failed attempt by Aristophanes, the good son, to heal the comic audience—reflected in the plays in a pair of dysfunctional fathers. Through this narrative of failure, Aristophanes advances a “proto-canonical” discourse that anticipates the contours of the Hellenistic comic canon by elevating his aesthetic mode while delegitimizing his rivals. Aristophanic comedy is cast as a prestigious object, an expression of the supposedly timeless values of dignity and self-control. This discourse, which depends on both internal and external textual connections, is grounded in the distinctive feelings that different comic modes purportedly transmitted to an audience. In Wasps and Clouds the Aristophanic style is figured as a soft, protective cloak meant to shield an audience from debilitating competitors and restore it to paternal responsibility and authority. Aristophanes’ narrative of afflicted fathers and healing sons, of audience and poet, is thus shown to be at the center of the proto-canonical discourse that shaped his eventual dominance.