Waiting in the Wings: Aristophanes' Ecclesiazusae 1

Let us begin by forgetting---forgetting that Athens "fell" in 404, that oligarchs and democrats fought repeatedly in her streets in the last years of the century, and that, despite a general amnesty, private passions could still play themselves out in events such as the trial of Socrates. Let us forget all this---at least temporarily---in order to approach with an open mind the first Aristophanic comedy of the fourth century which has come down to us.
For the temptation to classify the Ecclesiazusae before we experience it is powerful: "fourth century," "Middle comedy," "a faint echo of Aristophanes' earlier comedies about 'women on top.'" All these contribute to the now prevalent view of this as a diminished, merely "ironic" comedy. The Lysistrata has always commanded an admiring audience. More recently the gleeful intertextual games of the Thesmophoriazusae have captured our attention. The Ecclesiazusae, more revolutionary than either of its predecessors, has nonetheless trailed along in their shadow. The ancient tradition which divides comedy into Old, Middle, and New and the cataclysm of 404 loom so large in our historical consciousness that the assumption that these must have been of equal significance for Aristophanes in his art insinuates itself easily.2 This comedy's opening scene, however, plays with the nature of the performance in ways quite as interesting as Aristophanes' earlier metatheatrical experiments and suggests consequently a more purely comic interpretation of this play than that now generally held.
Plays exist in time. Critical analysis which abstracts the play from the stage and even more importantly from its original linear presentation risks distorting the play beyond recognition. More than most plays, the Ecclesiazusae negotiates the conditions of its own reception with its audience and only gradually articulates its particular vision. If we already know where Praxagora is leading before she announces her plan, we must put our anachronistic knowledge aside and reenvision the performance as it unfolds through time. In what follows issues of metatheatre, of the play's own self-conscious play with its form and its relation to the audience, will claim our particular attention. While the metatheatricality of early Aristophanes has become ever clearer in light of twentieth century stage practice,3 the surprising innovations of the Ecclesiazusae and particularly their implications for the theatricalization of politics have not been sufficiently understood. Moreover, most current interpretations of the play insist, primarily by reading outward from one scene toward the end, that the play must be ironic or satiric in intention; feminist scholarship in particular has been curiously insistent that the women's attempt to create a utopia yields instead a dystopia. To say more at this point about the play's metatheatricality or its intent, however, would be to engage in the distortion just decried. Let us therefore sit back and watch the Ecclesiazusae create its own category before we attempt to devise one for it.
One fine spring morning in perhaps 393 B.C.,4 a strange figure strode onto an Athenian stage. The mask and body outlines were those of a female figure, but one who has thrown a distinctively male cloak over herself. Praxagora, for such her name is, comes forward and begins the play by apostrophizing the lamp she carries:
V lamprn mma to troxhltou lxnou, kllist' n estxoisin jhurhmnon (1-2)
She goes on to discuss the lamp's lineage and experience of women's secrets. The lines are paratragic (the lamp as substitute for the sun), perhaps a mockery of Euripides,5perhaps not; in any case, the joke seems miniature and flat, perhaps paradigmatic for what has happened to Aristophanes' comedy in the fourth century. Other than to mock the style of some obscure tragedian, what is Aristophanes' purpose here?
Recovering the impact of this moment in performance is a key to a better interpretation of the whole. The joke lies not just in word-play: Aristophanes is here transforming a natural disadvantage into a comic asset. At play's end, the chorus will appeal to the judges not to forget them, even though they have the disadvantage of coming on first among the day's five comedies (1154ff.).6 Therefore these opening lines of Ecclesiazusae were the very first played in the day's competition, and I suspect that they were re-written to some extent between the time Aristophanes was allotted this position on the program and the first performance.
Here and throughout the play we must be aware of how the physical realities of production shape dramatic meaning. The actor playing Praxagora is carrying a real, lit lamp. Greek household lamps were not large. On its own in the vast theatre of Dionysus, this small stage property would be nearly invisible. In the bright light of full day, it would almost certainly be impossible even for front row spectators to tell whether such a lamp was lit. A tiny household lamp would only be visible in the theatre in the pale light of dawn, where Praxagora now unfolds the women's plot to seize control of the Athenian assembly---and she does so with a visual parody of such scenes as the signal fires in the Agamemnon.7 The joke is not just a parody of Euripidean or pseudo-Euripidean language, but a subversion through performance of a long tragic tradition.
The lamp may therefore have been a last-minute inspiration While some such plannng and rehearsal scene as this must have been part of the earliest plot, I suspect Aristophanes chose the pre-dawn setting and the lamp as focus in the scene when realized he could use it to fuse the actual time of production with the fictional time of his play. Paradoxically, this touch of "reality" highlights the "fictionality" of later parts of the play.
Praxagora's opening soliloquy contains, in addition to tragic parody, important hints of what is to come. She tells us that a plot was set in motion at the festival of the Skira and employs language appropriate to the political sphere to describe it (17-18). We learn that the women are going to take their seats at the assembly, disguised as men.8 Women are about to seize the government.
Just after this startling bit of information, another lamp appears to close and frame Praxagora's opening soliloquy. She breaks off and steps back out of the way, for she does not yet know whether it is carried by a female co-conspirator or a man. Her own lamp and that carried by the approaching (but unnamed) First Woman quite literally fade away as the real dawn begins to light the scene. Moments later, Praxagora summons the Second Woman with a stealthy scratch at her door (34), and the three of them then watch and comment (41-53) as the chorus filters silently in. With the chorus's arrival the serious preparations for the women's takeover of Athens can begin.
What follows is the earliest developed rehearsal scene in comedy: the women gradually work themselves into the masculine roles they must play in order to persuade/rig the assembly so as to institute rule by women in Athens.9 This inductive quality of the scene accounts for an otherwise puzzling and highly unusual feature: the chorus enters silently, not in character, because they have not yet put on their characters. They are a cast assembling for the final dress rehearsal in one sense: the scene gives us the illusion that the process of illusion-making has not yet begun.
The play with the nature of theatre which takes place in this scene is wonderfully rich and dense. Male choristers in female costumes re-enact and simultaneously invert the process of learning to portray the other sex which they themselves have now mastered.10 Ancient Greek society enjoined a strong differentiation of the sexes in outward appearance. These women must learn to wear the clothes of men, to walk like them, talk (and especially swear) like them, and finally to act politically as men do.
They have already made some preparations. As Suzanne Sad has pointed out,11 the present scene is an assembly manqu, poised between a religiously sanctioned assembly of women, their gathering at the festival of the Skira where they concocted the idea of disguising themselves as men, and the Athenian assembly where they will force their proposal through. They have needed the time since the Skira to attempt to transform their own bodies: they have ceased to shave their body hair and have been sunning themselves to acquire a tan (60-64)!12 Their masks undoubtedly would be light-colored, just as those of any other women on the Attic stage: their tan is a matter of imagination. That their efforts have not been completely successful is also shown by later reports of the assembly, where the women are all believed to be shoe-makers (385) because they are so pale.
The women arrive carrying men's cloaks, walking sticks, Laconian shoes, and false beards (68-75). When they put these all on is not entirely clear. No doubt there is a certain amount of horseplay with these props from the beginning, but Praxagora's words at the close of this scene to the chorus (268ff.) imply that they at least do not put on their beards and masculine costumes until they are ready to depart for the Pnyx. Probably the actors on stage costume themselves before they begin to rehearse their assembly speeches (e.g., Praxagora to the First Woman, 121, yi d s perido ka taxvw nr geno.).
Aristophanes does not dwell much on the simple comedy of transvestism in the women's first scene, saving such jokes for their return from the assembly. If this seems strange, it should not: throughout the history of comedy, female transvestism has seemed far less funny than male, in large part no doubt because female transvestism is usually empowering (from Shakespeare's disguised heroines to Victor/Victoria) and therefore somewhat threatening, while male transvestism is portrayed as adding one more restriction to those the male comic body is always heir to (the old relative in Thesmophoriazusae, Babs in Charley's Aunt, Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in Some Like It Hot).13
Instead, the scene concentrates rather on the women's attempts to speak and act politically. It takes some time for them to master their parts. The First Woman never even begins her speech, for having put on the speaker's crown, she assumes that its significance is that she is about to drink, not speak (132-146). This is the stock joke on women's bibulousness we have seen in the women quarrelling over the libation in Lysistrata (194ff.),14 but it is also the occasion for jokes about the apparently drunken behavior of the male assembly: they pass laws so wild they must be drunk at the time (137-139) and quarrel with such drunken violence in the assembly that the constabulary must drag them away (142-143).
The Second Woman volunteers to speak, and Praxagora coaches her in both speech and deportment:
ge nun pvw ndrist ka kalw rew
diereisamnh t sxma t bakthr&. (149-150)
An essential part of her role-playing, says Praxagora, is to speak ndrist, a very rare word: the only other occurrence we know of in comedy is Crates fr. 24 K-A., ndrist mimesyai fvnn.15 It seems unlikely that male actors playing female parts on the Attic stage used a pure falsetto voice, which would be exceedingly difficult to project to the back of the vast Theatre of Dionysos. On the other hand, some later actors specialized in female roles; that suggests that certain vocal qualities were considered more "feminine."16 If the actor playing the Second Woman, perhaps chosen with an eye to his natural vocal timbre, forces his voice lower to sound more "masculine" at the beginning of his speech, the point will have been made, and a quick reversion to his natural timbre will not be remarked.
Praxagora also exhorts the Second Woman to adopt a masculine posture. Praxagora has the instincts of a good director and knows that beards and male clothing are not enough; the women must master the art of putting these various elements together. The word sxma here betokens not "weight" so much as "pose": she is to lean heavily yet easily on her stick as they have seen men do (and not tentatively, as women, unused to walking with sticks, might).17 This she manages and launches her speech with the customary "unaccustomed as I am to public speaking" cliches (151ff.).
Though she has mastered voice and posture, the Second Woman has not yet internalized her part. Within five lines she swears by the two goddesses, Demeter and Persephone (155), a gender-specific oath no man would use.18 Praxagora gives her one more chance, but she fails again: she begins by addressing her assembled "fellow women" (165, gunakew a kaymenai). She improvises an excuse from a stock joke: she claims she saw Epigonos among her hearers and therefore thought she was addressing women (167-168). Praxagora nonetheless waves her down and takes the rostrum herself to rehearse the speech she will give.
We must be careful not to misinterpret the scene until now. It is tempting to praise Praxagora's speech by denigrating the other women's attempts up to this point. The analogy of Lysistrata may mislead us. Lysistrata in her play is a unique figure, the only woman capable of organizing and maintaining the sex strike. Aristophanes deliberately tells us very little about her, in part to set her off: we have no idea, for example, if she has a husband and thereby participates in the strike herself. Praxagora is by no means unique. She is simply different in degree, not kind, from the women who have spoken before her. All the women are slowly mastering their acting skills, learning to wear their masculine garb properly, move, and speak not only in a masculine voice but also from a masculine mental architecture.19 The sequence builds to Praxagora, who learned by observing the orators at the assemblies on the Pnyx (243-244). She has simply had more practice.
Nor should we devalue Praxagora's speech because it is a rehearsal, not the real performance in the assembly (of which we only hear reports later).20 Something quite extraordinary has happened in the theatre, which gives added weight to her address: the unparalleled behavior of the chorus has transformed the theatrical space into a remarkable imitation of the political space on the Pnyx.
We noted above that the chorus entered without a parodos song, which while unusual is not unparalleled. What is completely unparalleled and astonishing is the fact that, having entered, they then sit down---facing the stage, with their backs to the audience. They become at once the front rows of the Theatre of Dionysos and proleptically the front rows of the assembly on the Pnyx. Just as in the assembly, Praxagora orders them to sit down as soon as they enter (57), and her further instructions to the would-be speakers to sit down (130, 144, 169) also echo the herald in Acharnians 123.21 Both the First Woman and Praxagora emphasize that the women must sit up front in the assembly, right below the speakers' bema (87, p t" ly tn prutnevn katantikr. 98, gkayezmesya prterai)---just as they are now seated at the front of the theatre.
The fifth century theatre was fundamentally a choral space, especially for comedy, in which the chorus acted as bridge between the story enacted by the actors and the reactions of the audience.22 As the importance of the chorus declined toward the end of the century,23 however, this unified space began to break up. A gap opened up between stage and chorus---and between chorus and audience. The extraordinarily modern effect that Aristophanes achieves here is possible only because this division of the theatrical space has progressed substantially. The chorus seems to shed its specifically choral role by sitting down. At the same time it does not shed its role in the fiction of the play; by attaching itself to the vast body of citizens seated in the theatre, the chorus transforms theatrical spectators into assembly participants. The audience at this point is still a theatrical audience in that it is watching a theatrical rehearsal (as do the poet and playwright on a well-known vase showing Perseus dancing on a low stage) as well as a political rehearsal.
A modern parallel may perhaps illuminate Aristophanes' technique here. Such a parallel is harder to find than one might suspect, given the plethora of entrances from, and chases staged through, the audience in many performances now. Tom Stoppard's The Real Inspector Hound, while designed especially for a proscenium theatre, shows us the same play with fiction/audience boundaries, though to an opposite result. When the curtain rises on Stoppard's play we see, beyond the set for a stock English murder mystery, an apparent reflection of ourselves: another (though shadowy) audience, with two theatre critics seated down front. These two, Moon and Birdboot, begin by commenting on the play but are gradually swallowed up in its action (and one destroyed by the action). Stoppard's mirror solution is dictated by the sight lines in a proscenium house: we want to watch Moon and Birdboot's faces, not the backs of their heads. The same shifting boundary is at work, though, as in Ecclesiazusae.
Perhaps an even better parallel, though purely a directorial innovation, is a production a few years ago by Britain's National Theatre of Shakespeare's Coriolanus. The Olivier Theatre was transformed into an open, Greek-style space with a sand-filled orchestra circle occupying most of the stage. Upstage center were great doors, to the right and left of which were two or three rows of brick benches, hugging the curve of the orchestra. These benches were the day-of-performance seats. The spectators on them, however, were used (one might almost say, exploited) for the crowd scenes in the play. A few actors, deputized to speak the few crowd lines, would herd them out into the orchestra whenever a crowd scene occurred and encourage them to cheer or jeer, as appropriate. The somewhat heavy-handed point: the Roman populus in Coriolanus is simply manipulated by senators and tribunes in turn for political ends, just as this segment of the audience was manipulated by the actors and director for their own artistic ends.
Other plays of Aristophanes have hinted at the equation of the theatre audience and the assembly. In our very first surviving play, the Acharnians, the theatre audience becomes the assembly for the purposes of the fiction. Aristophanes' point in Ecclesiazusae, though, is subtler and more damning: the boisterous audience of 425 were participants in both the theatre and the assembly. Now, as the theatre space breaks up, we see that both bodies become spectators primarily, divided from the action by an invisible but growing gap. Though as long ago as Knights, Aristophanes' criticism of spectator politics was clear, he has never before conceded, as in effect he does here, that the gap cannot be closed again.
Praxagora's speech, like much in Aristophanes, is carefully balanced between seriousness and comedy. It opens on a note of sincerity and perhaps pathos:
mo d' son mn tsde tw xraw mta
sonper mn: xyomai d ka frv
t tw plevw panta barvw prgmata. (173-175)
This is basic democratic doctrine: every citizen has an equal share in the fate of the city. It is also the same sentiment we heard when the women of the Lysistrata lamented their share in the losses of the city in war. So too the women of Ecclesiazusae suffer with their city.
Praxagora's speech is a rehearsal not only of her own presentation but a chance for the other women to practice the proper reactions, which will help them carry their point in the assembly. Her speech is divided into four sections by interruptions from the listening women. The length and humor of these interjections diminishes as both Praxagora and her hearers warm to their roles and the proposal. She begins with a denunciation of Athens' present leaders and the corruption of the political process produced by the introduction of pay for assembly attendance (173-188). The First Woman interrupts with an approving oath---but unfortunately swearing by Aphrodite (189), as only women do. Praxagora coaches her on staying in character, then gives a brief and somewhat confusing account of Athens' recent vacillations in policy (193-203). By now the First Woman has mastered her part: she calls the speaker w junetw nr (204) and wins approval from Praxagora for praising her "properly." In a brief passage (205-212) Praxagora again denounces assembly pay and offers her revolutionary proposal: to turn control of the state over to the women. Both her companions cry out their approval, using the proper gender (214, "good man!"). Praxagora takes no notice: both she and her hearers are fully absorbed in their roles.
Praxagora concludes with a demonstration that Athens needs the conservatism of women. The fusion of assembly and theatre we have seen in the staging of this scene is crystalized by the verb she uses to launch this final section of her speech: 215, g didjv, "I will teach." Both poet and orator teach their audiences---but with the added echo of "rehearse," for the play's producer/director "teaches" the chorus their parts. Praxagora's teaching, however, quickly consumes itself, as her praise of women for keeping the old ways turns into a jingling slogan, sper ka pr to (221-228). She concludes with the paradoxical demonstration that, as women are themselves mistresses of deception, no one else will be able to deceive them (237-38, japathyeh ... japatn eyismnai....).
We would do well to meditate for a moment upon the femininity of illusion, as here proclaimed by Praxagora. Sad, in her perceptive analysis of this play, insists that "La transformation des femmes en hommes dans l'Assemble des femmes ne fait donc aucun moment illusion."24 While this has only been a rehearsal, we have nonetheless participated in the growing power of the illusion these women wish to create. At first awkward and unrehearsed in their parts both as speakers and listeners, they have gradually mastered them and at the same time transformed the theatre itself into the assembly, their audience into the voters. Sad is troubled by the self-reflexive sexual jokes put in the mouths of these characters. The incantatory repetition of Praxagora's slogan culminates in the proud proclamation that binomenai xarousin sper ka pr to (228). In the next section, the women praise Praxagora for her speech and then ask her how she will deal with insults and even physical attempts to drag her away in the assembly. She takes the word they use for "drag away" (pokrovsn, 256) and converts it to a sexual meaning with her reply: she will do what the women of the Lysistrata are pledged not to do, proskinsomai. Sad insists that this all shows that "femmes qui ne triomphent dans le jeu politique qu'en le dnaturant et en le transformant en un jeu sexuel, o elles excellent."25 But in the world of Aristophanic values is that a bad thing? Is it truly Aristophanic to value the political above the sexual? We should perhaps at this point reserve judgement.
Praxagora instructs the chorus to costume themselves and put on their masculine characterizations. The actors withdraw, leaving the chorus to practice their roles and get into character as old rustics by singing appropriately (277-278). Note the combination: song and acting, the formula for theatre. Their language emphasizes they must remember their parts and practice addressing each other as "gentlemen" (285; 289), with only the occasional, hastily corrected slip into the feminine gender (298-299). This chorus rehearsal is the inversion of the scene on a well-known Boston pelike. There the young men of the chorus are shown in the process of donning their female costumes and trying out the gestures for their new roles. Here the women of the chorus undergo a similar transformation into men.
The departure of the chorus carries this inversion one step further. Choruses usually do not leave during the course of a play. These entered silently but depart singing, giving the audience a curious "backstage" feeling: we have in effect witnessed the final dress rehearsal for their performance in the assembly. As with modern backstage comedies, however, the effect is to increase the reality of what we have just witnessed.26 What the women have just done is real; the upcoming assembly is the illusion.
The next scene has a backstage feeling as well. Justly famous for its scatological humor (compare the opening scene of the Peace and the type of jokes Dionysus rejects at the beginning of the Frogs), the scene not only brings onstage what would normally be left off but, in the absence of the chorus, gives us the feeling that the play is beginning over. Praxagora's husband, Blepyrus, driven by necessity, comes out of his house to relieve himself in the "dark." By now it is fully light in the theatre, and when he moves to a position where "no one will see" (322), he is doubtless down center in full view of the audience. Since his wife has taken his cloak and shoes, he has donned her yellow gown and slippers. The sexual inversion of the new state is thus demonstrated even before it is proclaimed. Women in men's clothes rule in the assembly, while the men are left at home in female garb. Blepyrus, detected by an unnamed neighbor and by the returning Chremes, is thus twice humiliated by being found in his feminine attire. His nightmare is that he will become a subject for the comic stage (371)---which is precisely what is happening to him.
The first concern of all the men is the loss of their pay for attendance at the assembly. Even Chremes, who did attend, arrived too late to be paid. For Blepyrus, the loss of his three obols of pay is tragic---and inspires him to tragic misquotation of Aeschylus (391-393).27 We see why Praxagora's plan was needed: every citizen's concern is first for himself. So too Blepyrus objects to all the charges against men reported by Chremes, so long as he thinks they are directed solely at him, but when Chremes indicts the whole audience with a gesture (440), Blepyrus quite readily agrees that they are guilty.28 When Chremes reports that the state has been handed over to the women, though he makes no mention of the theme of sexual communism, Blepyrus' first fear is that he will be compelled to perform sexually (465-468). Chremes concludes with the hope that the new regime will be the golden age of which the old tales tell, and both depart the stage.
The women now return stealthily, fearful of detection before they can rid themselves of their disguises. Taking care to tread masculinely (483), the chorus enters the orchestra and then gathers under the shadow of a wall to divest themselves.29 Praxagora appears on stage to supervise this operation (504-516), but before she herself can slip into her house, she is intercepted by her husband Blepyrus.
Her first task is to explain what she was doing out of the house at so early an hour. Effortlessly, she improvises a friend in childbirth to whom she was called. When informed that women now rule, she pretends first astonishment, then warms to the theme.
Up until this point, we have only heard that women will rule, not how. Now the chorus calls on Praxagora to lay out her new program:
detai gr toi sofo tinow jeurmatow pliw mn.
ll praine mnon
mte dedramna mt' erhmna pv prteron.
misosi gr n t palai pollkiw yentai.
ll' o mllein, ll' ptesyai ka d xrn taw dianoaiw,
w t taxnein xartvn metxei pleston par tosi
{Pr.} ka mn ti mn xrhst didjv pistev: tow d yeatw,
e kainotomen yelsousin ka m tow ysi lan
tow t' rxaoiw ndiatrbein, tot' sy' mlista
ddoika. (577-585)
The language acknowledges openly that this is a theatrical situation, with spectators (yentai, yeatw) who demand novelty in entertainment.30 Praxagora proposes to "teach" (583, didjv) this theatre audience as she has already taught the assembly (215). This is the great dividing point within the play. The political work is already accomplished: the women now rule. The theatrical work, teaching the people as comedy should teach them, remains to be done.
It is the second half of Ecclesiazusae (from this point on), which has generated the most reaction of late. The dominant interpretation holds that the communal state which Praxagora now outlines, and soon to be seen in operation, is meant to satirize utopianism, possibly even a specific philosophic utopia.31 A strong moralistic tone echoes through much of the scholarship on the Ecclesiazusae: one scholar speaks of "the idler's paradise," another deplores the "drone-like life of pleasure,"32 which Praxagora's state engenders. Feminist scholars are among those most offended by Praxagora's nurturing, maternal state, which they have so well described. But is Aristophanes truly a secret Thatcherite, who will allow us a good party tonight, only on condition that, come Monday morning, we all put our shoulders to the wheel and get down to the business of building a better Athens? Let us see.
Praxagora's great, new idea is that all property will be held in common, as in a single household. Recent work on the Ecclesiazusae has made it clear that the women of Athens do not, as the opening scenes might suggest, masculinize themselves to fit the existing power structure in Athens, but rather domesticate public space to make it fit them.33 The space outside this new, encompassing home is left to the slaves, who will perform the real work of agriculture (651), allowing women to retain their traditional role and character as the custodians and dispensers of property in the home. Just as within the household resources are held in common (at least in the days before separate bank accounts or even the Married Woman's Property Act), so too in the new state. Blepyrus objects that citizens might try to hide their movable property (602), such as gold and silver, from the new state. Praxagora's answer is simple and devastating: she abolishes monetary exchange.34 If the state dispenses all goods, money will be worthless because there will be nothing to buy. Ah, replies Blepyrus, but what about sex? One needs money for presents and so forth (611-613). Now Praxagora reveals her truly revolutionary concept: all women will be held in common.35 To Blepyrus' objection that then all men will choose the beautiful women, she replies that there will be a rationing system, or perhaps a National Service Scheme: men who wish the favors of the beautiful women must first take care of the needs of the ugly or lower-class, and the same will be true for women pursuing handsome men.
Praxagora proclaims her system a thoroughly democratic idea and a good joke on the semnotrvn:
{Pr.} n tn Apllv ka dhmotik g' gnmh ka kataxnh
tn semnotrvn stai poll ka tn sfragdaw xntvn (631-632)
We should not gloss over the Schadenfreude of this passage, which Aristophanes clearly expects his audience to share. It is one of the enduring facts of life that the young, beautiful, and fashionable do better in the on-going sexual competition than their opposites. In almost any audience, the vast majority will not be the young and beautiful. The spectacle of such being forced to earn their sexual pleasure has an obvious appeal.36
Praxagora ends by describing the domestication of public, civic space under the new regime. No mention is made of the assembly---which has already been turned into a form of theatre by the rehearsal scene. The sovereign demos of Athens assembles in three forms: the assembly on the Pnyx, the theatre, and (representatively) the law courts. In the new state these law courts become dining halls (ndrnaw ,676). This public space, however, is not merely domesticated by being turned into dining space; it is also theatricalized. Note that poetry in the new order takes on part of the function of dispensing justice and punishing wrong-doers: poetic recitals by the young (678)37 of martial deeds will make the cowardly so ashamed of themselves that they will not be able to eat. Apparently poetry's the thing wherein to catch the conscience of the scoundrel. We have already found out that having one's rations cut is the only possible punishment, since actions at law are abolished in the new Athens (657-667). Poetry will punish those whom no one else has detected. All three gatherings of the people (assembly, law courts, and theatre) have become one.
Blepyrus declares himself completely satisfied with the scheme (710), but there is one more detail. Praxagora closes a loophole in her original declaration of sexual communism by excluding all the prostitutes (prnai) from the new household: they will be classed with slaves, outside the pale, and therefore not competitors with free citizen women (represented by the chorus, whom Praxagora indicates with the deictic atai, 720) for the attentions of young men (718-724). Both Praxagora and Blepyrus now depart.
It is here that the problems of the staging of the Ecclesiazusae become acute. Between lines 729 and 730, the Ravenna manuscript has the notation XOROU (and also at 876). If this this is evidence that a chorus once filled this spot, then Chremes leaves the stage with a declaration of his intention to contribute his goods to the common fund before this choral performance, and returns after it. If not, he leaves the stage and re-enters immediately, a curious procedure.38 In fact, we have no further word from the chorus until line 1127, a very long time for them to remain silently standing in the orchestra. Lacking direct evidence, we can only speculate. The later use of interpolated choral interludes in comedy suggests that such essentially detached songs were also possible this early. If the interludes were popular songs not even written by Aristophanes, their omission from texts circulated for readers is not so surprising. Ussher rightly notes that the Ecclesiazusae chorus has character and participates in the plot, just like earlier Aristophanic choruses. Nonetheless, Aristophanes has been playing very complex games with its nature, showing us how a chorus puts on character and removes it. Perhaps he wrote himself into a corner, as it were, in the sense that he had nowhere further to go with these concepts for the chorus, and therefore simply fell back on the use of popular songs in the remainder of the performance.39
In another way, the absence of further metatheatrical gamemanship with the chorus suggests that Aristophanes no longer wishes his audience to view the play's action through a frame, to keep an emotional distance, indeed to see the play's action as implausible and therefore ridiculous. Instead much of the humor becomes more farcical and more physical, while the play's fiction is accepted.
The humor of the next scene seems to have been primarily visual. It features a dispute between Chremes, the good citizen who agrees to turn his goods over to the state, and his unnamed neighbor, who urges him to wait and see whether the new state is a success. Chremes organizes a mock Panathenaic procession of his household goods (such as pots and tripods), presumably with slaves carrying these small items. The humor lies in a contrast of size: it takes the labor of one slave to carry a single kitchen utensil to the new common storehouse.40
Another reason to imagine considerable visual comedy is that, frankly, the verbal humor of the bickering between Chremes and his unnamed selfish neighbor is of limited appeal. It is brought to an end by the appearance of the female herald, who issues the invitation to the feast: the slaves, the prostitutes, and presumably any foreigners have now all been removed, so that now only the household of citizens remains. The herald paints a scene of abundant food, wine, and sex, through which a rejuvenated Geron strides laughing with another "youngster" (848-849). The neighbor attempts to find a way to slip into this feast without surrendering his goods, to which Chremes rejoins with a jingling series of derisive questions, culminating in "if they laugh at you, what then?" (864, n d katagelsi, t;).41 Comedy, then, is the ultimate defense of the new state against such parasites as this neighbor.
It is peculiarly frustrating for the understanding of the whole play that we have no stage directions at the end of this scene. The neighbor schemes to carry in some of Chremes' goods and represent them as his own in order to slip into the feast. Chremes says that he understands what the neighbor has in mind, packs up, and departs. The neighbor's final speech is this:
{An.} n tn Da, de gon mhxanmatw tinow,
pvw t mn nta xrmay' jv, tosd te
tn mattomnvn koin meyjv pvw g.
ryw, moige fanetai: badiston 875
ms' st deipnsonta ko mellhton.
What great idea comes to his mind in the last two lines? Does he find something accidently left behind on the stage by Chremes, as one translator has imagined?42 One wonders at the lack of a deictic pronoun then. Or does he simply come up with one more hare-brained scheme, which will work no better than his proposals simply to batter his way in past the doorkeepers?
The question is one of both tone and fact: is the scene just played a classic one between Aristophanic eiron and alazon, with Chremes a Dicaeopolis or Peisthetairos figure, fending off a greedy fraud who deserves no share in the results of the good idea? Or is this a demonstration of the satiric nature of the Ecclesiazusae, a proof that parasites and cheats can and will destroy this attempt at a comic utopia, enacted within the walls of Athens? The problems must be faced squarely. First there is the character of Chremes. Since he is a virtual cipher, used only as a foil for Blepyrus and to report the results of the assembly, it is difficult to cast him as a traditional Aristophanic hero.43 What, however, are the alternatives? Blepyrus is no better a choice, since the great idea belongs to Praxagora. Yet any dispute over the new idea must be among males; despite the testing of boundaries in this play, it is difficult to imagine Praxagora herself fending off alazones (which often requires physical force) after the fashion of a Dicaeopolis.
One intriguing possibility (which would also clarify the play's structure) deserves a hearing: Douglas Olson has proposed that the unnamed neighbor of this scene may be the young man who appears in the next. This would go a great way toward establishing the balance I think necessary to the subsequent scene. As Sommerstein notes of the former, his " contemptible....and he is given no positive qualities whatsoever."44 If he does cheat his way into the feast and return in the next scene, his "punishment" is all the more just---and will be seen to be so by the audience.
There follows a scene (in two parts) which has appalled modern critics almost to a man (women scholars tend to say little about it). As Chremes and neighbor have shown us economic communism at work, so this episode shows us the workings of sexual communism. An old woman waits for the men to appear, so that she can claim her rights under the new law. She hopes to attract one by her singing and invokes the help of the Muses (877-883). A young girl appears, to challenge her to a singing contest in rather specific terms:
nn mn me parakcasa profyhw, sapr.
'ou d' rmaw o paroshw nyde 885
mo trugsein ka prosjesya tina
dous': g d' n toto drw ntsomai.
ke gr di' xlou tot' st tow yevmnoiw,
mvw xei terpnn ti ka kvmdikn.
The contest then is staged with full knowledge of the audience (tow yevmnoiw) and in the hopes that it will have something pleasantly comic (terpnn ti ka kvmdikn) to offer. To judge by the stomach-churning reactions of most critics, Aristophanes has failed completely.45
The singing contest itself consists of three exchanges. The First Old Woman (two others will appear) calls on the piper for assistance (890-892), then sings a verse on the theme "there is beauty in extreme old age." The girl accuses her of envy and makes the first of a series of love-and-death jokes, calling the First Old Woman the "darling of death" (905). The most obvious reference is to the First Old Woman's mask, painted a stark white to imitate the use of white lead cosmetics. The First Old Woman responds furiously, but the girl then apostrophizes the lover she is waiting for, the significantly named Orthagoras.46
One might almost say that the naming of names determines our interpretation of this scene. Who is the young man who eventually appears? Rogers and Ussher simply call him the "young man." If his name is Orthagoras, the girl is waiting specifically for him, "her" lover, while the First Old Woman is waiting for the first man that walks by. The armchair critic, skilled at counting Lady Macbeth's children, can generate an entire Harlequin romance for this unnamed girl and Orthagoras in an instant. This has the effect of turning the First Old Woman into a raving Messalina at the same time. A few lines later, however, the First Old Woman says she is waiting for "Epigenes," and this is the name which Sommerstein opts for.47 If she indeed has a specific young man in mind, her erotic desires are comparable to those of the young girl, and we have no reason to assume that they are automatically to be ridiculed or despised.48
We must recall that this young girl is a citizen (professional courtesans such as young men might have visited regularly before are classed among the prnai, and therefore have already been excluded from the new communism). As such, she has been carefully guarded all her life---until today, under Praxagora's new dispensation. We should not imagine that Orthagoras has ever visited her before,49 nor that they have any strong "emotional" attachment (an aberration in the ancient view in any case).50 Thus the girl and the First Old Woman are not respectively love and lust personified, but merely inexperienced and experienced lust.
The staging techniques in the ensuing scene anticipate the conventions of New Comedy. Both the girl and the First Old Woman withdraw (936-937, Neiw. ...prxomai. Gr.a kgvg'...) to await the arrival of the young man. The dynamics are those of the eavesdropping scene, here with two competing eavesdroppers standing outside the action (which contains only the young man, when he first appears) and attempting to control that action.
This young man (whatever his name) is no innocent surprised by the demands of the First Old Woman when she appears. His very first words (938-941) make it clear that he knows what his duty is under the new law. He hopes somehow to evade that duty. Strictly interpreted, he intends to be a scofflaw just like the unnamed citizen in the previous scene with Chremes.
A fascinating role-playing contest between the old woman (who suddenly reemerges) and the young man ensues. Both try by turns to fictionalize the situation in ways that will ensure control over the other (977ff.). First she claims the young man knocked at her door; he denies it. She demands to know why he carries a torch (a conventional prop for a reveller in search of entertainment); he produces the old excuse about looking for a man from Anaphlystos. Now he tries to seize the initiative by classifying her as a sixty-year-old legal case, which the courts are not yet dealing with. This produces a straightforward claim under the new law from the First Old Woman: since he attended the banquet of the new state, it is now time to pay up. She does try one more fantasy, interpreting the young man's reluctance as surprise at finding her alone out of doors (992-993; as no respectable young woman would be).
After further wrangling51 the First Old Woman finally produces a text of the new law under which she claims his services. The deictic pronouns (1012, tout, toto) show that she has a papyrus or some written copy from which she reads. Legal quibbling and more insults ensue, but the law licenses the First Old Woman to use force, and she begins dragging the young man away. The girl now emerges from her hiding place (or her house). She charges that what the old woman has in mind is virtually incestuous and, if generally practiced, will people the land with Oedipuses (1038-1042).
Two kinds of writing, or if you will two linguistic orders, are struggling for possession of the stage: the legal and the mythopoeic. The latter wins instantly. Just as the recital of heroic poetry at the public feasts (noted above) is enough to punish the cowards with such shame that they cannot eat, so here the vision of herself as Jocasta is enough to drive the First Old Woman from the stage. Though she reviles the girl for finding such a narrative weapon (1043, tnde tn lgon), she cannot resist its power and departs.
This victory, however, proves astonishingly temporary. The young man speaks but four lines of thanks to the girl before the Second Old Woman, even more unappealing than the First, appears to claim him, while the girl flees. Another voice calls from behind the young man, demanding to know where the Second Old Woman is taking him (1065-1066). Anticipating the stage techniques of New Comedy, the young man responds with thanks before he turns back to see who is speaking. It is the Third Old Woman, the ugliest of all, and a virtual tug-of-war ensues (with the young man playing the rope). Various rowing metaphors highlight the physical action as he is dragged back and forth between the two (1086ff.). Both the rowing comparisons and the lekythos/ death images reach a climax together as, in his final soliloquy, the young man imagine himself being buried at the harbor's mouth, with one of the old women erected over him as a lekythos grave marker.52
Is this all the tragedy the young man imagines it to be? The imagery of death comes from the mouth of the young man only. Why should we then read this imagery as the author's "true" view of the situation rather than one character's reaction to it? I have given my reasons above for questioning whether the First Old Woman is trying to separate Romeo and Juliet. We must further ask: why should we accept the young man's statement that complying with the new law is going to kill him? After all, he will not belong permanently to either of the old women: after he performs his duty under the law, he will be free to return to the young girl he desires. It is possible, in fact, to take this scene "not as a critique of the women's communist experiment but as its most glorious expression" and a "triumph of comic energy."53
Nor is it clear that we should automatically detest these old women. True, they represent a sexuality no longer associated with child-bearing, but this "sterility" can as easily represent pleasure without consequences.54 The old in Old Comedy, both men and women, are generally viewed in a positive light and eventually triumph in their struggles with the young.55 If the image of rejuvenated old men such as Philocleon or Dicaeopolis who win young girls for their pleasure is meant to be a comic celebration, why should we assume that the reverse is satiric? Perhaps Old Comedy celebrates the recovery of youth by the old of both sexes.56
Praxagora's servant girl now enters, praising the glories of the feast and searching for Blepyrus.57 She greets the chorus (1114), then the rest of the citizens (in effect, the theatre audience beyond). She finally asks the chorus directly (1125, gunakew) where Blepyrus is---just as he appears. She calls him a most happy man (and the chorus agrees: 1129, 1134), because he alone out of thirty thousand citizens has not yet dined. On one level this is certainly the joke about the shoe-maker's children: Praxagora (whom we have not seen since she outlined the new state) has been so busy caring for this new household of all the citizens that she has neglected her own husband. It is not meant as a sneer at Blepyrus (who shows no signs of taking it this way).58 Blepyrus is apparently accompanied by some female attendants, perhaps the beautiful girls to whom he as an old man is entitled first opportunity under the new law. Thus we would have a studied visual contrast between the young man who feels oppressed by the new law, and the old man who (like so many older figures in Aristophanes) revels in the new state of things.
The maid invites everyone to the party, including the spectators and the judges who favor them:59
ka tn yeatn e tiw enouw tugxnei,
ka tn kritn e m tiw trvse blpei,
tv mey' mn:
Blepyrus pretends to extend it even wider, to everyone---if only they go home for dinner (1148)! Though many take this as a nasty joke at the audience's expense, it is in fact quite traditional in ancient comedy and not at all offensive;60 however much Aristophanes plays with the dividing line between fact and illusion, his audience will hardly have expected a free meal.
Nor is it likely that Aristophanes would wish to alienate the judges just before he makes a remarkable appeal to them. The chorus teases the audience with the promise of singing a dinner song (1153, mellodeipnikn, a tantalizing comic coinage), but then makes a small request:
smikrn d' poysyai tow kritasi bolomai,
tow sofow mn tn sofn memnhmnoiw krnein m, 1155
tow gelsi d' dvw di tn glvn krnein m+
sxedn pantaw on kelev dhlad krnein m+
mhd tn klron gensyai mhdn mn ation,
ti proelhx': ll pnta tata xr memnhmnouw
m 'piorken, ll krnein tow xorow ryw e, 1160
mhd taw kakaw taraiw tn trpon proseiknai,
a mnon mnmhn xousi tn teleutavn e.
Though he has flattered the spectators above by naming them first, Aristophanes knows that in fact the judges are unusually important today, because he has been allotted the first position. There will be four more comedies played that day, before the voting begins. Given the theme of the Ecclesiazusae, the phrasing of his appeal is more than usually pointed: Aristophanes asks the judges not to allow themselves to be feminized through the process of watching the rest of the day's plays, but to retain their own proper natures. If they do, they will naturally vote the prize to him. The chorus nows dances off, at the same time invoking the wondrous dish (the longest word in Greek: lines 1169-1175) on which they will all feast.61
We have now experienced the whole of the Ecclesiazusae in the same linear way its original spectators did. We are finally prepared to confront the question which has dominated the scholarship on this play: is it a straightforward wish-fulfillment fantasy in the mold of earlier Aristophanic plays, or is it ironic, a subtle satire of the communistic ideas on which Praxagora's state is based? The ironic interpretation, dominant on the continent at least since Wilamovitz,62 holds that, despite the apparent celebration on stage at the end of the play, Praxagora's state is a failure and perhaps morally repellent as well. Let us then consider whether the new state succeeds in functioning as Praxagora intends, and then whether its results are desirable.
Arguments for a satiric interpretation of the Ecclesiazusae usually ask different questions of the scenes which illustrate the workings of the new state. The question posed of the scene between Chremes and his neighbor is: will common ownership of property work, or will it be defeated by private selfishness? The question asked of the scene illustrating the new sexual communism, however, is usually: is this a good/admirable idea? I suggest we apply the same standards to both scenes. Certainly Chremes' neighbor resists the notion of contributing his own property to the common stock, but just because he calls Chremes a fool for co-operating with the new law does not prove the latter is one. Others are contributing their property to the common fund;63 Chremes is not an isolated idealist, the one fool in Athens who actually does obey the law. Does the unnamed neighbor succeed in retaining his property and yet drawing benefits from the new state? We know neither the details of his idea for cheating the state nor whether he succeeds, but we have been given no particular reason to expect he will.64 Moreover, it is not clear how he would be better off if he does gain admission to the banquet while retaining his own property: since Praxagora has abolished private exchange, he cannot use his property to purchase anything in any case.
No one has questioned whether sexual communism works efficiently in the play; the complaint is that it works far too well. We should not allow the young man's emotional rhetoric to distract us from the fact that Praxagora's state functions in this regard precisely as it was intended. This young man hopes to cheat the new law by having the young girl before he performs his duty to the old.65 Nor is he being "raped" by the old women. Their claim to him is contingent on his desire for the young girl; under the terms of the law, if he were to abandon his pursuit of the young girl, the old women would have no further claim upon him---but this possibility is never raised. The fact that this young scofflaw fails in his attempt to reap the benefits of the new state (not only the banquet but free sexual access to young citizen women, which he never would have had in the real Athens) without paying the price is further evidence that the unnamed neighbor will not succeed in his similar attempt, either.
The most curious claim of the ironic interpretation is that the final banquet of the play is not "real," that we are meant instead to understand that the city is unable to provide food and wine to the citizens as it claims. This is based on a serious misreading of the joke that the spectators can join the play's banquet---by going home to eat. As noted above, this is by no means unparalleled in ancient comedy in general or Aristophanes in particular. It is typical of a whole complex of jokes about the nature of theatrical illusion, but there is nothing to suggest that this single occurrence has a substantially different meaning from any other in Aristophanes. Are we to imagine that the maid's drunkenness is not "real" since she has not been drinking "real" wine?66
Sad's claim that selfishness causes the new state to fail67 thus falls to the ground. The notion that the Ecclesiazusae is an indictment of a value system based on individual selfishness has always seemed dubious, since self-gratification is the goal of every Aristophanic hero. Food, wine, and sex are the comic goods. A modern reader of the plays may be disturbed by the vision of Peisthetairos roasting jail-birds at the end of the Birds to provide for the feast which closes that play or may fail to appreciate the humor of starvation represented by the Megarian in the Acharnians, but the original Greek audience seems to have had no such qualms. The victorious have a perfect right to self-gratification in comedy, even at the expense of others. We should therefore not let modern sentimentality betray us into an undeserved sympathy for the young man in this play, who despite his protestations suffers much less than the Megarian or the jail-birds.
A further claim may still trouble us: the notion that the political life of Athens has been suppressed or abolished by the new nurturing, or perhaps smothering maternal state. This is, I submit, to look at the play with the eyes of Aristotle rather than those of a comic writer or his audience. Though Aristotle believed that the function of leisure was to provide the opportunity for a man to pursue politics, it does not follow that Aristophanes thought the same, nor that the abolition of politics in favor of endless feasting in the new state is a bad thing.68 Dicaeopolis' goal in the Acharnians is hardly to participate in properly run assemblies. Philocleon's "cure" in the Wasps is to abandon his judicial function for a life of pleasure. If the golden age returns, what is the need for politics?
We must return to the function of theatrical self-consciousness in the Ecclesiazusae and consider whether its purpose is to devalue or satirize Praxagora's program. Such a function would be unparalleled: no one suggests that when Trygaios calls out to the crane operator to save him in the Peace that this is intended to satirize his quest for peace. Why should games with the nature of illusion in this play be any different? Sad has made much of the point that we have, not an actual session of the assembly, as in Acharnians, but rather a rehearsal for the assembly.69 She takes all the traditional jokes about women's bibulousness and sexual voracity as the settled opinion of Aristophanes and most Greek males on the nature of women. She can then suggest that the takeover of the government by the women would be a virtual castration of the essential maleness of politics; the very mutability of women, like the effeminates who speak in the assembly and already run Athens, becomes a judgement on the essential corruption of the democracy.70
Sad sees the Ecclesiazusae as the culmination of a trend, going back as far as the Birds, of turning the attack from the would-be leaders of the democracy to the functioning of the democracy itself; it is "une mise en question du peuple lui-mme."71 It is true that there are fewer attacks on named individuals in the Ecclesiazusae than in past plays, but some remain. Perhaps there simply were no more villains on the scale of Cleon.72 Comedy was, moreover, an important element of democratic control in the city (and so perceived at the time); for Aristophanes to use comedy to criticize the demos itself would be both difficult and dangerous.73
Sad's is an unnecessarily complicated view. If Aristophanes wishes to attack the effeminacy of the demagogues who rule in the assembly, he has perfectly straightforward means of doing so---and has employed them with glee in the past. An attack on the "effeminacy" of the audience for being willing to listen to such leaders, however, would be an attack on his own comic art, given the self-consciously theatrical nature of this play: if it is wrong for the orators to entertain and gratify the people in the assembly, is it not equally wrong for Aristophanes to do the same in the theatre? Once again, an ironic interpretation of the Ecclesiazusae risks reading the later anti-theatrical prejudice of the philosophers back into Aristophanes.
Aristophanes had one simple purpose in writing comedy: to win the prize at the festival. This is not to imply that he had no other purpose (I refuse to say, "no higher purpose," for there is nothing ignoble about winning the approval of thousands of citizens in the theatre). His ambition of winning the prize "worthily of the festival" (as the chorus of initiates in Frogs 389ff. puts it) hardly implies a distrust of the medium in which he works.
If we make the simple assumption that Aristophanes thought the art that he practiced a good one, the theatrical self-consciousness of this play in general and the function of the rehearsal assembly in particular take on quite a different meaning. Instead of functioning to keep the shocking notion of rule by women at a safe distance, the rehearsal assembly acts as an induction, drawing the audience into the process of creating (if only temporarily) the theatrical illusion. Aristophanes rehearses both performers and audience in their roles and paradoxically increases the "reality" of what we see on stage by placing the costumed performance in the assembly off stage. The transmutation of the assembly and the law courts of Athens into theatrical venues themselves is not a collapse of all political activity into a hollow mimesis of a lost reality ( la Plato) but a liberation of the power of the theatrical imagination to re-shape its world.
It is not necessary (and perhaps not possible) to prove that the Ecclesiazusae is a great play. Its structure is more haphazard, its characters less engaging than many of Aristophanes' earlier plays. If we now conclude by remembering that which we began by forgetting, it is eminently possible to see the marks of its time upon this play. Since the fall of Athens in 404, the political world of Aristophanic comedy has contracted. The stage is no longer the whole universe, as in Birds, but simply the city itself.
We should not, however, exaggerate this decline. The essential celebration of the sensual is still the heart of this comedy. Comedy remembers, recovers, and recollects. If old women as well as old men reap the benefits of this new state, that is not sufficient reason to conclude the play is a bitter satire of Athens' present condition. Nor does the fact that Aristophanes shows us the creation of theatrical illusion in this play satirize the power of illusion, any more than does his use of metatheatrical techniques in his earlier plays. Aristophanes is the kind of magician who can shows us how some of the tricks work and nonetheless entice us into the world of his imagination. Within that world, role-playing and theatrical manipulations demonstrate the power of the dramatic imagination to transform reality, to build a new, comic city in the shell of the old.

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1I am grateful to audiences at the Centre Louis Gernet in Paris and the Scottish Seminar on Ancient Drama at the University of Edinburgh for their comments on earlier versions of this essay.

2For a probing reappraisal of such notions, see Sutton 1990.

3See e.g. Muecke 1977, Foley 1988, Slater 1993.

4Ussher 1973.xx-xxiii.

5The scholiast thought a play of Agathon or Dicaeogenes, while Ussher 1973 ad loc. suggests Euripides' Phoenissae as a parallel.

6In the fourth century, five comedies competed, as we know from the didascalic notice attached to this play, presumably on a single day; see Pickard-Cambridge 1988. 63-66. The view of Gould and Lewis that the five comedies were spread over five days seems at odds with the discussion in this play at 1154ff.

7It has often been noted that Aeschylus uses the real dawn to advantage in the opening of his Agamemnon. The signal fire that the watchman on the roof spies is the sun rising above the horizon to the east of Athens.

8Fo problems both with the text of, and the scholia to, lines 21, 23, and 22, see Ussher 1973 ad loc. Probably we have a reference to a mispronunciation of traw as taraw (see S ad loc.). Two things are worth noting. First, whether Phyromachus is politician or actor, his words are criticized as though they were a performance; Golden 1987 connects this with lines 354-357 and posits a similar pronunciation problem for an assembly speaker there (a reversal of an rx- stem to xr-). Second and perhaps more importantly, there is an emphasis on sitting down in the assembly (21, draw; also kgkayizomnaw, if one accepts Roger's reading in 23), which begins to prepare us for the arresting visual effect of having the chorus sit down in the orchestra when they arrive in this play.

9Cf. the costuming scenes in the Acharnians and the Thesmophoriazusae. In Ecclesiazusae this process has been freed from parody of a specific source (as opposed to the Telephus parody in Acharnians). We now have on-stage plotting and rehearsal undertaken by characters using their native dramatic abilities.

10For the importance of cross-dressing and playing outside their own natures for the choristers of tragedy, see Winkler 1985.

11Sad 1979.40.

12Both historical sources and the conventions of the visual arts show men with much darker skin than women, since the latter spent much more time indoors.

13 There are exceptions, of course: the male slave Chalinus in Plautus' Casina uses his female disguise as a cover for physical violence against his much-detested master Lysidamus.

14Cf. Thesmophoriazusae 626-633. See further the examples of the topos cited by Henderson 1987. 119-120 and n. 104.

15Theocritus 18.23 uses it to describe the racing Spartan maidens. The only other instance I know of, in Dio Chrysostom Oration XXXIII, 38, also deals with voice quality: ste gunaikn laben fvnn pantaw ka mhdna dnasyai mte presbteron ndrist mhdn epen. In light of the fact that terms in Greek for language (e.g., Dorist) have this ending, Gordon Howie has suggested to me that ndrist may refer, not to vocal quality, but to "men's language" in an anthropological sense. Though there were gender specific oaths (on which, see below), we have no evidence for separate men's and women's languages in Greek (as one finds in Japanese, for example); see also Gilleland 1980 and Bain 1984. Note also that terms for the musical modes (e.g., Mujoludist) also end in -t.

16In lost plays Aristophanes at least alluded to varying qualities in actors' voices. There were terms for light and deep voices (frr. 844 K-A., leptfvnow; 793 K-A., barfvnow) and comments on how to speak (fr. 790 K-A., balaneein, to speak clearly; cf. fr. 657 K-A., fygjai s tn fvnn nateixsaw nv, to speak with a full voice). On the sound of the voice in general, see Halliwell 1990, esp. 74-75 on effeminate voice (ad Ar. fr. 706 K-A.).

17To Praxagora's efforts to teach the women here we may compare Albin in the original film of La Cage aux Folles, who receives a lesson in how to butter toast in a masculine manner: he then puts his wrist into the job so vigorously that he pulverizes the toast.

18Cf. swearing by Aphrodite (189, discussed below).

19Sad 1979.39 seems to me to ignore the evidence of this scene when she insists that there is no progress in the women's efforts but finds rather that their feminine nature continually re-asserts itself "malgr tous les efforts faits pour la dissimuler."

20We are constantly in danger of taking Plato on mimesis as gospel. Though Sad 1979.45-46 emphasizes the view that we have here, not a real assembly of women as in Thesmophoriazusae, but only a rehearsal for an imitation of a masculine assembly, why should we assume that this "rehearsal" assembly is inferior to the "real" one? As Reckford 1987.345 says, "The theatrical images...all serve to portray the Assembly debate as a special kind of performance." The commutative principle applies, however: the theatrical performance can be a special kind of assembly.

21Cf. also Knights 750 (Demos speaking). The seated posture also calls to mind that other representative body of the sovereign people, the lawcourts: cf. Wasps 90.

22Slater 1987.

23Kenneth Rothwell in a paper presented at the 1992 APA meeting [give abstract reference] challenged the widespread notion of choral decline in the fourth century by citing evidence for the continuing flourishing of choregia in that period. Undeniably the Athenians were spending money on choruses: there is no evidence, however, that what they got for their money was poetry from the hands of the competing dramatists, much less that those choruses sang anything to do with the play's action.

24Sad 1979.40.

25Sad 1979.41.

26The technique ranges from the broad farce of Frayn's Noises Off to the sophisticated games of Molnar's The Guardsman. Compare also Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. The title characters, minor players in Hamlet, become the focal point for a backstage view of Shakespeare's play. Their deaths, a minor item in Shakespeare's scheme, are for them a nightmare they struggle desperately but unsuccessfully to avoid.
The episode in this play also seems different in kind from a "dressing scene," such as that in Thesmophoriazusae, where Euripides and Agathon dress the old relative. The fact that several characters are preparing to play their parts seems to suggest a different kind of rehearsal; this is not just improvisation in character but a pre-concerted narrative.

27He parodies the Myrmidons, but one might more accurately say that the Myrmidons parodies him. The echo directs our laughter at the man in the yellow feminizing nightgown who think Aeschylus an appropriate poet to quote under the circumstances. He attempts to theatricalize himself as a tragic hero and achieves quite the opposite effect.

28Cf. Ussher 1973 ad 440.

29The wall (497, teixon) is probably the front edge of the stage (Slater 1988) rather than Praxagora's house (Ussher 1973 ad loc.) or an actual wall of the acting area in the Lenaean theatre (Anti 1947.242-243).

30Flashar 1967.406 n.2 cites line 580 as proof that public taste had changed, prompting Aristophanes to move toward Middle Comedy. This is, however, a familiar topos in Aristophanes, for as early as the Knights (e.g., 514-544) we find him discussing the changing tastes of the Athenian public.

31We can firmly reject the notion that Ecclesiazusae parodies an early version of Plato's Republic: see David 1984.20-29 et al. While some would still posit a lost, common source for both Plato and Aristophanes' states (Foley 1982.15 n. 33 accepts this notion), this seems quite unnecessary.

32Baldry 1953; Foley 1982.18.

33Sad 1979, Foley 1982.

34Foley 1982.17 on use-values vs. exchange values.

35For two purposes: 614-615,tow ndrsi sugkatakesyai / ka paidopoien t" boulomn. Note the order. In comedy sex exists not for procreation (as in marriage) but pleasure. Sad 1979.55-56 makes the somewhat heavy-handed point that the social function of marriage is to provide heirs to whom property can be transmitted; once property is abolished in the new state, there is no need for marriage. We can draw the further conclusion that those wishing paidopoien do so from private desire, not social function. Here Aristophanes clearly differentiates himself from the philosophers and social reformers, who must worry about peopling their new states. So too when Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing offers as a feeble excuse for his marriage that "the world must be peopled," we know he has deserted the world of comedy.

36Note that this is not forced labor but a choice by those who think it worth the price. Cf. Kerr 1967.144-165 on the comedy of the body's sexual appetites: the young and beautiful will be the reward of those willing to work for it. Therefore Foley 1982 (above, n.35xx) is not quite correct in saying all exchange values are abolished. One can still exchange the only thing one still possesses, oneself, for sexual favors.

37Pauline Schmitt-Pantel in a section of her forthcoming book La Cit au Banquet entitled "La cit nourricire selon Aristophane" suggests that this is a comic version of Spartan custom. In Sparta the young at the common meals listened to (and learned from) the edifying discourse of their elders; see Xenophon, Constitution of the Lacedaemonians V.5 and Plutarch, Life of Lycurgus 12.4. Certainly parody of Spartan custom is possible here, though we need look no further than Clouds for a young man (Pheidippides) singing to his father at a meal. If we combine the suggestion that theatrical performance at Athens is actually an opening up of the entertainments of the aristocratic symposium to the whole city (see Farenga) with the demonstration of Winkler 1985 that the choruses of tragedy in particular are composed of young men, then we can see that what Aristophanes proposes in an offhand manner here is actually a reversion of theatre to its sympotic origins. Tragedy and comedy will not be jettisoned along with the exterior world but will be brought back within the household.

38The belief of Ussher 1973.xxvii-xxviii and ad 729. Sutton 1990.9 suggests we have simply lost these choruses; cf. Handley 1953.

39Aristophanes may well have used others' poetry for the finale of some of his earlier plays: see Sommerstein commentaries on the endings of Acharnians and Knights.

40Chremes later calls on two slaves to carry his goods, Sikon and Parmenon (867-868), but surely we must imagine more than two: if the slaves are simply lining up small items on the stage, this will be virtually invisible beyond the middle of the theatre audience.

41We noted above the pattern of similar line endings in 221-228; cf. 799-803, here (862-864), and 1155-1557. Nowhere else does Aristophanes use this technique.

42Douglass Parker, The Congresswomen (New York 1967).

43Whitman 1964 simply excludes Ecclesiazusae (and also Wealth) from his study of the Aristophanic comic hero. His lack of sympathy for this particular play is evident in his remark that it is the only one of the plays which is in danger of simply "falling apart" (9).

44Sommerstein 1984.319.

45That universal elixir of twentieth century criticism, irony, has indeed been called upon in an attempt to demonstrate that terpnn ti ka kvmdikn means its exact opposite, i.e., that Aristophanes here sets out to disgust his audience. This seems unlikely particularly in light of kvmdikn; I do not know of any instance in which Aristophanes uses this central term (or any of its cognates) ironically.

46See Ussher 1973 ad 916. The sexual meaning of the name, an lisbow, is significant. We should not romanticize or etherealize the girl's desire for him; it is straightforwardly physical.

47Sommerstein 1984.316 and note 23.

48And if Olson 1987.165 n10 is right to suggest that the "young man" might be Chremes' unnamed neighbor, the would-be gate-crasher of the feast, we will have even less sympathy for him.

49As a general principle, one should not invent events previous to the play's action which are not absolutely required. It is true that the Old Relative in Thesmophoriazusae (447-450) alludes to being seduced at the age of seven (!) and describes receiving a lover after marriage, but this is a male fantasy, not an objective description. Here there is no reason to make any assumption about a previous relationship.

50See Henderson 1987.175 ad Lysistrata 845-6 on torture metaphors for love.

51In which she apparently introduces legal language in a parody of Athenian allotment decrees: see Sens 1992 on line 999, m tn Afrodthn, m' laxe klhroumnh.

52See Slater 1989. Whitehorne 1989.95-97 contributes an important discussion of the imagery the young man employs, concluding (97): "One does not need to be a Freud to guess what other sort of pit or cleft is signified by the slang term brayron or how this image relates to the final image of death by drowning at the harbor's mouth." For an extremely harsh view of the death imagery, see Wheat 1992.

53Konstan and Dillon 1981.382; cf. Sommerstein 1984.320-321. Reckford 1987.344-353 offers the best analysis of the genuinely Aristophanic spirit of the play as a whole.

54Sad 1979.58 suggests that only such "sterile" unions are imagined, because this will not threaten existing definitions of legitimate citizen birth. Sommerstein 1984.321-322 also notes that the scene raises only a bogus spectre of incest, since children would still presumably know who their mothers are, but suppresses any notion of the real danger of father/daughter incest under such a system.

55On old women in Aristophanes, see Henderson 1987.109: "Unlike later comedy, Old Comedy seems for the most part to have been conventionally hostile to young men"; note also that "when men are to be confronted or admonished, it is the older women who do the job."

56Elizabeth Bobrick has offered two good objections (private correspondence): first, that personified "goods" in Aristophanes are usually represented by beautiful young women, and second, that the young women (such as the flute girl in Wasps) whom the rejuvenated heroes win are not portrayed as protesting their fate, whereas the young man here does. I do not argue that Aristophanes represents old age as a good thing in and of itself---far from it. That is precisely the point of rejuvenation, and therefore peace and such abstractions will naturally be represented in their original, pristine state. The second objection seems to me anachronistic. Though it might seem to beg the question, one should note that the women in situations comparable to the young man's here are played by silent characters---and then ask why they are silent extras. Given Greek assumptions about women's status as property or dependents, the protests of a young girl in similar circumstance would either be uninteresting or an act of hubris against her male guardian. One may note that Philocleon's flute girl requires a bit of coaxing and so may not be entirely happy about her lot, but there is really no way to tell how that scene was played.

57Pace Olson 1987, it seems unnecessary to multiply anonymous characters by postulating a new figure.

58Rogers ad loc. prefers to interpret them as sarcastic, but admits the straightforward reading is quite possible. Ussher 1973 ad loc. for some reason takes the maid seriously but suspects the chorus of sarcasm.

59The order may be significant. Though the vote of the judges determined the outcome, the acclaim of the audience doubtless influenced the vote. Moreover, it seems to have been better to win by a clear demonstration of public approval than simply by the judges' vote in a close contest. In Birds 445-447, the chorus backs its oath with a curse upon itself: if they violate the oath, may they win by only one judge's vote rather than the acclaim of all the audience and judges.

60See Ussher 1973 ad loc. and Sommerstein 1984.322 n53, who points to the parallels of Lysistrata 1043-71 and 1189-1215 and also Plautus' Rudens 1418-22, Pseudolus 1331-34, and Stichus 775.

61While it is true that Aristophanes elsewhere sings the praises of feasts in his plays, the theme is most emphatic here. In my darker moments, I wonder if this might not be an attempt at subliminal sabotage of his rivals. If we combine the mouth-watering word here with Blepyrus' invitation to the audience to join the feast by going home, we might suspect that Aristophanes is trying to make his audience hungry enough to skip the next couple of plays in order to go home for a meal. Audiences did bring food with them to the theatre, but it was more on the order of Dicaeopolis' bread and onions, which he takes to the assembly in the Acharnians. If Blepyrus can turn the audience's thoughts to more substantial fare, Aristophanes' next rival might be greeted by the sight of large numbers leaving the theatre before his play.

62For an excellent review of interpretations, see Sommerstein 1984.315-316; further discussion in Flashar 1967.405-411.

63ad lines 805-806.

64Sommerstein 1984. 319-320.

65See Sommerstein 1984.321 n. 48 on the emphatic mnhn of line 947.

66Sommerstein 1984.322.

67Sad 1979.55.

68Schmitt-Pantel (above, n. 38xx) argues that Aristophanes draws a sharp, moral distinction between public and private feasting, the latter being an unqualified good, the former usually a symptom of public corruption. I cannot review all the material she so admirably analyzes but will only say that, while Aristophanes clearly condemns the entertainment of corrupt political figures at public expense, the case of the people at large is quite different. Public feasts would seem to an Athenian audience a natural democratic good.

69Sad 1979.45-46.

70Cf. above, n. 24xx. Her final vision of this play is apocalyptic, as she imagines (Sad 1979.55) "...un retour l'indiffrenciation gnrale et au chaos."

71Sad 1979.34.

72Many American political satirists similarly ran out of enthusiasm for the fray after the resignation of President Nixon.

73For an excellent analysis (with particular reference to the work of the so-called "Old Oligarch") of comedy's function in the city, see Henderson 1990. Henderson shows how Aristophanes avoids criticizing the demos itself.