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Automatist Utopian Themes In Acharnians & Birds

1612 words - 7 pages

During the 5th century BCE, Old Comedy was the most prevalent comedic form in Ancient Greece. This was largely due to the success of Athenian playwright, Aristophanes. His plays were frenetic, visual and personal, often containing historical figures. In particular, Aristophanes’ comedies contained automatist utopian themes that were used to satirize various aspects of 5th century Greece, often in Athens. The present essay will first define utopia and the automatist subtype. Then it will explore Aristophanes’ usage of automatist utopian themes in his plays Acharnians and Peace. Specifically, this paper will argue that Aristophanes used themes associated with automatist utopia to satirize war, ...view middle of the document...

Classicist H.C. Baldry supports this statement, emphasizing, “It is typical of Old Comedy as we know it from Aristophanes that they singled out one…topic so dear to the heart of the Athenian audience—food” (Baldry 60). This is not surprising given that Aristophanes was appealing mainly to an Athenian audience. Thus, automatist utopia focused mainly on peace, prosperity and abundance of food.
The automatist utopian theme of massive amounts of food is present throughout Aristophanes’ play, Acharnians written in 425 BCE. In an opening scene, the comedic hero, Dicaeopolis is at an assembly meeting in which Athenian ambassadors have just returned from Persia. During the meeting an ambassador exclaims, “Barbarians, you see, define a man by how much food and wine he can consume…[they feasted us with whole oxen, baked in giant ovens” (Ach. 1.77-86). In this case, Aristophanes’ description of gluttonous amounts of food being served to the ambassadors fits the automatist utopian criteria. However, it is curious that the ambassador describes “barbarians” as characterizing men by the amount of food and wine they consume. On the one hand, if taken literally, perhaps the ambassadors did not enjoy their feasts in Persia. However, Aristophanes may be satirizing the excess of the aristocracy. Given the greater context of this passage, the ambassadors seemed to have enjoyed their lives during their time in Persia even though they act as if they did not. Dicaeopolis notices this and not believing their feasting ways he responds adversely, “Who has ever seen an oven-baked ox? What absolute baloney…you’re conning all of us” (Ach. 1.87-90). In this case, Dicaeopolis’ response may serve as a satire of these aristocratic ambassadors. Specifically, he cannot believe that these men would eat oxen baked in an oven because that is considered excessive and gross. Dicaeopolis also appears to view this amount of food as so gluttonous that he cannot believe that it exists. Thus, this is a rich example of how Aristophanes use of automatist utopia can be interpreted as satirizing the excess of the aristocracy. Despite the satire, Aristophanes’ opinion is difficult to decipher. As a member of the aristocracy, it likely his opinion was equivocal by design.
In Aristophanes’ Acharnians, the absence of the automatist utopian trope of peace is used to satirize the aristocracy and their role in prolonging the Peloponnesian War. At the beginning of the play, Dicaeopolis is at an assembly meeting, expressing his discontent at the continuation of the Peloponnesian War. He exclaims, “The Magistrates aren’t even here; they’re late…and when they come…as for talk of peace, not a single moment’s thought” (Ach. 1.23-27). As seen here, Dicaeopolis is upset that the Athenian magistrates are neglecting to entertain conversations of peace. Furthermore, he views these magistrates, as a group that falls under the larger classification of the Athenian aristocracy, as culpable for the continuation of...

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