Discuss the criticism levelled at Athenian politics by the ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes, through his plays.
The Ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes, criticizes Athenian politics of 426 - 422 BC through his three political satires: The Babylonians; The Knights and The Wasps. The Babylonians openly criticizes the political leader Cleon, The Wasps exploits the injustice of the Athenian jury system whilst The Knights pokes fun at the popular opinion of the infatuated public who were blind to Cleon’s manipulation of the court. "...he uses an absolutely unrestrained freedom of political satire" Through these plays Aristophanes criticizes the three main aspects of politics: the leader; the court and the people.
The Babylonians is seen as the play which 'opens' the war against Cleon because it is the first political satire written by Aristophanes. Even though only fragments of the play remain, we know that The Babylonians centers on the criticism of Cleon due to remarks from ancient scholars including Dicaeopolis. Cleon was the Athenian statesman during the Peloponnesian War, who was strongly opposed by Aristophanes as he viewed Cleon as a warmonger and a demagogue. (Here it must be noted that contrary to Aristophanes view of Cleon many modern historian have the view that Cleon “… was a more wiser and more intelligent statesman, with a better reputation and a more just entitlement to fame and honour, than our principal authorities lead us to suppose.”) Knowledge of the context of the play, the opposing views between Aristophanes and Cleon (not to mention understanding that the most effective and appropriate way for Aristophanes to denounce Cleon was to write a satirical play) makes it obvious as to why Aristophanes has written a play to denounce Cleon. However due to only minimal fragments remaining of the original play, one cannot know exactly what criticism was levelled at Aristophanes in The Babylonians, only that it is virtually definite that Aristophanes criticizes the political leader Cleon, in the play The Babylonians.
The Wasps criticizes the love of litigation common to Athenian jury's and because of this, exploits the unjust proceedings of the Athenian jury and court of the time. The Athenian courts were a democracy, where the Statesman of the court thus controlled the state and the jury were selected from the upper-middle class of ‘Thetes’. The play centres around the main protagonist Philocleon (in Latin literally meaning "loving-Cleon") He is described to us as "... a merciless judge, never failing to draw the convicting line and return home with his nails full of wax like a bumble-bee." and as the play progresses we gain evidence of Philocleon being "an old scallywag", argumentative, uncooperative and unreasonable. Through this characterization of Philocleon, Aristophanes has set up a character that viewers of the time (even if they didn't agree) would recognize as representing jury members, (which must be noted, in Aristophanes perspective, were represented and summed up in the personality of Cleon.) Philocleon is then described as having a 'erôs' (the strongest word in Greek for an obstinate and unruly passion) of Heliaea (The Supreme Court of Ancient Greece). By representing the jury in the same physical person that is addicted to the court, Aristophanes is criticizing that jury members do not appear in the court to insure justice is served, but because they "...takst pleasure in the tears and groans of the accused" Thus Aristophanes is levelling criticism at the injustice of the Athenian court because of the selfish motives of the jury members.
As the Wasps proceeds, Aristophanes also criticizes the corrupt proceedings of the court, due to the injustice, lack of knowledge, and 'they're always guilty' mentality of the jury members. (In the play it is told that in court Philocleon often says "You might just as well try to boil a stone." when the...
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