Sunoikisis Greek 293/393: Greek Comedy



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Sunoikisis Greek 293/393: Greek Comedy

Syllabus, Fall 2014

Seminar Consultant: Jeffrey S. Rusten (Cornell University)

Course Director: Ryan C. Fowler (CHS)

This work by the Sunoikisis consortium is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/.

Syllabus Authors:



  • Monica Berti is a Classicist and Digital Humanist at the Universität Leipzig.

  • D. Ben DeSmidt is an Associate Professor of Great Ideas and Classics at Carthage College.

  • Ryan C. Fowler is the CHS Sunoikisis Fellow in Curricular Development.

  • Heather Waddell Gruber is an Assistant Professor of Classical Studies at Concordia College.

  • Hal Haskell is a Professor at Southwestern University.

  • Ben V. Hicks received his Ph.D from the University of Texas at Austin in 2013.

  • Julie Langford is an Associate Professor at University of South Florida.

  • Kenny Morrell is an Associate Professor at Rhodes College.

  • Polyvia Parara is a Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Maryland.

  • Arum Park is a Visiting Assistant Professor at Brigham Young University.

  • Danilo Piana is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Classics at the Johns Hopkins University.

  • Joseph Romero is an Associate Professor at the University of Mary Washington.

  • Jeffrey S. Rusten is a Professor in the Department of Classics at Cornell University.

  • Polyxeni Strolonga is a researcher at the Americam School of Classical Studies in Athens.

  • Heather Vincent is an Associate Professor of Classics at Eckerd College.

Included in this syllabus: a course overview, a bibliography, a schedule of assignments, and discussion questions.




I. COURSE OVERVIEW

Meeting Times

All common sessions will occur on Wednesday evenings at 7:00 Eastern Time. Weeks are listed starting on Thursday of the week before each common session. Students should complete all listed readings in the week before the lecture and respond to posted study questions by midnight the Sunday before the common session, so that faculty and other students will have the opportunity to review responses. Participating faculty members and students will determine their own times for the on-campus tutorial sessions.



Course Description

This course, making extensive use of resources available via the internet, focuses on Greek poetry in the form of Aristophanes’ comedy. This course is specifically designed for advanced students and will include a rigorous study of cultural and historical contexts during the classical period in Greece. Students will also become familiar with current interpretative approaches to the material, as well as how comedy and Greek institutions interrelated during this period.

The comedians of ancient Athens and Rome were poets of intelligence, elegance, anger, obscenity, and ethical conflicts. Despite these often contradictory (or ambiguous) messages, their plays have stood the test of time. The social and political background of Greece in the Classical period was both reflected in and was shaped by Aristophanes’ comedies.

Students will participate in a weekly webcast lecture, an on-line discussion moderated by faculty members from participating institutions, and weekly tutorials with faculty members at their home institutions.



Course Objectives

Students in this course will further develop their skills in the Greek language, while at the same time acquiring and refining advanced skills in critical reading and writing.

Most of the instruction in the Greek language for this course will take place at the home institutions. Common sessions will often refer to the primary texts in Greek for the course and reinforce the use of the language that takes place in preparation for and during the tutorial sessions.

Common sessions will focus on the historical and social background for the composition of the poetry, analytical and methodological approaches to the readings, and questions concerning genre and performance, which all contribute to the interpretation and understanding of old and new comedy. Preparation for and participation in the common sessions will contribute to the development of the students' ability to read critically, write clearly, and contribute productively to an ongoing discussion about the texts.



By completing the weekly writing assignment, students will demonstrate their ability to read critically and apply analytical and interpretative approaches in the process of developing an understanding of Aristophanic comedy.
Course Components

Preparation: As noted below, readings are organized by common session, and students should read all assigned primary texts before the common session (ideally before answering the corresponding writing prompt). Students who choose to take this course at the 293 rather than 393 level will be responsible for less reading in Greek but will be expected to complete all of the reading in English.

Common Sessions: Wednesday, 7-8:15 PM EST. Students at all participating institutions will meet together online for a common session via multipoint interactive video-conferencing and a chat room. These interactive sessions have a different faculty leader each week and typically combine mini-lectures with discussion, questions, and exercises.

Study Questions: Responses to the study questions are due Sunday by midnight; between then and the common session, please provide at least one substantial comment on the posts of two other students. Your comments should be at least fifty to seventy-five words in length. The study questions afford students the opportunity to expand on and synthesize issues that arise in the reading and common session, as well as engage with secondary literature. (Students may be asked to complete additional reading in English or in Greek for the study questions.)
The Forum grading rubric can be found here.

Due Dates and Times for Discussion Questions: Initial answers to study prompts are due midnight EST on Sundays, and responses to other students' answers are due before that week’s Common Session.

Tutorials: Ideally, each student will meet for at least one hour every week with a mentor at her or his home institution. The faculty member and students on each campus will determine the times and locations of these meetings. Students are responsible for contacting their faculty mentors and finalizing the details of their weekly meetings, which will focus more closely on the language, translation and interpretation of assigned readings. Faculty members on each campus will the final authority for the grades for the students on their campuses.

Examinations:Translation exams and quizzes will take place at the home institutions.

Dates: The inter-institutional phase of the course will begin September 10 and conclude on December 12. Individual campuses may begin before September 8 and conclude after December 10. Students should consult with their faculty mentors for further information.

Grading: For students in Greek 293, grades will be based on the following components:


Class preparation and work in tutorial:

40%

Participation in the study questions:

30%

Midterm examination:

15%

Final examination:

15%

For students in Greek 393, grades will be based on the following components:

Class preparation and work in tutorial:

30%

Participation in the study questions:

30%

Midterm examination:

20%

Final examination:

20%


II. BIBLIOGRAPHY

Primary Texts

W. Geoffrey Arnott. 2000. Menander Vol. 3, Harvard. PDF

Jeffrey Henderson. 1997. Aristophanes: Acharnians, Focus Publishing. Perseus Text

Jeffrey Henderson. 1992. Aristophanes: Clouds, Focus Publishing. Perseus Text

Jeffrey Henderson. 1992. Aristophanes: Lysistrata, Focus Publishing. Perseus Text
D. M. MacDowell. 1982. Gorgias: Encomium of Helen, Bristol. PDF

Alan H. Sommerstein. 1998. Aristophanes: Ecclesiazusae, Classical Texts 10, Aris & Phillips. Perseus Text


III. SCHEDULE

Week 1 (9/11-9/17)

Primary Readings:

English: Acharnians

Greek: Ecclesiazusae 1-40 (252 words)

Writing Prompt:

  1. Before we have even read any Greek comedies, why do you think comedy might have been invented/added in Athens alongside of tragedy?



  2. In other words, what function did it serve?



  3. Can you think of ways in which today's “comedy” might be comparable?Any reasons why, despite retaining the ancient name, it might be difficult to compare them?

Common Session (9/17):

"Ancient Greek and Contemporary Comedy" by Jeffrey Rusten

Week 2 (9/18-9/24)

Primary Readings:

English: Acharnians

Greek: Ecclesiazusae 41-85 (308 words)

Secondary Readings:

  1. E. Csapo, and W.J. Slater. 1995. The Context of Ancient Drama, edited by E. Csapo and W.J. Slater (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1995).

  2. 103-108: City Dionysia

  3. 121-124: Lenaea, Rural Dionysia and Anthesteria

  4. 139-143: Choregic System

  5. 165-178: Freedom of Expression w/sources



  6. I.C. Storey, and A. Allan, A Guide to Ancient Greek Drama (John Wiley & Sons, 2013).

  7. 61-71: Drama and the Polis

  8. 190-194: Domestic Comedy; Political and topical comedy; To make fun of by name

  9. 211-217: Beginning with "Aristophanic comedy is intensely political and topical..."

Writing Prompt:

Csapo and Slater note that Aristophanes' comedies were not restaged after his death, in contrast with the work of classic tragedians (Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides) and later comedians like Menander. Based on your readings, speculate as to why this was so. Does the form of government under which comedic playwrights live somehow influence their subject matter and the objects of their ridicule?

Common Session (9/24):

"Contextualizing Comedy" by Julie Langford

Week 3 (9/25-10/1)

Primary Readings:

English: Acharnians

Greek: Ecclesiazusae 86-135 (350 words)

Writing Prompt:

 Γυ. Α
νὴ τὸν Δί᾽ ὥστε δεῖ σε καταλαβεῖν ἕδρας 
ὑπὸ τῷ λίθῳ τῶν πρυτάνεων καταντικρύ.

First Woman
Right you are, so we’ve got to grab some seats under the rock, right in front of the Chairmen
Ecclesiazusae 86-87 (translation by Henderson)

Στρεψιάδης
ἔα.
τίς οὑτοσί ποτ᾽ ἔσθ᾽ ὁ θρηνῶν; οὔτι που
τῶν Καρκίνου τις δαιμόνων ἐφθέγξατο;

Strepsiades
Look, who are you?
The way you whine you sound like some poor blubbering god from a tragedy by Karkinos
Clouds 1259-1260 (translation by Arrowsmith)

This week’s common session will be an Aristophanic tour through Athens, placing the performances of Aristophanes’ plays in their contemporary contexts. In 200-250 words, please respond to ONE of the following prompts:

1. Think of a fictional television series explicitly set in a real place (e.g. Pasadena, New York, Los Angeles). To what extent do the writers incorporate specific places, streets, monuments, politicians and other personalities about town, political institutions, etc. into the storyline and to what extent is the audience’s appreciation of the storyline dependent upon inside knowledge of those spaces, institutions, people, etc., especially those that are idiosyncratic or unique to that place?

2. Write a storyline proposal for an episode of your own TV sitcom (you can create a sitcom out of whole cloth, or model upon and alter a real sitcom). Although the storyline is fictional, your sitcom series must be set in a real place/city. Full appreciation of the storyline requires detailed knowledge by the audience of that place/city (geographically, culturally, etc.). You should incorporate explicit and implicit references to specific locales, politicians and other personalities about town, and idiosyncratic political and social institutions within your place/city.

Common Session (10/1):

"The Place of Aristophanic Comedy" by Hal Haskell

Week 4 (10/2-10/8)

Primary Readings:

English: Clouds

Greek: Ecclesiazusae 136-192 (408 words) 

Writing Prompt:

 You’ve now started reading in English the Clouds, one of Aristophanes’ most famous plays. Consider the exchange between Strepsiades and Socrates following the entrance of the Chorus of Clouds (Clouds 372-411). This passage is one of many such Aristophanic gems that interweave the sublime (philosophical discourse) with the low (bodily functions)—hilarious, but incredibly difficult to translate. Of the various translations here (Henderson, Arrowsmith, Hadas), discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each in its attempt to convey both the tone and language of the original.

Common Session (10/8):

"Translation and Reception" by Arum Park

Week 5 (10/9-10/15)

Primary Readings:

English: Clouds, Gorgias, Encomium of Helen

Greek 393: Ecclesiazusae 193-265  (514 words), Encomium of Helen 1-2 (124 words) and 19-21 (131 words)

Greek 293: Ecclesiazusae 193-265 (514 words)



Secondary Readings:

  1. C. T. Murphy, "Aristophanes and the Art of Rhetoric," HSCP 49 (1938): 69-113. (Read only pp. 104-105 for a summary outline of Strepsiades and Pheidippides' speeches at the end of the Clouds; 109-111 for a summary outline of Praxagora's speech)



  2. D. Spatharas, "Persausive ΓΕΛΩΣ: Public Speaking and the Use of Laughter," Mnemosyne 59 (2006): 374-387.

Writing Prompt:

Over the past two weeks, as we have been reading the Clouds in translation along with the Ecclesiazusae, our weekly common sessions have pushed us to think about how comedy operates as an artistic and social medium within Athens. The subject of rhetoric might seem somewhat out of place at first glance, but think about how rhetoric works as an engine driving the action of the plays. Notice, in particular, the exchange between Praxagora and the woman beginning at line 241: Praxagora seems able to accomplish her plan in the assembly only because she has learned from listening to the rhetors. Contrast this with a moment later in the play (lines 571-574), when the chorus signals that Praxagora must operate somewhat differently than she did in the assembly. In 250-300 words, try to connect these differences with the types of education that are put on display in the Clouds. Certainly, in the Clouds, rhetoric and the kind of speech-making taught by Socrates appear in a very negative light. Are there similar negative elements that become attached to Praxagora's education?

Common Session (10/15):

"Rhetoric" by D. Ben DeSmidt

Week 6 (10/16-10/22)

Primary Readings:

English: Clouds

Greek: Ecclesiazusae 266-353 (610 words)

Writing Prompt:

For the writing assignment this week, you will return to some of the points raised in week three as you examined modern examples of comedy. This time, select a comedy. It can be a sitcom such as the Big Bang Theory, 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, and The Office or a sketch and variety comedy show such as Saturday Night Live and Key & Peele. You will need to watch at least three episodes of the series you choose. Based on viewing those episodes, describe the structure of the program, discussing the elements of the program and how the writers and directors sequence the elements. Are there other unique features of the comedy, for example, the number of actors in each segment, the use of music or non-comedic material and images as transitions, what kind of advertisers support the program? Finally, going back to your assignment for week three, consider how the program incorporates the idea of place.

Common Session (10/22):

"Performance and Structure" by Kenny Morrell

Week 7 (10/23-10/29)

Primary Readings:

English: Lysistrata

Greek: Ecclesiazusae 354-459 (726 words)

Secondary Readings:

  1. M. Heath, "Aristophanes and the discourse of politics," in The City as Comedy: Society and Representation in Athenian Drama, edited by Gregory W. Dobrov (Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 1997), 230-49.



  2. Jeffrey Rusten, "Political discourse and the assembly in four plays of Aristophanes," in Retórica y discurso en el teatro griego, edited by Milagros Quijada Sagredo and M.C. Encinas Reguero (Madrid: Ediciones Clásicas, 2013), 249-260.

Writing Prompt:

In the previous weeks of the course, we have surveyed the relationship of a comic play to its space, its performance and structure, and the use rhetoric. In the present week, we will take a closer look at the political and cultural backdrop to the comedic plays of Aristophanes. Our common session will explore knowledge of the democratic institutions in Athens, the Peloponnesian war, the Athenian Empire, and we will begin to look forward to other cultural factors (e.g. gender) that an ancient audience carried with them when they observed a play.  In order to prepare you to think about these issues, please sit down and watch a contemporary satirical comedy such as The Daily Show or The Colbert Report. (Hulu is a good place to find episodes the day after they have aired.) While watching the show and enjoying the laughter, try to imagine how much of the humor requires not just knowledge but thorough knowledge of the institutions, culture, and events of the present day. For example, have you ever found yourself in a situation where everyone else was laughing but you did not understand what was funny, and when you asked, you realized that you had not followed the latest news in the world. Your task is to sit through the program and take notes on what you found funny, and what kinds of knowledge enabled you to find it funny. In particular note where knowledge of the political or cultural institutions is necessary, or where knowledge of contemporary events is necessary to the satiric humor. After completing this assignment, summarize your findings in a response of 250 words. In the final paragraph, consider an institution that you have encountered in the Ecclesiazusae thus far and speculate on how knowledge of that institution may increase the satiric humor offered in the play.

Common Session (10/29):

"Politics, Culture and Satire: The Institutions in Greek Comedy" by Ben Hicks

Week 8 (10/30-11/5)

Primary Readings:

English: Lysistrata

Greek: Ecclesiazusae 460-572 (831 words)

Secondary Readings:

Froma I. Zeitlin, "Utopia and myth in Aristophanes’ Ecclesiazusae," in Contextualizing Classics: Ideology, Performance, Dialogue, edited by Thomas Falkner, Nancy Felson and David Konstan (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 1999), 69 - 88.

Writing Prompt:

In Lysistrata and Ecclesiazusae women manage to overpower men and affect the social order of the polis. Compare briefly Lysistrata and Praxagora. What female traits/roles/powers prove to be useful for their plans and what male attributes do they employ or abuse? Use Greek terms when possible. What boundaries do women cross in these plays and what kind of threats do they pose to men? Most importantly, what do you think is the message of the reversal of gender roles in these plays? Froma Zeitlin provides one answer within the context of myth, but you should explore other possible interpretations.

Common Session (11/5):

"Gender in Comedy" by Polyxeni Strolonga

Week 9 (11/6-11/12)

Primary Readings:

English: Lysistrata

Greek: Ecclesiazusae 573-672 (961 words)

Secondary Readings:

Please read the following primary source excerpts from Morreall, John, ed. 1987. The Philosophy of Laughter and HumorSUNY:

1)     Plato, Philebus 48-50

2)     Aristotle, Poetics 1449a and Nichomachean Ethics IV.8

3)     Cicero, De Oratore II.58-63 (with many omissions. For a Latin edition, cf. sections 236-255 @http://www.thelatinlibrary.com/cicero/oratore2.shtml

4)     Thomas Hobbes, Excerpts from Leviathan  I.6 and Human Nature 8.13

5)     William Hazlitt, "Lectures on the English Comic Writers," 65-82.



Writing Prompt:

Often we assume we know what makes something funny, particularly when the themes are sexual or scatological. Thus, we might assume that Aristophanes’ obscenity simply is funny by definition, but the fact is that obscenity qua obscenity is not necessarily funny. By now, you will have encountered any number of Aristophanic jokes that you found decidedly not humorous. Perhaps you simply wrote it off, thinking to yourself, “humor doesn’t always translate.” In our discussion this week we will consider what makes something funny and whether “funny” can be described in formal and analytical ways. Indeed, we in the 21st century are not the first to consider what makes something funny, why we laugh, and what social functions laughter fulfills. I have given you a few examples of early humor theory so that you may begin to think about a taxonomic approach to understand comedy. These readings will help clarify the roles of intellectual cognition, sense perception, and emotion in the creation and appreciation of verbal humor.  After completing the readings above and after reviewing an English translation of Lysistrata and Ecclesiazusae, please consider the following questions.

Part 1. 200 words (short answers). Respond VERY briefly to the following questions. These responses should help you identify the essence of each theorist’s argument. (You should be able to respond well to each question within only a few sentences.)

1)     In your view, how does the Platonic view of “malice” in ridicule inform Hobbes’ view of laughter, which is commonly called “Superiority Theory”?

2)     How/where does Aristotle’s view of laughter agree with Plato’s? And where/how does it disagree?

3)     What does Cicero add to the arguments made by Plato and Aristotle?

4)     In Hazlitt’s view what is the relationship of wit and truth, and what are the ethical ramifications of the production of humor?

Part 2. 200-300 words. Select one exchange from Lysistrata or Ecclesiazusae where you find latent or overtly expressed hostility, condescension, sarcasm, pity, sorrow, or contempt coupled with one or more jokes that you find at least mildly funny. These questions will help you understand how the affective content of the scene serves to enhance or diminish humor. It may also help you begin thinking about why humor can be an effective rhetorical trope to inspire moral or ethical change.

1)     Briefly summarize the scene.

2)     Isolate a particularly (or arguably) clever line. Comment on the formal verbal elements of the line: word choice, double meaning, word order, syntax, and difficulty of listener’s comprehension, register of diction (formal/informal, poetic/prosaic, educated/uneducated). In other words, what IS the joke here?

3)     Comment on your intellectual and affective response to the particular line or to the scene as a whole E.g. How did you think the joke would end? What did you expect the character to say? How did your emotions cause you to react to the characters at the beginning vs. the end of the scene? Do you feel sympathetic with the joke teller, or asympathetic? Why?



Common Session (11/12):

"Verbal Humor and Translation" by Heather Vincent

Week 10 (11/13-11/19)

Primary Readings:

English: Samia; Plato Critias [or the Jowett Critias]

Greek: Ecclesiazusae 673-815 (1092 words)

Secondary Readings:

Ian Ruffell. 2014. "Utopianism," in The Cambridge Companion to Utopia, 206-221.

Writing Prompt:

Utopia—both “a good place” (eu-topia) and “no place” (ou-topia). Well before Plato put Utopian literature on an established footing in his Critias and Timaeus with the myth of Atlantis, numerous writers of Old Comedy had exploited Utopian premises in plays featuring characters’ (flawed?) attempts to reinvent society in impossible ways.

For this week’s discussion, read Plato’s Critias alongside Aristophanes’ Ekklesiazusae.  Break down the two utopias by as many criteria as you deem necessary—I offer the following for example only; you should not confine yourself to these: political institutions, practices, and goals; the family; economy; source and distribution of food; labor; military obligation; etc.  (Be sure to include parenthetical citations!) Finally, is there a difference between a philosopher’s utopia and a comedian’s?  If so, what is it?



Common Session (11/19):

"Utopias" by Joseph Romero

Week 11 (11/20-11/26)

Primary Readings:

English: Samia

Greek: Ecclesiazusae 816-989 (1200 words)

Secondary Readings:

Jeffrey Rusten, “Sources of the Comic Fragments" and “Menander," in The Birth of Comedy: Texts, Documents, and Art from Athenian Comic Competitions, edited by Jeffrey Rusten (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011), 7-16, 626-659.

Writing Prompt:

The goal of this common session is to work with quotations and allusions to Greek comedies (i.e., textual fragments). Menander’s plays are known not only through papyri (as for example the Samia), but also through quotations by later authors, who preserve information on the life and the production of the comic playwright (testimonia and fragmenta). Jeff Rusten’s chapter on Menander collects the major testimonia to Menander’s life and a selection of fragments transmitted outside of papyrus. In approximately 200 words try to describe how many different sources preserve information on Menander and his work. Select one testimonium or one fragment from the chapter on Menander and look for the Greek original source where it is preserved. In about 100 words describe the context of the quotation and translate it into English.

Common Session (12/3):

"Comic Fragments" by Monica Berti

Thanksgiving Break (11/27-12/3)

Week 12 (12/4-12/10)

Primary Readings:

English: Samia

Greek: Ecclesiazusae 990-1183 (1407 words)

Writing Prompt:

Menander's comedies are differently structured and plotted from those of Aristophanes, and one ancient critic thought all New Comedy was closer to Euripides (Rusten, Birth of Comedy Part IV Introd. Nr 1, p. 580):
4. Satyrus, Life of Euripides,  F 6 fr. 39 col. 7; Schorn 2004, 101, 256–8: . . . for the husband toward his wife, for the father toward his son, for the servant toward his master; or else the events in the plot, rapes of virgins, substitutions of children, recognitions by means of rings or necklaces—These are of course what makes up New Comedy, and it was Euripides who raised them to their peak.

Cf. Quintilian 10.1.69 = Menander test. 101.


Aristotle's discussion of comic plots is not preserved in the Poetics, and in any case he died before Menander's first production; but Aristotle says concludes his discussion of plots by saying that Euripides is the "most tragic" of poets; how much of what Aristotle wrote about tragic plots can we apply to Menander's Samia? (Note that Aristotle seems to limit tragedies to unhappy endings, but then the tragedy he cites with approval most frequently is Euripides' Iphigenia in Tauris, which has a happy ending.)
Consider in particular whether the plot is simple or complex, the "error" of the main character (and his moral qualities), the recognition and reversal; is there any scope for violence and pity and fear in Samia?
Please read chapters 7-13 from the Poetics on tragic plot (tr Halliwell in the Loeb Library) when considering your answer.

Common Session (12/10):

"Menander and New Comedy" by Jeffrey Rusten


IV. FORUM QUESTIONS

Week 1

  1. Before we have even read any Greek comedies, why do you think comedy might have been invented/added in Athens alongside of tragedy? In other words, what function did it serve?

  2. Can you think of ways in which today's “comedy” might be comparable?

  3. Any reasons why, despite retaining the ancient name, it might be difficult to compare them?


Week 2

Csapo and Slater note that Aristophanes' comedies were not restaged after his death, in contrast with the work of classic tragedians (Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides) and later comedians like Menander. Based on your readings, speculate as to why this was so. Does the form of government under which comedic playwrights live somehow influence their subject matter and the objects of their ridicule?


Week 3

Γυ. Α


νὴ τὸν Δί᾽ ὥστε δεῖ σε καταλαβεῖν ἕδρας 

ὑπὸ τῷ λίθῳ τῶν πρυτάνεων καταντικρύ.


First Woman

Right you are, so we’ve got to grab some seats under the rock, right in front of the Chairmen

Ecclesiazusae 86-87 (translation by Henderson)
Στρεψιάδης

ἔα.


τίς οὑτοσί ποτ᾽ ἔσθ᾽ ὁ θρηνῶν; οὔτι που

τῶν Καρκίνου τις δαιμόνων ἐφθέγξατο;


Strepsiades

Look, who are you?

The way you whine you sound like some poor blubbering god from a tragedy by Karkinos

Clouds 1259-1260 (translation by Arrowsmith)


This week’s common session will be an Aristophanic tour through Athens, placing the performances of Aristophanes’ plays in their contemporary contexts. In 200-250 words, please respond to ONE of the following prompts:


  1. Think of a fictional television series explicitly set in a real place (e.g. Pasadena, New York, Los Angeles). To what extent do the writers incorporate specific places, streets, monuments, politicians and other personalities about town, political institutions, etc. into the storyline and to what extent is the audience’s appreciation of the storyline dependent upon inside knowledge of those spaces, institutions, people, etc., especially those that are idiosyncratic or unique to that place?

  2. Write a storyline proposal for an episode of your own TV sitcom (you can create a sitcom out of whole cloth, or model upon and alter a real sitcom). Although the storyline is fictional, your sitcom series must be set in a real place/city. Full appreciation of the storyline requires detailed knowledge by the audience of that place/city (geographically, culturally, etc.). You should incorporate explicit and implicit references to specific locales, politicians and other personalities about town, and idiosyncratic political and social institutions within your place/city.


Week 4

You’ve now started reading in English the Clouds, one of Aristophanes’ most famous plays. Consider the exchange between Strepsiades and Socrates following the entrance of the Chorus of Clouds (Clouds 372-411). This passage is one of many such Aristophanic gems that interweave the sublime (philosophical discourse) with the low (bodily functions)—hilarious, but incredibly difficult to translate. Of the various translations here (Henderson, Arrowsmith, Hadas), discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each in its attempt to convey both the tone and language of the original.


Week 5

Over the past two weeks, as we have been reading the Clouds in translation along with the Ecclesiazusae, our weekly common sessions have pushed us to think about how comedy operates as an artistic and social medium within Athens. The subject of rhetoric might seem somewhat out of place at first glance, but think about how rhetoric works as an engine driving the action of the plays. Notice, in particular, the exchange between Praxagora and the woman beginning at line 241: Praxagora seems able to accomplish her plan in the assembly only because she has learned from listening to the rhetors. Contrast this with a moment later in the play (lines 571-574), when the chorus signals that Praxagora must operate somewhat differently than she did in the assembly. In 250-300 words, try to connect these differences with the types of education that are put on display in the Clouds. Certainly, in the Clouds, rhetoric and the kind of speech-making taught by Socrates appear in a very negative light. Are there similar negative elements that become attached to Praxagora's education?


Week 6

For the writing assignment this week, you will return to some of the points raised in week three as you examined modern examples of comedy. This time, select a comedy. It can be a sitcom such as the Big Bang Theory, 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, and The Office or a sketch and variety comedy show such as Saturday Night Live and Key & Peele. You will need to watch at least three episodes of the series you choose. Based on viewing those episodes, describe the structure of the program, discussing the elements of the program and how the writers and directors sequence the elements. Are there other unique features of the comedy, for example, the number of actors in each segment, the use of music or non-comedic material and images as transitions, what kind of advertisers support the program? Finally, going back to your assignment for week three, consider how the program incorporates the idea of place.


Week 7

In the previous weeks of the course, we have surveyed the relationship of a comic play to its space, its performance and structure, and the use rhetoric. In the present week, we will take a closer look at the political and cultural backdrop to the comedic plays of Aristophanes. Our common session will explore knowledge of the democratic institutions in Athens, the Peloponnesian war, the Athenian Empire, and we will begin to look forward to other cultural factors (e.g. gender) that an ancient audience carried with them when they observed a play.  In order to prepare you to think about these issues, please sit down and watch a contemporary satirical comedy such as The Daily Show or The Colbert Report. (Hulu is a good place to find episodes the day after they have aired.) While watching the show and enjoying the laughter, try to imagine how much of the humor requires not just knowledge but thorough knowledge of the institutions, culture, and events of the present day. For example, have you ever found yourself in a situation where everyone else was laughing but you did not understand what was funny, and when you asked, you realized that you had not followed the latest news in the world. Your task is to sit through the program and take notes on what you found funny, and what kinds of knowledge enabled you to find it funny. In particular note where knowledge of the political or cultural institutions is necessary, or where knowledge of contemporary events is necessary to the satiric humor. After completing this assignment, summarize your findings in a response of 250 words. In the final paragraph, consider an institution that you have encountered in the Ecclesiazusae thus far and speculate on how knowledge of that institution may increase the satiric humor offered in the play.


Week 8

In Lysistrata and Ecclesiazusae women manage to overpower men and affect the social order of the polis. Compare briefly Lysistrata and Praxagora. What female traits/roles/powers prove to be useful for their plans and what male attributes do they employ or abuse? Use Greek terms when possible. What boundaries do women cross in these plays and what kind of threats do they pose to men? Most importantly, what do you think is the message of the reversal of gender roles in these plays? Froma Zeitlin provides one answer within the context of myth, but you should explore other possible interpretations.


Week 9

Often we assume we know what makes something funny, particularly when the themes are sexual or scatological. Thus, we might assume that Aristophanes’ obscenity simply is funny by definition, but the fact is that obscenity qua obscenity is not necessarily funny. By now, you will have encountered any number of Aristophanic jokes that you found decidedly not humorous. Perhaps you simply wrote it off, thinking to yourself, “humor doesn’t always translate.” In our discussion this week we will consider what makes something funny and whether “funny” can be described in formal and analytical ways. Indeed, we in the 21st century are not the first to consider what makes something funny, why we laugh, and what social functions laughter fulfills. I have given you a few examples of early humor theory so that you may begin to think about a taxonomic approach to understand comedy. These readings will help clarify the roles of intellectual cognition, sense perception, and emotion in the creation and appreciation of verbal humor.  After completing the readings above and after reviewing an English translation of Lysistrata and Ecclesiazusae, please consider the following questions.



Part 1. 200 words (short answers). Respond VERY briefly to the following questions. These responses should help you identify the essence of each theorist’s argument. (You should be able to respond well to each question within only a few sentences.)

  1. In your view, how does the Platonic view of “malice” in ridicule inform Hobbes’ view of laughter, which is commonly called “Superiority Theory”?

  2. How/where does Aristotle’s view of laughter agree with Plato’s? And where/how does it disagree?

  3. What does Cicero add to the arguments made by Plato and Aristotle?

  4. In Hazlitt’s view what is the relationship of wit and truth, and what are the ethical ramifications of the production of humor?

Part 2. 200-300 words. Select one exchange from Lysistrata or Ecclesiazusae where you find latent or overtly expressed hostility, condescension, sarcasm, pity, sorrow, or contempt coupled with one or more jokes that you find at least mildly funny. These questions will help you understand how the affective content of the scene serves to enhance or diminish humor. It may also help you begin thinking about why humor can be an effective rhetorical trope to inspire moral or ethical change.

  1. Briefly summarize the scene.

  2. Isolate a particularly (or arguably) clever line. Comment on the formal verbal elements of the line: word choice, double meaning, word order, syntax, and difficulty of listener’s comprehension, register of diction (formal/informal, poetic/prosaic, educated/uneducated). In other words, what IS the joke here?

  3. Comment on your intellectual and affective response to the particular line or to the scene as a whole E.g. How did you think the joke would end? What did you expect the character to say? How did your emotions cause you to react to the characters at the beginning vs. the end of the scene? Do you feel sympathetic with the joke teller, or asympathetic? Why?


Week 10

Utopia—both “a good place” (eu-topia) and “no place” (ou-topia). Well before Plato put Utopian literature on an established footing in his Critias and Timaeus with the myth of Atlantis, numerous writers of Old Comedy had exploited Utopian premises in plays featuring characters’ (flawed?) attempts to reinvent society in impossible ways. 

For this week’s discussion, read Plato’s Critias alongside Aristophanes’ Ekklesiazusae.  Break down the two utopias by as many criteria as you deem necessary—I offer the following for example only; you should not confine yourself to these: political institutions, practices, and goals; the family; economy; source and distribution of food; labor; military obligation; etc.  (Be sure to include parenthetical citations!) Finally, is there a difference between a philosopher’s utopia and a comedian’s?  If so, what is it?
Week 11

The goal of this common session is to work with quotations and allusions to Greek comedies (i.e., textual fragments). Menander’s plays are known not only through papyri (as for example the Samia), but also through quotations by later authors, who preserve information on the life and the production of the comic playwright (testimonia and fragmenta). Jeff Rusten’s chapter on Menander collects the major testimonia to Menander’s life and a selection of fragments transmitted outside of papyrus. In approximately 200 words try to describe how many different sources preserve information on Menander and his work. Select one testimonium or one fragment from the chapter on Menander and look for the Greek original source where it is preserved. In about 100 words describe the context of the quotation and translate it into English.


Week 12

Menander's comedies are differently structured and plotted from those of Aristophanes, and one ancient critic thought all New Comedy was closer to Euripides (Rusten, Birth of Comedy Part IV Introd. Nr 1, p. 580):


4. Satyrus, Life of Euripides,  F 6 fr. 39 col. 7; Schorn 2004, 101, 256–8: . . . for the husband toward his wife, for the father toward his son, for the servant toward his master; or else the events in the plot, rapes of virgins, substitutions of children, recognitions by means of rings or necklaces—These are of course what makes up New Comedy, and it was Euripides who raised them to their peak. 

Cf. Quintilian 10.1.69 = Menander test. 101.


Aristotle's discussion of comic plots is not preserved in the Poetics, and in any case he died before Menander's first production; but Aristotle says concludes his discussion of plots by saying that Euripides is the "most tragic" of poets; how much of what Aristotle wrote about tragic plots can we apply to Menander's Samia? (Note that Aristotle seems to limit tragedies to unhappy endings, but then the tragedy he cites with approval most frequently is Euripides' Iphigenia in Tauris, which has a happy ending.)
Consider in particular whether the plot is simple or complex, the "error" of the main character (and his moral qualities), the recognition and reversal; is there any scope for violence and pity and fear in Samia? 
Please read chapters 7-13 from the Poetics on tragic plot (tr Halliwell in the Loeb Library) when considering your answer.


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