Aristophanic comedy between play (paidiá) & education (paideía)
How serious was the Old Comedy of democratic Athens, of which our sole surviving author is Aristophanes? Aristophanes claimed that his comic theatre was as educational as it was pleasurable. Looking at the texts of his plays alongside images of ancient Athenian pottery, this illustrated talk will cast new light on the relationship between play and education in Aristophanic comedy.
It is in his play Clouds that Aristophanes most explicitly asserts his belief that comic poets are, as much as tragedians, ‘teachers’ of the citizen body. This revision of the civic role of comedy can be seen in his innovative use of the words ‘play’ (paidiá, emphasis on the final syllable) and ‘education’ (paideía, emphasis on the penultimate syllable).
Edith Hall will examine two aspects of the Aristophanic negotiation between play and education. The first is concerned with the Greek word for a ‘play’ put on in a theatre, which is commonly referred to as ‘drama’ – an action – and is characterised as neither playful nor serious. But whilst two of the three genres of theatrical verse – tragedy and satyr play – are always referred to as dramas, comedy is occasionally denoted by the term ‘play’, paidiá, which also suggests playfulness of other kinds, for example jokes or short and light-hearted prose treatises. The second focus of the talk will look at personifications of Play (Paidiá) as a female divinity. Looking at Attic pottery of the late 5th and early 4th centuries BCE, most notably, two vases featuring the erotic Aphrodite and the wine-god Dionysus in the British Museum’s collection, we will see how Paidiá comes to be associated with the two deities most intimately associated with Old Comedy.
EDITH HALL is Professor in the Department of Classics and Centre for Hellenic Studies at King’s. She has published more than twenty books on ancient Greek and Roman culture and their reception. Her most recent books are Adventures with Iphigenia in Tauris (2013) and Introducing the Ancient Greeks (2015). In 2015 she was awarded the Erasmus Medal of the European Academy, and a Goodwin Award by the American Classical Society for her research. She regularly broadcasts on BBC Radio and, in 2017, is to be the recipient of an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Athens.