402 Cohen Hall
The connection between ‘Aristophanes’ and ‘politics’ can mean different things to different people, but sooner or later everyone must confront the question of Aristophanes’ own politics. The genre itself demands that the question be asked: satirical poetry depends on an aggressive personal voice making specific claims about specific targets, and audiences must process, even if only unconsciously, its scrappy jumble of ‘seriousness’, irony and humor. Political satire complicates matters even further, since it implies, at least, an ideologically informed agenda rooted in the real world and directly relevant to the lives of audiences. Scholars have wrestled with ‘Aristophanes’ politics’ for decades and have drawn any number of—often incompatible—conclusions. In this presentation, I would like to take a step back to explore what it even means to worry about a comic/satirical author’s ‘politics’—what we are looking for, what we hope to ‘know’, and the question of whether ‘seriousness’ (a concept far less obvious than is usually supposed) is ever actually possible in comic satire. I will offer some comparative examples from our own time, and then address as a test case how Aristophanes portrays Sparta and the Spartans in his plays, to help us clarify what we are aiming for in our analyses of Aristophanic satire, how (or whether) we can ever access his politics in any meaningful manner, and whether it would matter if we could.