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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 September 2015

Jasper F. Donelan
Strasbourg, France
E-mail address:


Unlike tragedy, Old Comedy openly acknowledges its own festival context and the existence of a world beyond the one created for and occupied by its masked characters. Admission of the theatrical setting is a standard well-documented feature and was an effective way of drawing spectators into the drama's fiction. To the same end, speaking directly to the audience formed an integral part of Aristophanes' plays and very probably of the comic genre as a whole. We can therefore think of comedy as an ‘inclusive’ art form, one that (self-)consciously attempted to involve and engage its consumers, in particular via explicit verbal address. On the other hand, the evidence is much slimmer for actors moving outside of the performance area or otherwise physically bringing the audience members and the fictional cast into contact and, regardless of how attractive it might seem, this type of spatial negotiation is far from established. It may well be the case that in spite of comedy's relative liberty, certain barriers continued to exist, including the invisible barrier that divided the acting area from the auditorium.

Research Article
Copyright © The Classical Association 2015 

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I would like to thank the journal's anonymous reader for suggestions that helped improve the original version of this paper.


1 On the metatheatrical aspect of Aristophanic drama see Muecke, F., ‘Playing with the play: theatrical self-consciousness in Aristophanes’, Antichthon 11 (1977), 5267 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Chapman, G., ‘Some notes on dramatic illusion in Aristophanes’, AJPh 104 (1983), 123 Google Scholar; Taplin, O., ‘Fifth-century tragedy and comedy: a synkrisis’, JHS 106 (1986), 163–74CrossRefGoogle Scholar; P. Thiercy, Aristophane: Fiction et Dramaturgie (Paris, 1986), 139–49; G. Dobrov, Figures of Play: Greek Drama and Metafictional Poetics (Oxford/New York, 2001); N. Slater, Spectator Politics: Metatheatre and Performance in Aristophanes (Philadelphia, 2002).

2 There are over a dozen instances of direct addresses (of the sort ὦ θεώμενοι or ὦνδρες) in Aristophanes, often in the parabases, but also at Ach. 496, 971; Eq. 503–4; Nub. 1201, 1437; Pax 9, 13, 244, 276, 292, 1115, 1357–8; Av. 30; Lys. 1044. At least one such address can also be found for the comic poets Cratinus (fr. 30 K.−A.), Eupolis (fr. 392 K.−A.), Pherecrates (fr. 84 K.−A.) and Plato (frr. 99, 96 K.−A.); cf. Diocles, fr. 14 K.−A. In Aristophanes, we also frequently find requests for silence or attention (σιγᾶτε, ἀκούετε, etc.) as well as more interactive appeals, such as those requesting assistance from the audience (Ach. 206–7; Pax 20–1), asking them to guess the plot (τοπάζετε, Vesp. 73) or to show their approval (Eq. 37–9, 546–7).

3 The topic has received less attention from modern scholars. The question is touched upon by Taplin (n. 1), 166, who essentially concludes that there was no corporeal breaching of the stage-auditorium barrier. Other contributions to the debate are cited in the notes below.

4 Those mentioned in Aristophanes are κάρυα (nuts), ἰσχάδια (dried figs) and τρωγάλια (fruit/nut mix/sweets). Most scholars commenting on interaction with the audience make mention of this practice; see e.g. Taplin (n. 1), 166; Slater, N., ‘Making the Aristophanic audience’, AJPh 120 (1999), 351–68Google Scholar, at 356; E. Csapo ‘The production and performance of comedy’, in G. Dobrov (ed.), Brill's Companion to the Study of Greek Comedy (Leiden, 2010), 103–42, at 129–30.

5 The difficulty in interpreting Pax 962-5 hinges not on whether something was thrown to the audience (this is confirmed by the text), but rather on what was contained in the basket. It is said to hold οὐλαί (948-9), ‘barley-corns’ (LSJ9; see also S.D. Olson, Aristophanes Peace [Oxford, 20072], ad loc.). A few lines later the contents are referred to simply as κριθαί (962; cf. Hdt. 1.160.5: οὐλὰς κριθέων), i.e. barley, a word that, however, also had sexual connotations (J. Henderson, The Maculate Muse: Obscene Language in Attic Comedy [Oxford, 19912], 119–20). Barley was not considered a particularly desirable or luxurious food item (Pax 449), but the scattering of barley would likely have reflected contemporary sacrificial practices (see the parallels in Olson [this note], 251), and would also be in tune with the agrarian overtones of the play as well as with the perceived benefits of peace (i.e. being able to return to the countryside, e.g. 582–600, 865–7). A. Cassio, Commedia e partecipazione – La Pace di Aristofane (Napoli, 1985), 126 is probably right to interpret the distribution as a way of including all the spectators in the ‘sacrifice’ being enacted here and thus in the play's action. Cassio denies the possibility that anything else was contained in the basket, but it is not certain that the theatre-goers would have appreciated being showered with barley (although they might have laughed), and throwing grain to the audience is without parallel in extant comedy. Olson (this note), ad loc. therefore comments: ‘it is … possible that what Tr. actually distributes here is not barley but nuts or the like.’

6 Philochoros (FGrHist 328 F171 = Ath. 11.464), probably writing around 300 b.c.e., also says that snacks were ‘distributed’ (τραγήματα παρεφέρετο) during the competitions of the City Dionysia, but does not say by whom or when exactly this practice became common.

7 Other objects were also thrown around the orchestra, notably water (Pax 968–9; Lys. 381–5, cf. 400–2.). These passages do not suggest that the water was (also) splashed on the audience, although this could have been funny (see Olson [n. 5], 255–6; J. Henderson, Aristophanes’ Lysistrata [Oxford, 1987], 107). In another case, the kinsman in Thesmophoriazusae, taking his lead from the tragic Palamedes, decides to summon Euripides by writing on boards. When he does not find any, his attention turns to some wooden votive tablets (ἀγάλματα), which he plans to write on and ‘throw about’ (διαρρίπτω, 774) ‘in all directions’ (πάσας καθ’ ὁδούς, 783). Could these items have been thrown to those sitting in the auditorium as some kind of keepsake or gift (ἄγαλμα), perhaps even in the direction of Euripides himself?

8 For which see Av. 794; Poll. 4.122; A. Pickard-Cambridge, The Theatre of Dionysus in Athens (Oxford, 19734), 19–20; Olson (n. 5), 213.

9 I print Olson's text, which follows R (Ravennas 429). Wilson's OCT, adopting Seidler's emendation, has καταθήσομαι γὰρ αὐτὸς εἰς μέσους ἄγων (see N. Wilson, Aristophanea – Studies in the Text of Aristophanes [Oxford, 20092], 109). This puts the emphasis on Trygaeus, but does not affect the arguments presented here.

10 The arguments for and against the use of real naked prostitutes in Greek comedy are summarized in B. Zweig, ‘The mute nude female characters in Aristophanes’ plays’ in A. Richlin (ed.), Pornography and Representation in Greece and Rome (New York & Oxford, 1992), 73–89 with accompanying bibliography. See in addition L. Stone, Costume in Aristophanic Comedy (Ann Arbor, 1980), 147–50 and also M. Revermann, Comic Business: Theatricality, Dramatic Technique and Performance Contexts of Aristophanic Comedy (Oxford, 2006), 157–8, who is inclined to deny their use.

11 And in the council members’ role as representatives of all Athenian citizens, for the entire population by extension (909–11, 913–15). Cassio (n. 5), 124 draws an interesting parallel with the real terms of the Peace of Nicias (Thuc. 5.18.1–2), whereby with the cessation of hostilities anybody who so wished (τὸν βουλόμενον) was free to θεωρεῖν … κατὰ γῆν καὶ κατὰ θάλασσαν ἀδεῶς.

12 See A. Pickard-Cambridge, The Dramatic Festivals of Athens (Oxford, 19883), 268–70. We cannot be sure if the girl remains with the council member until the end of the play or removes herself from the auditorium some time after having been handed over.

13 Olson (n. 5), ad loc.

14 e.g. Revermann (n. 10), 172: ‘The play needs the audience to cooperate if the vision of Panhellenic peace advocated in it is to outlast the ephemeral production.’

15 Indeed, there is no indication for any of the three dramatic genres that characters ever removed their masks during a performance. This particular divide between actor and audience seems to have been unbreachable. For the possibility of actors removing their masks during ‘curtain calls’ on the Classical stage, see O. Taplin, ‘A curtain call?’, in O. Taplin and R. Wyles (edd.), The Pronomos Vase and its Context (Oxford, 2010), 255–64.

16 A possible parallel to the Peace episode occurs in Frogs (296–7). Here, a frightened Dionysus identifies a priest (understood for lack of any other to be the priest of Dionysus sitting in the audience) as a good person to run to, and then asks the priest to protect him (διαφύλαξόν μ[ε]). It is possible that the actor actually ran to the real priest sitting in the auditorium (e.g. Csapo [n. 4], 130). The slave's ἴθ’ ᾗπερ ἔρχει. δεῦρο δεῦρ’, ὦ δέσποτα (301) at least shows that the two on-stage actors were separated from each other at this point and thus that Dionysus has run somewhere.

17 Later (259–60), both slaves will be charged with carrying the object, which is probably being manipulated on long poles (see S.D. Olson, Aristophanes Acharnians [Oxford, 2002], on 243). A. Sommerstein, Talking About Laughter and Other Studies in Greek Comedy (Oxford, 2009), 147 n. 41 detects a double-entendre aspect to the mentions of the (upright) phallus in this passage, understanding them to be also a reference to the slaves’ own erections as they follow behind the daughter of Dicaeopolis.

18 ‘Quiet all of you! Men, did you hear the call for ritual silence? This is the very man we are searching for. But all of you, here, get out of the way. It seems as though the man is coming out to make a sacrifice’: σῖγα πᾶς. ἠκούσατ’, ἄνδρες, ἆρα τῆς εὐφημίας; | οὗτος αὐτός ἐστιν ὃν ζητοῦμεν. ἀλλὰ δεῦρο πᾶς | ἐκποδών· θύσων γὰρ ἁνήρ, ὡς ἔοικ’, ἐξέρχεται (238–40).

19 Cf. Olson (n. 17), 147: ‘the imaginary crowd in the street is so large that Dik.'s Wife must get on the roof to have a good view of the procession.’

20 The exclusivity of Dicaeopolis’ treaty is reiterated during the passage in question, at lines 249 and 269. A. Bierl, Ritual and Performativity: The Chorus in Old Comedy, trans. A. Hollmann (Cambridge, ΜΑ, 2009), 318 argues that it is also reflected in the protagonist's monodic delivery of what would normally have been a choral song.

21 For the use of ὄχλος to refer to the audience see Ran. 676.

22 Ath. 14.622 = carm. pop. PMG 851a. See Bierl (n. 20), 314 n. 125 for a comprehensive bibliography and his own insightful contribution to the debate at 267–95 and 314–25.

23 For the evidence that such processions were linked to the origins of the comic genre, see the collated primary sources and accompanying secondary literature in J. Rusten (ed.), The Birth of Comedy. Texts, Documents, and Art from Athenian Comic Competitions, 486–280 (Baltimore, 2011), 45–9. For fifth-century iconographic representations of the phallic processions that took place on the first day of the Dionysia, see E. Csapo, ‘Comedy and the pompe: Dionysian genre-crossing’, in E. Bakola, L. Prauscello and E. Telò (edd.), Greek Comedy and the Discourse of Genres (Cambridge, 2013), 40–80.

24 See J.-C. Moretti, ‘The theatre of the sanctuary of Dionysus Eleuthereus in late fifth-century Athens’, in M. Cropp, K. Lee and D. Sansone (edd.), Euripides and Tragic Theatre in the Late Fifth Century (Illinois Classical Studies 24–5) (Champaign, IL, 1999/2000), 377–98 with accompanying bibliography and illustrations.

25 Another possible use of these thoroughfares occurs in Thesmophoriazusae, where the chorus-leader tells the Archer to ‘chase [Euripides and his kinsman] straight up!’ (ὀρθὴν ἄνω δίωκε, 1223), which could mean straight up into the koilon, even if this turns out to be the wrong direction and the Archer is immediately told to look elsewhere. However, other instances of ‘going/walking up’ in Aristophanes can refer simply to movement toward the stage (e.g. Ach. 732).

26 Dicaeopolis himself is holding a fragile pot (χύτρα, 284). For the oversized phallus-poles see Csapo (n. 23), 58.

27 Cf. the concerns expressed at Pax 729–32. τὰ χρυσία might well have had vulgar connotations (see Bierl [n. 20], 319 n. 133), but gold jewellery and other fineries were certainly worn by girls in real processions (see Olson [n. 17], on 257–8; M. Dillon, Girls and Women in Classical Greek Religion [London & New York, 2002], 260–4) and may truly have been subject to thefts (Thesm. 894). Cf. Stone (n. 10), 349 who suggests that this scene derives its humour from the incongruence between the elaborate celebrations of the real Rural Dionysia and Dicaeopolis’ make-shift imitation.

28 Cf. Slater (n. 1), 253 n. 28, who suggests imaginary stones. Olson (n. 17), ad loc.: ‘bits of leather or the like’.

29 See, in particular, Bierl's (n. 20) well-documented treatment that highlights many similarities between the passages from Acharnians and Thesmophoriazusae discussed here.

30 C. Austin and S.D. Olson, Aristophanes Thesmophoriazusae (Oxford, 2004), ad loc.; Bierl (n. 20), 176.

31 For further parallels see Bierl (n. 20), 99 n. 31.

32 Austin and Olson (n. 30), 238. See E. Csapo, ‘Star choruses: Eleusis, Orphism, and new musical imagery and dance’, in M. Revermann and P. Wilson (edd.), Performance, Iconography, Reception: Studies in Honour of Oliver Taplin (Oxford, 2008), 282–4 for ample evidence of circular dancing by Greek choruses. For an extended analysis of the movements in our passage see Bierl (n. 20), 175–80, who, in terms of the scene's staging, arrives at similar conclusions to those of Austin and Olson.

33 Aristotle (Rhet. 3.8.4) does, however, associate it with the lively, but to modern interpreters evasive, kordax dance. See L. Parker, The Songs of Aristophanes (Oxford, 1997), 35–40 for the character and use of trochaics in Aristophanes.

34 Anapaests followed by irregular trochaeo-cretics. See also Parker (n. 33), 396.

35 For the text and supplement <μ’> see Austin, C., ‘Textual problems in Ar. Thesm.’, Dodone 16.2 (1987), 6192 Google Scholar, at 81.

36 As proposed by L. Taaffe, Aristophanes and Women (London & New York, 1993), 94, followed by Slater (n. 1), 168–9. The diodoi (658) mentioned by the chorus could refer to the vertical passageways extending from the orchestra to the top of the koilon. However, there are no parallels for such a use of the word δίοδος, nor does the word anywhere refer, as A. Sommerstein, Aristophanes Thesmophoriazusae (Warminster, 2001), ad loc. alludes, to the theatre's eisodoi. The point seems more that the chorus will simply conduct a very thorough search, and a direct mapping of the sort ‘pnyx = orchestra’ and ‘tents (skenai) = stage building’ is surely an unnecessary schematization of the passage.

37 And the audience might also be thinking about the women's repeated threats of depilation as a form of punishment (e.g. 537–40, 567–8), especially since some of the women were now brandishing torches.

38 As noted by Taafe (n. 36), 94; Austin and Olson (n. 30), 239; Bierl (n. 20), 185.

39 See Revermann (n. 10), 202–3.

40 P. Händel, Formen und Darstellungsweisen in der Aristophanischen Komödie (Heidelberg, 1963), 269–70 n. 44; P. von Möllendorff, ‘Aristophanes und der komische Chor auf der Bühne des 5. Jh.’, in E. Pohlmann (ed.), Studien zur Bühnendichtung und zum Theater der Antike (Frankfurt, 1995), 143–54, at 149–51. For critical discussions see A. Sommerstein, Aristophanes Wealth [with addenda to the other plays] (Warminster, 2001), 254; Revermann (n. 10), 200–3.

41 Möllendorff (n. 40), 150.

42 Möllendorff (n. 40), 150, 154 n. 37; Revermann (n. 10), 201. Cf. com. fr. adesp. 206 K.−A.

43 Sommerstein (n. 40), 254. See also Revermann (n. 10), 201.

44 As noted already by C. Felton, The Clouds of Aristophanes, with notes (Cambridge, MA, 1841), 128.

45 e.g. ὁδὶ δὲ καὐτός (Ach. 1189; Vesp. 1360; Av. 1718) and ἄνδρες ἱππῆς/ἅνδρες ἐγγύς at Eq. 242/244.

46 This is the interpretation of U. von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, ‘Der Chor der “Wolken” des Aristophanes’, in H.-J. Newiger (ed.), Aristophanes und die alte Komödie (Darmstadt, 1975), 170–3.

47 A. Sommerstein, Aristophanes Clouds (Warminster, 19982), 177: ‘The spectator must forget the real direction of Mt Parnes … and accept the direction in which Socrates points as being that of Parnes.’

48 There are even several contradictory remarks that describe the chorus as ‘rising up’ as opposed to descending (266, 276).

49 For details of the stage's construction and its roof see Mastronarde, D., ‘Actors on high: the skene roof, the crane, and the gods in Attic drama’, ClAnt 9 (1990), 247–94Google Scholar, at 248–59.

50 A single character, on the other hand, could apparently move quickly from the roof to the stage area or vice versa. Bdelycleon in Wasps, for example, needs only twelve lines for the descent (see Mastronarde [n. 49], 262) and an impressive five lines for the ascent (Vesp. 196–201).

51 For an entrance via the roof of the stage building see M. Griffith, Aeschylus Prometheus Bound (Cambridge, 1983), 109–10. Cf. Villacèque, N., ‘“Toi, spectateur de mes tourments”. Les adresses au public dans la tragédie grecque’, CCG 18 (2007), 263–80CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 274, who envisages Prometheus in the centre of the orchestra with the chorus simply standing behind him and presumably entering from the eisodoi (the same staging is also proposed by J. Davidson, ‘Theatrical production’, in J. Gregory [ed.], A Companion to Greek Tragedy [Malden, MA, 2005], 194–211, at 209). For an extended analysis of the PV scene, including further suggestions for its staging, see O. Taplin, The Stagecraft of Aeschylus: The Dramatic Use of Entrances and Exits in Greek Tragedy (Oxford, 1977), 252–60.

52 See Bierl (n. 20).

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