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Source Analysis: Aristophanes' Wasps (Starnes)

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Apr. 29th, 2007 | 06:30 pm
posted by: treys9785 in democracy105w

In Aristophanes comedy The Wasps, the audience is presented a hilarious criticism of the law courts and jury system in Athens. The play begins with Bdelycleon locking his father in the house so that he won’t be allowed to sit in the jury for the day’s cases. Philocleon, the father, tries many different ways to escape, but ultimately fails. Bdelycleon confronts him and forces him to listen to his reasoning as to why the jury is inappropriate for the life of old men. Philocleon, though very reluctant, realizes that his son his right in saying that the power of a juror is illusionary. Bdelycleon decides to hold a law court of his own to prove his point, with his father as a judge, in effect to show his father that he should have the power of house and home and that sitting on a jury isn’t acceptable.

The play is filled with humorous comments and the constant bickering of old men whom Bdelycleon describes as “wasps.” He says “Why, this class of old men, if irritated, becomes as terrible as a swarm of wasps. They carry below their loins the sharpest of stings, with which to prick their foes; they shout and leap and their stings burn like so many sparks” His arguments are based primarily on the illusion of power that the jurors feel they have. They can acquit and condemn at will, and the politicians of the city encourage them to participate, with very little pay, and usually their opinions and power matter very little in the whole scheme of things. He regards his power by saying “this grand power only resembles an anus; no matter how much you wash it, you can never get it clean.” Bdelycleon wants his father to realize how he is being used and come to his senses about jury courts.

In the final moments of the play, Bdelycleon organizes a home-made court to occupy his father and make him realize how really unqualified, and useless his courts are to the whole. Bdelycleon fashions this court in the manner of two dogs arguing over who ate a hunk of cheese with the grater and other inanimate objects as the witnesses. When it is all over, Philocleon realizes that he has acquitted a guilty “dog” and he gives up his quest to the jury. This comedy pokes fun at the old-men who comprise the jury and addresses the question as to why they embrace this illusion of power for small amounts of pay when they are unqualified to render any decisions at all? Aristophanes, while funny, mocks the Athenian legal system and the old “wasps” who act as judge and jury on all legal matters, when they could be doing something that pays better, and not become slaves to the leading politicians.

Word Count: 468

Discussion Questions:

1) Bdelycleon basically concludes that the power of the jurors is illusionary. He points to many different reasons (financial, political, etc.). What are his supporting points and how do they confirm that the power of the jurors is an illusion and that, in effect, the old men of the city are being used?

2) Bdelycleon decides to hold a court for his father to attend at home. The court is made up of slaves dressed as dogs about a chunk of cheese. What effect did this court scene perpetuate, and how does it support Bdelycleon’s original criticism of the court?

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