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The Wasps

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May. 6th, 2007 | 09:42 pm
posted by: cbarth in democracy105w

The Wasps, written by Aristophanes around 422 B.C.E. is a political comedy with social commentary on the democracy of Athens, and more specifically the jury. The play beings with two slaves, Xanthias and Sosias, standing guard over Philocleon. The audience learns very early in a speech made by Xanthias, that Philocleon is addicted to serving on the jury. His son, Bdelycleon is now keeping him trapped in a net under house arrest to break his addiction. As his father attempts to escape, the two slaves and Bdelycleon are taunting the old man which is of course a source of comedy in the play. Soon the slaves ask Bdelycleon if they can go and rest and he explains to them that soon his father's friends will arrive to claim him and that they are as vicious as wasps when provoked.

The play now moves into the old men, dressed as wasps, attempting to locate and free Philocleon to join them in the jury. The wasps convince Philocleon to escape out the window though his sons and the slaves catch him. After securing his Philocleon, they attempt to drive off the wasps but are entangled in an argument about the significance of
participating in the jury. After much discussion, Bdelycleon convinces his father to stay at home and instead judge the servants. After trying one as a dog who ate a whole wheel of cheese and acquitting him, Philocleon feels week so Bdelycleon assures him everything will be fine and escorts him inside the house, and into a new life.

Aristophanes, as is customary in his plays, uses current events of the time period and integrates them into a comedic drama that will strike a chord with the audience. This time the play write chose to address the subject of the jury within the democracy. Throughout the play there are numerous comments demeaning their significance within the government as well as their nasty disposition. As Bdelycleon tells, "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." I believe Aristophanes does a great job at portraying the jurors as self-important and arrogant old men living in a society that basically mocks them. By writing The Wasps, Aristophanes is criticizing the elders that constituted the jury, and through this is also criticizing the actual democracy of Athens.

1. Do you think there was an underlying problem within the juries of Athenian democracy or was Aristophanes simply creating one? If so, is there a similar situation in today's government and society?

2. In The Wasps, it is shown that the jury held no true power or authority in Ancient Athens. Within what we know about the democracy of Athens, how is this statement false and what impact did the juries really have upon the government?

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