These notes represent a partial payment on a debt of gratitude owed to my late tutor John G. Griffith,
M.A. (Oxon), who was Public Orator of Oxford University as well as senior dean and classics tutor of
Notes on the Σφῆκες of Aristophanes
For consistency of reference, the numbers and the extracts which follow take the Oxford Classical Text of
Hall and Geldart as their standard. My own preferred readings of the text are given in bold in the notes.
Those students coming to this play for the first time are advised to have a quantity of salt to hand, as some
of the views expressed in this commentary are unorthodox. The academic publications mentioned in the
commentary will be found listed in a bibliography at the end (pp. 188-90).
Prologue (Πρόλογος) 1-229
The setting of the drama is reminiscent of the previous year’s Νεφέλαι. The scene represents the house of
an ordinary, Athenian family. It is the middle of the night and the courtyard in front of the house is dark,
but two figures lie sleeping; one is a slave who snores by the house door; the other is the ‘Son’, wrapped
up in a sheep-skin cape on the roof of the annexe. The drama begins as a shadowy figure lurches onto the
stage; he carries a ‘spear’ and is wearing a ‘helmet’ as if mounting guard. We are told later that the slaves
“are keeping watch with roasting-spits” (364) and in Ὄρνιθες two Athenians armed with roasting-spits to
ward off the hostile birds also seek to protect their heads with kitchen-bowls (359-61). [Although there is
no explicit reference to headwear in this play, one may reasonably surmise that the slaves are portrayed as
wearing colanders, as devotees of Pastafarianism, possibly the earliest to be found in extant literature].
Note that my use of the word ‘stage’ is not meant to imply that there was a raised προσκήνιον in Comedy.
It seems probable that, at this period, the σκηνή was a (semi-) permanent, rear wall with openings through
which the actors could enter and exit. But, the drama would have been played out in the ὀρχήστρα much
of the time.
A line from a lost work of Eupolis aptly describes our opening scene, “this chap is asleep on guard-duty”
(frg. 340, οὗτος ἐν τοῖς φρουρίοις κοιτάζεται). The sleeping individual is quite likely to have been a slave,
since in Old Comedy it is usual for slaves to be represented as lazy, shifty and dishonest. At the opening
of Νεφέλαι the old master is irritated to find his slave asleep by the door. Here, the slave Sosias has come
looking for his fellow-slave named Xanthias and is annoyed to find him shirking his guard-duty, sleeping
by the door. His first word might have been taken demonstratively, οὗτος <ἐστιν> (‘there he is!’), but the
question which follows indicates that it is an exclamatory pronoun (cf. 144), as in the example provided
by Apollonios Dyskolos from a work of Kratinos (frg. 55, οὗτος καθεύδεις; “you there, are you asleep?”).
We are probably meant to supply σύ (cf. 144, 751, 854), or the ὦ as in ὦ οὗτος (cf. 1364).
MacDowell and Sommerstein expostulate in unison, “You silly fool!” while Barrett calls Xanthias an “old
rascal”, because he will later identify him with his ‘Aged Slave’ (1292). But, Aristophanes usually means
κακοδαίµων literally as ‘someone who is afflicted by the working of an evil spirit’, an unlucky person, or
as Rogers translates, “ill-starred”. Compare the frequent complaint of οἴµοι κακοδαίµων (e.g. 207, 1417)
or Philokleon’s condescension towards his rival (1501), τίς ὁ κακοδαίµων ἐστίν; and the cry of Xanthias
later that δαίµων τις <κακός> has brought misfortune upon the household (1475). The slave is not simply
irritated at the other’s dereliction of duty, but worried that while Xanthias is ‘off-guard’, some malevolent
spirit might bring them bad luck. His superstitious mind fears that while his companion is asleep a dream
could presage bad luck (cf. 24-5) and he foresees unpleasant repercussions, if either one of them is found
asleep at their post (cf. 137). So, although Henderson’s use of American slang jars (“you damned jinx”), it
gives the exact sense required here.
Τhe canny slave tries to put a positive spin on his clear neglect of duty by claiming that he is busy doing
nothing. He is not actually admitting to ‘neglect’ as LSJ suggest. The infinitive καταλύειν means that he
is trying to ‘dismiss’ the guard, i.e. himself (cf. Plato Νόµοι 762γ, τὴν φρουρὰν καταλύειν). It is tempting
to pun on ‘relieving the guard’ in English, but this would suggest that he is, a) taking the place of another
guard or, b) answering Nature’s call.
The joke resembles an anecdote (Plutarch περὶ ∆υσωπίας 7) about Diogenes begging alms from statues of
the dead. Asked to account for his bizarre behaviour, he explained that he was, ἀποτυγχάνειν µελετᾶν -
“practising how not to succeed”.
3. κακὸν...τι προυφείλεις µέγα
The reading of the codices, προὔφειλες, looks like the imperfect tense of the verb προοφείλω, except that
one would expect the regular form to be προώφειλες. So, for the last two centuries, editors have adopted
Elmsley’s proposal to substitute the present tense προυφείλεις. This, as MacDowell notes, is better suited
to English usage, but it is not certain that the present tense accords with Attic idiom, which is illustrated
by a similar phrase in a contemporary forensic speech of the orator Antiphon (περὶ τοῦ Ἡρῴδου φόνου
61), εἴπερ προωφείλετο αὐτῷ κακόν. Literally, this means ‘if there was owing to him beforehand an
injury’ (assuming that we should understand αὐτῷ to mean Lykinos) and ought to translate as, “if he had
an outstanding grudge <against Herodes>”. So here, the past tense would mean, ‘previously, you owed
your ribs some serious injury’, a debt which you have repaid by sleeping on duty. Therefore, there may be
grounds for reconsidering an irregular past form (which editors are happy to accommodate at 1481). At
any rate, it seems to be the slave’s sarcastic way of saying, ‘when you let yourself drop off, you had it in
for your ribs big time!’ Νεφέλαι 76 provides another example of an unexpected verb form which we now
prefer to correct (εὗρον becomes ηὗρον).
The joke appears to turn upon the absurdity of someone seeking to inflict punishment masochistically on
his own ribs for injury or pain they have caused him (as if one were to say ‘my feet are killing me’ and
then insist on having them clapped in irons for attempted murder).
The anatomical reference is standard terminology for ‘a beating’. It frequently seems to be used without
any intention to localize the area of the blows, just as an American might say of someone beaten up, ‘he
got his ass kicked’ (cf. 1293-5).
The slaves’ concern that they could be beaten is a reminder that Athens was now at peace (temporarily)
with the Peloponnesians and so their master would be less likely to worry that they might abscond if he
physically abused them (cf. Νεφέλαι 6-7).
4. ἆρ(α) οἶσθά γ(ε) οἷον
The postponement of the particle is unusual, but is printed by MacDowell nonetheless. He does, however,
include the better reading of (J) οἶσθας οἷον in his apparatus. To my knowledge only Brunck has adopted
this form of the verb, although its use by other comic writers (e.g. Kratinos frg. 112) suggests that it was
the vernacular form. In Comedy the speech of slaves often vacillates between colloquial language and the
uncharacteristically high-flown phrases used by servants in tragic-drama (as exemplified in the following
line). Other vernacular usage occurs in this play in 222 and 1491.
They give the impression that they are guarding a “wild animal” with the characteristics of a brute beast,
such as guile, unpredictability and aggressive behaviour. Since their ward will turn out to be human after
all, and lacking any physical deformity or the power to terrify, “monster” (preferred by recent translators)
would seem to be less appropriate.
5. σµικρὸν ἀποµερµηρίσαι
The noun µέρµηρα is an early, poetic form of the Attic µέριµνα, meaning ‘care’ or ‘anxiety’ (cf. Hesiod
Θεογονία 55), and although it is not found in the Homeric poems, the verb µερµηρίζω is used in the sense
of ‘feel anxious’. The Roman, Atticist writer Loukianos considered that its use properly belonged only to
epic poetry, cf. Πῶς δεῖ ἱστορίαν συγγράφειν 22, ὁ στρατηγὸς ἐµερµήριζεν - “the general was agonizing
how… also ∆ὶς κατηγορούµενος 2 (quoting Ἰλιάς 2.3), µερµερίζω κατὰ φρένα.
The compound ἀποµερµηρίζω does not occur elsewhere in classical literature, and only crops up again in
an anecdote of the Roman historian Dio Cassius (55.14.2), who says of the emperor Augustus that, when
asked by his wife Livia why he could not sleep, retorted καὶ τίς ἄν…κἂν ἐλάχιστον ἀποµερµηρίσειε,
when beset by so many enemies. From these two instances, one may deduce that the verb was used in the
sense of to ‘dispel anxiety’ and hence, because worry prevents sleep (cf.1039), implied ‘going off to
sleep’. The scholiast’s claim that the verb could mean ὁ πρὸ ἕω ὕπνος - ‘sleeping before sunrise’ may
come from the belief that a person sleeps most deeply shortly before waking. So, the slave means that he
wishes to forget his responsibilities by taking a nap. Only, in the theatre would a slave be heard to employ
such a flowery periphrasis, and Xanthias is probably using a phrase borrowed from some tragic-drama,
akin to someone nowadays saying, “Be gone dull care”.
6. σὺ δ(ὲ) οὖν
The Ravenna codex reads σὺ δ’ αὖ, but δ’ οὖν is the usual expression of acquiescence, cf. 764, 1154 and
7. κατὰ τοῖν κόραιν ὕπνου...
The ‘sweet thing’ which is closing over Sosias’s eyeballs is indeed sleep, but this is a commonplace from
epic onwards (e.g. Ὀδύσσεια 2.395 γλυκὺν ὕπνον ἔχευε) and does not need to be stated. As MacDowell
notes, the word ὕπνου has been mistakenly incorporated into the principal codices, when it is really just a
gloss on τι…γλυκύ. Some later manuscripts have restored the original reading ἤδη, which sense requires.
What confuses his partner in crime is the melodramatic tone Sosias adopts. His words suggest something
deeper than sleep is about to suffuse his mind (cf. Euripides Ἱππόλυτος 1444, κατ’ ὄσσων κιγχάνει µ’ ἤδη
σκότος - “Now darkness descends upon my eyes” and Ἰλιάς 16.344, κατὰ δ’ ὀφθαλµῶν κέχυτ’ ἀχλύς -
“his eyes misted over”).
Hirschig corrected the reading ταῖν κόραιν of the codices, since in Attic the masculine form of the definite
article serves for all three genders (e.g. τοῖν γενεσέοιν, Plato Φαίδων 71ε).
Commentators seem to have agreed that Xanthias’s question has been prompted by some sort of frenzied
behaviour on the part of Sosias. Henderson suggests that he has begun “to thrash about”, while the slave
in Sommerstein’s translation asks whether his colleague has been having some sort of mad fit, or is “in a
Corybantic frenzy”? This interpretation is due to LSJ’s assertion that the verb is used “of a drowsy person
nodding and suddenly starting up”. But, in all probability, it merely indicates that Sosias is coming out of
a drunken stupor, since like a Corybant he is not in complete contact with his surroundings.
The Κορύβαντες were orgiastic acolytes (or priests) of Kybele and Dionysos (as the male counterparts of
female mainads), who communed with their divinity by means of ecstatic dances to the rhythmic beat of
drums. One might compare the whirling of Sufi dervishes or the ritual dancing of Native Americans, both
of which aim to induce a trance-like state in the participants. Xanthias’s query is therefore tantamount to
asking, “are you in a trance?” (cf. 119). The reason he asks it is because Sosias is not fully sober and has
just suggested that he is might still be having an out-of-body experience.
9. ἐκ Σαβαζίου
This is the earliest datable reference to the cult of the Phrygian god Sabazios (cf. frg. 578, τὸν Φρύγα τὸν
αὐλητῆρα τὸν Σαβάζιον), which was probably introduced at about this date by slaves or metics. His name
serves to indicate the foreignness of the two slaves just as, later on, the Phrygian names Midas and Phryx
will be used for other slaves (433). But, there is particular relevance to the immediate situation in the fact
that his cult involved ‘nocturnal vigils’ (Cicero de legibus 2.37, nocturnas pervigilationes) and although
Xanthias had first assumed that Sosias’s drowsiness was due to Corybantic practices, his brother-in-arms
is probably admitting that it is the result of his overindulgence in alcohol, i.e. he is ‘legless’, though not to
the same extent perhaps as the sleeping guard in Piero della Francesca’s Resurrection! Sommerstein notes
that the evidence connecting Sabazios’s cult with inebriation is solely based on his identification with the
god of wine, Dionysos. This is so, but any religious rite conducted at night was always open to charges of
dissolute or improper behaviour in Comedy, even if untrue. Such suspicions were a reflection of the often
fatal prudery found in the flawed heroes of Tragedy, e.g. Pentheus and Hippolytos (e.g. οὐδείς µ’ ἀρέσκει
νυκτὶ θαυµαστὸς θεῶν, Euripides Ἱππόλυτος 106).
10. τὸν αὐτὸν...Σαβάζιον
We should naturally translate this as ‘the same Sabazios’, but as MacDowell notes, the meaning is rather
the same person (or spirit), Sabazios. Consequently, van Herwerden may well be correct in his suggestion
that the text originally read σὺ δαίµονα and that the god’s name has been carried over from the previous
11-12. ἐπεστρατεύσατο Μῆδός τις
By the time this play was presented in the winter of 422 B.C., the aged veterans of the battle at Marathon
(490 B.C.) would have been few in number and even the youngest of those who had fought at Plataia with
Aristeides (479 B.C.) were now entering their seventies. For the younger generation, the Persian invasions
had become little more than a figure of speech (cf. also 1124 and note). But, the readings of Herodotos’s
Ἱστορίες were doubtless fresh in men’s memories (there are a couple of details in Ἀχαρνεῖς from 425 B.C.,
which seem to allude to Herodotos’s work) and would have rekindled interest in the earlier ‘heroic’ wars.
This unique adjective has been propagated from the verb νυστάζω - ‘to be drowsy, half-asleep’, but since
it is pleonastic to translate “drowsy sleep” (as if the poet had written νύσταξις and the slave had suddenly
fallen half-asleep), we might consider whether the poet intended the adjective to contribute an additional
idea. In form it resembles λιποτάκτης (‘one who leaves the ranks’), therefore it may have been coined to
give the slave the chance to justify his dereliction of guard-duty, by suggesting that Sleep, like an enemy
which he was trying to hold off, had caused him to become drowsy and so leave his post against his will.
Xanthias quickly diverts attention from his lapse by mentioning that he had “seen a dream which left him
His colleague’s sudden shift of focus catches Sosias ‘off-guard’ and he admits to having been asleep too.
15-18. ἐδόκουν αἰετὸν
The dream which Xanthias recounts appears at first to be a perfectly normal scene from daily life; a large
bird of prey has swooped down on a snake. This would have been a relatively common sight in the fields
of Attika, where an eagle might often be spotted in the distance circling the mountain-tops. But the scene
is not set in the countryside; it is set in the heart of the city. Besides, the snake which the bird has seized
in its talons appears to be an Egyptian asp, not one native to Greece, only the adjective ἐπίχαλκον makes
it clear that the ἀσπίδα, which we took to be a snake, is actually a bronze shield. The word ἀσπίδα seems
to have been chosen to throw us off the scent (an action typical of the sub-conscious mind). Attempts at
reproducing the word-play have tended to be an unnecessary distraction for contemporary audiences and
though one could perhaps translate, “the bird seized an asp…-embossed shield in its talons”, the symbolic
significance of the dream is still lost in translation. In fact, Aristophanes leaves his audience to interpret
the dream for themselves. For the ‘clever ones’, at least, its elements would have been clear, since under
waking circumstances, the only αἰετός to be found in the Agora would have been an architectural feature,
the triangular gable-end of a temple (so-called from its resemblance to a spread-eagle). Moreover, bronze
shields were commonly to be found displayed as war-booty (or private dedications) in temples and public
colonnades. The great Ποικίλη stoa was one such building. Its columns bore the shields of Spartan POWs
brought back from Sphakteria by Kleon two years earlier (425/4 B.C.). Aristophanes had raised the subject
of their dedication at the time in Ἱππεῖς (846 ff.). Subsequently, more shields captured by Kleon at Skione
would be added (see Pausanias 1.16.5) and this passage may therefore be the earliest literary reference to
the stoa. [For some reason, Xanthias’s dream is illustrated on the coat of arms of Mexico.]
19. ταύτην ἀποβαλεῖν Κλεώνυµον
It is generally assumed here that Kleonymos is the great bird (the ‘dog of Zeus’), but this assumption may
not be warranted, because nothing indicates that the eagle became Kleonymos (Henderson), or turned into
Kleonymos (Barrett, Sommerstein). His role in dropping the shield may mean that he knocked it from the
eagle’s talons, since in Ἱππεῖς, it is in fact, Kleon (thinly disguised as ‘the Paphlagonian’) who is likened
to an eagle (197). If, however, we are meant to see Kleonymos himself as the eagle here, then we have to
assume that he may have been the one who moved the decree to dedicate the captured shields.
Aristophanes is continuing a running joke which had started among the comic-poets a year or two earlier
concerning an action by Kleonymos which they construed as ῥιψασπία. Some commentators consider that
this may have occurred in actuality when he dropped his own shield in the retreat from Delion in 424 B.C.
In Εἰρήνη (1295-1304) Aristophanes gives the impression that the confession of the poet Archilochos also
applied to Kleonymos, but, the inference that he had thrown away his shield when serving as a hoplite is
not entirely convincing, because he is said to have discarded his shield at sea also. Moreover, although the
mention of him as <ὁ> µέγας οὗτος Κολακώνυµος ἀσπιδαποβλής (592) sounds ironic, it is acknowledged
later that, even without his shield, he is a hero (822-3). See Appendix 2, ‘The Cowardly Hero’.
The codices read καταπτάµενον for the aorist participle of καταπέτοµαι (‘fly down’) and as MacDowell
notes, we do not have sufficient reason to reject it for καταπτόµενον as Hall and Geldart have done. The
aorist is ἐπτόµην in the simple verb, but regularly changes to ἐπτάµην when compounded.
20-3. οὐδὲν ἄρα γρίφου...
Riddles were evidently a common form of amusement at drinking parties in fifth-century Athens (as later
in Anglo-Saxon halls). They would have helped to reinforce the urbane, educated ambience of a wealthy
elite. Only in a comic-drama would slaves have had the opportunity to retail such intellectual witticisms.
A standard riddle might have been, ‘What creature is found on land, in water and in the air?’ An educated
man would be expected to know that a snake could be located as part of a constellation in the night sky as
well as being a reptile on Earth. Here, Aristophanes offers his audience an alternative riddle to which the
answer is…the politician Kleonymos. But it is a matter for conjecture as to what exactly is meant by him
making the shield fall from the sky. He seems to be saying that the disgraceful loss of his ‘equipment’ at
Delion (or whatever constituted his ῥιψασπία) had served to diminish the triumphalism of Kleon’s faction
over their success at Pylos in 425. But, the fact that the captured shields remained prominently displayed
in the Agora shows that Kleon’s detractors had had to be satisfied with comedic gloating of this kind.
21. προσερεῖ τις
The codices offer us a choice between προερεῖ, ‘will declare beforehand’ (if this is the reading of R) and
προσερεῖ, ‘will speak out’ (VJ). MacDowell rules out the latter on the grounds that τοῖσι συµπόταις does
not suit it, but the dative can be taken with λέγων by removing the comma, i.e. “someone, addressing his
fellow-revelers, will declare…”
Blaydes’ proposal to read προβαλεῖ (‘will put forward <a question>’) makes sense, but is not supported
by the textual tradition.
22. « τί ταὐτὸν...
Cobet and Hirschig altered the reading of the codices, ὅτι ταὐτον... into direct speech, which happens to
be the form in which Athenaios quotes the riddle (453β). But, there is nothing against the indirect form,
and recent editions have preferred to stick with the codices.
The Greeks followed the ancient Egyptian belief that dreams offered enigmatic guidance to future events;
generally warning of imminent misfortune, though they might also offer solutions for present adversity
(cf. Ἰλιάς 1.63, ἢ καὶ ὀνειροπόλον, καὶ γὰρ τὸ ὄναρ ἐκ ∆ιός ἐστιν). [A papyrus of the thirteenth century
B.C. from Deir el-Medina contains sections of the so-called Book of Dreams which offers a unique insight
into the practice of interpreting dreams. My particular favourite is the prediction that to dream of drinking
warm beer presaged pain. How very true!]
The dream does not presage bad luck (cf. Εἰρήνη 608, πρὶν παθεῖν τι δεινὸν - “before suffering a terrible
27. ἀποβαλὼν ὅπλα
‘Weapons’ normally referred to the round shields carried by the ὁπλίτης, but here the poet makes them a
euphemism for a man’s sexual ‘tackle’ or ‘equipment’. The double entendre suggests that a man has been
castrated (cf. 822-3). Eupolis puts a different spin on the same event by emphasizing that Kleonymos had
used his hand to ‘toss off his tackle’ (frg. 352, ῥιψάσπιδόν τε χεῖρα τὴν Κλεωνύµου).
28. τὸ σὸν...ἔστιν µέγα
Sommerstein (1977 p. 263) makes the valid point that these words may well continue the crude ambiguity
of the previous line. The audience will understand that Xanthias is asking to hear about the dream, but the
slave may deliberately direct his gaze to Sosias’s groin. This would explain why Sosias emphasizes the
size of his ‘dream’.
29. τοῦ σκάφους ὅλου
The metaphor of the ‘ship of state’ is a natural one for a sea-faring people and is used already in the sixth
century B.C., in a fragment of a poem composed by Alkaios of Lesbos. Aristophanes introduces it here to
provide some incidental humour when Xanthias takes it literally. But possibly, Sosias has already raised a
laugh because of the sexual innuendo of σκάφος, which the Roman comic-dramatists imitated with navis.
It would be a variant on σκάφη, which Aristophanes uses with scurrilous intent in Ἱππεῖς 1315. He is said
by Tzetzes to have originated the expression τὴν σκάφην σκάφην λέγοντας, taken to be the equivalent of
our ‘calling a spade a spade’. But, the sexual meaning of the phrase becomes clear in the full expression
cited by Loukianos, τὰ σῦκα σῦκα, τὴν σκάφην δὲ σκάφην ὀνοµάσων (Πῶς δεῖ ἱστορίαν συγγράφειν, 41).
Recent editors have followed the advice of the Roman grammarian Herodian and aspirated the participle
The dream of Sosias is another poke in the eye for Kleon, though the explanation is not confirmed until
we are given Xanthias’s reaction (38).
32. ἐκκλησιάζειν πρόβατα
Aristophanes elaborates on this image of the Athenian citizenry as docile sheep later on (954-5), when he
characterizes the political speakers as ‘sheep-dogs’. In Νεφέλαι, his character Strepsiades had mocked his
audience as gullible saps, πρόβατ’ ἄλλως (“just sheep”), who were penned by devious rhetoricians (1201-
3). There the contrast was drawn with the intellectual elite of the Sokratic School, who considered that the
‘common herd’ should be under their direction.
Quite how these sheep were able to wield ‘walking-sticks’ is not explained. MacDowell’s inference from
this line and the mention in Ἐκκλησιάζουσαι (74), that apparently “it was customary for Athenian citizens
to carry walking-sticks when they attended meetings of the assembly”, is unsafe. In fact, the opposite was
probably true. At Sparta, the ‘habit’ of carrying walking-sticks in assemblies was discontinued during the
period of Lykourgan reforms (cf. Plutarch Λυκοῦργος 11.4, τὸ µέντοι φέρειν βακτηρίαν ἐκκλησιάζοντες
οἱ Σπαρτιᾶται µετὰ τὴν συµφορὰν ἐκείνην ἀπέµαθον) to avoid ‘accidents’, when debates became heated.
The material point is that they were typically male accessories and the members of the Assembly were all
male. For this reason the women needed them to augment their disguise and, in this dream, sticks identify
the ‘sheep’ as assemblymen. In fact, the use of walking-sticks within the city would have been confined to
those farmers from the hilly districts that used them out of habit and to the older citizens who needed their
support. The walking-stick was a standard prop for old men on the comic-stage (cf. 1296 and Νεφέλαι 541
-2), while the use of sticks by beggars (cf. Ἀχαρνεῖς 448, πτωχικοῦ βακτηρίου) would have been required
similarly due to infirmity (or the pretence of it).
The short, thin cloaks (the diminutive form of τρίβων) are used to identify the common citizen, especially
a member of the older generation. The old farmer in Νεφέλαι wears a good-quality ἱµάτιον to indicate his
improved social condition, though he shows it to demonstrate his impoverishment by his spendthrift wife.
In due course, the elderly Father in this play will be portrayed as loath to part with his τρίβων, claiming to
have had it since his youth, and an upper-class Athenian will be ridiculed for wearing one (cf. 1312).
34. τοῖς προβάτοισι
MacDowell follows the main codices in printing τοῖσι προβάτοις, which produces a fourth foot with three
consecutive short syllables, while Hall and Geldart have elected to print the rebalanced text of J resulting
in two short and a long. Either is possible.
35. φάλαινα πανδοκεύτρια
Just as in a modern compound such as ‘dog-fish’ or ‘sheep-dog’, one of the nouns must yield precedence
to the other. Here (due to the influence of line 39), the latter one invariably becomes the adjective which
might qualify the whale. Since a πανδοκεύτρια (landlady or innkeeper) literally ‘takes in all comers’, the
whale is thought of as being “all-receptive” (Rogers) bolstered by Hickie’s suggestion that Aristophanes
meant it as a criticism of Kleon’s ‘rapacity’ (see e.g. Ἱππεῖς 137, ἅρπαξ). Hence, we have “omnivorous”
(Sommerstein) or “voracious” (MacDowell).
However, though whales may sing, they are not generally heard to squeal. It seems preferable, therefore,
to dress Kleon up as a landlady, a female stereotype with which the members of the audience were well-
acquainted, and lay the emphasis on his famously strident voice (cf. 596, 1034) rather than his occasional
gluttony, since an inn-keeper would require powerful lungs to advertise her rooms to potential customers.
Her type is caricatured in Βάτραχοι 549-78, (where the long-deceased demagogue is imagined to be the
champion of inn-keepers in the Underworld). We might think of the fish-wife as a comparable stereotype,
but fish-sellers were male in Athens and Aristophanes wanted a female type to portray Kleon as a shrill
termagant (cf. Pherekrates frg. 70.5, ἰχθυοπώλαιναν). Here, the ‘whale’ epithet is used to suggest that she
was enormously fat, since the opposite ἀφύη (‘minnow’) was used jocularly to describe a very diminutive
prostitute (cf. Archippos frg. 19 and Hermippos frg. 14).
Recent editors prefer to print φάλλαινα (the spelling in the Ravenna codex), because there are instances
in verse in which the first syllable must scan long. LSJ argue that the Latin equivalent too is better written
with double ‘l’ (ballaena).
36. ἐµπεπρησµένης ὑός
This reading (notionally the perfect passive participle of ἐµπρήθω) is found in the Venetus and should be
translated as ‘bloated’ or ‘inflated’. It seems suitable to describe a ‘wind-bag’ like Kleon. In this case, his
voice is being likened to the squeal of a set of bag-pipes, since an ‘inflated sow’ (feminine to correspond
with the πανδοκεύτρια) is actually the pig-skin sack of the bag-pipes; a product of Kleon’s tanneries. But,
because the participle is not well-attested, all editors have preferred to follow the reading of the Ravenna
codex, ἐµπεπρηµένης, the perfect passive participle of ἐµπιµπράναι (cf. Νεφέλαι 1484), which translates
as ‘set on fire’ or ‘inflamed’. One may only speculate as to why the pig is on fire, but there are examples
of the verb’s use in later literature (Loukianos, Alkiphron) where it can be understood metaphorically to
mean ‘enraged’, which could also account for the squealing.
An additional source of confusion is the apparent use of the form ἐµπέπρησµαι as the perfect passive of
ἐµπιµπράναι by Herodotos (8.144), but this is best explained as a copying error.
38. ὄζει κάκιστον
Aristophanes is fond of this verb. He can use it concretely, but frequently employs it in metaphors, where
we might talk in terms of taste (‘it smacks of…’), e.g. Νεφέλαι 398, of an old man Κρονίων ὄζων - “with
the musty smell of a museum-exhibit”.
These words finally confirm everyone’s suspicion that Sosias too has been dreaming about Kleon. But,
the comic-poet does not mention him by name; he merely alludes to the tanneries which were the source
of his family’s wealth (cf. Ἱππεῖς 136, βυρσοπώλης ὁ Παφλαγών) by means of the ‘pig-skin’.
Sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) do occasionally find their way into the eastern Mediterranean;
one was spotted spouting off Porto Yermeno in August 2011. But, it is unlikely that Aristophanes or his
audience had ever seen a whale. Interpreting the word to mean a large, grey dolphin or grampus griseus
(Rogers) does not alter the situation. The word would have been used simply to connote something very
large and very scary; a source of nightmares.
39-41. ἵστη βόειον δηµόν
Having begun with surreal transformations, Aristophanes now moves on to another important feature of
‘dream-work’, namely word-play, of which Xanthias’s interpretation accords with best Freudian practice.
Kleon is seen in the dream to be holding a pair of scales with which he proceeds to weigh out portions of
what seems to Sosias to be “bovine fat”. Τhe adjective is doubtless suggested by Kleon’s background in
the tanning business and when the same phrase is employed in Ἱππεῖς (954) it can be understood to mean
‘cooking-lard’. Xanthias, however, spots the effort of the subconscious mind to hide the truth and reveals
that in reality Kleon is polarizing the city’s political life by separating out the brutish citizens of the δῆµος
into factions (i.e. separating the sheep from the goats).
We know little about this man other than what Aristophanes tells us here, later (418-9, 599-600, 1220 and
1236-7) and in some other plays (Ἀχαρνεῖς 134, 155; Ἱππεῖς 608; and Νεφέλαι 400). He is lampooned as a
well-born political figure, associated closely with Kleon, who continually seeks to ingratiate himself with
the common people.
43. χαµαὶ καθῆσθαι
MacDowell rightly draws attention to this detail of the dream as it serves to pull together Theoros’s twin
identities as both a κόλαξ and a κόραξ. For, while it is only natural that a bird would settle on the ground,
an aristocrat would only do so of necessity. In his case, it probably hints that he has demeaned himself by
condescending to flatter the lower orders (cf. 599-600).
Note that he is imagined not as a crow, but a man with a crow’s head, in the manner of an Egyptian deity,
such as Thoth or Horus. Had these names suggested the transformation to the poet in the first place, since
Thoth was ibis-headed and Horus was falcon-headed? His human parts, along with the fact that he settles
beside ‘the ogress’ Kleon, are the necessary means to his identification.
Alkibiades, son of Kleinias, was an Alkmaionid through his mother Deinomache, daughter of Megakles.
He lost his father, killed at the battle of Koroneia in Boiotia (447 B.C.), when he was only three or four,
and was taken in by his mother’s relations Perikles and Ariphron, sons of Xanthippos. With such heroic
and aristocratic forbears, a distinguished military and political career was his by right and he sought the
public’s attention early in life (as Thucydides says, ἀνὴρ ἡλικίᾳ µὲν ἔτι...ὢν νέος...ἀξιώµατι δὲ προγόνων
τιµώµενος - 5.43). Aristophanes, who was only a year or two younger, jokes about his sexual exploits in
his first play ∆αιταλεῖς, when Alkibiades was still in his early twenties (frg. 244). For recent studies of
Alkibiades’ career through Aristophanes’ eyes, see M. Vickers (2015) or, in German, J. Griesbach (2013).
Only in a dream would a prominent aristocrat like Alkibiades converse with a slave and even then, Sosias
admits, he only spoke πρός µε - “in my (general) direction” (cf. 335). But, the way in which he spoke has
attracted interest down the ages. Plutarch (Ἀλκιβιάδης 1) quotes line 46 to evidence the fact that the young
aristocrat had a lisp, but he is perhaps being a little naïve in taking Aristophanes at his word. He proceeds
to quote lines from Archippos, a later comic-dramatist, which ridicule the son of Alkibiades (also named
Alkibiades) for affecting a lisp and although he must have known that a speech impediment is seldom an
inherited trait, he did not stop to consider that Aristophanes may have been mocking the father for a lisp
which his son imitated. Aristophanes was not, in fact, making light of a speech impediment (even though
physical disabilities were grist to his mill), but deriding an affectation. The ridiculing of Pheidippides by
‘Sokrates’ for “talking in a soppy manner with quivering lips” - ὡς ἠλίθιον ἐφθέγξατο καὶ τοῖσι χείλεσιν
διερρυηκόσιν (Νεφέλαι, 872-3) may well have been aimed similarly at the lazy mode of speech affected
by Alkibiades and his circle (see also 199).
45. ὁλᾷς; Θέωλος...
Although he notes in his apparatus that Plutarch cites the words as ὁλᾷς Θέωλον; MacDowell elects not
to follow his example. But, dramatically it might be better to split the line in this way, since it allows the
actor to get a separate laugh from mimicking the pretentious speech affectation, before the rest of the line
delivers the knockout pun-ch. One may compare the likely speech-distortion in Νεφέλαι 394 and 870-2).
τὴν κεφαλὴν κόλακος
Aristophanes sees the chance to use Alkibiades’ speech affectation to make a pun between κόραξ (‘crow’)
and κόλαξ (‘flatterer’). It was an obvious play which reached its apogee in the words of ‘Antisthenes’ (or
‘Diogenes’), κρεῖττον εἰς κόρακας ἢ εἰς κόλακας ἐµπεσεῖν· οἱ µὲν γὰρ νεκρούς, οἱ δὲ ζῶντας ἐσθίουσιν -
“better to fall in with crows than flatterers; the former eat the dead, but the latter eat you alive”. Theoros
is again called a flatterer by the Chorus (418-9) and Aristophanes will boast later on of standing up to the
fearsome Hell-hound (Kleon) with his hundred-headed entourage of yes-men (1033). One may infer that
Theoros’s flattery could be taken in two ways, for he appears to have been both openly-obsequious in his
support of Kleon while also fawning on the common herd. Such toadying made the ardent supporters of
the principal, public figures an easy target for the comic-poets.The following year Eupolis would devote a
play to them, Κόλακες (which beat Aristophanes’ Εἰρήνη for first prize).
It is interesting to see that the usually sensible author of Palatinus 128 (J) insists on ‘correcting’ the text to
Θέωρος...κόρακος. The writer appears to have incorporated glosses, unless he simply missed the joke.
49. ἐγένετ(ο) ἐξαίφνης
Some have seen this ‘sudden transformation’ as inconsistent with Theoros having a crow’s head (43), and
then turning into a crow (48). But, the suddenness is relative to the dream. The slave dreamt that Theoros,
who had been a man when he last saw him, was being transformed into a bird, although only his head had
changed so far.
51. ἀρθεὶς...ἐς κόρακας οἰχήσεται
The middle voice of ἀείρω is particularly suited to describing birds ‘taking off’ (e.g. Sophokles Ἀντιγόνη
111, ἐφ’ ἡµετέρᾳ γᾷ...ἀρθείς, Euripides Ἀνδροµάχη 848, ποῦ δ’ ἐκ πέτρας ἀερθῶ) cf. Νεφέλαι 266, 276.
In spite of the laudable efforts of Freud and other psychoanalysts to explain dreams as a function of the
human mind, Superstition still continues to insist that they are the product of metaphysical forces. From
ancient times religion has sought to offer metaphysical explanations and profit from providing the service
and, as these verses indicate, the market probably attracted private operators as well as priests. Plutarch
(Ἀριστείδης 27.3) mentions a man named Lysimachos (said to have been the grandson of Aristeides, but
probably the grandson of his son Lysimachos, in view of the chronology) who made a parlous living by
dream-interpretation in the late-fourth century. He had hung out his shingle (πίναξ) beside the so-called
Iakcheion (doubtless part of the temple of Demeter, mother of Iakchos). The possible significance of this
little-known divinity in divining the meaning of dreams is indicated in Βάτραχοι (341-2), in a hymn in
which the chorus hail him as a light illuminating the dark of night,
Ἴακχ’, ὦ Ἴακχε, νυκτέρου τελετῆς φωσφόρος ἀστήρ.
In a fictional letter by Alkiphron (3.59), set c. 300 B.C., a dream reading is to take place at the temple of
Dionysos; perhaps a nod to the surreal aspect of drama.
ὑποκρινόµενον σοφῶς ὀνείρατα
Most editors have accepted this reading from the codices (RV) over that of a later manuscript, σαφῶς οὐ
εἴρατα (J). But MacDowell has decided to cherrypick between them (σαφῶς ὀνείρατα) and lay emphasis
on Xanthias’s lucid exposition. He is not joined by either Sommerstein (1977) or Henderson, who prefer
to commend the slave’s ‘cleverness’. In a theatrical context, certainly, it is cleverness that counts.
The comic poet Magnes mentions together ‘dream interpreters’ (ὀνειροκρίταισιν) and ‘those who resolve
spells’ (ἀναλύταις), for dreams, like spells, could be harmful (cf. 24).
54. φέρε νυν
Xanthias calls a halt to their discussion and changes the subject (cf. 826, 848, 1497, and 1516). One might
almost say, “Moving on, then”.
κατείπω τοῖς θεαταῖς
While tragic-drama strictly maintains theatrical illusion and keeps the action separate from the spectators,
as if it were a virtual reality beyond a screen, Comedy presents a normal reality (albeit taken to extremes)
which the actors and spectators share in common. Comic convention allows for the so-called ‘fourth wall’
to be broken formally by the Chorus in the παράβασις, but the characters will show their awareness of the
audience from time to time, e.g. comic-dramas are usually set in contemporary surroundings and regularly
allude to public celebrities who are likely to have been present at the original performances. Aristophanes
uses a slave here to explain the plot as he had first done in Ἱππεῖς (36), and will do again in Εἰρήνη (50-3)
and Ὄρνιθες (30). In the previous year’s Νεφέλαι, the prologue took the form of a soliloquy by which the
protagonist explained the dramatic situation to the spectators. Later, when the two ‘sides of the argument’
clash, one tells the other to “take a good look at the audience” (1096-7) to prove a point (cf. also 58-9).
The verb ὑπεῖπον indicates an aside, i.e. what he is about to say at the start (πρῶτον) should be considered
an aside. The poet makes the “following points” (ταδί) in the next ten lines in defence of his comic style.
56. µηδὲν...λίαν µέγα
Commentators generally assume that this expression refers to the intellectual sophistication exhibited in
the Νεφέλαι of the previous year, which some think may have contributed to its failure. Sommerstein, for
instance, maintains that the poet is warning the audience (in Starkie’s words) not to “expect anything too
grand”, citing both the political satire of Ἱππεῖς and the intellectual humour of Νεφέλαι as examples of the
‘grand’ style. Henderson, too, accepts that the poet is forswearing “anything terribly grand”. MacDowell
rather doubts whether µέγα should be taken to mean ‘high-brow’, but his translation “ambitious” is not far
off. Only Killeen (1971) has questioned whether Aristophanes would openly declare that he was setting
his intellectual bar lower. In the παράβασις of Νεφέλαι (525-7), the poet set forth his comedic manifesto,
to entertain intelligent spectators; these are the ones whom he strives to please and whose expectations of
him he will never betray. The one thing his work will never lack is intellectual sophistication. One might
assume, here, that the ‘slave’ is speaking tongue in cheek, but since there is no irony in the disavowal of
‘Megarian farce’, the promise of µηδὲν λίαν µέγα can probably be taken at face value too.
In Βάτραχοι, when ‘Euripides’ accuses ‘Aischylos’ of striking an aloof pose in his dramatic art, Dionysos
immediately fears what is coming and warns him (835), µὴ µεγάλα λίαν λέγε - “don’t say anything you’ll
regret” (though of course he does!). Evidently, the god of drama knows the poet’s character as well as his
work and is concerned that he will go ‘over the top’. So here, I think, we could take the slave to be telling
the audience that the poet will not carry his satirical sallies to excess, that is he will steer a cautious course
between over-mordant, comic abuse and toothless slapstick. This is consistent with other remarks later on
(1029-30) and his insistence elsewhere (Νεφέλαι 549-52) that he doesn’t kick a man when he’s down. It is
also possible, as Killeen suggested, that the slave gestures with his costume-phallos (cf. 28), as a reminder
that this is Comedy and so words may often carry more than one meaning.
57. γέλωτα Μεγαρόθεν κεκλεµµένον
The poet informs his audience that he does not intend to import “laughter stolen from Megara”. What this
means is open to interpretation and its ambiguity has helped to create uncertainty among commentators to
this day. Already, when Aristotle came to examine the origins of Old Comedy, the ambiguity was taking
effect. He writes (περὶ Ποιητικῆς 1448α) that “Comedy is claimed both by the Megarians here in Greece
and by the Megarians of Sicily”. The reference to the Greek-speaking people of the Sicilian Megara was
justified by the fact that Epicharmos (of Kos) produced there the earliest-known comic-dramas. It was
acknowledged that these pre-dated the works of Chionides and Magnes, the first practitioners of the art at
Athens. So, on one level Aristophanes is saying that his drama will be the genuine Attic article (albeit one
indebted to the genius of Epicharmos). But, Aristotle’s suggestion that Athens’ near neighbours of
mainland Megara may have had a hand in creating the form has provided scope for the hypothesis that
some kind of proto-comic drama had grown up there as well. Although this cannot be definitely ruled out,
one is bound to suspect that Aristotle has caught a red herring, because the only evidence he adduces is
the feeble etymology of the word κωµῳδία from the Doric word for ‘villages’ (κῶµαι). In fact, the more
likely root of κωµῳδία is the word κῶµος; the informal tomfoolery associated with religious celebrations
(κωµάζειν), in particular those involving processions (cf.230). So, Aristophanes is unlikely to be
claiming that his work will avoid ‘local Megarian farce’. What he is ruling out in this work are cheap
laughs from ‘farcical Megarians’ (of the type introduced in Ἀχαρνεῖς for instance). This view is not new,
for Starkie concluded long ago that, “The chief (so-called) Megarian poets Maeson and Mullus were but
characters in rustic farces”. For this reason, I think, Aristophanes promises to steer clear of γέλωτα, and
not κωµῳδία, Μεγαρόθεν.
His words seem to echo a similar sentiment from a work by an earlier comic-writer, Ekphantides (frg. 3),
Μεγαρικῆς κωµῳδίας ᾆσµα †δίειµαι†
αἰσχυνόµενος τὸ δρᾶµα Μεγαρικὸν ποιεῖν.
Here too, the comic-dramatist is probably employing ambiguity, but his meaning is obscured, in any case,
by probable textual corruption. [The verb δίειµαι is probably substituting another, possibly Doric form, at
which one can only guess. I have used διείρξω to obtain an approximate translation.] Ekphantides appears
to make a distinction between ‘Megarian Comedy’ (Μεγαρικῆς κωµῳδίας) and ‘Megarian comic-action’
(τὸ δρᾶµα Μεγαρικὸν). While he might mean that, “Since I would be ashamed to write ‘Megarian’ farce,
[I’ll avoid] an ode of Megarian Comedy” (i.e. the sense in which Aristotle would have taken it), he might
mean that he would not sink to using comic stereotypes and so will not even employ Epicharmian modes;
a non-sequitur which makes the claim funny.
It seems to me that ambiguous remarks like this one helped to mislead Aristotle into the belief that comic-
drama had originated in both Megarian communities. But, the poets of Old Comedy were sometimes too
clever for their own good. Ekphantides made, what he doubtless felt to be, a neat play on comic lyrics by
the Megarian Epicharmos and comic stereotypes from neighbouring Megara. Aristophanes, following in
his footsteps, suggests that his humour will be original Attic work and not derivative, but he is really only
saying that he will not demean his art (cf. 1028) by employing coarse buffoons. Had he not wanted to be
clever and allude to Epicharmos, he could have written ‘laughter from Boiotia’ to indicate another source
of ‘ethnic humour’. It is like an English author insisting that he does not stoop to caricature his Scottish or
Welsh neighbours, since that would be all too easy.
58-9. κάρυα ἐκ φορµίδος
It has been suggested that producers of comic-dramas curried favour with audiences by bringing on slaves
to distribute nuts or sweets of various kinds. But, unlike Roman audiences (or modernday cinema-goers
for that matter), the ancient Athenians did not attend the theatre with a view to snacking. Had they wished
to do so, they could have brought nuts with them. In this case, it is likely that archaeologists would have
unearthed amphitheatres filled with husks just as the floors of Jacobean theatres have been found buried
beneath layers of hazelnut shells. Attic patricians would not have wished to eat the figs and nuts tossed at
them, in any case. What seems to have happened is that when certain scenes called for the actors to scatter
nuts, comic-dramatists would usually involve the audience, as in pantomime nowadays. Our poet actually
tells us this in Πλοῦτος (795-801), when Chremylos’ wife wants to welcome her husband and his guest in
lavish style. They demur on the grounds that ‘showering them with gifts’ could easily look like a farcical
scene where the audience too is included in the shower of figs and sweets. Such cheap laughs have to be
avoided insists Aristophanes, although he had probably done something similar on numerous occasions.
In Εἰρήνη (962), for instance, a slave is told to sprinkle barley-groats over the spectators as if they were
acting the part of witnesses to the theatrical sacrifice. The context here indicates that the slaves scattering
the nuts were acting in character in a drama and their action was integral to a particular scene; possibly a
wedding. Besides, the poet’s choice of words may offer a clue to his intentions, because while in Εἰρήνη
the basket containing the barley-grains is called a κανοῦν, he refers here to a φόρµις, and the mention of
the two slaves showering nuts from a single basket suggests that the poet may be making a subtle attempt
to distance his own comedy from an earlier, simple style of comic-drama characteristic of his Syracusan
predecessor Phormis (cf. Σοῦδα φ 609, Φόρµος).
60. Ἡρακλῆς τὸ δεῖπνον ἐξαπατώµενος
It stands to reason that anyone who could undertake such heroic feats would have had a healthy appetite
and even in tragic-drama Herakles is portrayed as one who heartily enjoys a good meal (cf. Eur. Ἄλκηστις
747-72). Consequently, it comes as no surprise that comic-poets should have created para-tragic plots in
order to exagerate his appetite. The comic parody was already present in the earliest ‘Megarian’ comedy
of Epicharmos (Ἥβης γάµος). Although Aristophanes is true to his word in this play, and will even claim
in Εἰρήνη (741 and 3) that he is the only one to break with the comic stereotype, he happily follows form
in later works, e.g. in Ὄρνιθες 1574-1692 and Βάτραχοι 505-11. His rival Phrynichos acknowledges the
convention when one of his characters asks sarcastically what Herakles can be expected to achieve while
he is on a strict diet, ὁ δ’ ὀλιγόσιτος Ἡρακλῆς ἐκεῖ τί δρᾷ; (frg. 24) and Eupolis is said to have portrayed
Herakles going hungry (schol. Εἰρήνη 741β). See also Λυσιστράτη 928, Ἡρακλῆς ξενίζεται;
61. ἀνασελγαινόµενος Εὐριπίδης
The verb ἀσελγαίνω is used to signify actions that are excessive or wanton, and may often carry a sexual
connotation. In general, it is best understood as describing behaviour that is unrestrained in act or word.
The compound participle, however, occurs nowhere else and has been branded by Dindorf as unsuited to
this context (“neque aptum huic loco” cf. Wilson p. 81). Hermann’s alternative reading ἐνασελγαινόµενος
is less than helpful, as it is not found elsewhere either. At least, the prefix ἀν- serves to emphasize αὖθις,
whereas the prefix ἐν- leaves too much unexpressed.
Euripides had been producing dramas since before Aristophanes was born and even Ἄλκηστις, his earliest
extant play, had been performed in 438 B.C., so that the comic-poets would have had him in their sights
for many a year. But, until Aristophanes brings him on stage in Ἀχαρνεῖς we have little evidence of how
he was treated. The scene in that play (395-479) lampoons the language and conventions of Tragedy, and
no doubt borrows from the poet’s work as boldly as Dikaiopolis borrows from his props. It also gives us a
prime example of how the poet was seen in Comedy. ‘Euripides’ comes across as reclusive and brusque, a
man who does not suffer fools gladly, so that when the persistent Dikaiopolis addresses him (462), as, ὦ
γλυκύτατ’ Εὐριπίδη - “my honey-sweet Euripides”, we are ready to smile at the irony of the phrase. It is a
reminder of the affectionate terms used to describe the genuinely sweet-natured Sophokles and casts him
in contrast as a misanthrope, jealous of his privacy. A scholiast on this line tells us that Euripides had also
been portrayed by Aristophanes in the same way (εἰσῆκται οὕτως) in ∆ράµατα (a work possibly produced
at the Dionysia of 425) and in Προάγων which took first prize over Σφῆκες. So, here, instead of assuming
that Euripides might be “treated lewdly” (MacDowell), or be “wantonly abused” (Sommerstein), actions
for which extant comic-dramas provide no evidence, we may take the middle voice to apply to Euripides
himself and see him “becoming violently abusive…again”, since we have just heard (56) that this appears
to have been characteristic of him.
62. εἰ…γ(ε) ἔλαµψε
The metaphor is drawn from a celestial body which ‘shone resplendent’. We would say simply that Kleon
‘stood out’ or ‘distinguished himself’. The aorist tense suggests that the reference is to a specific occasion
in the recent past rather than to a steady preeminence which would be implied by the imperfect. The lustre
of his success at Pylos may still have been fresh in people’s minds, as indicated by the dream of Xanthias,
leading to his appointment as commander of the campaign on the Thracian front. Although Thucydides
describes this appointment rather coldly, “Kleon won over the Athenians” (Κλέων δὲ Ἀθηναίους πείσας,
5.2.1) and suggests that there had been little enthusiasm for the venture, “<recalling> how right from the
outset they had followed him reluctantly” (καὶ οἴκοθεν ὡς ἄκοντες αὐτῷ ξυνῆλθον, 5.7.2), he appears to
have enjoyed some initial success in Chalkidike. Cobet proposed reading ἀνέλαµψε to put emphasis on
the more recent victories and provide a lead-in for αὖθις in the next line, but the simple aorist would serve
to convey regular occurrence just as well.
There is, in any case, a possibility that the verb represents what is nowadays termed an ‘intertextual’ joke.
Kleon may have been portrayed as the sun-god Apollo in a recent comic-drama, and consequently could
have been said to have ‘shone’ in a theatrical sense (see the post-script to Appendix 5).
τῆς τύχης χάριν
MacDowell states that, “Aristophanes contemptuously assumes that any success of Kleon’s must be due to
luck.” However, while this is a natural inference for us to draw nowadays, it might misinterpret the point
being made, for which a fuller expression would have been δαίµονός τινος τῆς τύχης χάριν (cf. Euripides
Μήδεια 671). This is a reminder that in our modern world we allow for more unpredictability than ancient
Greek religion was willing to accept. We employ the words luck and chance to express the randomness of
events; the ancient Greeks tended to view the recipient of Fortune’s blessings as having been favoured by
divine intervention (cf. e.g. Thucydides 3.45.6). Consequently, one might read τῆς Tύχης χάριν, since for
the poet to say that Fortune had intervened in Kleon’s favour would not necessarily detract from the lustre
of his success at all. [See the retort of W.C.Fields, when asked whether the game of cards he was playing
was a ‘game of chance’.]
Once we drop the assumption that Aristophanes is scorning Kleon by ascribing his success to Fortune, we
can draw the inference that the audience had every reason to expect that Kleon would be lampooned again
in this play precisely because he has enjoyed the blessing of Fortune. For, while Good Fortune may lead
to human success, its corollary was divine resentment which comic-drama sought to avert. It is important
for us to keep this aspect of Comedy in mind, since one can easily be led astray into taking comic jibes at
face value. We tend to assume that what appears to be vicious, personal satire was solely the result of the
political conflicts at the time and overlook the apotropaic function of such mockery. Some malice may, of
course, have crept in to please a section of the audience, but we should not lose sight of the fact that these
dramas were performed at a religious festival. It is likely that, far from feeling slighted by Aristophanes’
attribution of his glory to Lady Luck, Kleon would have taken it as a simple statement of fact and would
only have felt aggrieved if the comic-poet had actually fulfilled his promise to go easy on him, since, to
paraphrase Oscar Wilde, the one thing worse than being ridiculed in comic-drama, would have been not
to be ridiculed. [n.b. Those excoriated by Don Rickles are said to bear his insults as a badge of honour.]
This comic verb must mean that Kleon is not going to be drenched with µυττωτός, which the scholiast
explains as a culinary dressing containing garlic and leeks pounded in a mixture of vinegar, olive-oil, and
honey (he adds cheese, probably an inference from Εἰρήνη 250, but this is mentioned separately in Ἱππεῖς
771). One may perhaps take it that Aristophanes will refrain from ‘making a meal of him’ or ‘giving him
a dressing down’, but I have chosen to draw an analogy from the preparation of the relish (Ἀχαρνεῖς 174).
The audience would have taken the slave’s promise lightly and rightly so, as Kleon is mentioned by name
in Σφῆκες more times than in any other extant comic-drama.
The dramatist butters up the spectators by praising their intellectual insight and saying in effect, ‘my plays
are sophisticated alright, but not more so than my audience’. He hoped that the compliment would inhibit
the spectators from complaining that they ‘don’t get it’. Yet he does not match the obsequious tone of his
rival Platon (frg. 96), χαῖρε παλαιογόνων ἀνδρῶν θεατῶν ξύλλογε παντοσόφων - “I greet this gathering
of venerable elders, capaciously-knowledgable spectators”. [An alternative approach to the humourless is
Jimmy Carr’s hint to a po-faced member of the audience, “There’s a minimum comprehension level; you
may be asked to leave”.]
68. ἅνω καθεύδων
Some editors incorporate the definite article (ὁ ἄνω), but others (MacDowell, Henderson) prefer to drop
it. The slave points up at a figure asleep on the roof of the annexe.
As yet, all we see is a heap of blankets; it is not possible to make out the Son’s physical features. So there
seems no need to consider Van Herwerden’s proposal to emend µέγας to µέλας on the flimsy grounds that
the character is dark-haired (cf. Wilson p. 81), for that is a trait one could guess without being told. But, it
is not necessary to take the epithet as an indication of the Son’s physical size (Starkie translates “tall”, for
instance). He is certainly larger than his father, but not to an exaggerated extent. Physically, he need be no
more imposing than either of the slaves. So, in describing Bdelykleon as “the big guy” Xanthias is merely
pointing out that his master is the man in charge (“the big cheese”, if you like). His tone may be sarcastic,
hinting at the Son’s ‘self-importance’ (cf. 553, ἄνδρες µεγάλοι), i.e. he’s too big for his boots’.
The Father is said to be afflicted with a mysterious ailment, which the slave could just explain directly,
but instead, he invites the audience to guess. This parodies the technique of tragic-drama which attempts
to introduce an artificial element of suspense by having the chorus speculate as to the possible cause of an
illness, before the patient reveals it for themselves (e.g. Euripides Ἱππόλυτος 141-69). [A similar effect is
achieved in soap-operas by following-up a question with a protracted camera close-up.]
I follow MacDowell in beginning Sosias’s interjections with this supposed suggestion from ‘a member of
the audience’. Opinions have varied regarding the distribution of lines 74-84 (see 77 note).
MacDowell is commendably cautious over the identification of this man, who is satirized in Νεφέλαι (31,
686, 690-1) and again later in this play (1267-74), since all the manuscripts are agreed on the spelling of
his name as Ἀµυνίας. But, though all modern editors follow MacDowell (1965) and adhere to it, there are
compelling reasons for thinking that the name has been ‘corrected’ by a later hand. Dover (Νεφέλαι, p. 97
note) has observed that the name Ἀµυνίας “does not appear at Athens until the second century B.C.”, (but
it is found in Hellenistic inscriptions from Boiotia and Thessaly). On the other hand, the form Ἀµεινίας is
relatively common in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. and was in fact the name of the archon of 423/2
(cf. hypothesis 1 note). Not only would Aristophanes have been more or less obliged to take a tilt at such
a prominent figure in city-life, but he could have inserted the latter’s name, secure in the knowledge that
he was duty-bound to be present in the front row of the audience. The unusual patronymic Προνάπους
may have served to distinguish some lesser-known Ἀµεινίας from the archon, whose father’s name is not
known in any case. But, the poet may not be using the archon’s real patronymic here, for he will call him
‘the son of Sellos’ later (1267, cf. 325). Instead, he may be making another obscure joke (ὁ προνάπης)
regarding his home district (‘he who lives before the glen’), punning perhaps on Athena’s title (προνάου).
The earliest reference to him is probably Kratinos’ Σερίφιοι (frg. 227), produced possibly c. 427-5 B.C., in
which he is mocked as “a flatterer, poseur and malicious prosecutor” (κόλαξ...ἀλαζὼν καὶ συκοφάντης).
But, one may presume that Eupolis’ mockery of him as a peasant who apes the upper classes (cf. 1267) in
frg. 222, is roughly contemporary with Σφῆκες, since he seems to be imitating Aristophanes’ portrait of a
country yokel in Νεφέλαι (47-51, 138) to mock Ameinias. Hermippos’ description of him as “a female
who has been enslaved by the Spartans” (Ἰάµβοι 5, εἱλωτισµένην) may perhaps play on the same hair-
style which Aristophanes ridicules later (466, κοµητ-Ἀµεινία). See also Νεφέλαι 692 note.
76. ἀφ’ αὑτου...τεκµαίρεται
The individuals named as guessing an ailment have presumably been selected in order to imply that they
themselves suffer from the very same addictions. Ameinias’s ‘love of gambling’, implied by calling him
φιλόκυβον, could have been intended literally, but in the conventions of Old Comedy is more likely to
refer indirectly to a penchant for taking rash risks in public life or on the battle-field, since dice-playing
and ‘jacks’ were a poor man’s pursuits (cf. 295, 674).
77. οὔκ, ἀλλὰ
Because the line begins with οὔκ, ἀλλὰ..., Bergk supposed that it must have answered a further suggestion
from the audience which had been accidentally omitted in copying (cf. 9). MacDowell, following his lead,
prints a lacuna between lines 76 and 77. Recent editors have endeavoured to avoid this gap by adopting a
proposal by Stephanis (1980, p.48) to redistribute lines 74-84 between the two slaves. He would postpone
Sosias’ first interjection until 75 so as to leave Xanthias with 77-79a. Then, Sosias speaks 79b-80 as well
as 83-4. But, while I agree that we cannot assume the lacuna, the redistribution of lines is not satisfactory.
It seems rather more effective dramatically to keep Sosias as the ‘frontman’ consistently announcing each
suggestion to Xanthias. Therefore, I would retain MacDowell’s attributions with one exception, assigning
line 77 to Sosias instead of Xanthias.
Sosias first proposal (from the audience) comes in line 74. Xanthias then answers dismissively with ἀλλ’
οὐδὲν λέγει, adding the incidental remark that Ameinias must be talking from personal experience (76). If
one takes this line 76 as an aside, there is no need to jump to Bergk’s hurried conclusion that 77 answers a
new suggestion. It belongs naturally to Sosias and can be seen as a comment on the first part of Xanthias’
response alone (75b). He is saying in effect, “No, (although I agree with what you say about Ameinias’s
predilection for gambling, I hesitate to say that he’s talking complete nonsense), because the prefix ‘philo’
does actually have a bearing on the matter” (cf. 250, 634, for οὔκ, ἀλλὰ...). His qualification of the illness
as an addiction apparently serves to encourage ‘other members’ of the audience to suggest other manias.
78-9. φησι Σωσίας
According to our text, the slave has overheard someone in the audience named Sosias making a remark to
a companion named Derkylos. The people in question are not otherwise known to us from extant sources,
but were presumably prominent public figures at the time of the play’s first performance, who would have
been seated together in the front row(s) of the audience. The idea attributed to Sosias that the Father was a
heavy drinker (79, φιλοπότην) suggests that one or both of them were regular symposiasts, since the slave
pointedly adds that a weakness for wine can afflict “men of nobility” (80, χρηστῶν ἀνδρῶν). Although the
ancient commentators tried to identify the two men, they could not provide any concrete evidence beyond
the fact that Sosias was a name given to free-born citizens (sons of Pythis and Parmenon respectively). In
addition, a man mentioned by Antiphon (περὶ τοῦ Ἡρῴδου φόνου 70) is considered by MacDowell to be a
possible candidate, but the trial of the Ἑλληνοταµίαι, of whom he was one, must have taken place quite a
long time before, as the orator (born c. 480) says that “younger men like me know of the trial by hearsay”.
An altogether different avenue of enquiry is suggested by the later role of the name Sosias. Modern Greek
uses the word σωσίας to signify a ‘double’ (or doppelgänger), a usage which appears to have derived from
‘Sosia’ the name of the hero in Plautus’s ‘Amphitryon’, who plays a double role. Was this character based
on an earlier comic figure originally created in Old Comedy, like other Plautine figures? In which case,
the joke might be that the slave is confused by seeing his namesake, perhaps because he has just recently
drunk ‘a double’ himself? But, such a confrontation of two ‘Sosiases’ would only be material if the name
of the slave had already been mentioned and we are not given it until later (136). One could exchange the
name Χανθία in the opening line for Σωσία, but this hardly seems justified by the joke.
Consequently, the most plausible explanation is that Σωσίας is a marginal ghost, i.e. the character’s name
has been absorbed into the text by an oversight. It belongs in the middle of the following line to designate
the second speaker, not in the middle of this line where it has probably ousted the name of another public
figure, better-known to the audience. MacDowell’s suggestion Νικίας would be a credible replacement.
By an ironic coincidence, the best-known Sosias at this time was probably the Thracian who worked the
silver mines at Laurion with labourers hired from Nikias (Xenophon πόροι / περὶ προσόδων 4).
An ancient commentator suggested that this man was a comic-actor; another claimed that he was a tavern-
keeper. Possibly, these were merely assumptions made from the occurrence of the slave’s name ‘Sosias’
in the text, or there might perhaps have been a comic-drama in which ‘Derkylos’ appeared in the guise of
of a wine-shop proprietor. At any rate, it seems likely that, probably owing to his geniality, Derkylos was
a welcome guest at symposia and could therefore be considered a ‘wine-lover’ on the comic-stage.
81-2. Νικόστρατος...ὁ Σκαµβωνίδης
MacDowell (1965) has argued cogently for identifying the ‘spectator’ with the currently-serving general.
Evidently the name Nikostratos ran in Aristophanes’ own family because one of his sons, who would in
due course become a comic-poet himself, was so named. But, at the time that Σφῆκες was produced this
Nikostratos (who belonged to the same northern city-deme, Skambonidai, as Alkibiades) was στρατηγός
of the tribe Leontis. He had not long returned from the Pallene peninsula in Macedonia (Κασσάνδρεια),
where he had served in joint-conmmand (along with Nikias) of the Athenian expeditionary force sent to
re-take the rebel towns of Mende and Skione. The campaign, as described by Thucydides (4.129-133),
met with only partial success, and with the onset of winter the generals were forced to return home and
leave part of the army to maintain the siege of Skione. Later, in 418, Nikostratos (together with Laches)
was to lead an Athenian contingent sent to support some Argive democrats against Sparta (Thuc. 5.61.1).
Both generals lost their lives at the battle of Mantineia (Thuc. 5.74.3). He was the son of Dieitrephes and
the father of another Dieitrephes, who would himself also become στρατηγός in 414-3 (cf. Ὄρνιθες 800).
Prima facie, the epithets suggested by ‘Nikostratos’ could be taken as complimentary, therefore one must
assume that they have been carried to excess by Philokleon. The defendant in Antiphon’s First Tetralogy
(2.12) describes himself as being φιλοθύτην...καὶ νόµιµον among other virtues, i.e. he fulfils his religious
duties keenly and abides by the laws. So, MacDowell surmises that the real life Nikostratos could perhaps
be considered φιλοθύτης, since he “had been very lavish in celebrating a sacrifice on behalf of his deme”.
But, presumably, he is being mentioned because of his recent στρατηγία in the course of which he would
in any case have had to oversee regular sacrifices. As the chorus of Theban women in Aischylos’s Ἑπτὰ
ἐπὶ Θήβας (179) remind us, the city needs φιλοθύτων...ὀργίων - “sacred rites requiring sacrifices” more
in wartime than in times of peace.
But, the comedic reason for calling this noble Athenian φιλοθύτην was simply to indicate that his was a
familiar face at drinking-parties, for as Hesychios (α 8417) explained, Aristophanes used the phrase “we
ourselves are sacrificing”, to stand in for “we ourselves are drinking” («αὐτοὶ θύοµεν», ἀντὶ τοῦ «αὐτοὶ
πίνοµεν», frg. 167, from Γηρυτάδης). Because a sacrifice involved libations, the implication was that the
one sacrificing was also partaking too freely of the wine. According to the Σοῦδα (µ 688) Φιλοθύτης was
the title of a later comic-drama by Metagenes.
On the other hand, the epithet φιλόξενον (“hospitable”), while suggesting that Nikostratos was considered
to be a good host at symposia, was chosen to make fun of another well-known society figure whose name
83. µὰ τὸν κύν(α)
Xanthias avoids swearing by a named god; possibly out of a religious sensibility (as formerly one might
say ‘gadzooks’ to disguise ‘god’ or ‘cripes’ to hide ‘Christ’), or because he could not think of a particular
deity whose name might be appropriately co-joined with that of a κίναιδος. But, he is a slave and his oath
is therefore likely to reflect the language of the lower orders. Kratinos (frg. 231) pretends that in primitive
society binding oaths were made ‘by the dog’ or ‘by the goose’ (cf. Ὄρνιθες 521) instead of ‘by the gods’
and in Comedy the connotations of the word ‘dog’ are invariably coarse (cf. 1402); in oaths it represents
the penis. My paraphrase makes the slave too suave; a closer rendition would be “By my cock!”
In περὶ Μουσικῆς (30.1142α) (pseudo)-Plutarch mentions a dithyrambic poet named Philoxenos, who was
known for having introduced κρουµατικὰ (‘strumming’) into the music accompanying cyclic dances. He
adds that Aristophanes had referred to him in his plays. But, the famous and innovative dithyrambic poet,
Philoxenos of Kythera would have been far too young to have been the man pilloried here so that Plutarch
has probably confused two men who shared the same name. Philoxenos the poet and musician was better
known to later ages, but the audience would have recognized their fellow-countryman Philoxenos, of the
Attic deme Diomeia, who is mocked by Eupolis in his Πόλεις (frg. 249), ἔστι δέ τις θήλεια Φιλόξενος ἐκ
∆ιοµείων - “there is a certain feminine-type from Diomeia, Philoxenos”. For the confusion to have arisen
with his namesake, he had presumably been mentioned in connection with cyclic dances, but probably as
a noted performer rather than as a composer. The clue is in the crude accusation which Aristophanes hurls
at him. The word καταπύγων (‘an arse-banger’) is one which commentators assume to refer to his sexual
proclivities, because the brief mention of him Νεφέλαι (686) carries a hint of degeneracy and Eupolis says
he was effeminate. But, while the audience would find such a vulgar jibe hilarious, the poet could defend
himself from a lawsuit by pointing out that all he had done was to make a feeble pun on κτύπε πυγὰν, the
movement in which a dancer struck his buttock with his heel (cf. Λυσιστράτη 82), for Athenaios (6.246α)
refers to the fact that, Φιλόξενος δὲ ὁ παράσιτος Πτερνοκοπὶς δ’ ἐπίκλην - “the parasite Philoxenos was
called Heel-stamper”. The victim would have to curse the double misfortune of having a talent for dance,
which left him open to accusations of effeminacy through the execution of certain figures (cf. 1292 note),
and also of bearing a name which was open to misinterpretation (cf. 1277-8 note ξείνων δέκτρια). It was
merely his name which gave the comic poets, like Phrynichos in Σατύροι (frg. 49), license to claim that he
Storey (1995) has raised the possibility that Eupolis’s phrase ἐκ ∆ιοµείων may not mean that Philoxenos
was ‘of the deme Diomeia’, but rather that he was known to be associated with the cult of Herakles which
was located there, and is alluded to Βάτραχοι (650-1) and known from an inscription. Accordingly he lists
eight figures from other demes, one of whom might perhaps have been the κωµῳδούµενος ὀνοµαστί here.
It is just possible that Philoxenos of Kythera is the poet mentioned in Platon’s comic-drama Φάων (392/1
B.C.) frg. 189.4, but Athenaios (4.146f) is probably right to identify this author as yet another Philoxenos,
86. σιγᾶτε νῦν
Sommerstein would keep the circumflex accent on νῦν, but I would be tempted to follow MacDowell’s
lead and remove it; though it is an even bet.
Based on the previous examples, this specially-coined word must mean “addicted to jury-service”. “A
lawcourt-lover” says Rogers; MacDowell’s “trialophile” has a nice ring. For the Eliaia see note on 772.
90. (ἐ)πὶ τοῦ πρῶτου...ξύλου
He wanted to be in the first row of bench-seats to be able to watch and hear the ‘show’ well. In Ἀχαρνεῖς
(25), we hear about the scramble that commonly occurred for the front-row seats in the Assembly. In the
court-room these wooden seats may have been referred to as a σανίδες (cf. 349), but in lecture-rooms the
benches would usually have been termed, βάθρα (cf. Plato Πρωταγόρας 315γ, Diogenes Laërtios 7.1.22),
and so here too the ξύλον most probably refers to a βάθρον.
91. οὐδὲ πασπάλην
This metaphor is found nowhere else and may have been coined by Aristophanes. The word πασπάλην is
taken to be a variant of παιπάλη - “flour meal” which is used in a different metaphorical sense (Νεφέλαι
260-2) of an educated speaker to mean ‘finely ground’ or ‘subtle’ (as we might say ‘refined’). Lykophron
explained the expression, as equivalent to ‘οὐδὲ βραχὺ, ἐλάχιστον τι’, literally, ‘not even a speck’, though
the poet’s intention may have been to suggest that the old man’s senses were not even dulled like a haze
of flour dust, i.e. he did not even doze off.
92. ἢν δ(ὲ) οὖν καταµύσῃ κἂν ἄχνην
The adverbial phrase κἂν ἄχνην appears suspect. The unique use is taken to be analogous to phrases such
as κἂν σµικρὸν χρόνον (Πλοῦτος 126) or κἂν ἐλάχιστον <χρόνον> (cf. 5 n). But, this requires the noun to
carry an exceptional, metaphorical meaning, ‘a morsel / the least bit’ (LSJ), whereas its normal, concrete
sense is any light excrescence e.g. smoke (of a fire), fluff (of cloth), foam (on the sea), froth (on wine), or
down (on the skin of fruit). Furthermore, the juxtaposition of two conditionals in contracted form, ἢν for
ἐάν (“if”), and κἂν a crasis of καὶ ἐάν (“even if”), though certainly not impossible, is inelegant at any rate.
But, the suggested meaning of the phrase does not fit the logical progress of the passage, in any case, for
we are told that, during the night Philokleon gets not even a wink of sleep, but if his eyes shut “even for a
few seconds”, his imagination hovers
<ὅλην> τὴν νύκτα (“all night long”) around the clepsydra.” In this
context the phrase cannot be taken temporally, it could only mean lightly, i.e. “even if he should doze off”.
It would make more sense to say that he does not allow himself to sleep, but if he is overcome by sleep in
spite of himself, then…
Consequently, I suspect that a copyist, influenced by πασπάλην in the previous line, and knowing that the
word ἄχνην is used by Homer of ‘chaff’ had misread κατ’ ἀνάγκην which would give the required sense,
that weariness sometimes forced the old man to ‘pull down the shutters’ for the night, but he still attended
the court in his dreams.
93. ὁ νοῦς πέτεται
The old man is frequently likened to a bird, but when he is sleeping only his imagination takes flight and,
in the manner of birds, seeks a source of water.
The full phrase would be, τὴν νύχθ’ ὅλην - “all night long” (as in Νεφέλαι 36).
In this case, the water-source is the water-clock, an essential feature of court-rooms (cf. 857-8), that was
used to put a time-limit on speeches (cf. 857-8). A clerk of the court would be tasked with keeping an eye
on the clock so as to inform the court-officer when the time allocated for each speaker was used up. This
did not mean, of course, that the speaker would immediately desist, but the jurors would be ‘watching the
clock’ attentively. The word is associated solely with timing court-room speeches. When it is used by the
comic-poet Euboulos as the name of his eponymous ‘heroine’ in Κλεψύδρα (Athenaios 567δ), he is being
facetious. He is taking to its logical conclusion the idea that a courtesan is selling her time, rather than her
body, to her client.
94. ὑπὸ τοῦ...ἔχειν εἰωθέναι
The prepositional clause explains the following line. He has been dreaming of trials and is just about to
cast his vote when he wakes up. We might have expected the preposition ἀπὸ (‘from’, in consequence’),
instead ὑπὸ is used to show that he is ‘under his habit’, i.e. his addiction overwhelms him (cf. 106).
He “rises from his bed” with his thumb, forefinger and middle finger pressed together. [The same gesture
is used today by Greek soldiers taking their oath of allegiance.] The verb is used of his son (137) and his
fellow-jurors (217) later.
The careful way in which he holds his ballot when voting could be compared to any number of actions in
which the fingers are pressed together, but the poet chooses the most relevant. The drama is in fact set on
the first day of the month, as we shall learn in due course (171), so this seeming-casual reference gives an
initial hint and there is another oblique allusion later (256-7). Possibly, the line is lent some humour by a
slave’s appearance holding a censer at just that moment.
After his pun on δηµός/δῆµος, the poet goes a stage further with ∆ῆµος/κηµός. But, instead of repeating
δῆµος (‘the citizen-body’), which the old man revered, he introduces the proper name ∆ῆµος. The literal
translation is, “And should he happen to spot written on a door somewhere Demos <is> awesome”. The
καλός figure seems to have served as a convenient shorthand; perhaps not unlike our use of ‘I ♥ NY’ on
bumper-stickers, so I have replaced the original with a modern equivalent.
The text makes sense as it stands, but one would have expected the verb ἐπιγράφω, since graffiti were
more likely to be incised rather than spray-painted in the modern manner. Perhaps, the text might have
read γ’ ἐπιγεγραµµένον originally.
98. υἱὸν Πυριλάµπους
The absence of a definite article led Bentley to propose the reading τὸν τοῦ, and one manuscript (J) does
in fact prefer τὸν alone, which is adequate grammatically but not metrically. Thus, Bentley could be right
and υἱὸν may have intruded as a gloss. But, the definite article has been omitted elsewhere, e.g. Χαιρέου
υἱός (687), υἱός Καρκίνου (1501), so we cannot insist on it here. One might, in any case, interpret the text
by understanding υἱὸν <τινα>, for Pyrilampes had more than one son. His stepson, in fact, was the young
Plato, who would later become Sokrates’ most celebrated ‘pupil’.
His son may have been a rising star at the time, but it was Pyrilampes who was the better-known public
figure. He was a wealthy man, a well-connected aristocrat who had served as an ambassador. He had also,
according to Plutarch (Ἠθικά 581d-e), taken part in the battle of Delion and been wounded (Sommerstein
considers this unlikely in view of his age). But, the son’s name was a gift to a comedian and Aristophanes
had already made use of it in Ἱππεῖς (1321) where he conflated the proper noun with both common nouns
in a single line. It is worth noting the fact that a nobleman chose to name his son ∆ῆµος in the first place.
Pyrilampes was close to Perikles and if his son lived up to his name, the graffito would be an appropriate
comment on the popular party they supported.
Whereas, nowadays, graffiti artists (or vandals) consign their works to walls, the ancient Athenian had to
make do with doors, because walls (even if rendered) would have provided unsuitably rough surfaces and
were not whitewashed against vermin like buildings on the Greek islands nowadays. In Ἀχαρνεῖς (143-4)
we are told in jest that a Thracian ruler named Sitalkes showed his affection for the people of Athens by
inscribing Ἀθηναῖοι καλοί “on the walls”, but this probably refers to the interior walls of his own house.
Similarly, Plato’s reference (Νόµοι 785α) to, παραγεγράφθαι δ’ ἐν τοίχῳ λελευκωµένῳ seems to mean the
interior of a phratry-hall.
However, those who wished the record of their affections to endure could take the trouble to incise their
graffito, if they had the time and energy, and in this case stone walls would serve as well as wooden doors
[as Lord Byron demonstrated on Poseidom’s temple at Sounion].
The story of Aristeides and the ostrakon (Plutarch Ἀριστείδης 7.5-6) serves as a reminder that many of the
ordinary citizens were illiterate, so that the ‘vandals’ in ancient Athens were likely to have been the better
educated aristocrats themselves (cf. 1323-5).
The old man had only to write a kappa next to the initial delta to ‘correct’ the meaning. [Such cures for
apparent dyslexia are found in modern graffiti e.g. “I like grils”, altered to “I like girls”, but inviting the
complaint “what about us grils?”]
Originally, the word meant a ‘muzzle’ used to prevent a horse or dog from biting. But, in the dramas of
Aristophanes it is used metaphorically for a funnel of plaited osiers or reeds which would be set over the
mouth of a voting-urn, apparently to conceal the hand which held the pebble (cf. Ἱππεῖς 1150). It is
claimed that this allowed the voter’s intention to remain private, in which case the funnel must also have
served to muffle the pebble’s fall. I do not find this entirely convincing, but it is generally believed.
In ancient Athens cockerels regularly ‘chant’ (cf. 817 ᾄδων) like the chanticleer of folk-tale.
The verb ἀναπείθω often appears to be a euphemism for inducing someone to do something against their
better judgement by means of a bribe or a threat; here probably both.
103. ἀπὸ δορπηστοῦ
No sooner has he finished his evening meal after his day in court, than he is keen to get back to his pet
We must understand some temporal phrase such as ‘on one memorable occasion’ as lead in for the perfect
tense where we would use the pluperfect “he had cried out for his walking shoes”. Presumably, he made a
subterfuge of wanting to take an evening stroll to aid his digestion, but in reality, he wished to be dressed
and ready to leave the house when no-one was looking.
The verb is taken to indicate that ‘he sleeps in front of <the courthouse>’, but this is expressed later (337)
by πρόσθεν καθεύδων. Therefore, in view of what follows I prefer to see it in a temporal sense, “he grabs
some sleep beforehand”.
This attaches closely to ἐλθὼν.
Hirschig proposed reading προσισχόµενος, but the middle voice used here matches a similar phrase found
in Πλοῦτος (1096, ὥσπερ λέπας τῷ µειρακίῳ προσείχετο -“<the old biddy> was clinging to the youth like
The result of taking προκαθεύδει in a spatial sense is that “the pillar” must be located somewhere outside
the courthouse, and so recent editors have followed Rogers’ lead in assuming that it can be taken to mean
‘a doorpost’ or, since a single architectural feature is needed, ‘a column’ beside the door. MacDowell, for
instance, speculates that, “Perhaps each court had beside its entrance a pillar to which notices of the next
day’s cases were attached”. While this is a possibility to consider, the lack of any corroborative evidence
leads me to believe that we should assume the common meaning of κίων as an internal column supporting
a roof (e.g. Νεφέλαι 815, where eroding ‘the columns of Megakles’ would lead to his economic collapse).
In such case, we could read the enclitic τῳ κίονι - “some column” and take it that the old man entered the
court at night under cover of darkness and clung to one of its roof-supports, refusing to be dragged out by
the janitor. After all, he would have no reason to cling to a pillar outside the court (pace MacDowell).
106. ὑπὸ δυσκολίας
The slave portrays him as a cantankerous old so-and-so who votes for the stiffer penalty proposed “out of
cussedness” (cf. 1083, ὑπ’ ὀργῆς).
τιµῶν τὴν µακρὰν
The jurors had not only to decide the case, but also had to decide the penalty. When a defendant had been
found guilty he was obliged to choose his own punishment, which the prosecutor would usually object to
as too lenient and demand a stiffer penalty (cf. 897-8). Thus, it fell to the jury to decide between the two.
This they did by incising a line on the waxed surface of a wooden tablet or πινάκιον (cf. 167), which must
have been rectangular, because a long line, presumably drawn along the length of the tablet, represented a
vote for the prosecutor’s penalty, whereas a shorter one drawn across its width agreed to the defendant’s
more lenient proposal.
107. µέλιττ(α) ἢ βοµβυλιὸς
The image of the the worker-bee weaving its way back to the hive, attaches to the old jury-man returning
from his tour of duty, because beeswax clogs his nails and he has his pay as ‘pollen’. The addition of the
word βοµβυλιὸς, which according to Hesychios was ‘a big bee’ (µέλισσα µεγάλη) provides the sound of
the contented humming coming from the bumbling figure, since the lexicographer further states (with this
passage in mind, perhaps) that it is a ζῷον ἦχον τινα ποιοῦν τοῦ γένους τῶν σφηκῶν.
108. κηρὸν ἀναπεπλασµένος
The codices are agreed on the participle and the only textual variant, ὑποπεπλασµένος (J), is probably no
more than an example of a prefix attracted from a preposition (cf. 139). But, it seems to me impossible, in
good conscience, to extract the required sense from the verb ἀναπλάττω. LSJ take it to be a special case
of the passive, which is said to mean ‘plastered up’ (instead of the usual ‘restored’ or ‘remodelled’), while
MacDowell considers it the middle voice and translates “having <wax> plastered up”. These are worthy
attempts to defend the codices, but the peg still does not seem to fit the hole.
A more probable reading (which MacDowell mentions and dismisses without attribution) is the passive
aorist participle of the verb ἀναπίµπληµι, ἀναπεπληµένος. It is a verb Aristophanes uses and its meaning
“filled up” requires no special pleading. We would, however, require the genitive κήρου, but then that is
what one would have expected anyway if ἀναπεπλασµένος actually meant ‘plastered up’. Consequently, I
have preferred to translate κηροῦ (ἀ)ναπεπλαµένος.
110. αἰγιαλὸν ἔνδον τρέφει
Unlike Stephen Wright who leaves his vast sea-shell collection scattered over the world’s beaches (you
might have seen part of it?), the old man ensures his supply of pebbles (with which to cast his vote) by
storing ‘a beach indoors’. MacDowell finds humour in the use of the verb τρέφει to denote the care with
which he tends his collection “as if it were alive”. Certainly, the use of the verb to nurture of inanimate
objects is very bold and therefore rather suspect, but seems validated by a similar instance later, ὑπήνην
ἄκουρον τρέφων (476).
Τhe incorrigible passion of the old man is comically compared to the infatuation of the matron Stheneboia
with the young Bellerophontes, with a parody of Euripides’ lines, τοιαῦτ’ ἀλύει· νουθετούµενος δ’ Ἔρως
µᾶλλον πιέζει - “so great is her passion; and Love, although warned away, oppresses her still more” (frg.
665). For the use of νουθετῶ cf. 254.
113. µοχλοῖσιν ἐνδήσαντες
MacDowell correctly defends the codices against the alternative reading ἐγκλείσαντες (J), which is only a
gloss to explain the more idiomatic ἐνδήσαντες. Although ἐνδέω means to ‘tie fast’, it is probably meant
in a metaphorical sense of ‘restraining’ or ‘restricting’, as we might say ‘I’m tied up’, or speak of a group
in combat as being ‘pinned down’. Wilson (p. 82) confirms Sommerstein’s observation that the reading of
Oxyrhyncus papyrus 4512 (Π75, 3rd cent.), though incomplete, offers support for the codices.
The mention of the barred doors prepares us for a later scene (cf. 154-5) in which the locking mechanism
will be the source of a contrived joke.
114. βαρέως φέρει
To ‘take something hard’ is to be negatively-impacted emotionally (cf. βαρέως ἂν φέροις; 158). Here, the
joke lies in the fact that the Son is not just upset about his father’s mania, but is on the verge of a nervous
He was “trying to talk him round” (cf. 101 ἀναπεπεισµένον; 568 ἀναπειθώµεσθα; Νεφέλαι 77) often by
offering some inducement.
The essential item of apparel for any self-respecting old codger in Comedy (cf. 33, 1131)
In his efforts to cure his father’s compulsive behaviour, the Son has resorted to hypnotism by having him
take part in Korybantic rites, hoping that the trance-like state induced in the celebrants by dancing to the
insistent rhythm of the drum-beat would relax him and release his mind from his obsession. Plato, who is
our principle source for the rituals and their effects, mentions that the rites were indeed seen by some as a
possible cure for mental disorders (Νόµοι 790δ). For a recent discussion of the evidence see E. Wasmuth
ὁ δ(ὲ) αὐτῷ τυµπάνῳ ᾄξας ἐδίκαζεν
The result of his initation is usually expressed as, “he rushed off, drum and all…and joined the jury.” In
other words, the hypnotic beat had no effect on him whatsoever and, as soon as he saw a chance to make
his getaway, he made a dash for it without even bothering to discard the drum he himself was carrying.
Now, it is reasonable to compare αὐτῷ τυµπάνῳ with the similar phrase αὐτοῖσι τοῖς κανθηλίοις, “along with
its panniers” (170) and so take it to mean, “with <the> drum itself”, though the omission of a definite article
is awkward and the same sense could have been expressed by ἔχων τὸ τύµπανο (“drum and all”). But, it is
surprising that the poet introduced the idea of the hypnotic trance only to completely ignore its comic possibilities.
We might do better, therefore, to translate the text as, “at the very (sound of) drumming”, or bettter, consider
setting the words out as, ὁ δ’ αὖ τῷ τυµπάνῳ.
In either case, the result is that Bdelykleon’s plan was at least partially successful. The hypnotic sound of
the ritual drumming did put his father into a trance, but it had an unexpected side-effect. The sound of the
drum became somehow associated in his unconscious mind with jury-duty. There is no specific reference
to drums being used in court procedure, but it is possible to infer from this passage and the mention later
of a σηµεῖον (cf. 690) that a drum was used to call the jurymen to order at the opening of a trial. Bearing
in mind the likely absence of an ancient Tannoy system, a drum might well have been necessary to call to
order a noisy assembly of several hundred jurors. So, we do not need to suppose that the old man carried
the drum himself during the Korybantic ritual. It was the sound of it which activated a mental mechanism,
setting his feet in motion in the direction of the court.
The verbs give a reminder of the old man’s bird-like nature. The sound of a drum used by beaters would
have served normally to raise wildfowl from their nests, but here instead of being startled, the old bird is
enlivened by it and heads back to his ‘roost’.
εἰς τὸ καινὸν ἐµπεσών
The most likely noun to be qualified by καινόν is δικαστήριον, but it is somewhat surprising that the old
juryman settles upon a particular court (one, indeed, of which no other mention is made) without further
explanation. Surely, it cannot have been inserted merely to meet the demands of metre? Besides, would
the audience be willing to ignore the fact that later in the play Philokleon is assumed to frequent various
other courts, but not this one? The audience might not have spotted the inconsistency, but they would still
have wondered why this court was selected for a nocturnal visit rather than another. MacDowell, perhaps
thinking of ‘New Scotland Yard’ maintains that a courtroom known as the ‘Καινόν’ is meant, although he
admits that, “the location of the New Court is unknown”. Henderson, on the other hand, while retaining
Kαινὸν in his text, translates the “Common Court”, as if he would rather have read Kοινὸν. But, this does
not take us very far either.
So, perhaps, we might consider instead the likelihood that the particular adjective may have been chosen
to fit the special situation. While καινόν normally means ‘new’, it may sometimes occur as a metrically-
convenient variant of κενόν (‘empty’), and one manuscript (J) actually gives the (unmetrical) reading ἐς
τὸ κενὸν. This would give a relevant sense here, for if Philokleon is still in a Korybantic trance and flies
off on automatic pilot to whichever courtroom he habitually attends, the mere fact that it was unoccupied
at such an hour might not register in his semi-conscious state. This is why he thinks he is attending a trial
(ἐδίκαζεν) and it is his delusion which gives the audience something to laugh at.
122. διέπλευσεν εἰς Αἴγιναν
The harbour town of Aigina (17 miles from Peiraeus) is visible from the southern districts of Athens on a
clear day and would have been only a few hours’ sail with a moderate breeze. The islanders had close ties
with the Peloponnese (cf. foll. note) and so when war broke out with the League of Peloponnesian States
in 431 B.C., the Athenians judged it prudent to deny their enemies a base of operations so close to home.
Accordingly, one of their first moves was the annexation of the island and the expulsion of its inhabitants
(Thucydides 2.27.1). It seems possible that among those Athenian citizens sent to occupy the island were
the parents of the teenage Aristophanes (cf. Ἀχαρνεῖς 652-4).
Editors copy the codices in printing ξυλλ-, but a fifteenth-century manuscript (J) gives the spelling which
is usual elsewhere συλλαβεῖν (e.g. Πλοῦτος 1079, frg. 626) and seems supported by the variant σὺ λαβών
at Νεφέλαι 1169. We do not know what Aristophanes would have written.
123. εἰς Ἀσκληπιοῦ
The Athenians considered that the cult of the god Asklepios had originated at Epidauros in the Argolid
(cf. Pausanias 2.26.7). But, their first regular contact with its therapeutic practices was probably made on
the island of Aigina, where the cult had been established by Epidaurian settlers (cf. Herodotos 8.46.1,
Αἰγινῆται δὲ εἰσι ∆ωριέες ἀπὸ Ἐπιδαύρου). In describing the sights of Aigina town in his day Pausanias
noted (2.30.1), “The sanctuary of Asklepios is not here <in the town> but elsewhere. It has a marble
statue of the god seated.” [The site of the sanctuary has not yet been located. It may be presumed to lie
beneath a monastery, as the early-Christian monks were understandably loath to carry building material
any distance; cf. Synesios of Cyrene, Ἐπιστολή 126, dated c. 413 A.D.]. A fragment from the comic-poet
Telekleides quoted by Herodian (frg. 46), which mentions a red-faced man coming from Aigina may refer
to a patient who has just returned from an unsucessful visit to the shrine of Asklepios (cf. 1172).
With the annexation of the island, the worship of the god soon spread to Athens; no doubt assisted by the
arrival of the plague in 429 B.C. Aristophanes’ reference here shows that at this date no sanctuary of the
god yet existed in Attika. But, within a year or two of the first performance of Σφῆκες, sanctuaries of the
god had been established near the harbour of Zea at Piraeus and on the south flank of the Akropolis. The
latter actually abutted on the theatre of Dionysos and the tragedian Sophokles is said to have pronounced
the official hymn of welcome to the god (c. 421-20 B.C.).
νύκτωρ κατέκλινεν αὐτὸν
The phrase refers to the process of incubation (ἐγκοίµησις), by which cures were effected. Patients were
visited by the god in dreams at night as they lay asleep in the sanctuary and they awoke cured. In Πλοῦτος
(650 ff.) the eponymous god is cured of his blindness by a visit to the sanctuary of Asklepios.
[A recollection of the ancient practice seems to survive in the nocturnal rites employed on the eve of the
dormition of the Virgin (η κοιµησις της Θεοτοκου) on the island of Tinos, where the faithful come to be
cured and at which I once witnessed an attempted exorcism.]
124. ἐπὶ τῇ κιγκλίδι
Harpokration p.177.10 (Dindorf), αἱ τῶν δικαστηρίων θύραι κιγκλίδες ἐκαλοῦντο - “the doors of the law-
courts were known as κιγκλίδες”. Presumably, the word was cognate with δικλίδες - “folding-doors”. So,
the Father showed up “at the court doors” before the sun had risen. Only jurymen could go beyond these
lattice-work doors and they too would find their entrance barred once court-proceedings were underway
Recent commentators have assumed that, because Philokleon showed up at the gateway, and since they
take the pillar to which he clung earlier (105) to be outside the gate, he “must wait at the entrance until
the magistrate arrives” (Sommerstein). But, this is not a necessary deduction. The jurors were not about
to hang around outside in inclement weather. The magistrate’s role was simply to order the gate closed
when the court was in session (cf. 891-2).
Hall and Geldart adopt Nauck’s proposal ἐξεφρίεµεν over ἐξεφρίοµεν, the reading of the codices, but as
MacDowell comments, this does not get us far, because neither form of the verb is attested elsewhere.
127. καὶ τῶν ὀπῶν
Τhe ‘beast’ (4) which they are guarding now appears small enough to slip through chinks. It is another
example of the old man’s exaggeratedly slight stature or ‘waspish’-ness. [The ability of comic characters
to defy the laws of Physics is preserved, as Sommerstein perceptively notes, in the world of the modern,
129-30. ὡσπερεὶ κολοιὸς
Logically the phrase belongs at the end of the following line, because a bird could not be expected to fix
pegs in the wall. But, by bringing it forward the poet deliberately mixes up the characteristics of man and
bird in his simile (cf. 570, 977-8), while also allowing the isolated verb to have full effect; “he hopped it”!
In fact, the jackdaw has been selected because it could be tamed. The crow family are remarkable in their
ability to utilize ‘tools’, so if any bird could make use of pegs, it would be a jackdaw, albeit one too lazy
to actually fly over the wall (though perhaps we must assume its wings would have been clipped).
The Father and Son are finally introduced by name for comic effect. The names serve only to define their
political affiliations. As the dream of Sosias had indicated, the demagogue Kleon has polarized the citizen
body, even setting Father against Son.
ναὶ µὰ ∆ία
The slave takes an oath that he is telling the truth because the audience would find it hard to believe that a
person older than Kleon could have been named for him. They could only take the name as a nick-name.
135. τρόπους φρυαγµοσεµνάκους
Xanthias has already pointed out his master as the figure beneath the blankets, sleeping on the roof. His
tone then was dismissive and now he prepares us for what to expect. The Son aspires to be an upper-class
gentleman and puts on airs as if he were one. The word which the poet concocts to express this provides
us with the image of a high-strung horse, nosing the air nervously and snorting disdainfully, because the
horse was emblematic of the aristocracy.
136. ὦ Χανθία
The formal mode of address would be inappropriate for calling to slaves (cf. 433, 456), unless we suppose
that is an example of their master’s superior manner, “O Xanthias and Sosias, dost thou slumber?” On the
other hand, the timing suggests that we could punctuate ὤ, Ξανθία so that the slave’s mention of his well-
bred master is comically interrupted by a raucous yell from above. A similar interjection in Ἀχαρνεῖς can
be interpreted in the same way (259-60, cf.243).
137. τί ἔστι;
Evidently, Sosias has dozed off again and awakes with a start.
This word must have its usual meaning, “over here”, in spite of MacDowell’s denial. It indicates that the
Son has not been sleeping on the roof of the main building (which is roofed with tiles, cf. 206), but on the
flat roof of the bake-house, for warmth. So he is summoning one of the slaves over to the other side of the
139. εἰς τὸν ἰπνὸν εἰσελήλυθε
The manuscripts offer us a choice between εἰσελήλυθεν and ἐξελήλυθεν. MacDowell seems to me correct
in preferring the latter on the grounds that the prefix εἰς- is more likely to be the result of the influence of
the preceding preposition. It is also preferable for the practical consideration that, from his vantage-point
on the bake-house roof, Bdelykleon would only spot his father ‘emerging’ from the house. This, however,
begs the question of where Philokleon is going, if the ἰπνὸν is inside the house, as some have supposed?
For this reason, Sommerstein prefers to read εἰσελήλυθεν (RJ) - “he’s gone into the kitchen”. One has to
wonder, in this case, why Bdelykleon did not spot him in the courtyard before he ducked into the kitchen
and how he can see him scurrying around inside now. The more likely solution to the puzzle would seem
to be that the Father is only spotted as he emerges from the house and is clearly visible from the roof as
he scurries towards the ἰπνὸν (“baking-oven”). Our idea of a ‘kitchen’, as a separate room in the house
where all food preparation is carried out, has coloured our understanding of what is happening here.
Certainly, a fire would be kept burning in the hearth in winter-time, over which a cooking-pot would be
suspended or beside which items (marshmallows?) might be toasted, but roasting meat on a griddle or
baking bread and barley-cakes would require a closed oven, which generated greater temperatures (as
well as more smoke). Since this would also create a fire hazard, it would often be located against an outer
wall or in a covered area apart from the main building. Philokleon, therefore, is probably making a dash
for freedom towards the outhouse <in the courtyard> in the hope of getting over (or under) the outside
140. µυσπολεῖ τι
The phrase µυσπολεῖ τι (‘he is scurrying like a mouse a bit’) appears to have been coined by Aristophanes
to suit the situation. Our lexicon (LSJ) explains that the poet is punning on the verb µυστι̟ολεύει (‘he is
performing an initiation rite’) and although MacDowell finds the idea far-fetched, it is surely a possibility
worth considering, for even though the τι seems to attach rather better to the following word καταδεδυκώς
(“crouching a bit”), the coincidence of the syllables could have been quite evocative for his audience. The
Father’s movement may be mouse-like, but may have been reminiscent of the humble attitude adopted by
pious initiates. That said, I can see no way of reproducing the pun in English.
Rogers proposed reading the middle voice µυσπολεῖται which gives the same sense, but breaks the run of
short syllables that might have been intended to echo the meaning.
141. κατὰ τῆς πυέλου τὸ τρῆµ(α)
The usual meaning of πυέλος in comic-drama is ‘bath-tub’ or ‘trough’. It would be located in the annexe,
because the privy was often adjacent. Indeed, in another play, Aristophanes deliberately confuses an ἰπνός
with a privy (frg. 369, τὸν κοπρῶνα). So, in an age which lacked for toilet-tissue, the πυέλος might have
functioned as a kind of bidet. We do not need to find a specialized meaning (LSJ ‘vat’) on the assumption
that the ἰπνός was inside the house. The Son is concerned that his father will try to slip through the hole in
the outer wall through which the waste-water ran into the street!
142. σὺ δὲ τῇ θύρᾳ
Commentators have generally felt that one of the slaves must have exited to prevent the father’s escape by
guarding the rear of the house, and that the Son’s instruction is addressed to whichever of the two slaves
remains on stage. But if one is to remain, it becomes difficult to agree on which it is. Hall and Geldart call
him Sosias, but other editors follow Beer, who identified him as Xanthias. However, I do not feel that we
have to assume that the door here is the same door as that mentioned by the slave in line 152. In my view,
both slaves can remain on stage. The one addressed here is probably Sosias, who has only just woken up
and is content to guard the house (just in case), while his fellow-slave Xanthias hurries across to examine
the door of the bake-house.
ταῦτ(α), ὦ δέσποτα
The slave’s abbreviated reply (cf. 843, 851) shows him to be complying with the order speedily.
143. ἄναξ Πόσειδον
Bdelykleon hears a muffled noise reverberating from the chimney and at first, fears an earthquake; hence,
the invocation to Poseidon, the Earth-shaker. The chimney belongs, of course, to the baking-oven.
The brief action on the ‘roof-top’ would only have been possible through the recent introduction of the
permanent, stone paraskenion. The father’s head would have been clearly visible to the whole audience
thanks to the slope of the theatre’s cavea. In Ἀχαρνεῖς (262), Dikaiopolis instructs his wife to watch the
Dionysiac rites from the roof-top.
145. ξύλου τίνος σύ;
In tragic-drama it was conventional to introduce a character on stage by asking them to give their ancestry
(cf. 185), but since it would make no sense to ask from whom ‘Smoke’ was descended, the Son turns the
convention on its head. It is a reversal of what is expected, reminiscent of Wilde’s quip about a character
“rising from the ranks of aristocracy”.
Commentators usually assume that any reference to ‘fig-wood’ is a weak pun on συκοφάντης, originally
denoting ‘one who informed on illegal exporters of figs’ but in Aristophanes’ day used of ‘someone who
makes malicious accusations’. So, we can take the old man to be saying that his livelihood as a juror is
supported by malevolent litigators (cf. 897).
The wood has very little use, and consequently perhaps the word is applied to ‘worthless’ people (σύκινοι
ἄνδρες) with the sexual connotation of men who are not much use as men. The fruit it bears (σῦκον) was
considered, when ripe, to resemble the female vagina, but the ‘male’ tree bears an early crop of false-figs
which never ripen, so that a play on words between ‘figs’ and ‘fags’ is hard to avoid in English.
147. ἐρρήσεις γε
The codices read εἰσερρήσεις (J) or ἐρρήσεις (R), but recent editors have agreed on ἐσερρήσεις, because
the prefix εἰς- does not scan. In either case, it would be the future tense of εἰσέρρω, a verb which is used
by Aristophanes elsewhere meaning ‘to go inside’ (cf. Ἱππεῖς 4, εἰσήρρησεν ἐς τὴν οἰκίαν - “he entered
the household”). Although this makes sense, it has led modern editors to try to capture the force of γε by
bringing a note of exasperation to the Son’s voice - “Get inside, damn you”! Whatever has become of his
An alternative emendation might substitute a humorous tone in keeping with the son’s earlier demeanour.
The verb εἰσρήγνυµι (-ρήσσω) would provide us with the reading εἰσερήσσεις, which even though not a
known constituent of Aristophanic vocabulary, could add a fresh connotation to the Son’s advice to his
father. Under normal circumstances a householder might seek to stop a burglar breaking into his house,
here it is the householder himself trying to break out. So, it is the Son’s polite suggestion that he should
kindly break back into the house. While the form διαρρήγνυµι would apply for ‘breaking and entering’,
we can presume that εῖσρήγνυµι would be suitable for simple ‘unlawful (or irregular) entry’.
Austin (1973) supports Wilamowitz’s proposal to read οὔτι χαιρήσεις γε, although this would duplicate
the expression used a little later (cf. 186).
Once the Father’s head has ducked down out of sight, his son searches around to find a τηλία (‘a wooden
board with a raised rim’). In other contexts this object matches the description given it by a scholion here,
σανὶς βαθεῖα ἐν ᾗ τὰ ἄλφιτα ἐν τῇ ἀγορᾷ ἐπίπρασκον - “a wide board on which barley-groats were sold
in the market”, e.g. Pherekrates mentions a slave shopping from a number of ‘stalls’ or vendors’ ‘tables’,
ἀπὸ πολλῶν τηλίων (frg. 132). But it is hard to see how a flat, wooden board suitable for a breadseller’s
wares or dicing or the staging of a cock-fight would be of much practical use here. It is not unlikely that a
householder would cover his chimney-top in bad weather to prevent the ingress of rain, or snow or wind,
but, a wooden board would be liable to rot and would require weighting with a heavy object as a matter of
course, so as not to be blown away. If the fire were lit it would be at risk of charring, even if inverted on
A more practical solution would be a ceramic ‘chimney-pot’. It would take the shape of an inverted bowl
with perforations to allow smoke to escape and be sufficiently heavy to stay in place for the duration of
the bad weather, though it might well require additional weighting to prevent bodies of smoke escaping.
So, instead of τηλία, I would suggest reading, ποῦ ’σθ’ ἡ πηλίνη;
Bdelykleon reflects that, since his father was pretending to be a plume of smoke in order to escape up the
chimney, people will start to call him the son of ‘Smoky’ (Καπνίας), which according to a scholiast, was
the sobriquet of an earlier comic-poet, Ekphantides (cf. 57 note). The pun is a simple one and would have
induced a satisfying groan from the audience. But, there was humour to be found also in the reluctance of
one of Aristophanes’ characters to be mistaken for one of his rival’s. MacDowell suggests that this might
have been because the older poet was “an inferior dramatist” and had earned his nick-name “because of
the obscurity of his writing”. He is adopting the view of Hesychios who had said that the poet was called
‘Smoky’, διὰ τὸ µηδὲν λαµπρὸν γράφειν (κ 716), “because he wrote nothing transparent”.
However, it is worth quoting the scholion: τὸν ὑπεκλυόµενον οἶνόν φασί τινες καπνίαν λέγεσθαι· ἐν δὲ
τοῖς περὶ Κρατίνου διώρισται, ὅτι τὸν ἀπόθετον ἢ καὶ παλαιόν. διὸ καὶ Ἐκφαντίδην «Καπνίαν» καλοῦσιν,
from which it is clear that the word ‘smoky’ is in fact being used in a technical sense to describe wine, so
that it can be interpreted either as ‘cloudy’ in appearance or ‘smoky’ in taste. But, commentators seem to
assume that, since the Son is complaining about the possibility of being related to Ekphantides, the nick-
name must have been used pejoratively, i.e. the cloudy look indicated that it had gone off. However, wine
is judged primarily on taste, and what we call ‘corked’ would likely have been called ‘vinegary’. It might,
in fact, have been an accolade for wine to be called ‘smoky’, just as it is for single-malt whiskies from the
isle of Islay nowadays. So, instead of interpreting the scholiast’s words in the sense that wine is “starting
to go off (ὑπεκλυόµενον), “discarded” (ἀπόθετον) and “too old” (παλαιόν), one might suppose the terms
to be meant approbatively.
“Some <sources> say that wine that has been reduced is called ‘smoky’, while in <commentaries> on
Kratinos’s <works> ‘smoky’ is defined as put by or vintage. This is why Ekphantides was nick-named
Of course, if Kratinos had coined the name for his contemporary, he may well have played on ambiguity.
A.M. Wilson (1973) has raised doubts over the relevance of the scholion, suggesting that the epithet was
used more widely to denote a person that gives himself airs. As we shall see later, the expression son of a
Sellos made a connection between smoke and boastfulness (cf. 324-5). But, although Bdelykleon may be
aiming above his social status, one can hardly call Philokleon ‘a vain-boaster’ and to say, as Sommerstein
does, that he himself had claimed to be a puff of smoke, defeats the supposed connection.
152. <ὅδε> τὴν θύραν ὠθεῖ
The first part of the line has raised problems. The codices have someone calling out, τὴν θύραν ὤθει -
“push the door!” But, it is unclear who is calling to whom and why. Also, we are missing half a metrical
foot into the bargain. The Aldine editor supplied an extra syllable, printing, παῖ, τὴν θύραν ὤθει - “push
the door, boy!” which left no doubt that the words were spoken by the Son to a slave. But, this raised the
question of how the Son could have known that the Father was pushing at the door. It was Hermann who
first realized that the verb could not be an imperative and suggested emending it to the indicative ὠθεῖ -
someone “is pushing the door” (the same error of accentuation occurs in Euripides Ἰφιγ. Ταυρ. 1395). To
make up the metre, he proposed substituting ὅδε for παῖ at the beginning. His proposal has been adopted
by Hall and Geldart, whereas Rogers supplied νῦν as an alternative to ὅδε.
MacDowell, however, saw that the Aldine editor had in fact preserved the original text, only instead of
the phrase being spoken by a single speaker, it could be split between two, neither of whom was the Son.
He gave the first word to the old man calling angrily to the slave from behind the closed door, while the
rest of the phrase is spoken by the slave suddenly waking up to the pressure on the door (cf. also 155n.).
Presumably, at some point, the word παῖ had been copied by mistake as παῖς and taken extra versum to
signify the speaker, only to be dropped later on when the presumed imperative made this attribution seem
The Son’s irritation had given way to weariness at the end of his previous speech. Now, the slave’s shout
from below has put him on his mettle again and he issues a series of rapid-fire instructions, καὶ...καὶ...καὶ
153. εὖ κἀνδρικῶς
At this point, when push comes to shove, the audience is reminded of two opposing hoplite lines pushing
against one another. This imagery gives rise to the otherwise unexpected εὖ κἀνδρικῶς, which is perhaps
an echo of the captain’s voice (from the rear) exhorting his men to give it all they’ve got? (cf. 450). There
is a similar exhortation in Βαβυλώνιοι (frg. 87), the nautical command, ἐς τὸν λιµένα, i.e. ‘put your backs
into it, because we’re almost home…and because people are watching us’.
Sommerstein and Henderson accent proparoxytone, κατάκλῃδος, while MacDowell prefers the prosaic
Attic form κατάκλειδος. Regardless of orthography, I think the term must be understood to relate to the
‘method by which the door is closed’ rather than another separate ‘lock’ (as maintained by LSJ). Despite
the connecting particle, the following clause stands in apposition to it. Thus, the Son orders, “make sure
the door is securely barred…and (as an afterthought) make sure he doesn’t gnaw the pin out of the bar”.
Clearly, the door is barred and bolted from the outside, for were it otherwise, there would be no point in
Philokleon trying to push the door open. But, as commentators have noted, the door of a dwelling-house
would normally open inwards and be barred from the inside. Therefore, they conclude that Aristophanes
has chosen to reverse the situation for comic effect, in order to stress the extra measures taken to prevent
the old man’s egress. In such case, however, the barring would be of little effect. The most it could hope
to achieve would be to stop Philokleon bursting the door off its hinges. This, at least, is how Sommerstein
interprets the situation, following a suggestion by Bader (1971). Dale (1957) had already suggested that
the bar was only imaginary anyway.
But, there is no need to make excuses for an incongruity, if we take the Son’s instructions to the slave as
additional evidence that the father is trapped in the bake-house which contains the oven. As an annexe of
the main house the bake-house is shut from the outside and since its interior space is probably somewhat
limited, its door can swing outwards.
155. φύλατθ’ ὅπως
Hall and Geldart adopted Elmsley’s proposal to emend the reading of the codices φύλαττέ θ’ ὅπως, but
MacDowell, supposing the emendation to be based on metrical grounds, preferred to defend the codices.
However, (like Sommerstein) I think that Elmsley’s text reads better because it brings into clearer focus
the close relationship of the bar (µοχλοῦ) and pin (βάλανον) as in line 200.
τὴν βάλανον ἐκτρώξεται
The Son warns the slave to ensure that the old man does not gnaw at the pin which holds the bar in place.
His anxiety stems from a belief that his father resembles a rodent, an idea implanted in his mind when he
spotted him scurrying round the back of the bake-house. The absurd notion will be picked up again later
(204-5) and (367-71). Here the possibility is aided by the ambiguity of the word βάλανον which can also
mean an ‘acorn’; something that household vermin would chew through. But the overall sense is far less
innocent, because the βάλανον is only the ‘head’ of the locking-pin (cutting this off would cause the pin
to drop through and free the bar) and in the lect of Comedy the term conjures another meaning, the acorn-
shaped tip of a penis (cf. Λυσιστράτη 413, for a similarly-contrived crude joke). The Latin equivalent of
βάλανος provides us with our anatomical term ‘glans’ (cf. also 200).
However, in order to achieve his surreal pun the poet asks his audience to overlook the impracticality of
the action, for the bar is pinned on the outside, while the ‘mouse’ is on the inside. This obstacle could be
obviated by assuming that the door has an upper section which opens separately like a stable-door, or at
least a window through which the old man might stick his head to get at the lock-pin. The appearance of
Philokleon’s head at this opening would explain why the slave thought that he was pushing at the door in
the first place; a fact which would not have been immediately apparent otherwise. Furthermore, because a
net partially obscures this opening (cf. 164), the slave and the audience might not have spotted the head
unless it had spoken. Consequently, MacDowell’s perceptive attribution of παῖ to Philokleon becomes a
156. ὦ µιαρώτατοι
As the plural verbs indicate, the old man is railing at all his persecutors, so a sudden switch to the singular
ὦ µιαρώτατε as Sommerstein prefers is not justified on the grounds of it being the lectio difficilior found
in one manuscript (J/Vp3).
157. ἐκφεύξεται ∆ρακοντίδης
The verb implies the defendant’s guilt, “he will get himself off” (i.e. escape punishment, since Philokleon
will not be in court to cast the crucial vote against him, (cf. 994).
We do not know why Philokleon mentions this particular public figure, but presumably he was a political
opponent of Kleon and a person over whom the members of the audience would be divided in their views.
Of the people bearing the name perhaps the most likely is a man from Aphidnai who is singled out by the
comic poet Plato in his Σοφισταί as a regular defendant in court, a man who held pronounced oligarchical
views (cf. frg. 148). Mattingly (1961) considered the candidates and suggested another individual.
However, the reason for mentioning ‘Drakontides’ here may have nothing to do with current litigation, as
is generally supposed, but be due to the aptness of his name (‘descendant of Drakon’) to one who escapes
punishment when his putative forbear had been notoriously harsh in his penalties, like Philokleon himself
(cf. 106). The second reference to him later (438) is certainly introduced as mere word-play on his name
and so here it may just be ‘the son of a snake’ who is wriggling out of his just desserts.
158-60. ὁ γὰρ θεὸς
The old man claims that ‘the god at Delphi’ (Apollo) had imposed upon him the religious duty of finding
every defendant guilty, presumably on the grounds that ‘all have sinned’. The poet seems to combine his
personal cynicism regarding traditional religion with a generally-held perception that courts erred on the
side of severity.
Though one codex (J) gives this line still to Philokleon, the main codices (RV) mark a new speaker for it.
It certainly reads better as a response from someone else commenting on his diminutive size and although
Hall and Geldart assign it to the Son, the proposal of Beer to put it in the mouth of Xanthias accords well
with the slave’s sarcasm elsewhere. For this type of mock horror cf. Ὄρνιθες 61, Ἄπολλον ἀποτρόπαιε,
τοῦ χασµήµατος - “Apollo preserve us, what a gaping maw!”
At first sight, the reading of the codices (ἔκφερε) seems an inappropriate thing for the old man to say, so
Buttmann’s alternative (ἔκφρες) has been adopted universally. But, the consensus of the codices ought to
give us pause to reconsider. In Comedy the persistent problem of the elderly is the tendency of their weak
bladders to intrude on the drama at inopportune moments and the Father’s anxiety here that he is about to
explode (µὴ διαρραγῶ) may not refer simply to his “passion” (as MacDowell felt), or his “frustration and
anger” (Sommerstein), but to the call of Nature. In which case, the continuing emphasis on his small size
suggests that perhaps the poet is resurrecting a comic situation from Νεφέλαι (1386-90) where another old
man complains that his adult son did not carry him outside when he was crying out to relieve himself, οὐκ
ἔτλης ἔξω ’ξενεγκεῖν...θύραζέ µ(ε). Moreover, the threat that he will lose his temper, if the slave does not
let him out, would carry little weight (cf. 198), whereas the thought of the mess he might have to clean up
could well serve as a more persuasive argument for a slave.
We may compare Ἱππεῖς 701, κἂν...ἐπιδιαρραγῶ - “even if I burst”.
163. µὰ τὸν Ποσειδῶ
The slave will not be frightened by any violent eruption and calls the Earth-shaker to affirm his defiance.
As we had been informed earlier (131), nets have been strategically spread around the courtyard to catch
the ‘bird’-man, if he takes flight. The fact that one is covering the bake-house door is an indication that
this avenue of escape has been foreseen, even though it seems hardly practicable to a logical mind and did
not stop him getting in.
165. οὐκ ἔχεις ὀδόντας
In view of his age it is hardly surprising that he is sans teeth, but his son’s fear that he is still capable of
gnawing away the head of the locking-pin will shortly be confirmed when he succeeds in chewing up the
netting (cf. 371).
The Father makes a histrionic plea to an unseen (and imaginary) servant to bring him a weapon. Ηis plea
mirrors the action of tragic heroes (Sommerstein cites Klytaimestra in Aischylos’s Χοηφόροι 889), but his
weapon of choice turns out to be a legal instrument.
Having just learned that the old man consistently votes ‘guilty’, we are again reminded that he also votes
for the harsher penalty of the two. We had been told that his nails were regularly caked in beeswax from
the long lines drawn on his ‘tablet’ (106-8) and he now imagines himself taking revenge upon the slave in
a court of law.
168. δρασείει κακόν
The Son has now arrived on the scene and changes the course of the dialogue with an interjection echoing
his father’s paratragic tone. He may, actually, be quoting a well-known line from a tragic-drama. But, his
meaning fits the situation since he realizes that the old man is intent on escaping so that he can ‘do some
damage’ in the courtroom (cf. 322, κακόν τι ποιῆσαι).
His plan to get out through the bake-house flue foiled and his plea to be allowed out to relieve himself
ignored, the old man hastily comes up with a pretext for being in the annexe. He claims that he wanted
only to take the donkey to market to sell.
170. αὐτοῖσι τοῖς κανθηλίοις
The panniers would not normally be sold with the beast, but the scheme he has in mind requires that they
be included in any deal.
171. νουµηνία γάρ ἐστιν
For the purposes of the drama it just happens to be the first day of the month when the monthly market in
slaves and livestock was held (cf. e.g. Ἱππεῖς 43-4, where we are told that ‘Mr Joe Public’ has just ‘bought
his new slave at the previous first-of-the-month’ - τῇ προτέρᾳ νουµηνίᾳ ἐπρίατο δοῦλον). Coincidentally,
it was also the day when the courts began hearing cases of unpaid debt and this is the real reason why the
old man is so keen to get out (cf. 96).
κἂν ἐγὼ αὐτὸν
The Aldine editor preferred to read κ’ αὐτὸς ἂν, but we are better served with the pronoun as the object.
MacDowell says that Philokleon addresses “a slave inside the house (invisible to the audience)”. But, he
is not in the house and we have no reason to suppose that he has company in the annexe. He is talking to
the slave outside and trying to get him to open the door on the pretext of letting the ass out.
174-5. πρόφασιν καθῆκεν
The metaphor here suggests that the Father is trying to turn the tables on his son, who has been acting like
a bird-catcher and using nets to trap him (cf. 131 and 164). He decides to ‘lower a decoy’, with the aim of
hoisting him in a net or catching him out with a trip-wire instead. For πρόφασιν see 468.
The slave does not say that his master would ‘send out’ the donkey, but that he “would have him led out”.
The verb πέµπω, as often, is used in the sense of ‘accompany’ or ‘escort’ (cf. 299).
Commentators have drawn a comparison with a phrase used in Θεσµοφοριάζουσαι 928, ἡ µήρινθος οὐδὲν
ἔσπασεν - “the line has drawn nothing” which may be meant as a metaphor from fishing, suggesting that
the Father has lowered a baited hook, which the Son has declined to swallow. This seems quite possible,
although if we are meant to supply ἡ µήρινθος it is interesting that Homer uses the word for a cord which
tethers a bird (Ἰλιάς 23.854).
The verb τεχνάοµαι, a constituent of tragic vocabulary (cf Sophokles Αἴας 86), is used in an active sense.
It represents Baldrick’s ‘cunning plan’.
177. εἰσιών µοι...δοκῶ
Although the Son has been ‘fooled’ into undertaking the sale of the donkey, the slave’s use of ἐκπέµψειας
should not be taken to imply that his master will lift a finger. It is the cocky slave who volunteers to go in
and fetch the animal so that ὁ γέρων (rather than ὁ πατήρ) does not slip out along with the donkey. It was
Beer who first suggested that this was more likely than the languid Son entering the work place to fetch a
beast of burden in person. He assigned 177-82 to Xanthias and, although the second couplet could belong
to the Son, he was correct about 177-8. MacDowell objects that “it would be inappropriate for a slave to
make a decision of this sort”, but the slave has to be ready to act on his own initiative; knowing that if he
doesn’t show willing, no-one else will (cf. 211).
Elmsley proposed reading the future infinitive ἐξάξειν, which is apposite but not essential.
178. µηδὲ παρακύψῃ πάλιν
One would expect the slave’s aim to be that of preventing the Father from sneaking out, but he declares
instead that he will ensure that “he does not so much as peep out again” (cf. Εἰρήνη 982 and 985, where
the verb is used of adulterous wives peeping out to see if the coast is clear). But, it is difficult to see how
this could be achieved, short of tying the old man up hand and foot, so we must take his words as comic
exaggeration. An alternative might be to read παρακρύψῃ, making sure that “he does not conceal himself
from <us> again”.
The practical presentation of this scene must have required some kind of stage property. Perhaps, a latter-
day Epeios was called upon to construct a wooden donkey beneath which Philokleon could be suspended.
Like the Trojan horse it would have needed wheels and the slave would have needed a strong arm to ‘lead
out’ the beast. A simpler alternative would have been for the donkey to comprise two silent actors (or not-
quite-silent actors!) with suitably hairy legs carrying a pole between them. Philokleon would have had his
legs wrapped around the pole, while hanging from it by his arms. A hair blanket (or σάγµα) flung over the
pole, along with the panniers mentioned in line 170, would have concealed all but his bald head, dangling
underneath. The physical constraints clearly indicate once again the need for an actor of small proportions
to fill the Father’s role.
Since Xanthias has led out the donkey oblivious to the Father’s presence, it is likely that the other slave
(who remained on stage) spots the old man.
Brunck recognized that this word is an interjection by a slave. It could belong to either one of them, but I
have assigned it to Sosias, who first spotted the stow-away.
τουτὶ τί ἦν;
Both the hiatus and the imperfect tense arouse suspicion (one would expect τουτὶ τί δή). But, such hiatus
was admitted and the idiom occurs too often to be an error, e.g. Ἀχαρνεῖς 157, Ὄρνιθες 1495, Βάτραχοι
39. Apparently, where we would say ‘what is that?’ the Athenian said “what was this?” (cf. 1509).
The spectators have already guessed that Aristophanes is parodying the scene in the Ὀδύσσεια where the
wily hero and his men make their escape from the cave of Polyphemos by clinging to the undersides of
the giant’s gigantic sheep. The old man naively believes that by claiming to come from Odysseus’s island
he can use the same ruse and get away. He concocts a fictional name Ἀποδρασιππίδης (‘son of get-away
horse’) to point up the fact that he is actually using what he hoped would have been a ‘get-away donkey’.
The text is based on Elmsley’s emendation.
187. ὦ µιαρώτατος
The speaker uses the nominative (cf. 900), and not the vocative, as a form of sarcastic expostulation. We
can understand the omega by crasis as, ὢ, ὁ µιαρώτατος - “Oh, the utter scoundrel!” The exclamation has
always been included in the Son’s speech, but such an impassioned epithet is better used of the Father by
one of the slaves.
188. ὥστ(ε) ἔµοιγ(ε)
This remark is held to be the continuation of the Son’s speech, but appears to come from another speaker
(cf. 642) and its coarseness suggests that it is more likely to come from the churlish Xanthias.
The word κλητήρ occurs four times in this play (cf.1310, 1408 and1416) as well as twice in Ὄρνιθες (147
and 1422). It relates to the legal procedure of a plaintiff lodging an official complaint against a defendant
in the presence of a ‘summons-witness’. The witness to the summons was called a κλητήρ and the act of
witnessing was denoted by the verb κλητεύω (cf. Νεφέλαι 1218, ἕλκω σε κλητεύσοντα - “I am dragging
you <along> to witness the summons”). These forms, like the verb προσκαλοῦµαι for ‘summonsing’ (cf.
1417), derive ultimately from καλέω. Hence, Plato speaks of προσκλήσεων καὶ κλητήρων (Νόµοι 846γ).
In the works of Aristophanes, however, the word has been invested with a secondary sense, which (as far
as we can tell) was his own innovation. It is not recorded in any ancient lexicon and consequently, has not
been picked up by the scholiasts. According to Vaio (1971), the first to appreciate the secondary meaning
was the poet and philologist Conz in his annotations (published posthumously in 1829). He discerned that
the word κλητήρ must apply to the donkey and drew the reasonable conclusion that the poet must equate
an ass with a sunmmons-witness, because they both ‘make a complaint’ (καλεῖ). Vaio (p. 341-2, note 29)
objects on the grounds that the verb καλέω is unsuited to animal sounds. His argument is open to question
in Comedy where pigs and cockerels ‘sing’, but is immaterial in any case since Aristophanes is not basing
his pun on καλέω but κλαίω. He has already flagged the joke from the start when the animal was led onto
the stage and the Son asked it why it was crying (179, κάνθων, τί κλάεις ;), so we can understand that his
pun is actually on κλητήρ with κλαυτήρ (‘one who cries or complains’). Consequently, whereas Vaio has
denied any secondary sense to κλητήρ and concluded that it “means only summons-witness”, I consider it
more likely that the word has been introduced to confuse the audience and that its original meaning is not
material. In the first place, there can be no doubt that the speaker is referring to the donkey and, whether
the animal’s bray is analogous to calling or crying, it has no connection with a ‘summons-winess’ who is
always silent in Aristophanes’ plays. Besides, whatever meaning we may assign to πωλίῳ, it is clear that
the word relates in some way to the donkey. Any attempt to make a connection with a summons-witness,
such as Sommerstein’s “the foal of a summoner-ass” (perhaps he meant summoner’s ass), leads us off on
a tangent. It is only the Father who has legal matters on the brain and we cannot assume that a summoner
or his witness invariably went mounted on an ass.
If, then, we translate the reading of the codices, the slave is observing that the donkey definitely seems to
be foaling. This may allude partly to the fact that the Father has no teeth and so is ‘unweaned’ like a new-
born foal. But, a suggestion by Bowie (1990) gives a further dimension to the humour. In suggesting that
Aristophanes may have written ψωλίῳ (‘circumcised pizzle’) for πωλίῳ, he raises the possibility that the
poet was trying to divide the audience. Those at the front would have heard the slave say ‘foal’ but some-
one further back might ask his neighbour, ‘did he say pole?’ The diminutive form of the word speaks to
the Father’s small stature and we can perhaps deduce his baldness from the comparison as well. In either
case, Sommerstein (addenda p.xxviii) is on shaky ground in arguing for Philokleon’s head being toward
the rear of the animal. For practical purposes this would make it hard for him to speak, but whatever the
comparison, the head of the foal or the pizzle must point forward.
190. µ(ε) ἐάσεθ’ ἥσυχον
After the imperative we must understand an infinitive (cf. 340, οὐκ ἐᾷ µε...δικάζειν - “he does not let me
serve in juries”, Νεφέλαι 38, ἔασον...καταδαρθεῖν τί µε - “let me get some sleep”; Νεφέλαι 932, τοῦτον δ’
ἔα µαίνεσθαι - “let this fellow go on raving”) and if one follows the Aldine editor in emending to ἥσυχον
<µένειν>, then the old man is telling his persecutors to let him stay where he is. But, ‘let me be!’ could be
expressed by µ’ ἐάσετε alone without the qualifying adjective (I do not suppose anyone means ἥσυχον to
be taken adverbially). The codices, on the other hand, read ἡσύχως, which presupposes a verb of motion
such as φεύγειν. This better expresses the Father’s ultimate aim, and so would make a pertinent addition.
191. µαχεῖ νῷν
MacDowell points to the use of the dual here as an indication that only one slave accompanies the Son at
this point. Although the dual is occasionally used as a convenient metrical alternative to the plural ἡµῖν, it
normally refers to two parties of whom the one is the speaker and the other is one or more persons being
addressed (cf. 307, 310, 316; Sophokles Ἀντιγώνη 3), i.e. ‘us’ in the sense of ‘you and I’ (and not ‘a third
party and I’). This means that a verb in the second person is awkward in itself. His father has just warned
that ‘we will come to blows’, to which the Son apparently replies ‘what will you fight with us about?’ But
the natural reply would be ‘what will we come to blows about?’ The Son is thinking about an argument
between his father and himself alone, therefore, I suspect that one should read περὶ τοῦ µάχη νῷν δῆτα;
(sc. ἔσται). The future form of the verb has been introduced to match the abbreviated future tense in the
previous line simply because the ellipse was not appreciated.
Of course, the Son is not about to fight his father, as µάχη can be used of a verbal altercation (cf. 471-2).
He would leave any physical persuasion up to the two slaves struggling to dislodge Philokleon (although
someone should really be holding the donkey’s tether to keep it from wandering off) and, in fact, I would
assign this line to one of the slaves anyway.
περὶ ὄνου σκιᾶς
The literal translation ‘to come to blows over a donkey’s shadow’ would convey very little to a modern
audience. It would suggest that perhaps the father has taken the role of shadow upon himself. However,
the phrase was proverbial and carried the sense of a pointless or trivial disagreement. It is used again by
Aristophanes in ∆αίδαλος (frg. 199). As a reference to the donkey needs to be kept for continuity, I have
suggested a different, contemporary usage.
192. πονηρὸς εἶ
The Son now seems to ignore the last three lines of dialogue altogether by suddenly breaking into a litany
of his father’s faults. Thus Barrett has, “You’re a rotten, devious, wayward old man”, and Sommerstein
proposes, “You’re a bad one you are - a real expert and a real daredevil.” But, such openly vituperative
remarks do not fit the context and nor do they seem to suit the Son’s mild demeanour. We might do better
to maintain his supercilious tone and to take these characterizations of the Father as a comparison relating
to the donkey standing between them. In this respect, the moral sense of πονηρὸς is less appropriate here
than the basic meaning of ‘oppressed’ or ‘burdened’. It is an epithet used by the Son again later when he
becomes annoyed with the obtuseness of his slaves (cf. 214, 223).
The gloss provided by a scholiast οὐκ ἀπὸ τέχνης, which LSJ interprets as φύσει, would qualify πονηρὸς
to produce “naturally wicked”, but surely overstretches the text. In fact, instead of meaning “far advanced
in artifice” (Hickie) or “far advanced in skill” (MacDowell), i.e. ‘adroit’, the phrase may actually be used
to mean the opposite, ‘far off from skill’, i.e. ‘clumsy’. It may only be a verbal echo, but there appears to
be a correlation with a more prosaic phrase employed by Phrynichos, πονηρὸς εἶναι τὴν τέχνην - “being
inept at his craft” (frg. 56).
This adjective seems to confirm that the poet intended the audience to view the Son’s remarks in the light
of their animal associations. MacDowell correctly observes that the traditional translation of the adjective
‘reckless’ has no application here. We would need some suggestion of κίνδυνος to go with it. In fact, the
poet seems to be making a complex pun on παρ-ἄβολος, ‘an old horse that, like a foal that has yet to shed
its milk teeth, cannot shed what he has no longer got’. For good measure παράβολος may also refer to his
position on the ground, ‘like a bale of hay thrown beside an animal for fodder’.
So, we can take the Son to be using the presence of the donkey to pass critical, yet sympathetic, comment
on his father’s situation. But, there is undeniable ambiguity in the terms used and we appreciate why this
should be, when the Father responds, for it shows that the poet has deliberately sown confusion for comic
193-4. πονηρὸς ἐγώ;
Philokleon straightaway seizes on the first word, πονηρὸς, and assumes that it was meant pejoratively. He
objects that he is not “morally bad”. We know that he has taken it negatively, because he counters it with
ἄριστος, which can only be taken as ‘very good’. This reveals his inability to grasp his son’s meaning, for
πονηρός need not have a pejorative sense when coupled with ἄριστος. This is demonstrated clearly in two
fragments of Hesiod’s Μεγάλαι Ἠοῖαι, cf. Merkelbach & West, Hesiod’s fragments Oxford, 1970, frg.248
and frg.249; M.Hirschberger, ‘Γυναικῶν Κατάλογος καὶ Μεγάλαι Ἠοῖαι’ Leipzig, 2004, pp.149-50, frg.10
and frg.11, which refer to Herakles as πονηρότατον καὶ ἄριστον, ‘a man profoundly afflicted by troubles
yet outstandingly noble’. Τhe hero himself vouches for his tribulations in Euripides Ἡρακλῆς 1353, ἀτὰρ
πόνων δὴ µυρίων ἐγευσάµην.
The Father then proceeds to compound his error by misinterpreting ἄριστον as well. Instead of taking it in
the moral sense which he has just given to πονηρός, he uses it to boast of his excellent physical condition.
Thus, his mental disorder appears beyond cure and his son gives up the unequal struggle.
οὐκ οἶσθα σὺ
We can be sure that there is no final sigma (cf. 4, οἶσθας) because the iambic metre requires that the final
iamb has short, open syllable before σύ, so the Father’s diction is correct.
The old man can speak properly but sometimes he has to grope for the right word. Here, a thing one eats
would have been a ὑπογαστρίδιον (e.g. Athenaios 3.113, λευκῶν ὑπογαστριδίων - “white pork-bellies”),
but what he means is a belly-punch, as he will later demonstrate (1384-5). The irony, of course, is that at
the moment he himself is a donkey’s ‘underbelly’. The joke works differently in English when one says
‘you could eat a knuckle-sandwich’.
The name of the court should be printed without aspiration (ἠλιαστικοῦ), cf. 772. The adjective is formed
like ἐκκλησιαστικός and is similarly used of pay received for attendance (e.g. Νεφέλαι 863, ὃν πρῶτον
ὀβολὸν ἔλαβον ἠλιαστικόν - “the first obol I got from serving in the Eliaia”). So, Philkleon is not simply
saying ‘from an old jury-man’ (γέρων ἠλιαστής) but stating defiantly that he is “an elder, a member of the
The Eliaia is mentioned here and at 88 (φιληλιαστής) and forms the basis of a pun later (772). Pausanias
(1.28.8) says that among the Athenian courts, “the greatest and the one at which the greatest number <of
jurors> meet to deliberate is called the Heliaia” (τὸ δὲ µέγιστον καὶ ἐς ὃ <οἱ> πλεῖστοι συνίασιν Ἡλιαίαν
καλοῦσιν). Levi’s “most used” is not justified by the verb σύνειµι. Pausanias clearly considered the term
topographical, but this may be due to a misunderstanding on his part.
196. ὤθει τὸν ὄνον καὶ σαυτὸν εἰς τὴν οἰκίαν
At this point, the Son has lost patience with his father’s antics and apparently orders him to “shove the ass
and your ass into the house.” My objection to this on the grounds that the donkey has no business being
in the house would cut no ice with those who believe that he had just been led out from there. But, there
may be some who share my doubt as to whether the Father could or would shove ‘himself’ back into the
house. It is logical for him to ‘let himself down’, ἵεις σαυτὸν κατὰ (355), but not to ‘pick himself up’ (cf.
996, ἔπαιρε σαυτόν). Besides, the comparable phrase, οὐκ ἀποδιώξει σαυτὸν - “won’t you drive yourself
away?” (Νεφέλαι 1296), is Elmsley’s misguided correction of the reading of the codices, οὐκ ἀποδιώξεις
αὐτὸν, which orders another slave to ‘drive him away’.
Apart from the physical impossibility of pushing himself inside, Philokleon might baulk at a new-minted
colloquialism, and it seems unlikely that he would meekly obey and lead the donkey back inside. Indeed,
the next line shows that he is under restraint and not about to go quietly, so perhaps we should address the
Son’s instructions to the two slaves in turn by apostrophizing σ(ὺ) before αὐτὸν. This splits the action into
two parts, i.e. one slave will “shove the donkey <back where he came from>” while the other will “shove
him (Philokleon) into the house” (cf. 199). Or, is this making the action too neat?
The old man takes advantage of the fact that he is briefly outdoors to summon his fellow-jurors. Another
old man calls his fellow-demesmen for help in similar fashion in Νεφέλαι (1322-3). In both cases the call
is purely for dramatic effect as no one (except the audience) is within earshot and no help arrives.
I break with tradition here to assign this line to the slave. It seems to suit his stroppy character better than
the mild-mannered Son.
The Son now sets the two slaves to work, rattling off a list of orders (while doing nothing himself). These
actions buy time for the Father to reach the upper storey for the next part of the scene.
199. πολλοὺς τῶν λίθων
His first order is for one of them to pile a lot of stones against the door. Presumably, he means the stones,
small cobbles or aggregate, covering the surface of the courtyard. But ‘many of the stones’ is not quite the
same as ‘many stones’. He might have been referring originally to πολλοὺς πλίνθους, perhaps? In records
of the temple of Demeter at Eleusis mention is made of unused building material which was kept stored to
make repairs when needed, and wood was likely too valuable for a householder to discard (cf. 148, 201).
The Son’s speech is notably alliterative. Was this possibly an allusion to the lamdacism of the upper-class
acolytes of Alkibiades?
200. τὴν βάλανον ἔµβαλλε
This instruction may be directed at Sosias who is locking up the donkey, but is more likely a reminder to
Xanthias to lock the house-door securely after depositing Philokleon inside. The instruction to “insert the
pin” is a double entendre (cf. 155). Most of the codices read ἔµβαλε, but the editor of the Aldine edition,
Musouros, saw that the form was both unmetrical and ungrammatical (cf. 204).
201. τῇ δοκῷ προσθεὶς
If one accepts the dative of the codices, then the ‘timber’ should probably be understood to mean the door
itself (MacDowell). But, based on the scholia, Dobree thought that we might read τὴν δόκον προσθεὶς as
a separate instruction to, “set a timber-beam against <the bar>”.
τὸν ὅλµον τὸν µέγαν
Hesychios defines an ὅλµος as “a circular stone of crystalline rock” (περιφερὴς λίθος µάρµαρος). It was
used for milling corn (and perhaps also for kneading dough cf. 238), so it probably stood beside the bake-
house. MacDowell, however, describes it as a ‘mortar’ and thinks that it would normally have been kept
indoors. Sommerstein agrees. But, this raises the question of how to reach it now the doors are secured.
At any rate, its purpose is to keep the timber-beam wedged tight against the bar of the door.
The reading of the codices, προσκύλιε, creates a hiatus, which the Aldine editor avoids by augmenting to
προσκύλιέ γ’. But, editors have preferred Cobet’s proposal to read προσκύλισον, even though they offer
no explanation as to how the mistake came about. The compound form προσ-κυλίω appears only in late
literature e.g. προσκυλίσας λίθον (κατὰ Ματθαῖον 27.60), where another round stone is used to block up
an entrance rather than an exit.
Xanthias, who is nearest the house-door, suddenly finds himself soiled by what appear to be droppings
from a bird or small rodent. Ancient audiences found such minor mishaps highly amusing. In Νεφέλαι
(172-4), a gecko is said to have defecated in Sokrates’ mouth. Here, the Son insouciantly suggests that a
mouse was responsible, but Sosias spies the culprit, a kind of bird which haunts the house-eaves like a
swift or a swallow, though this one usually haunts the law-courts (though not exactly a ‘legal eagle’).
The phrase “from somewhere up there” directs the audience’s attention to the top of the παρασκήνιον
where some part of the father’s anatomy has just appeared fleetingly. As the upper window is covered by
a net, the old man may have had to wriggle into the gap under the roof-tiles where the eaves overhang the
top of the outside wall.
I have assigned these lines to the second slave, who would be in a position to see what has just occurred.
We may not see the old man’s head, as he has evidently just defecated on the slave. Apparently, his claim
to be about to explode (162) was not entirely unfounded.
Commentators have seen no inconsistency between these roof-tiles and the fact that Bdelykleon has just
been portrayed as lying asleep on the roof.
207. στροῦθος ἁνὴρ γίγνεται
What had been merely an element of a disquieting dream in line 49, takes on a disturbing reality. We had
been warned too that the old man could ‘hop it’ like a jackdaw (129), but now he seems on the point of
taking flight like a sparrow.
The son is becoming paranoid. The old man is only trying to relieve himself, but his son suspects that he
is capable of giving them the slip by wizardry, even though logically there is no way down from the roof.
[The impasse is mirrored in Paul Simon’s ‘Save the life of my child’ with its heart-rending, matter-of-fact
ending “he flew away”.]
There are two reasons why the comic poet kept harping on the old-man’s bird-like behaviour (just as with
the ‘eagle’ Kleon and the ‘raven’ Theoros). One was the puerile tendency of upper class Athenians to use
birds’ names as nick-names for one another; a tendency Aristophanes would later push to the logical limit
in Ὄρνιθες. The other was a desire to parody the frequently-expressed wish of characters in Tragedy to be
turned into birds in order to escape physical or mental torment (e.g. Euripides Ἱππόλυτος 732 ff.).
209. σοῦ, σοῦ
The scaring tactics evidently succeed. Is this because the old man reacts like a bird, as MacDowell says,
or simply because he does not want an audience and hurriedly cuts short his business? I suspect we must
take a hint from the slave’s later comment (221-2) and suppose that he takes a practical course of action.
µοι κρεῖττον ἦν
The potential ἄν is omitted, but the meaning is “I would have been better off…” The admission perhaps
begs the question of how he himself has avoided active service. Perhaps, Kleon had called for volunteers
in which case ‘Bdely-Kleon’ would have been understandably reluctant to support him. Or we might take
his comment meta-theatrically, since comic-poets and actors seem to have enjoyed exemption from some
military service. In which case, one comic character is so exasperated by the behaviour of another that he
wishes he was not an actor! (cf. 150-1)
210. τηρεῖν Σκιώνην
In the winter of 422 B.C. an Athenian force under Kleon was still laying siege to Skione on the peninsula
of Chalkidike in an effort to prevent a contingent of Spartan ‘military advisors’ from sowing disaffection
among Athenian allies in the region (cf. 475).
Xanthias would quite like to get some sleep and hopes that the rest of the night will be quiet now that the
old man has been locked up again (cf. 5).
213. ὅσον ὅσον στίλην
The phrase is unparalleled, but it is thought to be a vernacular expression of ὅσον χρόνου στιγµήν - “for
just a moment”, as a poem in the Anthologia Palatina (7. 472) employs the phrase ὅσον ὅσσον στιγµή.
214. ὦ πόνηρ(ε)
As we heard earlier (cf. 192-3), the Son uses this adjective to characterize a person who is an ass; one for
whom thinking is hard work (πόνος) and hence, slow on the mental draw. ‘Sokrates’ addresses his slow-
witted pupil similarly in Νεφέλαι 687.
216. ὄρθρος βαθύς
Xanthias, who likes to get his sleep at night, expresses disbelief about the early arrival of the chorus-men,
because normally he would not have been awake to witness it. There is no inconsistency with his earlier
account of the old man’s nocturnal activity (104-5), as MacDowell claims, because Philokleon had waited
for the household to go to bed before slipping out πρῷ πάνυ.
The day has not yet dawned, but night is beginning to recede and the outline of Mount Hymettos shows
against a lightening sky. The adjective is used in temporal phrases to describe a ‘defining moment’, here
“the very break of day”. Cf. Plato Πρωταγόρας 310α, τῆς παρελθούσης νυκτὸς...ἔτι βαθέος ὄρθρου.
The Son knows how old men like his father are unable to sleep for very long at night. Whereas nowadays
an aged parent will wake early and switch on the radio, the jurors are accustomed to go around humming
old songs as they set off for the courts. Evidently, the Son’s sleep too has often been disturbed as a result.
Hall and Geldart print Kuster’s compromise between the reading of the codices (γὰρ...νῦν), and that of
the later fifteenth-century manuscripts and the Aldine edition (γοῦν...γε). Sommerstein and Henderson
prefer to follow Porson’s variation γ(ε) ἆρ(α)...νῦν.
It is not certain whether Aristophanes intended the first word to comprise part of his tortuous compound
(ἀρχαιοµελι-) as recent editors prefer to suppose. Some manuscripts write the second component as µελη
under the influence of the previous verse, but the poet must have meant µελι- (which is corroborated in
the Σοῦδα), as he speaks of Phrynichos’s sweetness of tone in Ὄρνιθες 748-50, ὡσπερεὶ µέλιττα Φρύνιχος
... φέρων γλυκεῖαν ᾠδάν. The third element evidently refers to a popular choral ode about Sidon from a
tragic-drama entitled Φοίνισσες. Aischylos’s Πέρσαι (472 B.C.), which is said to have been based on this
work, concerns the destruction of the Phoenician fleet off Salamis and the receipt of the news at its home
port. Phrynichos career had begun in the previous century and he seems not to have outlived his success.
222. τοῖς λίθοις
These must be the stones which were to be piled against the door, but the street is also strewn with loose
stones (cf. 247).
This form of the future is unique to this play (cf. 1491, βαλλήσει). In the mouth of the slave it might be
meant to signify coarseness (cf. 83).
The Son prepares us for the entry of the Chorus by warning the slave to be wary of the old men’s waspish
224. ὅµοιον σφηκιᾷ
The noun is used as an alternative to ἑσµός (cf. 1107) to mean a “swarm” of wasps. When the poet makes
specific reference to their ‘nests’ later, he employs the word ἀνθρήνια (1080).
225. κέντρον ἐκ τῆς ὀσφύος
It is MacDowell’s contention, based on this passage, that the “costume (of the chorus) is adapted to make
them look like wasps” (see p. 11 of his introduction). He maintains that this phrase means that they have a
sting “coming out of their backs”. Sommerstein and Henderson appear to take the same view as both talk
of a “sting sticking out from their rumps”. However, as MacDowell himself points out, the members of
the Chorus are not actually wasps; they merely possess some similar characteristics. One does not need to
suppose that the costume of the Chorus incorporated some pointy protrusion from their lower backs, since
they already have a strap-on phallos ‘protruding from their loins’ or lower abdomen, where a real wasp’s
sting would be. The poet’s point is that, in contrast to the fully-functional, abdominal appendage of much
younger men, these superannuated old men are merely metaphorically ‘prick’-ly.
228-9. ἐὰν ἐγὼ λίθους ἔχω
The slave assures the Son that the old jurymen will not be able to get near their fellow-juror, as long as he
does not run out of stones. The personal pronoun perhaps points to an anxiety he shares with the old man
that the stones necessary to his purpose may be in short supply (cf. 109-10). The fact that he expects to be
able to drive the jurors off with a shower of stones demonstrates that they are men not wasps. But, clearly,
Bdelykleon is not entirely reassured because instead of going back to his bed on the roof he finds himself
a makeshift bed in the yard, while the slaves settle themselves by the door and are soon fast asleep again.
Entry of the Chorus (Πάροδος) 230-272
The Chorus is comprised of old soldiers. Alhough too young to have fought in the battles which repelled
the Persian invaders, they perhaps saw service in the post-invasion campaigns of Kimon and Xanthippos
against various Persian trading-posts. Some of the names chosen by Aristophanes were real names, but
they mean little to us and were probably picked more for their significance.
Their first appearance on stage is comically pathetic. Age has humbled these old warriors, but yet they are
eager to remind us of their glory days. Sadly, the military exploit which comes most readily to mind is the
apparent theft of a kitchen utensil, plundered from the riches of Byzantion.
In the dark, swaddled in their cloaks, the members of the Chorus show little sign of waspish aggression. It
is only the reference to Laches’ ‘moneycomb’ and Kleon’s status as ‘(wasp)-keeper’ that remind us that
they are merely dormant for the present. Their movements are sluggish. They probably stumble and bump
into one another.
Originally, these introductory lines could have been assigned entirely to a single speaker; the leader of the
chorus. I have indicated how they might be distributed among the other members of the Chorus to enliven
the proceedings. This is purely personal caprice.
The use of iambic tetrameters here may be due, as MacDowell suggests, to the metre being suited to the
halting pace of senior citizens, since it is also employed for the aged choruses in Λυσιστράτη and Πλοῦτος.
MacDowell notes the preponderance of long syllables and concludes that, “the metre helps to convey the
impression that the old men are walking slowly”.
I agree with Sommerstein that this name probably relates to κῶµος, the riotous band of revellers in which
Κωµ-ῳδία is held to originate. But, it is interesting to note the variant reading ὦ ἀκµία in one manuscript
(J) which suggests that Aristophanes may have written Ἀκµαῖε (‘in the prime of life’) to provide a comic
counterpoint to the verb βραδύνεις (‘progress slowly’).
231. ἱµὰς κύνειος
The suppleness of a ‘dog-leash’ is axiomatic of his youthful agility.
Whoever Charinades was, he evidently had some mobility issues. As a wasp he was unlikely to have been
particularly obese, but he may have been handicapped by a limp or been sight-impaired. He gets a passing
mention in the following year’s Εἰρήνη (1155).
233. ὦ Στρυµόδωρε Κονθυλεῦ
The name Strymodoros is a reminder of Kimon’s destruction of Eïon in Thrace, the Persian stronghold on
the river Strymon, nearly half a century earlier (cf. Ἀχαρνεῖς, 273 - τὴν Στρυµοδώρου Θρᾷτταν as well as
Λυσιστράτη 259). The mention of his deme appears to indicate that he was a real person and the accolade
“best of jurymen” points to his enthusiastic participation in trials. Perhaps we are meant to see in him the
typical old juror that Aristophanes is satirizing in the character of Philokleon.
The chorus-leader looks around to try to find two of the group who are lagging behind. I do not agree
with MacDowell that we have to assume that they are dead.
Χάβης ὁ Φλυεύς
Although Sommerstein came across the name Χάβας in a Tanagraian inscription, Χάβης occurs nowhere
else. It might therefore be worth considering the variant Χάρης found in one manuscript (J) cf. 230, note.
It is a name, mentioned by Dikaiopolis (Ἀχαρνεῖς 604), of an Athenian commander who had been serving
on campaign in 425 B.C.
The deme of Phlya lay outside the city itself to the North-East, in what is now the suburb of Χαλανδρι.
The noble clan of the Lykomidai held their religious gatherings at a τελεστήριον there. This building had
been restored in the 470’s after the Persian destruction. Since the restoration and decoration were funded
by Themistokles (cf. Plutarch Θεµιστοκλῆς 1.3), the architect of Athenian naval power, it may have been
decorated with scenes from the naval victory off Salamis. Chabes (or Chares) may have been chosen as a
person old enough to have served in the navy, back in the day.
236. ἐν Βυζαντίῳ
The recollection of service at Byzantion could be a reference to the actual siege c. 469 B.C. (cf. 354). The
later garrisoning of the city in 441-40 would have been too recent for these veterans (cf. Νεφέλαι 249 n.).
237. φρουροῦντ(ε)...περιπατοῦντε νύκτωρ
The two young marines were “on guard duty…carrying out night-patrols”. Similar youthful braggadocio
among the rank and file on guard in Cyzikos is satirized by Eupolis in Πόλεις (frg. 247).
238. τῆς ἀρτοπώλιδος...τὸν ὅλµον
The previous ὅλµος (201) was a ‘grinding-stone’, too heavy to lift. But this one can be carried away with
ease and, as the next line implies, must be made of wood since it could be broken up for firewood to cook
something. But, there is more to this escapade than meets the eye, because this ‘kneading trough’ belongs
to a woman. Whenever any grinding, kneading or pounding occurs in comic-drama one must suspect that
the utensils employed are surrogates for sexual activity. In Νεφέλαι (669-80), ‘Sokrates’ has to point out
to his elderly pupil that the gender of a ‘kneading trough’ (κάρδοπος) is actually feminine, so that if the
politician Kleonymos ‘grinds his barley-corns’ in one, his own gender is brought into question
The bread-seller, as we shall learn later (1388 ff.), was a woman who baked bread for sale on the streets.
Wandering the streets alone at all hours made her the subject of gossip and Aristophanes is quite willing
to shred her reputation to make coarse word-play. Here, the young men have ‘stolen her grinder-thing on
the sly’. The meaning of the participle λαθόντε is ambiguous here. It appears to mean that the ὅλµος was
taken ‘without her noticing’, but the subliminal message is that it was stolen ‘without anyone noticing’
239. τοῦ κορκόρου
Perhaps, there was some point to having the soldiers eat κόρκορος -‘blue pimpernel’ (anagallis foimina),
but frankly we do not know what that could have been. Was Aristophanes indicating that they were close
to starvation and reduced to eating wild-flowers? If that was the case, then the baker’s wife had no need
of her kneading-trough anyway. Did it require cooking over a fire, for MacDowell has them making “a
kind of porridge out of pimpernel seeds.”? Did the plant perhaps have medicinal properties? (When all is
said and done, why did Aristophanes not take the trouble to provide a glossary?) It seems most unlikely
that we have understood the text correctly, if we are left to guess wildly. My own wild guess would be
that an onomatopoeic word κοκκoρού might have preceded the contemporary usage κόκκορας (‘cockerel’) of
Modern Greek, so that the young men were ‘splitting apart her ὅλµος to cook some cock’. The genitive should be
taken as partitive to mean “a bit of…”
The verb is indicative of violence. Cf. Βάτραχοι 404-6 κατεσχίσω...τὸ σανδαλίσκον καὶ τὸ ῥάκος, “you
tore to shreds this dainty sandal and flimsy garment”; Xenophon uses it of ‘breaking down doors’. Thus,
whereas the men are thought to be claiming that they ‘chopped up completely’ the (wooden) kneading-
trough, they are actually letting it be known that they ‘tore apart’ the woman’s ὅλµον (i.e. she probably
resisted the rape).
240. ἔσται Λάχητι νυνί
The expression “it will be for Laches forthwith” can probably be taken to mean that ‘he will have his day
in court’, though the syntax is unusual. We must suppose that the phrase is an abbreviation of ἔσται <περὶ
τιµωρίας> Λάχητι νυνί - “it’s going to be pay-back time for Laches right now”. This may not be entirely
satisfactory, but it is not evidently implausible, as Wilson says (p. 83). He believes that the text is at fault
and proposes emending ἔσται to ἧπται (“Laches has been attacked”). He may be half-right.
Laches, son of Melanopos, was a prominent figure in Athenian politics at this time. He is mentioned by
Thucydides on a number of occasions and Plato gave him a central role in his eponymous dialogue. The
latter states (186c) that he was older than Sokrates (born 469), so he would have been in his mid-forties
perhaps when he assumed joint command of the first Athenian fleet sent to Sicily in 427 (cf.Thuc. 3.86).
Though a capable military commander, his forte seems to have been diplomacy. He had moved for a truce
with the Peloponnesians and negotiated first the armistice (Thuc. 5.19) and later the alliance (Thuc. 5.24),
to which he was one of the signatories. His influence and prominence were resented by Alkibiades (Thuc.
5.43), whose rise to power would have been aided by Laches’ death in battle in 418 (cf. 81-2, note).
242. ἐν ὥρᾳ
Anyone turning up late would be excluded by the court officials and would forfeit his daily fee (cf. 689-
Just as soldiers called up to join a military expedition were expected to bring with them food sufficient for
three days (cf. Εἰρήνη 312), so the jurors were told to turn up with a supply of “grievous indignation” that
would serve to condemn the defendant. This does not mean, of course, that the trial was actually expected
to last for three days. Aristophanes attributes the vindictiveness of the jurors to a feeling of moral outrage,
instilled in them by the ruthless prosecutors. His claim is corroborated by an extant speech, in which the
prosecutor accuses the jury of insufficient outrage (Lykourgos κατὰ Λεωκράτη 27, ἥκιστα...ὀργισµένοι).
The poet will speak later (1030) of his own ‘Herculean sense of outrage’ against malicious prosecutors!
Hall and Geldart print the present subjunctive (J), while MacDowell supports the principal codices (RV),
which have the aorist subjunctive σπεύσωµεν. His argument, that the present, used in 240 and 246, would
hardly be deliberately altered to an aorist, is accepted by Sommerstein and Henderson. But, one could as
easily argue for the consistency of present tenses on grounds of accidental alteration. The present tense, it
seems to me, is used to express the potential rather than imminent movement, i.e. “let’s be getting a move
on” rather than “let’s move”. One may compare Strepsiades’ instruction to his slave to “get on and light a
lamp” (Νεφέλαι 18, ἅπτε...λύχνον) where ἅψον would be metrically sound.
247. λίθος τις
There is a variant reading λαθών τις to which MacDowell accords rather more space than it merits, since
it occurs in good manuscripts (RJ). The old man warns his companions to use their lamps to watch their
step, because rocks litter the unmade street and the old-timers could come a cropper as they shuffle along.
The alternative, the aorist participle of λανθάνω, reversing its usual sense, is said to mean ‘one who has
escaped notice’, e.g. (in this situation) ‘a mugger’. But, while stones have featured in the prologue already
and will continue to do so (cf. 275, 280), highway robbery has not been their concern. After all, until they
have been paid, the jurors have only their cloaks worth stealing and, in any case, the danger posed to each
of them individually by an undetected stone outweighs any possible threat to them collectively by a single
robber. Even if their lamps were to reveal a putative footpad, there would be little any one of them could
do. Since they could not run away, they would rely on their combined strength in numbers to deter him.
The Chorus is accompanied by some young boys, traditionally referred to as the sons of the old men. This
strains credibility, because the sons would be co-evals of Bdelykleon and therefore of military age so that
many would be away on campaign. The boys are therefore grandchildren or great-nephews, just reaching
puberty. They may even be child-slaves, raised in the household as a future investment (but one creating a
present financial burden). The word παῖς can be a source of misunderstanding leading to misattribution of
speaking parts (e.g. Euripides Ἱππόλυτος 107, ὦ παῖ) or confused genealogy (cf. Euripides Ἱππόλυτος 534,
where Eros is referred to as ὁ ∆ιὸς παῖς; not a claim of paternity, but a statement of his august ancestry).
MacDowell reinstated this cry of surprise which earlier editors had deleted. It is extra versum (cf. 314).
There was a proverbial saying, αἴρειν ἔξω πόδα πηλοῦ (Σοῦδα) - “to lift one’s foot out of the mud”, i.e. to
keep out of trouble. This passage makes clear to us that it was the product of daily experience whenever it
rained on the mainly unmade roads of ancient Athens.
The rough sense of this line is clear. Since the Chorus cannot see well enough to avoid the pitfalls of the
unmade street, they call for the boys to provide more light by extending the lamp-wicks marginally. But,
if they overdo it the lamps will burn the oil more quickly, so the cost-conscious old jurymen suggest that
a small wood-splinter be employed for the delicate operation.
Recent editors have followed MacDowell in restoring πρόβυσον, the reading of the codices, which agrees
with the infinitive of the following line. But, it is far from certain that the same verb was intended in both
lines. Although Macdowell has marshalled the evidence expertly, he (like many before him) has given the
poet too little credit for subtlety. Instead of simply repeating the same phrase, Aristophanes would surely
have squeezed every potential drop of humour from his lines, and the dialogue may be more nuanced than
is generally thought. It is normally suggested that the reading of the codices can be translated as, “to push
up the wick of a lamp”. But, the compound verb προβύω occurs nowhere in any extant literary context, so
that we have had to rely on the explanation given by the second-century A.D. Atticist Phrynichos (in Κωµ.
ἀδέσποτα 644) who says that the phrase προβῦσαι φορτικὸν γέλωτα meant ‘getting a cheap laugh’ in the
manner of ‘pushing out <a lamp-wick>’. However, since the word ‘lamp-wick’ has to be supplied, he has
quite possibly drawn his own inference from the verb’s occurrence in the following line.
An alternative reading has been suggested by Scaliger (and adopted by Hall and Geldart) which is drawn
from a scholion in the Ravenna codex, προµύξον, ἐκ τῆς µύξης προάγαγε, “<the imperative> προµύξον
<means> bring forward out of the lamp-oil”. MacDowell takes the scholion to be a gloss on τὸν λύχνον
πρόβυσον, and assumes that προµύξον is added merely as a synonym, though one which in this case, is
just as obscure as the word it seeks to explain. He claims support for this interpretation from a comment
of the grammarian Polydeukes who states (6.103), τὸ δὲ πρόµυξον «τὸν λύχνον πρόβυσον» λέγουσιν -
“<classical writers use> τὸν λύχνον πρόβυσον for πρόµυξον”. But, the Roman grammarian is probably
passing comment on the present passage, in which case it could actually imply that πρόµυξον was in the
original text and that τὸν λύχνον πρόβυσον was interpolated as a gloss. I would go so far as to speculate
that the text was originally τοῦ λύχνου πρόµυξον.
What then, is the chorus-leader telling the boy? Notionally, the imperative πρόµυξον derives from a verb
προµύσσω, but if such a verb was actually in use, we are not meant to draw sense from it here, since the
scholiast has explained that the real root is µύξη. This does not actually mean ‘lamp-wick’, as our lexicon
says, or at least not a lamp-wick per se, as its primary sense was ‘mucous’. This was in fact the term used
in everyday speech to describe the green slime left after higher-grade olive oil had been decanted, which,
since it was unsuitable as foodstuff served as low-grade lamp-oil. [In Modern Greek a loan-word γλίτσα
or γλίντζα plays the same double role.] Another word, µυκτήρ, was similarly used by the comic-poets to
colour their language and could denote either a ‘nostril’ (cf. 1488), or a ‘nozzle’ when applied to a lamp
(cf. Ἐκκλησιάζουσαι 5). Thus, Aristophanes has possibly devised the verb himself to suggest that the boy
use a bit of wood ‘to extrude a tiny portion of the slime-covered wick from the lamp’s nozzle (like snot
from a nostril)’.
Editors who (with MacDowell) have read <τὸν λύχνον> πρόβυσον in the previous line are content to read
<τὸν λύχνον> προβύσειν here. In both lines the phrase is understood to mean “push forward the <wick of
the> lamp” and translated as “trim the lamp”. An alternative proposed by Florent Chrestien was to derive
the infinitive προµύσσειν from the scholiast’s πρόµυξον, but as MacDowell points out, the Attic form of
the verb would surely have been προµύττειν. Moreover, the reading of the Aldine edition, προβύσσειν, is
more likely to be a simple typo for προβύσειν (not an attempt to read προµύσσειν). In any case, it may be
doubted that the verb προµύσσειν was ever used in the sense required of it here.
The old man’s instruction conveyed a rather revolting image which was intended to be funny in itself and
the boy’s reply provides a verbal echo of the phrase. But, only in sound, for his meaning is quite different.
Whereas the old man emphasised the verb, the boy’s similar-sounding phrase seems to lay more stress on
the lamp he is holding, so that his intention is “to boost the lamp with this…” suggesting that he can make
use of a hand for the job and we find that the lamp has suddenly taken on an altogether different meaning.
251. τί δὴ µαθὼν
This idiomatic phrase is commonly used where one might say in English ‘where did you learn to…?’, e.g.
Ἀχαρνεῖς 826, τί δὴ µαθὼν φαίνεις ἄνευ θρυαλλίδος; - “where do you get off shining light without having
a lamp-wick?” [n.b. In Νεφέλαι 1506, I read τί γὰρ παθόντες τοὺς θεοὺς ὑβρίζετε; - “why did you want to
go and start affronting the gods then?” in preference to the reading of the codices, τί γὰρ µαθόντες…]
When, the boy suggests that he can use his finger ‘to boost the lamp’ the old-man worries that he will not
be sparing with “the wick”. In Old Comedy, the poets could rarely see a piece of rope without feeling the
urge to urinate or copulate. In this case, a lamp-wick is the juvenile equivalent of adult rope (cf. 1342-3).
There are similar jokes in Νεφέλαι (56-9) where a lamp has run out of oil quickly because a thick wick is
used and in Ἀχαρνεῖς (just cited) where a sycophant is said to be ‘wick-less’.
252. τοῦ (ἐ)λαίου σπανίζοντος
The Peloponnesians had made a point of cutting down olive trees whenever they invaded and new-planted
trees took several years to fruit, so although a temporary peace had been signed there was still a shortage
of olive-oil. By the time the play was staged the olive harvest would have been gathered in and the olives
pressed, if sufficient labour had been available, so this comment can be taken to show that the results had
253. οὐ...δάκνει σ(ε)
He resents the child’s irresponsible attitude to a matter which ‘hurts his pocket’. In Νεφέλαι, another old
man is similarly irritated because he is ‘being bitten all over by expenses’ (δακνόµενος ὑπὸ τῆς δαπάνης,
12-3). For the use of the verb as ‘to suffer pain’, see also 375 and note.
The boy fears that the old man is about to give him a ‘knuckle-sandwich’ and warily begins to back away
(cf. Νεφέλαι 56-9, where similar threats prove comically ineffectual against an agile slave). He then issues
a counter-threat of his own which proves persuasive. The verb νουθετῶ can be taken in the sense ‘to give
someone a piece of one’s mind’.
257. ὥσπερ ἀτταγᾶς
The back-streets of Athens in winter are compared to swamps, which only a marsh-bird could negotiate.
It is usual to translate ἀτταγᾶς as a francolin, a member of the patridge family frequenting moorland, not
marshes. But, whatever it was, the bird is not only suited to the muddy conditions of Athenian streets in
winter but well-used to darkness, since a popular saying recollected that the ἀτταγᾶς keeps company with
the νουµήνιος, a bird which was identified with the new moon (cf. Diogenes Laërtios 9.114).
258. (καὶ ἑ)τέρους µείζονας κολάζω
The juryman tries to save face by pointing out his legal authority to ‘chastise’ those in high positions (cf.
The old man is suddenly aware that he has just trodden in something, and whatever it is, it’s not mud! The
distinction between ‘mud’ (πηλός) and βόρβορος is drawn with humour by Loukianos (Προµ. Ἐς, 1) and
Hesychios leaves no doubt with his definition of βόρβορος as, ὀχετὸς δυσώδης - “a malodorous sewer”.
The boy had earlier warned the old man to watch out for the mud (248) and then told him he would risk
wallowing in it if he was left in the dark (257). We may suppose therefore, that he has reached the place
underneath the eaves where Philokleon has recently defecated.
Hermann’s µάρµαρος supposes that the man has stubbed his toe on a piece of sculpted stone of some sort,
but its only support is the reading of the Venetus where the copyist wrote βάρβαρος in error as a result of
the poor lighting in his bibliotheca. The error is compounded in Ἀχαρνεῖς 172, despite the explicit nature
of the βόρβορον there.
The man’s unfortunate accident is seized upon by one of his fellow-jurors as an omen…of the weather!
[For a modern reaction cf. the actor Michael Caine’s autobiography ‘An Elephant to Hollywood’ (2010)
p.22.] One might compare a piece of weather-lore provided by Herodotos (2.22), ἐπὶ δὲ χιόνι πεσούσῃ
πᾶσα ἀνάγκη ἐστὶ ὗσαι ἐν πέντε ἡµέρῃσι - “invariably there is bound to be rain within five days of a
snow-fall”. The most obviously amusing aspect of the lines is the literal reference to the rain-god, Zeus,
having to make (or as we would say “pass”) water; a vernacular expression which would resonate in the
minds of the elderly especially (cf. Νεφέλαι 373). In such expressions it is not even necessary to refer to
Zeus by name (cf. Εἰρήνη 1141, τὸν θεὸν δ’ ἐπιψακάζειν - “the god sprays over <the planted seeds>”).
262. τοῖσιν λύχνοις οὑτοιὶ µύκητες
The so-called ‘fungus’ refers to the sooty deposit called candle-snuff which forms on wicks. Kallimachos
refers to the glowing soot on a wick (Ἑκάλη frg. 269, ὁππότε λύχνου δαιοµένου πυρόεντες ἄδην ἐγένοντο
µύκητες), which according to ancient weather-lore presaged stormy weather. Virgil (Georgicon 1.390-2)
also refers to girls carding wool by lamplight “et putris concrescere fungos”.
The emphasis of οὑτοιὶ seems misplaced. Why would the old man refer to “this snuff here” on the lamps,
when he is not holding a lamp himself? Hermann, in fact, drew the inference that the line must be spoken
by one of the boys. But, since the remark is only significant if it is being made by one of the old men, it is
reasonable to suppose that he would be speaking about signs of damp on the lamps generally. Therefore,
although the codices are agreed on the deictic pronoun, it might make better sense to read τοῖσιν λύχνοις
αὐτοῖσι µύκητες - “fungal growth on the very lamps…” But, the remark might have been intended for a
different purpose. According to Hesychios, the word µύκης (‘fungus’ or ‘mushroom’) was used to make
fun of a small penis by Archilochos (a usage imitated recently by Stormy Daniels). So the old man could
be hinting that the wicks of the elderly jurors are growing mouldy (cf. 1343, σαπρὸν τὸν σχοινίον). [Why
does Dick Mushroom show up at every party? Answer: because he’s a fun guy.]
263. ὅταν τοῦτ(ο) ᾖ
Hall and Geldart have adopted the view of Florent Chrestien over the reading ὅταν ᾖ τοῦτὶ of the codices.
264-5. τῶν καρπίµων...πρῷα
As MacDowell comments, “The old man rambles on into irrelevance” and this is precisely why the lines
were expected to amuse the spectators. It is typical of old men to sit around exercising their tongues, often
with little intervention from their brains (cf. 1360). The weather is a perennial source of interest for them,
both because it is so hard to predict and because accurate prediction is so essential in agrarian economies.
The speaker is apparently providing a piece of weather-lore which the audience would appreciate, namely
that in order to be fruitful crops require the action of rain and wind. But, he qualifies this by suggesting
that these very same elements could be damaging to crops which have come on too early. Clearly there is
some innuendo lurking behind these meteorological observations, but no-one has yet explained exactly
what it is. At any rate, the poet seems to have revisited the idea in Λήµνιαι (frg. 389).
MacDowell suggests that the unseasonableness of the remarks was the source of humour, but a drought in
winter could be catastrophic when there are limited means of artificial watering. The role of the the north
wind was also critical. In Attika, northerlies bring clear skies and cooler temperatures. The rainless north
wind, colloquially known as the ξεροβόρι, can dramatically lower the temperature and blast winter crops,
while in summer the µελτέµι can blow furiously with equally devastating results. One need not infer that
the old-juryman has lost track of the season, or assume that Aristophanes “is indifferent to consistency in
such matters” (Sommerstein). The point that the poet is making seems to be that many of the jurors are in
fact former farmers, who still have one eye on the weather even though War and Infirmity have confined
them to city-streets.
265. κα(ὶ ἐ)πιπνεῦσαι βόρειον αὐτοῖς
MacDowell takes the prefix here in a temporal sense as, “to blow afterwards” (based on a unique instance
in Aristotle Προβλήµατα 945b1), leaving the pronoun as incidental (“for them”). But, it seems more likely
that the prefix would have been intended to govern the pronoun and relate to the action of the wind on the
crops. In which case, Herodotos’s use of the compound verb with a dative pronoun suggests that the sense
given would have been rather different. In his narrative (3.26.3) the meaning is patent, αὐτοῖσι ἐπιπνεῦσαι
νότον µέγαν τε καὶ ἐξαίσιον - “an extremely strong southerly blew down upon them”, but this is not really
suitable here, since all that the crops require is a northerly wind to “blow over” them. Consequently, one
probably ought to emend to αὐτούς (cf. Loukianos Χαρίδηµος 1).
The old man knows that crops need moisture to grow, but also that incessant rain could ruin them. Only if
they were blow-dried by the winds would they ripen fully. The idea of fructifying winds was preserved in
the Roman heirs of Attic literature, e.g. Loukianos refers to, τοὺς Ἀνέµους φυτουργοῦντας - “Winds that
tend the plants” (∆ὶς κατηγ. 1) and Ovid (Fasti 5.195ff) has transmitted the myth of Zephyros turning the
immature Chloris (Χλοή), into blossoming Flora [probably the very scene depicted in Sandro Botticelli’s
famous Primavera]. For a similar piece of weather-lore, see Pherekrates (frg. 24), where someone makes
a plea (presumably to Zeus) for snow (borne on the north wind) to help crops to become firmly-rooted.
The elderly jurors of the Chorus have arrived at the door of Philkleon’s house. They customarily call for
him on their way to the court and the chorus-leader is surprised that he is not outside already waiting for
their arrival, because they are later than usual (218). But, as we were told earlier (103-4), he occasionally
goes on ahead in his eagerness.
S. Srebrny (1960) has proposed postponing these lines, together with the choral song which follows (273-
89), until after line 316. MacDowell is inclined to keep an open mind on the possibility, but I can find no
compelling reason for the transposition. He finds it odd that the chorus-leader decides to move on before
getting an answer from Philokleon, but the instruction to the boy (290) may not be an order to proceed.
Also, it seems unlikely on metrical grounds that this passage would be divorced from the preceding lines
As Griffith has written, “It is most improbable that the poet would revert to seven lines of the uncommon
syncopated iambic tetrameters after the ionics of 290-316”.
267. πρὸς τὸ πλῆθος
The word chosen to describe the chorus seems to exaggerate their numbers for comic effect (cf.1010). It
may be a further example, perhaps, of the old men’s sense of self-importance. It may, on the other hand,
be a nod to the mass of spectators, shattering the ‘fourth wall’.
268. οὐ µὴν πρὸ τοῦ γ(ε)...ἦν
The text reads well enough, “He decidedly was not…in time past, at any rate”. But, a better balance could
be struck with the following clause by reading οὐκ ἦν πρὸ τοῦ γ’...ἄν - “he would not have been… etc.”
(cf. Νεφέλαι 5, οὐκ ἂν πρὸ τοῦ, where the verb is dropped altogether).
269. ἡγεῖτ(ο) ἂν ᾄδων Φρυνίχου
Coming after πρῶτος ἡµῶν, ἡγεῖσθαι appears pleonastic, but could pass muster in the sense of ‘he used to
take the lead first’. But this is not far off saying πρῶτος ἤρξατο, in which case one expects ᾄδειν not ᾄδων
(e.g. Νεφέλαι 1353, πρῶτον ἠρξάµεσθα λοιδορεῖσθαι). Then too, the participle leaves us with an elliptical
phrase, which can only mean ‘singing <a piece by> Phrynichos’. This is a possibility, although the phrase
used later, ᾄδω…Ἁρµοδίου (1225), suggests that this would mean ‘singing a song about Phrynichos’. One
could, however, avoid ambiguity by replacing the participle ᾄδων with the missing noun, ἡγεῖτ’ ἂν ᾠδῶν
Φρυνίχου - “he would be the first among us to take the lead in songs of Phrynichos” (as the verb requires
a genitive, e.g. Ὀδύσσεια 23.133-4, θεῖος ἀοιδὸς...ἡµῖν ἡγείσθω...ὀρχηθµοῖο - “let the inspired bard lead
us in a dance-song”).
The chorus-leader confirms the Son’s words earlier (220), which are not only indicative of the jurors’ age,
but also probably prepare the audience for a parody of Phrynichos’s’old-time style in the following song.
Although he speaks in the first person singular, he is speaking for the Chorus as a whole. Tragic-choruses
would often use the singular for plural in this way.
The verb is used of old people walking with difficulty (cf. 552). The Chorus suspects that illness or injury
may have added to his mobility problem. See also προσέρπω 1509, 1531.
Choral Song (ᾨδή) 273-315
His fellow-jurors are puzzled by Philokleon’s non-appearance and speculate on possible causes. The first
part of the song may involve miming the actions, according to one interpretation of line 279. The metre is
doubtful and provides a dubious criterion for establishing the veracity of the text. “Beginners had better
not trouble with its analysis”, is MacDowell’s sound advice.
273. πρὸ θυρῶν
Earlier a slave had been told to pile stones πρὸς τὴν θύραν (198-9). The use of the plural here is idiomatic
(as we say ‘outdoors’) and does not imply that the house has double doors (cf. Sophokles Ἠλέκτρα 108-9,
τῶνδε πατρῴων πρὸ θυρῶν - “at this, my father’s door”). The plural ἐπὶ ταῖσι θύραις (362) refers to more
than one door.
274. οὐδ(ὲ) ὑπακούει
The verb is used of ‘answering’ a knock on the door (cf. Plato Κρίτων 43α).
275. προσέκοψ(ε) ἐν τῷ σκότῳ
The manuscripts read προσέκοψε(ν) τῷ σκότῳ, which is satisfactory, although Bentley thought that the
phrase would be better written with a preposition, as in English (cf. 911).
The verb is an extension of the noun βουβών (‘a swollen lymph node’) which gives us our medical term
‘bubonic’. But, the idea that stubbing one’s toe, or too much walking (Λυσιστράτη 987-8) could lead to a
swelling in the groin’ or ‘a swollen bladder’ (Βάτραχοι 1280), was a comic conception. Here, the humour
lies simply in the accidental proximity of ambiguous words, δάκτυλον, a toe or finger: σφυρὸν, ankle or
hammer: βουβωνιῴη, a swelling (esp. in the groin), cf. Pherekrates frg. 28, µέχρι βουβώνων - “up to the
278. ἂν ἐπείθετ(ο)
Given Aristophanes’ fondness for the compound verb in this play (cf. 101, 116, 568, 586), MacDowell is
certainly right in reading ἀνεπείθετ(ο) here.
279. κάτω κύπτων ἂν οὕτω
Either the phrase is elliptical, so that one must understand a main verb e.g. δράσειε - “lowering his head
(like a goat about to butt) he would do this”, in which case presumably they imitate the goat’s action. Or,
if one prefers to see ἂν as frequentative with ἔλεγεν then οὕτω must belong with it, i.e. “he used to speak
thus”. I do not think one can have it both ways as MacDowell suggests.
280. λίθον ἕψεις
“Boiling a stone (to make soup)” was tantamount to saying ‘you’re wasting your time’.
The codices read χθεσινὸν here, which Hermann proposed emending to χθιζινὸν οn metrical grounds, and
although MacDowell argues that the form χθεσινóς is known to have been used by Aristophanes (as noted
by the grammarian Phrynichos, Ἐκλογή 295), the likelihood is that it was used in a non-lyrical passage we
no longer possess. Indeed, C.A. Lobeck, the editor of Phrynichus, offered the correspoding emendment of
χθεσινὸν to χθιζινὸν in Βάτραχοι (987). Austin and Sommerstein are among the supporters of emendation.
283. τἀν Σάµῳ πρῶτος κατείποι.
The ancient scholia tell us that the man “who first informed on (τὰ ἐν Σάµῳ) the situation at Samos” was
a certain Karystion. In recognition of his warning about the islander’s impending revolt against Athenian
hegemony, he was given citizenship. But, this was many years ago now (440 B.C.) and is only mentioned
because he had recently been impeached and pleaded his earlier services in exoneration.
284. κεῖται πυρέττων
It would have been easy for the jurors, sitting in the chilly, cramped conditions of the court-room for long
hours during wintertime, to catch any flu bug going. But they imagine that if he is confined to his bed, the
real cause of his fever will have been the sight of a defendant getting off. Unlike the facetious excuses of
mislaying his shoes or stubbing his toe that they first thought of, a fever would be a real obstacle to daily
attendance and result in loss of income (cf. 813).
286-7. µηδὲ...σεαυτὸν ἔσθιε
This expression is usually taken to correlate with the phrase δάκνων σεαυτὸν (778) which is used to mean
that someone is ‘becoming irritable’ (cf. 1083, τὴν χελύνην ἐσθίων). But, here, the Chorus is not trying to
mollify him (he is a wasp after all and so naturally irritable), instead they are telling him not to fret over a
defendant who got off.
288. ἀνὴρ παχὺς
As one of the wealthy elite (like Laches, cf. 241) the man was a ‘fat cat’, but may have been ‘fat’ as well,
since in Εἰρήνη (639) we hear of τοὺς παχεῖς καὶ πλουσίους.
Whenever politicians choose to pursue an aggressive foreign policy they will often try to deflect criticism
by branding their opponents as ‘traitors’. It appears that someone had had the temerity to oppose Kleon’s
campaign against the defectors in Skione and Mende. Though we cannot identify the individual who bore
the brunt of Kleon’s ire, it is most likely that the audience would have recognised him at once. It has been
suggested by Mastromarco (1979) that this is another reference to Laches, whom Kleon had had arraigned
for allegedly accepting bribes (240-1). Alternatively, it may have been a reference to the failure of Eukles
and Thucydides to hold Amphipolis.
It appears from this command that the Chorus, having achieved nothing with their singing, now decide to
continue on their way. Would they not first try knocking at the door? After all, they have already risked
waking the household with their serenade of Philokleon.
“Lead on!” or “Forward!” are certainly natural and suitable ways of translating the imperative here, but it
also has a legal use, ‘to impeach’ or ‘bring before the court’. It may be, therefore, that the chorus-leader is
adopting courtroom diction and instructing the boy in legalese to call out to their missing comrade. If this
is the case, we no longer need question the sequence of lines as Srebrny proposed.
291-2. ὦ πάτερ
The young (slave) boy uses a respectful form of address to an elderly man (cf. 556).
These are the small bones of the vertebrae (esp. in the neck), wrist or knuckle, or ankle (exclusively so in
modern, demotic Greek). Due to their small size these animal bones (cf. Eupolis frg. 47) could be used in
a childish pastime resembling our ‘jacks’ (cf. Plato Ἀλκιβιάδης Ι. 110β). But, they were essentially objets
trouvés; not so much cheap, as worthless. Consequently, the boy is most probably asking for a thing that
was ἀστραγαλώδες, possibly roasted chick-peas (colloquially-known as τά στραγάλια in current Greek),
which were normally called ἐρεβίνθοι before roasting. These could be considered an ancient equivalent of
chewing gum and as comestibles would have had some pecuniary value, albeit rather small.
There may be a double-entendre intended, since Aristophanes elsewhere (Βάτραχοι 545) gives an obscene
sense to ἐρέβινθος and the child’s reply here suggests as much (cf. 302)
In summer, when figs (σῦκα) were on the trees, the boys could steal them for themselves. But through the
rest of the year they would have to look to others to supply them with “sun-dried figs”. Sun-dried grapes,
what we now call currants (from Corinth) and figs would have been important constituents of the winter
Bentley’s orthographic improvement ὦ παππία was considered unnecessary by MacDowell, but I agree
with Sommerstein that it is worth adopting, if only to help us remember that the first syllable scans long.
οὐκ ἄν, µὰ ∆ί(α), εἰ...
Here we can supply πριαίµην, “I wouldn’t <buy you figs>, not if…” For a similar ellipse cf. Νεφέλαι 108,
οὐκ ἄν, µὰ τὸν ∆ιόνυσον, εἰ δοίης γέ µοι… - “I wouldn’t <become a student>, not if you gave me…”
Hall and Geldart print Dobree’s correction of κρέµεσθε (V) and κρέµοισθέ (RJ). The chorus-leader adopts
the plural when he realizes that what one boy gets the others will want. Were the boys to threaten to hang
themselves, he might not be too bothered, except for the fact that it would surely get him into trouble with
the boys’ mothers.
The verb probably contains the sarcastic implication of leading a funeral cortege. Cf. προποµποί, used by
Aischylos to describe women conducting the funeral of Polyneikes (Ἑπτὰ ἐπὶ Θήβας 1074); προποµπός is
also used of Hermes leading the dead to the underworld.
The old man reflects on the pitifully “small recompense” he receives for jury-service, cf. Phrynichos (frg.
70), τριώβολόν γ’ ὅσουπερ ἠλιάζοµαι - “three obols, precisely the amount I get for jury-service”, a paltry
sum, just enough to buy a pigeon for dinner according to another line (frg. 53).
His meager income has to cover “barley-corns”, the staple of the ordinary citizen’s diet; “fire-wood” with
which to heat the home and cook food; and “something to taste” (καὶ ὄψον), some ingredient that gave the
everyday meal that bit extra, like the filling in a sandwich.
In Roman imperial times, asking for figs in wintertime was axiomatic of ‘wanting what you can’t have’. It
will have been derived from comic scenes such as this. But, ‘figs’ were not just fruit. Their metaphorical
meaning is made clear in Εἰρήνη 1351-2, where the phrase τῆς δ’ ἡδὺ τὸ σῦκον (“her fig is sweet”) gives
point to ἥδιον in 297. This was the kind of ‘fig’ which might have been costly (cf. also 1277-8 note).
Hermann proposed balancing the metre of 315 with the same exclamation ἒ ἔ at the beginning of the line,
but as it is extra versum there, there is no compelling reason for it here.
The father’s angry refusal makes the child lose interest in treats and suddenly become concerned to know
where his next meal is coming from, for if the court is not convened today (perish the thought!), there will
be no pay to provide even the basic necessities.
303. ὦ πάτερ
Some consider that this form of address (cf. 248) can be used only by a son of his actual father, but it was
an honorific used for old men (cf. 556), and the many war-orphans would look to any older male relative,
uncle or grandfather or stepfather, as their surrogate ‘father’.
305-6. πόθεν ὠνησόµεθ(α) ἄριστον
Food shortage was a bitter reality for many, but a comic-poet could still find humour in the most serious
topics. In Νεφέλαι, we hear that the students of ‘Sokrates’ could be left hungry, ἐχθὲς…ἡµῖν δεῖπνον οὐκ
ἦν - “we had no dinner yesterday” (175). There the school treats austerity as a virtue and Strepsiades is
warned not to expect breakfast on a regular basis (416).
The question brings to mind similar Euripidean lines, e.g. ἔχεις τινα...σωτηρίαν (Ὀρέστης 778).
The dual shows his thoughts are confined to his immediate surroundings; it relates to his interlocutor and
ignores his mother
308. πόρον Ἕλλας ἱρόν
The phrase is lifted from a hymn of Pindar (frg.179), which speaks of the Hellespont, as the ‘sacred strait
of Helle’ (Ἕλλας πόρον ἱερόν). Hall and Geldart substitute Hermann’s suggested poetic form ἱρόν for the
ἱερόν of the codices. Aristophanes normally uses Attic forms and, in all probability, the codices’ reading
is just the result of a copyist ‘tidying up’ the text (cf. 1232-5, note). The constant current in a narrow strait
made it appear to be possessed of eternal motion and so divine like a river (cf. e.g. Euripides Μήδεια 410,
The boy’s speech is formulated to introduce a play on the word πόρος, which as well as ‘strait’ can mean
‘means’ or ‘resource’ (cf. εὔπορος). The sense is elliptical. Hall and Geldart adopted Blaydes suggestion
to insert <εὑρεῖν> at the end of the line to supply the missing verb which is needed in English, but might
have been sufficiently understood in Attic drama.
309. ἀπαπαῖ φεῦ
The elderly chorus-leader laments his parlous financial situation much as he sorrowed over the chorus’s
thinning ranks earlier (235). On Hermann’s advice, Hall and Geldart repeat the metron to achieve metrical
responsion with the strophe (297), but there are numerous instances in lyric passages where it appears the
music was left to finish the phrase.
The old man’s melodramatic plaint that they could all go hungry if they fail to get their jury-fee is meant
to amuse, but it also serves to remind the audience that their poverty makes them open to exploitation by
A scholiast informs us that this line is taken from Euripides’ Θησεύς (frg. 385), where it was spoken by
one of the youths devoted as a sacrificial victim to the Minotaur. The audience would not be required to
recognise the particular provenance, as it was a common lament in Euripidean tragedy, e.g. ὦ τάλαινα /
µᾶτερ, ἔτεκες ἀνόνατα - Euripides Ἱππόλυτος, 1144-5.
314. ἄρ(α) ὦ θυλάκιόν
This line continues the mock-tragic tone, briefly broken by the previous line’s aside. It is claimed that it
parodies another verse from the same Euripidean play (frg. 386), ἀνόνητον ἄγαλµα, πάτερ, οἴκοισι τεκών.
But, it can hardly have been spoken by Hippolytos in Crete, as the scholiast claims. It may derive, in fact,
from the original version of Ἱππόλυτος which is no longer extant.
The original line is altered to become a bathetic address to a bag. We need not, however, suppose that the
boy has brought a shopping-bag with him on the off-chance of meeting a woman selling bread, since the
point of the parallel is contained in the sophisticated double-entendre of θυλάκιον. In Euripides’ verse the
“pointless ornament” in the home is a ‘begetter’ (τεκών), probably his long-absent father, Theseus, while
here it seems to be a little bag, but will be undertsood as his scrotum. This, after all, is the significance of
the verb, for ‘holding the bag’ in his hands is concomitant with ‘pushing out his wick’ (cf. 251) and so we
can dispense with the discussion as to whether or not the boy’s ‘shopping-bag’ is dangling from his wrist
(Sommerstein, addenda p. xxviii). Neither the imagined bread-bag, nor the one he has been holding, serve
any purpose, since there may not be bread to eat and he will not be getting the figs he had hoped for either
A similar play on everyday items is evident in another Aristophanean couplet (frg. 557 from Τριφάλης),
ἔπειτ’ ἐπὶ τοὖψον ἧκε τὴν σπυρίδα λαβὼν
καὶ θυλακίσκον καὶ τὸ µέγα βαλλάντιον.
“Then he went off to the food market, after grabbing his basket and his little bag and his great big purse.”
The word for ‘purse’ here is probably chosen because it reminds one of βάλανον (cf. 155, 200).
Most recent editors follow Hall and Geldart in printing Hermann’s re-ordered line. MacDowell, however,
defends the reading of the codices, ἄρα σ’...γ’εἶχον. Being a curmudgeon I would prefer, ἀνόνητον ἄραγ’,
ὦ θυλάκιον, σ’ εἶχον ἄγαλµα; (cf. 4 note, and 1336).
The boy begins to wail. The noise (not a verse in itself) is usual for tragic-drama, e.g. Euripides Τρῴαδες
This remark is usually given to the child, but is not especially tragic in tone. The idea of a bag sharing in
the general despondency is certainly a comical one, but somewhat insulting to the high intelligence of the
spectators. The remark might have more point coming from the old man who laments both the possibility
of losing his daily income and the boy’s evident loss of his wits.
Hearing the commotion outside his door Philokleon decides to risk calling out to his brothers-in-arms to
prevent them leaving without him. In doing so he assumes the role of an imprisoned, tragic heroine. B.L.
Gildersleeve (1880) suggested that his situation mirrored that of Danaë imprisoned in her tower by her
father Akrisios. In which case, one might expect some musical parody of Euripides’ lost drama ∆ανάη,
which may therefore have predated our play. This supposition is perhaps more likely than a parody based
on ∆εσµώτις Μελανίππη, which been tentatively dated later c. 412 B.C.
317. τήκοµαι µὲν
The expression “I am dissolving” befits a female, e.g. the kidnapped Helen who bewails her complicity in
leaving her home, κλαίουσα τέτηκα - “I am dissolved in tears” (Ἰλιάς 3.176).
διὰ τῆς ὀπῆς
In the myth of Danaë the maiden’s ravisher Zeus gains access to her via ‘a chink’ by becoming a shower
of gold. In the comic-drama ∆ανάη by Sannyrion we find Zeus wondering how he might insert himself in
a chink - τί οὖν γενόµενος εἰς ὀπὴν ἐνδύσοµαι; and mulls the idea of turning into a sand-rat (γαλέη). But
here, Philokleon in the heroine’s situation is anxious to get out. He exaggerates his confinement, since the
comic-actor playing his role must have been visible while singing his plaint.
He would like to sing, but cannot, so he does! His melodious non-singing puts one in mind of the chorus
of policemen in Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance who sing loudly about how quiet they are.
321. ἐπὶ τοὺς καδίσκους
The ‘jars’ were used for casting votes for and against the defendant in courts (cf. 854). As the next line
clarifies, he is thinking of one jar in particular.
322. κακόν τι ποιῆσαι
To his fellow-jurors he is willing to admit that he aims ‘to do some mischief’, as his son suspected (165).
323. ὦ Ζεῦ
If a song from the ∆ανάη is indeed the source of parody here, there is particular irony in the trapped maid
appealing for rescue to the deity who would eventually ravish her.
The reading of the codices is µέγα βρόντα, which if correct would better be understood as a single word, a
cult-title (‘Great Thunderer’), analogous to ὦ Ζεῦ κεραυνόβροντα - “Zeus of the thunder-crash” (Εἰρήνη
376). This is how recent editors have chosen to take it. But, Hall and Geldart print Dindorf’s emendation
(cf. 671), which I prefer (though I would delete ἢ in the next line). It makes better sense to me to translate
“O Zeus, thunder mightily and make smoke of me (with your lightning)”. For the desire to become smoke,
cf. Aischylos Ἱκέτιδες 779, µέλας γενοίµαν καπνὸς.
The title οf πρόξενος was conferred on foreign benefactors of Athens and those Athenian citizens who
acted as representatives of a foreign state at Athens or looked to Athenian interests as resident in an allied
community. Presumably, only a noble family with representation of this kind would adopt the name. We
have no specific information on this person, but he seems to have been known (cf. Ekphantides, 151) for
his smoke-like qualities. In his case, perhaps he had the ability to disappear when wanted, or get himself
out of trouble easily. He is mentioned again in Ὄρνιθες (1126) as ‘Proxenides of the deme Emptyvessel’,
a man who prided himself on his success in chariot-races and a scholion there adds that Telekleides had
ridiculed him (frg. 19) as someone “who had let his body relax” (παρειµένον τῷ σώµατι), i.e. ‘let himself
Recent commentators have agreed that what appears to be a proper noun ‘son of Sellos’ is actually ‘son of
a σέλλος’, a common noun. As there are no instances of this noun in extant literature, its meaning has had
to be inferred from a unique instance of a verb in a fragment (10) of the comic poet Phrynichos, ἄγαµαι,
∆ιονῦ, σοῦ στόµατος, σεσέλλισαι - “Your language astounds me, you effeminate creature, you’re utterly
brazen”. This, at least, is the interpretation placed on the verb by Hesychios, who glosses it - ἀλαζονεύει.
In Νεφέλαι, ἀλαζονεία is typified by the upper-class intellectuals of Sokrates’ school who stand out from
the ordinary citizens by their appearance and ‘give themselves airs’ (102). So, here, we can see somebody
whose prominent position in society confers upon them a reputation for Periklean aloofness. MacDowell
reasons that, since the expression (which he translates “son of Swank”) is applied again later on (cf. 1243,
1267) to two particular aristocrats, it may be used in this instance to point to a leading figure that would
have been present at the performance. He suggests that an obvious candidate would be ‘Amynias, son of
Pronapes’ (cf. 74). On the other hand, it may be taken simply as an open-ended expression which allowed
each spectator to draw his own conclusion as to whom he judged as pretentious.
Quite how the word came to mean this is a matter for speculation. But as the prayer is addressed to Zeus,
there may have been a connection with the priestly order, the Σέλλοι, who divined the god’s will through
the rustling of the leaves on his sacred oak at Dodona. A ‘branch’ of the cult may have existed at Athens,
centred on an oak in the precinct of Athena at Phaleron; reputedly established from Dodona (cf. Pausanias
1.36.3). In which case, the clan of the priesthood may have been ‘Selloi’ and the son of the current holder
could have been open to the comic criticism that he gave himself airs as a result, i.e. pontificated.
The codices have ψευδο-µάµυξυν, but the Aldine editor corrected it as there is a word ἀµάµυξυς which is
said to mean ‘a vine supported on two poles’. I presume that two poles were needed because of its sturdy
early growth which promised a weighty harvest of grapes. This early promise, however, proves deceptive
(ψεύδει). So, a ‘son of Sellos’ is all talk, but does not follow through on what he promises the people. The
reason why Philokleon prays Zeus to make him like one of these men to escape his captivity is uncertain.
It may be that he wants to adopt their pompous tone with an attitude that says, ‘Do you know who I am?’
in order to get their way. He will himself succeed in behaving like a supercilious aristocrat in due course.
His prayer displays the same whimpering tone and pleas for pity that he will later attribute to defendants
(555-6) when he himself assumes the role of Zeus (620-5).
The regular form of the verb in manuscript codices is οἰκτείρας, but editors now follow van Herwerden
in printing οἰκτίρ- (see also 556) on the grounds that inscriptions represent the authentic, early spelling.
Aristophanes intensifies an adjective, probably borrowed from an epic context and meaning ‘burning hot’,
to convey the “searing” intensity of the lightning-bolt. In later epic the simple adjective is applied mainly
The verb σποδίζω (cognate with σπονδιά ‘ashes’ and the Venetus gives σπόνδισον) is sometimes taken to
mean ‘burn to ashes’ but must in fact, in the light of what follows, have its usual meaning, to ‘toast beside
a fire’, or ‘singe’. Here there is a suggestion that he may be “baked in the ashes”, though spectators sitting
further back may have heard a part of the comic verb σποδέω and taken him to be asking for Zeus to ‘do’
him like Danaë.
330. ἀνελών µ(ε) ἀπεφυσήσας
Mention of ‘toast’ immediately turns his mind to the idea of food and he gives Zeus some guidance on the
requisite culinary procedure. The verb ἀποφυσάω, used only here in Comedy, seems to signify “blowing
away <ashes>”, in the way that Zeus might blow away clouds. But, once again the less cautious spectator
would merely hear a request for Zeus to ‘blow me off’.
In the Νεκρικοὶ διάλογοι of Loukianos the ghost of Empedokles, who according to legend was incinerated
in Mt Etna, is described as, ὁ δὲ σποδοῦ ἀνάπλεως καθάπερ ἐγκρυφίας ἄρτος - “covered with cinders just
like a loaf of bread baked in ashes” (416).
He suggests dipping him in a ‘hot mixture of grape-vinegar and salt-water’ for extra piquancy (cf. 511).
333. τὰς χοιρίνας
Our knowledge of judicial procedures in Aristophanes’ day is patchy at best. He refers here to the use of
sea-shells as ballots instead of pebbles. As far as we know, either one of them could be dropped into the
urn for acquittal. It may be that the pebbles were simply called ‘shells’ by convention, either as a formal
term, or, if we may infer from this passage, as the technical term for the pebbles cast for a guilty verdict.
In line with Philokleon’s cantankerous character, one may presume that he wishes finally to be turned to
stone where the verdict of ‘guilty’ is recorded.
Symmetrical Scene 334-402
The chorus-leader converses with the father in mock-heroic tone similar to that used with the boy before
Philokleon’s outburst. Certain phrases which do not seem especially relevant to the situation i.e. ὦ µάταιε
and µ’εὐωχεῖν ἔτοιµος suggest that the lines may parody a particular scene adapted from tragic-drama.
334. τίς γάρ...
In questions of this kind the particle often seems to express bemusement; a Gallic shrug of the shoulders.
We might say, “Who, in that case…?” (cf. e.g. Νεφέλαι 1506).
336-7. οὑµὸς υἱός...πρόσθεν καθεύδων
Since the end of the prologue Bdelykleon and the slaves have been lying asleep outside the house. While
the slaves are sitting by the door, their master has found a spot to lie down, probably in the stone trough
in the yard. The use of a trough as a makeshift bed (at least in Comedy) seems to offer an explanation for
the cryptic phrase used by Hermippos (frg. 56) νικᾷ δ’ ᾤα λιθίνην µάκτραν - “a sheepskin beats a stone
338. ὦ µάταιε
Syntax points to Philokleon as the recipient of this remark (“you idle man!”) and MacDowell justifies it
as a sign of the Chorus’s impatience. But, it is surely directed at the sleeping Son who is not only idle but
also ‘vain’ in his attempt to confine their colleague. The reason that the poet uses the vocative instead of
the nominative (ὁ µάταιος) must derive, I think, from the context of the original line being parodied.
341. µ(ε) εὐωχεῖν ἕτοιµος
Because his son is prepared to look after him, the old man does not have to live hand to mouth like some
of his comrades (cf. 309-10). But, even so, he chooses the hard existence of a ‘wasp’ because he resents
being financially dependent on his son. As a result, he has become addicted to jury-pay.
The chorus-leader wonders what lies behind the detention of their colleague. They see his imprisonment
in political terms as the work of some ‘second-rate Kleon’. The real Kleon, having previously shut some
Spartans up on Sphakteria, now has some more besieged in Skione. The irony of the comparison seems to
be lost on the speaker, however.
As Wilson notes (p.84), our uncertainty about the precise meaning of δηµολόγος has encouraged various
emendations. But, I agree with MacDowell that the difficulty does not justify emendation. He reasonably
compares the dismissive use of δηµολογικός (‘speaking in public’) - the more usual δηµηγόρος (‘orating
in public’) is similarly pejorative - and translates a “soap-box Kleon”. But, as with Hermann’s proposed
emendation δεινολογο-, the emphasis is unlikely to be on Bdelykleon’s oratorical skills. It is more likely
that the Chorus is reflecting on the ineffectual rivals of Kleon who merely talk while he acts.
However, there is one rather interesting suggestion which recent commentators seem to have overlooked.
Thompson (1895) noted how bizarre it seems for the Chorus to accuse the Son of acting like Kleon and to
do so with a pejorative epithet. He suggested a simple rearrangement which has considerable merit. ταῦτ’
ἐτόλµησ’ ὁ µιαρὸς χανεῖν; ὁ ∆ηµολογοκλέων οἶδ(ε) ὅτι λέγεις τι περὶ τῶν νέων ἀληθές - “did the wretch
make these vain threats? The People’s spokesman Kleon knows that there is truth in what you say about
the young men” (my translation).
343. τῶν νεῶν
He speculates that Philokleon has been detained for telling the truth about τῶν νεῶν. This may be some
topical reference to naval matters of which we are ignorant and modern editors understand it so. But, it
seems unlikely that the Chorus would suspect the father of having made any general criticism of the fleet,
and far less of mentioning any particular scandal. ‘Betraying the fleet’ after all was the kind of charge that
they customarily dealt with (cf. 289). On the other hand, Bentley’s suggestion that his offence had been
criticizing τῶν νέων, the younger politicians (like Alkibiades and Euathlos), seems a more likely subject
for the two old men to agree upon.
The Chorus’s instinctive reaction is to suspect that Bdelykleon’s confinement of his father forms part of a
wider plot to undermine democracy; suspicions which were doubtless aroused by Kleon’s inflammatory
349. οὕτω κιττῶ
The verb (the Attic form of κισσάω) likens his passion for the courtroom to the craving felt by a pregnant
woman for a particular kind of food.
διὰ τῶν σανίδων
Strictly speaking the ‘boards’ were the official court-notices listing the order of the cases to be heard each
day (cf. 848), but here might refer to the benches on which the jurors were seated (cf. 90). However, there
is a scholion (V) which led Richter to suggest that σανίδες might mean the δρύφακτοι in this case. Starkie
rejected the suggestion categorically and subsequent editors have been satisfied with “notice-boards”, but
more recently Sickinger (1991) has made out a good case for accepting the scholion. He shows that, since
the fences (δρύφακτοι) which cordoned off the general public from the law-court were constructed out of
wooden planks (σανίδες) it would make sense to speak of passing through them, by synecdoche (cf. 386).
They imagine that he could find a small opening inside the house and ‘dig it out’. Some commentators
have objected that the verb is used of digging through an obstacle such as a wall, not excavating a hole.
Sommerstein, for instance, has chosen to adopt Hermann’s alternative διαλέξαι, on the basis of διαλέγων
τὴν ὀπήν - “picking out the hole” (in Λυσιστράτη 720). But, Hesychios actually glosses the latter verb by
διορύξαι and Homer shows that διὰ τάφρον ὀρύξας means to excavate a trench (Ὀδύσσεια 21.120).
This is a comic reversal of the means by which Odysseus and Diomedes got into Troy to steal the sacred
Palladion. According to a fragment (367) from a Sophoklean drama, they burrowed in through a drain or
sewer [much like David’s method of capturing Jerusalem]. The episode was probably derived from part
of the Μικρὰ Ἰλιάς, to judge from the epitome of Proklos.
351. πολύµητις Ὀδυσσεύς
The ‘resourceful’ hero Odysseus disguised himself as a beggar to spy on the Trojans (Ὀδύσσεια 4.244-5).
The episode was narrated in the section of the Μικρὰ Ἰλιάς entitled Πτωχεία. But whereas Philokleon had
drawn inspiration from the imaginative epic hero when he tried to escape clinging to the donkey, the idea
offered by the Chorus is again a comic reversal since it involved Odysseus getting into Troy, not out.
352. πάντα πέφαρκται
The reading of the codices, which Hall and Geldart (and Sommerstein) print, was considered the correct
Attic spelling by Herodian (2.384), but (with MacDowell) I would prefer to print πέφρακται which is the
more familiar form, as e.g. in δρύφρακτοι (abbreviated to δρύφακτοι).
353. ὀπίαν δ’ οὐκ ἔστι γενέσθαι
The full phrase would be ὀπίαν τυρὸν δ’ οὐκ ἔξεστί µοι γενέσθαι - “I cannot possibly turn into cheese”.
For the construction cf. Thucydides 4.20, ἔξεστι ὑµῖν φίλους γενέσθαι. The conceit turns on the similarity
of the sound of ὀπίαν…ἔστι to the Chorus’s question ἔστιν ὀπὴ (350). There is no sense to be drawn from
the fact that “cheese does not generally slip through small holes” (MacDowell)! Cheese might well have
been strained with a cloth, but it’s the whey that drips through. Philokleon, as usual, has simply lost the
thread. Henderson found the apposite translation, “I can’t turn myself into runny whey”.
354. τοὺς ὀβελίσκους
The Chorus recalls another great military exploit, similar to that at Byzantion (and from the same period,
c. 470 B.C.). Once again it concerns food, because we can assume that Philokleon had only stolen the spits
since they had meat on them. I do not share MacDowell’s view that he wanted to drive them into the wall
as pegs on which to secure ropes. The only reason spits are brought into it (rather than the meat on them)
is to provide a contrast to the ‘weapons’ being wielded by his captors (364).
355. ἵεις σαυτὸν...ταχέως
One of the earliest descriptions of abseiling (yes, the Greeks invented everything).
ὅτε Νάξος ἑάλω.
Thucydides places the capture of Naxos after the annexation of the island of Skyros and the Euboian port-
city of Karystos which were part of the Athenian strategy to secure the sea-lanes to the North Aegean and
Thrace. Some have dated these events as late as 469, but they were probably accomplished earlier c. 475-
73 B.C. Thucydides says that the Naxians had revolted from the ‘alliance’, the first to do so, and had to be
brought to heel and reminded of their obligations after a successful siege (1.98.4). The capture of Naxos,
in the Central Aegean made possible the campaign in Asia Minor and the victories at the river Eurymedon
c. 468, so it can loosely be dated 473-469 B.C.
Incidentally, though recent editors have agreed that the Chorus are putting their reminder in the form of a
question, this is not required syntactically. They are stating a fact, “you remember, of course…”, but this
is tantamount to a question in English anyway.
356-7. ἀλλὰ τί τοῦτ(ο);
Philokleon is puzzled by this reminder of his youthful exploit. His comrades were reminding him how he
had used ropes to descend a wall; only they had failed to mention the key-word, rope! Their reference to
his theft of spits was offered only incidentally to explain why he had needed to get down the wall quickly.
As a result, the old man comically misses the point (like MacDowell) and focuses upon the spits and his
talents as a thief (cf. 1200-1).
He exaggerates for comic effect the military siege under which he is confined. The two slaves had already
emphasized this aspect in their opening dialogue. Here there is irony in comparing the Father’s past, when
he had escaped with skewers of meat, to his present situation in which he is treated as if he were a rat that
had pinched some meat, while others hold the skewers.
361. κατὰ τὰς διόδους
He claims that he is trapped by a military force that is guarding, not his exits, but the “mountain passes”.
The fact that those “keeping look-out” are actually asleep detracts somewhat from his claim.
362. τὼ δὲ δύ(ο)
Sosias and Xanthias, with their roasting-spit ‘spears’, have taken up their positions, asleep again by the
door (cf. 273 note). The Son is not armed, but is asleep as well; probably in the empty trough (cf. 336-7).
363. ὥσπερ µε
For the position of the pronoun µε one may compare the very similar usage in Νεφέλαι 257 (ὥσπερ µε τὸν
Ἀθάµανθ’ ὅπως µὴ θύσετε - “mind you don’t sacrifice me like Athamas”. There too, the person speaking
is concerned for his own immediate safety, so we may infer that the word order was intended to indicate a
state of heightened anxiety.
A γαλέη is usually identified with a ‘weasel’ or ‘ferret’. Herodotos, when mentioning types of mice found
in North Africa, uses the name of rodents which lived wild in areas where laserwort (σίλφιον) was grown.
This suggests that he (or rather his informant) is referring to a ‘sand-rat’ or ‘desert-rat’. It is very doubtful
whether any Athenian would have kept one as a pet, but evidently they were to be found in Attica around
human habitation. The cognate Latin word glis was used of 'dormice, and so γαλέη may have referred to a
creature not so much a household pet as a household pest, one which would have every reason to be wary
of slaves hunting it with skewers. The existence of the word γαλεάγρα (frg. 576) for a ‘rat-trap’ indicates
that a γαλέη was considered vermin.
It was clearly a mistake to leave food unattended in an Athenian home, for either the dog would grab the
cheese (cf. 837-8), or a gerbil would gobble the meat (Θεσµοφοριάζουσαι 559, “then we say the sand-rat
<got it>” - ἔπειτα τὴν γαλῆν φαµεν …), under cover of darkness (cf. Εἰρήνη 1151, ἡ γαλῆ τῆς ἑσπέρας).
The prevalence of these gerbils would help to explain the spread of the plague at Athens as it is now said
that gerbils rather than rats were the source of later outbreaks of bubonic plague in Europe.
365. καὶ νῦν ἐκπόριζε µηχανὴν
They urge Philokleon to “come up with a bright idea”. There is irony in the ambiguity of µηχανή, since it
can also mean a ‘siege-engine’ i.e. a machine for breaking into a fortress, rather than out. Aristophanes is
always conscious of the ambiguity (cf. e.g. Νεφέλαι 479).
Dobree has suggested that καὶ νῦν should read καινὴν, which is an attractive idea, but I have to agree with
MacDowell that the received text works well enough, since time is of the essence.
367. ἕως γάρ
The sun is now rising and the ‘wasps’ are impatient to be off, since the court will soon be in session and
they do not wish to risk being shut out and losing their pay.
Once again (cf. 107) we are shown that ‘wasps’ is a metaphor, which can easily be exchanged for another.
Commentators conflate “my little bee” with the idea of ‘honey’, taking it as a term of endearment. But the
point here, despite van Herwerden’s insistence (in Hermes xxiv), is that bees are known for their industry
and for the fact that they are up and doing at first light.
The name of the goddess is invoked purely for the purpose of making a play on the word δίκτυον. It was
sufficient for Artemis to be associated with hunting to suggest the connection with nets. But, it is obvious
that the invocation has been made for the sake of the pun, for, if the goddess’s cult-title had been derived
from δίκτυον in fact, the humour of the situation would evaporate. Some later writers, however, took such
facile and facetious etymology at face value. Kallimachos, for instance, in his ode to Artemis (3. 188ff.),
tells the tale of a nymph who, pursued by King Minos, threw herself off a cliff, but was saved when some
fishermen caught her in their nets. Pausanias follows with his own version of the story, where the nymph
is deified by Artemis (2.30.3). In all likelihood, the name Diktynna derived from Mt Dikte in Crete where
it was her original cult-title - ‘Our lady of Dikte’ (cf. Euripides Ἱππόλυτος 145-50, where Diktynna is said
to fly on the southerly winds from Crete).
The Chorus applauds the plan, but as µὲν indicates, they clearly harbour doubts. “These are words typical
of a man who…, alright.” The antithesis δὲ remains unspoken.
But, can someone explain what the participle ἄνοντος is supposed to mean? Starkie says that it is an Ionic
form, which is used once by Plato (Κρατύλος 415α), and translates it as “making his way to…”, but, I find
this dubious. I note, however, that one manuscript (J) prints the main verb unelided, so I wonder whether
perhaps Aristophanes wrote, ἐστὶν ὄντως ἐς σωτηρίαν? This makes an ellipse, wanting the participle of a
verb of motion (e.g. εἰσίοντος), but its later inclusion as a gloss could help to explain how we arrived at a
false reading (cf. 190).
Cf. Εἰρήνη 301, χωρεῖ...εὐθὺ τῆς σωτηρίας - “head straight for salvation”.
Evidently the netting put up little resistance to his toothless gums. Miracles can happen in Old Comedy.
At first, I assumed that this to be a parenthetic remark warning the members of the Chorus again to ‘keep
it down’ (cf. 335). But, this time, the Chorus has only been offering Philokleon gentle encouragement, so
Henderson is probably right to take the remark as a logical concomitant of the old man’s success and see
it as an indication that he is worried in case they greet it with shouts of ‘hooray’!
The old men vent their indignation against a wrongdoer, and promise to punish one who dares to trample
on ‘divine ordinances’.
374. ἐὰν γρύξῃ τι
The subjunctive is preferred here, since the middle form served as the simple future, cf. Ἱππεῖς 294, εἰ τι
γρύξει - “if you so much as grunt” and Νεφέλαι 945, ἢν ἀναγρύξῃ - “if he utters a grunt”.
375. δακεῖν τὴν καρδίαν
As a bite (or sting) is painful, the main idea of the verb often becomes the pain itself rather than the action
that caused it, e.g. the opening line of Ἀχαρνεῖς declares the anguish felt by the hero Dikaiopolis who ‘has
been bitten in his heart’ (δέδηγµαι τὴν ἐµαυτοῦ καρδίαν). The ‘heart’ is the seat of any powerful emotion.
Here, the ‘wasps’ will make Bdelykleon feel a stinging pain in his senses; in his case, panic.
378. τοῖν θεοῖν ψηφίσµατα
The phrase ‘divine ordinances’ is puzzling and is complicated by textual variants, τῶν θεῶν (R) and ταῖν
θεαῖν (VJ). Hall and Geldart print Cobet’s compromise which attributes the decrees to the two goddesses,
the fertility goddess Demeter and her daughter Kore-Persephone. Sommerstein too believes that there is a
reference to the Eleusinian mysteries here, but prefers the spelling ταῖν θεαῖν found in the majority of the
codices (but cf. 7 note). He interprets the final word as “a surprise substitute for µυστήρια”. It is my view,
however, that the dual form is not especially relevant here and has arisen from an assumption made by an
The masculine form of the dual would usually be taken to mean Kastor and Polydeukes, the ‘two divine
heroes’, who were worshipped high on the northern slopes of the Akropolis with the cult-title of Ἄνακες.
Since they were considered as the patron gods of the cavalry (cf. Andokides περὶ τῶν Μυστηρίων 45, τοὺς
δ’ ἱππέας ...ἥκειν εἰς τὸ Ἀνάκειον), the Chorus would be unlikely to care about their pronouncements. On
the other hand, the feminine form of the dual would refer to the ‘great goddesses’ of Eleusis, and suggest
that the Chorus considered the son to be the kind of aristocrat who might as easily profane the mysteries,
if he prevents a juryman from going about his civic duties. This is not impossible, but the political furore
over the desecration of the Herms was still some years in the future (415 B.C.) and the supposed reference
to the ‘atheist’ Diagoras of Melos in the previous year’s Νεφέλαι (830) is not compelling evidence that the
possible profanation of the mysteries was already a topic of concern.
Consequently, I would follow MacDowell in accepting τῶν θεῶν. He notes that the same phrase is found
in a fragment (115) of the poems of Empedokles of Akragas, an early sophist thought to have taught, or at
least influenced, his fellow Sicilian Gorgias (cf. 421). The first line of the fragment states, “There exists
an oracular pronouncement regarding Necessity, an ancient divine decree” - ἔστιν Ἀνάγκης χρῆµα, θεῶν
ψήφισµα παλαιόν. cf. Kirk, G.S. and Raven J.E. - “The Presocratic Philosophers” (Cambridge, 1957) p.
The city-gaol near the Agora was colloquially known as the Ἀναγκαῖον, as too was the prison at Thebes.
There may also be the intention on Aristophanes’ part to mock the use of ψήφισµα, as if the laws of the
Universe were voted on democratically by the divine powers.
A close reading of this couplet suggests that common sense goes out the window along with Philokleon.
My translation restores logic, although I am far from certain that Aristophanes intended that. The Chorus
seems to be proposing that the old man takes a cord (καλῴδιον) from the severed net, rather than a more
substantial rope (σχοινίον) imagined by modern editors (which he would have to conjure out of thin air).
He is told to secure it and tie <one end> around his body. If he then launches himself from the window, it
is certain only Faith-in-Zeus (Diopeithes) can save him from the law of gravity (Ἀνάγκη).
Perhaps, the phrase ἐξάψας διὰ τῆς θυρίδος could be taken to mean ‘passing the cord around the window
frame’. This would at least make sense of Philokleon’s fears expressed in the following lines. But it may
be worth noting that the word θυρίς also has a special, technical meaning (‘a wasp’s cell’ or ‘an opening
in a bee’s cell’) which might be hinted at here, though if so, such a play on words would be too difficult
The name of Diopeithes is introduced (like that of Drakontides later, cf.438) simply for the sake of the
weak pun. It might be rendered (just as feebly) with the advice to “put your faith in universal law or Jude
Law”, though a modern audience would not stand for it. The suggestion that he was a “religious maniac”
is based on an overly-literal interpretation of comic caricature in other comedies and not worth the bother
of refuting here.
“These two” are the slaves. They are the ones who do the physical work, although the Chorus recognizes
that it is the man giving the orders that they must deal with.
383. πρινώδη θυµὸν
The holm-oak (πρῖνος), or quercus ilex, is a common, Mediterranean tree whose wood is dense and hard.
In Hesiod’s Ἔργα καὶ Ἡµέραι 429, we are told that, “The <wood of the> holm-oak makes the sturdiest
beam for a plough.” Consequently, the adjective πρίνινον is found signifying an ‘unbending’ or ‘hard’
character, as we would use ‘steely’ or ‘iron-willed’ (cf. Ἀχαρνεῖς 180-1, πρίνινοι...Μαραθωνοµάχαι and
877, πρίνινον ἦθος). Here, the ‘adjective’ πρινώδη, which does not occur elsewhere, is assumed to be a
synonym of πρίνινον, and to qualify the collective mind-set of the chorus, so that they are promising to
“summon up an indomitable anger or spirit”. Thus, Barrett and Sommerstein have recourse to Starkie’s
English metaphor “hearts-of-oak”.
It is perhaps too pedantic to observe that such a phrase, while applicable to the sea-farers of Old England,
whose naval superiority rested upon oak beams, would hardly strike a chord with the ancient mariners of
Athens, whose wooden walls were not oaken, but in any case, a reference to the Chorus’s oaken spirit, is
singularly ineffective in this context. It leaves us to conclude that the jurors have nothing better to offer
their comrade-in-arms than a fierce expression of solidarity? While this could be amusing if intended to
emphasize the old men’s powerlessness, it detracts from the menace displayed by the ‘wasps’ up till now.
Moreover, the following line suggests that they are offering more concrete assistance, for they confidently
refer to the fact that their action (τοιαῦτα ποιήσοµεν) will prevent the further detention of the aged juror.
Would any amount of “stubborn rage” or “heart-of-oak spirit” achieve that?
It seems to me more likely that the jurors are threatening to flex their legal muscles by issuing a summons
en masse (ἅπαντες καλέσαντες) to lift the restraint on the old man, a proposal which will be recalled later
in the play when ironically the father himself is threatened by a class-action suit (cf. 1332-4). The ‘oaken
spirit’, therefore, may not belong to the old men at all; instead, they are referring to the defendant in their
future suit, who will be τὸν πρινωδήθυµον son. The accusative case follows ἀµυνοῦµεν, for they promise
to defend the Father (dative σοι) from the Son (accusative) by summonsing the latter, αὐτὸν (understood
from τὸν πρινωδήθυµον). The neologism which Aristophanes coins to characterize Bdelykleon as “hard-
hearted” or “intransigent”, is formed in line with ὀξυθύµων - “irrascible” (455), βορβορόθυµος - “filthy-
minded” (Εἰρήνη 753) γλυκύθυµος - “sweet-natured” (Νεφέλαι 705) and βαρύθυµον - “resentful”
(Euripides Μήδεια 176). The meaning here of ‘harsh and unrelenting’ seems vouched for by στρυφνὸν
καὶ πρίνινον ἦθος, a phrase which ironically in the later instance is used by the Son himself of the Father.
This line corroborates the threat expressed in 1334, suggesting that an action could be initiated by a group
of litigants for a common end. The irony here, of course, is that the litigants would also be ‘the jury’.
Hall and Geldart follow Lenting’s proposal to treat the verb as an interrogative in parenthesis, “Are you
getting this?” This would be a natural interpretation if the word occurred in a Platonic dialogue, but here
MacDowell is probably right to see it as an imperative, “take note <of what I say>!”
386. ὑπο τοῖσι δρυφάκτοις
An ancient scholion tells us that, δρύφακτα ἐλέγετο τὰ ταβλώµατα τοῦ δικαστηρίου καὶ τὰ περιφράγµατα
διὰ τὸ ἐκ ξύλων καὶ σανίδων τῶν ἐκ δρυὸς εἶναι κατασκευασµένα - “the partitions and fences around the
law-court were called δρύφακτα because they were constructed from wood-<palings> and boards of oak”.
The word δρύφακτοι seems to have been a generic term used of the ‘picket-fences’ set up outside various
buildings in the Agora for crowd control. They were employed outside the Bouleuterion when the Boule
was in session (cf. Ἱππεῖς 675) as well as the law-courts, and also served to keep the tribes separate when
the votes for ostracism were being conducted. In all probability, therefore, they were erected temporarily.
The δρύφακτοι of the law-courts formed a corridor leading to the κιγκλίδες in order to allow the jurymen
easy access to the court-room, separated from the general public (cf. 552).
Philokleon’s desire for his mortal remains to be buried “under the court-railings”, reflects a natural wish
of one who feels his life at risk, like a soldier or traveller setting off on a perilous adventure, to be interred
in his homeland in a spot he holds dear and he so identifies with the court that even in death he wishes to
be near his favourite occupation and among friends. [One may recall the New York lady who wanted her
ashes to be scattered at the entrance to Bloomingdale’s, so that her daughter would visit her more often.]
But, in practice, no burials were permitted within the Agora. Since the turn of the century, only the bones
of the national hero Theseus had been allowed burial. Later, Theophrastos would desire that he be laid to
rest in the grounds of the Lykeion where he had spent his working life, but that lay outside the city-limits.
They assure him that he will come to no harm, so he should not be afraid. We naturally reverse the order.
Although they insist that he will be quite safe, they suggest that a prayer to his ancestral gods would be a
good insurance policy…just in case.
His companions recognize that, like Strymodoros in 233, he is devoted to his judicial duty.
τοῖσι πατρῴοισι θεοῖσιν
Not ‘your father’s gods’ but “the gods of our fathers”, i.e. the tutelary gods of Athens, who protected the
Athenians above all other Greeks.
389. ὦ Λύκε δέσποτα
The Chorus’s suggestion to invoke one of the tutelary gods of the Athenians has misled the audience into
expecting a prayer to Apollo, who was considered one of the city’s protectors (cf. Plato Εὐθύδηµος 302δ,
and the invocations at 869 and 875). But, instead of beginning ὦ Λύκειε, Philokleon proceeds to offer a
prayer to a local spirit whose shrine was located near the law-courts.
The phrase is in the nominative, rather than the expected vocative (cf. 875, ὦ...γεῖτον Ἀγυιεῦ), because it
is a parenthetic explanation of who the obscure spirit is. There are a number of figures in mythology with
the name Lykos; the most likely candidate here is the son of Pandion (II), one of the heroes who gave his
name to an Athenian tribe (Πανδιονίς). He had helped his elder brother Aigeos take back control of their
father’s kingdom and as an uncle to Theseus, the founding father of the city of Athens, probably merited a
heroön of his own.
Boegehold (1967), while recognizing that Lykos is merely a surprise substitute for Lykeion Apollo, put
forward the idea that γείτων ἥρως meant that Lykos was Apollo’s neighbour rather than Philokleon’s. He
suggested that there may have been a court adjacent to the sanctuary of Apollo Πατρῴος. But, this misses
the point that Lykos has been mentioned παρὰ προσδοκίαν, simply because his hero-shrine was located
next to the law-courts.
Some commentators (including MacDowell) have been misled by Polydeukes’ reference (8.121) into the
belief that there was a specific court, τὸ ἐπὶ Λύκῳ (‘the court at Lykos’). No-one else mentions it and it is
most probably just a misunderstanding of τὸ Ἐπιλύκειον, the official title of the Athenian polemarcheion.
There may, in fact, have been a statue of a wolf (λύκος) outside each Athenian court-house, since this was
the inference that Eratosthenes drew (in his περὶ τῆς ἀρχαίας Κωµῳδίας, quoted by Harpokration), Λύκος
ἐστὶν ἥρως πρὸς τοῖς ἐν Ἀθήναις δικαστηρίοις, τοῦ θηρίου µορφὴν ἔχων - “Lykos is a hero, in the shape
of the beast, close by the lawcourts at Athens” (cf. 552, 819).
Philokleon takes the constant presence of Lykos outside the courts to indicate that he shares his interest in
what goes on there. As a man in wolf’s clothing, of course, Lykos’s interest may be rather different, for a
wolf is attracted by a bleating sheep with only one purpose in mind (cf. 570-2). But, then again, the jurors
may be just as ‘lupine’. See also 552, note.
τῶν φευγόντων ἀεὶ
It is usual to take ἀεὶ closely with the preceding words in the sense of ‘currently’, or ‘at the present time’,
but since there is clearly no reason for current defendants to be singled out, commentators generalize by
talking of “<those who are under prosecution> at any given time”, or “those who are on trial each day”,
which seems redundant. Although another instance of this special meaning is said to occur later (1318), it
is really no more than a postponement, distancing ἀεὶ from the verb which it emphasizes. Here it belongs
with κεχάρησαι, “you take continual delight in…”
He does not say he is a ‘neighbour’, but that he occupies a contiguous area; hinting at their related spheres
of interest perhaps. Later, the idea of one’s space, or χῶρος, is developed for comic effect (cf. 834, 850).
As consideration for Lykos coming to his rescue, Philokleon promises not to violate his territory.
παρὰ τὰς κάννας
Evidently, the boundary of each heroön would have been delineated by a line of dry reeds which formed a
makeshift fence separating it from the court nearby. Reeds are still planted along the edges of fields under
cultivation to prevent wind erosion and livestock from roaming. Such a feature could have been intended
to signify Lykos’s rural origins or been drawn from some part of his myth (cf. also Pherekrates frg. 63).
οὐρήσω µὴδ(ε) ἀποπάρδω
The future indicative tense of οὐρήσω, denotes a solemn promise, but the subsequent aorist subjunctive of
µὴδ’ ἀποπάρδω expresses a less confident hope. Aristophanes again makes light of the strangury endured
by old men. During the extended court-hearings older jurors would have to answer the call of Nature (cf.
807-10). As a ‘wolf-man’ Lykos might well take exception to a competitor encroaching on his territory by
urinating, so Philokleon promises that he will never do so. Then, to seal the bargain he expresses his hope
that he may “not even let one off”. In this case, Sommerstein’s alteration (2004, addenda xxv) of ‘fart’ to
‘shit’ is prejudiced by µηδὲ, “and not even”.
We may presume that at this point the stage-hands began to lower Philokleon with the κράδη.
In detecting and foiling the attempted escape, the voices alternate rapidly, so the attribution of the lines to
speakers is uncertain.
Recent editors let the Son continue speaking the first half of this line before they permit the slave to spot
the old man dangling over his head. But, I think Hall and Geldart are right to follow the lead of (J) which
reverses the split, so that the slave is comically unable to see the Father until the Son (from further away)
looks up and points him out. A similar, pantomime situation, where a character on stage is unable to see
what the audience can see, occurs in Νεφέλαι, when Strepsiades is looking all about for the approaching
Chorus. The first part of the line, in any case, is better spoken by the slave, since the expression “the old
feller” suits him rather than the Son (cf. 178, ὁ γέρων).
The adverb is Dindorf’s addition to the text to make up the metre. It fits well enough, but the codices give
no hint of it; perhaps the gap is simply the result of a missing article, i.e. µὰ τὸν ∆ί’ οὐ δῆτ’ (cf. 169).
397. [Πατήρ] ὦ µιαρώτατε, τί ποιεῖς;
These words used to be assigned to a slave on the evidence of one manuscript (J). Thus, Hall and Geldart
make Xanthias the speaker. Though it is harsh language for a household slave to employ of the old man,
it has been spoken before by one of the slaves (cf. 187). On that occasion, however, it was used indirectly
in the nominative not the vocative case, implying heavy sarcasm. Porson suggested emending to ὦ µιάρ’
ἀνδρῶν on metrical grounds, but this does not soften the tone. Besides, van Leeuven’s proposal to assign
this cry to the Son fails to convince, although recent editors have followed him, because the Son regularly
displays more aplomb, even under provocation. On the other hand, his father has already called the slaves
µιαρώτατοι (156) and it must be Xanthias who is being abused again, as he has just been prodding the old
man with his skewer. For what it’s worth, the same question is posed by Philokleon later (1443).
MacDowell explains that emendation to remove the dactyl at the end of the second metron (-ώτατε) is not
required, as Porson had originally suggested, since the poet does seem to allow four consecutive syllables
to be short in his anapaestic tetrameters (cf. e.g. Νεφέλαι 916, διὰ σὲ δὲ).
[Χανθίας] οὐ µὴ καταβήσει;
The interpretation of this phrase as a question (or what MacDowell characterizes as “partly statement and
partly interrogative-imperative”) is unconvincing. I would read οὐ µὴν καταβήσει· as an asseveration by
the slave, “you won’t be coming down, that’s for sure”, as he brings his ‘weapon’ into play.
At this point, Sommerstein has Xanthias climb up the outside of the house, while MacDowell prefers to
imagine the slave unbarring the door and disappearing inside. No such solution is required if we assume
that the first part of the line is still addressed to the Father and that only with καὶ ταῖσιν does Bdelykleon
begin a fresh idea directed at the slave.
καὶ ταῖσιν φυλλάσι παῖε
Obviously, the idea is that the slave will take down the harvest-dedications hanging over the door (for this
is still where garlands of spring flowers are hung on the first of May in Greece), and use them to persuade
Philokleon to go back up. So, we have to assume that ‘the leaves’ stand in for the olive-branches, though
by mid-winter the leaves would have withered and fallen off, and the slave would be left ‘holding out an
olive-branch’ to the old man.
399. πρύµνην ἀνακρούσηται
The codices read πρύµναν, which does not appear to scan, since the second syllable is required to be long
here. Consequently, Hall and Geldart prefer to print Elmsley’s emendation πρύµνην, which Sommerstein
also accepts. MacDowell, however, argues that the syllable could be lengthened in poetry and cites a line
from Sophokles’ Φιλοκτήτης (482), ἐς ἀντλίαν, ἐς πρῷραν, ἐς πρύµναν, ὅπου, where -ναν has to be long,
though Elmsley had proposed reading πρύµνην here too. It may be that the syllable could be lengthened
in verse, or at least that Byzantine scribes thought it might be, but emendation appears the most practical
solution. The alternative of keeping the short syllable in πρύµναν by switching its position with the verb
(as Henderson prefers) sidesteps the issue without explaining the Sophoklean instance.
In translation we do not need to faithfully reproduce the nautical metaphor of ‘backing water’, which was
necessary to communicate the idea of reversing direction to an Athenian audience, whose chariots had no
reverse gears and since horse dressage was unknown outside Magna Graecia.
An English-speaking audience will relate birch twigs to a thrashing more readily than the olive-branches
used for the εἰρεσιώναι. David Barrett (see Sommerstein’s note) pointed to the possibility that a pun over
the use of oars (εἰρεσία) in backing water lay behind the choice of the nautical metaphor.
Unable to climb back up and reluctant to descend, the father is in a predicament from which only a court-
room sophist could extricate him.
The names of the four men said to be about to bring prosecutions are probably disguised for comic effect.
It is superficial to assume that they belonged to known ‘sycophants’ who were expected to be involved in
actual upcoming cases, or even to people who appeared in court regularly for the prosecution. It is safer to
suppose that names suggestive of venality were chosen as being reminiscent of real names of real people.
Because no prominent individual can be identified among the four and no-one is mentioned by the ancient
scholiasts, we may suppose that each member of the audience was free to make his own connections from
among his circle of friends.
The name may convey overtones of ‘cleaning up’ (σµήχω). Sommerstein notes that a man of this name is
mentioned in an inscription of 407/6 B.C. (IG. I³ 387.2) and Wilhelm has proposed reading Σµικυθίων for
the name Λικυθίων (IG. XII 9. 1049). See also Ἐκκλησιάζουσαι 46, and Pherekrates Γρᾶες (frg. 37).
The name suggests ‘retribution’ (τίσις). H. van Herwerden rightly points out that the name would usually
have been written Τεισιάδης, but the sound makes the appropriate connection, so we probably do not need
to alter the text in the codices Τισιάδη.
This suggests a love of ‘cash’ (χρήµατα) or ‘need’ (χρή) in general. The real name may have been either
Χρέµων (MacDowell), Χρῆµον (Dindorf), or possibly even Χρόµων (Sommerstein), from an inscription
IG. I³ 145.2.
The name ‘fetching dinner’ (φέρε-δεῖπνον) seems an obvious fiction, but a man named Εὔδειπνος appears
in an inscription found at Eretria (IG. XII 9. 360). Alternatively, the spectator may think of a Φερεκλείδης
Φερένικος, or Φερεκράτης.
Most commentators have concluded from this word (and the suggestion of ἐσκαλαµᾶσθαι earlier in 381)
that either Bdelykleon or one of the slaves must have left the stage after line 399 intent on hauling the old
man back in through the window. But, since the door has been barricaded and the Son has displayed little
enthusiasm for doing very much for himself, it is probably better that both of them remain on stage. One
of the slaves tries to deter the old man from descending by menacing him with his roasting-spit, while the
other has a go at forcing him to climb back up by actively beating him with the twigs. But ultimately they
let him slide down the rope. Consequently, both slaves and the Son remain on stage for the confrontation
with the ‘wasps’ in the next scene. If, as Sommerstein prefers, the Son were to enter the house in order to
drag his father back in at the window, he would still have to bring him outside in any case, so why did he
Symmetrical Scene 403-525
The relative pronoun requires us to supply a verb such as κινοῦµε in order to complete the sense.
ἡνικ(α) ἄν τις ἡµῶν
The chorus-leader’s words are a fulfilment of the Son’s earlier warning (223-4) of the perils of disturbing
the ‘wasp-swarm’. The position of the genitive pronoun is somewhat misleading, but matches the order of
ἡµῶν...τἀνθρήνια (1080). As the metre would not have been affected by moving it to its logical place, i.e.
τὴν ἡµῶν σφηκιάν, the poet must have preferred this arrangement for euphony.
The chorus-leader issues a spirited call-to-arms. The rhythm of the trochaic tetrameters is used to impart a
sense of “urgency” and is “suitable for scenes of excitement” (MacDowell p. 25).
The obeli are mine, for though the metre is sound, the repetition seems suspect to me. To MacDowell, the
rhythmical effect produced by the repetition was a sign that, “the wasps are limbering up for action”, but
though it might underline the ‘wasps’ determination, it might just as easily signify their indecision, which
seems inappropriate. Similar repetition in Νεφέλαι (657), however, seems to be justified.
The crasis of τὸ ὀξύθυµον is usually taken adjectively (cf. 455, 1105) as qualifying κέντρον, and although
its use in the sense of “sharp-spirited sting” (Sommerstein) is defended by MacDowell, the epithet is not
a logical one to apply to an unfeeling appendage. So, it might be better understood as a distinct adjectival-
noun (sc. ἦθος), the equivalent of ὀξυθυµία (as in Euripides Βάκχαι 671).
If one takes this path, then ἐντέτατ(αι) in the following line is unlikely to be its governing verb. It is more
likely that the second trochaic metron (the dubious repetition) of the previous line, originally comprised a
verb. It would probably have been an exhortation such as, νῦν ἐκεῖνο <κινέσωµε> τοὐξύθυµον (echoing
the assonance of κινεῖν ἐκείνην in 403), “let us now rouse that irascible nature <of ours>”.
407. κέντρον ἐντέτατ(αι) ὀξύ
Acceptance of the repetition in 405 has left editors with little choice but to assume that τοὐξύθυµον is an
adjective describing κέντρον, so the relative clause ᾧ κολαζόµεσθα has to be punctuated as a parenthesis.
As a result, however, the interpretation of ὀξύ becomes problematic. MacDowell has adopted a hands-off
approach, suggesting that one may treat the adjective predicatively and translate, “<our> sting has been
stretched to make a sharp point”. But, many editors have concluded that the syntax is defective here and a
number of remedies have been proposed. Bergk suggested ἐντέταται ὀξέως, Meineke has ἐντετάµεθ’ ὀξύ,
D.M. Jones proffered ἐντατέον ὀξέως and Sommerstein (1977) has conjectured ἐντέταται εἰς µάχην. None
of these imaginative emendations, however, restores the trochaic metre.
But if the initial exhortation is grammatically complete, then we can close the relative clause with a colon
or full-stop and treat the rest of the line as a fresh idea in apposition to what has gone before. The original
verse might have read more simply, -µεσθα· κέντρον / ἔντος (or given the present text) ἔντε(α) ὀξύ. So,
the chorus-leader is encouraging his companions to summon up the same spleen they customarily display
in the court-room… “That sharp stinger with which we are equipped”. The plural noun ἔντεα is an epic
usage and its use here would have been meant to lend a heroic tone to the speech (cf. e.g. Ἰλιάς 10.407,
ἔντεα...ἀρήια - “<Hektor’s> arms of war”, for the singular cf. Archilochos frg. 5.2 West).
In all likelihood, the text of the codices has resulted from a misconception. Because τοὐξύθυµον has been
tied to κέντρον, the words ἔντε(α) ὀξύ have made no sense alone and consequently some astute scholiast
has suggested that the poet had written ἐντέταται τόξα to create the image of the stingers drawn back like
arrows on taut bowstrings, ready to let fly. When this misconception became incorporated in the text, the
lively image it conveyed overruled both sense and scansion.
These words were added to make sure the spectator appreciated that the wasps’ stings stand as a metaphor
for the jurymen’s venomous anger. This is to prepare the ground for making the correlation between their
‘sting’ and their property-phalluses. Commentators have drawn the conclusion, based on the present text,
that the old men display their ‘stingers’ at this point, but this seems to me to be a premature extrapolation
408. θαἰµάτια βαλόντες
The codices and recent editors read λαβόντες, which gives us to understand that the old men are ready to
discard their cloaks for the fight. They tell the boys to ‘take’ the cloaks, before telling them to run off on
their errand. Quite apart from the fact that ‘handing over one’s cloak’ was actually used to symbolize an
act of submission in Νεφέλαι (1103), this makes little sense. Firstly, the jurors are not young athletes but
elderly men, so they are not about to catch a chill out of bravado. Nor do they need to display the physical
attributes of their ‘waspish’ character (e.g. MacDowell’s black and yellow tunics), since these are merely
a metaphor. On the contrary, it is the young boys who must ‘lay aside their cloaks’ so as to be able to run
as fast as their legs will carry them. (Henderson would have them ‘grab their cloaks’, possibly to prevent
them billowing out). So, as Hall and Geldart saw, we need the correction βαλόντες, which is superscribed
in the 16th-century manuscript B. The verb is abbreviated from καταβάλλω (‘to lay aside’, cf. Hermippos
frg. 48, χλανίδες...καταβέβληνται - “cloaks have been laid aside”). If one is concerned that the discarded
cloaks would make the orchestra look untidy, then the boys can carry them off in their arms.
Although it is reasonable to have the boys remove their cloaks in order to run, one cannot help wondering
why Aristophanes bothered with such a mechanical detail. It is just a thought, unsupported by the shadow
of the slightest evidence, but were the boys perhaps revealed to be midgets under their cloaks? Dwarfs in
circus performances can still draw laughter by capering on stubby legs and the poet may have made the
‘boys’ rapid exit a comic surprise in this way. [Brad Williams ably demonstrates why this is funny.]
The lowest form of political animal is the ‘patriot’ who claims that his political viewpoint represents the
only true love of country and that any contrary opinion is inimical to it. Aristophanes here paints Kleon’s
supporters as ready to brand an opponent as ‘hating his country’ by daring to obstruct the daily function
of the courts. Hermann thought that we should read µισόδηµον (cf. 473), but at this stage the chorusmen
are making a more general accusation about their ‘homeland’.
413. λόγον εἰσφέρει
The detention of Philokleon is interpreted by his colleagues as an attempt to block the courts. They see it
as tantamount to “introducing a bill” in the Assembly to abolish trials!
The codices add the words ὡς χρὴ (‘to the effect that one must…’) to cover the perceived syntactical gap.
Modern editors consider them to be a gloss.
415. ὦ (ἀ)γαθοί
Seeing the old men’s determination to involve Kleon in the situation, the Son’s tone becomes emollient.
MacDowell follows the main codices and prints κεκράγατε, but admits that the evidence for this spelling
of the imperative is inconclusive. The Son tells the jurymen not to raise a hue and cry against him in the
manner of Kleon’s shouting and screaming. But they insist they will raise their cry for the gods to hear.
416. τοῦδ(ε) ἐγὼ οὐ µεθήσοµαι
MacDowell is right to support the reading of the codices, τόνδε. Porson proposed the emendation to the
genitive, but this presupposes that the Son is physically restraining his father, which is unlikely to be the
case. He is not saying ‘I won’t let go of him’, but rather “I won’t have him released” (cf. 437).
418. Θεώρου θεοισεχθρία
The members of the chorus make a para-tragic appeal to the sanctity of their homeland and gods, except
that “Theoros abominated by the gods” is substituted for θεοί. Bentley was responsible for correcting the
reading of the codices θεοσεχθρία, though the possibility remains that we should write θεοῖς ἐχθρία.
419. ἡµῶν κόλαξ
Most codices read ὑµῶν, a common copying error.
420. <ὦ > Ἡράκλεις
Herakles, the epitome of bravery, is invoked in situations where courage is needed (cf. Νεφέλαι 184).
Aristophanes is being deliberately ambiguous. The slave seems to be pointing out a physical characteristic
of the ‘wasps’, but the Son’s reply suggests that he has merely discerned a feature of their character.
421. ἐν δίκῃ
While this can mean ‘deservedly’ in some contexts, it does not seem particularly pertinent for the Son (or
Aristophanes) to pass such comment. Bdelykleon appears to be speaking ruefully about the inability of a
defence attorney to ward off the jurors’ hostility, so (along with MacDowell) I feel that it probably means
no more than “at trial” here.
As Sommerstein rightly points out, Gorgias had no son, so there seems little point in him translating “son
of Gorgias”. Instead, we might take the characterization to mean that Philippos was the intellectual “heir
to Gorgias”. In Ὄρνιθες (1694-1705), the two orators are lampooned as verbose court-room practitioners,
who deserved to have their tongues cut out. According to an ancient scholion on Ὄρνιθες 1701 (frg. 118),
Philippos had also featured in Γεωργοί (c. 424/3), so we can presume that not long before Σφῆκες a jury
had ‘handed Philippos his hat’ when he had pleaded ineffectually in a high-profile court-case.
The chorus ‘swarm’ in close-packed formation. This action replicates their massing together in the court-
room (1109-11) and their ‘aggression’ and ‘venom’ when hearing cases (prefigured in 243).
The codices read αὖτις (RJ) or αὐτῆς (V). The first would be satisfactory in the sense of “in your turn”,
but there seems no justification for the Ionic form in preference to the usual αὖθις. The other variant must
stand for αὐτῆς <ὥρας>, “this very minute”, but the noun’s omission is awkward. Consequently, it is most
likely that the emendation proposed by Hirschig and by Holden, αὐτοῖς <κέντροις>, “with these pricks”,
is right, since that noun has already been expressed.
He turns his attention away from threatening the enemy to issue a call to arms to his disordered comrades.
Hall and Geldart have preferred Dindorf’s ἀλλὰ πᾶς to the codices’ ἀλλ’ ἅπας, which recent editors print.
Τhe phrase looks as if it is borrowed from the parade-ground; something akin to ‘About…turn!’ Just as in
the court-room, the jurors need to be facing in one direction, all glaring intimidatingly upon the accused.
423. κἀξείρας τὸ κέντρον
There are two important points worth noting about this phrase, which MacDowell does not discuss. First
of all, we have to decide what each juror is expected to do with his stinger. Earlier, we had been informed
by Bdelykleon that the jurors ‘have stingers’ (225, ἔχουσι...κέντρον) and the slave has just acknowledged
the fact (420) after listening to the vindictive malice of their speech. Now, for the first time the Chorus is
about to display a physical attribute and the manner in which they do so should be noted.
Sommerstein, I think, jumps the gun by having the jurors “extend stings”. LSJ is misleading here because
the phrase chosen to exemplify the meaning ‘put forth’ is elliptical. Although we read of a horse’s groom
“putting forth his hand toward” a horse’s nostrils (Herodotos 3.87, ἐξείραντα τὴν χεῖρα προς...), it is clear
from the context that the hand was previously out of sight and that what he has done was to “draw out his
hand and <proffer it> towards” the horse. Therefore, we should understand that the ‘wasps’ are about to
‘draw out’ their stingers, like swords, rather than ‘extend’ them. The meaning is made clear by comparing
the use of the same participle in Ἱππεῖς (377-8), ἔνδοθεν τὴν γλῶτταν ἐξείραντες - “yanking his tongue
out of his mouth”.
The second point to consider is the location of the stinger. Those, like Sommerstein, who would have the
jurors equipped with additional ‘stingers’ protruding from their rumps have difficulty in reconciling this
instruction with the previous one. Since the ‘wasps’ are told to face in the same direction, each has to be
opening his cloak to reveal a stinger pointing menacingly toward Bdelykleon and the slaves. There should
be little doubt, therefore, where the stinger is located.
The slave’s former bravado (cf. 228) evaporates when faced with the actual ‘swarm’ and a real, physical
Polydeukes suggested (8.16) that there may have been a pun intended on the ambiguity of this word. He
thought that it could mean a stylus used by jurors for recording their sentence. MacDowell dismisses the
likelihood of the audience taking the word in this sense and, as Griffith noted, we can infer from line 108
that the jurors simply used their fingernails for that purpose. But, Polydeukes was right to point out that
ἐγκεντρίς did not mean specifically a wasp’s stinger, but any sharp-pointed object, e.g. a spur, spike, goad
or fountain-pen nib, so it was left to the audience to interpret its meaning in this situation.
429. τὰς χελώνας...τοῦ δέρµατος
The usual meaning of δέρµα is ‘skin’ or ‘hide’ and in Aristophanes’ dramas it is invariably associated in
some way with a beating (e.g. Εἰρήνη 746) or beating off (e.g. Ἱππεῖς 27). Therefore, I am loath to accept
the view of LSJ that in this instance it ought to be understood to mean ‘shell’. A later repetition (cf. 1292)
shows that the poet was quite capable of distinguishing between hide and shell.
430. σφῆκες ὀξυκάρδιοι
The epithet, a synonym of ὀξύθυµος (cf. 406) is used by Aischylos (Ἑπτὰ ἐπὶ Θήβας 907, ἐµοιράσαντο...
ὀξυκάρδιοι κτήµατα - “<the dead heroes had> divided their inheritance between them with eager hearts”.
433. ὦ Μίδα καὶ Φρύξ…καὶ Μασιντύα
These foreign names identify their bearers as household slaves. They are pet-names of the kind one would
give a dog and would presumably be reflected in their appearance on stage. The name ‘Midas’ does more
than just indicate the slave’s Phrygian origin; it would remind the audience of how the legendary king of
Phrygia had been cursed by Apollo to grow large, hairy ears to resemble a donkey. The ‘Phrygian’, could
probably be identified by his silly, Phrygian hat, while Masyntias, the ‘Chewer’, (perhaps meant to sound,
foreign, not unlike Μασίστιος the famed Persian cavalry commander). Hall and Geldart print Μασιντύα,
but we should read Μασυντία, since Hesychios gives the word µασύντης (for µασητήρ) as the nickname
of a parasite who must have appeared in another comic-drama. This slave would be recognizable from his
protruding lower jaw and large teeth. As with the earlier cry to alert the slaves (136), we might treat ὢ as
a separate yell.
Although the codices are agreed on the plural βοηθεῖτε, which one would expect, Bentley realised that the
metre would only admit the singular and also knew enough Greek to know that it was acceptable syntax
(cf. Ἐκκλησ. 293-4); both points I would have missed. The use of δεῦρο without a verb of motion makes
the expression almost a separate invocation, “Help! Come on!” (cf. Νεφέλαι 323, βλέπε…δευρὶ - “Over
435. (ἐ)ν πέδαις παχείαις
The implication of these ‘thick’ leg-fetters seems to be that the slaves will be immobilized as if by a ‘ball
and chain’. Demosthenes (περὶ τοῦ στεφάνου 129) speaks of a slave wearing a wooden <yoke> and broad
shackles - χοίνικας παχείας ἔχων καὶ ξύλον which suggests a punishment akin to public exposure in the
stocks. Cf. also Πλοῦτος 275, αἱ κνῆµαι...τὶς χοίνικας καὶ τὰς πέδας ποθοῦσαι.
436. ἀκούσας...θρίων τὸν ψόφον
Fig-leaves fall, together with the temperature, in late-November and December. They curl up and remain
very brittle until rain softens them to mulch. We might assume, therefore, that the Son is using the sound
of dried leaves crackling underfoot as a cruel simile for his aged father’s ineffectual threats. A. Campbell,
however, suggested (1930) that this line is actually spoken by the chorus-leader wishing to demonstrate
his swarm’s determination. There are arguments on both sides. All modern editors have assigned the line
to the Son. MacDowell does so on the grounds that the Chorus has no reason to doubt the threat made to
punish the slaves. He takes the Son to be encouraging them, by insisting that the ‘wasps’ won’t sting. On
the other hand, if the Son is so dismissive of his father’s attempts at intimidation, why would he call for
reinforcements? Besides, as a derisive put-down it seems to me to sound marginally better coming from
an old man’s mouth. The desiccated leaf is a fig-leaf after all, and the chorus judges the younger man’s
calls for help to be a clear indication of his effeteness. Their put-down opens the way for them to make a
more immediate threat of their own.
There is, however, a third possibility to be considered. In view of Philokleon’s enthusiasm for inflicting
corporal punishment on the household slaves, he may be interjecting (for the exclamatory ὡς cf. 427) to
let the slaves know that his son is all talk (whereas he is not!).
At this point, it is generally agreed that the Son and Xanthias leave the stage to fetch certain items which
will be required in due course. The principal reason for this assumption is the verb ἐκδραµεῖν in line 452.
But, as this verb, or at least its interpretation, is highly dubious, there is no compelling reason for them to
absent themselves at this crucial stage in the confrontation. It is awkward to suspend the dramatic tension
by having the two go into the house and it is unusual to have the Son go in person to fetch any items that
a slave could, even though he will offer to do so later (cf. 798, 853).
437. ἔν τί σοι παγήσεται
The preposition acts as a prefix to the verb (ἐµπήγνυµι), which is in the future passive tense, and τί carries
a borrowed accent, so the chorus-leader is warning him that “something (I leave you to guess what) will
be stuck in you”. The singular σοι is similarly vague.
438-9. ὦ Κέκροψ ἥρως ἄναξ
Without needing any prompting, Philokleon invokes a second hero, the mythical founder and first king of
Athens. He was a talking snake, born of the earth, rather than a human and so was usually depicted as half
man, half-snake. The archaic temple known as the Hekatompedon on the Akropolis featured snakes in the
corners of the East pediment, one of which may have represented Kekrops.
Although it is not clear why he should choose this particular name-hero, I have assumed that it is because
of the snake’s ability to wriggle out of a tight spot. But, this slight justification was enough to introduce a
play on the name Drakontides? Perhaps too, he intended an echo of some tragic-drama based on his myth,
as suggested by the phrase ὑπ’ ἀνδρῶν βαρβάρων χειρούµενον. The foreign (to judge from their names)
slaves may have been brought on stage in order to introduce the specific quotation. Aischylos (Προµηθεύς
355) uses a similar phrase of a giant subdued by force (cf. 443, πρὸς βίαν χειροῦσιν).
τὰ πρὸς πόδων ∆ρακοντίδη
The audience would have been expecting the adjective δρακοντώδης (‘serpentine’).
440. τέτταρ(α) ἐς τὴν χοίνικα
The Attic χοῖνιξ (‘a quart’) was a unit of measure for dry commodities such as flour or corn. It comprised
four κοτύλαι (‘half-pints’). One quart was considered to be the amount of barley per day on which a man
could subsist or, in other words, a slave’s daily portion. When Kleon trapped the Spartan force at Pylos it
was agreed that they could be re-supplied daily with two quarts of barley per man, but only one quart for
each Helot (Thucydides 4.16, δύο χοίνικας ἑκάστῳ Ἀττικὰς ἀλφίτων...θεράποντι δὲ τούτων ἡµίσεα). So,
although a κοτύλη separately could be a liquid measure, there is no suggestion that it measures tears here.
Indeed, the use of the neuter plural (‘four parts’) seems to avoid reference to the ambiguity of the κοτύλη.
Four is the number of kotylai that a full (Attic) choinix should contain and therefore the phrase ‘four to a
choinix’ means simply ‘the full daily allowance’, i.e., their due, “as they deserved”.
Despite the need for prompt action, the old men begin to lose their concentration once again and fall to
reminiscing about ‘the good, old days’. As is often the case, these turn out to have been not so good for
everyone concerned. After all, the reason that the slaves were provided with work-clothes, was because
they had to work.
[I have turned the Chorus’ statement (445-6) concerning provision of winter footwear, into a rhetorical
question. It can be accompanied by an indicative gesture, but I have also inserted an optional, additional
line for Chorus (B)].
444. διφθερῶν κἀξωµίδων
The old farmer in Νεφέλαι (72) had fondly imagined that his son would follow in his footsteps and herd
goats, διφθέραν ἐνηµµένος (“wearing a leather jerkin”). This was presumably a goatskin jacket with the
hair left on so that it could be worn on either side according to the severity of the weather.
As its name suggests, the ἐξωµίς left one shoulder bare to facilitate hard labour. The inadequate covering
it offered is emphasized in a fragment (8) from the lost Αἰολοσίκων.
The ‘leather cap’ was obligatory for the slaves at Sparta, while it was worn by farm-labourers generally at
Athens. In Νεφέλαι (268), the old farmer says that he usually wears one when rain is expected.
The old men turn to expressing disapproval of the Father’s captors for failing to show reciprocal concern
for the welfare of his feet. Although τῶν παλαιῶν ἐµβάδων might be taken to mean the “former footwear”
of the slaves (Sommerstein, Henderson) one would have to construe αἰδὼς as if it were χάρις (‘a sense of
gratitude’) But, this interpretation really only springs from the a desire to echo the meaning of παλαιός in
τὸν παλαιὸν δεσπότην (442) and we are not required to use the same word to translate both instances. It is
far more likely that the second instance refers to the worn-out shoes still being worn by the old man, for it
is specifically ἐµβάδας which the Father shouts for when wishing to set out for court-room (103) and it is
the same καταράτους ἐµβάδας, which his son insists on him removing later (1157). Moreover, the whole
point of the phrase ‘shame in the eyes’ is that the slaves are displaying indifference to something that can
be seen; they are unmoved even by the sight of the old man’s worn slippers, so the additional words “at
the thought of” (Sommerstein) is a fudge.
The idea that a slave should have his owner’s best interests at heart was reinforced in tragic-drama, where
servants were regularly depicted as identifying themselves with the fortunes of their masters.
οὐκ ἔνι οὐδ(ὲ) ἐν ὀφθαλµοῖσιν
Hall and Geldart print the reading of the codices οὐδ’ ἐν, but MacDowell argues that this “is not likely to
be right”, since a proverbial expression quoted by Aristotle (ἡ παροιµία, «τὸ ἐν ὀφθαλµοῖς εἶναι αἰδῶ»)
gives us to understand that a sense of shame is necessarily registered in the eyes. Consequently, he prefers
to read οὐδὲν ὀφθαλµοῖσιν, ‘there is no shame at all to their eyes’. But, he seems to overlook the fact that
a sense of shame could be exhibited by word or deed. So, while one could dispense with the preposition,
as we have just seen (441), the point is that the slaves show no sign of conscience or embarrassment, even
in their look or, as we say, they are not even ‘shame-faced’. Sommerstein (1983) and Wilson (2007 p. 85)
agree, as does the oldest manuscript (Π), a fragmentary papyrus of the fifth century A.D.
448. οὐδὲ νυνί
The Chorus’s attempt to shame the slaves into releasing the old man has clearly fallen on deaf ears and he
expostulates incredulously, “not even now (after that moving homily)!”
He tries to make them feel guilty about his detention by recalling another ‘service’ he once performed for
450. εὖ κἀνδρικῶς
His manly effort at flogging the slave was tantamount to a deed of daring (τόλµηµα) on the battlefield (cf.
153); yet another accidental admission of the lack of heroism in his past exploits. The phrase is similarly
misapplied to a dubious feat in Ἱππεῖς 379.
452. ἄνες µε καὶ σύ, καὶ σύ,
There are two slaves holding the old man, as the Chorus informed us (442-3). Having just reminded one
of them how splendidly he had been flogged for eating his master’s grapes and now he expects him either
to release him or face more of the same. He then turns to the other slave and tells him to release his hold.
The imperative is to be understood a second time. (The second exhortation is confirmed by the dual form
in the next line.)
πρὶν τὸν υἱὸν † ἐκδραµεῖν †
This phrase troubles me. By analogy with a later passage (cf. 1081, ἐκδραµόντες of the Athenian hoplites
‘sallying out’ from their city) it is understood to mean “Before the (i.e. my) son runs out <of the house>”.
But, Bdelykleon has not left the stage, and even supposing that he had, why would the Father expect that
his reappearance would prompt the two slaves to release him? What motive would the slaves have? There
is no suggestion that he is going to trample them underfoot as Kerberos-Kleon would do (cf. Εἰρήνη 319,
ἐκδραµὼν). A more effective threat would be to warn them that they would be left at his mercy if his son
were to be driven off by the ‘wasps’. I think, therefore, that the scribe who wrote ἐκδραµεῖν meant it to be
understood as “before my son runs away” (cf. Ὄρνιθες 991). But the sentiment, ‘let me go before you live
to regret it’, is not well expressed by the words πρὶν τὸν υἱὸν ἐκδραµεῖν. I suggest that a better verb would
be ἐκτράπειν, which would be a warning to the slaves to let him go “before <my fellow-jurors> turn my
son to flight” (cf. Βάκχαι 798-9, ἀσπίδας…ἐκτρέπειν - “to rout <bronze> shields <with thyrsoi>”). Thus,
after the Chorus’s efforts to appeal to the slaves’ better nature by comparing their master’s disgraceful old
footwear with their own weather-proof clothing (so they could work in all weathers), the old man seconds
their reference to his compassionate nature by giving an example of his strenuous efforts at improving his
slaves’ character and now, he suggests that he will continue this process of improvement once the ‘wasps’
have driven off their master with their stinging. Then, in the next line, the jurors will chime in with their
own warning of legal redress to reinforce his threat.
453. καλὴν δίκην
The slaves will be prosecuted and, when condemned (inevitably), they will pay ‘a fine penalty’ (fine from
the jury’s perspective, at any rate.
455. βλεπόντων κάρδαµα
Eating or smelling a sharp-flavoured herb can contort one’s facial features into a look that might (on such
a dark night) be mistaken for the menacing sneer of a mobster. Therefore, Aristophanes’ phrase ‘looking
nose-smart’ pokes fun here at the tough-guy pretensions of the Chorus. Their threats are merely pathetic.
Later on, however, he will remind us that there was a time when these feeble, old men would have been
genuinely dangerous to provoke (cf. 1082-3).
Aristophanes has a weakness for such herbal, verbal expressions that express facial expressions. A ‘sour’
aspect has him reaching for rennet (used to curdle milk) - βλέπων ὀπόν (Εἰρήνη 1184), a ‘sharp’ look is
produced by a piquant herb - βλέποντ’ ὀρίγανον (Βάτραχοι 603). Here, the plant in question is κάρδαµον
(lepidium sativum) - ‘garden cress’ or ‘peppergrass’, popularly called ‘nose-smart’ cf. Nεφέλαι 234. [Not
to be confused with the tropical plant καρδάµωµον, often called ‘cardamon’ but properly ‘cardamom’.]
456. ὦ Χανθία
Here, the formal vocative is an indication that the Son becomes histrionic in exhorting the slave to drive
away the ‘wasps’, while doing nothing himself. The slave’s bemused reply confirms the paratragic tone of
his master’s exhortation.
Hall and Geldart assign the whole line to the slave, but (as Bergk saw) ἀλλὰ καὶ σὺ must mark a change
of speaker and come from Bdelykleon giving instructions to a second slave.
459. Αἰσχίνην...τὸν Σελλαρτίου
We will later be introduced to Aischines ὁ Σέλλου (1243-4), an upper-class symposiast who is said to be
both educated and accomplished. Here his patronymic may be contrived to resemble the name in real life,
(perhaps Φιλ-άρετος). At any rate, whereas ‘a son of Sellos’ would have been able to escape in a cloud of
smoke earlier (325), this one can produce a cloud of smoke to drive off the wasps. The poet is deliberately
confusing wasps with bees, which a bee-keeper smokes out from the hive to gather their honey (cf. 1079).
460. ἆρ(α) ἐµέλλοµεν
The speaker appears to be making a statement and yet, when the particle ἆρα stands at the beginning of a
phrase it normally indicates a question. Blaydes suggested that we avoid all doubt by starting the line with
ἀποσοβήσειν, but this is too radical a solution to what may be merely the poet’s attempt to signify a tone
of sarcasm. He has chosen to make the line a rhetorical question, but the sense does not differ appreciably
from Strepsiades’ sarcastic statement (Νεφέλαι 1301), ἔµελλον σ’ ἆρα κινήσειν ἐγὼ - “I knew I’d shift
Most editors follow Bergk’s lead in giving this line to the slave Xanthias, although Henderson prefers to
have it spoken by the Son and Wilson (p. 85) agrees. The latter opines that the self-satisfied sneer sounds
“better on the lips of the young master than coming from a slave”. Nonetheless, it was the slave who had
confidently predicted that he would drive them off (228-9) and the Son who had expressed misgivings.
In the oldest texts this couplet is differentiated from the previous verse, but is not assigned to a speaker.
Later hands suggest that the words are uttered defiantly by the Chorus, but this seems unlikely since they
would be speaking of themselves in the third person (ἔτυχον). This leaves us to choose between Brunck’s
attribution to Bdelykleon and N.G. Wilson’s (1972) to Philokleon. Though the latter’s argument has won
over Sommerstein and Henderson, the Father is unlikely to suggest that a training in the martial strains of
a younger, contemporary poet would have stood the jurymen in better stead than the music of good, old
Phrynichos. Also, the Son exhibits a healthy caution when dealing with the elderly jurors and had warned
the cocky slave earlier (223-7) about taking them for granted. So, it more likely to be the Son who is here
telling Xanthias to consider himself lucky that he got away by the skin of his teeth.
462. τῶν µελῶν...βεβρωκότες
Because of their age these ‘wasps’ have browsed on the honey (µέλι) of Phrynichos (cf. 220), but if they
had been younger, as human ‘jurors’ they might have grazed on the music (µέλεα) of Philokles.
The tragic-poet Philokles was the son of Aischylos’s sister by Philopeithes. Comic-poets had nick-named
him Ἁλµίωνος (‘son of brine’) because his verse left a bitter taste; a complimentary sobriquet because the
opposite of ‘salty’ was ‘insipid’ (µῶρος). In a hypothesis to Sophokles’ Οἰδίπους Τύραννος it is said that
the trilogy containing this masterpiece had placed second behind the work of Philokles; an event which in
view of this reference may have occurred quite recently (c. 428-23).
He is making the point that the younger generation, accustomed to a poetic diet of pickles (Heavy Metal
perhaps?) would have been much scarier to look at since their faces would be contorted after listening to
Philokles’ tragedies (cf. 455). Aristophanes mentions him again in Θεσµοφοριάζουσαι (167) and Ὄρνιθες
463. αὐτὰ δῆλα
Dindorf proposed αὐτόδηλα, since one manuscript indicates that the words should be treated as one idea
(‘self-evident’). But, the fact that Aischylos combines the words in a lyric passage (Ἑπτὰ ἐπὶ Θήβας 848),
does not mean that we have to ‘correct’ the text here.
465. λάθρᾳ γ(ε) ἐλάνθαν(ε) ὑπιοῦσά µε
If the text is right the Chorus is exclaiming that Tyranny “has crept up on me unawares by stealth”. I find
no problem with this, but MacDowell finds it “tautologous”. He prefers the reading ἐλάµβαν’ (R) which
he translates “was getting me in its grip”. But, the tautology does not arise since λάθρᾳ is to be taken with
ὑπιοῦσά. Also, I rather doubt whether we need the additional idea of Tyranny ‘trying to grab him’; to me
it seems sufficient that he finds himself suddenly confronted by the ogre. In fact, the curious word in the
line is the singular µε coming straight after the plural πένησιν.
It would be interesting to know the reading of Π, which is nowhere mentioned in the scholarly debate.
466. ὦ πονῷ πόνηρε
The expression (repeated in Λυσιστράτη 350) might have been understood as ὦ πονωπόνηρε, as has been
suggested by some ancient authorities and F. Wackernagel, but need not have been written so.
He accuses Bdelykleon of imitating the haughty look of a typical, old-school aristocrat (cf. 74), who wore
his hair long as a display of patrician pride. The habit was perhaps intended to point a symbolic similarity
to their horses’ manes (cf. Νεφέλαι 14-5, ὁ δὲ κόµην ἔχων ἱππάζεται - “he rides his horse with his hair
billowing”). Some upper-class Athenians, like the son of Xenophantes, were so vain that they hardly cut
their hair at all and, as a result, ressembled centaurs when out riding (Νεφέλαι 348-9, κοµήτην ἄγριόν τινα
τῶν λασίων τούτων - “one of these wild fellows with long, shaggy hair”). Though younger men were less
keen on long hair now since they might be taken for Spartan-sympathizers, Ameinias may have continued
to wear his hair long, because he held a religious office like Kallias the ‘Torch-bearer’, who wore a head-
band to contain his long tresses (as mentioned by Plutarch in Ἀριστείδης 5.6).
The metre here is trochaic tetrameter so, as in 74, the second syllable of the name Amynias, or Ameinias,
must scan long.
He claims that Bdelykleon is depriving them of their protection under the law in a dictatorial and arbitrary
way, instead of doing the same under the cover of specious pretexts, like a good democrat!
473. σοὐς λόγους
The subjunctive verb ἔλθωµεν, found in some manuscripts (RΓJ) as a variant for ἔλθοιµεν in the previous
line, may derive from a gloss on this phrase, for the sense must be σοί ἐς λόγους ἔλθωµεν; (“we…should
come to terms with…you?” But, although Aristophanes might omit the verb elliptically, the sense requires
the preposition. In consequence, the reading of the codices, σοὶ λόγους needs to be emended either with
Hirschig’s σοὐς or Bothe’s σοὶ ’ς.
This narrows down the former charge of µισόπολιν (411) to an accusation of anti-democratic tendencies.
It is the opposite of µισόχρηστος (‘one who detests the gentry’). Those with an aversion to the People and
the Assembly were assumed to be closet Spartan-sympathizers. As Aristophanes says of the Lakonian fig
(in Γεωργοί, frg. 110)
τοῦτο γὰρ τὸ σῦκον ἐχθρόν ἐστι καὶ τυραννικόν·
οὐ γὰρ ἦν ἂν µικρόν, εἰ µὴ µισόδηµον ἦν σφόδρα.
“This type of fig is aggressive and dominant; it would not be small, if it were not fiercely People-averse”.
The Son is said to “hanker after dictatorial rule”, a coded reference to Spartan fascism, although strictly
speaking the Lakedaimonian constitution was a dual kingship not a ‘monarchy’.
475-6. ξυνὼν Βρασίδᾳ
Losing all self-restraint, he hurls an accusation of collusion with the enemy. Brasidas was the Lakonian
counterpart of Kleon, a proponent of patriotic war who was using the period of truce to sow disaffection
among Athens’ allies in Northern Greece.
Bdelykleon’s pro-Spartan sympathies are betrayed by the woolen tassels on his cloak and his aversion to
shaving. Since these features were intended to be humourous, one may assume that they were common
enough among Athenians who were just aiming for an old-school, aristocratic look rather than a coup d’
478. ἦ µοι κρεῖττον
Such potential clauses may dispense with the particle ἂν (cf. 209, Νεφέλαι 1215), but the omission of the
main verb is unusual. I suspect one should rather read ἦν µοι κρεῖττον - “I would be better off…”
Whereas a citizen might normally deny paternity in the case of a bastard child, Bdelykleon contemplates
renouncing his own paternity. He wonders aloud whether he might in fact disinherit his father. It is a taste
of the comic reversal to come later.
The metaphor has the ring of tragic grandiloquence, which we can convey in translation by quoting from
a well-known tragedy of our own.
480. οὐδ(ὲ) ἐν σελίνῳ... ἐν πηγάνῳ
Despite the best efforts of the ancient commentators to explain this horticultural allusion, we still have to
guess what it conveyed to the Athenian audience and my guess is no better than anyone else’s. It is clear
from the context that the expression signified ‘to be starting out’, but the reasons given for its origin seem
faintly ridiculous; either that celery and rue are always planted at a garden’s edge and so they are the first
plants one comes across, or that babies were placed among celery (for some obscure magical properties it
may have conferred). But, it may not have been a proverbial expression at all. It may be another example
of inner feelings revealed by facial expressions which resemble the effects of eating certain herbs (cf. e.g.
455). The Chorus may simply be saying to the Son that, if he thinks he has problems now, he should wait
until he is ‘in among the celery and rue’, i.e. when their bitter taste will really bring tears to his eyes.
Some manuscripts mark this line as spoken by the semi-chorus and this is logical given the ‘aside’ of the
following line, which elaborates on it.
481. τῶν τριχοινίκων ἐπῶν
As we have seen (440), the ‘choinix’ was used to measure dry, agricultural produce, and though it seems
doubtful that celery and rue would be measured by the same unit, we have to assume that the expression
“three-choinix words” is introduced here because theoretically they might be. It is perhaps no different to
saying that a cowboy wears a ‘ten-gallon hat’. At any rate, three seems to be taken to indicate a generous
quantity, over and above what is normal, e.g. in Εἰρήνη 1144, ‘Chorus’ imagines a farmer instructing his
wife to “parch three quarts of beans” for a feast - ἄφαυε τῶν φασήλων...τρεῖς χοίνικας. Another passage
(frg. 481) quoted by Athenaios from Προάγων, plays obscurely on the measurement of corn:
ὁ δ’ἀλφίτων...πριάµενος τρεῖς χοίνικας κοτύλης δεούσας ἑκτέα λογίζεται.
As for the ἔπεα, they are both ‘proverbial phrases’ like that just uttered, and the ‘accusations’ which they
customarily fling in the face of the defendant in court.
483. σου καταντλῇ
The metaphor (found also in Plato’s dialogues) was probably vernacular. The prosecutor is said to ‘pour
down’ the identical accusations so as to drench the putative defendant (cf. κατὰ τοῖν κόραιν...καταχεῖται,
“my eyes are suffused” in line 7).
Why would they wait until the prosecutor “issues a summons to conspirators” in general (MacDowell)?
The old men are only concerned to threaten Bdelykleon by telling him that the public prosecutor will lay
to his charge the same facts, namely his long hair (466), his tasseled robes (475) and unshaven face (477),
before ‘calling him a conspirator’. The verb is active (cf. 1441) and Cobet’s emendation ξυνωµότην is
necessary. It is worth asking, perhaps, how the misreading arose, for it occurs to me that the original may
have been the Doric «ξυνωµόταν», to suggest that he had conspired with Brasidas.
485. δέδοκταί µοι δέρεσθαι
The personal pronoun is puzzling, because it would normally supply the subject of the impersonal verb, “I
have made up my mind to…” But, the invocation in the previous line has already furnished a more likely
subject for the verb, <θεοῖς> δέδοκται (“or have the gods seen fit…”), thus the pronoun appears to belong
with the dependent clause and Starkie (1897) accordingly translates, “(is it decreed) for me to be flayed”.
In this case, however, would we not expect δέδοκται to be followed by the objective pronoun µε? Weber
(1908) defended µοι as a ‘dative of disadvantage’, but only Sommerstein among recent editors (possibly
persuaded by Weber’s explanation of the pronoun) has followed Starkie’s lead. Incidentally, Weber had
suggested that the Chorus could be the unexpressed subject of the verb, so that the question being posed
is <ὑµῖν> δέδοκται (“have <you> decided that I…?”), but this too seems less likely.
Other scholars, however, have concluded that µοι can only be a copyist’s mistake, either a misreading, or
a deliberate attempt to attract the original accusative to the dative to serve as the verb’s subject. But, since
µε is unsuited to the metre, one can only view µοι as a copying error. Platnauer (1949) suggested that we
emend to τοι, and this is the simplest remedy (“or is it decreed, I should like to know…”). MacDowell, on
the other hand, proposed καὶ instead and this meets with Henderson’s approval.
But, emending µοι in this way leaves us with either one or two conjunctions, where we would rather have
none. Starkie long ago noted that reciprocal verbs are usually juxtaposed in asyndeton, e.g. δάκνειν,
δάκνεσθαι - “to bite and be bitten” (Βάτραχοι 861), ἄγοµαι, φέροµαι - “being borne to and fro” (Νεφέλαι
241) and πωλεῖν ἀγοράζειν - “buy and sell” (Ἀχαρνεῖς 625). Here, the conjunction can be justified if two
related actions are co-joined, rather than the same action being reciprocated. Consequently, we can infer
that the poet wrote not, µοι δέρεσθαι, but λοιδορεῖσθαι and translate, “or have the gods seen fit <for us>
to resort to verbal and physical abuse the day long?” The verb is used in a similar way in Βάτραχοι when
‘Dionysos’ tries to persuade the warring poets Euripides and Aischylos to restrain their volatile tempers,
λοιδορεῖσθαι δ’ οὐ πρέπει ἄνδρας ποητὰς ὥσπερ ἀρτοπώλιδας - “literary men ought not to rail at one
another like baker-women” (857-8) and is employed when Strepsiades and his son start the war of words,
ἠρξάµεσθα λοιδορεῖσθαι (Νεφέλαι 1353). This combination of verbal with physical abuse seems the norm
in comedy, e.g. Νεφέλαι 934, παύσασθε µάχης καὶ λοιδορίας.
Although this resolution of the problem appears to have been proposed by Hirschig (as Platnauer’s article
indicates in a footnote), his suggestion seems to have been overlooked or too casually dismissed.
487. <ὧδ’> ἐστάλης
Metrists have noted that there ought to be an extra syllable before the last word to maintain it as a cretic.
Hall and Geldart print Hermann’s proposal, while MacDowell adopts Meineke’s ἐξεστάλης.
488. τυραννίς...καὶ ξυνωµόται
This exchange reflects the paranoia stirred up by Kleon’s divisive oratory (cf. 41). We are told in Ἱππεῖς
how the demagogue used to accuse the upper classes of conspiring against the ‘democracy’ (ξυνωµότας
490. οὐδὲ πεντήκοντ(α) ἐτῶν
The adverbial οὐδὲ is an asseveration of the previous οὐκ, “no, not even during these fifty years” or as we
would say “I have not heard for at least fifty years”. The reference (as Henderson’s note 36 points out) is
to the half-century or more that had elapsed since Athens’ ‘democracy’ was thrown into dire panic by the
Persian invasion which, it was later alleged (Herodotos 7.6) was bent on regime change. This, of course,
ignores the frequent recourse to ostracism in the intervening years. Since Bdelykleon is not old enough to
personally recall the events of the past half-century, the use of the first person (ἐγὼ οὐκ ἤκουσα) should
be taken as comic exaggeration, equivalent to οὐκ ἠκούσθη, “has not been heard”.
491. τοῦ ταρίχους...ἀξιωτέρα
The word ἄξιος belongs properly to the market-place where it refers to an item’s actual ‘value’ (lit. the
quality by which it tips the scales). But, the comparative form of the adjective introduces an ambiguity
between intrinsic and relative value, because it recognizes that a commodity’s value fluctuates according
to demand. Thus the more fish loading the scales at a given price, the “cheaper” they are. So, when the
Sausage-seller announces (Ἱππεῖς 645) that, “I’ve never before seen sprats cheaper” - οὐπώποτ’ ἀφύας
εἶδον ἀξιωτέρας, his words are received with joy by the councillors because the price of fresh fish, even
sprats, would normally be high due to the the stringent war-time conditions
Here, the Son takes salted fish (τάριχος) as an example of a price-sensitive commodity, since it is always
going to be worth less than fresh fish. Salt-fish were usually sold separately, as Theophrastos mentions
both ἰχθυοπώλια and ταριχοπώλια (Χαρακτῆρες 6.9). With the resumption of fishing under more normal
conditions, the customer can get more salted fish for his money, and even more “conspiracy theories”,
which have now become “two a penny”.
The neuter genitive ταρίχους (nominative τὸ τάριχος) seems to be the usual Attic form, but the masculine
ὁ τάριχος is found in the comedies of Kratinos and Platon.
492. ὥστε καὶ δὴ
He backs up his claim with evidence that his auditors are bound to appreciate; “witness the fact that…”
The verb describes the motion of a wheel and is usually taken metaphorically to mean that Tyranny was
‘circulating’ and hence ‘is bandied about’, but the context suggests that we could take it concretely and
imagine that is not simply on sale at a single stall but “being trundled” throughout the market on a push-
cart in much the same way that the Sausage-seller in Ἱππεῖς hawks his wares around.
In Turkish the name orfoz (ροφός in Modern Greek) is given to dark-coloured fish, akin to the Atlantic
perch, known as a ‘dusky grouper’ (epinephelus). Its tasty flesh makes it the quarry of spear-fishermen
and it is much in demand at fishmongers. Its rocky habitat in the Karpass peninisula of Northern Cyprus
is now ‘protected’.
496. ταῖς ἀφύαις ἥδυσµά τι
The Son visualizes a careful (or impoverished) shopper bargaining over the purchase of some sprats in the
hope of getting the fishmonger to throw in an onion to get the deal done. The tiny fish were harder to sell
because they required fiddly preparation and seasoning.
The aorist participle indicates that she has “cast a sideways glance out of one <eye>”. (The phrase recurs
in Ἐκκλησιάζουσαι 498)
The slave’s interjection immediately lowers the tension of the conversation. He recalls the reluctance of a
prostitute to take the dominant role in their sexual congress, the position known as ‘the racehorse’ which
requires rather more effort from ‘the jockey’. This may be why he mentions that the meeting took place at
midday, when presumably the heat was greatest (as McDowell thinks). However, it is more likely to be an
indication of Xanthias’s impecunity, as the demand for a prostitute’s services was greatest at night so that
the price was lower in the daytime. A passage in Demosthenes (18.129, where τοῖς µεθηµερινοῖς γάµοις is
a euphemism for visiting a prostitute) suggests that the lower classes frequented brothels during the day
(cf. also Xenarchos frg. 4.17). For a fuller discussion of work-shifts in brothels, see J.N. Davidson (1997)
The point of the joke lies in the root of the name Hipp-ias which is here linked literally to the racehorse-
position. Hippias, son of Peisistratos, had ruled Athens as a virtual dictator, until overthrown by the other
aristocratic clans in the ‘democratic revolution’ of 511/10 B.C.
The verb here is a ‘conative present’ tense, “I’m endeavouring to set up a dictatorship”.
Dindorf wanted to elide the ἡδέα of the codices, but a hiatus between two long syllables is not unknown
in Aristophanes’ verse and the ending -έα counts as a single long syllable here (cf. 743).
The manuscript reading ὀρθο- was rectified by Grynaeus. The Son is annoyed by the Father’s frequently-
noisy departure in the early hours. Thus, his father’s habits are viewed as a ταλαιπωρία to them both.
This contemporary Athenian is mentioned again later in this play (1142) for his elegant mode of dress. He
enjoyed a reputation as a bon viveur (cf. Ἀχαρνεῖς 887; Εἰρήνη 1008) and the scholia on both of these two
passages mention the fact that he wrote tragedies. Plato (Φαιδρός 227β) alludes to the fact that he lived in
an affluent district of Athens near the Olympieion. He was sufficiently distinguished that he drew the fire
of other comic-poets as well, e.g. Sophron (frg. 74), µωρότερος Μορύχου - “more dull than Morychos”
(which is probably no more than unkind wordplay) and Platon (frg. 106). A scholion on the later passage
asserts that he was ὠχρός (‘pale-skinned’),which suggests that he was being ridiculed as an intellectual,
although here again the epithet may be merely a play on his name.
508. ὀρνίθων γάλα
The phrase “birds’ milk” is axiomatic of ‘whatever delicacy one may imagine’ (cf. Ὄρνιθες 734, 1673).
[It has been revived in Modern Greek (και του πουλίου το γάλα) as an advertising slogan for a leading
chain of supermarkets.]
511. δικίδιον σµικρὸν φάγοιµ(ι)
For all his disavowal of comfortable living, any mention of food tends to lead the father’s thoughts off on
a tangent (cf. 331). The court-case is ‘small’ in the sense that it would be of short duration, because from
the start he is keen to cast his vote.
The participle (‘drowned’, ‘suffocated’) suggests respectively stewing, or baking in a closed dish though
it could also be a reference to dousing an open pan with a dash of wine or vinegar shortly before serving.
This process, known to contemporary Greek chefs as ‘extinguishing’ (σβήσιµο), is suggested by the high-
temperature cooking mentioned by Herodotos (2.92).
The reading πεπηγµένον of the Ravenna codex (‘fixed’, ‘frozen’ or possibly ‘curdled’) seems less likely,
but is not certainly wrong; it might be taken to signify the jurors’ conflicting interests and indecision.
514. πάντα ταῦτ(α)
The accusative is one of respect (“with regard to all these <matters>”), i.e. the accusations that have been
made, but chiefly his daily routine (505).
516. µόνον οὐ προσκυνεῖς
This may, as MacDowell notes, be the first instance in extant literature of the usage µόνον οὐ (“all but”),
an ellipse of ‘the only thing you do not do is…’ His point being that the jurors stand in awe of the leading
prosecutors who orate in courts.
520. σοι καρπουµένῳ
The pronoun belongs with (ἐ)στί, while the participle agrees with it and means “harvesting for yourself”.
There is perhaps a tinge of sarcasm to the expression as if Bdelykleon’s words echoed something Kleon
himself might have said.
521. τούτοισί γ(ε)
The Father wants to refer the case to his fellow-jurors and they do indeed deliver a verdict in due course
(725-7). As Sommerstein observes, this is the only ἀγών in Aristophanes’ plays in which the Chorus acts
as judges, but it is also the only drama in which they are actually judges. It is not necessary to suppose (as
MacDowell suggests) that “these men” refers to the audience, who will form their own judgement in any
522. ξίφος γέ µοι δότε
As in epic poetry, or Wild West movie, one of the brawling antagonists has been restrained and disarmed
to avoid bloodshed. Now that tempers have cooled and the disputants have agreed to talk, someone says,
‘let him go and give him back his gun/sword’ (as a gesture of trust). After line 525 Sommerstein indicates
“A slave brings out a sword, puts it in Philocleon’s hand, and goes back into the house”. No, he does not.
MacDowell states, Philokleon’s words are “a melodramatic utterance, of which nobody takes any notice”,
just like his previous outburst (cf. 166). One may compare Νεφέλαι 907, δότε µοι λεκάνην. Austin (1973)
Incidentally, the words were long considered a continuation of the Son’s speech, but Bergler has pointed
out the likelihood that they belong to Philokleon (see MacDowell’s note).
523. περιπεσοῦµαι τῷ ξίφει
The only reason a sword has been mentioned is to introduce some black humour. Some five years before,
a military commander named Paches, who had subdued Mytilene for Athens (cf. Thucydides 3.28), had
died by his own sword. Plutarch’s record of the event states that he was undergoing examination over his
period in office (εὐθύνας διδοὺς τῆς στρατηγίας), when he drew his sword and killed himself ‘in the very
court-room’ (Νικίας 6.1-2). However, it is most unlikely that a defendant (or anyone else for that matter)
would be permitted to enter a court under arms. Presumably, Paches foresaw the likelihood that he would
be convicted by the councillors and decided to take his life beforehand to spare his family and property
from the consequences. Plutarch, or one of his less-discriminating sources, may well have taken a comic
scene such as this as evidence that the suicide might have occurred dramatically inside the court-room.
[A recent tragic parallel is the case of the Pennsylvania politician Robert Budd Dwyer, who convicted on
a charge of receiving bribes in office, took his own life before sentencing to preserve his wife’s right to
receive his pension benefits.]
524. τί δ(ὲ), ἢν - τὸ δεῖνα
A note of cynicism seems to enter his voice as he wonders half to himself, “but tell me <in that case >
what <forfeit would you pay> if (perish the thought!) you…” The idiomatic phrase τὸ δεῖνα occurs often
in Aristophanes’ verse, e.g. Εἰρήνη (268), Ὄρνιθες (648) etc.
The participants in an arbitration must agree beforehand to be bound by the decision. Here, Bdelykleon
prudently seeks to define a penalty for non-compliance. For the use of the verb in a legal context (“abide
by”) cf. Xenophon Ἀποµνηµονεύµατα 4.4.16.
It is worth observing, in light of a suggestion by Habertsma (cf. Wilson pp. 85-6) to transpose lines 522-3
until after 525, that far from ignoring Philokleon’s melodramatic threat as Wilson supposes, Bdelykleon’s
words have been prompted by it. The Son knows his father has no intention of taking the honourable way
out if he loses and he exacts a promise that, if his argument prevails, his father will forgo the courts. The
transposition has been rejected for good reason, since it is precisely this blasé promise (which will come
back to haunt him) that marks the ‘tragic’ climax.
525. ἀκράτου µισθὸν
Following their meal a group of symposiasts would begin the evening’s carousal by pouring a libation or
drinking a toast to the spirit of harmony. Thus, in Ἱππεῖς (85), one of the slaves proposes that “we ought to
<drink> neat wine for the spirit of blessing” - ἀλλ’ ἄκρατον οἶνον ἀγαθοῦ δαίµονος (cf. also Ἱππεῖς 105-
6). The tradition that only unmixed wine was used for the opening round was presumably based on some
religious, apotropaic dogma, since under normal circumstances one could hardly expect good fellowship
to be promoted by the strongest drink. This irony is brought out in the answer of the other slave (87-8).
Here Philokleon supposes that the same spirit of fellowship prevails among the jurors as a result of their
having imbibed neat “pay”, so editors now prefer to read ἄκρατον (Richter) to agree with µισθὸν. The
point of ‘unmixed’ may be that Philokleon’s pay is not shared, but his to spend as he please (cf. 785-6),
usually on wine!
Contest (Ἀγών) 526-724
The opening to the ἀγών shows the psychological sparring prior to the beginning of the bout. Philokleon
is shown as about to engage in courtroom debate as if he were a boxer. The principal source of humour is
the rapid disintegration of the Chorus’s confidence in their counsel/fighter. They remind him that he bears
a heavy weight of responsibility for defeating the younger man. The interjections made by the Son and the
Father reveal that their minds are focused on their own preparations. [It is reminiscent of those nauseating
operatic scenes where soloist and chorus seem to sing at cross-purposes, and for this reason I have chosen
not to versify the exchange.]
The Chorus sing in iambic / choriambic meter (˗ ˗ or ˗ ˞ or ˞ ˗ followed by ˞ ˗), while the debaters interject
in iambic tetrameters. These lines form a strophe which is answered by the antistrophe of lines 631-47.
526. νῦν δὴ
Editors have preferred the temporal particle “now at this point” (J) over the ordinary connective particle
δὲ of the codices. MacDowell compares the same opening of the ἀγών in Ἱππεῖς (756), where the metre
His fellow-jurors speak of Philokleon as if he were an athlete trained at the same wrestling-school and the
simile is reinforced at various points in the debate.
δεῖ τι λέγειν καινόν
Hall and Geldart have adopted Porson’s suggestion to rearrange the word-order of the codices, λέγειν τι
δεῖ καινόν, but recent editors have preferred to accept the received text.
529. ἐνεγκάτω µοι...τις
Bdelykleon does not need to ‘shout into the house’, as there are slaves on hand to run and fetch what he
530. φανεῖ ποῖός τις ὤν
The previous line, spoken as an aside to one of the slaves, parried the encouragement being offered from
his opponent’s ‘corner’ by the chorus-leader. Now the Son turns abruptly to poke fun at his father’s ‘skill’
Willems felt that the lines have been muddled here and proposed a rearrangement in which 538 is brought
forward to precede 529 and 530 takes its place. Such a transposition breaks the close connection between
the chorus-leader’s φανήσει and Bdelykleon’s φανεῖ, which seems deliberate. But Willems is not alone in
finding the syntax strange. It looks as though the infinitive εἶναι has been dropped in colloquial speech, so
that the meaning is “he will show himself to be the kind of man he is” i.e. show his true qualities.
ἢν ταῦτα παρακελεύῃ
Sommerstein (1977, 265-6) adopted Srebrny’s proposal (though on different grounds) to shift the clause
from subjunctive into present indicative (εἰ ταῦτα παρακελεύει) and Henderson concurs. To be sure, since
the advice is being offered in the moment, it is hard to see why the subjunctive might be required. To try,
as MacDowell does, to justify the reading of the codices by saying that the exhortation will continue into
the future is unconvincing. But, one still has to wonder how the straightforward active came to be altered
to the subjunctive of our present text.
First of all, it is worth looking back at the textual tradition to note an earlier change made by the Aldine
editor, who chose to print ταῦτα in place of the codices’ reading ταῦτ’ αὐτὰ (on metrical grounds). This
decision to cut out the second pronoun focuses our attention on the advice being given to come up with
some fresh argument (δεῖ τι λέγειν καινόν), but the phrase ταῦτ’ αὐτὰ hints that the focus lies elsewhere.
We might consider whether the right subjunctive tense has been applied to the wrong action, for the verb
παρακελεύειν may be a red herring. Since the Son has just heard the Chorus urging his father to try a new
approach, he is less likely to be questioning what he has heard, or even the soundness of the advice, than
commenting ironically on the chance of his father doing this. One may be better off, therefore, seeking a
verb which fits the original text better. I suggest our poet may have written ἢν ταῦτ’ αὐτὰ παραλέγῃ, “if
<my father> is going to continue talking the same nonsense”.
The Chorus completes the phrase begun in 528, urging their champion “not to speak in the manner of this
youth here”. They seem to be disparaging the Son’s languid tone; an element of his classy manners (135).
The word νεανίας is often dismissive when used in tragic-drama, as when Theseus is told by the herald in
Euripides’ Ἱκέτιδες (580), νῦν δ’ ἔτι εἶ νεανίας - “you are still inexperienced”. Here, the Chorus is saying
that the Son displays the rashness of youth which is a product of his wilful character (383 πρινωδηθυµὸν).
This initial attempt to downplay his debating skills makes Bentley’s τονδὶ more likely than the codices’
The participle λέγων has been written by Hirschig to match ὤν in 530, but recent editors have recognized
that we need the infinitive λέγειν (RV).
533. σοι µέγας ἐστὶν ἁγὼν
Hall and Geldart follow Dobree in aspirating the noun (the codices read simply ἐστ’ ἀγὼν). The members
of the chorus realize that there is a lot riding on the outcome of this debate (cf. Νεφέλαι 957, ἐστὶν ἁγὼν
µέγιστος, Ἀχαρνεῖς 392, and 481, ἆρ’ οἶσθ’ ὅσον τὸν ἀγῶν’ ἀγωνιεῖ τάχα; also Βάτραχοι 883, frg. 331).
535-7. εἴπερ - ὃ µὴ γένοιθ’
Bdelykleon’s evident familiarity with the behaviour of leading counsel shakes the confidence of the jurors
and they begin to become anxious “in case he actually does beat…” Their εἴπερ represents a shudder; a
mix of bemusement and dread. (cf. Νεφέλαι 227, τοὺς θεοὺς ὑπερφρονεῖς...εἴπερ; - “you scorn the gods…
if you are actually daring that?”). Sommerstein (followed by Henderson) suggests we emend to εἰ γάρ, in
order to leave their phrase hanging open-ended at κρατῆσαι, but their thought will naturally run on in 540,
even without a grammatical conjunction.
The colometry is in doubt, so establishing the most likely text is tricky. Hall and Geldart print Bentley’s
γένοιθ’, οὗ/τος which makes the line correspond with 639, both composed of a choriamb (˗ ˞ ˞ ˗) followed
by a bacchius (˞ ˗ ˗). Only MacDowell ends the line (his 536) with a short, γένοιτο, as per the codices.
οὗτος <σ’> ἐθέλει κρατῆσαι
The codices read νῦν οὗτος ἐθέλει κρατῆσαι, but no-one is happy with this. Hall and Geldart drop νῦν and
insert the pronoun σε as first suggested by Porson. MacDowell follows Wilamowitz and drops οὗτος σ(ε),
retaining νῦν instead. But, the real problem is the verb ἐθέλει. Although Sommerstein (1977, 266) thought
initially that it could function with an infinitive as a future tense, he later revised his view (2004, xxvi). It
suggests that the meaning should be οὗτος σε µέλλει κρατῆσαι, but this reading would ruin the rhythm. In
fact, this later usage probably explains the corruption. A scribe, used to the later κοινή Greek had misread
the text, which Blaydes plausibly restored as οὗτος σε λέγων κρατήσει (in responsion to ὁδί µε τῷ λόγῳ
κρατήσῃ, 539). Wilson (2007, 86) joins Sommerstein in preferring this solution, in spite of its divergence
from the received text. Starkie’s bold effort to respect the codices with σ’ ἔθ’ ἕλοι κρατήσας, puts a strain
538. γράψοµαι (ἐ)γώ
MacDowell has the slave hand over the writing-box to the Son and leave. But, is it likely that Bdelykleon
will take notes for himself, if there is a slave on hand to do it for him? The middle voice indicates that he
intends ‘having his father’s words written down’ for him to consult if necessary (a possibility MacDowell
recognized). This, of course, presupposes that some slaves were literate (cf. Νεφέλαι 770, ἐγγράφοιτο).
In a contest between father and son, the slave plays the part of score-keeper. But, I doubt that the line can
be taken as evidence for the keeping of official court-proceedings. It may well reflect the fact, however,
that each advocate had a record kept of the opposing counsel’s arguments in order to answer them in his
539. ἢν ὁδί µε τῷ λόγῳ κρατήσῃ;
The Son has just ‘parried’ the jurors remark with an aside, just as he did in line 529, but, before he is able
to redirect the chorus-leader’s words, he is forestalled by the Father’s indignant comment, “What are you
fellows talking about, ‘If he beats me in debate’?” But, somewhat reluctantly, I have come to think that a
better reading is that proposed by Thompson (1895). He argues from the responsion between strophe and
antistrophe that, just as the latter is interrupted by two couplets spoken by Philokleon (634-5, 642-3), so
we should expect the former to contain two interruptions from Bdelykleon (529-30, 538-9). Although the
argument of responsion would not normally sway me, I now think that (with Thompson’s emendation of
ἢν ὁδί µὴ τῷ λόγῳ) both lines belong to the Son. It is he who belatedly picks up the Chorus’s misgivings
and challenges them to consider the consequences of defeat. Like the earlier instance in 530, his κρατήσῃ
picks up on the chorus-leader’s last word κρατήσει.
Briefly, the Chorus allow themselves to contemplate the possibility of the Father’s defeat. The prospect is
not one on which they wish to dwell. The θαλλοφόροι, the old men who took part in the state procession
of the pan-Athenaia, evoke the image of aged veterans laying wreathes at cenotaphs and perhaps serves as
a reminder that in their youth they would more likely have been ἀθλοφόροι. But, it also hints at another
group of religious celebrants, the φαλλοφόροι (cf. φαλληφόρια in Plutarch) of Dionysos, whom they may
be bawdily imitating at this point (cf. Ἀχαρνεῖς, 260). Besides, the final phrase, ἀντωµοσιῶν κελύφη, is
more laughable than pathetic.
541. ἔστ(αι) οὐδ(ὲ) ἀκαρῆ
The verb must be the future tense rather than present. The neuter plural of ἀκαρής is used here adverbially
to modify χρήσιµος, “not even the slightest bit of use” (cf. 701).
542-3. δ(ὲ) ἐν ταῖς ὁδοῖς
The codices here mostly read δ’ ἂν ἐν ταῖσιν ὁδοῖσ(ιν) ἁπάσαις, but in order to achieve better responsion
between 542-5 and the parallel verses 645-7 editors have generally followed Porson’s lead in cutting the
text to δ’ ἐν ταῖς ὁδοῖς. As MacDowell explains, ἁπάσαις is probably a gloss to indicate that the poet did
not mean any streets in particular.
In his original edition, Sommerstein adopted an addition by Wilamowitz δ’ ἂν <αὐτίκ(α)> but decided to
revert to Porson’s emended text later (2004, xxvi), since it does nothing to improve the responsion.
The codices read καλοίµεθ’, but this may be merely because ἂν had been mistakenly inserted before ἐν in
the previous line. At any rate, Porson chose to correct this to the future indicative “we will be called…”
545. ἀντωµοσίων κελύφη
The ‘pod’ of peas, the ‘peel’ of citrus fruit, or the ‘husk’ of grains of corn, having served their purpose,
are good for nothing. The old men are worried that, if all they contain are the statements made in court by
the parties, they will be seen as surplus to requirement. Fifth-century Athenian courts did not delve deeply
into the evidence offered by the two parties, because they lacked the tools of forensic science. Cases were
founded upon the oaths sworn by the accused and his prosecutor, in the belief that the gods would reveal
anyone taking their name in vain.
547. πᾶσαν γλῶτταν βασάνιζε
Commentators have assumed that the jurors are urging their spokesman to employ all his rhetorical skill
in the debate and in consequence have interpreted the phrase to mean “put all your eloquence to the test”.
It may be that the Attic form γλῶτταν is an indication that the expression was borrowed from vernacular
speech, but as MacDowell admits, there is no exact parallel in extant literature. Indeed, this interpretation
appears to reverse the usual sense, since normally, it was the tongue itself which ‘turns the screws on’ the
spoken word, ἐπῶν βασανίστρια, λισπὴ γλῶσσα - “a polished tongue, making the lines sing” (Βάτραχοι
826-7). Moreover, the fact that the ‘whole’ tongue is apparently being ‘put to the test’ should alert us to a
flaw in our current thinking. In a verse of Sophokles, Elektra cautions herself not to badmouth her mother
by “shooting out her whole tongue” at her, ἣ πᾶσαν ἵης γλῶσσαν ὡς τὴν µητέρα (Ἠλέκτρα 596); a phrase
which one understands as ‘speaking in an unrestrained manner’. This suggests that the Chorus is making
a rather different point and that the old men expect their spokesman to match the method of their
champion Kleon (cf. 596) by using forceful language. In which case, the received text must be suspect. If
we assign to the imperative its usual sense of ‘torture’ and if the tongue itself applies the torture then the
most likely object will be the Son. I suspect that the poet wrote πάσῃ γλώττῇ <sc. τοῦτον> βασάνιζε -
“flog him with the full force of your tongue” (give him a ‘tongue-lashing’), only to have a later hand alter
the dative to an accusative in order to supply the missing object which was thought to be essential (cf.
609). The phrase is used to hint at the pretrial ‘torture of witnesses’ in order to test their evidence, in
which his tongue will do the examining. Comparable phrases found in Νεφέλαι are, τῇ γλώττῃ πολεµίζων
(419) and ἀµφήκει γλώττῃ λάµπων (1160).
548-9. εὐθύς γ(ε) ἀπὸ βαλβίδων
The metaphor “from the starting-line” reflects the Chorus’s reference to their ‘training-ground’ (526-7).
Legal authority was traditionally vested in the monarch, but at Athens this power was held by the courts
of the citizens themselves. As we are reminded throughout the drama by the Chorus, the courts were often
all that stood between the ordinary citizen and oligarchic rule.
The equivalent to nulli secundus in Latin.
The juror is “pampered” (Sommerstein) like a pet animal or ‘dainty’ kept-female.
552. ἕρποντ(α) ἐξ εὐνῆς
The Father describes what appears to be routine behaviour on a trial day. To begin with he refers to the
typical juror, so that he (or rather Aristophanes) can deride his decrepit condition as “he crawls from his
(death)-bed” to attend court. The verb denotes clumsy or painful movement (cf. 272; 1531, προσέρπει). In
Aristophanes’ first play, ∆αιταλεῖς (frg. 216), another juror had crawled toward the door of the law-court,
ὁ δ’ ἠλιαστὴς εἷρπε πρὸς τὴν κιγκλίδα.
ἐπὶ τοῖσι δρυφάκτοις
This scene helps us to appreciate why he wanted his mortal remains buried here where he had enjoyed his
most fulfilling moments (cf. 386).
In his περὶ τῆς Ἀρχαίας Κωµῳδίας (frg. 89, quoted by Harpokration p. 86.2), Eratosthenes explained that
there was a proverbial phrase Λύκου δεκάς which referred to those who used to hang about the shrine of
Lykos outside the courts (cf. 389) in the hope of locating a venal juryman (οἱ δωροδοκοῦντες is probably
used of those offering rather than those willing to accept bribes). This is not to be taken literally to imply
that there were always ten men trying to corrupt the jury, but rather as some comic-poet’s feeble attempt
to pun on λύκου δέρας (‘a wolf-skin’) by suggesting that there were always tens of defendants willing to
offer an inducement the jurors.
The adjective was not merely metaphorical as the families who traced their descent from the gods would
try to ensure that their physical stature was passed down the generations by interbreeding. “Superior diet
and systematic exercise in childhood” would have helped too, as Sommerstein oberves.
He comically drops his guard (and again in line 558 ἐµ’...ζῶντα), as he imagines himself being accosted
at the court-entrance, and hints that he has not been averse to taking bribes from the accused. Some have
felt that the change from the third person of ἕρποντ(α) to this self-referential remark is too abrupt and, in
fact, Blaydes proposed rejecting µοι as a gloss; a suggestion which appeals to Wilson. Consequently, the
participle still applies to the typical juror (“as he approaches”). But, removing the pronoun deprives the
scene of its unexpected humour in the unguarded remark.
A separate issue (a clause seems to have dropped out of Wilson’s comment on p. 86) is the equally abrupt
shift from the plural ἄνδρες µεγάλοι to a singular verb ἐµβάλλει. As MacDowell notes, this switch can be
paralled in Aristophanes’ works, but continuity is certainly aided by Wilson’s idea to read προσιών τις...
(“one of them approaches and…”), although he himself does not choose to print it. This seems to me the
preferable reading, as against the natural interpretation of προσίοντι...µοι, “to me as I arrive”.
τὴν χεῖρ(α) ἁπαλὴν
‘Soft hands’ are characteristic of what we call white-collar criminals, though here they do not serve to
differentiate the man from the farmer or craft-worker so much as from the serving hoplite or rower (as
Philokleon had been formerly), whose hands are calloused (cf. 1119).
These words indicate that the defendant is a former public official who has been referred for trial because
of charges brought during his ‘audit’ (εὐθύνη) for misuse of public funds (cf. Νεφέλαι 351).
The plural participles refer back to the upper-class defendants, suggesting the tone in which they typically
implore his leniency. Instead of talking down to him as usual, these aristocrats are forced to “bend down”
to plead with him, so giving the impression that they are bowing to him.
τὴν φωνὴν οἰκτροχοοῦντες
This unique formation has raised questions. If the participle stood alone, it would be tempting to adapt the
the text to read οἰκτρογοοῦντες (“wailing piteously”), suggested by the example οἰκτρογοοῦντας cited by
Hesychios, which gives a more straightforward sense. Blaydes’ alternative οἰκτοχοοῦντες would mean an
‘outpouring of compassion’; the opposite of what is required here. Instead, the poet has made τὴν φωνὴν
the object of the verb, so that the defendants are pouring ‘words’ which arouse pity because they are also
556. ὦ πάτερ
The one who has come forward addresses the old man respectfully; much as one might address a member
of the clergy nowadays (cf. Ἱππεῖς 725).
The defendant tries to mitigate his guilt by suggesting that everybody does it, “perhaps, even you yourself
557. (ἐ)πὶ στρατίας...ἀγοράζων
On military campaigns the army would be organized in companies who took their meals together as mess-
mates (ξυσσίτοι). Evidently, one soldier in each company was deputed to purchase the necessary supplies,
and might (it is alleged) strike his own deals with the suppliers in return for kick-backs. [Today’s soldiers
have made similar allegations over the poor quality of food supplied. But, the major source of corruption
nowadays seems to be weapons-procurement, which in ancient times was a matter for the individual.]
The variant ἀκµάζων (“in your prime”) found in one late manuscript (J) would leave us to understand that
the ἀρχὴν which he might have exercised also involved the public messes, but would require us to change
τοῖς ξυσσίτοις to the accusative case to follow ὑφείλου.
558. εἰ µὴ διὰ…
“Had it not been for…”
…τὴν προτέραν ἀπόφυξιν
Aristophanes raises a laugh by suggesting that the same officials came before the courts with predictable
The Son picks out points which have little relevance to the debate, but his remark serves to interrupt the
flow of his opponent’s rhetoric and so reduce its effectiveness. [Constant interruptions of this sort bedevil
political debates on Greek television still today.]
Outside the court the typical juror (who is now identified with Philokleon himself) is full of sympathetic
understanding. His expression no longer betrays the outrage he feels for crimes against the public purse,
and he apparently promises to show leniency. But, once inside, his natural vindictiveness resurfaces.
562. πάσας φωνὰς ἱέντων
In Ἱππεῖς, the poet refers to the futile efforts of his aging rival Magnes trying to captivate his audience by
“loosing the full range of vocal styles at you” - πάσας δ’ ὑµῖν φωνὰς ἱέις (522). Here, in a similar manner,
the disputants are “utilizing every vocal technique” to obtain acquittal (e.g. raising or lowering their voice,
varying the speed of delivery etc.). The poet is making the still-pertinent point that political players do not
differ greatly from theatrical players.
Hickie (1853) suggested that the poet is employing para-tragic diction here, and compared, ὥστ’ ἀηδόνος
στόµα φθογγὰς ἱεῖσα (Euripides Ἑκάβη 338).
563. φέρ(ε) ἴδω, τί γὰρ...
The expression is used to indicate a rhetorical question which the speaker poses to himself, equivalent to
“what, I wonder…?” (cf. 145).
The defendants seek to avoid the imposition of a heavy fine by pleading poverty, to the extent that a naïve
juror could come to believe that they are actually worse off financially than he is.
This is the reading of the Venetus; the other codices omit ἀνιῶν altogether and read ἂν ἰσώσῃ. Paley tries
to broker a compromise by writing ἂν ἰὼν ἀνισώσῃ which MacDowell and Sommerstein print, but this is
unsatisfactory. The basic problem is that it introduces an awkward progression from the plural of οἱ µέν...
προστιθέασι to the singular ἀνισώσῃ, which has to be taken as ‘each man…equates’. A further difficulty
is that, though the compound ἀνιῶν can be taken to mean ‘continuing to speak’ (cf. Νεφέλαι 1058, ἄνειµι
δῆτ’ ἐντεῦθεν - “I move on, then, from that topic”), the simple verb does not appear to be used in just this
sense. Platnauer (1953) proposed a solution to both problems by deleting ἰὼν altogether and reading ἄν
πως ἀνισῶσιν “until they seem somehow to equate...” But, Dover (1957) saw that the singular verb came
into its own once the singular participle was removed, because taken intransitively, it would depend on
the neuter plural noun κακά. So, Henderson prints ἄν πως ἀνισώσῃ - “their troubles somehow seem as
bad as...” This works, but does not account for the textual variants. In fact, Meineke had already spotted
that the verb should depend on the neuter noun and suggested that the changes stemmed from a copying
error. He proposed reading κακὰ πρὸς τοῖς οὖσι κακοῖσιν, ἕως ἂν ἰσώσῃ τοῖσιν ἐµοῖσιν. Wilson (p. 87)
notes that this very plausible scenario had been outlined still earlier by Karl Erfurdt.
The pronounced sigmatism found in line 565 may be neither indicative of the father’s bitterness (Starkie),
nor accidental (MacDowell), but rather just an echo of the defendants’ blubbering creeping into his voice.
My alliteration tries to reproduce this.
566. λέγουσιν µύθους
Just as ‘telling stories’ usually means for us ‘retailing fictitious tales’, so a ‘myth’ would not be believed
by all. But, the defendants were “telling stories <from Homeric epics>’ which would be cited as parables
of morality. In Νεφέλαι (1061-70), Aristophanes makes fun of such simple, self-serving sermons.
Αἰσώπου τι γέλοιον
The animal stories traditionally ascribed to Aesop were folk-tales told to point a moral and amuse at the
same time. They might be introduced to divert the jurors much as they were used to entertain company at
a symposium (cf. 1259). Philokleon will later try to exculpate himself with a tale of his own contrivance
(cf. 1401, 1446).
568. τὰ παιδάρι(α)...ἀνέλκει
The defendant is speaking from a rostrum and he “hauls up” his young children beside him so that the
jurors can see they exist. Later on, some ‘children’ are summoned to take the stand (977, ἀναβαίνετε...).
570. ἅµα βληχᾶται
The children may “start howling all together” like a flock of sheep bleating or a litter of pigs squealing.
But, the readings ἀποβληχᾶτ’ found in the Venetus and ἀποβληχ[.. preserved in Π suggest that we should
take the children to be ‘bleating in his defence’, ἀποβληχᾶται, a comical substitute for ἀπολογεῖται. This
could very well be the correct text, despite MacDowell’s reservations. He takes the Father to be trying to
protect the children, but the man does not speak ‘in their defence’ (ὑπὲρ αὐτῶν) but “for them”, since they
can only yowl, being too young to articulate their parent’s defence in words. For other “bleating children”
one may look to Eupolis’s description of the sons of Hippokrates (frg. 112, βληχητὰ τέκνα).
571. τῆς εὐθύνης ἀπολῦσαι
Strictly speaking the process of εὐθύνη was one of ‘being held to account’. The jurors were called upon to
examine specific allegations of ‘irresponsible’ action by the outgoing public official. So here, they are not
being asked to “discharge the defendant from the audit” as such, because, judging from the remorseful
tears being shed, his guilt can be presumed already. Rather, the jurors have to consider whether to let him
off lightly on the penalty, in recognition of the many mouths he has to feed.
572. ἀρνὸς φωνῇ
The variant reading ἀνδρὸς φωνὴν (J) is simply a gloss seeking to point out the double entendre of ἀρνὸς,
which is actually the genitive of ἀρήν (‘lamb’), but suggests it might be the genitive of ἄρρην (‘male’).
The dramatic immediacy of the man’s plea would be lost if Platnauer’s (1949) proposal to emend the line
into indirect speech were to be accepted.
The verb is considered as a contracted form of the optative mood i.e. ἐλεήσειας. There are parallels which
support this view (cf. 726), but it is noteworthy that in each case a simple future could be inserted. Indeed,
in Εἰρήνη 405, ἴσως γὰρ ἂν πείσαις ἐµέ - “you might perhaps persuade me”, Hirschig recommended that
we read ἀναπείσεις.
573. τοῖς χοιριδίοις
The piglets are mentioned to illustrate the squeal of the man’s young daughter, but when comic dramatists
introduce little piggies, they expect their audience to think of pigs’ snouts and imagine (“in the customary
Greek way”, cf. Ἀχαρνεῖς 771-3) the pudenda of pre-pubescent girls. It takes all sorts.
574. τόν κόλλοπ(α) ἀνεῖµεν
The precise metaphor intended is to “loosen the string” (of our highly-strung emotion) by slackening the
peg. But, the poet chooses to use the less accurate phrase, to ‘loosen the peg’ This may have been chosen
simply to suggest a ridiculous pun, τόν κόλπον ἀνίεσθαι, drawn from a dramatic scene in epic, (cf. Ἰλιάς
22.80, τόν κόλπον ἀνιεµένη - “baring her breast”), which serves as a metaphor for the jurors’ emotional
575. τοῦ πλούτου καταχήνη
A comic-drama entitled Καταχῆναι is credited to Lysippos, an older contemporary of Aristophanes, who
uses the word again himself in Ἐκκλησιαζούσαι (631). It clearly signifies “mockery” or “derision” and my
translation assumes that it would have been accompanied by a rude gesture. But, it could have conveyed a
particular sound, for its derivation from the verb χάσκω (cf. 695, 721, 1493) connects it to the word for a
goose (χήν). A similar word, χήνηµα, which Hesychios glosses as ‘a mocking open-mouthed laugh’, hints
that we are probably meant to hear a goose’s cackle which has a mocking sound and is delivered with the
beak wide-open. So, here, we could probably translate “a derisive cackle at wealth”.
The codices read γράψοµαι but Brunck’s view that the present tense serves better to interrupt the flow of
the old man’s speech is supported by the reading of Π (γραφο[...).
Here τὰ ἀγαθὰ ἃ ἔχεις is equivalent to τὸ ὄφελος ὃ ἔχεις, a sense most commonly contained in the phrase
ἐπ’ ἀγαθῷ - “beneficial to…” (e.g. Βάτραχοι 1487, 1488), but repeated at 601.
The δοκιµασία was a process of assessment which Athenian boys underwent to gauge whether they were
physically fit to be entered in the lists as adolescents (ἐφήβοι) in their respective demes. Roman sources,
drawing on evidence from fourth century B.C. literature, believed that this occurred at age eighteen, but it
may have been earlier, as by this age they would already be due for military service. We do not know for
certain what part jurors played in the process, but Philokleon is claiming here to have served as a witness
to the physical exam. His interest in teenage boys is satyric, for the purposes of Comedy, as shown by his
equal enthusiasm for young women later on. The Athenians took both homosexuality and paedophilia as
naturally-occurring, sexual phenomena, but did not condone either. In Comedy they are treated as deviant
behaviour deserving of ridicule. The old school-master in Νεφέλαι, for instance, is assumed to be a closet-
paederast by virtue of his vocation.
The introduction of a particular citizen suggests an identifiable situation which may have resulted (or may
be imagined to result) in his arraignment and trial. We know nothing about him and the name is otherwise
only found in mythology, where the legendary musician Orpheus was the son of Oiagros and the nymph
of epic poetry, Kalliope. But, Philokleon’s boast, that he would be compelled to parrot the finest passage
from a tragic-drama, should not be taken to prove that Oiagros was himself necessarily a noted performer
The satirical point being made is that defendants with little right on their side would drag out proceedings
with ethical homilies drawn from the epic and tragic canon. Oiagros was probably a young man educated
in the ‘Sokratic’ school with a large repetoire of sententious, Euripidean quotes. The older generation had
not felt the need to fill their memories with such ‘learning’ (cf. 1095). Moreover, the mention of ‘Νιόβη’,
points up a fondness for Aischylean plays among Philokleon’s contemporaries. In Βάτραχοι, ‘Euripides’
ridicules Aischylos’s audience as θεατὰς...µώρους…παρὰ Φρυνίχῳ τραφέντας (909-10) - “dull-witted
<like infants> brought up on Phrynichos” (cf. 220, 462), because his dramas were still heavily-weighted
toward the sound and spectacle of their lyric choruses. The same difference in musical taste is highlighted
in Νεφέλαι (1365-72), where father and son come to blows over their partiality for Aischylos or Euripides.
In the case of Oiagros, however, there may be more than merely malicious pleasure in making him resort
to old-style tragic-verse to gain acquittal. The mention of a specific work may be intended to suggest that
a trial involving Oiagros would follow this particular heroine’s story. Her tale begins with arrogant boasts
about her children, but ends with her bitter loss of them all. If Oiagros is acquitted, therefore, it may be of
small comfort to him. Though he begin with an arrogant defence, the jury will make him ‘sing a different
song’ before the trial is over. Or, there may be a suggestion that his καλλίστην ῥῆσιν will be rather hard to
find, since we know (again from Βάτραχοι, 911-20) that Niobe spent a great part of Aischylos’s play with
her head covered and not speaking, which suggests a situation similar to that of another defendant who is
referred to later (946-8).
However, although the drama is most likely to be that of Aischylos, Aristophanes does not mention him
by name, so there is some possibility that he could be alluding to Sophokles’ version. This is not extant
either, so it is a matter of speculation. One piece of information, given us by Athenaios (13.601β), might
indicate a feature of Sophokles’ Νιόβη suited the context here since the poet introduced ἐν τῇ Νιόβῃ τὸν
τῶν παίδων (ἔρωτα) and as a result his play gained notoriety by an alternative title, the Παιδεράστρια.
581. κἂν αὐλητής γε δίκην νικᾷ
Again Philokleon imagines his personal satisfaction, this time from being piped out of court by a grateful
flute-player. This suggests some ceremonial honour, not unlike the modern-day naval tradition of piping
officers aboard ship, and may reflect the actual, musical ritual by which a successful actor was hailed in a
dramatic competition (cf. 582). The reference to ‘a fluteplayer’ may be a running joke among comic-poets
referring to a particular political figure regularly lampooned in this way (cf. 687 re. Ὄρνιθες 858).
582. ἐν φορβειᾷ
The flute-player’s “<leather> mouth-strap” served principally to hold his lips tightly to the mouthpiece
and constrict his cheeks from ballooning. This meant, in effect, that the player could exert more pressure
for longer, giving his playing particular intensity. So, the implication is that the flute-player would have
had to work really hard to show his appreciation. An additional benefit was that the strap left his hands
free to move easily up and down the instrument. Knowing Aristophanes, we should probably not enquire
too closely into what he was insinuating.
MacDowell cites a fragment of Sophokles (768),
φυσᾷ γὰρ οὐ σµικροῖσιν αὐλίσκοις ἔτι
ἀλλ’ ἀγρίαις φύσαισι φορβειᾶς ἄτερ.
Although he takes this to mean that “a louder and more violent kind of playing” was achieved without a
mouth-strap, I think that ἀγρίαις must be used here in the sense of ‘uncultivated’ or ‘undisciplined’. There
is a useful illustration of a piper wearing a strap on a fragment of a red-figure, Attic vase which was found
at Olbia in 1962 and is dated stylistically to 430-20 B.C. The fragment, which also depicts male dancers in
costume, wearing white-face ‘female’ masks, has been published by Braund and Hall (2014).
In Aristophanes’ day, pipers were used to set the pace of processions and military marches, and did in fact
pipe to accompany the ἔξοδος of a chorus. In a fragment of Kratinos (308) a flute-player talks of wanting
to pipe-out a chorus (τοὺς ἐξοδίους ὑµῖν ἵν’ αὐλῶ τοὺς νόµους). Presumably, the ‘finale’ was marked by a
climactic intensity in the music, which required strenuous effort (cf. 1346). Because his fellow-jurors are
actually the chorus of this drama he seems to be integrating them into the imagined, judicial scene in their
theatrical persona and compromising the reality of the performance. It is reminiscent of the clouds-chorus
in Νεφέλαι (1115-30) threatening the judges of the drama-contest with bad weather.
583. παῖδ(α) ἐπίκληρον
The old man salivates over another area in his legal duties which allegedly might offer him the chance to
gratify his voyeuristic appetite. To begin with, one might assume that the διαδικασία (‘adjudication of the
will’) involves a boy who has inherited his father’s estate, but it soon becomes evident that this time he is
talking about a young, female heiress. On her father’s demise, an unmarried daughter would be entitled to
a share in his property as dowry and it would fall to the courts to prove the father’s will, or, if he had died
intestate, to assign both the girl and her portion of the estate to a guardian, usually a close male relative.
Under normal circumstances her legal examination would not mean a physical inspection, but a situation
might arise which allowed the jurors to exploit her (perhaps her virginity might be called into question).
Philokleon hints that as a juror he might be willing to vote to override a specific stipulation of the will in
return for the girl’s offer of sexual favours.
584. κλαίειν...µακρὰ τὴν κεφαλὴν
Some scholars take κεφαλὴν literally and explain the phrase as implying that someone might get beaten
about the head, but as we have seen it is the ribs which usually bear the brunt of corporal punishment. A
more likely explanation seems to me to be that the expression is a variation in the active voice of the more
common use in the reflexive voice (e.g. Εἰρήνη 255, κλαίσει µακρά - “you’ll cry for yourself a long time”
and Νεφέλαι 58, διὰ τί δῆτα κλαύσοµαι - “what reason do I have to cry for myself”). The English idiom
‘to be sorry for oneself’ would perhaps be equivalent. This interpretation is supported by the use of same
phrase in Θεσµοφοριάζουσαι (211-2), <τοῦτον> µακρὰ κλάειν κέλευ(ε) - “Tell <Agathon> to go weep at
length <over himself>”, where we have to understand τὴν κεφαλὴν. Here, the jurors would treat the will
as the reincarnation of the deceased and tell him to “go into extended mourning for himself”. Ultimately,
the whole verse is merely a periphrasis for ‘laying aside the will’.
585. τῇ κόγχῃ τῇ...ἐπούσῃ
Τhe innocuous remark that they disregarded “the official-looking shell-case (τῇ κόγχῃ) which enclosed
the seals”, is clarified in the Son’s reply (589).
Aristophanes makes an important point regarding the power of the jury. The jurors could not be censured
for possible corruption and their decision was final, since there was no appellate court.
τῶν δ(ὲ) ἄλλων οὐδεµί(α) ἀρχή
Aristophanes’ concise expression leaves room for ambiguity. We suppose (and I have translated) that he
meant [ἀνυπευθύνη δρᾷ] τῶν ἄλλων [ἀρχῶν] οὐδεµι’ ἀρχῆ, taking ἀρχή in the sense of ‘state institution’.
There is, however, some question as to whether a board of jurors constitutes such an institution. Besides,
until now, we have met ἄρχω and ἀρχή with the meaning of ‘rule’ or ‘dominion’. It is possible, therefore,
that he is drawing a broader comparison, to exaggerate the jurors’ power, and saying “our dominion
answers to no-one, unlike any other among the Greeks.” His son has already referred to the jurors’ power
over the Greek ‘nation’ in lines 520 and 577. The father’s exultation at the exercise of arbitrary power is
especially ironic coming from one of those who repeatedly accuse the Son of dictatorial tendencies.
Only Henderson actually prints Reiske’s proposed emendation σε µόνον, though other editors have found
it attractive. But, there is nothing uniquely compelling about the particular example, it is simply ‘a point
worthy of consideration’. The variant σεµνῶν (R) supports the reading σεµνόν (V), since it seems to have
been mistakenly attracted to the genitive by the words that come after. Nevertheless, Reiske was right to
question the awkward absence of the personal pronoun and I think Wilson’s τούτων σ’ ὧν provides a very
His comment explains why the seemingly-otiose details of line 585 were introduced. By adding them the
Father provides the Son with the opportunity to slide in a sly innuendo. He hints that jurymen might have
interfered with the labia of the young woman’s shell-like vagina. The innuendo of κόγχη is vouched for
by the use of concha in Plautine comedy (e.g. Rudens 3.3.42) as Griffith noted [and seems to have been
taken up by Spanish, to judge from a placard at a Trump protest ‘non me agarres la concha’]. Athenaios
(87α) quotes a similar joke by Telekleides (frg.20) κόγχη διελεῖν - “to prise open a conch-shell”. It also
occurs in Phrynichos Σάτυροι (frg. 51).
This man had been singled out for criticism in Ἀχαρνεῖς (703-12) as “that public prosecutor, the babbling
son of Kephisodemos” (τῷδε τῷ Κηφισοδήµου, τῷ λάλῳ ξυνηγόρῳ) whose fluency and almost ‘Scythian’
aggression in court had left an elderly defendant, Thucydides son of Melesias, floundering. He could well
be the same Euathlos who is described as a pupil of Protagoras (Diogenes Laërt. 9.56). In Aristophanes’
play Ὀλκάδες, which must be closely contemporary with Σφῆκες, an elderly character refers to Euathlos
as a devious archer, another jibe at his Scythian ancestry (a comedic fiction based on his tendency to hit
and run); ἔστι τις πονηρὸς ἡµῖν τοξότης συνήγορος / ὥσπερ Εὔαθλος παρ’ ὑµῖν τοῖς νέοις - “We <older
men> have a certain prosecutor, an underhanded bowman; just like you young men have Euathlos” (frg.
The poet conflates κόλαξ and Κλεώνυµος, cf. δηµολογο-Κλέων (342), κοµητ-Αµυνίας (466)
It is feasible to aspirate to introduce the definite article by crasis, as Bachmann (1879) suggested, but not
essential as the earlier article (καὶ ὁ µέγας) is sufficient.
596. Κλέων ὁ κεκραξιδάµας
We have already been told about Kleon’s vociferous domination of the Assembly (35-6) and here the poet
coins a word to suggest that he tames his auditors with his screaming rants. MacDowell draws attention to
similar poetic formations used in Pindaric odes, but the difference here is that a λεοντοδάµας (lion-tamer)
may master lions, but Kleon is not taming screamers, instead he tames others, especially sheep (cf. 34-5),
with his vocal chords (as in Ἱππεῖς 137, where he is called a κεκράκτης).
597. διὰ χειρὸς ἔχων
Van Leeuven sees the phrase as depicting Kleon in the guise of wet-nurse suckling the jurors like babes in
arms. This maintains the female persona and lower-class status already assigned to the politician (35-6). It
does not exclude the possibility (felt by MacDowell) that the phrase was also intended to suggest a degree
of manipulative control.
The crasis represents καίτοι ἐστὶν, “and yet he is…”
Names ending in -ιος only became popular from the 3rd century A.D., as Schulze (1958) showed. Thus, the
form ‘Euphemios’ has probably replaced the original name ‘Euphemos’, which is well-attested at Athens
in the fifth century B.C. The change may have been an early attempt to mend the metre, because Εὐφήµου
alone would not scan and Blaydes conjectured that the text could have read Εὐφήµου γ(ε), but Meineke’s
Εὐφηµίδου, ‘son of Euphemos’ already offered a better emendation paleographically (cf. Wilson p. 87).
The man named may be introduced simply because Aristophanes intended to pay Theoros a back-handed
compliment in describing him as, “no lesser man than Mr Well-spoken-of”, i.e. as well-reputed as the next
man, perhaps. If, on the other hand, he had a particular person in mind, the man could hardly be “a person
of no importance at all”, as MacDowell suggests, otherwise the audience could not have been expected to
recognize him. So, Theoros is probably being compared to another prominent figure in Athenian political
life whose reputation, ironically, was currently tarnished.
The father’s name crops up in a comment of Antisthenes who critized one of Perikles’ sons for his ‘close
intimacy’ with a certain Euphemos (Athenaios 5. 220δ) and Andokides mentions one of his relatives who
would later figure among those charged with desecrating the Herms in 415 (περὶ τῶν Μυστηρίων 40, 47).
It is even possible, though hard to justify, that Theoros is being compared to the lyric-poet Stesichoros, as
he was also the ‘son of Euphemos’ according to Plato (Φαῖδρος 244α)
It is not surprising that Aristophanes’ word-play baffles us sometimes. According to the lexicon known as
the Etymologicum Genuinum (τὸ Ἐτυµολογικόν), the verb κωνᾶν meant ‘to turn’ (στρέφειν), based on the
fact that pine-cones (κῶνοι) share their shape with spinning-tops (βέµβικες, cf. 1531). The compiler of the
lexicon thought that this accounted for the poet’s use (in Ταγηνισταί) of the verb κωνῆσαι in the sense of
‘to rotate’, since the verb’s principal meaning was ‘to apply pitch to pottery’ (τὸ τὸν κέραµον πισσῶσαι).
However, the actual connection is not likely to have been with the spinning of the potter’s wheel and the
pine-cone’s shape, but with a product cognate with the pine-cone, namely κῶνα (‘pine-pitch’ or ‘resin’),
otherwise πίττα (cf. 1374-5). Consequently, although the compound περικωνεῖ is not found elsewhere, it
is reasonable to suppose that the menial task which Theoros is imagined to have been performing for the
jurors somehow resembles ‘blacking’ their shoes, perhaps to waterproof them, or possibly to stiffen and
protect the soles, so helping the old men keep a footing on wet and slippery pavements. In this way, the
jurors are being protected from the elements as well as from ‘flies’.
One may only speculate as to the services actually performed by Theoros that might have been conflated
with the jurors’ shoe-care. MacDowell denies the possibility of metaphor, but there may be some obscure
play on κώνειο (‘hemlock’), which hinted at capital prosecutions initiated by him. In Aristophanes’ work,
words seem to take on a life of their own. The only thing we can be sure of is that, once again, Theoros is
visualized as squatting on the ground (cf. 43, χαµαὶ καθῆσθαι) in the service of the People.
601. µ(ε) ἀπὸ...οἷων ἀποκλῄεις
The syntax appears awkward but it is merely a truncated version of, σκέψαι οἷα εἶναι τὰ ἀγαθὰ ἀφ’ ὧν µ’
Although editors have always assigned this couplet to the Son, the coarseness of the comment is unsuited
to his character, which is patronizing but respectful throughout the debate. It would appear to be better as
an intervention from the surly slave.
He pretends to have all but forgotten the actual, personal benefits from his jury-service.
The verb implies a ‘warm’ welcome (cf. Νεφέλαι 1145, Στρεψιάδην ἀσπάζοµαι, where the door-keeper
greets the old farmer like a long-lost brother).
The obols were the smallest silver coins in circulation. His fond recollection of his homecoming helps to
exaggerate the paltry sum involved. Photios (a 2784) may have had this passage in mind when he noted
the use of τὸ ἀργύριον by Aristophanes (cf. frg. 273). The reaction of the Chorus in lines 300-2 displays
a similar respect for small sums.
ἡ θυγάτηρ µε ἀπονίζῃ
It might be pedantic to point out, but his daughter does not bathe him and then anoint his feet. He is quite
capable of bathing himself. Reaching down to his feet, however, after a hard day on the benches, is not so
easy for him. Therefore he is glad that his daughter sits him down straightaway to wash and then anoint,
µε...τὼ πόδ(α) - “me, in respect of my two feet”. The washing would be carried out using a ποδονιπτήρ, a
‘foot-bath’ (cf. frg. 843 and 319) Anointing the feet with (scented) olive-oil, probably accompanied by a
relaxing foot-massage, would usually be carried out by a servant-girl (cf. Antiphanes, frg. 152), although
a hetaira (idem, frg. 101) might provide the service for the upper-classes.
The codices read παππάζουσ’, the form found in epic poetry (Ἰλιάς 5.408), but Eustathios (565.32) states
that the comic form was παππίζω (cf. 297, where the boy παππίζει and 655 where Bdelykleon imitates his
sister’s wheedling, despite having been told not to in 652).
I concur with Sommerstein’s view that these words do not need to attach literally to ἐκκαλαµᾶται, though
some in the audience may take them that way in view of the fact that poor people were said to carry small
coins in their mouths, and Philokleon himself evidently does so in line 791. Is it any wonder then that the
plague of 429 B.C. spread so fast?
610. φυστὴν µᾶζαν
Though it is a fascinating thought, I doubt that ‘puff pastry’ can be accounted one of the Athenians’ many
gifts to posterity. On the contrary, a µᾶζα seems to have been a very basic foodstuff, just a lump of dough
made from pounded barleycorns and wine, which might even be eaten uncooked. As such it was the basic
constituent of a poor man’s diet. In the aptly-titled comic-drama Πτωχοί, attributed (rather doubtfully) to
Chionides, a menu of plain dishes served at a Θεοξένια in the Prytaneion (as a reminder of simpler times,
τῆς ἀρχαίας ἀγωγῆς) includes µᾶζα (frg. 7, τυρὸν καὶ φυστὴν δρυεπεῖς τ’ ἐλάας καὶ πράσα - “cheese and
barley-cake, ripe olives off the tree and leeks”, Athenaios 4.137ε). Even its preparation required the bare
minimum of kneading (φυστὴν <µᾶζαν> τὴν µὴ ἄγαν τετριµµένην, Athenaios 3. 114f). At the opening of
Εἰρήνη we meet two slaves kneading such ‘cakes’ to feed a giant dung-beetle, but upon closer inspection
they turn out to be pats of donkey-droppings. The point here is not that the mother is offering her husband
the product of her skills as a patissière; instead she is baking him a plain biscuit over the fire. The precise
meaning of the word φυστὴν is uncertain, but it may merely indicate that bellows had been used to bring
the griddle to the required temperature, or that the barley-cake was baked in ashes (cf. 330, ἀποφυσήσας).
In any case, it is not so much the hot biscuit and the bit of fruit as his dessert which the father relishes so
much as his wife fussing over him. Old men may lose their interest in food, but they never tire of getting
their wives’ attention.
612. κοὐ µή µε δεήσῃ
The earliest ms. gives καὶ for κοὐ (Dobree’s emendation). MacDowell rightly points out that in this case
we would expect µή to be followed by the optative. An alternative reading might be κ’ὅσον µή µε...to
provide the sense, “I take pleasure in these things only provided that I don’t have to rely on you”.
613-4. ἐς σὲ βλέψαι
Not ‘to look at you’ but “to look to you”.
His mention of the “surly steward” is payback for the comment Xanthias had just made (603-4); it would
have little dramatic point unless he was on stage to hear it. I wonder too, whether the use of ταµίας might
be meant to score a point off the Son’s social pretensions. The household appears to be reasonably well-
to-do, to judge from the number of slaves, but it would have to be quite a large establishment to justify a
steward. Even the upwardly mobile Strepsiades handles his own account-ledgers. Here ‘Philokleon’ may
be thinking of the ‘quartermaster’ who managed affairs on board each trireme, but we would understand
him to be pointing sarcastically to ‘your butler’.
The majority of codices have ἄλλην. Only one (Γ) has the correct reading, which Hall and Geldart print,
which has since been confirmed by an Oxyrhyncus papyrus (Π).
615. πρόβληµα κακῶν
He considers τάδε <νοµίσµατα> ‘these coins’ to be his insurance policy, like a shield (κυκλωτῷ σώµατος
προβλήµατι, Aischylos Ἑπτὰ ἐπὶ Θήβας 540) against the arrows of misfortune. A πρόβληµα was any kind
of defencework which was ‘thrown forward’ to create a barrier or problem to impede the enemy’s assault.
σκευὴν βελέων ἀλεωρήν
MacDowell is surely right to suspect that this phrase had been lifted from epic poetry. One might borrow
from Psalm 46, “a very present help in trouble”.
MacDowell’s description of τὸν ὄνον τόνδε as a small wine-flask with two relatively large handles seems
a credible explanation of the ‘donkey’. But, just how it can be said to break wind in the direction of the
empty wine-cup requires further investigation. If the fart is truly “loud and warlike”, as editors agree it is,
it can hardly emanate directly from a tiny bottle. (Indeed, MacDowell can extract no more than a gentle
‘glob-glob-glob’ from it). Such a clarion call could only be emitted by the exuberant Philokleon himself;
perhaps under the influence of the bottle’s contents. Besides, we are probably looking at an example of
the verb in its wider sense of ‘to emit a noise like a fart’ (cf. e.g. Νεφέλαι 9), because in this case one must
envisage the flatulence as issuing from the beast’s front end, for even if the flask is not actually a ‘rhyton’
it owes its name to the fact of its being in the shape of a donkey’s head. So, the action which Philokleon is
performing on behalf of the ‘donkey-flask’ is rather what we would term ‘blowing a raspberry’. Donkeys,
in my experience, can do this very well and the sound would be quite as insulting to a wine-cup as a fart,
if not more so.
The bizarre idea of a wine-flask putting on airs at the expense of a wine-cup is exquisitely surreal even for
Aristophanes. One wonders whether the notion was the product of his own inebriation, or if perhaps he is
actually engaging in self-deprecatory humour, after his Νεφέλαι had been bested in competition by Πυτίνη
(‘Wine-flask’) of Kratinos in the previous year (cf. 675).
The adjective ‘of an army’ suggests to me that the ‘donkey’s’ insulting gesture is modelled on the kind of
scornful battle-cry that might precede a military engagement. [The mock-French taunt ‘I blow my nose at
you’ in Monty Python and the Holy Grail comes close to matching it for contumely.]
619. τοῦ σοῦ δίνου
A δῖνος was a wide-mouthed goblet, which may have got its name from the way wine could be swilled in
it. The statue of Dionysos in the theatre probably held one (cf. Νεφέλαι 1473 n.).
620. ταὔθ’ ἅπερ Ζεύς
The phrase is elliptical. He hears “the same <comments> which Zeus <hears>”.
MacDowell righly observes that this appears to be a unique instance of the verb being used as a metaphor.
We may speak of ‘thunderous’ applause, but the jurors would not normally ‘raise a hubbub’, as I have felt
constrained to translate. They might, however, ‘fart en masse’. It seems to me that Aristophanes may well
be replaying a joke from his previous production (cf. 162). In Νεφέλαι, he had made a crude pun, which is
still misunderstood, between βροντή and βορντή (394). The latter, a vernacular word, should be printed in
the text, instead of πορδή, which it closely resembles in sound. It is quite possible that the original text of
Σφῆκες also contained the vernacular metathesis βορντᾷ to emphasize how the jurymen might have been
This onomatopoeic word was probably used in much the same way as some present-day Greeks still use
the word πώπω to ward off misfortune (as MacDowell surmised). It is an imitation of the sound made by
pursed lips when spitting, an action believed by the superstitious to discourage the Evil one.
[It is demonstrated to an exaggerated extent in the marriage scene of “My big, fat, Greek Wedding”.]
629. νὴ τὴν ∆ήµητρα
Why does he invoke the Earth-Μother? Could it be that he sees her as the protecting deity of the people,
given that some explained her name as a conflation of ∆ῆµος with Μήτηρ?
630. εἴ σε δέδοικα
MacDowell rightly transfers the emphasis onto the pronoun, εἰ σέ δέδοικα.
631-3. οὐ πώποθ’...ἠκούσαµεν
The duplication of negatives is comically emphatic, cf. Νεφέλαι 637, οὐκ...πώποτε οὐδέν.
The jurors are impressed by their colleague’s “clever arguments”, proving that they are easily swayed by
The phrase ἐρήµας <ἀµπέλους> τρυγήσειν - “to strip vines of their grapes while they are unguarded”, is
a metaphor for ‘gathering the fruits of victory unopposed’ (i.e. ‘a walkover’) cf. Ἐκκλησιάζ. 885-6, ᾤου δ’
ἐρήµας οὐ παρούσης ἐνθάδε ἐµοῦ τρυγήσειν - “you thought you could pick grapes while I’m not here?”
635. ταύτῃ κράτιστος
MacDowell misses the point here, which is that Philokleon is talking at cross-purposes. In claiming to be
“the champion in this respect” he appears to be affirming the Chorus’s assessment of his oratorical skills,
but he is only boasting of his habit of pinching other people’s grapes. It is the same misunderstanding as
his earlier reference to theft (356-9); a habit which is confirmed again later (1201).
His boast would not endear him to much of the audience who as land-owners would have been frustrated
as their vines were rifled at the end of each growing season. Vineyards are large, open spaces difficult to
protect. [I believe that in France guards mounted on horses are employed to patrol.]
Porson wanted to evict an unwanted glyconic by emending to ὡς δ’ ἐπὶ πάντα ἐλήλυθεν. MacDowell says
this would mean ‘leave nothing untried’, which would be unsuitable, because it implies that most of the
points are wide of the mark (which in fact they are). He cites κἀπὶ πάντ’ ἀφίξοµαι (Soph. Οἰδ.Τύρ. 265),
which certainly carries that sense, but is not an exact match. This meaning is more regularly attached to
ἐπεξέρχοµαι (e.g. Aischylos Προµ. 870, Thucydides 1.22.2). Nevertheless, modern editors have preferred
to ignore the irregular scansion and, it must be admitted, that the text as printed provides perfectly
satisfactory sense, “he’s covered every point thoroughly and omitted nothing”. It looks to me to be a
goalless draw. Parker (1997 p.238), however, is prepared to take the metrical benefits offered by Porson’s
639-40. (ἐ)ν µακάρων...νήσοις
Ancient Greek merchants had heard tell of distant islands where the inhabitants lived carefree lives with
their every need provided by Nature. Priests explained that such islands were reserved for those who had
revered the gods and were ‘blessed’ with a new life after death. So, the chorus-member imagines that he
must have been miraculously transported to these islands, where he resumes his favourite pursuit, albeit
with a better standard of oratory.
This is Dindorf’s alteration of ὥσθ’, the reading of the codices. It has been adopted by Hall and Geldart
(and Sommerstein), but Philokleon’s exultant exclamation follows on from the hyperbole of the chorus.
‘How beautifully he spoke’… ‘That’s right, just look at the effect my words have had!’ Emendation was
unnecessary, as MacDowell has said.
οὐκ ἐν αὑτοῦ
MacDowell takes this phrase to mean that he is “unable to control himself” and Sommerstein translates
“beside himself”. But, when Philoktetes says, ἀλλὰ νῦν ἔτ’ ἐν σαυτοῦ γενοῦ (Sophokles Φιλοκτήτης 950)
he seems to be trying to regain his confidence rather than his composure. Thus, we must take Philokleon
to be gloating because his son ‘looks deflated’.
643. σε...σκύτη βλέπειν ποιήσω
The phrase βλεπόντων κάρδαµα (455) compared the fierce look on the jurymen’s faces to that of a person
who had been eating piquant herbs. So, it is assumed that the old man’s threat to make his son ‘see whips’
means that he intends to make him look like a man who has just been beaten. MacDowell interprets this
phrase as tantamount to saying ‘I’ll make you look whipped’ and Sommerstein translates, for instance,
“I’ll put a whipped look on your face”. But, this presupposes that the Athenians spoke of whipping their
opponents in debate. It is true that the chorus had urged their champion at the outset ‘to flog his son with
his tongue’ (547), but the analogy there was with judicial interrogation, whereas the running metaphor of
the debate is with athletic competition.
The phrase σκύτη βλέπειν seems to have occurred in different contexts, so that Zenobios (6.2) considered
it proverbial. He cites, for example, a verse from a work by Eupolis, ἀτεχνῶς µὲν οὖν τὸ λεγόµενον σκύτη
βλέπει (frg. 304) - “so, as the saying goes, he simply sees whips”, and explains it as ‘to view impending
trouble with suspicion’ i.e. apprehensively. If we apply this interpretation to athletic contests, we catch a
slightly different inflection to the old man’s remark, for in wrestling bouts, whips were brandished by the
umpires in order to encourage reluctant combatants to engage. So, Philokleon’s threat is to give his son
such a verbal drubbing that he will have no comeback and the umpires will have to use their whips simply
to get him to continue.
The phrase also crops up in Athenaios (xiii. 568e) where the narrator states, “your father the boot-maker
tried to knock some sense into you and taught you to see whips” - διδάξαντος σκύτη βλέπειν. The source
in this case is not quoted, but is probably another comic verse, in which the proverb is used for its literal
meaning of σκύτη (‘leather strap’) since the father is a ‘leather-worker’.
644-5. παντοίας πλέκειν παλάµας
Although commentators like to take this phrase metaphorically, e.g. Henderson’s “weave every wile in the
book”, one ought perhaps to keep in mind the literal meaning. Since Philokleon has just intimated that the
umpires may have to step in keep his opponent committed to the bout, the chorus now urges Bdelykleon
to use what skill he has and to get to grips as being the only way out. The legal application of ἀπόφυξιν
(‘acquittal’) is secondary here.
The old jurors candidly admit that, from the moment they enter the court-room, they are biased in favour
of one party; in this case it is their fellow-juror.
Porson’s addition to the text to aid responsion is approved by Sommerstein and Henderson, but otherwise
dismissed as not essential by recent editors.
µὴ πρὸς ἐµοῦ
Someone who speaks “from a standpoint I don’t favour” will have their work cut out to conciliate jurors
who already hold strongly-entrenched prejudice (cf. 243).
648. µύλην ἀγαθὴν...καὶ νεόκοπτον
Whereas we would naturally think of a whetstone being used to hone the jurors’ anger to a sharp edge and
MacDowell makes a comparison with retreading tyres, Aristophanes suggests that a mill-stone would be
required to ‘blunt’ their prejudice. To do its work the stone should be “serviceable” and “newly-chiselled”
and the arguments of the Son will need the same characteristics.
The main verb ἐστι has to be understood.
649. ἢν µή τι λέγῃς
Only the protasis of the conditional sentence is expressed. We have to understand some unspoken thought
such as ‘you’ll be wasting your breath’ or ‘you’ll not persuade us’. The protasis itself is understated since
the ‘something’ he needs to say is a convincing argument that will act like a millstone to mollify them, cf.
Herodotos, ἐπιστάµενος ὅτι, ἢν µὴ αξιόχρεον πρόφασιν προτείνῃ, οὐκ ἀναπείσει µιν - “aware that he was
not going to persuade him, unless he put forward a credible proposal” (1.156.1).
650. χαλεπὸν µὲν
Bdelykleon begins his counter-argument in conventional, court-room manner, by protesting the difficulty
of pleading his case. Whereas his father’s generation had seen the debate in physical terms like a contest,
the younger man is evidently schooled in the intellectual wheeling of the court-room’s legal eagles. Since
he is parodying a typical opening argument by a rhetor, the expression is elliptical. The full phrase would
be, χαλεπὸν µὲν <τὸ ἔργον ἐστιν>, καὶ <δέον> δεινῆς γνώµης καὶ µείζονος <γνώµης> ἢ ἐπὶ τρυγῳδοῖς.
The task before him requires “a terribly clever argument”, which he, of course, is about to make. The use
of the adjective δεινός, which in the context of speaking means ‘awefully <clever>’, is perhaps a recall of
Hermippos’ criticism of Aristophanes’ pacifist stance (frg. 47, λόγους...δεινοὺς - “terribly clever things
you say” about the war), which in turn pick up the words of ‘Dikaiopolis’ in Ἀχαρνεῖς 501, ἐγὼ δὲ λέξω
δεινὰ µέν, δίκαια δέ. See Appendix 4 and post script.
µείζονος ἢ (ἐ)πὶ τρυγῳδοῖς
In this line we seem to be hearing the poet himself speaking through the persona of the Son. This allusion
to “comic actors” reminds the audience that they are watching a play and that ‘Bdelykleon’ is making the
same point as ‘Dikaiopolis’ in Ἀχαρνεῖς 497-500.
It is natural for us to use the metaphor ‘innate’ or ‘endemic’ of a disease, but to achieve that meaning here
we would have to take the perfect participle in a passive sense. Some editors are content to do so and find
parallels in the intransitive use of γεγονώς and πεφυκώς. Reiske, however, proposed reading ἐντετακυῖαν
which he offered as the active perfect participle of ἐντήκω and translated passively as ‘penetrated deeply
into’. Wilson (p. 88) sees this as an improvement, as there is evidence that the active voice could be taken
passively in Sophokles’ Ἠλέκτρα (1311), µῖσός τε γὰρ παλαιὸν ἐντέτηκέ µοι. But Sommerstein points out
that the perfect participle ought therefore to be ἐντετηκυῖαν. One might also object that the preposition is
otiose (cf. Plato Μενέξενος 245δ, τὸ µῖσος ἐντέτηκε τῇ πόλει).
These problems do not arise if we stop to wonder what gave birth to the disease and consider that perhaps
we are meant to understand that “the ancient disease (i.e. class rivalry) brought forth <the jury-courts> in
the city”. In which case, I suggest that the better reading would be ἐκτετοκυῖαν which remedies both the
problem of the voice and the awkward repetition of the preposition.
652. ὦ πάτερ ἡµέτερε Κρονίδη
The current consensus seems to be that the Son’s appeal to Zeus is a genuine invocation of the kind with
which an orator would begin his address to the court; a respectful nod to the god of Justice. The Father’s
interruption, therefore, is taken to indicate that he has airily assumed the guise of Zeus (in his own mind).
I think, however, that while the formal invocation is certainly borrowed from the law-courts, here the Son
intends it as a parody. In sarcastically hailing the old man as ‘son of Kronos’, he is pretending to show the
fear which his father had imputed to him in 628-30. Since the Father had claimed Zeus-like qualities, his
son is taking him at his word.
In this case, the Father’s response is not so much an interruption of a speech as a desire to avoid a charge
of blasphemy to which the former interpretation lays him open. He tells him straight to stop addressing
him in a sacrilegious way (παῦσαι). Then, he makes a second, distinct objection, to the use of the word
The reason why he does not wish to be reminded that his adversary is his son, is that he will have to kill
him if he fails to prove his case! Or such, at least, is the traditional interpretation of these lines. “You will
have to die for sure, even if it means me having to abstain from <participating in> sacrificial rites”. It is
said that Philokleon would be able to claim justifiable homicide because his son had become a tyrant, but
he would nonetheless be excluded by blood-taint from sharing in religious feasts. Moreover, according to
Sommerstein’s reading, he brandishes a sword at this moment, to persuade him of the truth of his words.
This all seems a little far-fetched. To begin with we can dispense with sword-waving. The Father’s earlier
request for his sword to be brought (in line 522, echoing the mock-heroic demand of line 166) was purely
to allow him to make an exaggerated, histrionic gesture. No slave in his right mind would have acceded to
either request (cf. 714). Nor, is it likely that he would be prepared to ‘execute’ his son for losing a family
argument. A more straightforward interpretation would be that he is assuming that the court would vote
for the death penalty, because Bdelykleon had endeavoured to obstruct the divinely-ordained jury-courts.
In such case, his father tells him not to refer to their consanguinity, because judgement would have to be
carried out, “even though I would be obliged to forswear my paternal feelings”.
I agree with MacDowell that Elmsley has probably been hasty in emending the τεθνήσει of the codices
(cf. Ἀχαρνεῖς 590 and scholion).
In this speech the Son begins his reasoned rebuttal. The substance of the speech makes a serious point and
it may be, therefore, that we are hearing the voice of the poet. However, Aristophanes is aware that when
comic-dramatists become didactic they risk losing the goodwill of their audience, so he does what little he
can to keep the pot on the boil. Nevertheless, the speech contains very little to amuse and distract. Firstly,
Bdelykleon ignores the Father’s objection and continues the sarcastic charade of his invocation. He asks
‘Zeus’ to un-knit his furrowed brow and stop looking like thunder (his habitual aspect, e.g. Ἰλιάς 1.528).
He then seems to detract from the solemnity of the debate by addressing his father with the affectionate
diminutive, ὦ παππίδιον, for in spite of his supercilious tone he sincerely wants his father to lay aside his
characteristic rancour and to pay attention to what he’s going to say (compare his emollient appeal to the
jurors in lines 471-2).
655. ὦ παππίδιον
The codices read παπίδιον, but Hall and Geldart print the reading of the Σοῦδα which agrees with the verb
The word brings to mind ‘voting-pebbles’ (109), but actually means stones used in arithmetic calculations
(perhaps on some kind of abacus). The comment serves as a reminder that the debate is informal, since in
a formal, forensic context precise calculations would be made.
659. µισθοὺς καὶ
He runs through some of the main revenue-streams flowing into the state-treasury each year. But, µισθοὶ
seem out of place, as they are usually ‘allowances’ or ‘pay’ meted out by the state (cf. 664). So, Bergk’s
suggestion to read µισθώσεις seems preferable. These “rents” refer to state-income earned on rentals of
state-property by private individuals. [The fact that the Greek Ministry of Defence pays rental on some of
its military bases shows how far the modern state has deviated from sound economic principals.]
Is this an accurate assessment of the state’s total revenue or a nice round number selected arbitrarily? It
could be either or both, or it may simply have been chosen for its sound. The poet may have wished to
create an image of money piling up in the treasury, like a bowel constriction, in the word δυσκοίλια (as
distinct from δυσκολία, cf. 106).
662. ἕξ χιλιάσιν
This was the full complement of the Eliaia. The jurors were enrolled to serve for a year out of the citizens
who volunteered and were passed fit, both mentally and physically.
The poet adapts a literary quotation to express the sarcastic view that Athens has more jurors than any one
city can usefully accomodate.
665. ποῖ τρέπεται
We would ask, ‘what becomes of the the rest of the money?’ but in Greek it appears to divert itself, like
Strepsiades’ debts (cf. Νεφέλαι 40). Compare Euripides Ἱππόλυτος 1066, ποι τρέψοµαι; - “where am I to
turn for help?”
Populist politicians through the ages have always claimed to be ‘the voice of the people’ and their ready
slogans usually serve to distract attention from their lack of concrete policies. Here Aristophanes pours
scorn on their claims by subtly altering them.
‘They’, of course, are upper-class and the sly substitution of the word “rabble” for ‘people’ reveals their
thinly-disguised disdain for those they claim to be representing. Like the government minister who called
a policeman ‘plebeian’ not long ago (allegedly).
µαχοῦµαι περὶ τοῦ πλήθους
In Ἱππεῖς (764), Kleon’s alter ego ‘Paphlagon’ maintains that he has devoted himself to the service of the
people (περὶ τὸν δῆµον), and so here we expect the people’s champion to promise to ‘do battle on behalf
of the people’ (ὑπὲρ τοῦ πλήθους), but another slip of the tongue shows that he was only ‘fighting <with
rival claimants> over the people’ (cf. 191, περὶ τοῦ µαχεῖ, or µάχη). [In the present day, political parties
still claim that their share of the votes cast constitutes a λαϊκή ἐντολή - ‘a mandate from the People’, but
show little regard for the people’s interest in practice once elected.]
668. τούτοις τοῖς ῥηµατίοις
The jurors are not won over ‘by these slogans’, but “by slogans like these”, so we should read τοιούτοις
ῥηµατίοις or perhaps even τούτων τοῖς ῥηµατίοις, “the slogans of these politicians”.
The codices read περιπεµφθείς, but some medieval scholar spotted that we need the verb περιπέττω here.
Henderson’s “buttered up” is probably the closest we can come to the metaphor in English.
672. τοὺς ἀργελόφους περιτρώγων
The point is that the politicians devour the tasty, lean meat, leaving the lamb’s sinewy leg and foot for the
common people to chew on (cf. Ὄρνιθες 901-2). [Anyone who has shared a plate of παïδακια at Vlachika
would understand.] It is tempting to translate “left-overs”, but the closest equivalent in English would be
“humble-pie”, since this recalls the ‘nombles’, or deer offal, which was the poor man’s portion out of the
rich man’s deer-hunt. There is irony in the application to the jurors of the same verb which they had used
earlier (596) of Kleon.
673. τὸν…σύρφακα τὸν ἄλλον
The repetition of the definite article requires us to take the two nouns in apposition as: ‘They perceive the
rubbish, the rest of the <citizen body>…as nothing’, but in English one may fuse the two. A comic-drama
by Platon entitled Σύρφαξ survives only in seven brief fragments.
674. ἐκ κηθαρίου λαγαριζόµενον
It is difficult to know for sure what Aristophanes intended with this verse, because it contains three words
of uncertain meaning. Firstly, the noun κηθάριον and the participle τραγαλίζοντα are found nowhere else,
while the participle λαγαριζόµενον occurs only once. The scholiast is evidently puzzled too, as he offers
two possible interpretations. Assuming that the participle is cognate with λαγαρός (‘emaciated’), he gives
us the image of the jurors ‘becoming skinny out of’ a κηθάριον, which is, either ‘a funnel of a voting-urn’
(synonymous with κηµός, cf. 94) or ‘a small dish’. His suggestions should probably be taken with a pinch
of salt, though modern commentators have followed his lead and concluded that, as the Father receives a
pittance as jury pay, he is “being fed a starvation diet from a voting-urn funnel” (Sommerstein). Perhaps,
he is ‘barely scraping a living out of the voting-urn funnel’ (‘urning very little’). In which case, one might
conjecture that the word κηθάριον was preferred over the usual κηµός to suggest the wasp’s honey-comb
The only other instance of the verb, found in Pherekrates (frg.126), offers scant guidance. It may be used
to describe other ‘wasps’ or ‘ants’ (in human form) and has been assigned to his play Μυρµηκάνθρωποι.
So, although Storey prefers to translate λαγαριζόµενοι “swarming together”, there may be some common
ground in the description (perhaps ‘thin-waisted’) to lend support the scholiast’s theory. But, it seems that
ultimately only the context can decide the issue.
καὶ τραγαλίζοντα τὸ µηδέν
This verb is not found elsewhere either, but might be derived from τράγηµα as MacDowell says and give
the sense “feasting on nothing”. Sommerstein follows his lead with “regaling themselves”. Alternatively,
one might relate it to τραγανός, a late usage for something ‘edible but full of gristle’ and hence meaning
“chewing patiently on nothing”. However, this interpretation seems to do no more than repeat the earlier
comment about τοὺς ἀργελόφους περιτρώγων and it lays too much emphasis on the jurors’ insignificant
recompense, whereas the Son’s point is surely that the jurors themselves are held in disdain by the allies.
Consequently, I have come to believe that we need to put the scholia to one side and reexamine the text.
While τὸ µηδέν appears to be the object of τραγαλίζοντα, the verb itself is suspect. Possibly, one ought to
take τὸ µηδέν directly with ᾔσθηνται to mean that the common herd are ‘a big zero’. By freeing the verb
from its supposed object, we are freed from any preconceptions and can draw other inferences from other
parts of the line.
The noun κηθάριον is more likely to be meant as a diminutive form of κηθίς (‘a dice-box’), another form
of which (κήθιον) is employed by Hermippos (frg. 27, καὶ πρὸς κύβους ἕστηκ’ ἔχων τὸ κήθιον - “and he
stood by the dice holding the dice-box”). This suggests that we might consider emending τραγαλίζοντα to
another verb which is used elsewhere. Kratinos speaks of the age of Kronos “when they used to play dice
for bread” - ὅτε τοῖς ἄρτοις ἠστραγάλιζον (frg. 176), consequently I propose we might read, τὸ...ἄλλον,
ἐκ κηθαρίου λαγαριζόµενον κἀστραγαλίζοντα, τὸ µηδέν. As Kratinos’s verse suggests the dice-players
were playing for (surely not ‘with’) bread, perhaps for want of money. Therefore the point here could be
that the allies’ ambassadors despise the old men they see sitting around playing knuckle-bones, supposing
that they have nothing better to do with their time, or that they have turned to gambling to supplement a
meagre diet (emphasized earlier, cf. 300-11).
According to Herodotos, games of dice and knuckle-bones were invented by the Lydians during a period
of famine (1.94.3, ἐξευρεθῆναι...τῶν κύβων καὶ τῶν ἀστραγάλων). They wanted something to while away
the hours and take their minds off thoughts of food.
[In modern Athens it is still the pensioners and lower-income workers who habitually gamble; the better-
off have the stock exchange, of course.]
675. Κόννου ψῆφον
The second-century B.C. scholar Kallistratos of Alexandria explained this enigmatic phrase by the equally
obscure Κόννου θρῖον, which he stated to have been axiomatic for ‘a thing of little importance’. As we
have no inkling of the origin of the proverbial expression, it seems futile to speculate why Aristophanes
chose to alter it. That should not stop us trying.
Firstly, it occurs to me that Κόννου θρῖον sounds like κώνου θρῖον ‘a pine-cone scale’, which would have
even less value than a whole pine-cone, and so might at least account for the meaning which Kallistratos
offers us. But, for θρῖον to have been replaced by ψῆφον, we would expect there to be some relationship
between the two words, and in fact, we find that θριαί was used of pebbles tossed into a different kind of
urn; one used in divination. An ancient method of telling fortunes by pebbles devised by Athena had been
largely superceded by the oracular responses of Apollo, who is said to have derided its efficacy with the
words, “many pebbles are thrown, but there are not many prophets” (Apollodoros Βιβλ. 3.10.1). So, it
may be that Konnos was a soothsayer whose predictions were not thought reliable, so that when he uses
the phrase ‘Κonnos’s pebble’ to describe his father, Bdelykleon is suggesting that his voting-pebble is
similarly of little use. In the process he alters θρῖον to ψῆφον to make the point clear. The difference all
this makes to our understanding of the line is negligible. It may, perhaps, point to the phrase signifying
‘ineffectual’ rather than ‘worthless’.
An actual individual named Konnos is mentioned twice by Plato (Ἐυθύδηµος, 272c; Μενέξενος, 235e) as
the music teacher of Sokrates (for unlike Lamachos in 959, Sokrates κιθαρίζειν ἐπίσταται). He may be the
individual mocked by Aristophanes in Ἱππεῖς (534), but we know nothing else about him and he cannot be
connected to the proverb in any way. There is, however, an intriguing coincidence in the occurrence of
the name Κόννος as the title of a comic play by Ameipsias which had been preferred over Aristophanes’
own Νεφέλαι in competition the previous year. The defeat had rankled with Aristophanes (cf. 1044-50)
and this may have been partly due to the fact that the winning play had dealt with a similar subject, but
possibly in a more traditional way. Perhaps, after all, Kallistratos was mistaken about this phrase relating
to a proverb. Aristophanes may simply have intended Κόννῳ ψῆφον to suggest a (wasted) vote for the
other (inferior) play!
679. τοῖς ἑψητοῖσι
Small, bony fish of secondary quality were considered unsuitable for grilling or baking, but they could be
boiled for soup. Once the liquid had been strained to remove the bones, any available vegetables, onions
for instance, might be added to enhance flavour. If no fresh onions were to be had, then a clove of garlic
would be a possible substitute, though it might risk overpowering the taste of the fish.
The Son’s argument has been addressed grammatically to his father throughout (σύ, σε, σοι) but logically
concerns jurors as a class. The Father’s response follows this logic, and applies his personal experience to
illustrate the general course of events. Sommerstein, however, adopts Zacher’s proposal κἀχθὲς, which he
translates “only yesterday”.
All recent editors have chosen to drop the particle γ(ε). Perhaps, as Wilson notes (p. 88), they find that the
emphasis on the number (a rare occurrence according to Denniston) appears unjustified. The fact that all
the codices include it, however, means that Blaydes was probably right to conclude that it was misplaced
and to suggest reading γ’ αὐτὸς, instead of καὐτὸς.
We cannot identify this man, but the audience would recognize him as a member of the moneyed elite, for
it is no more likely that he was a greengrocer than that Euripides’ mother had sold parsley in the market
(cf. Comic Adespota 421). What is amusing, after all, in sending out to fetch garlic from a ‘greengrocer’?
One can hardly suspect ‘product placement’. So, in all likelihood Eucharides was present in the audience,
in one of the better seats. If he had any connection with actual trade, we can suppose him to have been a
large landowner or import-merchant. The real Eucharides would not have given the old jury-man the time
of day, let alone three cloves of garlic. Another mention of the sale of garlic is made by Hermippos in frg.
It is an intriguing thought that the man in question might, in his younger days, have been the subject of
the inscription on a fine ὑδρία, the name-vase of the eponymous painter (Getty museum, no: 86 dated c.
681. αὐτήν µοι τὴν δουλείαν
He is representing quotation marks in the air with his fingers; “this <so-called> slavery of mine”.
The verb provides the subject of the participle, “by <your> failure to make clear”.
The verb κνάω means ‘to scrape’ or to ‘scratch’, and mainly occurs in compounds, e.g. κατέκνησας (965),
where cheese is being grated. So, the meaning here must be metaphorical and commentators suppose the
ellipse of the personal pronoun µε. MacDowell says, “you’re wearing me out” and Sommerstein suggests,
“you’re getting on my nerves”. Their conclusion may be justified, but it is just as likely that we are meant
to understand τὸ πρᾶγµα, ‘you are scratching <the surface of the matter>’, instead of ‘grinding down the
jury’s anger’ (646), i.e. so far you have said nothing material to the case.
One might drive a horse or chariot, but in this context he is said to have driven a ship by “rowing” (as in
Ὀδύσσεια 12.109, νῆα...ἐλάαν).
Since the successful siege of Eïon under Kimon’s command (c. 475-0), the Athenians had become adept
at siege-warfare. Though they did not always succeed, they had the resources to carry out long-distance
operations like the current campaign in Chalkidike, throughout the winter months. Such warfare could be
carried on more easily by the generals who enjoyed many home comforts while the common soldiery had
to endure exposure to harsh conditions, poor food, irregular bivouacs, boredom and disease.
686. ὃ µάλιστα
Like MacDowell I think we are meant to see the relative clause as a comment on the first part of the line,
rather than as a lead-in to the next line as Sommerstein and Henderson prefer, since this would require an
The literal meaning of the verb ἀγχειν is ‘to strangle’ (cf. 1039), but the compound is usually employed as
a metaphor, for ‘exasperating’. The idea being that strangulation brings the same flushed appearance to a
man’s face as anger might, just as we say ‘choking with anger’, (cf. Νεφέλαι 988, ὥστε µ’ ἀπάγχεσθαι -
“so that I am choked <with anger>”).
687. Χαιρέου υἱός
We cannot identify Chaireas, but it is safe to assume that he was a ‘well-born’ Athenian. The fact that he
is ridiculed by Eupolis (frg. 90) as a ‘foreigner’ in Βάπται, along with Alkibiades, can be taken as proof of
his unassailable lineage. His son’s name is not known, but this passage makes clear that he was serving as
a public prosecutor (συνήγορος) at the time and his rhetorical style involved a good deal of εὐρυπρωκτία
(cf. Νεφέλαι 1089-90). His pedigree is clear from the fact that he can be identified by his father’s name, as
a noble family stressed bloodline over deme (cf. Νεφέλαι 349, τὸν Ξενοφάντου).
A certain Χαιρέαν...τὸν Ἀρχεστράτου, ἄνδρα Ἀθηναῖον is mentioned disparagingly by Thucydides (8.74)
as having been active in fomenting democratic revolt in Samos after the murder of Hyperbolos in 411. An
ancient scholion (on Ὄρνιθες 858) happens to mention that the ‘piper’ Χαῖρις was actually Chaireas who
was lampooned also in Kratinos’ Νέµεσις.
688. ὡδὶ διαβὰς
Aristophanes is not averse to utilizing visual humour to get a laugh. The son demonstrates how the young
prosecutor “stands with his legs apart like this”. The pose resembles a wrestler’s stance (cf. Νεφέλαι 178-
9), and is mocked for offering an invitation to homoerotic thoughts, to those so-inclined.
This verb is not found anywhere else, and nor is τρυφερωθείς, a variant reading in some late manuscripts.
He points out the ‘injustice’ of jurors being refused jury-pay if they turn up late, while a prosecutor is still
paid if he is tardy (because, of course, the trial cannot begin without him).
690. τοῦ σηµείου
In Θεσµοφοριάζουσαι (277-8), ‘Euripides’ urges his aged relative to make haste, “because the signal for
the assembly can be seen on the Thesmophoreion” - ὡς τὸ τῆς ἐκκλησίας σηµεῖον ἐν τῷ Θεσµοφορείῳ
φαίνεται. In this case, the ‘signal’ is a visible sign hoisted over the shrine of Demeter Thesmophoros so as
to indicate when her votaries should convene. The jurors, on the other hand, do not need to be told when
the courts are in session. Consequently, their signal is more likely to have been audible as it indicates the
start of the proceedings after they have already gathered. Hence, we may suspect that the earlier reference
to a drum-beat (119) was an allusion to this signal of commencement.
The exact amount of the fee is mentioned only because a silver drachma, the equivalent of six obols, was
exactly double the amount received by a juror. So, the prosecutors received better recompense which, of
course, they thoroughly deserved. Cf. also 786 for the jurors’ pay.
These lines contain logical and grammatical anomalies which deserve more attention than they have been
given hitherto. MacDowell provides a standard translation (which of itself indicates that he was not quite
happy with the text as it stands),
“And sharing with one of his fellow officials (i.e. the other nine advocates) whatever any accused man
gives him, the two of them arranging the affair between them…”
The variants here, κοινωνος (V) κοινωνὸν (J) κοινῶν ὄντων (Γ), show that scholars had some difficulty
understanding what was being said. The consensus at present is that the singular participle stands in for a
693. ξυνθέντε τὸ πρᾶγµα δύ’ ὄντε
In the light of the previous line, the two are both prosecutors who are said to “fix the case between them”,
but the next line puts this interpretation in doubt.
The import of this verb, as MacDowell explains, is that the two speakers both “look and speak seriously”.
In Βάτραχοι (813) the slaves decide to make themselves scarce, because their masters “make it look like
they mean business” - οἱ δεσπόται ἐσπουδάκωσι. Similarly, Sokrates puts on a look of mock indignation
or seriousness when ridiculed, ἐσπουδακότι τῷ προσώπῳ (Xenophon Συµπόσιον 2.17) and Meidias was
said by Phrynichos (frg. 43) to have been a keen fan of cock-fights, περὶ ἀλέκτορας αὐτοῦ ἐσπουδακότος.
The dual form of the verb is used for the two litigants rather than the singular ἐσπουδάκαται (J) to refer to
the prosecutor alone.
The manuscript variants πρίων, πρίον’ and πρίονες were clarified by Reisig (and Dobree) as πρίοντε, the
dual form of the present participle of πρίω, ‘to cut with a saw’.
The codices read ἀντανέδωκεν, but Dobree proposed the present reading which occurs in one 15th-century
ms. (H). Both ἐνδίδωµι and ἀναδίδωµι are used. Aristophanes has added a further prefix to mean “in his
turn”. The point is that, contrary to expectation, one of the two sawyers, instead of pulling the court back
over to his side (ἀνθέλκει), simply “gives way”, conceding the argument.
The interpretation of this passage is determined by its opening line in which the prosecutor is said to share
a bribe received from a guilty defendant with another public official who serves with him. The description
is taken as evidence that there could be a prosecution team of two speakers. But, this may be the product
of an ancient scholar’s mistaken inference, for the reading is open to two objections. Firstly, the ungainly
syntax and prosaic expression of line 692 are out of place. We are told that the prosecutor shares the bribe
before we are informed that it has been offered. Secondly, the simile does not appear to match the actions
very accurately. The picture of two sawyers at work with a two-handled saw seems designed to illustrate
the cut and thrust of judicial argument as each of two opposing speakers in turn pulls the court his way.
But, the final word gives an unexpected twist to the comparison, when one of the two speakers concedes
the point. How are we to understand that the joint-prosecutors sabotage their own case without attracting
a charge of incompetence? One might suppose them to present conflicting evidence or to somehow speak
at cross-purposes, so that while the first speaker argues effectively, the second ‘throws’ the case. But why
share the bribe, unless both were to mishandle the case? Is it simply that the presence of two speakers will
allay suspicion? Surely, the second prosecutor’s ineptitude would attract adverse comment anyway? The
only way one can envisage such a combination of speakers would be if the lead prosecutor was to obtain a
conviction by pulling on the saw robustly (ἕλκει), only to have his colleague let the defendant succeed in
his plea for leniency later. But, however one interprets the prosecutors’ actions, one would expect both to
be pulling at the same end of the saw.
To my mind, the theory of prosecutors doubling up is not proven, for the simile only seems to work if we
take the two ‘sawyers’ as being defendant and prosecutor. I suspect, therefore, that line 692 is the result of
a scholion which has been interpolated to explain (mistakenly) an ancient scholar’s assumption that more
than one public official could prosecute each case. Probably the only part of the line which belongs in our
text is the conjunction καὶ, which provides κἂν as the opening of 693.
This unique verb is clearly a frequentative form of χάσκω. Bdelykleon wants to show that the jurymen sit
open-mouthed, i.e. with a vacant expression, because instead of paying attention to the case, their minds
are routinely focused on the three obols they expect to collect.
696. θῖνα ταράττεις
The word θίς denotes mud or sand, particularly when piled up by the action of wind and wave. While it
could perhaps be applied to the sediment of the sea-floor or river bed (and so be conveniently confused in
English with sentiment), this seems inappropriate here, since there is no emphasis on ‘depth’ of emotions.
The father will certainly begin to redirect his irritation in due course, but for now he is simply starting to
waver in his convictions. So, the phrase ‘disturbing the sand’ provides us with an image of a sand-dune
blown by the wind or a sand-bank stirred up by the action of waves, so as to indicate his confusion in the
face of powerful, elemental forces; namely his son’s diatribe. The point seems to be that sand-dunes and
sand-banks can be relocated particle by particle.
697. προσάγεις µᾶλλον
As MacDowell observes, it is difficult to extract any relevant sense from προσάγεις, though he prints it
nonetheless. Blaydes offered two thoughts, either of which would be an improvement. He suggested that
we might drop the first sigma and read προάγεις (attested by a 15th century ms. G), or the second sigma
and read the middle voice προσάγει. The latter option seems the better as it indicates that the Father sees
the force of his son’s argument, “you are bringing my thinking over to your side”.
The phrase following on seems to mean “I don’t know what thing you are making of me”. I wonder if we
might not consider κρῆµα (for κρᾶµα ‘mixture’) in place of the vaguer χρῆµα? It would indicate that the
father still holds to his views, but is being forced to consider new ones as well.
699. τῶν ἀεὶ δηµιζόντων
If τοὺς µὴ Μηδίζοντας are “those who do not support the Medes” (Herodotos 4. 144), these men must be
“those who continually side with the people”. The verb appears to have been coined by the poet as a form
of comic metathesis.
οὐκ οἶδ(α) ὅπῃ
Bdelykleon sees through the specious, political slogans and is at a loss to understand why his father is so
gullible; reading ὅπῃ (Σοῦδα) for the ὅποι of the codices.
There is no parallel for the meaning of ἐγκυκλέοµαι, but it could be another example of the metaphor of
the naïve citizenry being herded like sheep by the wily demagogues, so that they are seen as rounded up
by them ‘in a circle’. However, the Father had demanded to know in what respect he was enslaved (653),
so the verb may have been chosen to suggest that the jurymen are like slaves who were put up for sale (cf.
Σοῦδα quoting Harpokration, κύκλοι ἐκαλοῦντο οἱ τόποι ἐν οἷς ἐπωλοῦντό τινες· ὠνοµάσθησαν δὲ ἀπὸ
τοῦ κύκλῳ περιεστάναι τοὺς πωλουµένους - “the areas where some were sold <into slavery> were called
‘rings’; a name they took from the <buyers> standing around those being offered for sale in a circle”). In
such case, we can take the jurors to have been ‘encircled’. This latter explanation can draw some support
from a scholion on Ἱππεῖς 137, which connects Kleon to ‘the ring’, ἔνιοι δέ, τόπος κυκλοτερής, ἐν ᾧ τὰ
ὤνια ἐπωλοῦντο, ἃ ἐσφετερίζετο ὁ Κλέων - “some <sources explain that the ring was> a circular space
in which chattels were sold, which Kleon appropriated”. It is worth noting that the relative pronoun in the
plural refers to the chattels themselves, whereas one would expect the singular ὃν in reference to the area
the demagogue was exploiting.
700. πόλεων ἄρχων πλείστων
Taken literally this phrase would be a gross exaggeration and even the most jingoistic citizen would have
found it a bit much to swallow. It seems likely that we should understand it in the same sense in which the
name Πλείσταρχος was used, i.e., ‘having widest dominion’ (ἐπὶ πλεῖστον ἄρχων).
It seems likely that during the sixth century Athenian merchants had penetrated the Black Sea as far as
Kerch and the extention of Athenian hegemony to the Hellespont during the fifth could have led to closer
commercial ties with other coastal cities. But, Athens’ maritime empire hardly extended past Byzantion.
In the West, Athens traded with southern Italian and Sicilian cities, but we have no evidence for Athenian
contact with Sardinia (Σαρδώ), although Gelon’s military success over the Carthaginians at Himera may
well have reopened direct Greek trade with settlements established by Phokaians which had latterly fallen
under Phoinician control.
It is clear that the ancient Greeks had not yet provided medical science with the intravenous drip, because
Aristophanes would surely have used it in place of the obscure comparison here. As it was, he had to have
recourse to a simile which would bring home to his audience the measured and niggardly disbursement of
jury-pay. He takes as his example olive-oil, a basic staple of the Athenian diet; something essential to life.
The ancient commentator suggested that the poet had in mind the use of a ball of wool dripping drops of
oil into someone’s ear to mollify an inflammation. But, though it is a treatment that Greek grandmothers
are still apt to recommend nowadays, it is hardly pertinent to draw a comparison between an earache and
penury. The poet must have had some more general application in mind and one possibility is that matted
wool was used to filter crude olive-oil, so that he gives the homely picture of the pay being dispensed like
drops of clear liquid oil percolating slowly through the lint.
The Σοῦδα reads ἀκαρές to agree with τοῦτο, but the adverbial use of the neuter plural is preferable here.
The meaning “hardly at all” derives from new stubble which is not worth putting a razor to.
703. τοῦθ’ ὧν οὕνεκ(α)
Bentley corrected the τούτων of the codices, which also read εἵνεκ’ (so MacDowell and Henderson), but
as Barrett has argued (commentary on Euripides Ἱππόλυτος 456) the native Attic form in Old Comedy is
704. οὗτος γ(ε) ἐπισίξῃ
The verb σίζω is onomatopoeic (like our ‘sizzle’) and is used of a hissing or whistling sound. The comic-
poet Epicharmos (frg. 21) describes how Herakles wheezes through his nostrils (σίζει δὲ ταῖς ῥίνεσσι) as
he eats. This compound form of the verb is unique, but ancient scholiasts, adducing instances in the works
of Eratosthenes and Lykophron, maintained that it could be used transitively in the sense, ‘to set a dog on
somebody by whistling’. Most editors accept this view and Meineke has even suggested emending γ(ε) to
σ(ε) to provide a direct object. Wilson notes his suggestion approvingly. But, I agree with MacDowell’s
view that the pronoun would need to be in the dative (cf. Theokritos 6.29, σίξα...τᾷ κυνί). Sommerstein’s
italicized ‘he’ indicates that the particle would normally serve to emphasize οὗτος, but as the pronoun is
sufficiently emphatic as it stands, the stress can be transferred to the verb instead.
In fact, due perhaps to the influence of the following line, it has been too readily assumed that the prefix
of the verb has the same adversative force as the preposition. Instead, it seems that the compound ἐπισίζω
should be taken to mean “whistle for” (much like ἐπικαλέω, ‘call up’, ‘summon’). We could even perhaps
place a comma after ἐπισίξῃ to make clear that the preposition ἐπὶ in the next clause is merely assonance.
Although the aorist tense ἐπισίξῃ has been preferred by modern editors, it is worth noting that some of the
manuscripts read the present ἐπισίζῃ. Wilson (p. 89) finds this more vivid, although the aorist tense would
suit the implied repetition.
In line with the interpretation suggested by the scholia for ἐπισίξῃ, ἐπιρρύξας should mean ‘setting a dog
on somebody by growling’ (for ῥύζω means ‘to growl’ or ‘snarl’), but in this case it is obviously the dog
doing the growling. The snarling is directed at “one of his enemies” while the pouncing encompasses the
enemies as a group (αὐτοῖς). Accordingly, I suspect that we ought to read ἐπιγρύξας here. Aristophanes
uses the verb γρύζω of people ‘grumbling’ or ‘muttering under their breath’ (cf. 741, Νεφέλαι 963), but it
is applied by later Atticists to dogs ‘growling’ (e.g. Alkiphron 3.73), suggesting that they recalled its use
in such ambiguous instances as this.
707. πόλεις χίλιαι
“A thousand cities” is a comic exaggeration, chosen as a round number to make the arithmetic easy even
for the most slow-witted member of the audience. The actual number was around three hundred and thirty
according to Gomme (on Thucydides IV, 51 p.504), but we can understand the phrase to mean ‘countless
708. ἄνδρας βόσκειν
The idea of ‘feeding’ or ‘looking after’ is often detached from the original sense of ‘tending’ (cf.313), but
here Bdelykleon is hinting at the similarity of the poorer citizens to sheep.
709. δύο µυριάδ(ε) ἂν
The codices read δύο µυριάδες, but Dobree, perceiving the need for the particle, modified the noun to the
dual in order to accommodate it. Like πόλεις χίλιαι, “twenty thousand” is a convenient round number, to
illustrate in an exaggerated way how the wealth could be redistributed. It is like saying, “Think of a large
number, then double it”.
He is referring not simply to τῶν δηµότων (“ordinary citizens”) but to the indigent, working-class man,
whom the demagogues would classify as ‘the People’ (cf. Νεφέλαι 205, where an instrument apparently
intended to allot land to the impoverished is considered a σόφισµα δηµοτικόν).
There was not much meat in the average Athenian’s diet. Domesticated animals were kept mainly for the
milk or fleeces they provided. When they went for slaughter it was most often as sacrificial victims. Thus,
the best cuts went ultimately to the best people - the ‘parasites’ (παρασίτοι). The little meat available to
the ordinary people would have come on feast days, from domestic pigs or fowl, or else from game which
they hunted for themselves in the meantime. Hares were prized for their tasty flesh, and not least because
they were very difficult to catch (cf. 1203). In Ἀχαρνεῖς (878), a Theban brings some to war-time starved
710. καὶ πυῷ καὶ πυριάτῃ
This was probably a standard expression which I have translated into a similarly standard expression of
our own. Literally, it is the first milk produced by a mammal after giving birth, drunk fresh or warmed
over a fire. The farmer’s term for such milk is beestings, which would surely be confusing to a ‘wasp’.
He illustrates the jurors’ servility by comparing them to “olive-pickers”, unskilled, seasonal workers who,
with employment for at most a couple of months a year, are dependent on their employers. He does not so
much picture them queuing up to receive their pay, as Barrett supposes, but rather shows them at the beck
and call of their paymasters. The phrase χωρεῖτε ἅµα describes the movement of the olive-pickers / jurors
“in a group for the man holding their pay”; the jurors are assigned to courts just as the others are sent out
to the fields.
713. τί πέπονθ’; ὡς
A creeping numbness is descending on him just as sleepiness was overcoming Sosias earlier (7). Austin
takes this as an indication that he must actually be waving a sword in his hand, but I have to agree with
MacDowell on this. Hall and Geldart (followed by Sommerstein) have chosen to adopt a variant reading
found in the Σοῦδα, τί πέπονθ(α); But, this expands the line requiring the excision of a syllable elsewhere
and so they print Kuster’s ὡς for ὥσπερ. Blaydes dropped µου and Meineke cut out the preposition κατὰ.
However, I think MacDowell is right to support the codices, since their reading τί ποθ’ ὥσπερ is unlikely
to be the result of miscopying while πέπονθ’ may have started out as an explanatory gloss.
714. τὸ ξίφος
As in earlier references, the mention of a sword is purely for dramatic effect. In this case, however, the
actor may actually take his property-phallus in hand to give additional force to the line and account for
the subsequent wobbling of his knees. Figuratively, of course, the words mean that he’s no longer sure
whether he can continue to hold up his end of the argument. The ambiguity of µαλθακός is brought into
play to describe both his emotional ‘mellowing’ and his physical ‘flaccidity’; he is losing his sting!
715. τὴν Εὔβοιαν
It is unnecessary to translate ‘the whole of Euboia’. The demagogues are promising to allocate the grain
quota supplied by this particularly productive island, as we might say ‘all the tea in China’. As the island
had been an Athenian dependency for many years it is unlikely that they were promising fresh allotments
of land as a scholion suggests.
718. ξενίας φεύγων ἔλαβες
The implication is that collecting welfare was made as difficult as possible in order to curtail the expense.
His father stands in for the average, needy citizen who has to jump through bureaucratic hoops to prove
his entitlement with doubts raised over his civic status along the way.
The ἔλαβε of the codices has been corrected in the Aldine edition on the basis of the pronoun σοι in the
The Son indicates his willingness to take care of his father like a good shepherd would (cf. 707).
721. ἐγχάσκειν σοι
This form of the verb χάσκω (cf. 695) is used to show that the politicians are “laughing at you” (cf. 575).
Their political masters use high-sounding phrases to bamboozle them. Their rhetoric is often compared in
comedy to the grandiloquence of tragic-drama, so Aischylos in Νεφέλαι (1367) is derided as a στόµφακα
κρηµνοποιόν for his “incomprehensible bombast”.
Τhis word is usually accented περισπωµένως to mean ‘simply’ (as in line 810). But, here, I would prefer
to accent on the penultimate syllable (ἀτέχνως) to give the sense “without artifice”, since such a phrase is
typically added to formal promises; see e.g. the words of Kroisos’ emissary to the Spartans expressing the
wish to be their friend ἄνευ τε δόλου καὶ ἀπάτης - “without guile and deceit” (Herodotos 1.69.2).
724. γάλα πίνειν
The old jurors are treated like babies weaned on their mother’s milk, a metaphor of their dependency on
the pittance received from jury-service.
Choral Song (ᾨδή) 725-59
The chorus-leader draws an adage from the well of popular wisdom like a character from a tragic-drama,
e.g. Phaidra’s nurse advises ‘moderation in all things’ adding, “and wise folk would agree with me” - καὶ
ξυµφήσουσι σοφοί µοι (Euripides Ἱππόλυτος 266).
οὐκ ἂν δικάσαις
The optative is contracted from δικάσειας, “you should not make a judgement”.
727. τὴν ὀργὴν χαλάσας
The righteous indignation typical of the juror (cf. 243) has worn off due to the convincing arguments put
before him (cf. 646-7).
As the chorus-members were in fact carrying staffs (or walking-sticks), Sommerstein suggests that they
are metaphorically ‘disarming’. In support of this interpretation he provides comparable instances from
other comic-dramas of the chorus laying down arms.
But, I believe MacDowell must be correct in taking this phrase as the equivalent of our ‘throwing in the
sponge’, though for a different reason. I think the explanation might be that the chorus-leader is putting
himself in the position of trainer to his contender in the debate. When athletic competitions are depicted
in vase-paintings the trainers are often distinguishable by their cloaks and staffs. So, we might draw the
inference from this passage that a trainer would throw his staff down to stop the bout, if he saw his man
getting too badly-beaten.
A θιασώτης was properly a participant in a religious rite, especially one of an orgiastic nature. The word
θίασος was commonly used of those celebrating the nocturnal revels of Dionysos, among them centaurs
and satyrs, so that it came to be used to describe a troupe of actors who performed under his auspices. It is
used in this way by the chorus-members in Βάτραχοι (327) who invite Iakchos to join them as ὁσίους εἰς
θιασώτας. Here too, in applying the term “fellow-reveller” to his fellow-juror the chorus-leader seems to
step out of character. He does so because the jurors, like the members of a θίασος, tended to be roughly
coevals (cf. ἡλίκων θιάσους, Euripides Ἰφ. ἡ ἐν Ταύροις 1146). So, although the genitive τῆς ἡλικίας...τῆς
αὐτῆς would normally apply to the deity who is the subject of the ritual celebration, the whole verse is no
more than a periphrasis for ὦ συν(οµ)ήλικε θιασῶτα.
The wish for a ‘guardian’ sounds patently absurd at his advanced age (unless he is anticipating dementia).
But, the word harks back ironically to line 242 where the Chorus had mentioned Κλέων, ὁ κηδεµὼν ἡµῖν.
Editors now follow MacDowell’s colometry, and take line 735 in Hall and Geldart’s text as the second
half of line 734.
735. παρὼν δέχου
In Ὄρνιθες (548), the birds urge their visitor, ἀλλ’ ὅτι χρὴ δρᾶν, σὺ δίδασκε παρών· “but stay and teach
us what we need to do”. So, here, one may take the participle to imply that Philokleon, as Sommerstein
puts it, is withdrawing into himself or even perhaps physically backing away. But, the imperative seems
to need qualification because in English one can hardly avoid accepting ‘something’ or ‘in some way’. It
is likely that the ‘wasps’ are calling upon him to accept his son’s overtures with a positive attitude rather
than sulking, as he seems to be doing. While it may be that παρὼν could carry this sense idiomatically, it
is possible that, despite MacDowell’s efforts to justify the repetition from 733, the participle is a copyist’s
error for πρόφρων (Kock) “accept readily” (cf. Ὄρνιθες 930), as Wilson (p.89) thinks. There is, however,
a simpler emendation παρὸν (Seager) which provides an object. While the plural (τὰ παρόντα) would fit
in the sense of “accept the situation”, the singular παρὸν (free of the definite article) could be understood
to mean ‘a thing which is available’ i.e. “a bird in the hand”. I have emphasized παρὸν in my translation,
but incorporated the possibility of παρὼν in parenthesis because the use of the participle looks idiomatic.
736. θρέψω γ(ε) αὐτὸν
As the examples which follow show, the Son is not only intent on ‘feeding’ his father but “maintaining
him in fact”, as if he himself was his foster-father (τροφεύς). His promise sets the scene for the later role
reversal (cf. also 1004, θρέψω καλῶς).
737-8. χόνδρον λείχειν
Like a baby an old man would find his diet limited by his lack of teeth. Either he would have to “slurp
gruel” or he would “lick a block of salt (ἁλὸς χόνδρον)” to make his insipid food more appetizing. The
verb suggests the latter as the appropriate word for ‘swilling’ porridge or soup is ῥοφεῖν (cf. 812). Also,
as the parabasis of Ἀχαρνεῖς (521) indicates, rock salt was a Megarian product and so would have been
hard to come by until the recent truce.
He will later attempt to replace his father’s threadbare, old cloak with just such a comfy, woolen cloak to
keep him warm in winter.
Like the leather jerkin (444), the σισύρα was an outer garment which protected the wearer in all weathers.
It also made a warm bed-cover on winter nights (cf. Νεφέλαι 10).
In addition to the creature comforts that “befit an old man”, the Son suggests that he will provide a hooker
to give him a sensual massage. This seems excessive in view of the fact that he has a wife and daughter at
home (607-12) and that he appears ready to take liberties with the serving women (cf. 768-9). However, it
is something which a considerate foster-father might provide for an adolescent son (cf. 1004-5).
741-2. σιγᾷ κοὐδὲν γρύζει
Bdelykleon seems surprised to find that his offer is met by a stony silence from his father. Philokleon had
already told his fellow-jurors that he valued his judicial role above life’s luxuries (341), but now he is at a
loss to reply because he faces a dilemma of heroic proportions, and this lends para-tragic overtones to his
τοῦτ(ο) οὐ δύναται µε προσέσθαι
In Πλοῦτος (842), Karion asks, τὸ τριβώνιον τί δύναται; “what’s the meaning of this shabby cloak?” and
so we might expect the Son to express misgivings over his father’s silence with the words, “this <silence
of his> does not bode <well>”. But, the infinitive gives us little help. It is said to be the contracted middle
of προσίηµι (normally προσίεσθαι) which ought to mean ‘it is not possible for me to accept this’, but the
occurrence of the phrase ἓν δ’ οὐ προσίεταί µε (“one thing does not please me”) in Ἱππεῖς (359) is offered
as reason to translate the infinitive here as “I cannot say that pleases me” (Sommerstein) and “I can’t help
being displeased” (Henderson). Not only is this a poor fit; it does not seem to be the right type of shoe. A
variant reading, δύναµαί τε (Γ) suggests another approach. The change of person removes the need for the
pronoun and as the τε is out of place, a more likely particle would be γε. As to the infinitive my best guess
would be προγιγνώσκειν and I tentatively suggest reading τοῦτ’ οὐ δύναµαί γε <προγνῶσθαι>, “I really
cannot <fathom> this <silence>”.
Since the Son is at a loss to explain his father’s silence, the Chorus steps forward to clear up the mystery.
They have already acknowledged the cogency of the Son’s arguments and urged their fellow-juror to do
the same. Now, they sense that he too has come around, but is not ready to admit defeat. In fact, he is not
ready to accept the implications of defeat. The repetition of ἐπείθετο...πείθεται...πειθόµενος emphasizes a
turning point in the battle of wills.
The codices read πράγµατα, οἷς a hiatus which Dindorf insisted on eliding. Whether the poet would have
felt the same need, we do not know.
744. τότ(ε) ἐπεµαίνετ(ο)
The Chorus acknowledges that their colleague “formerly used to have a mania for…” The metaphor can
be taken in a positive or a negative sense; here it is used negatively, later it will be used positively (cf.
1469). In a neutral context it may equate to our expression ‘to get worked up about something’.
Thus, the Chorus acknowledges on the Father’s behalf the truth of the Son’s promise (514) that he would
show him the error of his ways (ταῦθ’ ἁµαρτάνεις).
748. µεθιστὰς...τὸν τρόπον
This phrase is elaborated later in lines 1451-2, µετέστη ξηρῶν τρόπων καὶ βιοτῆς.
Hall and Geldart print Brunck’s emendation of the codices’ πειθόµενος, to obtain closer responsion with
the strophe (735). But, like MacDowell, I do not consider this essential and prefer to stress the repetition
of πειθ- to emphasize Philokleon’s submission (but cf. 761).
750. ιώ µοί µοι
The father has not spoken since he began to feel faint in line 714. He lacks the strength to comment on his
son’s closing remarks and it is left to the Chorus to concede the contest. They suggest he too should admit
defeat, rather than maintain, what they consider to be, his obdurate silence. Already (at line 728), we have
crossed over into a tragic convention; the ‘heroic’ silence. The Chorus offers a rational explanation for his
loss of words, but the para-tragic nature of his silence is made clear when he does speak. This line and his
subsequent speech are couched in language typical of tragic-drama.
As in the opening line of the play this word very often indicates that the speaker has just had his attention
drawn away. The Son had been addressing the Chorus, but now turns to hear what his father has to say.
752. κείνων ἔραµαι
Like a character in a Euripidean tragedy he longs to be elsewhere; specifically the law-courts. The kind of
language he uses is reminiscent of Admetos in Euripides’ Ἄλκηστις, who longs to follow those who have
died, ζηλῶ φθιµένους, κείνων ἔραµαι, κεῖν’ ἐπιθυµῶ δώµατα ναίειν (866-7). The protest itself is probably
a conventional trope in Comedy where, unlike Tragedy, the hero is trying to get a worse deal, cf. similar
language used in Νεφέλαι 433.
The ‘herald’ is a further indication of the para-tragic context. We can probably assume from this passage
that he stands in for some humble court-official whose duties included, bringing the jurors to order at the
outset by drum-roll, and calling for ‘last votes, please!’ The court-crier’s words mark a sudden falling off
from the elevated tone. It is as if a disembodied voice has broken in over the PA system to announce that
the flight will soon be closing.
755-6. ὁ τελευταῖος
He likes to savour his power by waiting to cast his vote after everyone else, thinking perhaps that his vote
may prove decisive and so count for something.
757. πάρες, ὦ σκιερά…
The tragic tone is emphasized by what appear to be a couple of direct quotations from Euripidean dramas.
The first is not known, but the second is identified by an ancient commentator as having been taken from
the tragedy of Βελλεροφόντης (Euripides frg.308). In it the hero, mounted on his flying horse Pegasos, has
just taken off from a forest-clearing and calls upon the trees to move their branches out of his flight-path.
Πάρες, ὦ σκιερὰ φυλλάς - “make way, o shadowing…foliage!” Aristophanes probably selected the scene
for its fundamental absurdity. The following year in Εἰρήνη, he was to introduce the preposterous idea of
manned flight again, substituting the magic horse with a ‘beetle-steed’ (ἱπποκάνθαρος). The justification
for the quotation is that the father seems about to take flight in his imagination (as we are told he had been
used to doing before, in lines 93 and 120).
Barrett saw this as a good opportunity for Philokleon to start wielding his sword again, and Sommerstein
concurs. But, even assuming that he actually has a sword to play with, he has already mentioned that his
arm would be too weak to raise it. I have to agree with MacDowell, that the humour lies in the dramatist
purloining tragic tones to colour the hero’s desperation. To actually put a sword into Philokleon’s hand
would risk turning the scene into something akin to Victorian melodrama (or Megarian farce).
The “shadowing foliage” parts as instructed and Philokleon/Bellerophon emerges suddenly into the clear
light of understanding. He declares his immediate conversion and accepts that Kleon has been just as keen
to defraud the state-treasury as those he accused. Yet, in the same instant, he realizes that, if his longing to
return to the law-courts is now fulfilled, he will face the prospect of having to try his ‘keeper’ for misuse
of public funds. Deprived of the comfort of his illusions, he languishes in a state of despair.
761. τί σοι πίθωµαι;
The codices read πείθοµαι (‘why do I obey you?’), but sense and metre require Tyrwhitt’s correction to
the subjunctive πίθωµαι, “what might I obey you in?” Curiously, the same error crops up in a very similar
phrase in Νεφέλαι 87, τί οὖν πίθωµαι δῆτά σοι; where the earliest manuscripts have πείθοµαι, corrected to
πίθωµαι in a Thoman copy.
763. Ἅιδης διακρινεῖ
Despite accepting defeat Philokleon is unwilling to be held to his vow and insists that he would rather die
than live without the joy of jury-duty. The phrase “Hades will decide between <us>” implies that his son
would have to use lethal force.
764. τοῦτο κεχάρηκας ποιῶν
The perfect tense can convey the continual delight felt.
Boissonade saw that the reading ταῦθ’ in the codices needed to become “the very things which…” This
mistake had led some copyists to write πράττετε.
The full espression might be, ‘<When someone alleges> that…
τὴν θύραν ἀνέῳξεν...λάθρᾳ
When not working, the womenfolk, slave and ‘free’, were kept confined in their separate quarters. If the
door (there would be only one) were to be found ajar, accusations of adultery could be made and blame
would attach to the servant whose duty it was to keep it closed. An open door would attract comparison
with the door of a brothel which was always left open, cf. Philemon, ἡ θύρα ’στ’ ἀνεῳγµένη (frg. 3.12).
There may have been a suggestion (as Henderson has noted  p. 137) that the housemaid had ‘left
her door ajar’ [i.e. direct sexual innuendo like that in Pink Floyd’s ‘Run like Hell’, “if they catch you in
the back seat trying to pick her locks”.]
This rare word is confined to Comedy. In a brief passage from Pherekrates (frg. 10) it appears to be used
as a proper noun (οὐ γὰρ ἦν τότ’, οὔτε Μάνης οὔτε Σηκίς, οὐδενὶ δοῦλος - “since no-one had a house-
slave then; no Manes, no Sekis”) and the same may be the case here, because presumably Father and Son
would refer to the house-maid by her name between themselves. Polydeukes (3.76) states that the word,
as a cognate of σηκός (‘a pen where young animals were reared’) and σηκίτης (‘a young lamb still being
weaned’), denoted a female slave raised in the household. Therefore, we might print Σηκίς and take the
Son to be talking about ‘Ewe-lamb, the maid’.
769. ἐπιβολὴν...µίαν µόνην
We can also detect a double meaning in ‘imposing a single penalty on her’, which Barrett brightly tries to
capture with ‘imposing a stiff…sentence”. Sommerstein takes µίαν µόνην to mean, “to fine her just one
<drachma>”, but this seems unlikely of a slave. It is probably intended to point up the insinuation that it
would be ‘a singular or unique imposition’.
In most cases of sexual innuendo we must fall back on gestures to underline the action which is hinted at.
No doubt the ancient actors emphasized it in the same way.
770. ταῦτ(α) ἔδρας
“You used to act like this” i.e. he routinely voted for the harsher penalty in trials (as was implied in 108).
771-2. καὶ...νυν εὐλόγως,
The punctuation of these two lines has been questioned. Platnauer (1953) suggested breaking the first line
with a colon after εὐλόγως· This is the course adopted by Sommerstein who translates, “well, that works
reasonably”. MacDowell prefers to avoid splitting the line and instead (reading νῦν for νυν) translates,
“and this judging you’ll naturally do in the sunshine now”.
My own solution is to combine the two approaches with νῦν εὐλόγως· “and now <you’ll be doing this>
in a common sense way”. This leaves the conditional clause to expand upon the advantages of the sensible
Philokleon would benefit from being outdoors in the fresh air when the weather was clement. Courtyards
would have been oriented toward the sun (cf. Eupolis frg. 410, αὐλὴ πρόσειλος - “a courtyard facing the
sun”), cf. also 869.
ἢν ἐξέχῃ ἕλη κατ(ὰ) ὄρθρον
This phrase has created needless problems. Starkie thought that it must stand in opposition to the previous
clause and so inserted δὲ in response to µὲν (ἢν δ’ ἐξέχῃ). Only Sommerstein has been led astray by this,
which is a pity as he alone of recent editors has seen the necessity of correcting the codices’ κατ’ ὄρθρον
to κατ’ ὀρθὸν. If, like MacDowell, one takes the text as it stands, the imagined situation is in the height
of summer where, “If it looks like being warm, even before the day has dawned…” But, in this case, there
is a heat-wave and the juror might be expected to prefer shade, rather than sit out in the sun (πρὸς ἥλιον).
In fact, the situation becomes clearer when a comma is placed after ἕλη, because one can now appreciate
that he is talking about a winter’s scene in which the juror does not have to be cooped up inside if it looks
like being a warm day. Philokleon could picture himself outside in the warm, fresh air, and not having to
sit near a brazier in a chilly courtroom, rife with flu germs.
MacDowell makes a sound case for reading εἴλη as the correct Attic form of ἕλη.
The phrase κατ’ ὀρθὸν is suggested by an ancient scholiast and although not common (it is used by Plato
in Τίµαιος 44β), would add something pertinent to the following clause, where our poet draws an artificial
connection between the verb ἠλιάζοµαι and the sun (ἥλιος), by pointing out that in this circumstance the
two words would be “properly” connected for once. The wordplay was tempting for a comic-poet, since it
was all too easy to confuse ἠλίασις (‘sitting in court’) with ἡλίασις (‘sunbathing’). In English it is difficult
to do justice to the pun, but Barrett’s “summery justice”, is a smart atempt. Aristophanes’ words show that
comic-poets regularly exploited the similarity of the two words, and it was doubtless such punning which
misled later commentators into assuming that both were aspirated. The judicial term Ἠλιαία is aspirated
by Roman writers (thereby risking confusion with the Ἡλιαῖα, the festival of the Sun) and consequently,
there are still those who would write Heliaia where one should write Eliaia. H.T. Wade-Gery has pointed
out the error (1940, p.265 n.3) and MacDowell supports his conclusion here by leaving the verb ἠλιάσει
unaspirated (as does Dover on Νεφέλαι 863).
773. ἐὰν δὲ νείφῃ
Snow did not prevent judicial proceedings, but it would have made the trip to and from the courthouse a
tricky one for city-dwellers and impossible for those living in the outlying districts.
774. ὕοντος εἴσει
Civil cases were heard in closed buildings, but the jurors risked getting wet on the way there and having
to sit through trials in damp clothes. At home, Philokleon would stay dry indoors.
There were six judicial archons, or “law-givers” appointed annually. Just like high-court judges nowadays
their role was to keep order in the court and perhaps also to verify points of law. It is difficult to avoid the
usual translation ‘<presiding> magistrate’, but we should keep in mind that the θεσµοθέτης did not in fact
decide cases as an English magistrate does.
Although the passive participle δακνόµενος would be natural here, because it is hunger that is gnawing at
him, the active is employed so that it can also be applied to the defendant. Thus, ‘biting himself’ is used
somewhat awkwardly to express his mounting irritation (cf. 1083) in order that the same verb can vividly
describe his desire to ‘put the bite on the defendant’ (cf. Ἀχαρνεῖς 375-6, <οἱ γέροντες> βλέπουσιν...ψήφῳ
780. τὰ πράγµατ(α)
“The matters” are actually ‘the cases being tried’, the object of διαγιγνώσκειν καλῶς. But, by positioning
them near the participle µασώµενος (whose object is not expressed) they provide a false balance with the
phrase τὸ πράγµ(α)...ἀναµασώµενοι (783).
781. πολλῷ γ(ε)
The old man’s question did not expect a yes / no answer, so his son is not saying ‘yes’, “contradicting an
implied denial” (MacDowell). For an example of an affirmative answer, cf. Νεφέλαι 1335, πολύ γε, καὶ
ῥᾳδίως. Here, on the other hand, we need a simple conjunction πολλῷ δ(ὲ) ἄµεινον.
The glissade from ‘chewing one’s food’ (µασώµενος) to metaphorically ‘ruminating’ on a case is so easy
in English that we can just as easily glide over the real joke which is pointed up by the variant reading in
the Σοῦδα. There, the double sigma indicates that the ‘chewing over again’ (ἀναµασάοµαι) would have
been heard as part of ἀναµάσσοµαι, suggesting that the jurors were enlightened in the course of ‘kneading
their πράγµα’ (the matter in hand?). The sexual implications of kneading bread or grinding barley-corns
have surfaced already in the bakerwoman’s ὅλµος (238) and are illustrated most explicitly in the case of
Kleonymos’s καρδόπην (Νεφέλαι 669-80).
784. ἀνά τοί µε πείθεις
The metrical convenience of splitting a compound verb is shown by a similar tmesis in Euripidean verse,
ἔκ τοί µε τήξεις - “you’ll dissolve me <in tears>, for sure” (Ὀρέστης 1047).
It appears that the jurors were usually paid in pairs; a silver drachma between them. This may have been
due to a shortage of small change, or else the paymaster may simply have been issued only drachmas by
the treasurers to avoid error and to speed the disbursement.
Aristophanes does not idly pull names out of a hat. Usually, he means them to have particular relevance
to his plot (e.g. ‘Λυσιστράτη’ or ‘Λάβης’). Besides, it’s worth noting that even in these instances there is
usually an oblique reference to a real person. Thus, when he uses a particular name, it will generally refer
to a well-known Athenian. In Aristophanes’ first play ∆αιταλεῖς (frg. 205), a certain Lysistratos is said to
have coined a new word for ‘coffin’ to deride someone who ‘has one foot in the grave’. Two years later, a
Lysistratos “who is a disgrace to the deme of Cholargos” (Ἀχαρνεῖς 855-9), is making fun of people in the
Agora. He is said to be “well-known…for his miserable condition, shivering in the cold and going hungry
thirty-two days in every month”. Later on, in Ἱππεῖς (1267), the chorus decides to abstain from ridiculing
him, inferring that this was common practice in comic-drama. In this play, Aristophanes depicts him as a
poor man (scraping by on juror’s pay) and a practical joker, but as this is satire we can safely assume that
he was was in fact well-off and notoriously lacking a sense of humour. This appears to be confirmed later
in the play, when he is mentioned again in high-class company (1302, 1308). After Σφῆκες, Aristophanes
does not target him, although another man of the same name crops up in Λυσιστράτη (1105).
789. ἐν τοῖς ἰχθύσιν
Sellers of particular commodities congregated in separate areas of the Agora, which took their name from
each type of goods, according to a scholion on Aischines, κατὰ Τιµάρχου 65, ἀπὸ τῶν πιπρασκοµένων ἔν
τινι τόπῳ ἐκάλουν οἱ Ἀθηναῖοι τὸν τόπον. Fish were sold in the part of the food-market known as τοὔψον.
Antiphanes (frg. 125) comments on the extravagant claims of vendors ἐν τοῖς ἰχθύσιν who might be heard
boasting that their whitebait was ‘sweeter than honey’. Similar cries can be heard today in Athens’ street-
790. κἄπειτ(α) ἐνέθηκε…µοι
The readings of the codices, κάπειθεν ἔθηκεν (V) and κἄπειτ’ ἐπέθηκε (RJ) have been emended by Bergk,
since it is likely that Lysistratos “put <the scales> in my hand”. The fish-scales are round and silvery, but
their lack of weight would betray them and coinage was basically a matter of weight.
MacDowell rightly objects to the translation ‘gulp down’ (LSJ). The point of the joke is that Philokleon
greedily “gobbled up” the fish-scales without looking at them properly (cf. Εἰρήνη 7, ὅλην <τὴν µᾶζαν>
Editors have preferred this spelling over the variant ὀσφρώµενος. Unfortunately, the relevant fragment of
the oldest papyrus is illegible here. At any rate, the meaning is that he “catches the <fishy> smell” on his
The ancient commentators thought that the point here was that cockerels could digest just about anything
and it is tempting to assume that the verb (literally ‘boil down’) should be interpreted as ‘digest’, although
the normal way of expressing digestion would be the verb καταπέσσω (Hirschig actually suggests reading
καταπέψεις). But, patently Philokleon did not swallow the fish-scales; he spat them out. Perhaps then, the
precise point being made is that domestic fowl often seem to gobble up anything before them, regardless
of whether or not they can digest it. So, the verb may be used metaphorically to mean that, just as one can
evaporate water by ‘wholly boiling it away’, Philokleon “makes ‘the money’ disappear”. Sommerstein is
probably on the right track when he suspects that the verb could also be taken to mean ‘to squander’, but
one does not need to accept the comic pretence of Lysistratos’s poverty to appreciate the joke. It is rather
an expression of disdain for a paltry sum, as one might say ‘don’t blow it all at once’.
ἦ δ(ὲ) ὃς λέγων
The main verb is ἦ (for ἔφη) and the phrase ἦ δ’ ὃς “said he” is a rather coy, conversational usage, which
is borrowed from epic verse. Therefore, the participle λέγων seems to be redundant. There are two ways
of remedying this. Either, we can try to save the participle by reading ὃς δὴ λέγων - “saying in his typical
way” (and hope no-one asks for a main verb), or since ἦ δ’ ὃς is used by other comic-poets (e.g. Kratinos
frg. 192), we could adopt Tyrwhitt’s simple metathesis ἦ δ’ ὃς γελῶν, which adds a comic touch, coming
from the famously humourless Lysistratos.
Hoekstra and Wilamowitz have noted the vagueness of ταῦτα (‘these things’) and suggested that perhaps
something has dropped out of our text. Given the suddenness of the Son’s exit and the lack of explanation
for it, it seems most likely that at least one line has been lost. If the missing words preceded this line, then
ταῦθ’ could stand, but if the lacuna followed it, then we might do better to accent paroxytone ταύθ’ (for
ταύτῃ) “in this spot” and question the verb.
While his son goes off-stage to fetch the items necessary to transform the courtyard into a court-room, the
old man recalls certain ‘prophecies’ he has heard. These are not oracular pronouncements, but the kind of
prediction which is recognized only on fulfilment.
799. ὅρα τὸ χρῆµα
Philokleon is left to talk to himself. The imperative is really an exclamation, “Will you look at that!”
The future is unknowable, but people of faith cling to the belief that not only do their gods know what is
going to happen, but that they will disclose this information if politely requested to do so. For the ancient
Athenians these divine revelations of specific future events were made in the form of oracles (χρησµοί)
which, given the mysterious nature of divine beings, tended to be obscure (and frequently in poetic form).
Fortunately, a group of practitioners skilled in the interpretation of these arcane oracles grew up, known
as χρησµολόγοι - nowadays, we might think of them as ‘technical stock-analysts’. These were the ones
who formulated the λόγια (usually, but not always, in prose) which rationalized, or ‘made sense’ of the
χρησµούς. In Ἱππεῖς (115-47), the two slaves try to interpret a χρησµόν on their own and end up trying to
take it literally.
The codices agree on the form ἠκηκόειν which MacDowell and Henderson print, but Brunck’s suggestion
that Aristophanes would have preferred the archaic pluperfect ἠκηκόη, since it is found in other passages
(e.g. Εἰρήνη 616), is reasonable. The reading of the codices may be the result of a learned scribe trying to
harmonize the text with contemporary works by Herodotos and Xenophon (Οἰκ. 15.7).
The prediction he had heard was really just a figure of speech which dismisses something as impossible,
as if one were to say ‘Hell will freeze over before people stop suing each other’.
Editors have always favoured the strong aorist optative over the weak aorist ending δικάσειεν (J), which
was good enough for them in 726.
802. (ἐ)ν τοῖς προθύροις
The space πρὸ τῶν θυρῶν (“in front of the door”) could have been in the open street, but often, as here, it
was a yard set back from the thoroughfare (cf. 875).
The Ravennatus reads ἀνοικοδοµήσει (‘will reconstruct’), but the more likely reading is ἐνοικοδοµήσει
in the Venetus, meaning “construct in”. Hall and Geldart print Dobree’s suggested optative to match the
mood of δικάσοιεν, but, as MacDowell shows, the future indicative can be used with the optative.
It was usual for small shrines to be set up by the householder to honour particular deities. In Νεφέλαι, we
find an equine statuette outside Strepsiades’ house in honour of his son’s favourite god, Poseidon, while a
‘Herm’ (the overseer of commercial deals) graces the entrance to the school of ‘Sokrates’. For Philokleon
to comment that Hekate’s shrines were everywhere suggests that there had been a recent mushrooming of
these particular objects of veneration, for which the audience would appreciate the cause. Possibly, it was
the result of Athens’ annexation of Aigina at the outset of the war, since she was held in high regard there
(cf. Pausanias 2.30.1). The cult of Hekate was pre-Olympian, but she appears to have been absorbed into
the Greek pantheon as the deified form of Iphigeneia, who represented a facet of the Moon goddess. This
information was contained in Hesiod’s αἱ Ἠοῖαι (Catalogue of Women), according to Pausanias (1.43.1),
and the poet also pays her particular attention in his Θεογονία.
There is no agreement over the correct spelling (cf. Wilson p. 89). Hall and Geldart stick to the reading of
most codices, and the adjectival form seems apposite for a statuette (Ἑκάταιον <ἄγαλµα>), which is how
the shrines of Aphrodite and Artemis before the palace-gates are understood in Euripides’ Ἱππόλυτος. The
variant Ἑκαταῖον risks confusion with the logographer Hekataios of Miletos, while the alternative reading
Ἑκατεῖον and its variant Ἑκάτειον (Σοῦδα on Λυσιστράτη 64) would seem better suited to a sanctuary or
precinct. In fact, it is unusual to hear of temples or sanctuaries of Hekate. Pausanias mentions a precint at
Argos (2.22.8), but at Athens the goddess was chiefly venerated at roadside shrines. Her most noteworthy
dedication was a statue in triple form executed around this time by Alkamenes which was erected beside
the temple of Victorious Athene on the Akropolis.
These remarks reinforce the suspicion that something has dropped out of the text at line 798. Bdelykleon
is anxious to show his father that his court will lack for nothing.
807-8. ἀµὶς µέν
This is not mere lavatory-humour. Bdelykleon is showing his concern for his father’s weak bladder, and
making the provision of toilet facilities a priority. In a real law-court, a lengthy trial would have required
much coming and going of senior citizens (cf. 394). The addition of ἐγγὺς lays stress on the chamber-pot
ἐπὶ τοῦ παττάλου
The chamber-pot would not normally need to be hung up and there is the practical consideration of where
to stick the peg. Sommerstein finds a solution to the question by supposing that a screen with pegs affixed
to it is set up behind Philokleon to represent the courtroom wall, but if the old juror is seated by the yard-
wall there may still be pegs sticking in it which he himself had hammered in during his earlier attempts at
escape (cf.129-30). In any case, the real reason for having the pot hung up is simply to introduce the word
πάτταλος and the ambiguous expression, ‘hang it on your peg!’ (cf. Ἐκκλησιάζουσαι 1020).
The Father’s grateful acknowledgement of his son’s thoughtfulness is Aristophanes’ subtle way of hinting
that the old men’s discomfort may account to some extent for their ‘waspishness’.
He indicates a brazier (ἐσχάρα) which has evidently been brought on by one of the slaves (as in Ἀχαρνεῖς
888), so that his father can keep his hands warm; a comfort not available to him in the drafty court-room.
Lentil soup is appreciated by the old man because it is a staple of his plain diet. More well-off Athenians
would have scorned such simple fare (e.g. frg. 23, ὅστις φακῆν ἥδιστον ὄψων λοιδορεῖς - “you who rail
against lentil soup, that most delicious comestible”), because it usually needs to be eaten with something
more savoury, e.g. sardines and olives. The attentive spectator will have observed that the soup is brought
on with the brazier, but is placed near it (προσέστηκεν) not on it, as might have been expected.
813. κἂν γὰρ πυρέττω
He reminds himself that, if laid up with flu from sitting in a crowded, drafty, poorly-heated court-room,
he would not receive the three obols on which he depends (cf. 284).
The plural shows that the old man is addressing the slaves, who have brought out a (stuffed) cockerel in a
wicker cage; probably the same one used in the previous year’s performance of Νεφέλαι (847-53).
816. ἀπολογουµένου τινός
His son knows that the old man generally pays little attention “while a defendant is pleading his case”.
817. ᾄδων ἄνωθεν
Cockerel’s like to crow from an elevated position (dung-hill, farm equipment etc.,) so we have to assume
that the bird’s cage has also been hung from a peg on the wall to be out of the way.
818. τὸ τί;
In the vernacular the question, τὸ <ἓν> τί <ἐστιν>; is frequently condensed to its essentials.
As we understood from Philokleon’s earlier invocation (cf. 389), a statue of the name-hero Lykos in the
form of a wolf was to be found outside Athenian law-courts. So, the old man feels that the domestic court
requires its own ‘heroön’ for verisimilitude. His request for his son to “bring the shrine out” of the house,
raises a laugh, because his naïve assumption that some item of household furniture could resemble it is so
patently absurd. The audience would be agog to see how the Son will deal with the seemingly impossible.
It is interesting to note that Herodian quotes a strikingly similar line which he attributes to Eupolis, ἡρῷον
εἴ πως µοι κοµίσαιο τοῦ Λύκου. MacDowell assumes that the grammarian has simply misattributed a line
which he has poorly-remembered, but the comic-dramatists accused each other of stealing one another’s
material and so this quotation may actually be an example of plagiarism or parody. The latter seems a real
possibility if Aristophanes’ line had got a good laugh here and become a popular expression as a result.
820. πάρεστι τουτί
The ancient scholiast was evidently as perplexed as we are over the Son’s response. He conjectured that
he must have brought with him a painting of the hero on a wooden or clay tablet (πινάκιον κοµίζει ἐν ᾧ
γεγραµµένος ἦν ὁ Λύκος). But this literal interpretation of the Father’s request hardly amounts to a show
of native wit (cf. 859). Modern scholars have dismissed the conjecture and concluded instead that the Son
first points to an inanimate object (τουτί) already on the stage which could serve as the heroön and then
indicates a figure nearby, perhaps an actor (οὑτοσί), who can stand in for the hero himself. A suggestion
by H. Comfort (1931) that a suitable substitute for Lykos’ heroön would have been “a grotesque Herm”,
was matched by L.A. Post (1932) with the thought that, since Kleonymos is ridiculed for effeminacy (in
Νεφέλαι 673), a shrine of Hekate would have brought out the comparison with him in the following lines
more appropriately. Either of these cult-objects might be found outside an Athenian’s door, but the poet
has not alerted us to their presence hitherto, unless one takes the reference to the statuette of Hekate (805)
to be a signal. In Νεφέλαι, both the equine statuette which stands outside Strepsiades’ door (83) and the
Herm in the street near the Φροντιστήριον (1478) are introduced in unambiguous terms. Similarly, it may
be objected that there has been no previous mention of “a small altar” which MacDowell suggests stood
in the yard. In any case, even supposing the presence of one or other of these holy objects on stage, one is
bound to question whether it would provide a humorous counterpart for a sacred heroön. Rather than have
one sacred object stand in for another, it seems to me more likely that we are expected to see an ordinary
feature of the courtyard taking on the sacred role. For the purpose I nominate the well-head at or near the
centre of the stage. It need be no more than a low, stone socle with a wooden cover (or a damaged shield)
over the well-shaft to prevent people or things falling into it (cf. 855).
As for the identity of the ‘hero himself’, commentators generally agree that the Son picks out one of the
slaves for his lupine appearance. MacDowell would have a slave sit on the altar as if it were the pedestal
of Lykos’ statue. This seems unduly sacrilegious and Sommerstein merely has him stand beside the altar
in order to make the connection. It seems safer to have him ‘resting’ on the well-head, where Philokleon
will later be standing. At this point, Bdelykleon must be pointing across at one of the slaves who has been
busy with the props behind Philokleon’s back, because it is clear that his father has not seen ‘Lykos’ for
himself. A possible candidate for the role of the wolf-man would be Midas, who is hairy enough, but his
long ass’s ears probably disqualify him, so a better candidate would be Masyntias, whose teeth protrude
alarmingly and who is in need of a haircut as well.
An alternative solution worth considering is that Aristophanes may simply be indulging in wordplay and
Bdelykleon may be pointing to something called a ‘wolf’ in everyday language. According to Hesychios,
among the objects commonly referred to by the word λύκος was the knocker or knob of a door. The level
of humour implied would be rather puerile, akin to suggesting in English that a bee could be represented
by a ‘buzzer’, but a far-fetched comparison cannot be ruled out in this fantastic context.
821. ὡς χαλεπὸς...ἦσθ’ ἰδεῖν
Τhe humour of this line stems primarily from the fact that Philokleon had been slow to notice the ‘wolf’
because the slave was standing behind him and this, to anyone acquainted with the proverb λύκον ἰδεῖν,
could have proved a fatal fault. If a hunter, in pursuit of a wolf which had been harrying his flock, were to
suddenly find the wolf itself watching him, the realization could leave him dumb with fright. Philokleon’s
words imply that he has just got a shock from seeing ‘Lykos’ right behind him and staring craftily at him.
Τhe construction of similar passages, e.g. Εἰρήνη 819, ὡς χαλεπὸν ἐλθεῖν ἦν ἄρ’ εὐθὺ τῶν θεῶν - “it was
really hardgoing to head straight for the gods”, suggested to Post (1932) that one should read χαλεπὸν...
ἦν σ’ ἰδεῖν. While this would be satisfactory in the primary sense of “it was really difficult to spot you”,
the text as it stands, as Sommerstein rightly points out, leaves it open to doubt whether the difficulty the
old man has is in spotting ‘Lykos’ or in looking at him and the ambiguity is useful for appreciating the
It should be noted that in the main codices this line is not securely assigned. It was Bergk who first put it
in the mouth of Bdelykleon and attributed the following line to the Father. But, the codices give 823 to an
οἰκέτης and the exchange in these two lines is so tangential to the subject in hand that one could well take
them to be a comic aside spoken by Sosias and Xanthias, the same characters who had shown an interest
in Kleonymos’s tackle earlier (27). Thus, the exchange between Father and Son would terminate when the
old man suffers a minor heart attack on seeing ‘Lykos’, while the slaves’ incidental comments would buy
time for him to recover his composure. The disrespectful nature of the comments would seem to militate
against the likelihood of the Son making them.
Sommerstein is doubtless correct to maintain the text of 821 and so emphasize the ambiguity contained in
the word χαλεπὸς, but to my mind he reverses the natural contrast between the wolf having been difficult
to spot and Kleonymos being difficult to look at. He follows MacDowell’s suggestion that the slave who
stands in for Lykos ought to be portrayed as grossly obese, since Kleonymos is ridiculed as a glutton and
could therefore have been overweight. But, his gluttony appears to be a metaphor for an acquisitive streak
(Ἱππεῖς 956-8, 1290-9) and conversely, it is difficult to imagine how any slave could become obese on the
starvation diet he received. So, one should probably take it that as a political orator Kleonymos had much
the same effect on his audience as that which ‘Lykos’ has just had on the old man.
At the same time, it is worth bearing in mind that Kleonymos may be a wolf in wolf’s clothing. The slave
may be hinting that the politician not only resembles Lykos in his shaggy, wolf-man form, but possesses a
similarly rapacious nature with his gluttonous tendencies.
823. οὔκουν ἔχει...ὅπλα,
Α scholiast tells us (Aristophanes frg. 240) that, “the heroes wore full armour too” (εἶχον δὲ καὶ οἱ ἥρωες
πανοπλίαν), referring perhaps to the statues of the eponymous heroes which stood in the Agora. The joke
here is that Kleonymos is still considered a hero even though he lost his ὅπλα. Most commentators have
assumed that Kleonymos had lost his shield as a hoplite in the retreat from Delion, the supposition which
earlier served to explain the pun on ὅπλα in line 27. But, it is difficult to see how someone who discarded
his shield could still be considered a hero. Consequently, the real explanation for the joke may simply be
that the politician had suffered an embarassing groin injury in the battle which left him less of a man but a
hero nevertheless (cf. Εἰρήνη 675, where he is said to be ψυχήν γ’ ἄριστος - “most noble in spirit”). It is
possible that the poet was alluding to the fact that a shield lost unavoidably brought no dishonour, since it
is said that the Spartan Brasidas was hailed as the hero of Pylos, despite the loss of his shield when it fell
into the sea (Diodoros 12. 62. 4-5).
It is my understanding that, since the previous speaker casually sashayed into the comparison of the slave
with the political figure, this speaker is now referring solely to Kleonymos. The point he is making is that
the hero Lykos in human form would normally be represented with his ὅπλα, but in his heroön (where he
is shown in his animal shape) he has none. So, by a verbal coincidence, the ‘hero’ Kleonymos is said (for
whatever reason) to lack his ὅπλο. Recent commentators, however, have taken Philokleon’s words to be
still comparing Kleonymos with the slave and have justified this assumption by further assuming that he
is a eunuch and (as MacDowell suggests) does not sport the actor’s property-phallos. But if, on the other
hand, the comparison is made directly with the hero Lykos, such assumptions become superfluous.
824-5. ἐκαθίζου σύ
Evidently, the old man has started to leave his chair (821), or fallen off it, so that his son has to tell him to
get back to his seat.
The Son assumes the role of the court official who will “call the case”, i.e. summon the parties involved.
Trying to ignore his run-in with ‘Lykos’, he pretends to have been seated all the time.
The Son wonders aloud what ‘case’ to call. Some member of the household is bound to have committed a
A domestic servant of Thracian origin (and so not the girl who left the door open) is accused of neglecting
the cooking pot. Slaves are often named for their physical attributes, but if bought as captives of war, the
only identification accorded them was their ethnic origin (cf. 433, Φρύξ, Ἱππεῖς 44, Παφλαγών). The maid
‘Thracia’ is ubiquitous; known for getting herself into trouble and suffering sexual harassment as a result
(see e.g. Ἀχαρνεῖς 273, Εἰρήνη 1138).
The pot has suffered first-degree burns; the sooty marks [the πρόσκαυµα χύτρας referred to in the Παλαιὰ
∆ιαθήκη] disfigure it and could be cited in evidence. There may be a sly allusion to this maid’s love-life
in the mention of the χύτρα. The handles on either side of it suggested an expression for a passionate kiss
in which the partner is grasped by the ears (cf. Polydeukes 10.100).
829. ὡς ὀλίγου µ(ε) ἀπώλεσας
This is a common expression (e.g. Ἀχαρνεῖς 381-2, ὥστε ὀλίγου πάνυ ἀπωλόµην - “so that I very nearly
died”). The adverbial component is an abbreviation of a genitive absolute ὀλίγου δέοντος (cf. the phrase
830. ἄνευ δρυφάκτου
Earlier (386), the old jury-man had expressed a wish for his mortal remains to be interred under the court-
railings, which defined the boundary between the jurors and the gallery. Now, the sudden thought that his
court lacks one scandalizes him. We are shown that the appurtenances of the court matter to him as much
as, if not more than, the case itself (cf. 834, ἡ φιλοχωρία).
831. πρῶτον...τῶν ἱερῶν
This comparison of the law-courts with the Eleusinian mysteries comes unexpectedly (cf. 140, 1363), but
it shows Philokleon’s obsession to be rooted in an almost-religious fervour for court-room practices. The
court-railing is considered the first holy object to be revealed, because it marked the physical boundary of
the ‘sanctum’ and thus was the first part of the court one met with. But, the language of ritual is parodied
elsewhere, cf. Νεφέλαι 368, ἔµοιγ’ ἀπόφηναι πρῶτον ἁπάντων, where Strepsiades asks ‘Sokrates’ (in the
role of hierophant) to reveal the mysteries of meteorological phenomena.
Bdelykleon has to admit his oversight, but before he can remedy it his father, not wishing to be surprised
by his son’s ingenuity again, insists on going inside to fetch a suitable partition for himself.
834. ἡ φιλοχωρία
As MacDowell observes, this line buys time for the Father to exit and the slave to rush on. In the interval,
the Son speaks to himself, or to the audience. The remark ostensibly concerns the Father’s pathological
attachment to the courtroom which he haunted even in his dreams. It may, however, also be meant to be
taken more generally as a comment on fervent patriotism which Aristophanes appears to have disdained.
835. τοιουτονὶ τρέφειν κύνα
The slave (Xanthias) rushes in uttering curses. His haste and exasperation cause him to mince his words.
What MacDowell calls an ‘infinitive of exclamation’ is a grammatical ellipse for τὸ τρέφειν...οὐχ ἡµῖν
ξυµφέρει. Similarly, Νεφέλαι 819, τὸν ∆ία νοµίζειν ὄντα τηλικουτονί - “<it’s ridiculous> at your age to
believe that Zeus exists”.
Aristophanes combines the politician’s name (Λάχης) with the notion of theft (λαβεῖν), as we once used
to satirize another political figure with the rhyme, ‘Margaret Thatcher - milk snatcher’. His joke is neater,
but difficult to match in English. A few years ago it would have been easy enough to re-name the dog and
accuse it of drinking a bowl of milk. But, any present-day, political assembly will provide corresponding
837. παρᾴξας ἐς τὸν ἰπνὸν
The dog has “darted past” those who should have stopped him and got into the annexe, where the food
was stored and prepared, just as Philokleon had done earlier (for the verb cf. 988).
The codices read just ἁρπάσας, but that is to prejudge the case. The point is that both the dog Labes and
the general Laches were thought to have stolen or embezzled, so Elmsley’s emendment is necessary to
make it clear that the cheese was stolen while no one was looking.
838. τροφαλίδα τυροῦ Σικελικὴν
In order to complete the allusion to the politician Laches, the dog has to steal something Sicilian, because
the στρατηγός was suspected of having turned a profit out of a campaign in that island. But, can we take
this line as evidence that the dog has stolen a cheese actually imported from the island? Commentators are
often ready to take comedic references to Sicilian cheese (e.g. Antiphanes 236, Hermippos 63, Philemon
76) at face value, instead of treating them as comic metaphors as in this instance. It is true that one of the
original factors which impelled the Athenians to engage in hostilities with the Peloponnese was their hope
of reopening westward trade, but cheese is not a very likely product to be shipped from Sicily, especially
in time of war, and has only been chosen here as an item that might be expected to be of interest to a dog.
MacDowell calls a τροφαλίς ‘a cheese’; so the mention of τυρός as well is puzzling? Henderson chooses
to translate a ‘wheel of cheese’ (perhaps seeing a similarity with τροχός), while Sommerstein (citing the
definition of Hesychios) translates “a long…cheese”. However, he also refers to a passage from the work
of Alexis (frg. 178.11-2), a reference to someone frying τυροῦ τροφάλια χλωρὰ Κυθνίου, which suggests
that a τροφάλιον must be ‘a slice (of fresh Kythnian cheese)’, because this is how cheese is still prepared
‘in the pan’ (τυρί σαγανάκι) today. Therefore, we can take it that a τροφαλίς is probably a “fat slice” cut
from a block of cheese (cf. Eupolis frg. 299).
840. σὺ δὲ κατηγόρει παρών
For the idiom cf. 735.
843. ἄγ(ε) αὐτὼ δεῦρο
He bids the slave “bring the two of them out here”, since they are ‘dogs’. Actually, they will come out on
their own, since they are men in the guise of dogs. Given that Theoros was visualized as a raven-headed
man earlier, one may take it that the two political leaders are portrayed as dog-headed.
ταῦτα χρῆ ποιεῖν
The full phrase registers the slave’s formal compliance; almost ‘thy will be done!’
844. χοιροκοµεῖον Ἑστίας
In Χρυσοῦν Γένος (frg. 301) Eupolis says, οὐκ ἀλλ’ ἔθυον δέλφακ’ ᾠδὸν θἠστίᾳ, καὶ µάλα καλήν - “but
instead they were sacrificing a squealing sow to Hestia; a really fat one too”. (Although Storey opts for
Kock’s emendation, ἔνδον, I prefer the manuscripts’ reading ὠδὸν for if cocks can chant, pigs may sing.)
Athenian householders would raise pigs in the yard, as geese or turkeys are nowadays, in readiness for a
special, celebratory feast. A χοῖρος was fattened on grain until fully-grown when, ready for slaughter, it
was termed a δέλφαξ. A sow intended for household consumption would be dedicated to Hestia, goddess
of the home. But, one cannot assume that all pigs reared were destined for the family dinner-table or were
devoted to Hestia, so there has to be a joke in there somewhere. Besides, one has to wonder what business
a ‘pig-pen’ had being inside the house, even if it were sacred to Hestia. If the Athenian householder were
to admit first donkeys and now pigs indoors, the squalor of his home does not bear thinking about.
It is evident that χοιροκοµεῖον must mean a section of the ‘enclosure where pigs were kept’, although the
word is not found elsewhere in this sense. Hesychios (followed by the Σοῦδα) defines it as a synonym of
the more usual words used to describe a pig-sty, χοιρόσακον and χοιροτροφεῖον. However, the fact that
Aristophanes does not proceed to riff on pigs or their snouts in the following lines is an indication that the
‘pig-pen’ is not his leading idea and his choice of this uncommon word suggests that he has preferrred it
over others for its sound. My guess is that the audience would understand the old man to be muddling his
words; substituting a word he knows for a more technical term he does not, χωροκοπεῖον (‘a partition’ or
‘space-divider’). He must be referring to the small screen placed across the hearth which defined the area
of the sacred fire (and also prevented members of the household from stepping into the fire by accident).
The poet wanted to develop the idea of the law-court as a ‘home-space’ for the old man, an idea already
introduced with the word φιλοχωρία in 834 (where Bowie, applying the same logic in reverse, suggested
that we might read φιλοχοιρία).
I can only exemplify the wordplay with “Hestia’s boar-rier”, or should that be “sow-er-curtain”? Neither
however would help the audience appreciate that what he meant was simply a ‘fireguard’.
The Son is anxious that removing Hestia’s fireguard could be construed as sacrilege, because an accident
could occur as a result of its removal.
846. ἀφ’ Ἑστίας ἀρχόµενος
His father justifies the ‘theft’ by pointing out that his intention was to put the goddess first in their ritual;
her rightful position, since the court is being held at home. Krates uses a similar line in one of his works,
ἐξ Ἑστίας ἀρχόµενος εὔχοµαι θεοῖς - “I pray to the gods, starting with Hestia” (frg. 44).
[Vestiges of the custom survive in cutting the βασιλόπηττα at New Year, for the second piece (after that
in honour of the Christ) is dedicated to the home.]
847. ἐγὼ τιµᾶν βλέπω
The use of the verb βλέπω with an infinitive is often equivalent to our expression “I have an eye to…”
Here his vindictive nature resurfaces as he looks forward to voting for the punishment.
848. τὰς σανίδας καὶ τὰς γραφάς
Philokleon had earlier expressed his desire to be διὰ τῶν σανίδων (349), which meant that he wished to be
back ‘among the jurors’ benches’ or within the area cordoned off for the jurymen. But, the addition of the
word γραφαί here constitutes a legal phrase, for the words ‘boards’ and ‘writing’ combine to denote “the
wooden boards which list the cases due to come before the court in a session”. [The variety of meanings
conveyed by the two nouns has caused some to overlook their specific legal combination. Art historians
have long discussed the possibility that the paintings in the Ποικίλη stoa were executed on wooden tablets
simply because Synesios of Cyrene mentions in two of his letters (54, 135) that “the proconsul took away
the boards to which Polygnotos consigned his art” (i.e. τὰς σανίδας with their γραφάς). He had failed to
realize that the stoa must have continued to function as a venue for trials up until the fourth century A.D.]
A unique instance of a verb which must mean ‘wasting away the day’.
850. ἀλοκίζειν...τὸ χωρίον
Philokleon wants to get down to his work, which he describes as “ploughing my area (i.e., plot of land)”.
The Son’s recent use of the word φιλοχωρία (834) has provided us with the intended meaning of χωρίον.
Having just been shown that the boundaries of the court are defined by the fence from the hearth of the
house, we understand the court of law can be equated with the old man’s ‘plot of land’. Bentley acutely
perceived that the ploughing metaphor provided a secondary image of ‘scraping a furrow’ in the juror’s
κηρίον (cf. 107-8). But, it is not necessary to emend χωρίον as he suggested because the joke is a similar
play on words to χοιροκοµεῖον and does not need to be stressed.
In any case, since the ploughing metaphor does not lend itself to a legal context in English. I have chosen
simply to use it as an expression of Philokleon’s malicious intentions. Also lost in translation are possible
sexual connotations of ploughing one’s χωρίον. The word χώρα is used to refer to a horse’s genitals in a
compilation on the care of horses (Ἱππιατρικά 33) and may have taken on some of the connotations which
the word area seems to have acquired in N. American slang (as in the phrase ‘Sandra Bullock has a tattoo
on her area’). Certainly, the occurrence of περὶ τὸ χωρίον in Ἀχαρνεῖς (998) comes in a passage otherwise
laden with innuendo.
851. ταῦτα δή
His father is impatient to get on with it, but the Son is not in a rush and replies that he has the matter in
hand, ταῦτα δή <ποιήσω> (cf. Ἀχαρνεῖς 815).
The codices mark a change of speaker here, which Hall and Geldart ignore. Lowe (1967) saw that it was
essential to assign these words to Philokleon in order to reverse the speakers of the following lines 852-9.
The humour of the exchange lies in the Father’s mounting irritation at, what seems to him, unnecessary
procrastination. Dutta (2007), however, retains the order of the Oxford text (1906) from Barrett’s 1964
The presence of οὑτοσὶ raises questions. It suggests that the old man has gone over to scrutinize the list of
indictments himself and is trying to make out a defendant’s name. But, this would not be amusing, merely
absurd, because nothing is actually written on them. All he needs to do at this point is ask the court officer
to have the first charge read out, i.e. ‘who is it that is to be the first defendant?’
854. ἐπὶ καδίσκους
A κάδος was principally a ‘wine-jar’ holding the equivalent of an ἀµφορεύς and a καδίσκος was usually
just a smaller version of it (cf. frg. 598, ‘honey-pot’ and Kratinos frg. 206). So, the Son is going into the
house to look for some small wine-jars to stand in for the voting-urns needed to record the verdict. From
later sources it appears that the word καδίσκος was used in judicial contexts to denote the urns in which
ballots were to be cast, and certainly the earlier use of ἐπὶ τοὺς καδίσκους (321) must have been intended
in this sense. But this may have been a jocular usage and here, the absence of the definite article suggests
that, while the audience would probably appreciate that he was off to fetch jars to stand in for the voting
urns, Bdelykleon is only talking about “fetching <wine-jars>”. The disconnect is what makes the phrase
Following the citation of this line by Athenaios (424γ) with the mention by Phrynichos (frg. 42) of ‘a cup
for drawing off’ wine from a mixing-bowl, commentators take this adjective as standing in for <κύλικες>
ἀρυστίχους, synonymous with the later usage ἀρυτήρας, and suppose that they were ‘ladles’ provided for
Philokleon to sup his soup. But, ladles do not seem very credible substitutes for voting-urns and why the
old man might need two is a mystery. On the other hand, later dialogue suggests that there is a well in the
courtyard (cf. 1342-3) and this would make it likely that there were also <καδίσκους > ἀρυστίχους or pots
standing ready to draw water from it, which inspired Philokleon with the idea of using them for voting-
urns (cf. Pherekrates frg. 194). The variant ἀρυστικοὺς found in the Ravenna codex seems to be a later
The deictic pronoun (“this here”) confirms Philokleon as the speaker. We understand him to be nodding
at his chamber pot (ἀµίς), ‘whose’ gender requires τίς. He suggests that it would serve the same function
as a court-clock as he steadily fills it up, though the water-clock actually counted time as it emptied.
These lines are universally attributed to the Son and this is quite possibly right, but as the boss he usually
issues direct orders. Consequently, the suggestion may come from the Father who, aware of the necessary
formalities, is simply demonstrating his impatience once more.
πῦρ τις ἐξενεγκάτω
Why does [Philokleon] order someone to “bring out fire”, when a brazier stands beside him, warming the
‘court-room’? Was the brazier unlit or has it gone out? The likely explanation is that he wants to fulfil his
pledge made earlier to begin the prayers with Hestia, who protects hearth and home, so he calls for a fire-
brand lit directly from the hearth, or some glowing embers, with which to burn the incense.
MacDowell has the action centre upon an altar, on which until recently his ‘Lykos’ had been sitting. But,
no such paraphernalia need complicate the proceedings. All that is needed is for the slave to return with a
censer which he holds while another wafts about the aroma of the frankincense with the myrtle leaves.
Wreathes of myrtle symbolized the bonds of brotherhood and were customarily worn at symposia when
reciting or singing.
It has been assumed that a similar liturgy preceded regular court sessions. The Athenians would certainly
have opened proceedings with an acknowledgement of the divine presence, Apollo (the all-seeing) would
be invoked to witness oaths, and Zeus might be invoked in a preamble to a forensic speech (cf. 652). But,
this ritual with frankincense and myrtle is more likely to have been a typical act of purification after the
home had been sullied by dissension (cf. 866-7); a practice continued in certain Athenian homes today.
Choral Song (ᾨδή) 863-90
Since no mention has been made of φιάλες for the libations, some commentators have preferred to apply
the extended meaning of σπονδαί, “reconciliation” (MacDowell) or “peace agreement” (Sommerstein).
But, it is still possible that we are meant to take it in the literal meaning of “libations” (Barrett), in view
of the pairing with εὐχαῖς. One may compare the prayer of ‘Sokrates’ in Νεφέλαι when he calls upon the
goddesses to accept his sacrifice (274, δεξάµεναι θυσίαν), even though Strepsiades has not actually been
sacrificed, as the old farmer feared he was going to be.
865. φήµην ἀγαθὴν λέξοµεν ὑµῖν
LSJ paraphrase these words, εὐφηµίαν παρέξοµεν, the intended translation probably being “we shall utter
for you an auspicious song” (Sommerstein). But, this would anticipate the Son’s call for auspicious words
in 868 (εὐφηµία…ὑπαρχέτω), so I would rather read ἕξοµεν with the principal codices. This is to indicate
that the Chorus has reconciled with the Son because he and the Father have made peace, literally ‘we will
have a good word to say for you’, i.e. you’ll be in our good books from now on. Henderson translates
λέξοµεν like the others, although in fact he prints ἕξοµεν in his text.
Hall and Geldart print Elmsley’s emendation ξυνέβητον (R) the dual of the aorist of συµβαίνω, “you have
both settled…” The Venetus codex has ξυνεκτον, which makes no sense (and a subsequent copy offers
Bdelykleon puts on a myrtle wreath as he assumes the role of a hierophant in calling for silence before a
prayer. A slave holds the censer.
869. ὦ Φοῖβ(ε)
Wherever possible a courtyard would be oriented to the south to obtain maximum sunlight for working in.
In any case, Apollo is invoked as the all-seeing eye who witnesses men’s misdeeds.
The Chorus expresses the hope that the gods will bless the experiment so that everyone can set up such
private courts and stay home.
873. παυσαµένοις πλάνων
If the idea proves a success, they will copy it, and they will cease to go back and forth to the court each
day. The metaphor is taken from the weaver’s shuttle which passes to and fro in a regular pattern (hence
πλάνητες). There is also a metaphorical hint that they will be abstaining from ‘error’ or even ‘madness’.
874. ἰήιε Παιάν
They sing, “Praise be to the healer <of evils>”. Prima facie they mean that the god has restored peace in
the home, but he could be the healer of the entire city, if only litigious strife could be cured. Aristophanes
puns on the phrase in Εἰρήνη (453-4) pretending that the word Παιάν derives from the verb παίειν.
875. ὦ δέσποτ(α) ἄναξ
Ηe adopts ritual language (cf. Nεφέλαι 264) typical of divine invocations in tragic-drama (e.g. Euripides
Φοίνισσαι 631, καὶ σύ, Φοῖβ’ ἄναξ Ἀγυιεῦ...χαίρετε).
The Athenians considered that their city was second only to Delphi in the importance attached to Apollo’s
cult. In Euripides Ἴων, when Kreousa daughter of Erechtheus visits Delphi, her maidservants are amazed
to find that the Delphic sanctuary contains displays of devotion to the god to rival that of their hometown,
οὐκ ἐν ταῖς ζαθέαις Ἀθάναις εὐκίονες ἦσαν αὐλαὶ θεῶν µόνον, οὐδ’ ἀγυιάτιδες θεραπεῖαι - “it is not only
in fervently religious Athens that there are fine-colonnaded courtyards of deities or women who tend the
street shrines” (184-6). At Athens, the god’s chief role was to watch over the streets and so the Athenians
placed short obelisks outside their houses at the roadside to symbolize his presence. Our principal source
is a scholion on this line: κίονας εἰς ὀξὺ λήγοντας ὡς ὀβελίσκους - “pillars coming to a point like spits”.
The knowledge that altars occasionally accompanied the obelisks suggested to Polydeukes (4.123) that an
altar of Apollo was represented on stage and modern commentators have drawn the same conclusion due
to the reference to burning incense. But, there is no need to assume that there was either a pillar or an altar
on stage; they are probably only inferred from scenes such as ours here. An altar of Dionysos was situated
in the theatre, but would not have been co-opted into the dramas for the benefit of other deities.
τοῦ (ἐ)µοῦ προθύρου προπύλαιε
The vocative προπύλαιε has been restored by Bentley from the reading of the codices προσπύλας, or that
of the Aldine edition πρὸς πύλας, words which sought to explain the term they had ousted.
There is a distinction to be drawn between προθύρου ‘that which lies before the door’ and προπύλαιε ‘he
who stands before the gate’. The first part of the phrase may sometimes mean that there is a ‘porch’, but
here it means little more than ‘outdoors’, while the second part refers to the obelisk of Apollo by the gate.
The Son is hailing Apollo as his ‘neighbour’ because the court has been set up outside and its boundary is
marked by the fire-screen, placed by the gate near which the god’s pillar defines the public thoroughfare.
876. δέξαι τελετὴν καινὴν
He asks the god to “receive a new form of ritual” as if domestic courts were a religious innovation rather
than a civic one. This takes up the earlier point in 846 that Hestia takes precedence in the new location.
877. τοῦτο τὸ λίαν στρυφνὸν
If one accepts the reading of the codices, τουτὶ, one is bound to scan the first syllable of λίαν short. While
that would be possible in tragic-verse (or in para-tragic perhaps), in comic-verse this is a unique instance.
Although most recent editors have retained the deictic form of the pronoun, Elmsley’s simple proposal to
read τοῦτο has been adopted by Hall and Geldart. Wilson too (p. 90) supports the change, pointing to the
intrusion of deictic forms elsewhere, e.g. Νεφέλαι 847 where τοῦτον τίνα is the better reading for τουτονὶ
τίνα of the codices.
The Son’s prayer provides an ironic echo of the word πρινωδήθυµον used by the Chorus to describe him
878. ἀντὶ σιραίου…παραµείξας
“This line is puzzling”, Wilson notes, and translators have certainly made heavy work of it. Henderson
gives a typical version of the line, “infusing his dear little heart, like syrup, with a bit of honey”; a result
which seems fey even for the pretentious Son. If one follows the consensus view, we end up sweetening
something which according to Polydeukes (6.16) is sweet already (σίραιον δ’ ἐκάλουν τὸν ἐκ γλεύκους
ἡψηµένον γλυκύν - “they used the name σίραιον for the sweet <product> made from boiling <sweet>
new wine,”). Thus, if one were to take an already-sweet wine, boil it until it became condensed (before it
evaporated completely that is) so that it became even sweeter, it could be mixed with honey to sweeten it
still more! I think Polydeukes was groping in the dark here. He should have asked an Anglo-Saxon to tell
him how to make mead and to explain the benefit of ‘mulling’ (rather than ‘boiling’) alcoholic beverages.
However, the real problem lies elsewhere. Because the sweetness of honey is proverbial, one has to “infer
that there is a reference to something less sweet” (Wilson) that stands as a metaphor for the cantankerous
character of the old man. What this is, must be conveyed in the noun θυµιδίῳ, and although we assume it
to refer to the Father’s “dear little soul” (Sommerstein), this diminutive form of θυµός (‘heart’ or ‘soul’)
does not occur in any extant work by Aristophanes (or anyone else). Consequently, the diminutive could
just as easily be a familiar form of θύµον, used in Πλοῦτος (253) to describe a blend of grape-vinegar and
thyme that was all that poorer Athenians had to drink. In such case, the Son is praying to Apollo to add a
bit of honey (‘sweetness and light’) to an otherwise bitter drink of corked wine so that it resembles a fine
dessert wine. The choice of θύµον over plain, fermented wine must be intended to play on the words for
anger (θυµός) and thyme (θύµος), cf. 1082. But, it results in thyme playing an unexpected role, since the
finest honey was produced by bees which fed on thyme.
As MacDowell notes, the preposition ἀντὶ may be understood as tantamount to “just like”, but there is one
other word which still needs to be explained. The word µικρὸν (RV) or σµικρὸν (ΓJ) is superfluous, since
the partitive genitive (cf. 239) µέλιτος is sufficient to convey “a drop of honey”. So, it might be preferable
to reinforce both the ‘bitterness’ of the drink and the old juror’s ‘vindictive’ character with πικρῷ.
Editors accept Starkie’s change of spelling over παραµίξας which is found in all manuscripts back as far
as the fifth century A.D.
In prose one would write ὥστε before each infinitive clause.
Hall and Geldart print Reisig’s supplement to the metre; MacDowell prints Dindorf’s ταῦτά.
Both datives are governed by the single verb. The phrase could be written σοι ᾄδοµεν ἐπὶ νέαισιν ἀρχαῖς,
i.e. ‘we sing for you on the occasion of, or in honour of’. The preposition in ἐπινίκειος has the same force.
The ἀρχαί could be taken to mean ‘new magistracies’, i.e. the newly-established tribunal, alternatively, it
could refer to ‘the fresh start’ due to the reconciliation of Father and Son.
890. τῶν γε νεωτέρων
Reisig saw that the γενναιοτέρων of our text concealed an afterthought. The Chorus has now realized that
Bdelykleon is more supportive of the People than anyone else…“of the younger men at any rate”.
Meineke’s proposal to repeat the salutation to the god of reconciliation has been dropped by most editors,
but as Wilson observes it provides neat responsion to 870-4 and fitting closure to their prayer.
This line can be taken as proof, if any were needed, that the Eliaia was not a court but a register of jurors.
Bdelykleon, in his role as court-official, presumes that some jurors may have popped out for a quick pee
and warns them that the doors are about to be closed so that the session can begin. In fact, his father will
be the sole juror, although this is not generally acknowledged during the trial.
The subject has to be understood as ‘the defendant and the prosecutor’.
The subject is the court-officer and his assistants, in this case Bdelykleon and the slaves.
Like Hall and Geldart, I follow Dobree in splitting this line between the Father and Son. MacDowell and
subsequent editors have preferred to give the whole line to Philokleon, persuaded by the objection made
by Lowe (1967) that ‘Labes’ is not seen on stage until line 899. But, like Barrett, I feel he must have just
been brought on at the opening of the line, as he should certainly be present while the charge is read out.
In a number of manuscripts these lines have been assigned to a slave. It is likely that the presiding official
would have called upon an assistant to read out the charge-sheet and I have given the job to Xanthias.
895. Κύων Κυδαθηναιεὺς
The prosecutor is a caricature of Kleon, whose name could be mistaken for Κύων, and whose deme just
happened to be Kydathinaion.
The general Laches belonged to the coastal deme Aixone. It can be loosely equated with the present-day
municipality of Glyphada, of which the most easterly district on Mt. Hymettos retains the ancient name.
The present tense is used because having committed a crime he is “held to be guilty in that he did eat” (cf.
591). The use of the verb is perhaps equivalent to our saying ‘he is in the wrong’.
ὅτι µόνος κατήσθιεν
The malice of the accusation is revealed by the resentment contained in this phrase (cf. 923).
897. τίµηµα κλῳὸς σύκινος
The statutory punishment is stated in advance, but evidently this was not binding and might be amended
by the court.
Fig-wood is a popular type of wood in Aristophanes’ plays. Not only can it produce an acrid smoke, as
we have seen (cf. 145), but here it is considered suitable for dog-collars. I have not found the first to be
true, although its pliant branches might be bent into makeshift dog-collars, tied with leather leashes (231).
But, while a ‘collar’ is mentioned here because Labes is a dog, the point is that we are meant to envisage
Laches in the stocks, normally referred to by the generic ξύλον (cf. 435). At the same time, it is possible
that the ‘dog-collar’ may refer to a sentence of exile, since Wilson notes (p. 91) that when the scapegoat
was to be expelled from the city he would wear such a collar. However, the φαρµακός (cf. Βάτραχοι 733)
might be a criminal condemned to be ritually executed and as the Father’s counterproposal to execute the
dog in the next next line negates the possibility of exile, the scapegoat theory is not very compelling. On
the other hand, it is usually assumed that whenever comic-dramatists mention fig-wood, their audience
was bound to think of a συκοφάντης. The term was held to derive from a law of Solon which embargoed
the export of most agricultural produce, including figs, to keep a lid on domestic prices. As a result, it was
believed that someone who informed on illegal attempts to export produce would have been called a ‘fig-
exposer’, although in the late-fifth century the alleged, original connection with figs no longer applied. In
Ἀχαρνεῖς (818) a συκοφάντης actually threatens to inform on illegal, Megarian imports.
It is unclear what Aristophanes finds amusing in the idea of fig-wood collars. Perhaps, he is implying that
the defendant is being fitted-up by a sycophant-prosecutor. But he may be doing no more than conflating
two laws coincidentally juxtaposed in the first table of Solon’s laws, for, along with the ban on exporting
figs, the legislator had also proposed that dogs prone to biting should be fitted with huge, wooden collars
(see Plutarch Σόλων 24.1).
The call for a “dog’s death”, which was axiomatic of a miserable end, conceals a veiled threat to Laches
that he would deserve a θάνατος κώνειος, or death by hemlock poisoning, the form of capital punishment
administered to aristocrats.
This combination of particles is used when a previous assertion is contradicted (e.g. Νεφέλαι 220, Ἱππεῖς
911, ἐµοῦ µὲν οὖν). It may be a curt form of οὐ µὲν οὖν - “on the contrary” (cf. Βάτραχοι 556).
900. καὶ κλέπτον βλέπει
As MacDowell says, the internal accusative here can only be a neuter participle, i.e. “he has the look of a
thieving thing” (cf. 933). Perhaps, we are meant to supply for ourselves a word such as κνώδαλον (cf. 4).
Apparently, Laches is being equated with a Welsh-border collie, which is a dog known for its ‘sheepish’
grin, (especially when accused of spending the night on the tiles with a neighbour’s Labrador bitch, but I
902. ποῦ δ’ <ἔσθ’> ὁ διώκων
After ποῦ δ’ the codices offer either, ὁ διώκων (R) or, οὐδιώκων (V). The former does not scan, and the
latter is ungrammatical. Hall and Geldart print Toup’s emendation, which is the most straightforward of
those based on the Ravenna’s reading; others include Dobree’s variations ποῦ ’στιν ὁ, or ποῦ ποῦ ’σθ’ ὁ,
Dindorf’s ποῦ µοὐ (for µοι ὁ), Reiske’s ποῦ δ’ αὖ ὁ (which assumes hiatus) and MacDowell’s ποῦ δ’ ὅ γε.
Florent Chrestien, however, adheres closer to the Venetus text with his proposal ποῦ δ’ οὑκδιώκων, but as
MacDowell observes, ἐκδιώκω does not carry the meaning of ‘prosecute’ elsewhere. Scaliger and Bentley
both adopted it anyway. But, the verb ἐκδικέω can mean ‘aggressively prosecute’ and ποῦ δ’ οὑκδικῶν,
ποῦ δ’ ὁ Κυδαθηναιεὺς κύων; may be appropriate here.
903-4. πάρεστιν [οὗτος]
Hall and Geldart print οὗτος, as written in the Ravenna codex, but this appears to be a copyist’s mistake.
Though usually attributed to Philokleon, these lines seem inappropriate coming from an ardent supporter
of ‘Barker / Kleon’. Hall and Geldart try to mitigate the damage by giving 904 to the Son, but his abrupt
intervention in the next line clearly suggests he has not been speaking. Indeed, if his instruction κάθιζε is
directed at Philokleon, we need to explain why the old man has left his seat again. MacDowell is less than
convincing when he suggests that “he has been walking around looking at the two dogs”. Barrett, at least,
has him patting the ‘dog’ while giving him some soup! But, Rogers found the most satisfactory solution,
assigning the criticism of the ‘dog’ to Xanthias, who after all should know. His “saucy interpellation” has
since been adopted by Sommerstein and Henderson.
The comparison with Labes is a comical inversion of an expression of admiration, ἄλλος οὗτος Ἡρακλῆς
- “he’s a second Herakles” (cf. Plutarch Θησεύς 29.3).
The criticism of Kleon as a well-fed watchdog matches the picture of him painted by the sausage-seller in
905. ἀναβὰς καταγόρει
He invites the ‘dog’ to mount the podium (βῆµα) of the court to make the speech for the prosecution. We
can assume that there is some piece of stage-property which is used for the purpose, since there has been
no mention of anything brought on to represent it. I propose making use of the well-head which I had had
constructed out of wood and papier-mache for just such an eventuality. It will be utilized in due course for
further stage-business. There is no danger of anyone falling down the well, because it is covered (with an
old, rusted shield) when not in use (cf. frg. 306, τὴν δ’ ἀσπίδα ἐπίθηµα τῷ φρέατι παράθες εὐθέως). Such
a cistern-lid has been found in the Agora excavations, see Hesperia VI (1937) 348.
Presumably ‘this’ refers to the lentil-soup (φακῆ) provided earlier (811). The Father wants to get it while
it is hot (cf. 918). Barrett says he ladles some out, while MacDowell has him pour some into a cup. But, if
they want two ladles (or cups) to be standing in for voting-urns (cf. 855), then a third ladle (or cup) will
be required here - a case of too many cooking utensils spoiling the broth, I suspect. As Philokleon is less
sophisticated than his son, he need only tip the bowl and swill its contents. But, if we desire him to show
better manners and use a ladle, then we have all the more reason to use water-pots to stand in for voting-
The moment is opportune for the old man to start on his soup, since he normally ‘laps up’ everything that
the prosecutor says as well.
Since the dog Labes does not speak for himself, Hall and Geldart have assigned the part of the other dog
to Sosias to speak on his behalf. But, it is more likely that the ‘dog’ actually speaks in order to convey an
impression of Kleon’s style of speech when haranging courts or assemblies.
908. ἄνδρες δικασταὶ
He addresses Philokleon as if speaking to a full jury, though as Wilson notes, when he does so again later
(950) he uses the formal vocative ὦνδρες. The omission of the particle does not seem significant and may
be no different from an attorney varying his address between ‘members of the jury’ and ‘gentlemen of the
jury’. The difference is less a matter of respect as the degree of pomposity.
909. τὸ ῥυππαπαῖ
In Βάτραχοι (1073), we hear ‘Aischylos’ maintain that back when he was alive Athenian sailors only had
enough breath left from their exertions to call for their hardtack and to call out ῥυππαπαῖ -“yo-heave-ho”.
This may have been intended, like a sea-shanty, to help them keep time and synchronize their breathing.
Here, ‘Barker’ is referring to his most vocal supporters in the Assembly, the old men who had been in the
ships and now identify with the poor rowers who have been short-changed by their general Laches, just as
he himself has been left without his due by Labes. The expression was probably a recognized one and not
Aristophanes’ own coinage. Although it sounds amusing, it is unlikely to have been thought a demeaning
term and certainly not as derisive as words Kleon might have used in private to describe them (cf. 666-7).
910. τυρὸν πολὺν
The cheese stolen by the dog Labes is money for Laches. Had the dog stolen a loaf of bread, then perhaps
the general could be accused of taking ‘a lot of dough’.
Aristophanes fabricates a bogus verb to maintain the allusion to Laches’ embezzlement in Sicily. It takes
the place of the usual καταβροχθίζω - ‘to gulp down’. Similarly, one could coin a verb ‘en-guzzle’, or as
Hickie has it, “Sicelize”.
[Criminologists may like to note that in the annals of cheese-stealing the Sicilian connection continues to
this day. The late mobster Gerlando Alberti had confessed that his first test for admission into the Sicilian
mafia was the theft “of an entire cheese”. In 1980, when he was arrested and charged with belonging to a
criminal organization, he famously remarked, “Mafia? What’s that, a kind of cheese?”]
ἐν τῷ σκότῳ
The theft takes place during the hours of darkness to avoid detection by the all-seeing Apollo, cf. νύκτωρ,
914. αἰτοῦντί µοι
The real basis for Barker’s complaint, hinted at in the indictment (cf. 896, µόνος κατήσθιεν) and again in
909 (κἀµὲ), is revealed. He is less concerned with the theft than the fact that he was not cut in on it.
Greeks have always taken the realistic view that politicians are in it for what they can get for themselves,
yet manage to convince themselves that their rapacious fellow-citizens will be content with mere scraps.
917. οὐδὲ τῷ κοινῷ γ’ ἐµοί
The old juror reinforces his earlier hint (553-4) that he is quite as open to bribes as the prosecutor, if only
someone will offer. However, he seems to forget that the cheese was his in the first place. Perhaps, it was
this consideration which caused some copyists to assign the line to one of the slaves, but I think Tyrwhitt
was probably right to give it to Philokleon after all.
Although I share Dobree’s misgivings over the construction, I doubt that we need to emend to τῶν κοινῶν
ἐµοί, as he proposed. It is probably enough to introduce ‘the citizenry’ as a parenthesis (οὐδὲ, τῷ κοινῷ
γ’, ἐµοί), since his complaint is, “nor did I…that is to say the public, get any share”.
Standing at the opening of the line for emphasis (cf. 952), the adjective has a lot of work to do. It must
qualify a dog, a man and a bowl of soup. Not surprisingly, it is difficult to turn the same trick in English
with a single word. Little leeway is obtained from soup; we are restricted to ‘hot’. But, by inserting ἁνὴρ
Aristophanes must intend the word θερµὸς to apply primarily to Laches. So, it is natural to translate ‘hot-
tempered and fiery’ (Barrett), ‘hot-headed’ (MacDowell) or ‘hot-stuff’ (Sommerstein). This leaves us to
assume that the dog Labes is ‘fierce’.
But, this interpretation is open to two criticisms; firstly it is difficult to reconcile with the Son’s comment
in the next line, and more importantly it is not funny. What we need from θερµὸς is some characterization
which clearly reinforces the father’s prejudice for Labes’ guilt. Sommerstein notes that in Πλοῦτος (415)
Aristophanes uses θερµὸς to mean ‘audaciously wicked’ and a similar sense is apparent in a passage of
Aischylos’s Ἑπτὰ ἐπὶ Θήβας, ναύταισι θερµοῖς καὶ πανουργὶᾳ τινὶ (603) describes a ship’s crew bent on
piracy. This approach works as a lead in for Bdelykleon’s plea, though the implication of ‘guilty as hell’,
only attaches tenuously to the previous complaints regarding the dog’ greediness. The bowl of lentils, we
must assume, is still piping hot (like the soup in frg.514 from Ταγηνισταί).
But, what if the soup has grown cold? What if Philokleon is speaking sarcastically? It may be that, one is
meant to interpret Labes’ failure to share the stolen cheese as a lack of generosity, or ‘warm nature’, and
so the verdict becomes, “since the man has all the warmth of this bowl of soup!”
He warns him not to prejudge the issue. Like his fellow-jurors he should be open to reason (cf. 725).
921. αὐτὸ γὰρ βοᾷ
Sometimes an opportunity just cries out to be exploited and Aristophanes does not pass up his chance to
puncture the grandiloquence of tragic-dramatists who make inanimate objects ‘howl’ and ‘scream’, e.g.
βοᾷ, βοᾷ δέλτος - “the writing-tablet shrieks <its message> aloud” (Euripides Ἱππόλυτος 877). Here, of