The Ecclesiazusae Background

The Ecclesiazusae Background

The Ecclesiazusae is the last known surviving play written by the legendary ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes. First produced almost four centuries before the birth of Christ, the play is an example of Middle Comedy in that it lacks the parabasis required by Old Comedy, stresses the inclusion of the chorus to a lesser degree, and does not include satirical attacks upon Athens politics of the day.

Instead, the satirical barbs are directed toward another target: a collective-based ideological system of government that bears a strong resemblance to that which Plato would describe a decade later when he first published his foundational work of philosophy, government, and societal hierarchy, The Republic. This theme is delivered through a narrative that sees the Athenian assembly having come under the control and authority of women. Led by Praxagora, the ultimate outcome of this turn of events is the vote establishing absolute communism as the fundamental principle of governance.

The abolition of all rights to property and all family rights bears a distinct resemblance to the communist principles which Plato describes in The Republic although, to be completely fair, scholars have never fully confirmed that The Ecclesiazusae specifically directs its comedy toward Plato’s most famous and enduring work. Although not yet published in the form in which it would serve as one of the essential prototypes for Greek philosophy, the overriding concept would not have been entirely foreign to Aristophanes at the time of the play’s composition. Plato had, in fact, already begun delivering lectures that contained the substance of ideas he would finally put into print a decade after the premiere of The Ecclesiazusae.

If not an outright satire on Plato’s writings, surely there are enough hints and similarities between the thematic constructs of the two separate literary works. Such resonances assure that Aristophanes’ last surviving play is considered to have replaced contemporary Athenian politicians as the target of its satire with the more Middle-Comedy appropriate target of pedagogic processes of political thought.

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