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AS 90511 Examine and analyse passage(s) from work(s) of classical literature in translation.

Aristophanes’ Comedies

A study of ATTIC OLD COMEDY with special reference to Aristophanes’ plays Wasps and Frogs, including a general knowledge of:

  1. Socio-historical background,

  2. Staging,

  3. Techniques of humour,

  4. Structure,

  5. Characterisation, and

  6. Theme

Text: Aristophanes, The Frogs and Other Plays, translated by David Barrett, Penguin, 2007.

Achievement Standard – external assessment

AS 90511 Examine and analyse passage(s) from work(s) of classical literature in translation.

In the external exam there will be:
Three questions will be given; candidates must choose TWO questions and answer all parts of their chosen questions. Each question will require paragraph style answers. All questions will provide opportunities for candidates to produce evidence for achievement, achievement with merit and achievement with excellence. Answer space will be provided after each question.
1. Attic Comedy

2. Humour

3. Aristophanes

4. Politics and History

5. Greek Festivals

6. Greek Theatre

7. The Wasps and Frogs – Introduction

8. The Wasps

9. The Frogs



  • Greek Drama Chapter 1

  • Things to know in Aristophanes

  • History of Comedy

  • Greek Drama

  • Old Comedy


These tasks require you to read the Introduction to the plays.

  1. How typical of Attic Old Comedy are the plays of Aristophanes? (pg.7)

  1. What are the “traditional elements” of Old Comedy? (p22)

  1. Detail the formal structure of Old Comedy with a brief description of each part. (p28-32)

  1. What were some of the important political/historical events during Aristophanes’ lifetime? (p12-13)

  1. Who was the Eponymous Archon? What were his responsibilities? (p14)

  1. Who was the choregos? What were his responsibilities? (p14-15)

  1. Explain the “three-actor convention”. What limitations did it place on the poet? How does it impact on the Wasps
    and Frogs? (p16-17)

  1. Make summary notes about the actors and the chorus from p16-18.

  1. Read p17-18 about the staging of some comic scenes from the plays. This is a recurring question in NCEA. Make summary notes.



  • Greek Drama Chapter 6

  • Humour in Aristophanes’ plays
  • Aristophanes: Humour

Watch the video ‘Blackadder’ (Beer). Identify as many different types of humour as you can. Choose from:

Verbal Humour = parody, irony, pun, personification, stock jokes, bawdy

Visual Humour = farce, bathos, slapstick, costume / props.

Type of HumourExample from Video

Watch the powerpoint ‘Aristophanes’. Write in the examples of humour from the plays.

Type of HumourExample from Play1. Parody: Where a serious story / myth / character is ‘taken off’, or made fun of. Aristophanes particularly loved to parody the tragic poets that he shared the stage with.2. Satire: Where humour is used to provide a political or social message. Aristophanes used satire to point out to Athenians where he thought their values were wrong, or where politicians like Cleon were leading them astray.3. Situational Comedy / Farce: Aristophanes uses ridiculous situations to poke fun and society. 4. Slapstick: This is Aristophanes most basic form of humour. It is straight physical comedy5. Scatological and Sexual Humour: The theatre provided an escape from the conventions of society, including politeness and appropriateness. Aristophanes played up to this by including all sorts of sexual innuendo (suggestive play on words) and coarse language and actions.6. Verbal Humour: This is the most common form of humour in Aristophanes’ plays. Puns / plays on words are scattered throughout the text. 7. Bathos: Bathos is when a scene or speech has a sudden change of mood from serious to silly. In Aristophanes, bathos was frequently also satirical, or scatological.



  • Greek Drama (Oxford History of the Classical World)
  • Aristophanes and his Background

  • Biography

  • Aristophanes: Plays and Events

  • Aims of Aristophanic Comedy


(Wasps, p42)


(Frogs, p193)


(Frogs, p196)

(Frogs, p195)




  • Greek Drama Chapter 4 & 5

  • Aristophanes and Greek Politics

  • The Athens of Aristophanes and Socrates

  • From Solon to Socrates

  • Aristophanes’ Attitude to Politics and Politicians

  • Aristophanes, Athens and Attic Old Comedy

  • The Peloponnesian War I

  • Athenian Democracy and the Law Courts

  • Comparison Athens / NZ

Put each of the events into chronological order and insert a date for each.

The Years of the Peloponnesian War (432-404 BC)
Brief notes to explain:

  1. Why the war began.

  1. The Plague of 430 and 429 BC.

  1. Cleon. Who was he and why did Aristophanes not like him?

  1. The Peace of Nicias 421 BC.

  1. Alcibiades

  1. The Sicilian Expedition. What happened?

  1. The Oligarchy. When? Who were they? What did they do?

  1. The final acts of the war. Brief summary.



  • Dionysia and Lenaea

  • Greek Theatre

  • The Festival of the Great Dionysia,



REFER: Taylor: Acting and the Stage, Chapter 2 pp26-29

Make notes about the Festival of the Great Dionysia. Your notes should include the following items:

INTRODUCTION: Who is Dionysus? What sort of play was celebrated at the festival? What month of the year was the festival held?

The Start of the Festival

The First Day of the festival

The Acting Competitions

The Day of Judgement

The End of the Festival





  • Greek Drama Chapter 2 & 3

  • Greek Drama and Staging a Play

  • Greek Masks

  • Use of Masks

  • A Greek Theatre

  • Greek Stage Machinery

  • Acting and the Stage


Greek Theatre

1. Drama developed from the worship of _____________, god of _______________ who is often shown wearing a ___________ skin, surrounded by revellers, creatures of the woodland ______________, depicted with snub noses, hairy bodies and horsey ________________.

2. The first actor to speak apart from the chorus was ______________ in 534 B.C.

3. Drama reached its highest point in the _______ century B.C. in the city of ________________.
4. Three main tragic dramatists were in order of birth ____________________, ________________, ________________.
5. Name two drama festivals were comedy could be seen ____________________, ____________________.
6. By the time of Aristophanes there were ______ main actors available for a playwright and a chorus of (number) ______.
7. Greek theatres were ______________ in shape, could seat __________ people, had _________________ acoustics. Theatron, the seeing place, refers to the ________________ the parodos/parodoi were _________________.In the text the parodos refers to _______________________.
8. The chorus area was called the __________________. It had in its midst an altar to, _________________ and his statue was present at the festival.
9. Where did the priest sit? ______________________________
10. Name the stage building, (____________________) the machine for hoisting characters or objects onto the stage, (___________________) the trolley for bringing out "dead" bodies etc. (______________________).
11. What indicated that a play took place at night? ________________________________
12. Why was there a stage house? A) _____________________________, B)_____________________________ , C)_________________________
13. Give three facts about tragic costume:
14. Give three facts about comic costume:
15. Who wrote satyr plays? ___________________________________________________
16. How many plays did authors offering tragedy present? ____________________
17. Who, traditionally, added an extra actor? _____________________________
18. Were any performers female? _________
19. What music would you hear? (2) ____________________________, ___________________________________.

20. Give two examples of animal choruses in Aristophanes's plays? ____________________, ______________________. Who paid for these costumes? __________________________________.



  • Greek Drama Chapter 8

  • Aristophanic Comedy (structure)

  • The Structure of Wasps and Frogs

  • Aristophanes and Old Comedy (Synopsis)

  • The Wasps / Frogs Summaries

  • People Mentioned

  • Major Characters

WASPS and FROGS: The Serious Messages






  • The Wasps – A Summary,

  • Performing a Play: Introduction to The Wasps

  • The Wasps – A Sick City

  • Symbolism in the Wasps

  • Scenes after the Agon

  • Summary of the Parabasis

  • A Structured Overview

  • People Mentioned

Arrange the statements in the correct order to form a synopsis of the plot of Wasps.


Comedy is structured quite differently from modern plays. Instead of having Acts and Scenes that you may be used to with English plays, terms such as parodos, agon and parabasis are used to describe the various sections. Although the order of the sections can change from play to play, the version that you have here is quite common, and is used for the Wasps.

1. PROLOGUE – Pages ________. This is always the first section of the play where the actors address the audience and explain the predicament of the play, and the situation they find themselves in. In Wasps this consists of:

2. COMIC SCENES – Pages _______. This is where a series of usually slapstick incidents take place. In Wasps this occurs when:

3. Parados – Pages _______ . This is the entry of the chorus, who arrived dressed in the appropriate costumes. Their entry is an important moment in the effect of the play. In Wasps this is obviously when:

4. PRE-AGON Pages _______. This is a small fairly unimportant section in which there is a danced battle which usually involves the chorus in some way. In Wasps, this is obviously when the chorus:

5. AGON – Pages ________. This is one of the most important parts of any play, and it is almost always present. It is a debate or contest, between two of the main characters. It is won by the protagonist, against the antagonist. In the case of Wasps:

6. COMIC EPISODES – Pages _______. This is the mock-trial scene when:

7. PARABASIS – Pages ________. In many ways this is the most important part of the play, it also tends to be the most boring from your point of view. At this point in the play the chorus often throw off their character, and address the audience on matters of political importance. They may also discuss the playwright (in this case, Aristophanes), his work and his political attitudes. In the case of Wasps, there are a number of points made in the parabasis. They include:

8. COMIC EPISODES – Pages ______. Very much as above (see 2). In the case of Wasps this involves Bdelycleon teaching Philocleon how to behave at drinking parties: how to walk, talk, what to wear and how to tell a good story. These episodes continue later when the pair return from the party. Again, the comic episodes are very much as for earlier episodes, except that this time there is often a series of unwanted characters to get rid of. In the case of Wasps, this occurs when Philocleon returns from a

___________________. The characters that he gets rid of are:



9. PARABASIS (THE SECOND) – Pages __________. Although not peculiar to Wasps, a second parabasis could not be described as common. There are two main topics in this second parabasis. They are:



10. COMIC EPISODES – Pages ________. Procleon comes out of the house and engages in a comic contest. There are three other dancers. They are the sons of _________________. The youngest one, __________________ (see footnote p219) is a tragic playwright.
11. EXODUS – Pages _________. This is te exit of the chorus; they are usually sent off with a choral ode of some sort.

The only other section of Attic Old Comedy is a GAMOS, or marriage scene. This occurs in neither of the two set plays that we have to work with, and in fact was not very common at all. It is perhaps more a feature of Middle Comedy, rather than Old Comedy. Nevertheless, many scholars have tried to argue that the inclusion of a female character at the end of several of the plays of Aristophanes is in some way supposed to stand on behalf of the Gamos. I have doubts in my own mind, but there is some strong evidence, especially if you believe that the revel, or KOMOS, is one of the predominant ancestors of Old Comedy. If this is the case, then the introduction of the flute-girl, Dardinis, whom Philocleon has stolen from Philoltomen’s party, is supposed to stand for the gamos in Wasps.

Comic Techniques in the Wasps

Verbal wit; bawdy; scatology; satire; ridicule of individuals; literary parody; fantasy/surrealism; physical comedy/slapstick

Below are fifteen examples of Aristophanes’ comedy from Wasps. Identify the technique/s used in each (some use more than one), and write them in the spaces provided.
1. ___________________ Xanthias: Like that tart I had yesterday down town. I just happened to say, “Come up on top, let’s play king of the castle”. “Cut out that king stuff,” she says, “we’re democrats here”.
2. ___________________ Philocleon: Part, part, ye shady thickets, let me pass!
3. ___________________ Philocleon: Hold o to this rope. Be careful, it’s a bit old and worn: but you’d be surprised what it’ll stand up to.
4. ___________________ Bdelycleon: Citizen Bowl! Citizen Pestle! Citizen Cheese-Grater! Citizen Brazier! Mistress Pot! And all the rest of you come on, never mind if you have got burnt bottoms!
5. ___________________ The battle as the wasp-chorus tries to free Procleon.
6. ___________________ The mock court scene.
7. ___________________ A jerry serves as both water clock and chamber pot; Philocleon: Ah, so you’ve run dry at last!
8. ___________________ Philocleon: This is dreadful: what’s happening to me? I’m softening!
9. ___________________ Xanthias: What’s that, Amynias? Mad on dicing? No, it isn’t “cubomania”.
10. ___________________ Xanthias (quoting Philocleon): Beautiful urn, how I long for your slot!
11. ___________________ Philocleon tries to escape by hiding under a donkey.

12. ___________________ Philocleon is chased by, and fends off, an indignant crowd of fellow-revellers.

13. ___________________ Sosias: …a rapacious-looking creature with a figure like a whale and a voice like scalded sow.
14. ___________________ Philocleon: In pity for my sufferings dire, Scorch me, O Zeus, with heavenly fire! Blow on me with thy breath divine, And serve with vinegar and brine!
15. ___________________ First Dog: (Labes) ran away into a corner and sicilicated a large quantity of cheese and stuffed himself with it in the dark.

Wasps – The Agon

Is Philocleon wrong to sit as a juryman?
Complete the table below:


“This power of ours amounts to nothing short of absolute sovereignty”.Bdelycleon

“You’re a slave without knowing it”.Advantages of being a juror:

  1. Behaviour of supplicants before the trial:

  1. Behaviour of supplicants during the trial:

  1. The real power belongs to the jury because:

  1. Attitude of Cleon and Theorus:

  1. Treatment by wife and daughter:

  1. Financial independence:

  1. Conclusion: compares a juryman’s power to…Hollowness of juror’s power:

  1. How much of Athens’ revenue goes to jurymen:

  1. The money politicians / demagogues get:

  1. Behaviour of prosecutors:

  1. Why politicians keep jurors poor:

  1. Politicians’ promises:Philocleon’s reaction to Bdelycleon’s arguments:

Chorus’s verdict:

Philocleon’s reaction to the verdict:



  • The Frogs

  • The Agon of the Frogs

  • Timeline of Relevant Events

  • A Brief Summary

  • Summary


  1. PROLOGUE – Pages _______. This is when Dionysus, dressed as Herakles, and his slave Xanthias arrive on stage and explain that they are going to Hades to find a poet to save the city of Athens from the political turmoil it is in.

  1. COMIC EPISODES – Pages _______. There is now a series of comic episodes where Dionysus arrives at the house of ____________, where he asks advice on which is the best way to get to Hades. He finally decides to go via the river Styx. After meeting a corpse on the way, they finally arrive at the river to be met by the ferryman, ________________. He agrees to take Dionysus across, but not Xanthias. As Dionysus begins to row, a chorus of Frogs begin to sing to accompany him.

  1. PSEUDO-PARADOS (sometimes referred to as Parados 1) – Pages __________. This is the arrival of the frogs, who are not the real chorus of the play, and may not have even appeared on stage. They then rapidly disappear, after some amusing singing, as Dionysus comes to Hades. He is reunited with Xanthias.

  1. COMIC EPISODES – Pages _________. The next short comic episode deals with the Empusa, a mythical monster, and shows Dionysus to be very afraid of it. This is very brief.

  1. PARADOS (sometimes referred to as Parados 2) – Pages _______. This is the entry of the Chorus of Initiates, who enter dressed in rags, and who complain of the intrusion into their mystic rites by these “outsiders”. The chorus tell Xanthias and Dionysus how to get to Pluto’s palace. This is an impressive set piece where the main characters interact with the choruses and their leaders. There is also some political material here, such as:

6. COMIC EPISODES Pages __________. These episodes deal with a large number of people whom the pair meet. Firstly there is the door-keeper, named ___________. He recognises “Herakles” (who is really Dionysus), and goes away to get some people to apprehend him. At this point Dionysus and Xanthias exchange clothes. Then a maid arrives, who offers “Herakles” some pea soup (remember at this stage it is Xanthias who is dressed as Herakles). After this, plus the promise of dancing girls, Dionysus wants to change back. Having done so, two landladies appear and want revenge for “Herakles’” last visit to the Underworld where he stole some roast lamb, a door-mat and a three-headed dog named Cerberus! As they leave, the two change costumes again! The door-keeper reappears and attempts to find out which is the god by holding a beating contest. Finally, Pluto is called upon to be the judge. The thematic significance of this costume changing is finally revealed in the parabasis. Its political significance is:

7. PARABASIS Pages ________. Note the different position to Wasps, where the agon precedes the parabasis. The main topic of this parabasis is the rough deal that the leaders of the Oligarchic Revolution of 411BC, such as ______________________ and _________________ (p181) got after democracy was restored in 410BC – they were either disenfranchised or killed. Aristophanes says that at this, Athens’ darkest hour, the city ought to pull together, rather than factionalising. He also goes on to develop a metaphor about Athenian coinage and the way in which it is treated, comparing that to the way in which the city treats its foreigners and slaves compared with its citizens.

8. COMIC EPISODES – Pages _________. This is a dialogue between Xanthias and an old slave of Pluto about the things that slaves get up to behind their masters’ backs. It is brief and concludes by introducing perhaps the main subject of the play, the debate between the two tragic poets, Euripides and Aeschylus.

9. AGON – Pages ________. The most important part of the play which seeks to determine which of the two tragic poets has the best advice to give to the city of Athens in these troubled times. To do this they decide which is the best poet – i.e. the one with the best lesson to teach.
Aeschylus makes the following criticisms of Euripides:



Euripides makes the following criticisms of Aeschylus:



In general terms, it can be said that Eurpidies was a modern, fairly radical poet, whereas Aeschylus was a much more old-fashioned, conservative poet. The result of the agon is that Dionysus decides to take Aeschylus back with him to earth to attempt to save the city.
10. COMIC EPISODES – Pages __________. This is merely a short speech before Dionysus and Aeschylus return to Athens which slings some hopes for death at a few famous people such as _______________ and _____________________.
11. EXODUS – Pages __________. This is the exit of the chorus and of the people returning to Athens.


  1. Dionysus:

  1. Aeschylus:

  1. Euripides:

  1. Literary Battle: (in terms of literature)

  1. Weighing of the poetic words:

A Tragedy in Comic Form rather than a Comedy:

Political situation of Athens


Aeschylus criticises Euripides for:

Euripides criticises Aeschylus for:
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