Making Comedy of the court-system in The Wasps


Old comedies are not derived from the traditional Greek mythological and legendary elements; rather they are the very fabrications of the comic poet himself typically involving the current social issues of the specific time. They are a mixture of good humor, audacious and malevolent satire, wit and freedom of political and social criticisms. They are also quite similar in structure, containing three main traditional elements: the ingredients, the arrangement and the dynamic. Aristophanes exemplifies all these characteristics in his humorous comedy The Wasps, as he satirizes the present court system in Athens. The central characters in the play are once again a father and son figure, Philocleon (in favor of Cleon) and Bdelycleon (detester of Cleon). This instantaneously demonstrates the quick wit of Aristophanes as he is attempting to poke fun at Cleon, a pro-democratic politician of the time. This is very common in all of Aristophanes’ comedies. There is always an important social or political figure mocked, another example being Socrates in The Clouds. Since Cleon is the main figure to be mocked, the audience can hence foresee that this comedy will be centrally based around the current court system and the jury-men’s love for these litigations.


We are first introduced to Philocleon by Xanthias, a slave of Philocleon, in his address to the audience. We are told that judging is Philocleon’s hobby and that “he is so accustomed to hold the balloting pebble, that he awakes with his three fingers pinched together as if he were offering incense to the new moon (www.textkit.com/files/the_wasps.pdf )” As well, the audience also gets privy to the knowledge that he is a merciless judge and his son has locked him up in order to prevent him from going out and judging. When Philocleon comes into the scene, he is making ridiculous attempts to escape in order to get to the tribunals. These attempts are quite comical, for example, he pretends to be the smoke coming out of the chimney. This allows us to see how insane Philocleon is about judging and permits us to first see Aristophanes’ view on the lunacy of the jurymen themselves. We also see Aristophanes’ comical interpretation of the jurymen when the chorus enters the scene. They are representing the other jurymen coming to get Philocleon. However, they are depicted as wasps and in fact come into scene dressed up as wasps. This is meant to foolishly show how addicted these men are to the court proceedings, who swarm outside the tribunal in hopes of getting picked for one of the day’s trials. They are not men of real justice; rather they are men who have simply become addicted to judging. This gives us real insight into how the court systems worked. Aristophanes’ wished to display what a farce the court system was. There was no real justice done, the only justice was that through these jurymen’s blind eyes for conviction. In fact, Philocleon compares himself and the other jurymen to a king in asking if there was anyone whose might was greater than theirs. He also voices that if “A father on his death-bed names some husband for his daughter, who is his sole heir; but we care little for his will or for the shell so solemnly placed over the seal; we give the young maiden to him who has best known how to secure our wavour (www.textkit.com/files/the_wasps.pdf.)” This in turn shows the utter disregard for the laws of the city by the jurymen. They rule according to what they see as best fit, despite what the laws might say and despite the actual best-fitted situation. Once again, this offers an amusing insight into the jurymen’s minds and the court system as a whole. With such an absolute disregard of the law, and a virtually slim to none chance of acquittal, Aristophanes desires to demonstrate that there really is no need of such a court system. What is the point of justice, laws and a court system if they are not to be upheld or can easily be disregarded at the jurymen’s discretion. Aristophanes is in turn expressing that there is no need for a court system with such customs and beliefs.


Perhaps the most ludicrous and