Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Athens. Ancient Greek city-state, in which the action of the play is set in an open, public place—probably the agora, which was the heart of the political community. Though pseudonyms thinly veil the characters, the allegory of a gullible, shallow, and misled citizenry of Athens (personified as “Demos”) finally rejecting the aid and counsel of the scoundrel slave Cleon (also called “Paphlagonian”) directly reflected the politics of post-Periklean wartime Athens. The politicians Nicias, Cleon, and Demosthenes appear as slaves of Demos despite their powerful positions. Given the nature of the Athenian democracy, the leaders were essentially the slaves of public opinion, which Aristophanes pillories for being swayed by Cleon’s deceit and blandishments. The boorish, uneducated, and equally unscrupulous sausage-seller Agoracritus, rather than the men of education and character—Nicias and Demosthenes—successfully counters the rascally slave: Only a rogue and stupid fellow can successfully lead the Athenians.


*Areopagus. Athens’s senate house. Paphlagonian is bested by the sausage-seller in the trial before this determinative body of the Athenian state, which is held offstage. Only following this vindication is Demos directly confronted by the sausage-seller and the slaves.

The Knights Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Aristophanes. Knights. Edited and translated by Alan H. Sommerstein. Warminster, Wiltshire, England: Aris & Phillips, 1981. Provides scholarly introduction, bibliography, Greek text, facing English translation, and commentary keyed to the translation. Sommerstein’s translation supersedes most earlier versions.

Dover, K. J. Aristophanic Comedy. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972. Useful and authoritative study of the plays of Aristophanes. Chapter 7 provides a synopsis of the play, discussion of the use of allegory, notes on theatrical production, and important comments on political themes in the play. An absolutely essential starting point for study of the plays.

Murray, Gilbert. Aristophanes: A Study. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1933. Contains valuable insights into the plays. Chapter 2 discusses the figure of Cleon as he is represented in The Knights and other plays of Aristophanes.

Spatz, Lois. Aristophanes. Boston: Twayne, 1978. A reliable introduction to Aristophanes for the general reader. Chapter 5 discusses the problems of the play and comments on characterization and the figure of Cleon.

Whitman, Cedric. Aristophanes and the Comic Hero. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1964. A standard work on the Aristophanic protagonist. Chapter 3, “City and Individual,” offers a valuable study of the play.