Having failed in 423 b.c.e. with his intellectual parody, The Clouds, Aristophanes returned to the more vulgar arena of politics. Considered to be the most perfectly structured of Aristophanes’ plays, The Wasps took second prize at the Lenaia. It provides a complete pattern against which other plays can be measured.
The prologue (lines 1-229) begins on an early morning before the house of Philokleon (“Lover of Kleon”) and his son Bdelykleon (“Hater of Kleon”), with two of their slaves, Sosias and Xanthias, discussing the peculiar illness of Philokleon, who has an obsession to serve daily on juries within the law courts—spelled out in a lengthy monologue(lines 85-135) by Xanthias—from which Bdelykleon is equally determined to prevent him. To get out of the house, Philokleon climbs the chimney pretending to be smoke, while Bdelykleon appears on the roof to stop him. The theme for the subsequent action is stated in lines 158-160: Philokleon fears the gods will punish him if any guilty defendant goes unpunished.
The arrival of the chorus in the parodos (lines 230-315), spectacularly costumed as “wasps” so that they may “buzz” around, over which are the garb of the jurors whose action often “stings,” signals the beginning of the play’s action. They are exclusively old men of Philokleon’s generation.
The agon is twofold: In a scene interlayered with an...
(The entire section is 552 words.)