Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 165
In the beginning of Aristophanes’s The Wasps, two slaves guard the rooftop of Bdelycleon and Philocleon (“hater of Cleon” and “lover of Cleon,” respectively). The three are watching the father of Bdelycleon, Philocleon. The conflict is that Philocleon is addicted to his action at the law courts. Bdelycleon tries to ease his pain by staging a mock trial between two dogs. The chorus is comprised of other old jurors who behave like a swarm of wasps. Philocleon acquits a dog accused of stealing cheese. Then Bdelycleon decides that his father needs more social training in order to enjoy a life of entertainment and luxury befitting a man of his age. After some training of this nature, he sends him off to a party, where his father behaves drunkenly. In the closing scene, Philocleon participates in a dancing contest, while the chorus praised his son’s devotion to helping his father, though it is difficult for him to change the ways of an old man.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 926
Afflicted with a constant desire to judge and to convict the people brought before the courts of Athens, Philocleon is locked up in his own house by his son, Bdelycleon, who previously tried all rational means of persuading his father to give up his mania and become a gentleman. Bdelycleon even resorts to a net cast around the house in order to keep his father from leaving. Two slaves, Sosias and Xanthias, are set to guard the house, and Bdelycleon, as an added precaution, watches from the roof.
The three men are kept busy thwarting Philocleon’s attempts to escape. He tries to crawl out through the chimney, threatens to chew his way through the net, and, at last, is almost successful when he crawls beneath the belly of his ass, in the manner of Odysseus, and then insists that the beast be taken out and sold. The ass moans and groans so intently, however, that Xanthias notices the concealed burden. Philocleon is caught and thrust back into the house just before the other jurymen, the Wasps, arrive to escort him to the courts.
When the Wasps arrive, Philocleon appears at an upper window, tells them of his plight, and begs them to help him find some means of escape. Between them they decide that his only hope is to gnaw through the net and then lower himself to the ground. In this manner Philocleon all but regains his freedom when Bdelycleon, who, worn out with watching, fell asleep, awakens and again detains him. Although the Wasps quickly come to the aid of their friend, they are no match for the stones and clubs used against them by Bdelycleon and the two slaves, and they are soon driven back.
In the argument that follows, Bdelycleon explains that he simply wants his father to lead the joyous, easy life of an old man rather than concern himself constantly with the tyranny and conspiracy of the courts. He argues convincingly enough to force Philocleon into a debate on the merits of his occupation. Philocleon agrees that if Bdelycleon can convince the Wasps, who are to act as judges, that a public career is disreputable, then he will give it up. The old man, speaking first, defends the jury system on the basis of the pleasures and the benefits that he personally derives from it. Bdelycleon, on the other hand, proves that the jurists are no more than the slaves of the rulers, who themselves receive the bulk of the revenue that should go to feed the hungry people.
Philocleon, along with the Chorus, is converted by Bdelycleon’s persuasive argument. Philocleon thinks that he cannot live without judging, however, so Bdelycleon consents to allow him to hold court at their home. Philocleon is to be allowed to judge the slaves and all other things about the house. This solution has the added advantage, as Bdelycleon carefully points out, of allowing Philocleon to eat and to drink and to enjoy all the comforts of home at the same time that he is following his profession.
Philocleon agrees to this solution. All the paraphernalia of a court are quickly assembled, and the first case is called. Labes, one of the household dogs, is accused of stealing and devouring a Sicilian cheese all by himself, having refused to share it with any other animal. Bdelycleon himself undertakes the defense of Labes and pleads for mercy, but Philocleon feels it his duty as a judge to convict everyone and everything that is brought into his court. His son, however, tricks his father into acquitting the dog, an act that is foreign to Philocleon’s nature.
Philocleon then concludes that he betrayed the one thing sacred to him—reaching a guilty verdict—and that he is, therefore, no longer capable of judging. Bdelycleon’s problems are apparently solved at this point, for his father agrees to live a happy and carefree life. Such a plan, however, entails changing Philocleon’s whole mode of being. His manner of dress, his speech—everything about him has to change; in short, he needs to acquire at least some of the elementary social skills. He is to learn how to walk, how to recline at dinner, and what to talk about in order to appear a gentleman of leisure.
After a short period of training Bdelycleon takes his father to a dinner party, where Philocleon quickly proves that he is as much a hardheaded old man as ever. He drinks and eats too much, he insults both his host and the other guests, he beats the slaves who wait on him, and, finally, he runs off with a nude flute girl. On his way home with the girl he strikes everyone that he encounters.
By the time Philocleon arrives home, he has a large following, all anxious to accuse him and to bring him before those courts he so recently abandoned. He tries to appease the people by telling them stories that he just learned and by using his other social skills, but to no avail; everyone clamors for justice. Philocleon, paying no attention to their cries, continues to talk and to act as if he is far above such plebeian concerns. Bdelycleon, who hurries after his father, finally catches up with him and again uses force to get him into the house. This time Bdelycleon is unable to keep the old man there. Philocleon immediately returns to the streets, now determined to prove his dancing skill, and leads off the Chorus in a licentious, drunken dance.
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