Rhetorical Ethics in the Comedy of Aristophanes

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Rhetorical Ethics in the Comedy of Aristophanes

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Understanding the role of the comic playwright Aristophanes in the history of persuasive speech and performance is no small task. Rhetoric scholars and classicists often consider his plays testimonial documents for the origins and practice of oratory in the late 5th century BCE in Athens; "Clouds" in particular is regularly treated as contemporary evidence that the sophists were peddlers of logical snake-oil, teaching unscrupulous students how to take advantage of their fellow citizens purely for selfish ends. This point of emphasis reduces Aristophanes to the role of historical witness without giving him credit for his own acts of social commentary and intellectual contributions to the polis. Other attention is given to Aristophanes as pandering moralist, decrying the outrageous and inimical behaviors corrupting a once prosperous city and its many institutions. This avenue of research routinely minimizes the playwright's influence because his anti-war plays appear to have little practical effect on Athenian politics, and focuses mainly on institutional critique without solutions for the audience to consider. My purpose in this dissertation is to draw attention to Aristophanes as an ethicist who uses comedy to reorient audience values and behaviors. Using Kenneth Burke's theory of the hortatory negative, I argue that Aristophanes depicts his characters as abhorrent models for oratorical behavior, suggesting implicitly to the audience via inference that an alternative type of speaker may engage in more ethical oratory and thereby provide more effective and beneficial leadership in the polis.


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation.May 2014. Major: Communication Studies. Advisor: Edward Schiappa. 1 computer file (PDF); iv, 211 pages.

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Larson, Sean. (2014). Rhetorical Ethics in the Comedy of Aristophanes. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy, https://hdl.handle.net/11299/191318.

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