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Aristophanes and the Cloak of Comedy

Affect, Aesthetics, and the Canon

The Greek playwright Aristophanes (active 427–386 BCE) is often portrayed as the poet who brought stability, discipline, and sophistication to the rowdy theatrical genre of Old Comedy. In this groundbreaking book, situated within the affective turn in the humanities, Mario Telò explores a vital yet understudied question: how did this view of Aristophanes arise, and why did his popularity eventually eclipse that of his rivals?

Telò boldly traces Aristophanes’s rise, ironically, to the defeat of his play Clouds at the Great Dionysia of 423 BCE. Close readings of his revised Clouds and other works, such as Wasps, uncover references to the earlier Clouds, presented by Aristophanes as his failed attempt to heal the audience, who are reflected in the plays as a kind of dysfunctional father. In this proto-canonical narrative of failure, grounded in the distinctive feelings of different comic modes, Aristophanic comedy becomes cast as a prestigious object, a soft, protective cloak meant to shield viewers from the debilitating effects of competitors’ comedies and restore a sense of paternal responsibility and authority. Associations between afflicted fathers and healing sons, between audience and poet, are shown to be at the center of the discourse that has shaped Aristophanes’s canonical dominance ever since.

256 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2016

Ancient Studies

Literature and Literary Criticism: Classical Languages, Dramatic Works


“Comedy was staged at the dramatic festivals of Athens, at the Lenaia and the Great Dionysia, where tragedy was also performed, and comedy is intertwined with tragedy in fascinating ways, aesthetically, politically, culturally. . . . For modern literary critics, this is all a goldmine: intertextuality and metatheatricality squared, as comedy restages tragedy in a contest of voices and the rampant purloining of language, all in the name of the political order of the city. Modernist and more traditional critics alike have dived into the fray. . . . Aristophanes and the Cloak of Comedy . . .  is a fine example of the modernist trajectory.”

Simon Goldhill | Times Literary Supplement

“Discerning literary parallels. . . . Recommended.”


Aristophanes and the Cloak of Comedy is rich in suggestive hypotheses and striking demonstrations of Aristophanes’ comic artistry and his relationship with his peers. Telò’s fresh approach and impressive familiarity with the vast literature on the playwright make this a challenging—and at times controversial—book that all serious scholars of Greek comedy should have on their shelves.”

Charles Platter, author of Aristophanes and the Carnival of Genres

“Telò brings well-honed philological skills and fluency with the affective turn in the humanities to bear on a very old question, namely that of Aristophanes’ ascendancy. Aristophanes and the Cloak of Comedy opens up new perspectives on the materialist, sensory, and especially tactile strategies of this ancient dramatist. It will be of great interest to scholars of theater, rhetoric, comparative literature, and English—as well as essential reading for classicists.”

Melissa Mueller, author of Objects as Actors: Props and the Poetics of Performance in Greek Tragedy

“Telò brilliantly weaves together affect theory, attentive intra- and intertextual readings of Old Comedy, and Aristophanes’ own discourses of proto-canonicity to craft an argument of dazzling subtlety and complexity. This book is genuinely paradigm-shifting, changing the way we think about Aristophanic comedy, its social and emotional affects, and the complex politics and aesthetics of its ancient canonization. The most original thing I’ve read on Attic drama in a long time!”

Leslie Kurke, author of Aesopic Conversations: Popular Tradition, Cultural Dialogue, and the Invention of Greek Prose

Table of Contents

Note to the Reader
Chapter 1: Delayed Applause: Competitive Aesthetics and the Construction of the Comic Canon
1. Triumphant Failure: Peace, Clouds, and the Poetics of Hierarchy
2. Parabasis, Plot, and the Directionality of the Text
3. Affecting the Audience: Knights, Clouds, and the Feel of Comedy

Part 1: Wasps
Chapter 2: A Touch of Class: The Enduring Texture of Aristophanic Comedy
1. Converging Identities: Bdelycleon and Aristophanes between Parabasis and Plot
2. Contest of Cloaks: Restaging the First Clouds
3. The Daemons in the Details: Sensing the Cratinean Fashion
4. Aristophanic Fabric and Comic Canonicity
5. Conclusions
Chapter3: Emotional Rescue and Generic Demotion: Old Comedians and Tragedy’s Ragged Audience
1. Intersecting Affects: Tragic Love as Comic Disease
2. Anger and the Aesthetics of Alienation
3. Wrapping Walls: Affective Mimesis and Proto-Canonical Therapy
4. Ragged Feelings: The Comic Audience as a Tragic Parent
5. Conclusions
Chapter 4: The Broken Net: Comic Failure and Its Consequences
1. An Iambic Erinys: Cratinus, Affect, and Tragic Havoc
2. Aesopic Agonistics: Fables and Comic Redress
3. Undoing Failure: Dire Dancing and Ersatz Liberation
4. Conclusions

Part 2: Clouds
Chapter 5: Aristophanes’ Electra Complex and the Future of Comedy
1. Aristophanes’ Oresteia
2. The Comic Stage as Tragic Classroom: The Audience Meets Socrates (and Eupolis)
3. Stripping Strepsiades: Socrates, Eupolis, Clytemnestra
4. Revision as Revenge: Stolen Cloaks and Suffocating Sons
5. Conclusions
1. “Fail Better”
2. Canonicity: Reenactment, Literary Affections, Enduring Objects
3. Affect: Touch, Vibrant Objects, Intertextuality

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