Aristophanes' The Knights: Study Questions
I. Consider the words of Nicias on p.37. List the different ways in which he plays with language. Do you find what he says amusing? As you read, think about how Aristophanes tries to make his audience laugh and why he does so.
II. Towards the bottom of p.37 both Nicias and Demosthenes refer to the audience and make it clear that what they are viewing is a play. Towards the end, on p.81 , Thepeople refers to the audience, thus underlining this. Why do you think Aristophanes might want to make this point?
III. How could the audience have recognised that Demosthenes' criticism of Paphlagonian (pp.37-8) really refers to Cleon? Throughout the play Aristophanes employs Paphlagonian to criticise Cleon. Say in detail what Aristophanes hates about him, and how the playwright criticises him.
IV. On p.39 Nicias refers to Pahlagonian 'guzzling a haul of gorgeous cakes.' This is the first of many references to food and eating in the play. Find three others. Why do you think Aristophanes directs our attention so much to eating?
V. On p.40 the first of several references to oracles is made. Note two others. Find out about oracles and prophecy in classical Athens. What is Aristophanes saying about religion? politicians? the people? Why do you think the idiom of oracular pronouncement might interest someone like Aristophanes?
VI. On p.43 Demosthenes assures the Sausage-seller that he is ideally suited to politics. Why? What do the shouting match of p.47; the Sausage-seller's long speech at the opening of Act Two; and his and Pahlagonian's attempts to ingratiate themselves with Thepeople, say about Athenian politics? The chorus describes the Sausage-seller as 'a villain even deeper [than Paphlagonian]' (p.62). So why do they adopt him as their champion? At what point in the second Act does he suddenly become more sympathetic to us?
VII. What does the characterisation of Thepeople reveal about Aristophanes' view of the citizenry? Also see the words of the Chorus on p.78.
VIII. Why do you think Aristophanes decided on a chorus of knights? What is their attitude to Paphlagonian/Cleon? At the top of p.56 the Chorus announces it will adopt 'a professional tone', How would you describe the tone of the Leader's long speech, pp.56- 58? What does this speech tell us about Aristophanes' audience? What do the Leader's words on pp.58-9 reveal about Aristophanes' view of the past, and his politics?
IX. Nicias' last words on p.36 are a direct quote from Eurpides' Hippolytus. 5 lines from the bottom of p.66 there is another reference to the tragedian (see note 69) and again at the bottom of p.82 (see note 102). What do these lines suggest about Aristophanes' attitude to Euripides?
X. What does the Leader's speech, pp.83-4 reveal about Aristophanes' moral purpose? Do you see The Knights as a moral play? Or do you think morality is lost, sidelined or submerged?
XI. Consider pp.S5-9. What political points does Aristophanes make here? What do you make of the happy ending?
XII. Is Aristophanes like anything you have ever seen or read before? If so, like what?
The Assemblywomen: Study Questions
I. Consider Paraxagora's opening speech. With reference to its style and content, state how the audience would clearly know it was in the world of comedy.
II. State the principal character traits of Praxagora. Then list the ways in which she can be compared and contrasted with the other women in Scene One.
III. On pp.226~7 the women carry out their own purification ceremony. Why do you think Aristophanes has included this scene?
IV. What criticisms of Athenian politics does Praxagora make, pp.228-9? Note down each of the reasons she gives, pp.229~30, for why women ought to hold executive power.
V. What criticism of Athenian politics is made in the choral ode, pp.232-3? Where else in this scene does this topic come up?
VI. What do you make of the episode in which Blepyrus attempts to defecate? Is this anything more than crude comedy?
VII. How do Blepyrus and Chremes react to the news from the Assembly (pp.237-8, up to BLEPYRUS: Bye, bye, Chremes)?
VIII. Praxagora outlines her proposals, pp.242~46. Note down each one. State how they compare with Plato's views in The Republic.
IX. From a consideration of the proposals and the speech and action of the women in the rest of the play, say whether you think the women in the play are satisfied with their traditional gender role.
X. Do you think Scene Two is duller than the first? If so, why; if not, why not?
XI. In this scene how sympathetic/unsympathetic are: a) Chremes and b) the Citizen.
XII. Does this scene show Praxagora's communism working or failing?
XIII. In Scene Three does Aristophanes present the new system positively or negatively?
What is your view of the Young Man and why?
XIV. In the last scene, we learn that Blepyrus is last to arrive to the banquet. How does this affect your view of him? How does his attitude to eating at the state's expense differ from that of the Citizen and the Young Man? What role does food play in this text?
XV. What does Blepyrus ~ and men in general ~ get out of the new arrangements? What advantages do women derive from the new system? Is the new system a success or a failure?
XVI. Do you think Aristophanes has written a play that challenges traditional gender roles or not? To whom is Aristophanes more sympathetic: men or women?
XVII. Compare the part the Chorus has in this play with the parts it plays in the other two Aristophanes texts you are studying. If you can, also read Lysistrata. Now think more generally about The Assemblywomen and the other plays. What does it have in common with them? Apart from in its main subject matter, does it differ from them significantly?