Between The Dionysia and the Dialogues: The agon between Philosophy and Comedy

David Preston

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis presents a comprehensive examination of the relationship between philosophy and comedy in 5th and 4th Century B.C.E. Athens – a project which has been lacking in the scholarship to date. The thesis is divided into two sections, the first of which analyses Plato’s use of comedy and the second devoted to a survey of representations of philosophy on the comic stage.

Section One is divided into four chapters which discuss the various techniques through which Plato employs allusions to comedy in his composition of certain characters. I argue that Plato’s intention here is to liken these persons to the alazonic philosopher of contemporary comedy, thus undermining the credibility of any doctrines they promote.

Section Two seeks to define the type of personality this ‘comic philosopher’ had and why Plato seemed so concerned with him. This will begin by analysing the portrayal of philosophy and the philosopher in Old Comedy, before advancing to the threshold of the Middle period with a discussion on the Ecclesiazusae, and conclude by looking at the philosopher in the fragments of Middle Comedy.

The results will show that although Plato seemed quite anxious about being likened to the philosopher of comedy, such worries may have been unfounded. The philosopher of Old Comedy was certainly an undesirable fellow with selfish, parasitic and subversive tendencies; such qualities, however, are not universal in the genre and diminish when we approach the Middle period, where the philosopher is now depicted more as a haughty pedant devoting his life to trivial endeavours. It will be argued that this is due to the establishment of the first permanent philosophical institutions in Athens, which replaced the methods of the itinerant sophists of the previous century. The exception to this is the case of the Pythagorean, who – due to his reclusive lifestyle – generates the same suspicion as the philosopher of Old Comedy.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Sheppard, Anne, Supervisor
  • Lowe, Nick, Supervisor
Award date1 Nov 2017
Publication statusUnpublished - 2017

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