A satyr balances a Kantharos,
drinking cup (kylix)
of the potter Kachrylion, 520/10 BC,
Berlin / Altes Museum.
Marcus Cyron
© 2007.
I was always a great fan of Aristophanes works. But Aristophanes should be something more than a highly appreciated ancient comedian; he is a remarkable source for the ancient Greek day-to-day life and Athenian 'communal' culture, as well as for the Classical era's Athenian household religious praxis. It should be, therefore, an interesting case to examine further Aristophanes' importance in reconstructing Hellenic Polytheism. Aristophanes is the brightest example for written sources that 'transmitted' to us today the ancient Athenian religious festivities, rites and rituals of genos and the city as well as the household religious practice. However, as rightfully argued by Mikalson (1987: p. 10), all readers of ancient Greek 'popular' religion should be cautious when read Aristophanes as they are when read tragedians and philosophers. Aristophanes characters are caricatures of the Athenian reality; it is the sarcasm and irony of those caricatures that makes satire an effective tool of social criticism. The question is how much can we trust Aristophanes on matters of religious praxis? Riu (1999) in the book entitled Dionysism and Comedy (p. 229) is states that "[c]omedy [...] plays on reality" and although to "expel the traditional -i.e. real- gods from the field of comedy is good and Aristophanes does so very often; to expel them from reality is not, and Aristophanes never does so". Satira wishes to present our real self through a 'distorted' reality which represents our 'worst self'. The purpose of satira, as in tragedy. is katharsis but by employing the opposite means: laughter. Satira in my view represents the 'real' truth through its distortion and critique. The characters may be caricatures though their actions are real and well-acknowledged as such from the audience. For an example we can read the Acharnians (445-260) and the story of Dicaeopolis. He is preparing for the Rural Dionysia of 427/6 (see Bowie, 1988) with his own household made Rural Dionysia:

εὐφημεῖτε, εὐφημεῖτε.
προΐτω σ᾽ τὸ πρόσθεν ὀλίγον ἡ κανηφόρος:
ὁ Ξανθίας τὸν φαλλὸν ὀρθὸν στησάτω.
κατάθου τὸ κανοῦν ὦ θύγατερ, ἵν᾽ ἀπαρξώμεθα.

ὦ μῆτερ ἀνάδος δεῦρο τὴν ἐτνήρυσιν,                                            245
ἵν᾽ ἔτνος καταχέω τοὐλατῆρος τουτουί.

καὶ μὴν καλόν γ᾽ ἔστ᾽: ὦ Διόνυσε δέσποτα
κεχαρισμένως σοι τήνδε τὴν πομπὴν ἐμὲ
πέμψαντα καὶ θύσαντα μετὰ τῶν οἰκετῶν
ἀγαγεῖν τυχηρῶς τὰ κατ᾽ ἀγροὺς Διονύσια,                                      250
στρατιᾶς ἀπαλλαχθέντα: τὰς σπονδὰς δέ μοι
καλῶς ξυνενεγκεῖν τὰς τριακοντούτιδας.
ἄγ᾽ ὦ θύγατερ ὅπως τὸ κανοῦν καλὴ καλῶς
οἴσεις βλέπουσα θυμβροφάγον. ὡς μακάριος
ὅστις σ᾽ ὀπύσει κἀκποιήσεται γαλᾶς                                                255
σοῦ μηδὲν ἥττους βδεῖν, ἐπειδὰν ὄρθρος ᾖ.
πρόβαινε, κἀν τὤχλῳ φυλάττεσθαι σφόδρα
μή τις λαθών σου περιτράγῃ τὰ χρυσία.
ὦ Ξανθία, σφῷν δ᾽ ἐστὶν ὀρθὸς ἑκτέος
ὁ φαλλὸς ἐξόπισθε τῆς κανηφόρου:                                               260
ἐγὼ δ᾽ ἀκολουθῶν ᾁσομαι τὸ φαλλικόν:
σὺ δ᾽ ὦ γύναι θεῶ μ᾽ ἀπὸ τοῦ τέγους. πρόβα.

Dicaeopolis (Δικαιόπολις), the 'father' of this Athenian family starts his own offering few days prior of the Rural Dionysia. He loudly declares silence (εὐφημεῖτε) and calls his daughter (θυγάτηρ), the basket-bearer, to come forward, which in the civic festive is the maiden who carried the basket filled with fruits. He requests from his slave named Xanthias to hold up above the basket the phallus, the ritualistic symbol of the god in this specific festive. The basket that the Dicaeopolis' daughter carried was filled with a cake which needed to be spread with a sauce. Dicaeopolis after was satisfied for the preparations started the offering to Dionysus with a special prayer, then orders the small procession in front of his house to start. Could have been the 'reality' for an Athenian to perform a household made civic festival? Aristophanes wished to situate his caricatures in a commonly accepted and recognizable reality based on his audience experience. For that reason, the Aristophanic imaginative characters are acting truthfully. Accordingly, I believe that it was a common household practice to 'reproduce' civic festivities especial those that have been celebrated in local rural communities and demes (Mikalson, 1977: p. 434).


Bowie, E. (1988). Who Is Dicaeopolis? The Journal of Hellenic Studies, 108 DOI: 10.2307/632639

Mikalson, J. (1977). Religion in the Attic Demes The American Journal of Philology, 98 (4) DOI: 10.2307/293807