Places: The Wasps

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First produced: Sphēkes, 422 b.c.e. (English translation, 1812)

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Satire

Time of work: Fifth century b.c.e.

Places DiscussedAthens street

Athens Wasps, Thestreet. Street scene outside the home of Bdelycleon (whose name means “Cleon hater”), where two slaves stand guard. They explain that their master is holding his old father, Philocleon (“Cleon lover”), captive inside the house to keep him from joining the other old jurors who follow the philosophy of the ruling tyrant Cleon by daily sentencing anyone brought before them, especially political prisoners. A chorus of old jurors, resembling wasps because of the way they “sting the accused,” come to call for their colleague. The house is covered with a net, and although Philocleon attempts to escape by chewing through the net, he is restrained. To placate his father, Bdelycleon stages a mock trial of a dog. The dog, accused of stealing cheese, is tried in front of the house in much the same manner as all Athenian trials were staged outdoors and open to the public.

House of Bdelycleon

House of Bdelycleon (DEH-lih-klee-on). As a final gesture in changing the attitudes of his father, Bdelycleon takes him inside his house to introduce him to elite society. The audience does not see this indoor scene, but listens instead to the chorus of Wasps, being told about how the old man is insulting everyone inside. Soon Philocleon returns outdoors–to the proper location for action in a Greek play–with a young woman entertainer and challenges his old colleagues to a dance contest as the play ends.

BibliographyAristophanes. Wasps. Edited and translated by Alan H. Sommerstein. Warminster, Wiltshire, England: Aris and Phillips, 1983. Provides scholarly introduction, bibliography, Greek text, facing English translation, and commentary keyed to the translation. Sommerstein’s translation supersedes most earlier versions.Dover, K. J. Aristophanic Comedy. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972. Useful and authoritative study of the plays of Aristophanes. Chapter 9 provides a synopsis of the play, discussion of problems with theatrical production, a discussion of the character of Philocleon, and relevant information on the Athenian courts. An essential starting point for study of the play.Harriott, Rosemary M. Aristophanes: Poet and Dramatist. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986. A recent study of all the plays of Aristophanes. The plays are discussed not in individual chapters but as each illustrates the central themes and techniques of Aristophanes’ work.Spatz, Lois. Aristophanes. Boston: Twayne, 1978. A reliable introduction to the comedy of Aristophanes for the general reader. Chapter 4 summarizes the play and offers discussion of the plot and the major themes.Whitman, Cedric. Aristophanes and the Comic Hero. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1964. A standard work on the characterization of the Aristophanic protagonist. Chapter 4 discusses The Wasps, with special emphasis on the generational conflict depicted by the play.
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