The World of Aristophanes

Forms of the comic gamos: meaning and ideology of temporal structures in Attic Old Comedy

Alessandro Grilli
University of Pisa
Published October 12, 2021


This article aims to explore the meanings of temporal structures in Aristophanic comedy, in order to shed light on the ideology of Attic old comedy as a literary genre. The timelines of the comic plot are investigated through an in-depth analysis of the final kōmos, where the protagonist’s success is normally highlighted by forms of sexual and emotional fulfillment that remain a basic feature of the comic genre from Aristophanes to this day. The analysis of Aristophanes’ ‘gamic’ endings is carried out in contrast with the marriage plot of Attic new comedy. The ideology of the nea, which Menander’s comedies allow to follow in detail, is defined and promoted by a falsely linear temporality:
the young man’s progress towards his marriage conceals the iterative circularity of individual existential paths, intended to secure the reproduction of an immutable social order. On the contrary, the timeline of Aristophanes’ plots entails an authentically linear temporality, despite the apparently regressive traits of the protagonist’s accomplishments. In fact, the dramatic action involves a radical transformation,  rooted in the heroes’ initial disempowerment and leading to a permanent, wish-fulfilling utopia. It is, however, a timeline all of its own, since the utopian future reached in the comic finale has the paradoxical features of a ‘future-past’: it involves not so much the restoration of a lost bliss, as the finally unrestrained experience of existential options previously discarded by the sheer action of the reality principle.