Aristophanes' democratic theory: A study of the Knights and the Assemblywomen

Kenneth Mathew De Luca, Fordham University


In this dissertation, I show that Aristophanes' Knights and Assemblywomen represent democracy from the perspective of the two axes of political life. The Knights represents democracy from the perspective of the vertical axis, or rule. The Assemblywomen represents democracy fro the perspective of the horizontal axis, or law. In keeping with these diametrically opposed perspectives, the Knights adopts a male psychology, the Assemblywomen a female psychology. The fight between the demagogues that occurs in the Knights for rule in Athens is about who the real man (in Greek, aner) in a democracy is. It answers the question, what would democracy strive for, if it were unhampered by the constraint of law, or equality, which law seems to require. In answering this question, the Knights abstracts from the female, or what the female represents, man's dependency on the body or his need for preservation. What the Knights abstracts from, the Assemblywomen makes its central concern. The women of the Assembly strive for the city's preservation, which comes to mean, not unreasonably, how to maintain the unity of the city. I say not unreasonably, because the city as a composite entity cannot be preserved if its parts, the citizens, separate from the whole, or long for independence or distinction. The preservation of the city, it turns out, requires the suppression of the male. The two plays not only yield insight into the twin goals of political life, education and unity, but into the necessary rivalry between these goals. They echo the insight with which Aristotle begins the Politics, that political life aims at the highest and most comprehensive good. Moreover, these two plays support and further explain the central teaching of that book that these two goods are in tension with one another. Like Plato's Republic, the Knights and Assemblywomen instill moderation by teaching us about the complexity of political life, and by making us suspicious of the “final solution” of the political reformer.

Subject Area

Political science|Classical studies

Recommended Citation

De Luca, Kenneth Mathew, "Aristophanes' democratic theory: A study of the Knights and the Assemblywomen" (2000). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9964562.