Searching for a ‘Working-Class Hero’ in Greek Old Comedy
The attitudes towards work and labour in antiquity vary based on lens and scholar, ancient or modern. This project aims to make new connections between the realms of Labour Studies and Classics through the examination of ancient literature, with a focus on the fifth century BCE. Specifically, it examines a selection of the comic poet Aristophanes’ works in order to determine whether or not a ‘working-class hero’ existed within them. Additionally, it explores what impact, if any, this character type may have had on ancient theatregoers, and how the working-class hero lines up with a staple of Old Comedy, the comic hero. In order to investigate this, context is key. This project first provides relevant vocabulary, both in English and Greek, with definitions specific to this body of work. Following this are examples of paid labour in antiquity. This project finds that there is ample evidence of paid labour across industries in the fifth century BCE, both in public and private spheres. In the former, the surviving records provide far more exact wage information, and while the latter is not as specific, it still indicates some sort of compensation for work. This project finds that there is a connection between working-class heroes and Old Comedy. The parallels between working-class and comic heroes are numerous, and appear in more than one Aristophanic play. The poet’s protagonists were almost always average, everyday men, pushing back against power structures in order to make change for the better. In addition, there is reason to believe that the audience felt a connection to the comic hero as a working-class hero. Through analysis of specific scenes, Aristophanic patterns and tropes, as well as the results of competition, it becomes clear that spectators likely would have related to the contents of the plays. This study demonstrates that, through examining Old Comedy from a labour-based lens, there are clear connections between these two vastly different disciplines.