The Poet as Charioteer: Aristophanes, Athena, and Dramatic Victory in the Parabasis of Clouds

Carl Anderson

Michigan State University

The ode and antode of the parabasis of Clouds contain prayers that reflect different perspectives on the part of the chorus. In the ode the cloud-deities pray to gods of nature and cosmic forces, Zeus, Poseidon, Aether and Helios, to join their dance (563-74). The song of the antode, on the other hand, reflects a different perspective on the part of the chorus (595-606). The focus here shifts to Apollo, Artemis, Athena and Dionysus, each of whom is connected to well-known cult-places and particular localities. Although these songs reflect two distinct points of view, the prayers themselves function to support the topic of the parabasis proper (518-62), namely victory for the poet in this version of the play.

This can be seen most clearly in the treatment of Athena in the anode of the parabasis. I will argue that Aristophanes connects Athena's tutelary interest in the protection of the city (poliouchos, 602) to the success of the chorus and poet, who had lost an earlier battle, namely the first Clouds in 423. Indeed, the phrase epichôrios hêmetera theos, "our native goddess" (601), implies that the chorus sings to the goddess from the perspective of Athenian citizens. The characterization of the goddess as "charioteer," hêniochos (unattested elsewhere with Athena), is here used metaphorically with aigidos to represent her martial power and invincibility (602). Like the other characterizations of Athena in the prayer, this one stresses the close association of the poet with the city goddess. Just as Athena is a "charioteer" in full control of the aegis, her special instrument of power, so too the comic poet here exercises control over his own artistic material as he drives the comedy to victory (cf. Ve. 1021-21 for the metaphor applied to the comic poet, with Kock, Nu., ad 602).

The image of Athena as charioteer also calls to mind the well-known Herodotean story of Athena/Phuê, who outfitted in full panoply drives the tyrant Pisistratus back to the Acropolis on her chariot. Just as the goddess is there said to bring back the triumphant Pisistratus, so now she may be envisioned as accompanying the triumphant poet as he returns to claim victory. If this interpretation is correct, we may see then a kind of self-irony on the part of the poet in which he equates his artistic success in the second version of Clouds with the triumphant return of the tyrant Pisistratus. (15 min.)

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