Law, attic comedy, and the regulation of comic speech

Robert W Wallace*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

25 Scopus citations


Athens' Old and New Comedy illuminate that city's laws and legal practices in contrasting ways, reflecting political and social differences between the fifth and fourth centuries and shifting literary foci. Surviving chiefly in the plays of Aristophanes (active 427-388), Old Comedy pushed to its limits Athens' robust democracy, uncensored speech, and unrestrained freedom. These plays satirized many aspects of contemporary society, including politics and the democracy. Typically, their stance was that of conservative critic, in ambiguous tension with self-parody and comic release. Old Comedy is important for the history of law in three ways. First (and often incidentally), many plays provide detailed evidence for various Athenian laws and legal procedures, such as the denunciations called “showing” (phainein), the litigation of market offenses, and credit regulations. Although scattered and fragmentary, these testimonia can be of central importance in reconstructing Attic law during the fifth century, which is poorly known in contrast to “the age of the orators.” Old Comedy's representations of that notorious figure the “sykophant,” an abusive prosecutor, are fundamental to our understanding of that phenomenon.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Companion to Ancient Greek Law
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9781139000758
ISBN (Print)0521818400, 9780521818407
StatePublished - Jan 1 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


Dive into the research topics of 'Law, attic comedy, and the regulation of comic speech'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this