Presenter: Rachel Dowe (Thesis review seminar)

The gods of Aristophanes’ comedies seem to share many of the vices of mortals, and his plays make fun of their worship in what appears to be a sacrilegious manner. Yet, during this period various individuals were harshly punished for sacrilegious acts and the spreading of unconventional beliefs. It is thus striking that comedy was allowed the freedom to portray the gods publically in such a manner. I therefore propose to examine how deities are characterised in Aristophanes’ comedies, and how this treatment differs from Athenian popular culture. In particular, I wish to determine what these differences reveal about the nature of ‘old comedy’ and its license to approach religion in a manner not necessarily tolerated elsewhere. In this paper, it will be observed that, despite the impious aspects of his gods, Aristophanes’ depictions were recognised as ultimately products of the comedic stage. These comedic constructions were excused by a ‘festival license’, where transgressions of social norms were allowed and encouraged during a time of festivity. However, it will also be demonstrated that the comic depictions of the gods actually relied on the traditional attitudes of the audience in order for the jokes to have a foundation. In this way, Aristophanes’ comedies consistently demonstrated the primacy of popular beliefs, rather than agitating for an abandonment of such ideals. The impiety present on the stage is thus moderated by an underlying acknowledgement of divine power. This paper proposes to argue for this reading of the plays by utilising Aristophanes’ Peace as a case-study.

About Classics and Ancient History Seminars

Event details

  • The seminars take place at 4pm, in the Michie Building (09), Room 536
  • Seminars are also on Zoom. Send an email to Duncan Keenan-Jones ( for the link.
  • Upcoming seminars can be found here.
  • Please be aware that we are still operating under Covid-19 regulations during public events. Masks are no longer required at UQ locations - however, UQ strongly encourages mask wearing when physical distancing is not possible. UQ strongly encourages all campus attendees to be up to date with vaccinations. And finally, those who are feeling unwell, have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the previous 7 days or have been in close contact with a confirmed case in the last 7 days, are asked not to attend this seminar.
  • For those attending in person, if you would like to join us for drinks and/or dinner afterwards at UQ’s St. Lucy's from 5:15 pm, please RSVP by email to Duncan Keenan-Jones ( by 9am on the day of the seminar.
  • Please also contact Duncan Keenan-Jones should you have questions about the event.

The Friends of Antiquity, an alumni organisation of the University, runs its own series of public lectures, which take place on Sunday afternoons. The Friends’ program for can be found at