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Indo-European Poesy and the 'Ship of State' in Aristophanes's "The Frogs"


Among several Indo-European poetic and literary inheritances from which Aristophanes draws in his play The Frogs, a crucial one seems to have been overlooked thus far, which ties together seemingly disparate beats and motifs in the play.  This is the metaphor analogizing poets to carpenters, their craft (poems) to ships, and recitation/composition as sailing, which besides its appearance in other branches of the Indo-European languages, is attested in other places in the Greek corpus too, especially in the works of Pindar.  Tying this inherited poetic trope in with the metaphorical “ship of state” (attested in the lyric poets, tragedians, Plato, etc.) and the on-the-ground importance of Athens’s naval culture and service to its polity makes the trope into more than just a technique for poetic embellishment, but rather, a crucial element in interpreting the literary and political significance of these aforementioned seemingly disparate sections of the play, the motivations of characters, and the play’s overall message, in what is one of Arisophanes’s plays which most pointedly comments on the process and importance of producing poetry.  By analogizing shipbuilding and sailing to poesy and by unifying the act of rowing in ships to citizenship, Aristophanes intertwines the proper construction and appreciation of poetry with the health of the Athenian polity and participation in it.

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