In Citizens on Stage, James F. McGlew studies the political constructions of Athenian public and private life in the late fifth and early fourth centuries B.C.E., a period in which democracy underwent several important changes. It saw the emergence of new ideas of political participation--some supportive of democracy, others hostile--that were particularly significant in reshaping images of citizenship.
Old Comedy gives Citizens on Stage its chronological backbone; the beginning and end of Aristophanes' career roughly define the period on which the book concentrates. Reading and interpreting comedy provides a model for reading Athenian politics itself. McGlew argues that the plays of Old Comedy, with their fantastic stories of common individuals triumphing over the various social and political dilemmas of democratic Athens, interpreted the relationship of private life and political activity for an Athenian audience, dramatically reaffirming the ties between citizens' personal desires and the will of the collective body. In particular, McGlew argues that comedy transforms private fantasies of personal power and pleasures--what seem most to keep the individual audience members apart--into a collective possession and touchstone of democratic citizen identity.
Citizens on Stage focuses primarily on the democratic citizen and on contemporary representations of him as a decision maker. McGlew shows that the democratic individual, sometimes idealized, sometimes despised, was a dominant concern of the literature and politics of late fifth- and early fourth-century Athens. This book will appeal to students of ancient theater and drama, Athenian politics and democracy, and the relationships between theater and politics. Social historians will also find it an invaluable resource.
James F. McGlew is Assistant Professor of Foreign Languages and Literatures and Classical Studies, Iowa State University.