The Deeper Structure of Religious Discourse in Aristophanes’ Wealth: Plutos, the Eiresione, Metaphor, and the Reevaluation of the Vegetation Paradigm

  • Anton Bierl Universität Basel
Keywords: Plutos, eiresione, Old comedy, metaphor, fertility, agriculture, festivals of exception, mythic-ritual poetics, heortological basis, Athenian religion


This paper argues that Aristophanes does not only compose his Wealth around its personification in the sense of an abstract concept reflecting economical and political thought but that he also uses Plutos as a numinous god and divine agent of dynamically and creatively lived religion according to the religious practice and belief of the polis. This contribution explores how the rather simplistic plot of Wealth – the movement of Plutos’ expulsion and reintroduction – is constructed upon myths, practices, and rituals of the Athenian agricultural year and the deep crisis felt during the annual festival of New Year. Applying the generic poetics of utopia and the displacement of the usual order under Zeus, Plutos takes the audience on a fantastic journey back into the circumstances of primordial equality and just distribution of goods, which equal the golden age under Kronos. According to the comic ideology and the expectations of an audience, consisting of farmers in their majority, Aristophanes builds his performance on mythic and ritual discourses revolving around the vegetation cycle, the harvest of the crop as the incoming abundance. On top of this deep narrative structure – myth and ritual, set in motion, create a plot and theatrical play – Plutos reflects other vivid religious discourses, such as oracles, cult understood as reciprocity, the epiphanic arrival of a new god into the city who is comically envisioned as eiresione, the upcoming idea of a henotheistic and just god as savior, reflections about the traditional Zeus religion, healing rituals, and miracles.