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date: 29 February 2020

Abstract and Keywords

What happens in a democracy when sophistic specialists sell new verbal strategies advertised as being violently effective, disruptive of traditional norms, and targeted at dominance? This question gripped Athens, riveted by rhetoric’s triumphs. Contemporary comedy, the art most akin to rhetoric, responded. Exploiting the convergence of generic norms (figured by the comic costume’s gut and phallus) and the claims of Protagoras, Gorgias, and other sophists, Aristophanes’s Clouds staged one answer. Logos becomes a by-product of the stomach (gaster), which natural man farts out, the familiar source of sophistic theory and comic laughter alike. The impact of nature (physis) goes further. Brutally mocking philosophical, democratic, and comic optimism about the power of persuasion, the Clouds’ lethal debates enact force as the preferred persuasive strategy of the human animal, onstage and off. So why listen? Rhetorical theory sidesteps this crucial question. But shared laughter nourishes a civic world whose bonds may bridge this gap.

Keywords: rhetoric, comedy, theater, laughter, Aristophanes, Clouds, sophist, Protagoras, Gorgias, persuasion

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