Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2022

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



By the mid-fifth century BCE, the Athenian polis had introduced payments for the performance ofan array of civic duties, and Aristotle suggests in his Politics that the effectiveness of monetary incentives in greasing the wheels of a state’s apparatus was widely recognized. In Aristophanic comedy, these incentives are systematically presented as the strongest motivational factor for everyday citizens who participated in judge-panels or the Assembly.

In three Aristophanic plays, incentives and the behavioral problems surrounding them area major component of the plot. In Knights, old Demos is a self-serving individual who takes advantage of equally self-serving rhētores for the sake of satisfying his desire for state payments. In Wasps, Philokleon and his peers admit that their motivation to volunteer as judges is not based on any sense of civic duty but on a desire to maximize their individual utility. Finally, in Assemblywomen, male characters frame their civic participation in terms of profit-maximization. Some scholars have considered this negative portrayal of everyday citizens proof of Aristophanes’ conservativism. We see the playwright’s criticism in a new light, however, if we examine his commentary on Athenian public finance through the lens of behavioral science.

Since the 1980’s, social psychologists, behavioral economists, and political scientists havedocumented extensively the negative impact of incentives on civic behavior, observing that they prompt the adoption of a market mentality that undermines prosocial preferences such as altruism and the sense of duty. Examined against the background of this research, Aristophanes’ preoccupation with public finance gives us a glimpse into the negative effects of monetary incentives on Athens’s civic culture. At the same time, the three plays under examination offer visions of a better democracy, where ancestral virtues are restored, and altruism is the primary factor of civic motivation. This dissertation thus offers a reevaluation of Aristophanic comedy in terms of its value as a historical source, its political outlook, and its institutional function within Athens’s democracy.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Timothy J. Moore

Committee Members

Edward M. Harris


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