Food, Expulsion, and the Polis in Aristophanes’ 'Birds'


Brian V. Credo, Jr.


This paper will argue that Aristophanes’ Birds repeatedly makes use of a conceptual connection between food and expulsive practices, such as φαρμακός ritual, exile, and the casting out of unburied or exhumed corpses. Food is prominent in accounts of some of these practices, and Aristophanes’ play shows that it is semantically connected to all of them. Euelpides’ initial speech casts him and Peisetaerus’ journey as a self-expulsion ἐς κόρακας (“to the crows”). The phrase wishes for an enemy’s corpse to be devoured by birds instead of receiving a proper burial. The birds behave exactly as expected, then, when they threaten to devour the ‘expelled’ Peisetaerus and Euelpides. Furthermore, as they do so, they use language reminiscent of Hipponax’s description of a φαρμακός-like figure. Later, the chorus issues a decree against Philocrates, a seller of birds to eat, comparing him to the tyrants and Diagoras the Melian.  Such decrees often acted as de facto expulsions and served notionally as a guard against tyranny and subversion of democracy. Peisetaerus’ plan to starve the gods with a λιμός Μήλιος (“Melian famine”) not only recalls Diagoras’ notorious impiety, for which he was exiled, but also resembles the expulsion of the personified Hunger in φαρμακός ritual and ostracism.  Intruder scenes, with their physical beatings designed to expel hungry and rapacious figures from the stage, also closely resemble these expulsive practices. In the play’s final scene, Peisetaerus turns the gods themselves into hungry intruders via the λιμός Μήλιος. To taunt their hunger, he roasts birds for subverting the democracy and so, ironically, commits the same crime as Philocrates as he becomes a tyrant at the end of the play.

Brian V. Credo, Jr., is a PhD candidate at the University of Pennsylvania. His dissertation focuses on the relationship between Greek Old Comedy, ritual, and expulsion. This project originated in his undergraduate thesis at the University of Notre Dame, entitled A Goat Amidst Frogs: The Pharmakos Complex in AristophanesPlay. Some of his related research interests include the anthropology and critical theory of humor, ritual, and marginality.

Keywords: expulsion, φαρμακός ritual, exile, intruder scene, λιμός Μήλιος


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Come citare
Credo, Jr., B. V. (2020). Food, Expulsion, and the Polis in Aristophanes’ ’Birds’. Frammenti Sulla Scena (online), 1(2).