On the Early History of the Braggart Soldier. Part two: Aristophanes’ Lamachus and the Politicization of the Comic Type



The Lamachus of Aristophanes’ Acharnians presents a large number of close similarities to the milites gloriosi of Middle and New Comedy and their Roman offshoots. Common points include the ostentatious uniform and impressive weapons, together with the humiliation of the soldier by means of the removal of these items; verbal aggressiveness and loud threats against the braggart captain’s adversaries; use of specialized military terminology; comparison of the miles to gods or demigods; considerable wealth amassed through service as an officer; exploits in distant exotic lands and Munchausenesque tales about marvels; cowardice and retreat before self-assertive opponents; exhibitionistic display of false wounds; ample imitation or parody of high-style poetry (epic and tragedy) in the soldier’s speech; and exclusion of the vainglorious captain from the hero’s final sympotic triumph. Aristophanes must have inherited these motifs from the comic soldiers of earlier stage tradition. His Lamachus, however, does not merely reproduce such stock alazones but combines the typical comic miles with a historical personality from contemporary Athens, a prominent military leader and supporter of pro-war policies. Aristophanes’ politicization of the comic soldier’s type was afterwards imitated by other playwrights (Plato Comicus, Mnesimachus), up to the mid-fourth century.