Hubris in the Skies: expelling the sacred in Aristophanes' Birds and Clouds.
To ancient Greeks the sun, the moon and other celestial bodies were thought to be personified divinities. Nonetheless, voices seeking non-supernatural explanations for celestial phenomena were already present in the writings of pre-Socratic philosophers. Even so, to re-imagine cosmic order governed predominately by the laws of nature and not the divine was to invite trouble, since it was perceived in one way or the other as sacrilege. In Clouds, the comic playwright Aristophanes makes implicit references to this tension, when he criticizes the corrections on the Athenian civic calendar made by the famous astronomer and mathematician of his time, Meton. On the same grounds, in Birds Meton is introduced as an air-geometer of a "star-city" located on the heavens. Beyond the comic element of the scene, the use of geometrical language to define and consecrate the city may have a further motive. I would therefore purpose that we may see Meton's role in both plays as an expression to target those social elites and intellectual thinkers, such as Socrates who were held responsible for stripping away the sacred related to the observation of celestial bodies and phenomena.
Stavroula Konstantopoulou is an archaeologist. She received her B.A. in Archaeology and History of Art from the University of Crete, and her M.A. in History from The Ohio State University. For more than a decade she has been working for the Packard Humanities Institute on the Greek epigraphy project. She is currently interested in the astronomy and astrology as an integral part of the history of Ideas and Sciences in the world of classical antiquity, by giving talks and publishing articles in magazines and websites.
Stavroula Konstantopoulou can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org