Food Preparation and Persuasive Rhetoric in Aristophanes'
In the "The Birds"
of Aristophanes, the
success of Peisetairos' coup would seem to depend on two things:
his persuasive abilities and his control of the gods' food. The
power of Peisetairos' rhetoric is enhanced through the use of the
language of food preparation and dining as "vehicles" (the
figurative elements) within metaphors describing the presentation of
persuasive rhetoric. Since Peisetairos must invest his persuasion
with greater power in order to seize permanent control of the
cosmos, these vehicles evolve from the image of production and
consumption of food to the physical reality of banquet
preparations. The power inherent in the reification of Peisetairos'
vehicle of persuasion allows Aristophanes to show us not only the
increasing efficacy of Peisetairos' rhetoric, but also the fruition
of his plan for universal conquest.
In the first third of the
etymologically and syntactically links
Peisetairos' persuasive abilities with the device of his ultimate
victory, the manipulation of food, to such an extent that word
becomes, figuratively, food. Peisetairos, who is "intellectually
fine flour", plots to destroy the gods with hunger. He kneads his
plan like bread and presents it as great, fat-marbled words. When
also he calls for a garland and for water to pour over the
participants' hands, Peisetairos carries the presentation of word as
food into the physical preliminaries of both feasting and public
speaking. Food and rhetoric have been mixed so successfully at this
point that even Euelpides mistakes dining for speaking.
During negotiations with the divine embassy, however, Peisetairos
must give his rhetoric even more persuasive weight. Since the gods
are starving, the physical presence of food, its handling, and
discussion thereof allude to what the gods lack and to what
Peisetairos can restore. Consequently, the series of non sequiturs
between the political and the culinary, by creating confusion
between food and word, lends real substance to Peisetairos'
persuasive abilities. As Herakles is swayed by this rhetorical
sleight-of-hand, he begins to adopt the vocabulary and content of
both Peisetairosí and of his political language.
Once he has been led to hand over Basileia and all Olympus, Herakles
even offers to stay in Cloud cuckoo land and roast the dressed birds.
Poseidon snaps that Herakles is talking about massive gluttony but
here Poseidon, too, has mistaken the vehicle of the persuasion for
its literal element (the "tenor"). What Herakles ultimately cannot
be trusted with is not the job of roasting meat; it is the job of
shrewd negotiating. Swayed by the complete synthesis of Peisetairos'
vehicle and tenor, Herakles, along with the other two gods, mistakes
where one ends and the other begins long enough to be persuaded and
to grant Peisetairos precisely what he needs to establish himself as
the new and permanent Zeus.