You are here


This paper will apply linguistics to literary analysis, arguing that when Aristophanes coins the word xurophoreō‘to be a razor-bearer’, not only is he playing with the tragic register, he is skewering Euripides with a typically Euripidean turn of phrase.  Aristophanes creates denominative compounds to parody Euripides’ penchant for similar compounds, and by doing so, he appropriates Euripides’ plot devices to serve his own comic ends. Denominative compounding is fertile grounds for research in tragedy (Rutherford 2010) and comedy (Willi 2003). Through a case I will examine how both tragedy and comedy utilize compounding and how the two genres influence each other. At Thesmophoriazusae 218-219, Aristophanes creates xurophoreō, which through a process of typicalization must mean ‘you are a razor-bearer’. Willi 2003 describes typicalization as the generalization that happens when, for example, a verb that possesses person, number, tense, voice, mood, and aspect loses some or all of these specifications as it becomes a noun. I argue that the tragic register of this hapax, combined with the fact that Aristophanes directly makes fun of Euripides elsewhere in the play, shows that Aristophanes is parodying a recent Euripidean innovation xiphÄ“phoros ‘sword-bearing’.

XiphÄ“phoros is similarly in the tragic register, appearing only in tragedy. Aeschylus used the word abstractly to modify agōnas ‘perilous contests’, and Euripides concretizes the word, using it in its etymological sense to produce xiphÄ“phorous opaonas, ‘sword-bearing attendants’. Aristophanes was acutely aware of Euripides’ vocabulary, since in the Frogs he has Euripides mock Aeschylus’ puffed-up vocabulary and say that he trimmed the fat off of Aeschylus’ words, a process which describes Euripides’ transformation of xiphÄ“phoros.

As I will demonstrate, the parody not only works on the lexical level, but on the plot level. Euripides had recently begun to use xiphÄ“phoros as a plot device which enabled his characters to escape from dangerous situations (Ion 980 in 414 BCE, Helen 1072 in 412 BCE). Whenever his characters were in trouble, Euripides would stir up some ‘sword-bearing men’ to save the day. Aristophanes constructs a situation in the Thesmophoriazusae of 411 BCE in which Euripides himself is a character in trouble, and to save the day Euripides uses the ‘razor-bearer’ Agathon to shave and cross-dress his Kinsman so that he can infiltrate the women’s festival at the Thesmophoria. The parody works for a number of reasons – comedy’s razor instead of the heroic sword, the Kinsman as a cross-dresser, and the tragic poet Agathon as so effeminate he needs a xurodokÄ“ ‘razor-case’ (a hapax compound formed on analogy with Odysseus’ dourodokÄ“ ‘spear-rack’ at Odyssey 1.128.)

The Thesmophoriazusae, which mocked Euripides’ play Helen by calling it kainos‘new-fangled, novel’, engendered a Euripidean response. In Euripides’ Orestes of 408 BCE, Euripides states that ‘novelty arises from novelties’ kainon ek kainōn, and promptly begins the next sentence with xiphÄ“phoros, yet another plot device. Euripides and Aristophanes are in dialogue through lexical parody, primarily of compounds, and through plot parody. Perhaps this interchange is what Cratinus saw when in fragment 342 he coined the word ‘Euripidaristophanize’. This paper will demonstrate how linguistic analysis can reach broader conclusions about literature and culture.


  • Andreas Willi. 2003. The Languages of Aristophanes. Aspects of Linguistic Variation in Classical Attic Greek. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Rutherford, Richard. 2010. “The Greek of Athenian Tragedy.” A Companion to the Ancient Greek Language. Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World. Ed. Egbert J. Bakker. Chichester/Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

© 2020, Society for Classical Studies Privacy Policy