The dynamics of innovation : newness and novelty in the Athens of Aristophanes
This study looks at the dynamics of innovation: why innovation occurs, what newness means in diverse areas of life, how social, cultural and individual attitudes to novelty interact, and the wider impact of innovation. The historical focus is ancient Athens, a society well known for its originality and creativity. Despite Athens' well-known competitiveness and flair for innovation, classical historians have tended to emphasise its traditionalism and respect for the past. However, the comedies of Aristophanes testify to the deliberate pursuit of innovation and to the effects of rapid and wide-ranging change in the late fifth and early fourth centuries B.C. They are adduced, together with other sources for the period, as evidence for the kinds of innovation that took place in politics, law, religion and warfare, as well as in specialist skills (technai) such as rhetoric, the visual arts, music, and medicine. The sources reveal diverse reactions, ranging from ambivalence and anxiety to excitement and optimism, to the experience of newness in these culturally key areas of Athenian life. Attitudes and behaviour differed between individuals and social groups, depending on the area of innovation. A combination of factors served to encourage the drive to innovate: material circumstances such as commercialism, war, and imperial rule; social pressures such as competitiveness, democratic openness, and the desire for acclaim; and technical imperatives such as the pursuit of accuracy, efficacy, and originality. The proliferation of tools of verbal communication (specifically rhetoric and writing) to express and record new ideas; is a pervasive theme. In conclusion, a broad trend is discerned for the period, showing Athenians towards the end of the fifth century to have been unusually interested in the meaning and possibilities of innovation. Aristophanes' characterisation in particular of the climate of newness suggests an intriguing historical analogue to recent discourses of postmodernity.