University of Chicago

Content warning: explicit language and discussion of sexual topics

Note: this is a work of fiction.

Produced at the Lenaia in 413, Nukterides (The Bats) is Aristophanes’s paratragic take on Sophocles’s Antigone. It opens with Gynaikeios, a young man, at the Erechtheion. Demos has ordered Egocles1 to be buried and ordered Polyplenes,2 Egocles’ brother, not to be. Egocles’ and Polyplenes’ brother-in-law, Gynaikeios, begs Athena Polias to let the city bury Polyplenes so that his shade will stop haunting Gynaikeios’ wife Progone’s nightmares, which cause her to refuse to go to bed (let alone have sex). This continual refusal makes Gynaikeios unbearably aroused. 

Next, the Bats (old blind cultists of Athena Polias dressed as bats) enter to convey Gynaikeios’s will to the goddess. After the parodos, Demos finds him at the temple. Gynaikeios explains his predicament, and Demos accuses him of submitting to his wife. The ensuing agon is a back-and-forth in which Demos argues that Gynaikeios is effeminate and Gynaikeios argues that he needs to have sex soon or he will do something drastic. 

In the parabasis, the Bats offer veiled advice to expel potential oligarchs from Athens. Then, in the subsequent episodes, Demos finds himself struck with nightmares of Polyplenes and defecates in his pants in fear. He takes a small shovel and a pitcher for libations with him and runs off. A messenger then relates that Demos himself has buried Polyplenes and performed all of the funerary rites so he will no longer be plagued by the nightmares. The final exodos, similar to most Aristophanic plays, is somewhat messy. Progone appears briefly to inform Gynaikeios of the ending of her nightmares, and he is thrilled when she invites him to bed to have sex. Demos, overjoyed at his lack of nightmares, dances with the Bats as they perform a brief closing song. 

The following fragment has been found—it is believed to be the first episode and agon of the play.


[GYNAIKEIOS sits, forlorn, on the steps of the Erechtheion. DEMOS approaches.]


CHORUS LEADER3 Here comes Demos, your father.

Does he come knowing your predicament?


DEMOS Son, have you heard the decree on Egocles and Polyplenes?

And are you here, maddened against your father,

Or are we friends, whatever I may do?


GYNAIKEIOS My father, I am yours. You keep me straight

with your good judgment, which I shall ever follow.

Nor shall a marriage count for more with me

than your kind leading.4


DEMOS There’s my good boy. But what ails you? You seem unwell.


GYNAIKEIOS Father, you are my greatest leader

and I am proud to follow you.

But there are moments when your personal needs

can outweigh political statements.

Progone, perpetually wakeful, has been unwilling

to go to bed, let alone fuck. 

As you can tell, her refusal is becoming painfully difficult to handle.5

She complains of being haunted by the shade of her brother,

unable to complete his journey to Hades

thanks to your policy preventing burial.

Each time I proposition her, she moans:

“Demos will give the one

of my two brothers honor in the tomb;

the other none. Egocles, with just observance treated,

as law provides he has hidden under earth

to have full honor with the dead below.

But Polyplenes’ corpse who died in pain,

they leave him, unwept, untombed, a rich sweet sight

for the hungry birds’ beholding and devouring.6

O, but he haunts me. I shall not retire

And you must forego sex another day.”

Father, she wounds me each time she refuses me.

I do not know how much more I will be able to bear.


DEMOS Son, do not let your lust mislead your mind,

all for a woman’s sake, for well you know

how cold the thing he takes into his arms

who has a wicked woman for his wife.

What deeper wound than a loved one who is evil?

Oh spit her forth forever, as your foe.7

You have never been without suitors yourself.

It should not be so difficult to find

a new, obedient wife who does not control you.


GYNAIKEIOS What are you saying, Father?


DEMOS Progone is not the only woman who can bring you pleasure.


GYNAIKEIOS Father, the gods have given men good sense,

the highest and best possession that we have.

I could not find the words in which to claim

that there was error in your late remarks.8

Progone is bound to be faithful to me;

am I not bound to the same laws?


DEMOS You cannot let yourself be beaten by a woman.

I wouldn’t want to be called weaker than womankind.


GYNAIKEIOS She cannot be the only one afflicted by these visions.

They foretell a bleak future for Athenians

should we not bury Polyplenes soon.

Before her constant wakefulness, she woke me

with visions of slavery and violence.


DEMOS Gynaikeios, you reek of pork.9

Have you no desire to uphold the proper order?


GYNAIKEIOS I do! That is why I am faithful to her.

Father, you must understand. All I want

is for her to come to her senses and let me fuck her again.

She is driving me mad!


DEMOS There are plenty of pigs in the pen, son.

You are not bound to her

the way she is bound to you.

Find yourself another fling—

[DEMOS gestures to the audience.]

there is no shortage of assholes here.


GYNAIKEIOS But I only want her!

She is out of her mind because of her brother,

and she is driving me out of mine!

You have never seen such excellent pork as hers.

I beg and I plead with her but still she refuses.


DEMOS Why not just take her?

She is supposed to submit to you and obey you.

Her opinion does not matter.




DEMOS Are you too weak to control her?

Perhaps you are too docile and gentle yourself.

I knew I should not have left your raising to your mother.


GYNAIKEIOS There seems to be a force

that she uses to repel me whenever I ask.

I reach for her, pull her close, and then—


Suddenly I am on the floor and she is far away

and I have no memory of how I got there.

I am still mystified by this incredible power.


DEMOS There is little mystery to this “power”, you fool!

You are too weak to control her.

Have you been keeping company with Cleisthenes10 lately?

How like him you have become, in temperament and strength.

Zeus knows how I did not notice this sooner.


GYNAIKEIOS Father, your welfare is my greatest good.

What precious gift in life for any child

outweighs a father’s fortune and good fame?

And so a father feels his son’s faring.

So, do not have one mind, and one alone

that only your opinion can be right.

Whoever thinks that he alone is wise,

his eloquence, his mind, above the rest,

come the unfolding, it shows his emptiness.

A man, though wise, should never be ashamed

of learning more, and must not be too rigid.11

Have you not seen Agathon12 with his lovers—

the ones that bend him preserve their pleasure

while the resistant make the entire affair unsatisfying?

No, yield your wrath, allow a change of stand. 

Young as I am, if I may give advice,

I’d say it would be best if men were born

perfect in sexual skill, but that failing this

(which often fails) it can be no dishonor

to learn from other sexual partners.


CHORUS LEADER Lord, if your son has spoken to the point

you should take his lesson. He should do the same.

Both sides have spoken well.13


DEMOS At my age I am to school my mind by his?

This piglet is my master, then?


GYNAIKEIOS I urge no wrong. I’m young, but you should watch

my skill in bed, not my years, to judge me.


DEMOS What does that matter when you have less control over yourself than a woman?


GYNAIKEIOS I am a starved man! It has been weeks since Progone has let me inside her!


DEMOS Again, you have many options.


[DEMOS again gestures towards the audience.]


GYNAIKEIOS There is nothing quite like the pleasure of a woman.


DEMOS Oink oink!


GYNAIKEIOS If you really cared about your son, you would save his sex life.


DEMOS What does one man matter to the good of all?


GYNAIKEIOS I am sure I soon will not be the only man with this problem.


DEMOS Your wife was too attached to her brothers as it was. She is not having visions or dreams but simply grieving.


GYNAIKEIOS Then she would mope around all the time, not just avoid our bed with the same avidity as your attachment to the jury courts.14


DEMOS Perhaps she is doing that to conceal her affairs with another lover!


GYNAIKEIOS How dare you! She never leaves the house—how could she possibly be unfaithful?


DEMOS Ah, I see. She must be the man in your relationship.


GYNAIKEIOS NO! You must order Polyplenes buried or all Hades will break loose in Athens.


DEMOS What a womanly woe of yours.


GYNAIKEIOS I must fuck her soon or I’ll explode from waiting for so long!


DEMOS What would you do at war, boy? Blow up the Spartans because you were too horny to function?


GYNAIKEIOS War would satisfy my urges. By the end of the day I’d be too tired to remember being horny.


DEMOS Then why not wrestle? Or fight in the streets?


GYNAIKEIOS What do you take me for, Socrates? I am a simple man, father.


DEMOS A man who fucks like no other.


GYNAIKEIOS Oh, so now you’re going to accuse me of enjoying wine too much or plotting against you.15


DEMOS You do enjoy the symposion quite a bit.


GYNAIKEIOS Why don’t you trust me? Are you hiding some secret satyriasis from me?


DEMOS How dare you accuse your father of such things!


GYNAIKEIOS Maybe you smell pork because you reek of it!


DEMOS You think so? By Olympus, you shall not

revile me with these tauntings and go free.16


[In a huff, GYNAIKEIOS storms off.]


CHORUS LEADER Lord, he has gone with all the speed of arousal.

When such a young man is horny, not just his mind is hard.

  1. Potentially an allegorical figure for monarchy.
  2. Potentially an allegorical figure for oligarchy.
  3. Likely based upon Lysimache, the real-life priestess of Athena Polias at the time.
  4. Directly lifted from Antigone .
  5. Gynaikeios most likely puts Demos’ hand on the erect phallus on his costume.
  6. Likely paraphrased from Antigone.
  7. Directly lifted from Antigone.
  8. Directly lifted from Antigone.
  9. A sexually charged remark – like “pussy” in English.
  10. An Athenian known for his homosexuality and effeminacy.
  11. Directly lifted from Antigone.
  12. A tragic poet routinely mocked by Aristophanes for his effeminacy and homosexuality.
  13. Directly lifted from Antigone.
  14. Men who served on jury courts were paid three obols a day. Stereotypically, poorer old men frequented the courts thanks to this stipend.
  15. Other Greek stereotypes of feminine behavior.
  16. Directly lifted from Antigone.
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