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In the theatre of ancient Greece, the eirôn (Ancient Greek: εἴρων) was one of three stock characters in comedy.[1] The eirôn usually succeeded in bringing down his braggart opponent (the alazôn) by understating his own abilities.[2]


The eirôn developed in Greek Old Comedy and can be found in many of Aristophanes' plays. For example, in The Frogs, after the God Dionysus claims to have sunk 12 or 13 enemy ships with Cleisthenes (son of Sibyrtius), his slave Xanthias says 'Then I woke up.'

The philosopher Aristotle names the eirôn in his Nicomachean Ethics, where he says: "in the form of understatement, self-deprecation, and its possessor the self-deprecator" (1108a12).[3] In this passage, Aristotle establishes the eirôn as one of the main characters of comedy, along with the alazôn.

An example of a clash between an eiron and alazon is found in the Gospel of John chapter 9 where a man born blind, the eiron, bests the alazons, the religious authorities, in a verbal contest that deflates their overconfidence. Although the man born blind is reviled by the authorities as “born entirely in sins” (John 9:34)—that is, he is ignorant and unlearned—he gains the upper hand by lecturing the learned authorities on basic theological principles (John 9:30-33).[4]


The modern term irony is derived from the eirôn of the classical Greek theatre. Irony entails opposition (not mere difference) between the actual meaning and the apparent meaning of something.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Carlson (1993, 23) and Janko (1987, 45, 170).
  2. ^ Frye (1957, 172).
  3. ^ 'ἡ δ' ἐπὶ τὸ ἔλαττον εἰρωνεία καὶ εἴρων (1108a12, emphasis added); Perseus Digital Library (2006). Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics.
  4. ^ James L. Resseguie, Narrative Criticism of the New Testament: An Introduction (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005), 151; Resseguie, "A Glossary of New Testament Narrative Criticism with Illustrations," in Religions, 10 (3: 217), 4-5.
  5. ^ Dictionary.com (2006). Irony


  • Abrams, M. H., ed. 1993. A Glossary of Literary Terms. 6th ed. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace College.
  • Carlson, Marvin. 1993. Theories of the Theatre: A Historical and Critical Survey from the Greeks to the Present. Expanded ed. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press. ISBN 978-0-8014-8154-3.
  • Frye, Northrop. 1957. Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays. London: Penguin, 1990. ISBN 0-14-012480-2.
  • Janko, Richard, trans. 1987. Poetics with Tractatus Coislinianus, Reconstruction of Poetics II and the Fragments of the On Poets. By Aristotle. Cambridge: Hackett. ISBN 0-87220-033-7.

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