Aristophanes

Aristophanes

Overview
Aristophanes son of Philippus, of the deme
Deme
In Ancient Greece, a deme or demos was a subdivision of Attica, the region of Greece surrounding Athens. Demes as simple subdivisions of land in the countryside seem to have existed in the 6th century BC and earlier, but did not acquire particular significance until the reforms of Cleisthenes in...

 Cydathenaus, was a comic
Comedy
Comedy , as a popular meaning, is any humorous discourse or work generally intended to amuse by creating laughter, especially in television, film, and stand-up comedy. This must be carefully distinguished from its academic definition, namely the comic theatre, whose Western origins are found in...

 playwright
Playwright
A playwright, also called a dramatist, is a person who writes plays.The term is not a variant spelling of "playwrite", but something quite distinct: the word wright is an archaic English term for a craftsman or builder...

 of ancient Athens
Classical Athens
The city of Athens during the classical period of Ancient Greece was a notable polis of Attica, Greece, leading the Delian League in the Peloponnesian War against Sparta and the Peloponnesian League. Athenian democracy was established in 508 BC under Cleisthenes following the tyranny of Hippias...

. Eleven of his forty plays survive virtually complete. These, together with fragments of some of his other plays, provide the only real examples of a genre of comic drama known as Old Comedy
Ancient Greek comedy
Ancient Greek comedy was one of the final three principal dramatic forms in the theatre of classical Greece . Athenian comedy is conventionally divided into three periods, Old Comedy, Middle Comedy, and New Comedy...

, and they are in fact used to define the genre. Also known as the Father of Comedy and the Prince of Ancient Comedy, Aristophanes has been said to recreate the life of ancient Athens more convincingly than any other author.
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Aristophanes son of Philippus, of the deme
Deme
In Ancient Greece, a deme or demos was a subdivision of Attica, the region of Greece surrounding Athens. Demes as simple subdivisions of land in the countryside seem to have existed in the 6th century BC and earlier, but did not acquire particular significance until the reforms of Cleisthenes in...

 Cydathenaus, was a comic
Comedy
Comedy , as a popular meaning, is any humorous discourse or work generally intended to amuse by creating laughter, especially in television, film, and stand-up comedy. This must be carefully distinguished from its academic definition, namely the comic theatre, whose Western origins are found in...

 playwright
Playwright
A playwright, also called a dramatist, is a person who writes plays.The term is not a variant spelling of "playwrite", but something quite distinct: the word wright is an archaic English term for a craftsman or builder...

 of ancient Athens
Classical Athens
The city of Athens during the classical period of Ancient Greece was a notable polis of Attica, Greece, leading the Delian League in the Peloponnesian War against Sparta and the Peloponnesian League. Athenian democracy was established in 508 BC under Cleisthenes following the tyranny of Hippias...

. Eleven of his forty plays survive virtually complete. These, together with fragments of some of his other plays, provide the only real examples of a genre of comic drama known as Old Comedy
Ancient Greek comedy
Ancient Greek comedy was one of the final three principal dramatic forms in the theatre of classical Greece . Athenian comedy is conventionally divided into three periods, Old Comedy, Middle Comedy, and New Comedy...

, and they are in fact used to define the genre. Also known as the Father of Comedy and the Prince of Ancient Comedy, Aristophanes has been said to recreate the life of ancient Athens more convincingly than any other author. His powers of ridicule were feared and acknowledged by influential contemporaries Plato
Plato
Plato , was a Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the...

 singled out Aristophanes' play The Clouds
The Clouds
The Clouds is a comedy written by the celebrated playwright Aristophanes lampooning intellectual fashions in classical Athens. It was originally produced at the City Dionysia in 423 BC and it was not well received, coming last of the three plays competing at the festival that year. It was revised...

as slander contributing to the trial and execution of Socrates
Socrates
Socrates was a classical Greek Athenian philosopher. Credited as one of the founders of Western philosophy, he is an enigmatic figure known chiefly through the accounts of later classical writers, especially the writings of his students Plato and Xenophon, and the plays of his contemporary ...

 although other satirical playwrights had also caricatured the philosopher. His second play, The Babylonians (now lost), was denounced by the demagogue Cleon
Cleon
Cleon was an Athenian statesman and a Strategos during the Peloponnesian War. He was the first prominent representative of the commercial class in Athenian politics, although he was an aristocrat himself...

 as a slander against the Athenian polis
Polis
Polis , plural poleis , literally means city in Greek. It could also mean citizenship and body of citizens. In modern historiography "polis" is normally used to indicate the ancient Greek city-states, like Classical Athens and its contemporaries, so polis is often translated as "city-state."The...

. It is possible that the case was argued in court but details of the trial are not recorded and Aristophanes caricatured Cleon mercilessly in his subsequent plays, especially The Knights
The Knights
The Knights was the fourth play written by Aristophanes, the master of an ancient form of drama known as Old Comedy. The play is a satire on the social and political life of classical Athens during the Peloponnesian War and in this respect it is typical of all the dramatist's early plays...

, the first of many plays that he directed himself. "In my opinion," he says through the Chorus in that play, "the author-director of comedies has the hardest job of all."

Biography



Less is known about Aristophanes than about his plays. In fact, his plays are the main source of information about him. It was conventional in Old Comedy for the Chorus to speak on behalf of the author during an address called the 'parabasis' and thus some biographical facts can be got 'straight from the horse's mouth', so to speak. However, these facts relate almost entirely to his career as a dramatist and the plays contain few clear and unambiguous clues about his personal beliefs or his private life. He was a comic poet in an age when it was conventional for a poet to assume the role of 'teacher' (didaskalos), and though this specifically referred to his training of the Chorus in rehearsal, it also covered his relationship with the audience as a commentator on significant issues. Aristophanes claimed to be writing for a clever and discerning audience, yet he also declared that 'other times' would judge the audience according to its reception of his plays. He sometimes boasts of his originality as a dramatist yet his plays consistently espouse opposition to radical new influences in Athenian society. He caricatured leading figures in the arts (notably Euripides
Euripides
Euripides was one of the three great tragedians of classical Athens, the other two being Aeschylus and Sophocles. Some ancient scholars attributed ninety-five plays to him but according to the Suda it was ninety-two at most...

, whose influence on his own work however he once begrudgingly acknowledged), in politics (especially the populist Cleon
Cleon
Cleon was an Athenian statesman and a Strategos during the Peloponnesian War. He was the first prominent representative of the commercial class in Athenian politics, although he was an aristocrat himself...

), and in philosophy/religion (where Socrates was the most obvious target). Such caricatures seem to imply that Aristophanes was an old-fashioned conservative, yet that view of him leads to contradictions.

The writing of plays was a craft that could be handed down from father to son, and it has been argued that Aristophanes produced plays mainly to entertain the audience and to win prestigious competitions. The plays were written for production at the great dramatic festivals of Athens, the Lenaia
Lenaia
The Lenaia was an annual festival with a dramatic competition. It was one of the lesser festivals of Athens and Ionia in ancient Greece. The Lenaia took place in Athens in the month of Gamelion, roughly corresponding to January. The festival was in honour of Dionysos Lenaios...

 and City Dionysia, where they were judged and awarded places relative to the works of other comic dramatists. An elaborate series of lotteries, designed to prevent prejudice and corruption, reduced the voting judges at the City Dionysia to just five in number. These judges probably reflected the mood of the audiences yet there is much uncertainty about the composition of those audiences. They were certainly huge, with seating for at least 10 000 at the Theatre of Dionysus, but it is not certain that they were a representative sample of the Athenian citizenry. The day's program at the City Dionysia for example was crowded, with three tragedies and a 'satyr' play ahead of the comedy, and it is possible that many of the poorer citizens (typically the main supporters of demagogues like Cleon) occupied the festival holiday with other pursuits. (Those inhabitants who were not citizens, such as slaves, were also excluded from the audience.) The conservative views expressed in the plays might therefore reflect the attitudes of a dominant group in an unrepresentative audience. The production process might also have influenced the views expressed in the plays. Throughout most of Aristophanes' career, the Chorus was essential to a play's success and it was recruited and funded by a choregus, a wealthy citizen appointed to the task by one of the archon
Archon
Archon is a Greek word that means "ruler" or "lord", frequently used as the title of a specific public office. It is the masculine present participle of the verb stem ἀρχ-, meaning "to rule", derived from the same root as monarch, hierarchy, and anarchy.- Ancient Greece :In ancient Greece the...

s. A choregus could regard his personal expenditure on the Chorus as a civic duty and a public honour, but Aristophanes showed in The Knights
The Knights
The Knights was the fourth play written by Aristophanes, the master of an ancient form of drama known as Old Comedy. The play is a satire on the social and political life of classical Athens during the Peloponnesian War and in this respect it is typical of all the dramatist's early plays...

that wealthy citizens could regard civic responsibilities as punishment imposed on them by demagogues and populists like Cleon. Thus the political conservatism of the plays might reflect the views of the wealthiest section of society, on whose generosity comic dramatists depended for the success of their plays.

When Aristophanes' first play The Banqueters was produced, Athens was an ambitious, imperial power and The Peloponnesian War was only in its fourth year. His plays often express pride in the achievement of the older generation (the victors at Marathon) yet they are not jingoistic and they are staunchly opposed to the war with Sparta. The plays are particularly scathing in criticism of war profiteers, among whom populists such as Cleon figure prominently. By the time his last play was produced (around 386 BC) Athens had been defeated in war, its empire had been dismantled and it had undergone a transformation from the political to the intellectual centre of Greece. Aristophanes was part of this transformation and he shared in the intellectual fashions of the period — the structure of his plays evolves from Old Comedy until, in his last surviving play, Wealth II
Plutus (play)
Plutus is an Ancient Greek comedy by the playwrightAristophanes, first produced c. 388 BC. A political satire on contemporary Athens, it features the personified god of wealth Plutus...

, it more closely resembles New Comedy. However it is uncertain whether he led or merely responded to changes in audience expectations.

Aristophanes won second prize at the City Dionysia in 427 BC with his first play The Banqueters (now lost). He won first prize there with his next play, The Babylonians (also now lost). It was usual for foreign dignitaries to attend the City Dionysia, and The Babylonians caused some embarrassment for the Athenian authorities since it depicted the cities of the Athenian League as slaves grinding at a mill. Some influential citizens, notably Cleon
Cleon
Cleon was an Athenian statesman and a Strategos during the Peloponnesian War. He was the first prominent representative of the commercial class in Athenian politics, although he was an aristocrat himself...

, reviled the play as slander against the polis
Polis
Polis , plural poleis , literally means city in Greek. It could also mean citizenship and body of citizens. In modern historiography "polis" is normally used to indicate the ancient Greek city-states, like Classical Athens and its contemporaries, so polis is often translated as "city-state."The...

and possibly took legal action against the author. The details of the trial are unrecorded but, speaking through the hero of his third play The Acharnians
The Acharnians
The Acharnians is the third play - and the earliest of the eleven surviving plays - by the great Athenian playwright Aristophanes. It was produced in 425 BCE on behalf of the young dramatist by an associate, Callistratus, and it won first place at the Lenaia festival...

(staged at the Lenaia
Lenaia
The Lenaia was an annual festival with a dramatic competition. It was one of the lesser festivals of Athens and Ionia in ancient Greece. The Lenaia took place in Athens in the month of Gamelion, roughly corresponding to January. The festival was in honour of Dionysos Lenaios...

, where there were few or no foreign dignitaries), the poet carefully distinguishes between the polis and the real targets of his acerbic wit:


People among us, and I don't mean the polis,
Remember this — I don't mean the polis -
But wicked little men of a counterfeit kind....


Aristophanes repeatedly savages Cleon in his later plays. But these satirical diatribes appear to have had no effect on Cleon's political career — a few weeks after the performance of The Knights, a play full of anti-Cleon jokes, Cleon was elected to the prestigious board of ten generals. Cleon also seems to have had no real power to limit or control Aristophanes: the caricatures of him continued up to and even beyond his death.

In the absence of clear biographical facts about Aristophanes, scholars make educated guesses based on interpretation of the language in the plays. Inscriptions
Inscriptiones Graecae
The Inscriptiones Graecae , is an academic project originally begun by the Prussian Academy of Science, and today continued by its successor organisation, the Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften...

 and summaries or comments by Hellenistic and Byzantine scholars can also provide useful clues. We know however from a combination of these sources, and especially from comments in The Knights and The Clouds, that Aristophanes' first three plays were not directed by him — they were instead directed by Callistratus and Philoneides, an arrangement that seemed to suit Aristophanes since he appears to have used these same directors in many later plays as well (Philoneides for example later directed The Frogs and he was also credited, perhaps wrongly, with directing The Wasps.) Aristophanes's use of directors complicates our reliance on the plays as sources of biographical information since apparent self-references might have been made on behalf of his directors instead. Thus for example a statement by the chorus in The Acharnians seems to indicate that the 'poet' had a close, personal association with the island of Aegina
Aegina
Aegina is one of the Saronic Islands of Greece in the Saronic Gulf, from Athens. Tradition derives the name from Aegina, the mother of Aeacus, who was born in and ruled the island. During ancient times, Aegina was a rival to Athens, the great sea power of the era.-Municipality:The municipality...

, yet the terms 'poet' (poietes) and 'director' (didaskalos) are often interchangeable since dramatic poets usually directed their own plays and therefore the reference in the play could be either to Aristophanes or Callistratus. Similarly, the hero in The Acharnians complains about Cleon "dragging me into court" over "last year's play" but here again it is not clear if this was said on behalf of Aristophanes or Callistratus, either of whom might have been prosecuted by Cleon.

Comments made by the Chorus on behalf of Aristophanes in The Clouds
The Clouds
The Clouds is a comedy written by the celebrated playwright Aristophanes lampooning intellectual fashions in classical Athens. It was originally produced at the City Dionysia in 423 BC and it was not well received, coming last of the three plays competing at the festival that year. It was revised...

have been interpreted as evidence that he can have been hardly more than 18 years old when his first play The Banqueters was produced. The second parabasis in Wasps appears to indicate that he reached some kind of temporary accommodation with Cleon following either the controversy over The Babylonians or a subsequent controversy over The Knights. It has been inferred from statements in The Clouds and Peace
Peace (play)
Peace is an Athenian Old Comedy written and produced by the Greek playwright Aristophanes. It won second prize at the City Dionysia where it was staged just a few days before the ratification of the Peace of Nicias , which promised to end the ten year old Peloponnesian War...

that Aristophanes was prematurely bald.

We know that Aristophanes was probably victorious at least once at the City Dionysia (with Babylonians in 427) and at least three times at the Lenaia, with Acharnians in 425, Knights in 424, and Frogs in 405. Frogs in fact won the unique distinction of a repeat performance at a subsequent festival. We know that a son of Aristophanes, Araros, was also a comic poet and he could have been heavily involved in the production of his father's play Wealth II
Plutus (play)
Plutus is an Ancient Greek comedy by the playwrightAristophanes, first produced c. 388 BC. A political satire on contemporary Athens, it features the personified god of wealth Plutus...

in 388. Araros is also thought to have been responsible for the posthumous performances of the now lost plays Aeolosicon II and Cocalus, and it is possible that the last of these won the prize at the City Dionysia in 387. It appears that a second son, Philippus, was twice victorious at the Lenaia and he could have directed some of Eubulus
Eubulus (poet)
Eubulus was an Athenian "Middle Comic" poet, victorious six times at the Lenaia, first probably in the late 370s or 360s BC According to the Suda , which dates him to the 101st Olympiad Eubulus was an Athenian "Middle Comic" poet, victorious six times at the Lenaia, first probably in the late 370s...

’ comedies. A third son was called either Nicostratus or Philetaerus, and a man by the latter name appears in the catalogue of Lenaia victors with two victories, the first probably in the late 370s.

Plato's The Symposium appears to be a useful source of biographical information about Aristophanes, but its reliability is open to doubt. It purports to be a record of conversations at a dinner party at which both Aristophanes and Socrates are guests, held some seven years after the performance of The Clouds, the play in which Socrates was cruelly caricatured. One of the guests, Alcibiades
Alcibiades
Alcibiades, son of Clinias, from the deme of Scambonidae , was a prominent Athenian statesman, orator, and general. He was the last famous member of his mother's aristocratic family, the Alcmaeonidae, which fell from prominence after the Peloponnesian War...

, even quotes from the play when teasing Socrates over his appearance and yet there is no indication of any ill-feeling between Socrates and Aristophanes. Plato's Aristophanes is in fact a genial character and this has been interpreted as evidence of Plato's own friendship with him (their friendship appears to be corroborated by an epitaph for Aristophanes, reputedly written by Plato, in which the playwright's soul is compared to an eternal shrine for the Graces). Plato was only a boy when the events in The Symposium are supposed to have occurred and it is possible that his Aristophanes is in fact based on a reading of the plays. For example, conversation among the guests turns to the subject of Love and Aristophanes explains his notion of it in terms of an amusing allegory, a device he often uses in his plays. He is represented as suffering an attack of hiccoughs and this might be a humorous reference to the crude physical jokes in his plays. He tells the other guests that he is quite happy to be thought amusing but he is wary of appearing ridiculous. This fear of being ridiculed is consistent with his declaration in The Knights that he embarked on a career of comic playwright warily after witnessing the public contempt and ridicule that other dramatists had incurred.

Aristophanes survived The Peloponnesian War, two oligarchic revolutions and two democratic restorations; this has been interpreted as evidence that he was not actively involved in politics despite his highly political plays. He was probably appointed to the Council of Five Hundred for a year at the beginning of the fourth century but such appointments were very common in democratic Athens. Socrates, in the trial leading up to his own death, put the issue of a personal conscience in those troubled times quite succinctly:
"...he who will really fight for the right, if he would live even for a little while, must have a private station and not a public one.

Aristophanes the Poet



The language in Aristophanes' plays, and in Old Comedy generally, was valued by ancient commentators as a model of the Attic dialect
Attic Greek
Attic Greek is the prestige dialect of Ancient Greek that was spoken in Attica, which includes Athens. Of the ancient dialects, it is the most similar to later Greek, and is the standard form of the language studied in courses of "Ancient Greek". It is sometimes included in Ionic.- Origin and range...

. The orator Quintilian
Quintilian
Marcus Fabius Quintilianus was a Roman rhetorician from Hispania, widely referred to in medieval schools of rhetoric and in Renaissance writing...

 believed that the charm and grandeur of the Attic dialect made Old Comedy an example for orators to study and follow, and he considered it inferior in these respects only to the works of Homer. A revival of interest in the Attic dialect may have been responsible for the recovery and circulation of Aristophanes' plays during the 4th and 5th centuries AD, resulting in their survival today. In Aristophanes' plays, the Attic dialect is couched in verse and his plays can be appreciated for their poetic qualities.

For Aristophanes' contemporaries the works of Homer and Hesiod were as instructive as the Bible became for many Greeks in the Christian era. Thus poetry had a moral and social significance that made it an inevitable topic of comic satire. Aristophanes was very conscious of literary fashions and traditions and his plays feature numerous references to other poets. These include not only rival comic dramatists such as Eupolis
Eupolis
Eupolis was an Athenian poet of the Old Comedy, who flourished during the time of the Peloponnesian War.-Biography:Nothing whatsoever is known of his personal history. There are few sources on when he first appeared on the stage...

 and Hermippus
Hermippus
Hermippus was the one-eyed Athenian writer of the Old Comedy who flourished during the Peloponnesian War. He was the son of Lysis, and the brother of the comic poet Myrtilus. He was younger than Telecleides and older than Eupolis and Aristophanes. According to the Suda, he wrote forty plays, and...

 and predecessors such as Magnes, Crates and Cratinus, but also tragedians, notably Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, all three of whom are mentioned in e.g. The Frogs. Aristophanes was the equal of these great tragedians in his subtle use of lyrics. He appears to have modelled his approach to language on that of Euripides in particular, so much so that the comic dramatist Cratinus labelled him a 'Euripidaristophanist' addicted to hair-splitting niceties.

A full appreciation of Aristophanes' plays requires an understanding of the poetic forms he employed with virtuoso skill, and of their different rhythms and associations. There were three broad poetic forms: iambic dialogue, tetrameter verses and lyrics:
  • Iambic dialogue: Aristophanes achieves an effect resembling natural speech through the use of the iambic hexameter (corresponding to the effects achieved by English poets such as Shakespeare using iambic pentameters). His realistic use of the metre makes it ideal for both dialogue and soliloquy, as for instance in the prologue, before the arrival of the Chorus, when the audience is introduced to the main issues in the plot. The Acharnians opens with these three lines by the hero, Dikaiopolis (rendered here in English as iambic pentameters):

How many are the things that vex my heart!
Pleasures are few, so very few — just four -
But stressful things are manysandthousandsandheaps!

Here Aristophanes employs a frequent device, arranging the syntax so that the final word in a line comes as a comic climax. The hero's pleasures are so few he can number them but his causes for complaint are so many they beggar numerical description and he must invent his own word for them . The use of invented compound words is another comic device frequently found in the plays.

  • Tetrameter catalectic verses: These are long lines of anapests, trochees or iambs (where each line is ideally measured in four dipodes or pairs of feet), used in various situations within each play such as:
    • formal debates or agons between characters (typically in anapestic rhythm);
    • excited dialogue or heated argument (typically trochaic rhythm, the same as in early tragedy);
    • long speeches declaimed by the Chorus in parabases (in either anapestic or trochaic rhythms);
    • informal debates barely above the level of ordinary dialogue (typically iambic).
Anapestic rhythms are naturally jaunty (as in many limericks) and trochaic metre is suited to rapid delivery (the word 'trochee' is in fact derived from trechein, 'to run', as demonstrated for example by choruses who enter at speed, often in aggressive mood) However, even though both these rhythms can seem to 'bowl along' Aristophanes often varies them through use of complex syntax and substituted metres, adapting the rhythms to the requirements of serious argument. In an anapestic passage in The Frogs, for instance, the character Aeschylus presents a view of poetry that is supposed to be serious but which leads to a comic interruption by the god, Dionysus:

AES.:It was Orpheus singing who taught us religion and how wrong people are when they kill,
And we learned from Musaeus medicinal cures and the science of divination.
If it's farming you want, Hesiod knows it all, when to plant, when to harvest. How godlike
Homer got to be famous, I'll tell if you ask: he taught us what all good men should know,
Discipline, fortitude, battle-readiness. DIO.: But no-one taught Pantocles — yesterday
He was marching his men up and down on parade when the crest of his helmet fell off!


The rhythm begins at a typical anapestic gallop, slows down to consider the revered poets Hesiod and Homer, then gallops off again to its comic conclusion at the expense of the unfortunate Pantocles. Such subtle variations in rhythm are common in the plays, allowing for serious points to be made while still whetting the audience's appetite for the next joke.
  • Lyrics: Almost nothing is known about the music that accompanied Greek lyrics, and the metre is often so varied and complex that it is difficult for modern readers or audiences to get a feel for the intended effects, yet Aristophanes still impresses with the charm and simplicity of his lyrics. Some of the most memorable and haunting lyrics are dignified hymns set free of the comic action In the example below, taken from The Wasps, the lyric is merely a comic interlude and the rhythm is steadily trochaic. The syntax in the original Greek is natural and unforced and it was probably accompanied by brisk and cheerful music, gliding to a concluding pun at the expense of Amynias, who is thought to have lost his fortune gambling.

Though to myself I often seem
A bright chap and not awkward,
None comes close to Amynias,
Son of Sellos of the Bigwig
Clan, a man I once saw
Dine with rich Leogorus.
Now as poor as Antiphon,
He lives on apples and pomegranates
Yet he got himself appointed
Ambassador to Pharselus,
Way up there in Thessaly,
Home of the poor Penestes:
Happy to be where everyone
Is as penniless as he is!

The pun here in English translation (Penestes-penniless) is a weak version of the Greek pun , Penéstaisi-penéstĕs, "destitute". Many of the puns in the plays are based on words that are similar rather than identical, and it has been observed that there could be more of them than scholars have yet been able to identify. Others are based on double meanings. Sometimes entire scenes are constructed on puns, as in The Acharnians with the Megarian farmer and his pigs: the Megarian farmer defies the Athenian embargo against Megarian trade, and tries to trade his daughters disguised as pigs, except "pig" was ancient slang for "vagina". Since the embargo against Megara
Megara
Megara is an ancient city in Attica, Greece. It lies in the northern section of the Isthmus of Corinth opposite the island of Salamis, which belonged to Megara in archaic times, before being taken by Athens. Megara was one of the four districts of Attica, embodied in the four mythic sons of King...

 was the pretext for the Peloponnesian War, Aristophanes naturally concludes that this whole mess happened because of "three cunts".


It can be argued that the most important feature of the language of the plays is imagery, particularly the use of similes, metaphors and pictorial expressions. In 'The Knights', for example, the ears of a character with selective hearing are represented as parasols that open and close. In The Frogs, Aeschylus
Aeschylus
Aeschylus was the first of the three ancient Greek tragedians whose work has survived, the others being Sophocles and Euripides, and is often described as the father of tragedy. His name derives from the Greek word aiskhos , meaning "shame"...

 is said to compose verses in the manner of a horse rolling in a sandpit. Some plays feature revelations of human perfectibility that are poetic rather than religious in character, such as the marriage of the hero Pisthetairos to Zeus's paramour in The Birds and the 'recreation' of old Athens, crowned with roses, at the end of The Knights.

Aristophanes and Old Comedy



The Greek word for 'comedy' (kōmōidía) derives from the words for 'revel' and 'song' (kōmos and ōdē) and according to Aristotle comic drama actually developed from song. The first, official comedy at the City Dionysia was not staged until 487/6 BC, by which time tragedy had already been long established there. The first comedy at the Lenaia
Lenaia
The Lenaia was an annual festival with a dramatic competition. It was one of the lesser festivals of Athens and Ionia in ancient Greece. The Lenaia took place in Athens in the month of Gamelion, roughly corresponding to January. The festival was in honour of Dionysos Lenaios...

 was staged later still, only about 20 years before the performance there of The Acharnians, the first of Aristophanes' surviving plays. According to Aristotle, comedy was slow to gain official acceptance because nobody took it seriously yet, only sixty years after comedy first appeared at 'The City Dionysia', Aristophanes observed that producing comedies was the most difficult work of all. Competition at the Dionysian festivals needed dramatic conventions for plays to be judged, but it also fuelled innovations. Developments were quite rapid and Aristotle was able to distinguish between 'old' and 'new' comedy by 330 BC. The trend from Old Comedy to New Comedy saw a move away from highly topical concerns with real individuals and local issues towards generalized situations and stock characters. This was partly due to the internationalization of cultural perspectives during and after the Peloponnesian War. For ancient commentators such as Plutarch, New Comedy was a more sophisticated form of drama than Old Comedy. However Old Comedy was in fact a complex and sophisticated dramatic form incorporating many approaches to humour and entertainment. In Aristophanes' early plays, the genre appears to have developed around a complex set of dramatic conventions and these were only gradually simplified and abandoned.

The City Dionysia and the Lenaia were celebrated in honour of Dionysus, a god who represented Man's darker nature (Euripides
Euripides
Euripides was one of the three great tragedians of classical Athens, the other two being Aeschylus and Sophocles. Some ancient scholars attributed ninety-five plays to him but according to the Suda it was ninety-two at most...

' play The Bacchae
The Bacchae
The Bacchae is an ancient Greek tragedy by the Athenian playwright Euripides, during his final years in Macedon, at the court of Archelaus I of Macedon. It premiered posthumously at the Theatre of Dionysus in 405 BC as part of a tetralogy that also included Iphigeneia at Aulis, and which...

 offers the best insight into 5th Century ideas about this god). Old Comedy can be understood as a celebration of the exuberant sense of release inherent in his worship It was more interested in finding targets for satire than in any kind of advocacy. During the City Dionysia, a statue of the god was brought to the theatre from a temple outside the city and it remained in the theatre throughout the festival, overseeing the plays like a privileged member of the audience. In The Frogs, the god appears also as a dramatic character and he enters the theatre ludicrously disguised as Hercules
Hercules
Hercules is the Roman name for Greek demigod Heracles, son of Zeus , and the mortal Alcmene...

. He observes to the audience that every time he is on hand to hear a joke from a comic dramatist like Phrynichus (one of Aristophanes' rivals) he ages by more than a year. The scene opens the play and it is a reminder to the audience that nobody is above mockery in Old Comedy — not even its patron god and its practitioners! Gods, artists, politicians and ordinary citizens were legitimate targets, comedy was a kind of licensed buffoonery and there was no legal redress for anyone who was slandered in a play. There were some limits to the scope of the satire, but they are not easily defined. Impiety could be punished in 5th century Athens but absurdities implicit in traditional religion were open to ridicule. The polis
Polis
Polis , plural poleis , literally means city in Greek. It could also mean citizenship and body of citizens. In modern historiography "polis" is normally used to indicate the ancient Greek city-states, like Classical Athens and its contemporaries, so polis is often translated as "city-state."The...

 was not allowed to be slandered but, as stated in the biography section of this article, that could depend on who was in the audience and which festival was involved.

For convenience, Old Comedy, as represented by Aristophanes' early plays, is analysed below in terms of three broad characteristics — topicality, festivity and complexity. Dramatic structure contributes to the complexity of Aristophanes' plays. However it is associated with poetic rhythms and meters that have little relevance to English translations and it is therefore treated in a separate section.

Topicality


Old Comedy's emphasis on real personalities and local issues makes the plays difficult to appreciate today without the aid of scholarly commentaries — see for example articles on The Knights
The Knights
The Knights was the fourth play written by Aristophanes, the master of an ancient form of drama known as Old Comedy. The play is a satire on the social and political life of classical Athens during the Peloponnesian War and in this respect it is typical of all the dramatist's early plays...

, The Wasps
The Wasps
The Wasps is the fourth in chronological order of the eleven surviving plays by Aristophanes, the master of an ancient genre of drama called 'Old Comedy'. It was produced at the Lenaia festival in 422 BC, a time when Athens was enjoying a brief respite from The Peloponnesian War following a one...

 and Peace
Peace (play)
Peace is an Athenian Old Comedy written and produced by the Greek playwright Aristophanes. It won second prize at the City Dionysia where it was staged just a few days before the ratification of the Peace of Nicias , which promised to end the ten year old Peloponnesian War...

 for lists of topical references. The topicality of the plays had unique consequences for both the writing and the production of the plays in ancient Athens.
  • Individual masks: All actors in classical Athens
    Classical Athens
    The city of Athens during the classical period of Ancient Greece was a notable polis of Attica, Greece, leading the Delian League in the Peloponnesian War against Sparta and the Peloponnesian League. Athenian democracy was established in 508 BC under Cleisthenes following the tyranny of Hippias...

     wore masks, but whereas in tragedy and New Comedy these identified stereotypical characters, in Old Comedy the masks were often caricatures of real people. Perhaps Socrates attracted a lot of attention in Old Comedy because his face lent itself easily to caricature by mask-makers. In The Knights we are told that the mask makers were too afraid to make a caricature of Cleon (there represented as a Paphlagonian slave) but we are assured that the audience is clever enough to identify him anyway.

  • The real scene of action: Since Old Comedy makes numerous references to people in the audience, the theatre itself was the real scene of action and theatrical illusion was treated as something of a joke. In The Acharnians, for example, The Pnyx
    Pnyx
    The Pnyx is a hill in central Athens, the capital of Greece. It is located less than west of the Acropolis and 1.6 km south-west of the centre of modern Athens, Syntagma Square.-The site:...

     is just a few steps from the hero's front door, and in Peace Olympia is separated from Athens by a few moments' supposed flight on a dung beetle. The audience is sometimes drawn or even dragged into the action. When the hero in Peace returns to Athens from his flight to Olympia, he tells the audience that they looked like rascals when seen from the heavens, and seen up close they look even worse. In The Acharnians the hero confronts the archon basileus
    Archon
    Archon is a Greek word that means "ruler" or "lord", frequently used as the title of a specific public office. It is the masculine present participle of the verb stem ἀρχ-, meaning "to rule", derived from the same root as monarch, hierarchy, and anarchy.- Ancient Greece :In ancient Greece the...

    , sitting in the front row, and demands to be awarded first prize for a drinking competition, which is a none too subtle way for Aristophanes to request first prize for the drama competition.

  • Self-mocking theatre: Frequent parodying of tragedy is an aspect of Old Comedy that modern audiences find difficult to understand. But the Lenaia and City Dionysia included performances of both comedies and tragedies, and thus references to tragedy were highly topical and immediately relevant to the original audience. The comic dramatist also poked fun at comic poets and he even ridiculed himself. It is possible, as indicated earlier, that Aristophanes mocked his own baldness. In The Clouds, the Chorus compares him to an unwed, young mother and in The Acharnians the Chorus mockingly depicts him as Athens' greatest weapon in the war against Sparta.

  • Political theatre: The Lenaia and City Dionysus were state-sponsored, religious festivals, and though the latter was the more prestigious of the two, both were occasions for official pomp and circumstance. The ceremonies for the Lenaia were overseen by the archon basileus
    Archon basileus
    Archon Basileus was a Greek title, meaning 'king magistrate': the term is derived the words archon "magistrate" and basileus "king" or "sovereign"....

     and by officials of the Eleusinian mysteries
    Eleusinian Mysteries
    The Eleusinian Mysteries were initiation ceremonies held every year for the cult of Demeter and Persephone based at Eleusis in ancient Greece. Of all the mysteries celebrated in ancient times, these were held to be the ones of greatest importance...

    . The City Dionysia was overseen by the archon eponymous
    Archon
    Archon is a Greek word that means "ruler" or "lord", frequently used as the title of a specific public office. It is the masculine present participle of the verb stem ἀρχ-, meaning "to rule", derived from the same root as monarch, hierarchy, and anarchy.- Ancient Greece :In ancient Greece the...

     and the priest of Dionysus. Opening ceremonies for the City Dionysia featured, in addition to the ceremonial arrival of the god, a parade in full armour of the sons of warriors who died fighting for the polis and, until the end of the Peloponnesian War, a presentation of annual tribute from subject states. Religious and political issues were topics that could hardly be ignored in such a setting and the plays often treat them quite seriously. Even jokes can be serious when the topic is politics — especially in wartime. The butts of the most savage jokes are opportunists who prey on the gullibility of their fellow citizens, including oracle-mongers, the exponents of new religious practices, war-profiteers and political fanatics. In The Acharnians, for example, Lamachus
    Lamachus
    Lamachus was an Athenian general in the Peloponnesian War. He commanded as early as 435 BCE, and was prominent by the mid 420s. Aristophanes caricatured him in The Acharnians and subsequently honoured his memory in The Frogs...

     is represented as a crazed militarist whose preparations for war are hilariously compared to the hero's preparations for a dinner party. Cleon
    Cleon
    Cleon was an Athenian statesman and a Strategos during the Peloponnesian War. He was the first prominent representative of the commercial class in Athenian politics, although he was an aristocrat himself...

     emerges from numerous similes and metaphors in The Knights as a protean form of comic evil, clinging to political power by every possible means for as long as he can, yet the play also includes simple hymns invoking Poseidon and Athena, and it ends with visions of a miraculously transformed Demos (i.e. the morally reformed citizenry of Athens). Imaginative visions of a return to peaceful activities resulting from peace with Sparta, and a plea for leniency for citizens suspected of complicity in an oligarchic revolt are other examples of a serious purpose behind the plays.

  • Teasing and taunting: A festival audience presented the comic dramatist with a wide range of targets, not just political or religious ones — anyone known to the audience could be mocked for any reason, such as diseases, physical deformities, ugliness, family misfortunes, bad manners, perversions, dishonesty, cowardice in battle, and clumsiness. Foreigners, a conspicuous presence in imperial Athens, particularly at the City Dionysia, often appear in the plays comically mispronouncing Attic words — these include Spartans (Lysistrata), Scythians (Thesmophoriazusae), Persians, Boeotians and Megarians (The Acharnians).

Festivity


The Lenaia and City Dionysia were religious festivals, but they resembled a gala rather than a church service.
  • Dirty jokes: A relaxation in standards of behaviour was permitted and the holiday spirit included bawdy irreverence towards both men and gods. Old Comedy is rich in obscenities and the crude jokes are often very detailed, as when the Chorus in The Acharnians places a curse on Antimachus, a choregus accused of niggardly conduct, wishing upon him a night-time mugging as he returns home from some drunken party and envisioning him, as he stoops down to pick up a rock in the darkness, accidentally picking up a fresh turd instead. He is then envisioned hurling the turd at his attacker, missing and accidentally hitting Cratinus, a lyric poet not admired by Aristophanes. This was particularly funny because the curse was sung (or chanted) in choreographed style by a Chorus of 24 grown men who were otherwise known to the audience as respectable citizens.

  • The musical extravaganza: The Chorus was vital to the success of a play in Old Comedy long after it had lost its relevance for tragedy. Technically, the competition in the dramatic festivals was not between poets but between choruses. In fact eight of Aristophanes' eleven surviving plays are named after the Chorus. In Aristophanes' time, the Chorus in tragedy was relatively small (twelve members) and its role had been reduced to that of an awkwardly placed commentator, but in Old Comedy the Chorus was large (numbering 24), it was actively involved in the plot, its entry into the action was frequently spectacular, its movements were practised with military precision and sometimes it was involved in choreographed skirmishes with the actors. The expenditure on costumes, training and maintenance of a Chorus was considerable, and perhaps many people in the original audience enjoyed comedy mainly for the spectacle and music. The chorus gradually lost its significance as New Comedy began to develop.

  • Obvious costumes: Consistent with the holiday spirit, much of the humour in Old Comedy is slapstick buffoonery that doesn't require the audience's careful attention, often relying on visual cues. Actors playing male roles appear to have worn tights over grotesque padding, with a prodigious, leather phallus barely concealed by a short tunic. Female characters were played by men but were easily recognized in long, saffron tunics. Sometimes the visual cues are deliberately confused for comic effect, as in The Frogs, where Dionysus arrives on stage in a saffron tunic, the buskin boots of a tragic actor and a lion skin cloak that usually characterized Heracles
    Heracles
    Heracles ,born Alcaeus or Alcides , was a divine hero in Greek mythology, the son of Zeus and Alcmene, foster son of Amphitryon and great-grandson of Perseus...

     - an absurd outfit that provokes the character Heracles (as no doubt it provoked the audience) to guffaws of helpless mirth.

  • The farcical anti-climax: The holiday spirit might also have been responsible for an aspect of the comic plot that can seem bewildering to modern audiences. The major confrontation (agon) between the 'good' and 'bad' characters in a play is often resolved decisively in favour of the former long before the end of the play. The rest of the play deals with farcical consequences in a succession of loosely connected scenes. The farcical anti-climax has been explained in a variety of ways, depending on the particular play. In The Wasps, for instance, it has been thought to indicate a gradual change in the main character's perspective as the lessons of the agon are slowly absorbed. In The Acharnians, it has been explained in terms of a unifying theme that underlies the episodes, demonstrating the practical benefits that come with wisdom. But the early release of dramatic tension is consistent with the holiday meanings in Old Comedy and it allows the audience to relax in uncomplicated enjoyment of the spectacle, the music, jokes and celebrations that characterize the remainder of the play. The celebration of the hero's victory often concludes in a sexual conquest and sometimes it takes the form of a wedding, thus providing the action with a joyous sense of closure.

Complexity


The development of New Comedy involved a trend towards more realistic plots, a simpler dramatic structure and a softer tone. Old Comedy was the comedy of a vigorously democratic polis at the height of its power and it gave Aristophanes the freedom to explore the limits of humour, even to the point of undermining the humour itself.
  • Inclusive comedy: Old Comedy provided a variety of entertainments for a diverse audience. It accommodated a serious purpose, light entertainment, hauntingly beautiful lyrics, the buffoonery of puns and invented words, obscenities, disciplined verse, wildly absurd plots and a formal, dramatic structure.

  • Fantasy and absurdity: Fantasy in Old Comedy is unrestricted and impossibilities are ignored. Situations are developed logically to absurd conclusions, an approach to humour that is echoed for instance in the works of Lewis Carroll
    Lewis Carroll
    Charles Lutwidge Dodgson , better known by the pseudonym Lewis Carroll , was an English author, mathematician, logician, Anglican deacon and photographer. His most famous writings are Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking-Glass, as well as the poems "The Hunting of the...

     and Eugene Ionesco
    Eugène Ionesco
    Eugène Ionesco was a Romanian and French playwright and dramatist, and one of the foremost playwrights of the Theatre of the Absurd...

     (the Theatre of the Absurd
    Theatre of the Absurd
    The Theatre of the Absurd is a designation for particular plays of absurdist fiction, written by a number of primarily European playwrights in the late 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, as well as to the style of theatre which has evolved from their work...

    ). The crazy costume worn by Dionysus in The Frogs is typical of an absurd result obtained on logical grounds — he wears a woman's saffron-coloured tunic because effeminacy is an aspect of his divinity, buskin boots because he is interested in reviving the art of tragedy, and a lion skin cape because, like Heracles, his mission leads him into Hades
    Hades
    Hades , Hadēs, originally , Haidēs or , Aidēs , meaning "the unseen") was the ancient Greek god of the underworld. The genitive , Haidou, was an elision to denote locality: "[the house/dominion] of Hades". Eventually, the nominative came to designate the abode of the dead.In Greek mythology, Hades...

    . Absurdities develop logically from initial premises in a plot. In The Knights for instance, Cleon's corrupt service to the people of Athens is originally depicted as a household relationship in which the slave dupes his master. The introduction of a rival, who is not a member of the household, leads to an absurd shift in the metaphor, so that Cleon and his rival become erastai competing for the affections of an eromenos, hawkers of oracles competing for the attention of a credulous public, athletes in a race for approval and orators competing for the popular vote.

  • The resourceful hero: In Aristophanic comedy, the hero is an independent-minded and self-reliant individual. He has something of the ingenuity of Homer's Odysseus
    Odysseus
    Odysseus or Ulysses was a legendary Greek king of Ithaca and the hero of Homer's epic poem the Odyssey. Odysseus also plays a key role in Homer's Iliad and other works in the Epic Cycle....

     and much of the shrewdness of the farmer idealized in Hesiod
    Hesiod
    Hesiod was a Greek oral poet generally thought by scholars to have been active between 750 and 650 BC, around the same time as Homer. His is the first European poetry in which the poet regards himself as a topic, an individual with a distinctive role to play. Ancient authors credited him and...

    's Works and Days
    Works and Days
    Works and Days is a didactic poem of some 800 verses written by the ancient Greek poet Hesiod around 700 BC. At its center, the Works and Days is a farmer's almanac in which Hesiod instructs his brother Perses in the agricultural arts...

    , subjected to corrupt leaders and unreliable neighbours. Typically he devises a complicated and highly fanciful escape from an intolerable situation. Thus Dikaiopolis in The Acharnians contrives a private peace treaty with the Spartans; Bdelucleon in The Wasps turns his own house into a private law court in order to keep his jury-addicted father safely at home; Trygaeus in Peace flies to Olympus on a giant dung beetle to obtain an end to the Peloponnesian War; Pisthetairus in Birds sets off to establish his own colony and becomes instead the ruler of the bird kingdom and a rival to the gods.

  • The resourceful cast: The numerous surprising developments in an Aristophanic plot, the changes in scene, and the farcical comings and goings of minor characters towards the end of a play, were managed according to theatrical convention with only three principal actors (a fourth actor, often the leader of the chorus, was permitted to deliver short speeches). Songs and addresses to the audience by the Chorus gave the actors hardly enough time off-stage to draw breath and to prepare for changes in scene.

  • Complex structure: The action of an Aristophanic play obeyed a crazy logic of its own and yet it always unfolded within a formal, dramatic structure that was repeated with minor variations from one play to another. The different, structural elements are associated with different poetic meters and rhythms and these are generally lost in English translations.

Dramatic structure


The structural elements of a typical Aristophanic plot can be summarized as follows:
  • prologue - an introductory scene with a dialogue and/or soliloquy addressed to the audience, expressed in iambic trimeter
    Iambic trimeter
    iambic trimeter is a meter of poetry consisting of three iambic units per line.In ancient Greek poetry, iambic trimeter is a quantitative meter, in which a line consisted of three iambic metra and each metron consisted of two iambi...

     and explaining the situation that is to be resolved in the play;
  • parodos - the arrival of the chorus, dancing and singing, sometimes followed by a choreographed skirmish with one or more actors, often expressed in long lines of tetrameters;
  • symmetrical scenes - passages featuring songs and declaimed verses in long lines of tetrameters, arranged symmetrically in two sections such that each half resembles the other in meter and line length; the agon and parabasis can be considered specific instances of symmetrical scenes:
    • parabasis - verses through which the Chorus addresses the audience directly, firstly in the middle of the play and again near the end (see the section below Parabasis);
    • agon - a formal debate that decides the outcome of the play, typically in anapestic tetrameter, though iambs are sometimes used to delineate inferior arguments;
  • episodes - sections of dialogue in iambic trimeter, often in a succession of scenes featuring minor characters towards the end of a play;
  • songs ('strophes'/'antistrophes' or 'odes'/'antodes') - often in symmetrical pairs where each half has the same meter and number of lines as the other, used as transitions between other structural elements, or between scenes while actors change costume, and often commenting on the action;
  • exodus - the departure of the Chorus and the actors, in song and dance celebrating the hero's victory and sometimes celebrating a symbolic marriage.

The rules of competition did not prevent a playwright arranging and adjusting these elements to suit his particular needs. In The Acharnians and Peace, for example, there is no formal agon whereas in The Clouds there are two agons.

Parabasis


The parabasis is an address to the audience by the Chorus and/or the leader of the Chorus while the actors are leaving or have left the stage. The Chorus in this role speaks sometimes out of character, as the author's mouthpiece, and sometimes in character, but very often it isn't easy to distinguish its two roles. Generally the parabasis occurs somewhere in the middle of a play and often there is a second parabasis towards the end. The elements of a parabasis have been defined and named by scholars but it is probable that Aristophanes' own understanding was less formal. The selection of elements can vary from play to play and it varies considerably within plays between first and second parabasis. The early plays (The Acharnians to The Birds) are fairly uniform in their approach however and the following elements of a parabasis can be found within them.
  • kommation: This is a brief prelude, comprising short lines and often including a valediction to the departing actors, such as (Go rejoicing!).
  • parabasis proper: This is a usually a defense of the author's work and it includes criticism of the audience's attitude. It is declaimed in long lines of 'anapestic tetrameters'. Aristophanes himself refers to the parabasis proper only as 'anapests'.
  • pnigos: Sometimes known as 'a choker', it comprises a few short lines appended to the parabasis proper as a kind of rapid patter (it has been suggested that some of the effects achieved in a pnigos can be heard in "The Lord Chancellor's Nightmare Song", in act 2 of Gilbert and Sullivan's Iolanthe).
  • epirrhematic syzygies: These are symmetrical scenes that mirror each other in meter and number of lines. They form part of the first parabasis and they often comprise the entire second parabasis. They are characterized by the following elements:
    • strophe or ode: These are lyrics in a variety of meters, sung by the Chorus in the first parabasis as an invocation to the gods and as a comic interlude in the second parabasis.
    • epirrhema: These are usually long lines of trochaic tetrameters. Broadly political in their significance, they were probably spoken by the leader of the Chorus in character.
    • antistrophe or antode: These are songs that mirror the strophe/ode in meter, length and function.
    • antepirrhema. This is another declaimed passage and it mirrors the epirrhema in meter, length and function.


The Wasps
The Wasps
The Wasps is the fourth in chronological order of the eleven surviving plays by Aristophanes, the master of an ancient genre of drama called 'Old Comedy'. It was produced at the Lenaia festival in 422 BC, a time when Athens was enjoying a brief respite from The Peloponnesian War following a one...

 is thought to offer the best example of a conventional approach and the elements of a parabasis can be identified and located in that play as follows.
{| class="wikitable" style="margin: 1em auto 1em auto; background-color: #ffffff"

! Elements in The Wasps
! 1st parabasis
! 2nd parabasis
|-
| kommation
| lines 1009-14
| ---
|-
| parabasis proper
| lines 1015-50
| ---
|-
| pnigos
| lines 1051-59
| ---
|-
| strophe
| lines 1060-70
| lines 1265-74
|-
| epirrhema
| lines 1071-90
| lines 1275-83
|-
| antistrophe
| lines 1091-1101
| missing
|-
| antepirrhema
| lines 1102-1121
| lines 1284-91
|}

Textual corruption is probably the reason for the absence of the antistrophe in the second parabasis.
However, there are several variations from the ideal even within the early plays. For example, the parabasis proper in The Clouds (lines 518-62) is composed in eupolidean meter rather than in anapests and the second parabasis includes a kommation but it lacks strophe, antistrophe and antepirrhema (The Clouds lines 1113-30). The second parabasis in The Acharnians lines 971-99 can be considered a hybrid parabasis/song (i.e. the declaimed sections are merely continuations of the strophe and antistrophe) and, unlike the typical parabasis, it seems to comment on actions that occur on stage during the address. An understanding of Old Comedy conventions such as the parabasis is necessary for a proper understanding of Aristophanes' plays; on the other hand, a sensitive appreciation of the plays is necessary for a proper understanding of the conventions.

Influence and legacy



The tragic dramatists, Sophocles
Sophocles
Sophocles is one of three ancient Greek tragedians whose plays have survived. His first plays were written later than those of Aeschylus, and earlier than or contemporary with those of Euripides...

 and Euripides
Euripides
Euripides was one of the three great tragedians of classical Athens, the other two being Aeschylus and Sophocles. Some ancient scholars attributed ninety-five plays to him but according to the Suda it was ninety-two at most...

, died near the end of the Peloponnesian War and the art of tragedy thereafter ceased to develop, yet comedy did continue to develop after the defeat of Athens and it is possible that it did so because, in Aristophanes, it had a master craftsman who lived long enough to help usher it into a new age. Indeed, according to one ancient source (Platonius, c.9th Century AD), one of Aristophanes's last plays, Aioliskon, had neither a parabasis nor any choral lyrics (making it a type of Middle Comedy), while Kolakos anticipated all the elements of New Comedy, including a rape and a recognition scene. Aristophanes seems to have had some appreciation of his formative role in the development of comedy, as indicated by his comment in Clouds that his audience would be judged by other times according to its reception of his plays. Clouds was awarded third (i.e. last) place after its original performance and the text that has come down to the modern age was a subsequent draft that Aristophanes intended to be read rather than acted. The circulation of his plays in manuscript extended their influence beyond the original audience, over whom in fact they seem to have had little or no practical influence: they did not affect the career of Cleon
Cleon
Cleon was an Athenian statesman and a Strategos during the Peloponnesian War. He was the first prominent representative of the commercial class in Athenian politics, although he was an aristocrat himself...

, they failed to persuade the Athenians to pursue an honourable peace with Sparta and it is not clear that they were instrumental in the trial and execution of Socrates, whose death probably resulted from public animosity towards the philosopher's disgraced associates (such as Alcibiades
Alcibiades
Alcibiades, son of Clinias, from the deme of Scambonidae , was a prominent Athenian statesman, orator, and general. He was the last famous member of his mother's aristocratic family, the Alcmaeonidae, which fell from prominence after the Peloponnesian War...

), exacerbated of course by his own intransigence during the trial. The plays, in manuscript form, have been put to some surprising uses — as indicated earlier, they were used in the study of rhetoric on the recommendation of Quintilian
Quintilian
Marcus Fabius Quintilianus was a Roman rhetorician from Hispania, widely referred to in medieval schools of rhetoric and in Renaissance writing...

 and by students of the Attic dialect in the Fourth and Fifth Centuries AD. It is possible that Plato sent copies of the plays to Dionysius of Syracuse so that he might learn about Athenian life and government.

Latin translations of the plays by Andreas Divus
Andreas Divus
Andreas Divus was a Renaissance scholar, about whose life little is known; in Italian he is called Andrea Divo giustinopolitano or di Capodistria, i.e. surnamed Justinopolitanus in Latin and implying an origin at Koper, now in Slovenia, which was named at different times Aegida, Justinopolis and...

 (Venice 1528) were circulated widely throughout Europe in the Renaissance and these were soon followed by translations and adaptations in modern languages. Racine
Jean Racine
Jean Racine , baptismal name Jean-Baptiste Racine , was a French dramatist, one of the "Big Three" of 17th-century France , and one of the most important literary figures in the Western tradition...

, for example, drew Les Plaideurs (1668) from The Wasps. Goethe (who turned to Aristophanes for a warmer and more vivid form of comedy than he could derive from readings of Terence and Plautus) adapted a short play Die Vögel from The Birds for performance in Weimar. Aristophanes has appealed to both conservatives and radicals in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries — Anatoly Lunacharsky, first Commissar of Enlightenment for the USSR in 1917, declared that the ancient dramatist would have a permanent place in proletarian theatre and yet conservative, Prussian intellectuals interpreted Aristophanes as a satirical opponent of social reform. The avant-gardist stage-director Karolos Koun
Karolos Koun
Karolos Koun was a Greek theater director, widely known for his lively staging of ancient Greek plays. He had been praised all over Europe for his bawdy, colorful stagings of the 5th century BC political comedies of Aristophanes...

 directed a version of The Birds under the Acropolis in 1959 that established a trend in modern Greek history of breaking taboos through the voice of Aristophanes.

The plays have a significance that goes beyond their artistic function, as historical documents that open the window on life and politics in classical Athens
Classical Athens
The city of Athens during the classical period of Ancient Greece was a notable polis of Attica, Greece, leading the Delian League in the Peloponnesian War against Sparta and the Peloponnesian League. Athenian democracy was established in 508 BC under Cleisthenes following the tyranny of Hippias...

, in which respect they are perhaps as important as the writings of Thucydides
Thucydides
Thucydides was a Greek historian and author from Alimos. His History of the Peloponnesian War recounts the 5th century BC war between Sparta and Athens to the year 411 BC...

. The artistic influence of the plays is immeasurable. They have contributed to the history of European theatre and that history in turn shapes our understanding of the plays. Thus for example the operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan
Gilbert and Sullivan
Gilbert and Sullivan refers to the Victorian-era theatrical partnership of the librettist W. S. Gilbert and the composer Arthur Sullivan . The two men collaborated on fourteen comic operas between 1871 and 1896, of which H.M.S...

 can give us insights into Aristophanes' plays and similarly the plays can give us insights into the operettas. The plays are a source of famous sayings, such as "By words the mind is winged."

Listed below is a random and very tiny sample of works influenced (more or less) by Aristophanes.

Drama

  • 1909: Wasps, original Greek, Cambridge University undergraduate production, music by Vaughan Williams;
  • 2004, July–October: The Frogs (musical)
    The Frogs (musical)
    The Frogs is a musical "freely adapted" by Stephen Sondheim and Burt Shevelove from The Frogs, an Ancient Greek comedy by Aristophanes, originally performed in Yale University's gymnasium's swimming pool in 1974....

    , adapted by Nathan Lane, music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
    Stephen Sondheim
    Stephen Joshua Sondheim is an American composer and lyricist for stage and film. He is the winner of an Academy Award, multiple Tony Awards including the Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre, multiple Grammy Awards, a Pulitzer Prize and the Laurence Olivier Award...

    , performed at The Vivian Beaumont Theatre Broadway;
  • 1962-2006: various plays by students and staff, Kings College London, in the original Greek: Frogs 1962,1971,1988; Thesmophoriazusae 1965, 1974, 1985; Acharnians 1968, 1992, 2004; Clouds 1977, 1990; Birds 1982, 2000; Ecclesiazusae 2006; Peace 1970; Wasps 1981
  • 2002: Lysistrata, adapted by Robert Brustein, music by Galt McDermot, performed by American Repertory Theatre, Boston U.S.A.;
  • 2008, May–June: Frogs, adapted by David Greenspan, music by Thomas Cabaniss, performed by Classic Stage Company, New York, U.S.A.

Literature

  • The romantic
    Romanticism
    Romanticism was an artistic, literary and intellectual movement that originated in the second half of the 18th century in Europe, and gained strength in reaction to the Industrial Revolution...

     poet, Percy Shelley, wrote a comic, lyrical drama (Swellfoot the Tyrrant) in imitation of Aristophanes' play The Frogs after he was reminded of the Chorus in that play by a herd of pigs passing to market under the window of his lodgings in San Giuliano, Italy.
  • Aristophanes (particularly in reference to The Clouds) is mentioned frequently by the character Menedemos in the Hellenic Traders
    Hellenic Traders
    Hellenic Traders refers to a series of historical fiction books published by TOR and written by H.N. Turteltaub . The books center around cousins Menedemos and Sostratos who work as seaborne traders in the years following the death of Alexander the Great...

     series of novels by H N Turteltaub
    Harry Turtledove
    Harry Norman Turtledove is an American novelist, who has produced works in several genres including alternate history, historical fiction, fantasy and science fiction.- Life :...

    .
  • A liberal version of the comedies have been published in comic book
    Comic book
    A comic book or comicbook is a magazine made up of comics, narrative artwork in the form of separate panels that represent individual scenes, often accompanied by dialog as well as including...

     format, initially by "Agrotikes Ekdoseis" during the 1990s and republished over the years by other companies. The plot was written by Tasos Apostolidis and the sketches were of George Akokalidis. The stories feature either Aristophanes narrating them, directing the play, or even as a character inside one of his stories
    Metafiction
    Metafiction, also known as Romantic irony in the context of Romantic works of literature, is a type of fiction that self-consciously addresses the devices of fiction, exposing the fictional illusion...

    .

Electronic media

  • The Wasps, radio play adapted by David Pountney, music by Vaughan Williams, recorded 26–28 July 2005, Albert Halls, Bolten, in association with BBC, under Halle label;
  • Acropolis Now
    Acropolis Now (radio)
    Acropolis Now is a BBC Radio sitcom set in Ancient Greece, written by the author of Eats, Shoots & Leaves, Lynne Truss. It was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in two series in 2000 and 2002, with subsequent reruns on BBC 7 in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010....

    is a comedy radio show for the BBC set in Ancient Greece. It features Aristophanes, Socrates and many other famous Greeks. (Not to be confused with the Australian sitcom of the same name.) Aristophanes is characterised as a celebrity playwright, and most of his plays have the title formula: One of Our [e.g] Slaves has an Enormous Knob (a reference to the exaggerated appendages worn by Greek comic actors)
  • Aristophanes Against the World was a radio play by Martyn Wade and broadcast on BBC Radio 4
    BBC Radio 4
    BBC Radio 4 is a British domestic radio station, operated and owned by the BBC, that broadcasts a wide variety of spoken-word programmes, including news, drama, comedy, science and history. It replaced the BBC Home Service in 1967. The station controller is currently Gwyneth Williams, and the...

    . Loosely based on several of his plays, it featured Clive Merrison
    Clive Merrison
    Clive Merrison is a Welsh actor of film, television, stage and radio. He trained at Rose Bruford College.- Television :...

     as Aristophanes.
  • In The Odd Couple
    The Odd Couple (TV series)
    The Odd Couple is a television situation comedy broadcast from September 24, 1970 to July 4, 1975 on ABC. It starred Tony Randall as Felix Unger and Jack Klugman as Oscar Madison. It was based upon the play of the same name, which was written by Neil Simon.Felix and Oscar are two divorced men....

    , Oscar and Felix are on Password, and when the password is bird, Felix’s clue is Aristophanes because of his play The Birds
    The Birds (play)
    The Birds is a comedy by the Ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes. It was performed in 414 BCE at the City Dionysia where it won second prize. It has been acclaimed by modern critics as a perfectly realized fantasy remarkable for its mimicry of birds and for the gaiety of its songs...

    . After failing to guess it, Oscar says that the clue is ridiculous, and then when it's Oscar’s turn to give the clue on the team’s next shot, the password is ridiculous and Oscar's clue is Aristophanes, to which Felix instantly responds, "Ridiculous!"

Music

  • Satiric Dances for a Comedy by Aristophanes is a three-movement piece for concert band composed by Norman Dello Joio
    Norman Dello Joio
    - Life :He was born Nicodemo DeGioio in New York City to Italian immigrants. He began his musical career as organist and choir director at the Star of the Sea Church on City Island in New York at age 14. His father was an organist, pianist, and vocal coach and coached many opera stars from the...

    . It was commissioned in commemoration of the Bicentennial of April 19, 1775 (the start of the American Revolutionary War
    American Revolutionary War
    The American Revolutionary War , the American War of Independence, or simply the Revolutionary War, began as a war between the Kingdom of Great Britain and thirteen British colonies in North America, and ended in a global war between several European great powers.The war was the result of the...

    ) by the Concord (Massachusetts
    Massachusetts
    The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States of America. It is bordered by Rhode Island and Connecticut to the south, New York to the west, and Vermont and New Hampshire to the north; at its east lies the Atlantic Ocean. As of the 2010...

    ) Band. The commission was funded by the Town of Concord
    Concord, Massachusetts
    Concord is a town in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, in the United States. As of the 2010 census, the town population was 17,668. Although a small town, Concord is noted for its leading roles in American history and literature.-History:...

     and assistance was given by the Eastern National Park and Monument Association in cooperation with the National Park Service
    National Park Service
    The National Park Service is the U.S. federal agency that manages all national parks, many national monuments, and other conservation and historical properties with various title designations...

    .

Surviving plays


Most of these are traditionally referred to by abbreviations of their Latin titles; Latin remains a customary language of scholarship in classical studies.
  • The Acharnians
    The Acharnians
    The Acharnians is the third play - and the earliest of the eleven surviving plays - by the great Athenian playwright Aristophanes. It was produced in 425 BCE on behalf of the young dramatist by an associate, Callistratus, and it won first place at the Lenaia festival...

    ( Akharneis; Attic ; ) 425 BC
  • The Knights
    The Knights
    The Knights was the fourth play written by Aristophanes, the master of an ancient form of drama known as Old Comedy. The play is a satire on the social and political life of classical Athens during the Peloponnesian War and in this respect it is typical of all the dramatist's early plays...

    ( Hippeis; Attic ; Latin: ) 424 BC
  • The Clouds
    The Clouds
    The Clouds is a comedy written by the celebrated playwright Aristophanes lampooning intellectual fashions in classical Athens. It was originally produced at the City Dionysia in 423 BC and it was not well received, coming last of the three plays competing at the festival that year. It was revised...

    ( Nephelai; Latin: ); original 423 BC, uncompleted revised version from 419 BC – 416 BC survives
  • The Wasps
    The Wasps
    The Wasps is the fourth in chronological order of the eleven surviving plays by Aristophanes, the master of an ancient genre of drama called 'Old Comedy'. It was produced at the Lenaia festival in 422 BC, a time when Athens was enjoying a brief respite from The Peloponnesian War following a one...

    ( Sphekes; Latin: ) 422 BC
  • Peace
    Peace (play)
    Peace is an Athenian Old Comedy written and produced by the Greek playwright Aristophanes. It won second prize at the City Dionysia where it was staged just a few days before the ratification of the Peace of Nicias , which promised to end the ten year old Peloponnesian War...

    ( Eirene; Latin: ) first version, 421 BC
  • The Birds
    The Birds (play)
    The Birds is a comedy by the Ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes. It was performed in 414 BCE at the City Dionysia where it won second prize. It has been acclaimed by modern critics as a perfectly realized fantasy remarkable for its mimicry of birds and for the gaiety of its songs...

    ( Ornithes; Latin: ) 414 BC
  • Lysistrata
    Lysistrata
    Lysistrata is one of eleven surviving plays written by Aristophanes. Originally performed in classical Athens in 411 BC, it is a comic account of one woman's extraordinary mission to end The Peloponnesian War...

    ( Lysistrate) 411 BC
  • Thesmophoriazusae
    Thesmophoriazusae
    Thesmophoriazusae is one of eleven surviving plays by the master of Old Comedy, the Athenian playwright Aristophanes. It was first produced in 411 BC, probably at the City Dionysia...

    or The Women Celebrating the Thesmophoria ( Thesmophoriazousai) first version c.411 BC
  • The Frogs
    The Frogs
    The Frogs is a comedy written by the Ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes. It was performed at the Lenaia, one of the Festivals of Dionysus, in 405 BC, and received first place.-Plot:...

    ( Batrakhoi; Latin: ) 405 BC
  • Ecclesiazusae
    Assemblywomen
    Aristophanes' Ecclesiazusae is a play dating from 391 BCE which is similar in theme to Lysistrata in that a large portion of the comedy comes from women involving themselves in politics...

    or The Assemblywomen; ( Ekklesiazousai) c. 392 BC
  • Wealth
    Plutus (play)
    Plutus is an Ancient Greek comedy by the playwrightAristophanes, first produced c. 388 BC. A political satire on contemporary Athens, it features the personified god of wealth Plutus...

    ( Ploutos; Latin Plutus
    Plutus (play)
    Plutus is an Ancient Greek comedy by the playwrightAristophanes, first produced c. 388 BC. A political satire on contemporary Athens, it features the personified god of wealth Plutus...

    ) second version, 388 BC

Datable non-surviving (lost) plays


The standard modern edition of the fragments is Kassel-Austin, Poetae Comici Graeci III.2.
  • Banqueters (427 BC)
  • Babylonians (426 BC)
  • Farmers (424 BC)
  • Merchant Ships (423 BC)
  • Clouds
    The Clouds
    The Clouds is a comedy written by the celebrated playwright Aristophanes lampooning intellectual fashions in classical Athens. It was originally produced at the City Dionysia in 423 BC and it was not well received, coming last of the three plays competing at the festival that year. It was revised...

    (first version) (423 BC)
  • Proagon (422 BC)
  • Amphiaraos (414 BC)
  • Plutus
    Plutus (play)
    Plutus is an Ancient Greek comedy by the playwrightAristophanes, first produced c. 388 BC. A political satire on contemporary Athens, it features the personified god of wealth Plutus...

    (Wealth, first version, 408 BC)
  • Gerytades (uncertain, probably 407 BC)
  • Kokalos (387 BC)
  • Aiolosikon (second version, 386 BC)

Undated non-surviving (lost) plays

  • Aiolosikon (first version)
  • Anagyros
  • Frying-Pan Men
  • Daidalos
  • Danaids
  • Centaur
  • Heroes
  • Lemnian Women
  • Old Age
  • Peace (second version)
  • Phoenician Women
  • Polyidos
  • Seasons
  • Storks
  • Telemessians
  • Triphales
  • Thesmophoriazusae
    Thesmophoriazusae
    Thesmophoriazusae is one of eleven surviving plays by the master of Old Comedy, the Athenian playwright Aristophanes. It was first produced in 411 BC, probably at the City Dionysia...

    (Women at the Thesmophoria Festival, second version)
  • Women in Tents

Attributed (doubtful, possibly by Archippos)

  • Dionysos Shipwrecked
  • Islands
  • Niobos
  • Poetry

See also

  • Agathon
    Agathon
    Agathon was an Athenian tragic poet whose works, up to the present moment, have been lost. He is best known for his appearance in Plato's Symposium, which describes the banquet given to celebrate his obtaining a prize for his first tragedy at the Lenaia in . He is also a prominent character in...

  • Asteroid 2934 Aristophanes
    2934 Aristophanes
    2934 Aristophanes is a small main belt asteroid, which was discovered by Cornelis Johannes van Houten, Ingrid van Houten-Groeneveld and Tom Gehrels in 1960. It is named after Aristophanes, the ancient Greek comic dramatist....

    , named after the dramatist
  • Greek literature
    Greek literature
    Greek literature refers to writings composed in areas of Greek influence, typically though not necessarily in one of the Greek dialects, throughout the whole period in which the Greek-speaking people have existed.-Ancient Greek literature :...

  • Onomasti komodein
    Onomastì komodèin
    Onomasti komodein was an expression used in Ancient Greece to denote a witty personal attack made with total freedom against the most notable individuals in order to expose their wrongful conduct....

    , the witty personal attack made with total freedom against the most notable individuals
  • Hubert Parry
    Hubert Parry
    Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry, 1st Baronet was an English composer, teacher and historian of music.Parry's first major works appeared in 1880. As a composer he is best known for the choral song "Jerusalem", the coronation anthem "I was glad" and the hymn tune "Repton", which sets the words...

     wrote music for The Birds
  • Theatre of ancient Greece
    Theatre of Ancient Greece
    The theatre of Ancient Greece, or ancient Greek drama, is a theatrical culture that flourished in ancient Greece between c. 550 and c. 220 BC. The city-state of Athens, which became a significant cultural, political and military power during this period, was its centre, where it was...


Further reading


External links