Aristophanes (c.448 B.C.–c.388 B.C), Greek playwright and comic poet, whose surviving plays are the only extant examples of Greek Old Comedy. Exact details of his birthplace and life are not known, but most likely he was educated in and lived in Athens. Besides his many dramatic works, much poetry is attributed to him.
The eleven surviving plays by Aristophanes are: (Greek, then Latin titles are given in brackets. Dates are approximate):
The Acharnians (Akharneis; Acharnenses), 425 BC;
The Knights (Hippeis; Equites), 424 BC;
The Clouds (Nephelai; Nubes), 423 BC;
The Wasps (Sphekes; Vespae), 422 BC;
Peace (Eirene; Pax) 421 BC;
The Birds (Ornithes; Aves) 414 BC;
Lysistrata (Lysistrate, 411 BC;
Thesmophoriazusae or, The Women Celebrating the Thesmophoria (Thesmophoriazousai), 411 BC;
The Frogs (Batrakhoi; Ranae) 405 BC;
Ecclesiazusae or, The Assemblywomen (Ekklesiazousai) 392 BC;
Wealth (Ploutos; Plutus) 388 BC.
Many of Aristophane's rollicking comedies were written for and performed during the religious festivals Dionysia and Lenea. The Acharnians (425) was one of many to win him first prize. The Knights (424), with Aristophanes himself acting as Cleon, is a controversial and unapologetic attack of the demagogue Cleon. The Clouds (423) critical of the Sophists, contains the famous scene of the Just and the Unjust argument, the cloud-maidens representative of metaphysical meanderings. It was followed by Peace (421).
Inspired by the Peloponnesian War, The Birds (414) features the elaborately feathered Pisthetairos and Euelpides, who contrive to create Cloud-cuckoo-town amongst various bawdy and sardonic criticisms of religion, law, and education. Lysistrata (411) leads the women in barricading the Akropolis, and they withhold their affections to their men until they stop making war. Speaking to the Magistrate of the women left behind after the deaths of their husbands and lovers she states;
"Grey though he be when he comes from the battlefield, still if he wishes to marry, he can. Brief is the spring and the flower of our womanhood, once let it slip, and it comes not again; Sit as we may with our spells and our auguries, never a husband will marry us then."
In The Frogs (405), the Greek God Dionysus, accompanied by his servant Xanthias, travels to the underworld.. "And tell me this: of all the roads you know, which is the quickest way to get to Hades? I want one not too warm, nor yet too cold." to oversee a contest between Euripides and Æschylus. The Ecclesiazusae, or The Women in Politics (c.392) again features women involving themselves in politics and democratic process. Plutus (388) is a politicized satire of the very people who would have seen its production, the wealthy and aristocratic, and features the bumbling Chremylos and his slave Cario.
Aristophanes captured the spirit of the Republic in decline.. the debauchery, the corruption, the wars, and the human foibles, often in outlandish exaggerated detail. Even in the 21st century his profound influence on the arts is evident in the numerous theatrical and screen adaptations of his works.
Biography written by C.D. Merriman for Jalic Inc. Copyright Jalic Inc. 2006. All Rights Reserved.
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