Aristophanes (Ἀριστοφάνης, in English, ca. 446 BC – ca. 386 BC), son of Philippus, was a Greek Old Comic dramatist. He is also known as the Father of Comedy and the Prince of Ancient Comedy.


The place and exact date of Aristophanes' birth are unknown, but he was clearly a relatively young man in 427 BC when his Banqueters took second place in the Theater of Dionysus. His family was from the deme of Kudathenaion (the same as that of the Athenian statesman Cleon, who rose to prominence after the death of Pericles). Aristophanes was born into a poor unknown family.. He's thought to have written forty to forty-four plays, eleven of which survive, which were performed at the City Dionysia and the Lenaia festivals. These plays are the only surviving complete examples of Old Attic Comedy, although extensive fragments of the work of his rough contemporaries Cratinus and Eupolis survive. Many of Aristophanes' plays have substantial political content, and often satirized well-known citizens of Athens and their conduct in the Peloponnesian War and after. Hints in the text, supported by marginal comments by ancient scholars, suggest that he was prosecuted several times by Cleon, whom he repeatedly insults in his plays, for defaming Athens in the presence of foreigners and the like; how much truth there is to this is impossible to say. The Frogs was given the unprecedented honor of a second performance. According to a later biographer, Aristophanes was also awarded a civic crown for the play.

Aristophanes was probably victorious at least once at the City Dionysia, with Babylonians in 427 (IG II2 2325. 58), and at least three times at the Lenaia, with Acharnians in 425, Knights in 424, and Frogs in 405. His sons Araros, Philippos, and Nicostratos were also comic poets: Araros is said to have been heavily involved in the production of Wealth II in 388 (test. 1. 54–6) and to have been responsible for the posthumous performances of Aeolosicon II and Cocalus (Cocalus test. iii), with which he seems to have taken the prize at the City Dionysia in 387 (IG II2 2318. 196), while Philippus was twice victorious at the Lenaia (IG II2 2325. 140) and apparently produced some of Eubulus’ comedies (Eub. test. 4). (Aristophanes’ third son is sometimes said to have been called not Nicostratos but Philetaerus, and a man by that name appears in the catalogue of Lenaia victors with two victories, the first probably in the late 370s, at IG II2 2325. 143 (just after Anaxandrides and just before Eubulus).)

Aristophanes appears as a character in Plato's Symposium, offering an elaborate and ribald a myth to explain the origins of Love. Plato wrote the dialogue a generation or so after the events it portrays. It may perhaps be understood as his effort to show that Socrates and Aristophanes were not in fact enemies. This, in turn, would support a very pointed satirical interpretation of Clouds (original production 423 BCE): viz., Aristophanes, on this view, really sought to reduce to absurdity the prejudices against his friend Socrates. The Symposium is a remarkable achievement but many doubt that it captures the no doubt complex relationships of Socrates and Aristophanes..

Of the other surviving plays, Clouds resulted in a humiliating third place or lower at the City Dionysia (cf. the parabasis of the revised (preserved) version of the play, and the parabasis of the following year's Wasps). The play satirizes the sophistic learning en vogue in Athens at the time. Socrates is the principal target and emerges as a typical Sophist; in Plato's Apology at 18d, the character Socrates suggests that it was the foundation of the charges that ultimately led to his conviction in the Athenian lawcourts and execution in 399. Perhaps the poet's other best-known play today is Lysistrata, written in the final decade of the Peloponnesian War, in which Athens and its allies fought against Sparta and the Peloponnesian League. The play argues not so much for pacifism as for the idea that the two leading states ought not be fighting one another at this point but combining to rule Greece. This is accomplished when the women of the two sides deprive their husbands of sex until they stop fighting. Lysistrata was later illustrated at length by Pablo Picasso and Aubrey Beardsley.


Surviving plays

  • The Acharnians (Ἀχαρνεῖς Acharneis, Latin: Acharnenses) (425 BC)
  • The Knights (Ἱππεῖς Hippeis Latin: Equites) (424 BC)
  • The Clouds (Νεφέλαι Nephelai Latin: Nubes) (original 423 BC, uncompleted revised version from 419 BC – 416 BC survives)
  • The Wasps (Σφήκες Sphekes Latin: Vespae) (422 BC)
  • Peace (Εἰρήνη Eirene Latin: Pax) (first version, 421 BC)
  • The Birds (Ὄρνιθες Ornithes Latin: Aves) (414 BC)
  • Lysistrata (Λυσιστράτη) (411 BC)
  • Thesmophoriazusae or The Women Celebrating the Thesmophoria (Θεσμοφοριάζουσαι (first version, c. 411 BC)
  • The Frogs (Βάτραχοι Batrachoi Latin: Ranae) (405 BC)
  • Ecclesiazusae or The Assemblywomen (Ἐκκλησιάζουσαι) (c. 392 BC)
  • Plutus or Wealth (Πλοῦτος) (second version, 388 BC)

Datable non-surviving (lost) plays

The standard modern edition of the fragments is Kassel-Austin, Poetae Comici Graeci III.2; Kock-numbers are now outdated and should not be used.

  • Banqueters (427 BC)
  • Babylonians (426 BC)
  • Farmers (424 BC)
  • Merchant Ships (423 BC)
  • Clouds (first version) (423 BC)
  • Proagon (422 BC)
  • Amphiaraos (414 BC)
  • 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 (Women at the Thesmophoria Festival, second version)
  • Women in Tents Attributed (doubtful, possibly by Archippos)
  • Dionysos Shipwrecked
  • Islands
  • Niobos
  • Poetry

Aristophanes in fiction

  • Acropolis Now (radio) - this 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, and most frequently The Clouds, is mentioned frequently by the character Menedemos in the Hellenic Traders series of novels by H N Turteltaub.
  • Aristophanes Against the World was a radio play by Martyn Wade and broadcast on BBC Radio 4. Loosely based on several of his plays, it featured Clive Merrison as Aristophanes.
  • In The Odd Couple, Oscar and Felix are on Password, and when the password is bird, Felix’s clue is Aristophanes because he wrote a play called The Birds. 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!’
  • Aristophanes was also featured in "The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior" as a main character.

See also


Further reading

* reviewed by W.J. Slater, Phoenix, Vol. 30, No. 3 (Autumn, 1976), pp. 291-293 doi:10.2307/1087300

  • Platter, Charles. Aristophanes and the Carnival of Genres (Arethusa Books). Baltimore, MD; London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006 (hardcover, ISBN 0-8018-8527-2).
  • Lee, Jae Num. "Scatology in Continental Satirical Writings from Aristophanes to Rabelais" and "English Scatological Writings from Skelton to Pope." Swift and Scatological Satire. Albuquerque: U of New Mexico P, 1971. 7-22; 23-53.
  • Aristophanes and the Comic Hero by Cedric H. Whitman Author(s) of Review: H. Lloyd Stow The American Journal of Philology, Vol. 87, No. 1 (Jan., 1966), pp. 111-113
  • G. M. Sifakis The Structure of Aristophanic Comedy The Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol. 112, 1992 (1992), pp. 123-142 doi:10.2307/632156

External links

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