ARISTOPHANES (c. 448-385
literary activity of the famous Greek comedy writer, Aristophanes,
covered a period of forty years. During that time the telling
satire of his pen was brought to bear alike on prominent men,
political trends, and social foibles. Of the forty plays known
to be genuine products of his genius eleven remain for posterity.
But these easily prove that for wit, rollicking humor, invention,
and skill in the use of language Aristophanes has never been
Of the poet's life we know very little.
Even the place of his birth is in doubt. His family, however,
evidently had some wealth for the poet's education was obviously
one of the best. In politics he supported the aristocratic peace
party with all the force of an impetuous nature.
Classical commentators have divided the
work of Aristophanes into three periods. The first period ended
about 421 B.C. and included two of his lost plays as well as
five of the surviving ones. For some reason Aristophanes' first
three plays were brought out under the name of one of his actors.
They included the two lost plays, The Banqueters and The
Babylonians, and the prize-winning Acharnians.
The Knights, which
won first prize in 424 B.C., was brought out under the author's
own name. It contained a sharp attack on the demagogue, Cleon,
and, because no actor was willing to incur the enmity of so powerful
a person, Aristophanes had to play the part of Cleon himself.
Clouds (423 B.C.) contains
the famous dialogue scene between the Just and the Unjust argument.
The Wasps (422
B.C.) ridiculed the regular courts of justice. The
Peace (421 B.C.) was written in the interests of the
recently concluded peace between Athens and Sparta.
During the seven years that passed before
Aristophanes exhibited another play, a law had been passed to
check political satire. In the second group, beginning with The Birds (414 B.C.) he
turned to social satire and ridiculed the fondness of the Athenians
for litigation. Lysistrata
(411 B.C.) represents a woman's efforts to bring about peace,
of the same year contains an attack on Euripides.
Frogs, which started the third
period in 405 B.C., was devoted to literary and dramatic criticism.
Ecclesiazusae (Women in
Parliament) was a satire on current communistic ideas. The
local character of the plays of the first period had by the third
period given way to a cosmopolitanism that marks Aristophanes
as the transition-link between what is termed "Old
Comedy" and the "Middle"
Comedy" of Greece.
This article was originally
published in Minute History of the Drama. Alice B. Fort
& Herbert S. Kates. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1935.