at the College of William & Mary.
Aristophanes was a celebrated poet, satirist, and comic playwright who lived in ancient Athens during the latter half its Golden Age and the commencement of the Peloponnesian War. Little is known about Aristophanes’s life except from what is written in his plays and from Plato’s dialogs which make reference to him. From Aristophane's play Clouds, it is inferred that he was born in the township of Cydathenaeum near Athens around 450 B.C. at a time when Pericles was expanding Athens from a polis into an empire. In The Symposium, Plato features Aristophanes as one of many famous guests who gather at the home of Agathon the poet. He is portrayed as a jokester who is hung over from the previous evening and delights other guests with his sharp wit as well as his hiccups and sneezes. Yet it is clear that Plato held Aristophanes in high esteem. When Dionysius, the tyrant of Syracuse asked Plato for information regarding the culture and political institutions of Athens, Plato is said to have sent him Aristophanes's comedies.
Aristophanes is believed to have come from a wealthy family and to have raised three children, all of whom were to become comic poets themselves and direct their father's plays. His work also suggests that Aristophanes was a conservative, as were many of his contemporaries during the Athenian Golden Age. Among the frequent targets of Aristophane's satire and criticism included Socrates, who he considered to be a sophist, and the military leader and politician Cleon, who he dubbed a warmonger and demagogue. Although Cleon was never explicitly named in any of Aristophane's plays, the unmistakable allusions led Cleon to bring an unsuccessful lawsuit against him. Aristophanes retired to the Athenian island of Aeginus towards the end of his life and died there in 380 BC.
Eleven of the forty plays attributed to Aristophanes exist today. The surviving comedies are: The Acharnians (425 BC), The Knights (424 BC), The Clouds (419 BC - 416 BC), The Wasps (422 BC), Peace (421 BC), The Birds (414 BC), Lysistrata (411 BC), Thesmophoriazusae (411 BC), The Frogs (405 BC), Ecclesiazusae (392 BC), and Wealth (388 BC). Nine of Aristophane's plays were written during the Peloponnesian War and their plots are grounded in the real battles and political strife that took place between Aristophanes's beloved Athens and its oligarchic rival, Sparta. His comedies were written to enter into competition at one of the two great Athenian theatrical festivals, the Dionysia and the Lenaia. As such, they followed a standard format used for all comedies: prologue, parodos (the entrance of the actors), agon (the contest, conflict, or debate), parabasis (a speech in song performed by the chorus), episodes (the narrative), agon II, parabasis II, and the exodos. Unlike the popular tragedies that were featured at the time, the plots of Aristophanes's comedies were not based on mythology. In most of his plays, a male hero is the subject of an extravagant and often illogical plot related to themes such as the decline of Athens, the naivety of the populous, and the perils of democracy.
Evidence for Inclusion in Wythe's Library
- Aliprandini, Michael. "Aristophanes." Aristophanes (January 2009): 1. MasterFILE Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed May 29, 2015).
- Spatz, Lois. Aristophanes’ Comedy and the World of Athens. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1978, 15-16.
- Aliprandini, Aristophanes.
- Spatz, Aristophanes’ Comedy.
- Aliprandini, Aristophanes.,
- Russo, Carlo Ferdinando. Aristophanes : An Author for the Stage. London: Routledge, 2002, 5. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed May 29, 2015).
- Aliprandini, Aristophanes.