Aristophanes (~-446 - ~-386)

Aristophanes Aristophanes, son of Phillip, was a poet from Athens who wrote 46 satirical plays, 11 of which have survived in their entirety. Along with Eupolis and Kratinos, he is one of the most important representatives of ancient Athenian comedy that is called “Old Comedy”.

Very little is known for the life of Aristophanes and most of it comes from his comedies. Therefore, this information should be used with caution. He was born in Athens around 445 BC and died some time before 380 BC. He grew up in Athens, during an era that was dominated by the great politician Pericles; an era of prosperity in all levels; and during which there was peace with both Sparta and Persia. This period ended with the start of the Peloponnesian War in 431 BC and that lasted for thirty years.

His father, Phillip, was a true born Athenian; therefore his son was also considered true born. He married young and had three sons, Phillip, Nikostratos and Araros. The latter also wrote comedies and it was under his name that Aristophanes created his last two comedies. In total, Aristophanes received 10 grand prizes in theatrical contests. Through his plays, it is evident that he had received a high level of education and that he had studied the plays of earlier poets. He was also witty, had a sense of humour, and boldly satirized the demagogues, the sophists and the governors of Athens.

He probably won his first grand prize in 426 BC, during the Great Dionysia, with his play “Babylonians”. His best play is considered to be “The Birds” (Ornithes); it was staged in 414 BC, also during the Great Dionysia, and it dealt with the actions of politicians and the army, without referring to contemporary issues in Athens; instead, it tried to describe a utopia and at the same time, prove that it is destined to fail. However, his best known play is “Lysistrate”, staged in 411 BC. The homonymous protagonist manages to convince Athenian and Spartan women to stop all sexual activities with their husbands, in order to end the war. Although the target is noble, to stop a war, the Spartans accept only if the Athenians denounce democracy, something that Aristophanes longed for.

The art of tragedy stopped developing after the death of the great dramatists Sophocles and Euripides, around the end of the Peloponnesian War. However, comedy continued to develop after the defeat of Athens, possibly because Aristophanes was there to advance it to the new era. This is evident in his later works, which can be classified as “Middle Comedy” or “New Comedy”. Aristophanes was probably aware that it was him that should help in the advancement of comedy, indicated by notions in his work. The legacy Aristophanes left is immense, as is his influence on many writers, especially British satirists of the 17th and 18th century.

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