Last updated

Bust of Aristophanes.jpg
Bornc. 446 BC
Diedc. 386 BC (aged c. 60)
OccupationPlaywright (comedy)
Years active427 BC – 386 BC
Known forPlaywright and director of Old Comedy
Notable work
Although many artists' renderings of Aristophanes portray him with flowing curly hair, several jests in his plays indicate that he may have been prematurely bald. [1]

Aristophanes ( /ˌærɪˈstɒfənz/ ; [2] Ancient Greek : Ἀριστοφάνης, pronounced  [aristopʰánɛːs] ; c. 446 – c. 386 BC), son of Philippus, of the deme Kydathenaion (Latin : Cydathenaeum), [3] was a comic playwright or comedy-writer of ancient Athens and a poet of Old Attic Comedy. [4] Eleven of his forty plays survive virtually complete. These provide the most valuable examples of a genre of comic drama known as Old Comedy and are used to define it, along with fragments from dozens of lost plays by Aristophanes and his contemporaries. [5]


Also known as "The Father of Comedy" [6] and "the Prince of Ancient Comedy", [7] Aristophanes has been said to recreate the life of ancient Athens more convincingly than any other author. [8] His powers of ridicule were feared and acknowledged by influential contemporaries; Plato [9] [10] singled out Aristophanes' play The Clouds as slander that contributed to the trial and subsequent condemning to death of Socrates, although other satirical playwrights [11] had also caricatured the philosopher.

Aristophanes' second play, The Babylonians (now lost), was denounced by Cleon as a slander against the Athenian polis . It is possible that the case was argued in court, but details of the trial are not recorded and Aristophanes caricatured Cleon mercilessly in his subsequent plays, especially The Knights , the first of many plays that he directed himself. "In my opinion," he says through that play's Chorus, "the author-director of comedies has the hardest job of all." [12]


Theatre of Dionysus, Athens -- in Aristophanes' time, the audience probably sat on wooden benches with earth foundations. Ehrentribuene Dionysostheater Athen.jpg
Theatre of Dionysus, Athens — in Aristophanes' time, the audience probably sat on wooden benches with earth foundations.

Less is known about Aristophanes than about his plays. In fact, his plays are the main source of information about him and his life. It was conventional in Old Comedy for the Chorus to speak on behalf of the author during an address called the parabasis and thus some biographical facts can be found there. However, these facts relate almost entirely to his career as a dramatist and the plays contain few clear and unambiguous clues about his personal beliefs or his private life. [14] He was a comic poet in an age when it was conventional for a poet to assume the role of teacher (didaskalos), and though this specifically referred to his training of the Chorus in rehearsal, it also covered his relationship with the audience as a commentator on significant issues. [15]

Aristophanes claimed to be writing for a clever and discerning audience, [16] yet he also declared that "other times" would judge the audience according to its reception of his plays. [17] He sometimes boasts of his originality as a dramatist [18] yet his plays consistently espouse opposition to radical new influences in Athenian society. He caricatured leading figures in the arts (notably Euripides, whose influence on his own work however he once grudgingly acknowledged), [19] in politics (especially the populist Cleon), and in philosophy/religion (where Socrates was the most obvious target). Such caricatures seem to imply that Aristophanes was an old-fashioned conservative, yet that view of him leads to contradictions. [20]

It has been argued that Aristophanes produced plays mainly to entertain the audience and to win prestigious competitions. [21] His plays were written for production at the great dramatic festivals of Athens, the Lenaia and City Dionysia, where they were judged and awarded prizes in competition with the works of other comic dramatists. An elaborate series of lotteries, designed to prevent prejudice and corruption, reduced the voting judges at the City Dionysia to just five. These judges probably reflected the mood of the audiences [22] yet there is much uncertainty about the composition of those audiences. [23] The theatres were certainly huge, with seating for at least 10,000 at the Theatre of Dionysus. The day's program at the City Dionysia for example was crowded, with three tragedies and a satyr play ahead of a comedy, but it is possible that many of the poorer citizens (typically the main supporters of demagogues like Cleon) occupied the festival holiday with other pursuits. The conservative views expressed in the plays might therefore reflect the attitudes of the dominant group in an unrepresentative audience.

The production process might also have influenced the views expressed in the plays. Throughout most of Aristophanes' career, the Chorus was essential to a play's success and it was recruited and funded by a choregus , a wealthy citizen appointed to the task by one of the archons. A choregus could regard his personal expenditure on the Chorus as a civic duty and a public honour, but Aristophanes showed in The Knights that wealthy citizens might regard civic responsibilities as punishment imposed on them by demagogues and populists like Cleon. [24] Thus the political conservatism of the plays may reflect the views of the wealthiest section of Athenian society, on whose generosity all dramatists depended for putting on their plays. [25]

When Aristophanes' first play The Banqueters was produced, Athens was an ambitious, imperial power and the Peloponnesian War was only in its fourth year. His plays often express pride in the achievement of the older generation (the victors at Marathon) [26] [27] yet they are not jingoistic, and they are staunchly opposed to the war with Sparta. The plays are particularly scathing in criticism of war profiteers, among whom populists such as Cleon figure prominently. By the time his last play was produced (around 386 BC) Athens had been defeated in war, its empire had been dismantled and it had undergone a transformation from being the political to the intellectual centre of Greece. [28] Aristophanes was part of this transformation and he shared in the intellectual fashions of the period—the structure of his plays evolves from Old Comedy until, in his last surviving play, Wealth II , it more closely resembles New Comedy. However it is uncertain whether he led or merely responded to changes in audience expectations. [29]

Aristophanes won second prize at the City Dionysia in 427 BC with his first play The Banqueters (now lost). He won first prize there with his next play, The Babylonians (also now lost). It was usual for foreign dignitaries to attend the City Dionysia, and The Babylonians caused some embarrassment for the Athenian authorities since it depicted the cities of the Delian League as slaves grinding at a mill. [30] Some influential citizens, notably Cleon, reviled the play as slander against the polis and possibly took legal action against the author. The details of the trial are unrecorded but, speaking through the hero of his third play The Acharnians (staged at the Lenaia, where there were few or no foreign dignitaries), the poet carefully distinguishes between the polis and the real targets of his acerbic wit:

ἡμῶν γὰρ ἄνδρες, κοὐχὶ τὴν πόλιν λέγω,
μέμνησθε τοῦθ᾽ ὅτι οὐχὶ τὴν πόλιν λέγω,
ἀλλ᾽ ἀνδράρια μοχθηρά, παρακεκομμένα...

People among us, and I don't mean the polis,
Remember this — I don't mean the polis -
But wicked little men of a counterfeit kind....

Aristophanes repeatedly savages Cleon in his later plays. But these satirical diatribes appear to have had no effect on Cleon's political career—a few weeks after the performance of The Knights—a play full of anti-Cleon jokes—Cleon was elected to the prestigious board of ten generals. [32] Cleon also seems to have had no real power to limit or control Aristophanes: the caricatures of him continued up to and even beyond his death.

In the absence of clear biographical facts about Aristophanes, scholars make educated guesses based on interpretation of the language in the plays. Inscriptions and summaries or comments by Hellenistic and Byzantine scholars can also provide useful clues. We know however from a combination of these sources, [33] and especially from comments in The Knights [34] and The Clouds, [35] that Aristophanes' first three plays were not directed by him—they were instead directed by Callistratus and Philoneides, [36] an arrangement that seemed to suit Aristophanes since he appears to have used these same directors in many later plays as well (Philoneides for example later directed The Frogs and he was also credited, perhaps wrongly, with directing The Wasps.) [37] Aristophanes's use of directors complicates our reliance on the plays as sources of biographical information because apparent self-references might have been made with reference to his directors instead. Thus for example a statement by the chorus in The Acharnians [38] seems to indicate that the "poet" had a close, personal association with the island of Aegina, yet the terms "poet" (ποιητής) and "director" (διδάσκαλος) are often interchangeable as dramatic poets usually directed their own plays and therefore the reference in the play could be either to Aristophanes or Callistratus. Similarly, the hero in The Acharnians complains about Cleon "dragging me into court" over "last year's play" [39] but here again it is not clear if this was said in reference to Aristophanes or Callistratus, either of whom might have been prosecuted by Cleon. [40]

Comments made by the Chorus referring to Aristophanes in The Clouds [41] have been interpreted as evidence that he can hardly have been more than 18 years old when his first play The Banqueters was produced. [42] The second parabasis in Wasps [43] appears to indicate that he reached some kind of temporary accommodation with Cleon following either the controversy over The Babylonians or a subsequent controversy over The Knights. [44] It has been inferred [1] from statements in The Clouds and Peace that Aristophanes was prematurely bald. [45]

We know that Aristophanes was probably victorious at least once at the City Dionysia (with Babylonians in 427) [46] and at least three times at the Lenaia, with The Acharnians in 425, Knights in 424, and Frogs in 405. Frogs in fact won the unique distinction of a repeat performance at a subsequent festival. We know that a son of Aristophanes, Araros, was also a comic poet and he could have been heavily involved in the production of his father's play Wealth II in 388. [47] Araros is also thought to have been responsible for the posthumous performances of the now lost plays Aeolosicon II and Cocalus, [48] and it is possible that the last of these won the prize at the City Dionysia in 387. [49] It appears that a second son, Philippus, was twice victorious at the Lenaia [50] and he could have directed some of Eubulus’ comedies. [51] A third son was called either Nicostratus or Philetaerus, [52] and a man by the latter name appears in the catalogue of Lenaia victors with two victories, the first probably in the late 370s. [53]

Plato's The Symposium appears to be a useful source of biographical information about Aristophanes, but its reliability is open to doubt. [54] It purports to be a record of conversations at a dinner party at which both Aristophanes and Socrates are guests, held some seven years after the performance of The Clouds, the play in which Socrates was cruelly caricatured. One of the guests, Alcibiades, even quotes from the play when teasing Socrates over his appearance [55] and yet there is no indication of any ill-feeling between Socrates and Aristophanes. Plato's Aristophanes is in fact a genial character and this has been interpreted as evidence of Plato's own friendship with him [56] (their friendship appears to be corroborated by an epitaph for Aristophanes, reputedly written by Plato, in which the playwright's soul is compared to an eternal shrine for the Graces). [57] Plato was only a boy when the events in The Symposium are supposed to have occurred and it is possible that his Aristophanes is in fact based on a reading of the plays. For example, conversation among the guests turns to the subject of Love and Aristophanes explains his notion of it in terms of an amusing allegory, a device he often uses in his plays. He is represented as suffering an attack of hiccoughs and this might be a humorous reference to the crude physical jokes in his plays. He tells the other guests that he is quite happy to be thought amusing but he is wary of appearing ridiculous. [58] [59] This fear of being ridiculed is consistent with his declaration in The Knights that he embarked on the career of comic playwright warily after witnessing the public contempt and ridicule that other dramatists had incurred. [60]

Aristophanes survived The Peloponnesian War, two oligarchic revolutions and two democratic restorations; this has been interpreted as evidence that he was not actively involved in politics despite his highly political plays. [61] He was probably appointed to the Council of Five Hundred for a year at the beginning of the fourth century but such appointments were very common in democratic Athens. [62] Socrates, in the trial leading up to his own death, put the issue of a personal conscience in those troubled times quite succinctly:

ἀναγκαῖόν ἐστι τὸν τῷ ὄντι μαχούμενον ὑπὲρ τοῦ δικαίου, καὶ εἰ μέλλει ὀλίγον χρόνον σωθήσεσθαι, ἰδιωτεύειν ἀλλὰ μὴ δημοσιεύειν. [63]
"...he who will really fight for the right, if he would live even for a little while, must have a private station and not a public one. [64]


Muse reading, Louvre Muse reading Louvre CA2220.jpg
Muse reading, Louvre

The language of Aristophanes' plays, and in Old Comedy generally, was valued by ancient commentators as a model of the Attic dialect. The orator Quintilian believed that the charm and grandeur of the Attic dialect made Old Comedy an example for orators to study and follow, and he considered it inferior in these respects only to the works of Homer. [65] [66] A revival of interest in the Attic dialect may have been responsible for the recovery and circulation of Aristophanes' plays during the 4th and 5th centuries AD, resulting in their survival today. [65] In Aristophanes' plays, the Attic dialect is couched in verse and his plays can be appreciated for their poetic qualities.

For Aristophanes' contemporaries the works of Homer and Hesiod formed the cornerstones of Hellenic history and culture. Thus poetry had a moral and social significance that made it an inevitable topic of comic satire. [67] Aristophanes was very conscious of literary fashions and traditions and his plays feature numerous references to other poets. These include not only rival comic dramatists such as Eupolis and Hermippus [68] and predecessors such as Magnes, Crates and Cratinus, [69] but also tragedians, notably Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, all three of whom are mentioned in e.g. The Frogs. Aristophanes was the equal of these great tragedians in his subtle use of lyrics. [70] He appears to have modelled his approach to language on that of Euripides in particular, so much so that the comic dramatist Cratinus labelled him a 'Euripidaristophanist' addicted to hair-splitting niceties. [19]

A full appreciation of Aristophanes' plays requires an understanding of the poetic forms he employed with virtuoso skill, and of their different rhythms and associations. [71] There were three broad poetic forms: iambic dialogue, tetrameter verses and lyrics: [72]

How many are the things that vex my heart!
Pleasures are few, so very few — just four -
But stressful things are manysandthousandsandheaps! [75]
Here Aristophanes employs a frequent device, arranging the syntax so that the final word in a line comes as a comic climax. [76] The hero's pleasures are so few he can number them (τέτταρα, four) but his causes for complaint are so many they beggar numerical description and he must invent his own word for them (ψαμμακοσιογάργαρα, literally "sandhundredheaps", here paraphrased "manysandthousandsandheaps"). The use of invented compound words is another comic device frequently found in the plays. [77] [78]
Anapestic rhythms are naturally jaunty (as in many limericks) and trochaic meter is suited to rapid delivery (the word "trochee" is in fact derived from trechein, "to run", as demonstrated for example by choruses who enter at speed, often in aggressive mood) [79] However, even though both these rhythms can seem to "bowl along" [73] Aristophanes often varies them through use of complex syntax and substituted meters, adapting the rhythms to the requirements of serious argument. In an anapestic passage in The Frogs, for instance, the character Aeschylus presents a view of poetry that is supposed to be serious but which leads to a comic interruption by the god, Dionysus:
AES.:It was Orpheus singing who taught us religion and how wrong people are when they kill,
And we learned from Musaeus medicinal cures and the science of divination.
If it's farming you want, Hesiod knows it all, when to plant, when to harvest. How godlike
Homer got to be famous, I'll tell if you ask: he taught us what all good men should know,
Discipline, fortitude, battle-readiness. DIO.: But no-one taught Pantocles — yesterday
He was marching his men up and down on parade when the crest of his helmet fell off! [80]

The rhythm begins at a typical anapestic gallop, slows down to consider the revered poets Hesiod and Homer, then gallops off again to its comic conclusion at the expense of the unfortunate Pantocles. Such subtle variations in rhythm are common in the plays, allowing for serious points to be made while still whetting the audience's appetite for the next joke.

Though to myself I often seem
A bright chap and not awkward,
None comes close to Amynias,
Son of Sellos of the Bigwig
Clan, a man I once saw
Dine with rich Leogorus.
Now as poor as Antiphon,
He lives on apples and pomegranates
Yet he got himself appointed
Ambassador to Pharsalus,
Way up there in Thessaly,
Home of the poor Penestes:
Happy to be where everyone
Is as penniless as he is!<ref>MacDowell (1978), Wikisource: lines 1265–74</ref>

The pun here in English translation (Penestes-penniless) is a weak version of the Greek pun Πενέσταισι-πενέστης, Penéstaisi-penéstĕs, "destitute". Many of the puns in the plays are based on words that are similar rather than identical, and it has been observed that there could be more of them than scholars have yet been able to identify. [83] Others are based on double meanings. Sometimes entire scenes are constructed on puns, as in The Acharnians with the Megarian farmer and his pigs: [84] the Megarian farmer defies the Athenian embargo against Megarian trade, and tries to trade his daughters disguised as pigs, except "pig" was ancient slang for "vagina". Since the embargo against Megara was the pretext for the Peloponnesian War, Aristophanes naturally concludes that this whole mess happened because of "three cunts".

It can be argued that the most important feature of the language of the plays is imagery, particularly the use of similes, metaphors and pictorial expressions. [76] In The Knights, for example, the ears of a character with selective hearing are represented as parasols that open and close. [85] In The Frogs, Aeschylus is said to compose verses in the manner of a horse rolling in a sandpit. [86] Some plays feature revelations of human perfectibility that are poetic rather than religious in character, such as the marriage of the hero Pisthetairos to Zeus's paramour in The Birds and the "recreation" of old Athens, crowned with roses, at the end of The Knights.


It is widely believed that Aristophanes condemned rhetoric on both moral and political grounds. He states, "a speaker trained in the new rhetoric may use his talents to deceive the jury and bewilder his opponents so thoroughly that the trial loses all semblance of fairness" [87] He is speaking to the "art" of flattery, and evidence points towards the fact that many of Aristophanes' plays were actually created with the intent to attack the view of rhetoric. The most noticeable attack can be seen in his play Banqueters, in which two brothers from different educational backgrounds argue over which education is better. One brother comes from a background of "old-fashioned" education while the other brother appears to be a product of the sophistic education [87]

The chorus was mainly used by Aristophanes as a defense against rhetoric and would often talk about topics such as the civic duty of those who were educated in classical teachings. In Aristophanes' opinion it was the job of those educated adults to protect the public from deception and to stand as a beacon of light for those who were more gullible than others. One of the main reasons why Aristophanes was so against the sophists came into existence from the requirements listed by the leaders of the organization. Money was essential, which meant that roughly all of the pupils studying with the sophists came from upper-class backgrounds and excluded the rest of the polis. Aristophanes believed that education and knowledge was a public service and that anything that excluded willing minds was nothing but an abomination. [88] He concludes that all politicians that study rhetoric must have "doubtful citizenships, unspeakable morals, and too much arrogance". [87]

Old Comedy

Thalia, muse of comedy, gazing upon a comic mask (detail from Muses' Sarcophagus) Thalia sarcophagus Louvre Ma475.jpg
Thalia, muse of comedy, gazing upon a comic mask (detail from Muses' Sarcophagus)

The Greek word for comedy (kōmōidía) derives from the words for 'revel' and 'song' (kōmos and ōdē) and according to Aristotle [89] comic drama actually developed from song. The first official comedy at the City Dionysia was not staged until 487/6 BC, [90] by which time tragedy had already been long established there. The first comedy at the Lenaia was staged later still, [91] only about 20 years before the performance there of The Acharnians, the first of Aristophanes' surviving plays. According to Aristotle, comedy was slow to gain official acceptance because nobody took it seriously, [92] yet only 60 years after comedy first appeared at the City Dionysia, Aristophanes observed that producing comedies was the most difficult work of all. [93] Competition at the Dionysian festivals needed dramatic conventions for plays to be judged, but it also fuelled innovations. [94] Developments were quite rapid and Aristotle could distinguish between 'old' and 'new' comedy by 330 BC. [95]

The trend from Old Comedy to New Comedy saw a move away from highly topical concerns with real individuals and local issues towards generalized situations and stock characters. This was partly due to the internationalization of cultural perspectives during and after the Peloponnesian War. [96] [97] For ancient commentators such as Plutarch, [98] New Comedy was a more sophisticated form of drama than Old Comedy. However, Old Comedy was in fact a complex and sophisticated dramatic form incorporating many approaches to humour and entertainment. [99] In Aristophanes' early plays, the genre appears to have developed around a complex set of dramatic conventions, and these were only gradually simplified and abandoned.

The City Dionysia and the Lenaia were celebrated in honour of Dionysus, the god of wine and ecstasy. (Euripides' play The Bacchae offers the best insight into 5th century ideas about this god.) [100] Old Comedy can be understood as a celebration of the exuberant sense of release inherent in his worship. [101] It was more interested in finding targets for satire than in any kind of advocacy. [102] During the City Dionysia, a statue of the god was brought to the theatre from a temple outside the city, and it remained in the theatre throughout the festival, overseeing the plays like a privileged member of the audience. [103] In The Frogs, the god appears also as a dramatic character, and he enters the theatre ludicrously disguised as Hercules. He observes to the audience that every time he is on hand to hear a joke from a comic dramatist like Phrynichus (one of Aristophanes' rivals) he ages by more than a year. [104] This scene opens the play, and it is a reminder to the audience that nobody is above mockery in Old Comedy—not even its patron god and its practitioners. Gods, artists, politicians and ordinary citizens were legitimate targets; comedy was a kind of licensed buffoonery, [105] and there was no legal redress for anyone who was slandered in a play. [106] There were certain limits to the scope of the satire, but they are not easily defined. Impiety could be punished in 5th century Athens, but the absurdities implicit in the traditional religion were open to ridicule. [107] The polis was not allowed to be slandered, but as stated in the biography section of this article, that could depend on who was in the audience and which festival was involved.

For convenience, Old Comedy, as represented by Aristophanes' early plays, is analysed below in terms of three broad characteristics— topicality, festivity and complexity. Dramatic structure contributes to the complexity of Aristophanes' plays. However, it is associated with poetic rhythms and meters that have little relevance to English translations and it is therefore treated in a separate section.


Old Comedy's emphasis on real personalities and local issues makes the plays difficult to appreciate today without the aid of scholarly commentaries—see for example articles on The Knights , The Wasps and Peace for lists of topical references. The topicality of the plays had unique consequences for both the writing and the production of the plays in ancient Athens.


The Lenaia and City Dionysia were religious festivals, but they resembled a gala rather than a church service. [124]


The development of New Comedy involved a trend towards more realistic plots, a simpler dramatic structure and a softer tone. [139] Old Comedy was the comedy of a vigorously democratic polis at the height of its power and it gave Aristophanes the freedom to explore the limits of humour, even to the point of undermining the humour itself. [140]

Dramatic structure

The structural elements of a typical Aristophanic plot can be summarized as follows:

The rules of competition did not prevent a playwright arranging and adjusting these elements to suit his particular needs. [146] In The Acharnians and Peace, for example, there is no formal agon whereas in The Clouds there are two agons.


The parabasis is an address to the audience by the chorus or chorus leader while the actors leave or have left the stage. In this role, the chorus is sometimes out of character, as the author's voice, and sometimes in character, although these capacities are often difficult to distinguish. Generally the parabasis occurs somewhere in the middle of a play and often there is a second parabasis towards the end. The elements of a parabasis have been defined and named by scholars but it is probable that Aristophanes' own understanding was less formal. [147] The selection of elements can vary from play to play and it varies considerably within plays between first and second parabasis. The early plays (The Acharnians to The Birds) are fairly uniform in their approach however and the following elements of a parabasis can be found within them.

  • kommation: This is a brief prelude, comprising short lines and often including a valediction to the departing actors, such as ἴτε χαίροντες (Go rejoicing!).
  • parabasis proper: This is usually a defense of the author's work and it includes criticism of the audience's attitude. It is declaimed in long lines of 'anapestic tetrameters'. Aristophanes himself refers to the parabasis proper only as 'anapests'.
  • pnigos: Sometimes known as 'a choker', it comprises a few short lines appended to the parabasis proper as a kind of rapid patter (it has been suggested that some of the effects achieved in a pnigos can be heard in "The Lord Chancellor's Nightmare Song", in act 2 of Gilbert and Sullivan's Iolanthe). [148]
  • epirrhematic syzygies: These are symmetrical scenes that mirror each other in meter and number of lines. They form part of the first parabasis and they often comprise the entire second parabasis. They are characterized by the following elements:
    • strophe or ode: These are lyrics in a variety of meters, sung by the Chorus in the first parabasis as an invocation to the gods and as a comic interlude in the second parabasis.
    • epirrhema: These are usually long lines of trochaic tetrameters. Broadly political in their significance, they were probably spoken by the leader of the Chorus in character. [149]
    • antistrophe or antode: These are songs that mirror the strophe/ode in meter, length and function.
    • antepirrhema. This is another declaimed passage and it mirrors the epirrhema in meter, length and function.

The Wasps is thought to offer the best example of a conventional approach [150] and the elements of a parabasis can be identified and located in that play as follows.

Elements in The Wasps1st parabasis2nd parabasis
kommationlines 1009–14 [151] ---
parabasis properlines 1015–50---
pnigoslines 1051–59---
strophelines 1060–70lines 1265–74 [152]
epirrhemalines 1071–90lines 1275–83
antistrophelines 1091–1101missing
antepirrhemalines 1102–1121lines 1284–91

Textual corruption is probably the reason for the absence of the antistrophe in the second parabasis. [153] However, there are several variations from the ideal even within the early plays. For example, the parabasis proper in The Clouds (lines 518–62) is composed in eupolidean meter rather than in anapests [154] and the second parabasis includes a kommation but it lacks strophe, antistrophe and antepirrhema (The Clouds lines 1113–30). The second parabasis in The Acharnians lines 971–99 [155] can be considered a hybrid parabasis/song (i.e. the declaimed sections are merely continuations of the strophe and antistrophe) [156] and, unlike the typical parabasis, it seems to comment on actions that occur on stage during the address. An understanding of Old Comedy conventions such as the parabasis is necessary for a proper understanding of Aristophanes' plays; on the other hand, a sensitive appreciation of the plays is necessary for a proper understanding of the conventions.

Influence and legacy

Aristophanes, the master of Old Comedy, and Menander, the master of New Comedy. Aristophanes Menander.jpg
Aristophanes, the master of Old Comedy, and Menander, the master of New Comedy.

The tragic dramatists, Sophocles and Euripides, died near the end of the Peloponnesian War and the art of tragedy thereafter ceased to develop, yet comedy did continue to evolve after the defeat of Athens and it is possible that it did so because, in Aristophanes, it had a master craftsman who lived long enough to help usher it into a new age. [157] Indeed, according to one ancient source (Platonius, c.9th Century AD), one of Aristophanes's last plays, Aioliskon, had neither a parabasis nor any choral lyrics (making it a type of Middle Comedy), while Kolakos anticipated all the elements of New Comedy, including a rape and a recognition scene. [158] Aristophanes seems to have had some appreciation of his formative role in the development of comedy, as indicated by his comment in Clouds that his audience would be judged by other times according to its reception of his plays. [159] Clouds was awarded third (i.e. last) place after its original performance and the text that has come down to the modern age was a subsequent draft that Aristophanes intended to be read rather than acted. [160] The circulation of his plays in manuscript extended their influence beyond the original audience, over whom in fact they seem to have had little or no practical influence: they did not affect the career of Cleon, they failed to persuade the Athenians to pursue an honourable peace with Sparta and it is not clear that they were instrumental in the trial and execution of Socrates, whose death probably resulted from public animosity towards the philosopher's disgraced associates (such as Alcibiades), [161] exacerbated of course by his own intransigence during the trial. [162] The plays, in manuscript form, have been put to some surprising uses—as indicated earlier, they were used in the study of rhetoric on the recommendation of Quintilian and by students of the Attic dialect in the Fourth and Fifth Centuries AD. It is possible that Plato sent copies of the plays to Dionysius of Syracuse so that he might learn about Athenian life and government. [163]

Latin translations of the plays by Andreas Divus (Venice 1528) were circulated widely throughout Europe in the Renaissance and these were soon followed by translations and adaptations in modern languages. Racine, for example, drew Les Plaideurs (1668) from The Wasps. Goethe (who turned to Aristophanes for a warmer and more vivid form of comedy than he could derive from readings of Terence and Plautus) adapted a short play Die Vögel from The Birds for performance in Weimar. Aristophanes has appealed to both conservatives and radicals in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries—Anatoly Lunacharsky, first Commissar of Enlightenment for the USSR in 1917, declared that the ancient dramatist would have a permanent place in proletarian theatre and yet conservative, Prussian intellectuals interpreted Aristophanes as a satirical opponent of social reform. [164] The avant-gardist stage-director Karolos Koun directed a version of The Birds under the Acropolis in 1959 that established a trend in modern Greek history of breaking taboos through the voice of Aristophanes. [165]

The plays have a significance that goes beyond their artistic function, as historical documents that open the window on life and politics in classical Athens, in which respect they are perhaps as important as the writings of Thucydides. The artistic influence of the plays is immeasurable. They have contributed to the history of European theatre and that history in turn shapes our understanding of the plays. Thus for example the operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan can give us insights into Aristophanes' plays [166] and similarly the plays can give us insights into the operettas. [167] The plays are a source of famous sayings, such as "By words the mind is winged." [168]

Listed below are some of the many works influenced (more or less) by Aristophanes.



Radio shows


Translation of Aristophanes

Alan H. Sommerstein believes that although there are good translations of Aristophanes' comedies in English, none could be flawless, "for there is much truth in the paradox that the only really perfect translation is the original." [172] In spite of that, it is crucial to be cited that there are competent respectable translations in other languages such as Farsi (by Reza Shirmarz, a well-known Iranian playwright, translator and researcher), French and German which seems quite fascinating not only for the scholars and academics, but also for theater professionals to be stages or performed in radio. Additionally, despite the fact that English translations of Aristophanes might not be perfect, "the reception of Aristophanes has gained extraordinary momentum as a topic of academic interest in the last few years." [173]


Surviving plays

Most of these are traditionally referred to by abbreviations of their Latin titles; Latin remains a customary language of scholarship in classical studies.

Datable non-surviving (lost) plays

The standard modern edition of the fragments is Rudolf Kassel and Colin François Lloyd Austin's, Poetae Comici Graeci III.2.

  • Banqueters (Δαιταλεῖς Daitaleis, 427 BC)
  • Babylonians (Βαβυλώνιοι Babylonioi, 426 BC)
  • Farmers (Γεωργοί Georgoi, 424 BC)
  • Merchant Ships (Ὁλκάδες Holkades, 423 BC)
  • Clouds (first version, 423 BC)
  • Proagon (Προάγων, 422 BC)
  • Amphiaraus (Ἀμφιάραος, 414 BC)
  • Plutus (Wealth, first version, 408 BC)
  • Gerytades (Γηρυτάδης, uncertain, probably 407 BC)
  • Cocalus (Κώκαλος, 387 BC)
  • Aiolosicon (Αἰολοσίκων, second version, 386 BC)

Undated non-surviving (lost) plays

  • Aiolosicon (first version)
  • Anagyrus (Ἀνάγυρος)
  • Frying-Pan Men (Ταγηνισταί Tagenistai)
  • Daedalus (Δαίδαλος)
  • Danaids (Δαναΐδες Danaides)
  • Centaur (Κένταυρος Kentauros)
  • Heroes (Ἥρωες)
  • Lemnian Women (Λήμνιαι Lemniai)
  • Old Age (Γῆρας Geras)
  • Peace (second version)
  • Phoenician Women (Φοίνισσαι Phoinissai)
  • Polyidus (Πολύιδος)
  • Seasons (Ὧραι Horai)
  • Storks (Πελαργοί Pelargoi)
  • Telemessians (Ίελμησσείς Telmesseis)
  • Triphales (Τριφάλης)
  • Thesmophoriazusae (Women at the Thesmophoria Festival, second version)
  • Women in Tents (Σκηνὰς Καταλαμβάνουσαι Skenas Katalambanousai)

Attributed (doubtful, possibly by Archippus)

  • Dionysus Shipwrecked (Διόνυσος Ναυαγός Dionysos Nauagos)
  • Islands (Νῆσοι Nesoi)
  • Niobos (Νίοβος)
  • Poetry (Ποίησις Poiesis)

See also


  1. 1 2 Barrett (1964) p. 9
  2. Jones, Daniel; Roach, Peter, James Hartman and Jane Setter, eds. Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary. 17th edition. Cambridge UP, 2006.
  3. Alan Sommerstein (ed.), Aristophanes: Lysistrata, The Acharnians, The Clouds, Penguin Books, 1973, p. 9; cf. Lexicon of Greek Personal Names, Vol 2, Aristophanes 32.
  4. Roman, Luke; Roman, Monica (2010). Encyclopedia of Greek and Roman Mythology. Infobase Publishing. p. 81. ISBN   9781438126395.
  5. Aristophanes: Clouds K. J. Dover (ed), Oxford University Press 1970, Intro. p. X.
  6. Aristophanes in Performance 421 BC – AD 2007: Peace, Birds and Frogs Edith Hall and Amanda Wrigley, Legenda (Oxford) 2007, p. 1
  7. Character Sketches of Romance, Fiction and the Drama, Vol. 1
  8. Barrett (2003), p. 26
  9. The Apology translated by Benjamin Jowett, section 4
  10. Apology, Greek text, edited J. Burnet, section 19c
  11. Sommerstein, Alan. (ed.) Lysistrata, The Acharnians, The Clouds. Penguin Books 1973, p. 16
  12. Ancient Greek : "κωμῳδοδιδασκαλίαν εἶναι χαλεπώτατον ἔργον ἁπάντων." Aristophanis Comoediae Tomus 1, F. W. Hall and W. M. Geldart (eds), Oxford Classical Texts, "Knights" line 516
  13. Barrett (1964), p. 21
  14. Greek Comedy and Ideology David Konstan, Oxford University Press US 1995, p. 4
  15. Dover, K. J. (ed.) Aristophanes: The Clouds. Oxford University Press, 1970, Intro. p. XIV
  16. Aristophanis Comoediae Tomus 1, F. W. Hall and W. M. Geldart (eds), Oxford Classical Texts, Clouds, pp. 520–525
  17. Aristophanis Comoediae Tomus 1, F. W. Hall and W. M. Geldart (eds), Oxford Classical Texts, Clouds, pp. 560–562
  18. Wasps 1536–37 Wikisource (original Greek), Clouds, pp. 545–548, Peace, pp. 739–758
  19. 1 2 Barrett (2003), p. 9
  20. Andrewes, Antony. Greek Society. Pelican Books, 1981, pp. 247–248
  21. Aristophanes: Lysistrata, The Acharnians, The Clouds A. H. Sommerstein (ed), Penguin Books 1975, p. 9 footnote
  22. Barrett (1964), p. 26
  23. Barrett (1964), p. 25
  24. Aristophanis Comoediae Tomus 1, F. W. Hall and W. M. Geldart (eds), Oxford Classical Texts, The Knights lines 911–925
  25. Rennie, W. The Acharnians of Aristophanes, Edward Arnold (London, 1909), p. 7 (reproduced by Bibliolife)
  26. Wasps 1075–1101 Wikisource (original Greek), Knights 565–576
  27. Acharnians Wikisource (Greek Text) 692–700
  28. Aristophanes: Lysistrata, The Acharnians, The Clouds A. H. Sommerstein (ed), Penguin Books 1975, pp. 13–14
  29. Barrett (1964), p. 12
  30. "Greek Drama" P. Levi in The Oxford History of the Classical World J. Boardman, J. Griffin, O. Murray (eds), Oxford University Press 1986, p. 177
  31. The Acharnians, Wikisource lines 515–17
  32. Barrett (2003) p. 34
  33. D. Welsh, IG ii2 2343, Philonides and Aristophanes' Banqueters, Classical Quarterly 33 (1983)
  34. Knights 512–14
  35. Clouds 530–533
  36. Ian Storey, General Introduction, in Clouds, Wasps, Birds By Aristophanes, Peter Meineck (translator), Hackett Publishing 1998, p. xiii
  37. MacDowell (1971), p. 124
  38. The Acharnians Wikisource (original Greek) lines 652–54
  39. The Acharnians Wikisource (original Greek) lines 377–82
  40. W.Rennie, The Acharnians of Aristophanes, Edward Arnold (London, 1909), pp. 12–15 (reproduced by Bibliolife)
  41. Aristophanis Comoediae Tomus 1, F. W. Hall and W. M. Geldart (eds), Oxford Classical Texts, The Clouds lines 528–32
  42. Aristophanes: Lysistrata, The Acharnians, The Clouds Alan Sommerstein (ed), Penguin Classics 1975, p. 9
  43. Wasps Wikisource (original Greek) lines 1265–91
  44. MacDowell (1978), p. 299
  45. Aristophanis Comoediae Tomus 1, F. W. Hall and W. M. Geldart (eds), Oxford Classical Texts, Clouds 540–545, Peace 767–774
  46. IG II2 2325. 58
  47. Aristophanes, testimonium 1, lines 54–56, in Kassel-Austin, Poetae Comici Graeci vol. III.2 (Berlin 1984), p. 4.
  48. Aristophanes, Κώκαλος, testimonium iii, in Kassel-Austin, Poetae Comici Graeci vol. III.2 (Berlin 1984), p. 201.
  49. IG II2 2318. 196
  50. IG II2 2325. 140
  51. Eubulus, testimonium 4, in Kassel-Austin, Poetae Comici Graeci vol. V (Berlin 1986), p. 188.
  52. Clouds Peter Meineck (translator) and Ian Storey (Introduction), Hackett Publishing 2000, p. XVIII
  53. IG II2 2325. 143 (just after Anaxandrides and just before Eubulus)
  54. Aristophanes:Clouds K. J. Dover (ed), Oxford University Press 1970, Introduction p. IX note 1.
  55. Symposium 221B; Plato Vol.3, Loeb Classical Library (1975), p. 236
  56. Sommerstein, Alan (ed). Aristophanes: Lysistrata, The Acharnians, The Clouds. Penguin Books, 1973, p. 10
  57. Barrett (2003), p. 10
  58. The Symposium original Greek text:section 189b
  59. The Symposium (English translation) Benjamin Jowett (scroll half way down).
  60. Aristophanis Comoediae Tomus 1, F. W. Hall and W. M. Geldart (eds), Knights lines 507–550
  61. Aristophanes: Clouds K. J. Dover (ed), Oxford University Press 1970, Introduction p. IX
  62. Barrett (2003), p. 7
  63. Wikisource, Plato's Apology, John Burnet (ed) section 32a
  64. Plato's Apology, Benjamin Jowett (trans) section 23.
  65. 1 2 The Orator's Training Quintilian 10.1.65–6, cited in Barrett (2003) p. 15
  66. Quintilian 10.1.65–6 10.1.61
  67. Barrett (1964) pp. 151–152
  68. Aristophanis Comoediae Tomus 1, F. W. Hall and W. M. Geldart (eds), Oxford Classical Texts, Clouds lines 553–54
  69. Aristophanis Comoediae Tomus 1, F. W. Hall and W. M. Geldart (eds), Oxford Classical Texts, Knights lines 519–540
  70. Barrett (1964), p. 30
  71. MacDowell (1978), p. 21
  72. Barrett (2003), pp. 7–8
  73. 1 2 3 Barrett (2003) p. 27
  74. MacDowell (1978), p. 16
  75. The Acharnians Wikisource (original Greek) lines 1–3
  76. 1 2 MacDowell (1978), p. 17
  77. MacDowell (1978), p. 13
  78. Sommerstein, Alan (ed). Aristophanes: Lysistrata, The Acharnians, The Clouds. Penguin Classics 1973, p. 37
  79. L. P. E. Parker, The Songs of Aristophanes, Oxford, 1997, p. 36
  80. Aristophanis Comoediae Tomus 2, F. W. Hall and W. M. Geldart (eds), Oxford Classical Texts, Frogs lines 1032–1038
  81. Greek Drama, Peter Levi, in The Oxford History of the Classical World edited by J. Boardman, J. Griffin and O. Murray, Oxford University Press 1986, p. 175
  82. MacDowell (1978) p. 27
  83. Barrett (2003) p. 21
  84. The Acharnians Wikisource (original Greek) lines 729–835
  85. Aristophanis Comoediae Tomus 1, F. W. Hall and W. M. Geldart (eds), Oxford Classical Texts, Knights lines 1347–48;
  86. The Frogs lines 902–04
  87. 1 2 3 Murphy, Charles T. "Aristophanes and the Art of Rhetoric." Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 49 (1938): 69–113. Web. Accessed on 28 September 2014.
  88. Major, Wilfred E. Aristophanes: Enemy of Rhetoric. N.P.: N.P., 1996. Print.
  89. The Poetics 1449a11, Wikisource English translation s:The Poetics#IV section IV
  90. Clouds translated by Peter Meineck with introduction by Ian Storey, Hackett Publishing 2000, p. IX
  91. ibid p. XIX
  92. The Poetics 1448b38 – 1449b, Wikisource English translation s:The Poetics#V section V
  93. Aristophanis Comoediae vol. 1, F. W. Hall and W. M. Geldart (eds), Oxford Classical Texts, Knights line 516
  94. Aristophanes:The Frogs and Other Plays David Barrett, Penguin Classics 1964, p. 12
  95. Nichomachean Ethics 1128a 21–24
  96. Ralph Rosen, Aristophanes3, D. Slavitt and P. Bovie (eds), University of Pennsylvania Press 1999, p. XIV
  97. Clouds translated by P. Meineck with introduction by I. Storey, Hackett Publishing 2000, p. VIII
  98. Comparison of Aristophanes and Menander
  99. Clouds translated by P. Meineck with introduction by I. Storey, Hackett Publishing 2000, p. VII
  100. Clouds P. Meineck (translator) and I. Storey (Introduction), Hackett Publishing 2000, p. VIII
  101. Clouds P. Meineck (translator) and I. Storey (Introduction), Hackett Publishing 2000, p. XIX
  102. Andrewes, Antony. Greek Society. Pelican Books 1981, p. 247
  103. Sommerstein, Alan (ed). Aristophanes: Lysistrata, The Acharnians, The Clouds. Penguin Classics 1975, p. 18
  104. Frogs Wikisource English translation s:The Frogs; original Greek text lines 12–18
  105. Andrewes, Antony. Greek Society. Pelican Books 1981, p. 248
  106. Barrett, David. Aristophanes: The Frogs and Other Plays. Penguin Classics 1964, p. 27
  107. Sommerstein, Alan (ed). Aristophanes: Lysistrata, The Acharnians, Clouds. Penguin Classics 1975, p. 17
  108. Aristophanes: Lysistrata, The Acharnians, Clouds A. Sommerstein, Penguin Classics 1975, p. 31
  109. Knights lines 230–233
  110. Peace 821–823
  111. The Acharnians Wikisource (original Greek) lines 1224–1225
  112. "Greek Drama" Peter Levi in The Oxford History of the Classical World J. Boardman, J. Griffin and O. Murray (eds), Oxford University Press 1986, p. 176
  113. Clouds lines 528–533
  114. The Acharnians lines 646-651
  115. Sommerstein, Alan (ed). Aristophanes: Lysistrata, The Acharnians, The Clouds. Penguin Classics 1973, pp. 18–19
  116. e.g. Knights lines 997–1095; Birds lines 959–991
  117. e.g. Clouds lines 263–66, Frogs lines 891–94
  118. The Acharnians lines 1097–1142 lines
  119. Knights lines 551–64 and 581–594
  120. Knights lines 1321–38
  121. e.g. Peace lines 551–597
  122. Frogs lines 686–705
  123. Dover, K. J. (ed). Aristophanes: Clouds. Oxford University Press 1970, pp. XIII–XIV
  124. Dover, K. J. Aristophanes: Clouds. Oxford University Press 1970, p. XV
  125. "Greek Drama" Peter Levi in The Oxford History of the Classical World, Oxford University Press 1986, p. 175
  126. The Acharnians Wikisource (Original Greek) lines 1164–1173
  127. Sommerstein, Alan (ed). Aristophanes: Lysistrata, The Acharnians, The Clouds. Penguin Classics 1973, pp. 243–244, notes 69, 80, 81
  128. Barrett, David. Aristophanes: The Frogs and Other Plays. Penguin Classics 1964, pp. 14–15
  129. Sommerstein, Alan (ed). Aristophanes: Lysistrata, The Acharnians, The Clouds. Penguin Classics 1973, p. 23
  130. The Acharnians Wikisource (original Greek) lines 280–301; Knights lines 247–72; Wasps Wikisource (original Greek) lines 452–460
  131. Barrett, David. Aristophanes: The Frogs and Other Plays. Penguin Classics 1964, p. 9
  132. Aristophanes: Wasps Douglas MacDowell (ed), Oxford University Press 1978, pp. 14–15
  133. Aristophanes: Lysistrata, The Acharnians, The Clouds A. Sommerstein, Penguin Classics, p. 29
  134. Frogs lines 45–47
  135. Aristophanes: Wasps Douglas MacDowell, Oxford University Press 1978, p. 7
  136. Aristophanes: Lysistrata, The Acharnians, The Clouds A. Sommerstein, Penguin Classics, pp. 33–34
  137. Aristophanes' Old-and-new Comedy Kenneth J. Reckford, UNC Press 1987, p. 15
  138. Aristophanes: The Frogs and Other Plays David Barrett, Penguin Classics 1964, pp. 13–14
  139. Aristophanes D. Slavitt and P. Bovie (eds), University of Pennsylvania Press 1999, p. XIII
  140. Aristophanes and the Definition of Comedy M. S. Silk, Oxford University Press 2002, p. 418
  141. Aristophanes: Clouds K. J. Dover, Oxford University Press 1970, p. XIII
  142. Aristophanes: Wasps Douglas MacDowell, Oxford University Press 1978, p. 12
  143. Clouds Peter Meineck (translator) and Ian Storey (Introduction), Hackett Publishing 2000, p. VIII
  144. Aristophanes: The Frogs and other Plays David Barrett (ed), Penguin Classics 1964, p. 17
  145. Aristophanes: Wasps Douglas MacDowell (ed.), Oxford University Press 1971, p. 207 note 546–630
  146. Aristophanes: Lysistrata, The Acharnians, The Clouds A. Sommerstein, Penguin Classics 1975, p. 27
  147. Aristophanes: Wasps Douglas MacDowell, Oxford University Press 1978, p. 261
  148. Aristophanes: Wasps Douglas MacDowell (ed), Oxford University Press 1978, p. 27
  149. Aristophanes: Clouds K. J. Dover (ed), Oxford University Press 1970, p. 126
  150. Aristophanes: Wasps Douglas M. MacDowell, Oxford University Press 1978, note 1283 p. 298
  151. Wikisource
  152. Wikisource
  153. Aristophanes: Wasps Douglas MacDowell (ed), Oxford University Press 1978, pp. 298–99
  154. Aristophanes:Clouds K. J. Dover, Oxford University Press 1970, p. 119 note 518–62
  155. Wikisource
  156. Comedy E. Handley in 'The Cambridge History of Classical Literature I', P. Easterling, R. MacGregor Walker Knox, E. Kenney (eds), p. 360
  157. "Greek Drama" Peter Levi, in The Oxford History of the Classical World J. Boardman, J. Griffin and O. Murray (eds), Oxford University Press 1986, p. 176
  158. E. W. Handley, 'Comedy' in The Cambridge History of Classical Literature: Greek Literature, P. Easterling and B. Knox (eds), Cambridge University Press (1985), p. 400
  159. Clouds lines 560–62
  160. Aristophanes: Clouds K. J. Dover, Oxford University Press 1970, pp. XXIX–XXX
  161. Aristophanes: Clouds K. J. Dover, Oxford University Press 1970, pp. XIV–XV
  162. Plato's Apology, Benjamin Jowett (trans), Wikisource copy: s:Apology (Plato)#33 (section 33)
  163. Clouds Peter Meineck (translator) and Ian Storey (Introduction), Hackett Publishing 2000, p. X
  164. Aristophanes in Performance 421 BC – AD 2007: Peace, Birds and Frogs Edith Hall and Amanda Wrigley, Legenda (Oxford) 2007, pp. 9–12
  165. Politics and Aristophanes: watchword Caution! by Gonda Van Steen in 'The Cambridge Companion to Greek and Roman Theatre' Marianne McDonald and J. Michael Walton (eds), Cambridge University Press 2007, p. 109
  166. e.g. Aristophanes: Lysistrata, The Acharnians, The Clouds A. Sommerstein, Penguin Classics 1975, p. 37
  167. "W. S. Gilbert: A Mid-Victorian Aristophanes" in W. S. Gilbert: A Century of Scholarship and Commentary, John Bush Jones (ed), New York University Press 1970
  168. Birds, l.1447-8; quotation as translated in Macmillan Dictionary of Political Quotations
  169. [ permanent dead link ]
  170. Note on Oedipus Tyrannus by Mrs Shelley, quoted in Shelley: Poetical Works Thomas Hutchinson (ed), Oxford University Press 1970, p. 410
  171. "Plays, Radio and Film; Ralph Vaughan Williams List of Works". The Ralph Vaughan Williams Society. Archived from the original on 9 April 2014. Retrieved 7 September 2014.
  172. On Translating Aristophanes: Ends and Means, Alan H. Sommerstein, Greece & Rome , Oct., 1973, Vol. 20, No. 2 (Oct., 1973), pp. 140–154 Published by: Cambridge University Press on behalf of The Classical Association.
  173. TRANSPOSING ARISTOPHANES: THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF TRANSLATING ARISTOPHANIC LYRIC, JAMES ROBSON, OCTOBER 2012, Second Series, Vol. 59, No. 2 (OCTOBER 2012), pp. 214–244 Published by: Cambridge University Press on behalf of The Classical Association.

Related Research Articles

Euripides ancient Athenian tragic playwright

Euripides was a tragedian of classical Athens. Along with Aeschylus and Sophocles, he is one of the three ancient Greek tragedians for whom any plays have survived in full. Some ancient scholars attributed ninety-five plays to him, but the Suda says it was ninety-two at most. Of these, eighteen or nineteen have survived more or less complete. There are many fragments of most of his other plays. More of his plays have survived intact than those of Aeschylus and Sophocles together, partly because his popularity grew as theirs declined—he became, in the Hellenistic Age, a cornerstone of ancient literary education, along with Homer, Demosthenes, and Menander.


Hipponax, of Ephesus and later Clazomenae, was an Ancient Greek iambic poet who composed verses depicting the vulgar side of life in Ionian society in the sixth century BC. He was celebrated by ancient authors for his malicious wit, and he was reputed to be physically deformed. Little of his work survives despite its interest to Alexandrian scholars, who collected it in two or three books. He influenced Alexandrian poets searching for alternative styles and uses of language, such as Callimachus and Herodas, and his colourful reputation as an acerbic, social critic also made him a popular subject for verse, as in this epigram by Theocritus:

<i>The Clouds</i> Comedy by Aristophanes

The Clouds is a Greek comedy play written by the playwright Aristophanes. A lampooning of intellectual fashions in classical Athens, it was originally produced at the City Dionysia in 423 BC and was not as well received as the author had hoped, coming last of the three plays competing at the festival that year. It was revised between 420 and 417 BC and was thereafter circulated in manuscript form.

<i>The Knights</i>

The Knights was the fourth play written by Aristophanes, who is considered the master of an ancient form of drama known as Old Comedy. The play is a satire on the social and political life of classical Athens during the Peloponnesian War and in this respect it is typical of all the dramatist's early plays. It is unique however in the relatively small number of its characters and this was due to its vitriolic preoccupation with one man, the pro-war populist Cleon. Cleon had prosecuted Aristophanes for slandering the polis with an earlier play, The Babylonians, for which the young dramatist had promised revenge in The Acharnians, and it was in The Knights that his revenge was exacted. The Knights won first prize at the Lenaia festival when it was produced in 424 BC.

<i>Assemblywomen</i> Comedy by Aristophanes

Assemblywomen is a comedy written by the Greek playwright Aristophanes in 391 BC. The play invents a scenario where the women of Athens assume control of the government and instate reforms that ban private wealth and enforce sexual equality for the old and unattractive. In addition to Aristophanes' political and social satire, Assemblywomen derives its comedy through sexual and scatological humor. It is important to note that the play aimed to criticize the Athenian government at the time.

<i>Lysistrata</i> Comedy by Aristophanes

Lysistrata is an ancient Greek comedy by Aristophanes, originally performed in classical Athens in 411 BC. It is a comic account of a woman's extraordinary mission to end the Peloponnesian War between Greek city states by denying all the men of the land any sex, which was the only thing they truly and deeply desired. Lysistrata persuades the women of the warring cities to withhold sexual privileges from their husbands and lovers as a means of forcing the men to negotiate peace—a strategy, however, that inflames the battle between the sexes.

<i>The Birds</i> (play) Comedy by Aristophanes

The Birds is a comedy by the Ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes. It was performed in 414 BC at the City Dionysia where it won second place. It has been acclaimed by modern critics as a perfectly realized fantasy remarkable for its mimicry of birds and for the gaiety of its songs. Unlike the author's other early plays, it includes no direct mention of the Peloponnesian War and there are few references to Athenian politics, and yet it was staged not long after the commencement of the Sicilian Expedition, an ambitious military campaign that greatly increased Athenian commitment to the war effort. In spite of that, the play has many indirect references to Athenian political and social life. It is the longest of Aristophanes' surviving plays and yet it is a fairly conventional example of Old Comedy.


The Dionysia was a large festival in ancient Athens in honor of the god Dionysus, the central events of which were the theatrical performances of dramatic tragedies and, from 487 BC, comedies. It was the second-most important festival after the Panathenaia. The Dionysia actually consisted of two related festivals, the Rural Dionysia and the City Dionysia, which took place in different parts of the year. They were also an essential part of the Dionysian Mysteries.

The Frogs is a comedy written by the Ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes. It was performed at the Lenaia, one of the Festivals of Dionysus in Athens, in 405 BC, and received first place.

The Acharnians or Acharnians is the third play — and the earliest of the eleven surviving plays — by the Athenian playwright Aristophanes. It was produced in 425 BC on behalf of the young dramatist by an associate, Callistratus, and it won first place at the Lenaia festival.

<i>The Wasps</i> Comedy by Aristophanes

The Wasps is the fourth in chronological order of the eleven surviving plays by Aristophanes, the master of an ancient genre of drama called 'Old Comedy'. It was produced at the Lenaia festival in 422 BC, a time when Athens was enjoying a brief respite from the Peloponnesian War following a one-year truce with Sparta.


Thesmophoriazusae, or Women at the Thesmophoria, is one of eleven surviving plays by Aristophanes. It was first produced in 411 BC, probably at the City Dionysia. The play's focuses include the subversive role of women in a male-dominated society; the vanity of contemporary poets, such as the tragic playwrights Euripides and Agathon; and the shameless, enterprising vulgarity of an ordinary Athenian, as represented in this play by the protagonist, Mnesilochus. The work is also notable for Aristophanes' free adaptation of key structural elements of Old Comedy and for the absence of the anti-populist and anti-war comments that pepper his earlier work. It was produced in the same year as Lysistrata, another play with sexual themes.


Eupolis was an Athenian poet of the Old Comedy, who flourished during the time of the Peloponnesian War.

Ancient Greek comedy

Ancient Greek comedy was one of the final three principal dramatic forms in the theatre of classical Greece. Athenian comedy is conventionally divided into three periods: Old Comedy, Middle Comedy, and New Comedy. Old Comedy survives today largely in the form of the eleven surviving plays of Aristophanes; Middle Comedy is largely lost, i.e. preserved only in relatively short fragments by authors such as Athenaeus of Naucratis; and New Comedy is known primarily from the substantial papyrus fragments of Menander.

Old Comedy (archaia) is the first period of the ancient Greek comedy, according to the canonical division by the Alexandrian grammarians. The most important Old Comic playwright is Aristophanes – whose works, with their daring political commentary and abundance of sexual innuendo, effectively define the genre today.

<i>Peace</i> (play)

Peace is an Athenian Old Comedy written and produced by the Greek playwright Aristophanes. It won second prize at the City Dionysia where it was staged just a few days before the Peace of Nicias was validated, which promised to end the ten-year-old Peloponnesian War. The play is notable for its joyous anticipation of peace and for its celebration of a return to an idyllic life in the countryside. However, it also sounds a note of caution, there is bitterness in the memory of lost opportunities and the ending is not happy for everyone. As in all of Aristophanes' plays, the jokes are numerous, the action is wildly absurd and the satire is savage. Cleon, the pro-war populist leader of Athens, is once again a target for the author's wit, even though he had died in battle just a few months earlier.

In Greek comedy, the parabasis is a point in the play when all of the actors leave the stage and the chorus is left to address the audience directly. The chorus partially or completely abandons its dramatic role, to step forward (parabasis) and talk to the audience on a topic completely irrelevant to the subject of the play.


Xanthias refers to several characters, notably all slaves, who appear in plays by the Ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes.

Cinesias (Greek: Κινησίας; c. 450 – 390 BC) was an innovative dithyrambic poet (an exponent of the "new music") in classical Athens whose work has survived only in a few fragments. An inscription indicates that he was awarded a victory at the Dionysia in the early 4th century (IG 2/32.3028). His contemporary, the comic poet Aristophanes, ridiculed him in his play The Birds, in which Cinesias attempts to borrow wings from the birds as an aid to poetic inspiration. Aristophanes refers to him also in The Frogs (lines 153, 1437), Ecclesiazusae (line 330), Lysistrata (line 860), and in a fragmentary verse (fragment 156. 10 K-A). Another comic poet, Strattis, wrote an entire play against Cinesias, of which only fragments survive (fragments 14-22 K-A), and he was considered by Pherecrates to have had a corrupting influence on dithyrambic poetry (fragment 155. 8ff. K-A).

Ameipsias of Athens was an Ancient Greek comic poet, a contemporary of Aristophanes, whom he twice bested in the dramatic contests. His Konnos (Κόννος) gained a second prize at the City Dionysia in 423, when Aristophanes won the third prize with The Clouds.


Further reading