AskDefine | Define aristophanes

Dictionary Definition

Aristophanes n : an ancient Greek dramatist remembered for his comedies (448-380 BC)

Extensive Definition

Aristophanes (, in English, ca. 456 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 his birth are unknown, but he was clearly a relatively young man in 427 BCE 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). His obviously high level of literacy suggests that he was from a relatively wealthy family, although not apparently from a theatrical one. He wrote forty 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 were political, 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 426 (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, Philippus, and Nicostratus 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 Nicostratus 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, in which he offers a humorous mythical account of the origin of Love. Plato's text was produced a generation after the events it portrays and is a patent apologetic attempt to show that Socrates and Aristophanes were not enemies, supporting the belief that in his work Clouds (original production 423 BCE) the comic poet was ridiculing the public for their absurd view of the philosopher. The Symposium is therefore best treated as an early chapter in the history of the reception of Aristophanes and his poetry rather than as a description of anything approaching an historical event.
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 was the principal target and emerges as a typical Sophist; in Plato's Apology at 18d, the character of Socrates suggests that it was the foundation of those charges which led to Socrates' conviction. Lysistrata was written in the final decade of the Peloponnesian War between Athens and her allies and Sparta and the Peloponnesian League, and 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. In the play, 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

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.

Undated non-surviving (lost) plays

  • Aiolosikon (first version)
  • Anagyros
  • Frying-Pan Men
  • Daidalos
  • Danaids
  • Dionysos Shipwrecked
  • Centaur
  • Niobos
  • Heroes
  • Islands
  • Lemnian Women
  • Old Age
  • Peace (second version)
  • Phoenician Women
  • Poetry
  • Polyidos
  • Seasons
  • Storks
  • Telemessians
  • Triphales
  • Thesmophoriazusae (Women at the Thesmophoria Festival, second version)
  • Women in Tents

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.


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
aristophanes in Min Nan: Aristophanes
aristophanes in Breton: Aristofanes
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