Current location in this text. Enter a Perseus citation to go to another section or work. Full search options are on the right side and top of the page. Scene: The interior of a sleeping-apartment: Strepsiades, Phidippides, and two servants are in their beds; a small house is seen at a distance. Time: midnight.
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In fact, his plays are the main source of information about him and his life. 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. Such caricatures seem to imply that Aristophanes was an old-fashioned conservative, yet that view of him leads to contradictions.
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  yet there is much uncertainty about the composition of those audiences. 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.
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. His plays often express pride in the achievement of the older generation the victors at Marathon   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 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. However it is uncertain whether he led or merely responded to changes in audience expectations. 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.
Aristophanes repeatedly savages Cleon in his later plays. 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. Frogs in fact won the unique distinction of a repeat performance at a subsequent festival.
One of the guests, Alcibiades , even quotes from the play when teasing Socrates over his appearance  and yet there is no indication of any ill-feeling between Socrates and Aristophanes. 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. 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. Thus poetry had a moral and social significance that made it an inevitable topic of comic satire. These include not only rival comic dramatists such as Eupolis and Hermippus  and predecessors such as Magnes , Crates and Cratinus ,  but also tragedians, notably Aeschylus , Sophocles and Euripides , all three of whom are mentioned in e.
The Frogs. Aristophanes was the equal of these great tragedians in his subtle use of lyrics. His realistic use of the meter   makes it ideal for both dialogue and soliloquy, as for instance in the prologue, before the arrival of the Chorus, when the audience is introduced to the main issues in the plot. The Acharnians opens with these three lines by the hero, Dikaiopolis rendered here in English as iambic pentameters : How many are the things that vex my heart! The use of invented compound words is another comic device frequently found in the plays.
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. Lyrics: Almost nothing is known about the music that accompanied Greek lyrics, and the meter is often so varied and complex that it is difficult for modern readers or audiences to get a feel for the intended effects, yet Aristophanes still impresses with the charm and simplicity of his lyrics.
The syntax in the original Greek is natural and unforced and it was probably accompanied by brisk and cheerful music, gliding to a concluding pun at the expense of Amynias, who is thought to have lost his fortune gambling. Now as poor as Antiphon, He lives on apples and pomegranates Yet he got himself appointed Way up there in Thessaly , Home of the poor Penestes: Happy to be where everyone Is as penniless as he is!
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. Sometimes entire scenes are constructed on puns, as in The Acharnians with the Megarian farmer and his pigs:  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. Rhetoric[ edit ] It is widely believed that Aristophanes condemned rhetoric on both moral and political grounds. 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 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.
According to Aristotle, comedy was slow to gain official acceptance because nobody took it seriously,  yet only 60 years after comedy first appeared at the City Dionysia, Aristophanes observed that producing comedies was the most difficult work of all. This was partly due to the internationalization of cultural perspectives during and after the Peloponnesian War. However, Old Comedy was in fact a complex and sophisticated dramatic form incorporating many approaches to humour and entertainment.
The City Dionysia and the Lenaia were celebrated in honour of Dionysus, the god of wine and ecstasy. Gods, artists, politicians and ordinary citizens were legitimate targets; comedy was a kind of licensed buffoonery,  and there was no legal redress for anyone who was slandered in a play. Impiety could be punished in 5th century Athens, but the absurdities implicit in the traditional religion were open to ridicule.
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. The topicality of the plays had unique consequences for both the writing and the production of the plays in ancient Athens. Individual masks: All actors in classical Athens wore masks, but whereas in tragedy and New Comedy these identified stereotypical characters, in Old Comedy the masks were often caricatures of real people.
Perhaps Socrates attracted a lot of attention in Old Comedy because his face lent itself easily to caricature by mask-makers. The audience is sometimes drawn or even dragged into the action. When the hero in Peace returns to Athens from his flight to Olympus, he tells the audience that they looked like rascals when seen from the heavens, and seen up close they look even worse.
Self-mocking theatre: Frequent parodying of tragedy is an aspect of Old Comedy that modern audiences find difficult to understand. But the Lenaia and City Dionysia included performances of both comedies and tragedies, and thus references to tragedy were highly topical and immediately relevant to the original audience.
It is possible, as indicated earlier, that Aristophanes mocked his own baldness. The ceremonies for the Lenaia were overseen by the archon basileus and by officials of the Eleusinian mysteries. The City Dionysia was overseen by the archon eponymous and the priest of Dionysus.
Opening ceremonies for the City Dionysia featured, in addition to the ceremonial arrival of the god, a parade in full armour of the sons of warriors who died fighting for the polis and, until the end of the Peloponnesian War, a presentation of annual tribute from subject states.
Even jokes can be serious when the topic is politics—especially in wartime. The butts of the most savage jokes are opportunists who prey on the gullibility of their fellow citizens, including oracle-mongers,  the exponents of new religious practices,  war-profiteers and political fanatics.
Teasing and taunting: A festival audience presented the comic dramatist with a wide range of targets, not just political or religious ones—anyone known to the audience could be mocked for any reason, such as diseases, physical deformities, ugliness, family misfortunes, bad manners, perversions, dishonesty, cowardice in battle, and clumsiness.
Festivity[ edit ] The Lenaia and City Dionysia were religious festivals, but they resembled a gala rather than a church service. He is then envisioned hurling the turd at his attacker, missing and accidentally hitting Cratinus, a lyric poet not admired by Aristophanes.
The musical extravaganza: The Chorus was vital to the success of a play in Old Comedy long after it had lost its relevance for tragedy. Actors playing male roles appear to have worn tights over grotesque padding, with a prodigious, leather phallus barely concealed by a short tunic. Female characters were played by men but were easily recognized in long, saffron tunics. The rest of the play deals with farcical consequences in a succession of loosely connected scenes.
The farcical anti-climax has been explained in a variety of ways, depending on the particular play. It accommodated a serious purpose, light entertainment, hauntingly beautiful lyrics, the buffoonery of puns and invented words, obscenities, disciplined verse, wildly absurd plots and a formal, dramatic structure. Fantasy and absurdity: Fantasy in Old Comedy is unrestricted and impossibilities are ignored. Absurdities develop logically from initial premises in a plot.
The introduction of a rival, who is not a member of the household, leads to an absurd shift in the metaphor, so that Cleon and his rival become erastai competing for the affections of an eromenos , hawkers of oracles competing for the attention of a credulous public, athletes in a race for approval and orators competing for the popular vote. The resourceful hero: In Aristophanic comedy, the hero is an independent-minded and self-reliant individual.
Typically he devises a complicated and highly fanciful escape from an intolerable situation. The resourceful cast: The numerous surprising developments in an Aristophanic plot, the changes in scene, and the farcical comings and goings of minor characters towards the end of a play, were managed according to theatrical convention with only three principal actors a fourth actor, often the leader of the chorus, was permitted to deliver short speeches.
Complex structure: The action of an Aristophanic play obeyed a crazy logic of its own and yet it always unfolded within a formal, dramatic structure that was repeated with minor variations from one play to another. The different, structural elements are associated with different poetic meters and rhythms and these are generally lost in English translations. The rules of competition did not prevent a playwright arranging and adjusting these elements to suit his particular needs. Parabasis[ edit ] The parabasis is an address to the audience by the chorus or chorus leader while the actors leave or have left the stage.
Generally the parabasis occurs somewhere in the middle of a play and often there is a second parabasis towards the end. 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. 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.
Broadly political in their significance, they were probably spoken by the leader of the Chorus in character. 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  and the elements of a parabasis can be identified and located in that play as follows.
Elements in The Wasps.
Clouds. Wasps. Peace