Ancient Greece People


Let each man exercise the art he knows1.

Aristophanes was a Greek comic writer, who was the son of Philippus. It is not known where he was born or in what year. However we do know that he lived in the deme of Kudathenaion which would suggest that he came from a wealthy family1. Most of his plays were political satires highlighting the troubles in Athens during that period. Many of them were performed at festivals, watched and voted for by the people, unfortunately out of the 40 plays that he wrote only 11 survive today.

His first surviving work is The Acharnians (425 BC). Athens at this time was very demoralized because of the Peloponnesian War and the death of Pericles six years earlier. The play highlights the problems the people of Attica were having with constant raids on their land and continual enemy invasions.

His second surviving play is The Knights (424 BC). In the play, Aristophanes pokes fun at the Athenian leader of the time Cleon, for his tyrannical leadership and also for his alcoholic tendencies. Because of the sharp attack on Cleon, Aristophanes had to play the part of Cleon himself. The play gained Aristophanes first place at the festival.

Aristophanes in The Clouds (423 BC) turns his attention away from political satire and instead covers the cultural figure of Socrates. The Wasps (422 BC) ridiculed the courts of justice. The Peace (421 BC) focuses on the Peace of Nicias which saw the end of hostilities in the Peloponnesian War and discusses the peace between Athens and Sparta.

Aristophanes next play was not for another seven years and in that time a law had been passed attempting to keep in check political satire. Aristophanes next surviving play was The Birds (414 BC) and poked fun at Athens for its fondness of litigation. In 411 BC Aristophanes wrote Lysistrata which is another anti-war play and shows the plight of women trying to bring about peace in an attempt to stop losing their sons to the war.

Aristophanes did not write another play for 19 years and his later work was far less critical of the political issues of the time. Presumably this was because of the laws that had been put in place to stop writers criticizing the regimes that ruled Athens. Aristophanes final play was Plutus (388 BC), which he wrote some three years before his death.

1 Arist Wasps 422 B.C.

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