Aristophănes in Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities

The greatest writer of Greek comedy. He lived at Athens, B.C. 444-388. His father, Philippus, is said to have been not a native Athenian, but a settler from Rhodes or Egypt, who afterwards acquired citizenship. However this may be, the demagogue Cleon, whose displeasure Aristophanes had incurred, tried to call in question his right to the citizenship. His first comedy appeared in B.C. 427, but was not performed under his own name because of his youth; and several more of his plays were brought upon the stage by Callistratus and Philonides, till in 424 he brought out The Knights in his own person. Forty-four of his plays were known to antiquity, though four of them were considered doubtful. Of these we possess eleven, the only complete Greek comedies which have survived, besides the titles and numerous fragments of twenty-six others. The eleven are: * 1. The Acharnians (Ἀχαρνεῖς), which gained him the victory over Cratinus and Eupolis, B.C. 425, written during the great Peloponnesian War to induce the Athenians to make peace. * 2. The Knights (Ἱππεῖς) mentioned above, B.C. 424, also crowned with the first prize, and aimed directly against the demagogue Cleon. * 3. The Clouds (Νεφέλαι), B.C. 423, his most famous and, in his own opinion, his most successful piece, though when played it only won the third prize. We have it now in a second, and apparently unfinished, edition. It is directed against the pernicious influence of the Sophists, as the representative of whom Socrates is attacked. * 4. The Wasps (Σφῆκες), brought out in B.C. 422, and, like the two following, rewarded with the second prize; it is a satire upon the Athenian passion for lawsuits. * 5. The Peace (Εἰρήνη), of the year B.C. 421, recommending the conclusion of peace. * 6. The Birds (Ὄρνιθες), acted in B.C. 414, and exposing the romantic hopes built on the expedition to Sicily. This is unquestionably the happiest production of the poet's genius, and is marked by a careful reserve in the employment of dramatic resource. * 7. The Lysistraté (Λυσιστράτη), B.C. 411, a Women's Conspiracy to bring about peace; the last of the strictly political plays. * 8. Thesmophoriazusae (Θεσμοφοριάζουσαι), probably to be dated B.C. 410. It is written against Euripides's dislike of women, for which the women who are celebrating the Thesmophoria drag him to justice. * 9. The Frogs (Βάτραχοι), which was acted in B.C. 405, and won the first prize. It is a piece sparkling with genius, on the decay of tragic art, the blame of which is laid on Euripides, then recently deceased. * 10. Ecclesiazusae (Ἐκκλησιάζουσαι), or The National Assembly of Women, B.C. 392. It is levelled against the vain attempts to restore the Athenian state by cut-and-dried constitutions. * 11. Plutus (Πλοῦτος), or The God of Wealth. The blind god is restored to sight, and better times are brought about. This play was acted first in B.C. 408, then in 388 in a revised form suitable to the time, and dispensing with chorus and parabasis. This play marks the transition to the Middle Comedy. See Comoedia. In the opinion of the ancients, Aristophanes holds a middle place between Cratinus and Eupolis, being neither so rough as the former nor so mild as the latter, but combining the severity of the one with the grace of the other. What was thought of him in his own time is evident from Plato's Symposium, where he is numbered among the noblest of men; and an epigram attributed to that philosopher says that the Graces, looking for an enduring shrine, found it in the soul of Aristophanes. He unites understanding, feeling, and fancy in a degree possessed by few poets of antiquity. His keen glance penetrates the many evils of his time and their most hidden causes; his scorn for all that is base, and his patriotic spirit, burning to bring back the grand days of Marathon, urge him on, without respect of persons or regard for self, to drag the faults he sees into daylight, and lash them with stinging sarcasm; while his inexhaustible fancy invents ever new and original materials, which he manipulates with perfect mastery of language and technical skill. If his jokes are often coarse and actually indecent, the fact must be imputed to the character of the Old Comedy and the licentiousness of the Dionysiac festival, during which the plays were acted. No literature has anything to compare with these comedies. Ancient scholars, recognizing their great importance, bestowed infinite pains in commenting on them, and valuable relics of their writings are enshrined in the existing collections of scholia. The principal MS. of Aristophanes is that of Ravenna, which contains the eleven extant plays. Next in importance is the Codex Venetus Marcianus of nearly the same date, but which lacks the Acharnians, Thesmophoriazusae, Ecclesiazusae, and Lysistraté. Both of these are probably derived from one Alexandrian archetype. The editio princeps of Aristophanes is that of Aldus (Venice, 1498), containing nine plays, to which Junta added two more (1515). The ed. of Invernizzi-Beck contains a collation of the Ravenna MS. Other editions are those of Bekker (1829); Dindorf (5th ed. 1869); Meineke (1860); Blaydes (1886); Holden (5th ed. 1887). Eng. trans. of eight plays by Rudd (1867); of five plays by Frere (1871). There is a complete concordance by Dunbar (1883).

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