Aristophanes

Aristophanes was born in 448 BC and he died in 385 BC. He was an Athenian
playwright who was and is considered to be one of the greatest writers of comedy
in literary history. His plays have been performed through the centuries and have
remained popular because of their wit, comic invention, and poetic language.

Aristophanes is believed to have been born in the deme, or township, of
Cydathenaeum, in Athens, the son of one Philippos. He was presumably well
educated, and he may have had property on the island of Aegina. He had three
sons, Philippos, Araros, and Nikostratos, all of whom became comic poets.

Aristophanes was known for his conservatism. He favored rule by the aristocracy
rather than democratic rule, and he preferred the established philosophical and
theological ideas rather than the new ideas of the Sophists. However, although he
opposed new ideas, Aristophanes did not distinguish between destructive and
progressive ideas. His opposition to new ideas and reform was more emotional than
intellectual.

Aristophanes wrote more than 40 plays; of these, only eleven have survived. His
first three plays were produced under a pseudonym, or false name. One of these
was The Acharnians, written in 425 BC. It is a plea for the end of the war with
Sparta.

The Knights was written in 424 BC, and it is the first of Aristophanes' plays to be
published under his own name. It is a devastating satire about the Athenian
politician and military leader Cleon, champion of the democratic forces and leader
of the war party. Written in 423 BC, The Clouds is a satire about the Greek
philosopher Socrates, whose thorough analysis of established values Aristophanes
thought was contrary to the interests of the state. In The Wasps, written in 422 BC,
Aristophanes satirized the courts of justice of the day, and in The Peace, written
only a year later in 421 BC, he again argued for peace between Athens and Sparta.

Written in 414 BC, The Birds ridicules the Athenian fondness for litigation, or law
suits. Lysistrata is yet another satire on war in which women strike for peace by
practicing celibacy. Lysistrata is his most famous work, and was written in 411 BC.
Thesmorphoriazusae (411 BC) and The Frogs (405 BC) both include attacks on
Euripides. Written in 393 BC, Ecclesiazusa is a satire on the idea of communal
ownership of property, and Plutus, written in 388 BC, diminished to absurdity the
concept of redistribution of wealth in Athens. These works, which are basically
fantasies, were written in a form less strict than that of contemporary tragedy. They
all include dialogue scenes, long choral sections, lyric passages, and a great deal of
music and dance.

The plays of Aristophanes had a considerable influence on English satire, most
notably that of Ben Jonson in the 17th century and Henry Fielding in the 18th
century.