Who was Aristophanes? - an ancient Greek comic playwright
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Who's Aristophanes?

Aristophanes

Aristophanes (done later on,
by someone who had never seen him)

Aristophanes (arr-iss-TA-fa-knees) lived in Athens at about the same time as Euripides, about 450-388 BC, but Aristophanes wrote comedies instead of tragedies. Most of Aristophanes' plays are political satire. They make fun of the politicians of Athens, sometimes in general, and sometimes mocking specific politicians for saying something dumb, or something Aristophanes disagreed with. You might say Aristophanes was the Daily Show or Colbert of his time.

One of Aristophanes' plays, Lysistrata, poked fun at the generals who would not end the Peloponnesian War, and said that women could do a better job of making peace. Another play, the Frogs, was a sad commentary on the deaths of Sophocles and Euripides, and on the difficulty of using art to make peace. The Wasps makes fun of the Athenian jury system.

Like the tragedies, Greek comedies were performed in a competition, which was itself part of a religious festival. Aristophanes often won these competitions, so the judges must have thought his plays were good.

Learn by doing: have a Greek play-reading
More about Greek comedy: Menander

Bibliography and further reading about Aristophanes and Greek theater:

Greek Theatre, by Stewart Ross (1999). Easy reading.

Greek and Roman Theater, by Don Nardo. For teenagers.

Aristophanes I: Clouds, Wasps, Birds, translated by Peter Meineck (1998). All Aristophanes plays have a lot of dirty jokes in them, and these are no exception. Be warned. Lively, and suitable for play production.

Aristophanes and Athens: An Introduction to the Plays, by Douglas M. MacDowell (1995). Explains the meaning of the jokes and political commentary in the plays. For adults.

More Greek comedy: Menander
Ancient Greece
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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