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Who's Who Ancient Greece: The Arts

Aristophanes (446-385 BC)

Comedic drama

aristophanesThe birthplace of this great comic poet of antiquity was also a source of controversy in his own times, with Rhodes, Egypt, and Aegina among the suggested locations, though the controversy arose from a false claim that the demagogue Kleon had accused the poet of being a foreigner who was illegally enjoying the rights of an Athenian citizen.

One thing that is well established, however, is that he spent most of his time on the island of Aegina, and that he owned land there. He had tree sons, two of them writers of comedies like their father.

He was a man of dignified and principled character, oriented rather conservatively towards the aristocracy, something demonstrated in his comedies by mockery of the democratic faction, though it was not democracy he criticized, but the corruption of state politicians in the 'democracy' of the time.

He especially hated the link between political corruption and the perpetuation of war. Aristophanes was a much honored poet, who wrote over forty comedies, of which 37 titles are known, but of which only 11 have been preserved.

These fall into three categories: the political, social and the literary.

The first included 'Wasps', 'Knights', 'Lysistrata', Acharnians' and 'Peace'; the second, 'Clouds', 'Plutus', and Ecclesiazusae'; the third, 'Frogs', 'Birds', and 'Thesmophoriazusae'.

The comedies of Aristophanes serve as a historical record of the daily life of his times both in the city of Athens, and in the countryside nearby. No other comedies besides his have survived intact. 'Lysistrata' is a play that has fascinated many people because of its theme of an appeal by the poet to Athenians and Spartans for an end to the fratricidal war, and for Panhellenic peace.

Quite interestingly, he addresses himself to the women who are longing for their husbands taken away from them for a period of years by the war, and uses a beautiful young woman as his central figure, something quite without precedent.