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:
(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.
(Ἱππεῖς) mentioned above, B.C. 424, also
crowned with the first prize, and aimed directly against the demagogue Cleon.
(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.
(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
(Εἰρήνη), of the year B.C. 421, recommending
the conclusion of peace.
(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
(Λυσιστράτη), B.C. 411, a Women's Conspiracy to
bring about peace; the last of the strictly political plays.
(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.
(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.
(Ἐκκλησιάζουσαι), or The National Assembly of
Women, B.C. 392. It is levelled against the vain attempts to restore the Athenian state by
(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
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
. The ed. of Invernizzi-Beck contains a collation of the Ravenna MS.
Other editions are those of Bekker (1829)
; Dindorf (5th ed. 1869)
; Blaydes (1886)
; Holden (5th ed. 1887)
Eng. trans. of eight plays by Rudd (1867)
; of five plays by Frere
. There is a complete concordance by Dunbar (1883)
Aristophanes the Grammarian
(or Scholar) of
Byzantium, born about B.C. 260, went in his early youth to Alexandria, and was there a pupil
of Zenodotus and Callimachus. On the death of Apollonius of Rhodes, Aristophanes, when past
his sixtieth year, was appointed to be chief librarian, and died at the age of seventy-seven.
His fame was eclipsed by that of his pupil Aristarchus, but he still passed for one of the
ablest grammarians and critics of antiquity, distinguished by industry, learning, and sound
judgment. In addition to the Homeric poems, which formed his favourite study, and of which he
was the first to attempt a really critical text, he devoted his labours to Hesiod; the lyric
poets, especially Alcaeus and Pindar; and the tragic and comic poets, Aristophanes and
Menander in particular. The received introductions to the plays of the tragedians and
Aristophanes are in their best parts derived from him. He was also the author of a large and
much-quoted work of a lexicographical character, considerable fragments of which still
survive. See Homerus
; Textual Criticism