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Aristophanes was the most famous writer of Old Comedy plays in ancient Greece. His innovative and sometimes rough comedy could also hide more sophisticated digs at the political elite and deal with social issues such as cultural change and the role of women in society.
See the fact file below for more information on the Aristophanes or alternatively, you can download our 23-page Aristophanes worksheet pack to utilise within the classroom or home environment.
Key Facts & Information
Early Life and Literary Beginnings
- Unfortunately, little is known about Aristophanes’ early life, but references in later plays suggest that he was probably born around 446 or 448 BCE.
- He was the son of Philippos, who hailed from the island of Aegina, and was almost certainly educated in Athens.
- Aristophanes started writing at a time after the euphoria of Greece’s military victories over the Persians, when the Peloponnesian War had largely curtailed Athens’ ambitions as an imperial power.
- However, although Athens’ empire had been largely dismantled, it had nevertheless become the intellectual center of Greece, and Aristophanes was an important figure in this change in intellectual fashions.
- From his caricatures of the leading figures in the arts (notably Euripides), in politics (especially the dictator Cleon), and in philosophy and religion (Socrates), he often gives the impression of being something of an old-fashioned conservative, and his plays often espouse opposition to the radical new influences in Athenian society.
- Aristophanes was, however, not afraid to take risks. His first play, The Banqueters, won second prize at the annual City Dionysia drama competition in 427 BCE, and his next play, The Babylonians, won first prize.
- His polemical satires in these popular plays caused some embarrassment for the Athenian authorities, and some influential citizens subsequently sought to prosecute the young dramatist on a charge of slandering the Athenian polis.
- It soon became apparent, though, that there was no legal redress for slander in a play, and the court case certainly did not stop Aristophanes from repeatedly savaging and caricaturing Cleon in his later plays.
- Despite the highly political stance of his plays, Aristophanes managed to survive The Peloponnesian War, two oligarchic revolutions and two democratic restorations, so it can be assumed that he was not actively involved in politics.
- He was probably appointed to the Council of Five Hundred for a year at the beginning of the 4th Century BCE, a common appointment in democratic Athens.
- The genial characterization of Aristophanes in Plato’s The Symposium has been interpreted as evidence of Plato’s own friendship with him, despite Aristophanes’ cruel caricature of Plato’s teacher Socrates in The Clouds.
- Aristophanes also won the less prestigious Lenaia competition at least three times.
Death and Legacy
- Aristophanes lived to an old age, probably until around 386 or 385 BCE, perhaps as late as 380 BCE. At least three of his sons (Araros, Philippus and a third son called either Nicostratus or Philetaerus) were themselves comic poets and later winners of the Lenaia, as well as producers of their father’s plays.
- It was under the comic genius of Aristophanes that Old Comedy received its fullest development, and he was able to contrast infinitely graceful poetic language with vulgar and offensive jests, adapting the same versification forms of the tragedians to his own aims.
- During Aristophanes’ time, though, there was a discernible trend from Old Comedy to New Comedy, involving a trend away from the topical emphasis on real individuals and local issues of Old Comedy, towards a more cosmopolitan emphasis on generalized situations and stock characters, increasing levels of complexity and more realistic plots.
This is a fantastic bundle which includes everything you need to know about Aristophanes across 23 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use Aristophanes worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about Aristophanes who was the most famous writer of Old Comedy plays in ancient Greece. His innovative and sometimes rough comedy could also hide more sophisticated digs at the political elite and deal with social issues such as cultural change and the role of women in society.
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Use With Any Curriculum
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