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As imagined by a 19th century illustrator. It may be inferred from jests in the plays, however, that the real Aristophanes was prematurely bald [1]
Extant plays:
The Acharnians 425 BC
The Knights 424 BC
The Clouds 423 BC
The Wasps 422 BC
Peace 421 BC
The Birds 414 BC
Lysistrata 411BC
Thesmophoriazusae 411 BC
The Frogs 405 BC
Ecclesiazusae c.392 BC
Wealth II 388 BC

Aristophanes (Ἀριστοφάνης, ca. 446 – ca. 386 BC), son of Philippus, of the deme Cydathenaus,[2] was a prolific and much acclaimed comic playwright of ancient Athens. Eleven of his forty plays survive virtually complete. These, together with fragments of some of his other plays, provide the only real examples of a genre of comic drama known as Old Comedy, and they are in fact used to define the genre.[3] Also known as the Father of Comedy[4] and the Prince of Ancient Comedy,[5] Aristophanes has been said to recreate the life of ancient Athens more convincingly than any other author.[6] His powers of ridicule were feared and acknowledged by influential contemporaries - Plato[7][8] singled out Aristophanes' play The Clouds as slander contributing to the trial and execution of Socrates although other satirical playwrights[9] had caricatured the philosopher. The demagogue Cleon once prosecuted Aristophanes for slandering the Athenian polis with his second play The Babylonians (now lost). Details of his trial and punishment are not recorded but Aristophanes replied with merciless caricatures of Cleon in his subsequent plays, especially The Knights. "In my opinion," he says through the Chorus in that play, "producing comedies is the hardest work of all." (κωμῳδοδιδασκαλίαν εῖναι χαλεπώτατον ἔργον ἁπάντων)[10] He is also known for some famous sayings, such as "By words the mind is winged."[11]


Biography of a dramatist

Theatre of Dionysus, Athens - in Aristophanes' time, the audience probably sat on wooden benches with earth foundations.[12]

Less is known about Aristophanes than about his plays. In fact, his plays are the main source of information about him. It was conventional in Old Comedy for the Chorus to speak on behalf of the author during an address called the 'parabasis' and thus some biographical facts can be got 'straight from the horse's mouth', so to speak. However, these facts relate almost entirely to his career as a dramatist and the plays contain few clear and unambiguous clues about his personal beliefs or his private life.[13] He was a comic poet in an age when it was conventional for a poet to assume the role of 'teacher' (didaskalos), and though this specifically referred to his training of the Chorus in rehearsal, it also covered his relationship with the audience as a commentator on significant issues.[14] Aristophanes claimed to be writing for a clever and discerning audience[15], yet he also declared that 'other times' would judge the audience according to its reception of his plays.[16] He sometimes boasts of his originality as a dramatist[17] yet his plays consistently espouse opposition to radical new influences in Athenian society. He caricatured leading figures in the arts (notably Euripides, whose influence on his own work however he once begrudgingly acknowledged),[18] in politics (especially the populist Cleon), and in philosophy/religion (where Socrates was the most obvious target). Such caricatures seem to imply that Aristophanes was an old-fashioned conservative, yet that view of him leads to contradictions.[19]

The writing of plays was a craft that could be handed down from father to son, and it has been argued that Aristophanes produced plays mainly to entertain the audience and to win prestigious competitions.[20] The plays were written for production at the great dramatic festivals of Athens, the Lenaia and City Dionysia, where they were judged and awarded places relative to the works of other comic dramatists. An elaborate series of lotteries, designed to prevent prejudice and corruption, reduced the voting judges at the City Dionysia to just five in number. These judges probably reflected the mood of the audiences[21] yet there is much uncertainty about the composition of those audiences.[22] They were certainly huge, with seating for at least 10 000 at the Theatre of Dionysus, but it is not certain that they were a representative sample of the Athenian citizenry. The day's program at the City Dionysia for example was crowded, with three tragedies and a 'satyr' play ahead of the comedy, and it is possible that many of the poorer citizens (typically the main supporters of demagogues like Cleon) occupied the festival holiday with other pursuits. (Those inhabitants who were not citizens, such as slaves, were also excluded from the audience.) The conservative views expressed in the plays might therefore reflect the attitudes of a dominant group in an unrepresentative audience. The production process might also have influenced the views expressed in the plays. Throughout most of Aristophanes' career, the Chorus was essential to a play's success and it was recruited and funded by a choregus, a wealthy citizen appointed to the task by one of the archons. A choregus could regard his personal expenditure on the Chorus as a civic duty and a public honour, but Aristophanes showed in The Knights that wealthy citizens could regard civic responsibilities as punishment imposed on them by demagogues and populists like Cleon.[23] Thus the political conservatism of the plays might reflect the views of the wealthiest section of society, on whose generosity comic dramatists depended for the success of their plays.

When Aristophanes' first play The Banqueters was produced, Athens was an ambitious, imperial power and The Peloponnesian War was only in its fourth year. His plays often express pride in the achievement of the older generation (the victors at Marathon)[24][25] yet they are not jingoistic and they are staunchly opposed to the war with Sparta. The plays are particularly scathing in criticism of war profiteers, among whom populists such as Cleon figure prominently.[26][27] By the time his last play was produced (around 386 BC) Athens had been defeated in war, its empire had been dismantled and it had undergone a transformation from the political to the intellectual centre of Greece.[28] Aristophanes was part of this transformation and he shared in the intellectual fashions of the period - the structure of his plays evolves from Old Comedy until, in his last surviving play, Wealth II, it more closely resembles New Comedy. However it is uncertain whether he led or merely responded to changes in audience expectations.[29]

Aristophanes won second prize at the City Dionysia in 427 BC with his first play The Banqueters (now lost). He won first prize there with his next play, The Babylonians (also now lost). It was usual for foreign dignitaries to attend the City Dionysia ,and The Babylonians caused some embarrassment for the Athenian authorities since it depicted the cities of the Athenian League as slaves grinding at a mill.[30] Some influential citizens, notably Cleon, subsequently sought to prosecute the young dramatist on a charge of slandering the polis. The details of the trial are unrecorded but, speaking through the hero of his third play The Acharnians (staged at the Lenaia, where there were few or no foreign dignitaries), he carefully distinguishes between the polis and the real targets of his acerbic wit:

ἡμῶν γὰρ ἄνδρες, κοὐχὶ τὴν πόλιν λέγω,
μέμνησθε τοῦθ᾽ ὅτι οὐχὶ τὴν πόλιν λέγω,
ἀλλ᾽ ἀνδράρια μοχθηρά, παρακεκομμένα...[31]
People among us, and I don't mean the polis,
Remember this - I don't mean the polis -
But wicked little men of a counterfeit kind....

Aristophanes repeatedly savages Cleon in his later plays. But these satirical diatribes appear to have had no effect on Cleon's political career - a few weeks after the performance of The Knights, a play full of anti-Cleon jokes, Cleon was elected to the prestigious board of ten generals.[32] Cleon also seems to have had no real power to limit or control Aristophanes: the caricatures of him continued up to and even beyond his death.

In the absence of clear biographical facts about Aristophanes, scholars make educated guesses based on interpretation of the language in the plays. Inscriptions and summaries or comments by Hellenistic and Byzantine scholars can also provide useful clues. Comments made by the Chorus on behalf of Aristophanes in The Clouds[33] have been interpreted as evidence that he can have been hardly more than 18 years old when his first play The Banqueters was produced.[34] The second parabasis in Wasps[35] appears to indicate that he reached some kind of temporary accommodation with Cleon, possibly following his prosecution for The Babylonians or perhaps after a subsequent attack by Cleon in response to The Knights.[36] The hero in The Acharnians complains about Cleon "dragging me into court" over "last year's play"[37] and this could indicate that Aristophanes acted that part in the play's performance at The Lenaia. It has been inferred[38] from statements in The Clouds and Peace that Aristophanes was prematurely bald,[39] and from statements in The Acharnians that he had some kind of close, personal association with the island of Aegina.[40] We know from comments in The Knights[41] and The Clouds[42] that his first three plays were not produced in his own name. They were instead produced in the names of Callistratus and Philoneides, an arrangement that seemed to suit Aristophanes since Philoneides later produced The Frogs.[43] We know that Aristophanes was probably victorious at least once at the City Dionysia (with Babylonians in 427)[44] and at least three times at the Lenaia, with Acharnians in 425, Knights in 424, and Frogs in 405. Frogs in fact won the unique distinction of a repeat performance at a subsequent festival. We know that a son of Aristophanes, Araros, was also a comic poet and he could have been heavily involved in the production of his father's play Wealth II in 388[45]. Araros is also thought to have been responsible for the posthumous performances of the now lost plays Aeolosicon II and Cocalus,[46] and it is possible that the last of these won the prize at the City Dionysia in 387.[47] It appears that a second son, Philippus, was twice victorious at the Lenaia[48] and he could have produced some of Eubulus’ comedies.[49] A third son was called either Nicostratus or Philetaerus,[50] and a man by the latter name appears in the catalogue of Lenaia victors with two victories, the first probably in the late 370s.[51]

Plato's The Symposium appears to be a useful source of biographical information about Aristophanes, but its reliability is debatable.[52] 'The Symposium' purports to be a record of conversations at a dinner party at which both Aristophanes and Socrates are guests. The party is supposed to have occurred some seven years after the performance of The Clouds (the play in which Socrates was cruelly caricatured) and yet there is no indication of any ill-feeling between the dramatist and the philosopher. Plato's Aristophanes is in fact a genial character and this has been interpreted as evidence of Plato's own friendship with him[53] (their friendship appears to be corroborated by an epitaph for Aristophanes, reputedly written by Plato, in which the playwright's soul is compared to an eternal shrine for the Graces).[54] Plato was only a boy when the events in The Symposium are supposed to have occurred and it is possible that his Aristophanes is in fact based on a reading of the plays. For example, conversation among the guests turns to the subject of Love and Aristophanes explains his notion of it in terms of an amusing allegory, a device he often uses in his plays. He is represented as suffering an attack of hiccoughs and this might be a humorous reference to the crude physical jokes in his plays. He tells the other guests that he is quite happy to be thought amusing but he is wary of appearing ridiculous.[55][56] This fear of being ridiculed is consistent with his declaration in The Knights that he embarked on a career of comic playwright warily after witnessing the public contempt and ridicule that other dramatists had incurred.[57]

Aristophanes survived The Peloponnesian War, two oligarchic revolutions and two democratic restorations; this has been interpreted as evidence that he was not actively involved in politics despite his highly political plays.[58] He was probably appointed to the Council of Five Hundred for a year at the beginning of the fourth century but such appointments were very common in democratic Athens.[59] Socrates, in the trial leading up to his own death, put the issue of a personal conscience in those troubled times quite succinctly:

ἀναγκαῖόν ἐστι τὸν τῷ ὄντι μαχούμενον ὑπὲρ τοῦ δικαίου, καὶ εἰ μέλλει ὀλίγον χρόνον σωθήσεσθαι, ἰδιωτεύειν ἀλλὰ μὴ δημοσιεύειν.[60]
"...he who will really fight for the right, if he would live even for a little while, must have a private station and not a public one.[61]

Aristophanes the Poet

Muse reading, Louvre

The language in Aristophanes' plays, and in Old Comedy generally, was valued by ancient commentators as a model of the Attic dialect. The orator Quintilian believed that the charm and grandeur of the Attic dialect made Old Comedy an example for orators to study and follow, and he considered it inferior in these respects only to the works of Homer.[62] [63]A revival of interest in the Attic dialect may have been responsible for the recovery and circulation of Aristophanes' plays during the 4th and 5th centuries AD, resulting in their survival today.[62] In Aristophanes' plays, the Attic dialect is couched in verse and his plays can be appreciated for their poetic qualities.

For Aristophanes' contemporaries the works of Homer and Hesiod were as instructive as the Bible became for many Greeks in the Christian era. Thus poetry had a moral and social significance that made it an inevitable topic of comic satire.[64] Aristophanes was very conscious of literary fashions and traditions and his plays feature numerous references to other poets. These include not only rival comic dramatists such as Eupolis and Hermippus[65] and predecessors such as Magnes, Crates and Cratinus,[66] but also tragedians, notably Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, all three of whom are mentioned in e.g. The Frogs. Aristophanes was the equal of these great tragedians in his subtle use of lyrics.[67] He appears to have modelled his approach to language on that of Euripides in particular, so much so that the comic dramatist Cratinus labelled him a 'Euripidaristophanist' addicted to hair-splitting niceties.[68]

A full appreciation of Aristophanes' plays requires an understanding of the poetic forms he employed with virtuoso skill, and of their different rhythms and associations.[69] There were three broad poetic forms: iambic dialogue, tetrameter verses and lyrics:[70]

  • Iambic dialogue: Aristophanes achieves an effect resembling natural speech through the use of the iambic hexameter (corresponding to the effects achieved by English poets such as Shakespeare using iambic pentameters). His realistic use of the metre[71] makes it ideal for both dialogue and soliloquy, as for instance in the prologue, before the arrival of the Chorus, when the audience is introduced to the main issues in the plot. The Acharnians opens with these three lines by the hero, Dikaiopolis (rendered here in English as iambic pentameters):
How many are the things that vex my heart!
Pleasures are few, so very few - just four -
But stressful things are manysandthousandsandheaps![72]
Here Aristophanes employs a frequent device, arranging the syntax so that the final word in a line comes as a comic climax.[73] The hero's pleasures are so few he can number them (τέτταρα, four) but his causes for complaint are so many they beggar numerical description and he must invent his own word for them (ψαμμακοσιογάργαρα, literally 'sandhundredheaps', here paraphrased 'manysandthousandsandheaps'). The use of invented compound words is another comic device frequently found in the plays.[74]
  • Tetrameter verses: These are long lines of anapests, trochees or iambs (where each line is measured in four dipodes or pairs of feet), used in various situations within each play such as:
    • formal debates or agons between characters (typically in anapestic rhythm);
    • excited dialogue or heated argument (typically trochaic rhythm, the same as in early tragedy);
    • long speeches declaimed by the Chorus in parabases (in either anapestic or trochaic rhythms);
    • informal debates barely above the level of ordinary dialogue (typically iambic).
Anapestic rhythms are naturally jaunty (as in many limericks) and trochaic metre is suited to rapid delivery (the word 'trochee' is in fact derived from trechein, 'to run', as demonstrated for example by choruses who enter at speed, often in aggressive mood)[75] However, even though both these rhythms can seem to 'bowl along'[76] Aristophanes often varies them through use of complex syntax and substituted metres, adapting the rhythms to the requirements of serious argument. In an anapestic passage in The Frogs, for instance, the character Aeschylus presents a view of poetry that is supposed to be serious but which leads to a comic interruption by the god, Dionysus:
AES.:It was Orpheus singing who taught us religion and how wrong people are when they kill,
And we learned from Musaeus medicinal cures and the science of divination.
If it's farming you want, Hesiod knows it all, when to plant, when to harvest. How godlike
Homer got to be famous, I'll tell if you ask: he taught us what all good men should know,
Discipline, fortitude, battle-readiness. DIO.: But no-one taught Pantocles - yesterday
He was marching his men up and down on parade when the crest of his helmet fell off![77]

The rhythm begins at a typical anapestic gallop, slows down to consider the revered poets Hesiod and Homer, then gallops off again to its comic conclusion at the expense of the unfortunate Pantocles. Such subtle variations in rhythm are common in the plays, allowing for serious points to be made while still whetting the audience's appetite for the next joke.

  • Lyrics: Almost nothing is known about the music that accompanied Greek lyrics, and the metre is often so varied and complex that it is difficult for modern readers or audiences to get a feel for the intended effects, yet Aristophanes still impresses with the charm and simplicity of his lyrics.[76] Some of the most memorable and haunting lyrics are dignified hymns set free of the comic action[78] In the example below, taken from The Wasps, the lyric is merely a comic interlude and the rhythm is steadily trochaic. The syntax in the original Greek is natural and unforced and it was probably accompanied by brisk and cheerful music, gliding to a concluding pun at the expense of Amynias, who is thought to have lost his fortune gambling.[79]
Though to myself I often seem
A bright chap and not awkward,
None comes close to Amynias,
Son of Sellos of the Bigwig
Clan, a man I once saw
Dine with rich Leogorus.
Now as poor as Antiphon,
He lives on apples and pomegranates
Yet he got himself appointed
Ambassador to Pharselus,
Way up there in Thessaly,
Home of the poor Penestes:
Happy to be where everyone
Is as penniless as he is![80]
The pun here in English translation (Penestes-penniless) is a weak version of the Greek pun Πενέσταισι-πενέστης. Many of the puns in the plays are based on words that are similar rather than identical, and it has been observed that there could be more of them than scholars have yet been able to identify.[81] Sometimes entire scenes are constructed on puns, as in The Acharnians with the Megarian farmer and his pigs.[82]

It can be argued that the most important feature of the language of the plays is imagery, particularly the use of similes, metaphors and pictorial expressions.[83] In 'The Knights', for example, the ears of a character with selective hearing are represented as parasols that open and close.[84] In The Frogs, Aeschylus is said to compose verses in the manner of a horse rolling in a sandpit.[85] Some plays feature revelations of human perfectibility that are poetic rather than religious in character, such as the marriage of the hero Pisthetairos to Zeus's paramour in The Birds and the 'recreation' of old Athens, crowned with roses, at the end of The Knights.

Aristophanes and Old Comedy

Thalia, muse of comedy, gazing upon a comic mask (detail from Muses' Sarcophagus)

The Greek word for 'comedy' (kōmōidía) derives from the words for 'revel' and 'song' (kōmos and ōdē) and according to Aristotle[86] comic drama actually developed from song. The first, official comedy at the City Dionysia was not staged until 487/6 BC,[87] by which time tragedy had already been long established there. The first comedy at the Lenaia was staged later still,[88] only about 20 years before the performance there of The Acharnians, the first of Aristophanes' surviving plays. According to Aristotle, comedy was slow to gain official acceptance because nobody took it seriously[89] yet, only sixty years after comedy first appeared at 'The City Dionysia', Aristophanes observed that producing comedies was the most difficult work of all.[90] Competition at the Dionysian festivals needed dramatic conventions for plays to be judged, but it also fuelled innovations.[91] Developments were quite rapid and Aristotle was able to distinguish between 'old' and 'new' comedy by 330 BC.[92] The trend from Old Comedy to New Comedy saw a move away from highly topical concerns with real individuals and local issues towards generalized situations and stock characters. This was partly due to the internationalization of cultural perspectives during and after the Peloponnesian War.[93][94] For ancient commentators such as Plutarch,[95] New Comedy was a more sophisticated form of drama than Old Comedy. However Old Comedy was in fact a complex and sophisticated dramatic form incorporating many approaches to humour and entertainment.[96] In Aristophanes' early plays, the genre appears to have developed around a complex set of dramatic conventions and these were only gradually simplified and abandoned.

The City Dionysia and the Lenaia were celebrated in honour of Dionysus, a god who represented Man's darker nature (Euripides' play The Bacchae offers the best insight into 5th Century ideas about this god).[97] Old Comedy can be understood as a celebration of the exuberant sense of release inherent in his worship[98] It was more interested in finding targets for satire than in any kind of advocacy.[99] During the City Dionysia, a statue of the god was brought to the theatre from a temple outside the city and it remained in the theatre throughout the festival, overseeing the plays like a privileged member of the audience.[100] In The Frogs, the god appears also as a dramatic character and he enters the theatre ludicrously disguised as Hercules. He observes to the audience that every time he is on hand to hear a joke from a comic dramatist like Phrynichus (one of Aristophanes' rivals) he ages by more than a year.[101] The scene opens the play and it is a reminder to the audience that nobody is above mockery in Old Comedy - not even its patron god and its practitioners! Gods, artists, politicians and ordinary citizens were legitimate targets, comedy was a kind of licensed buffoonery[102] and there was no legal redress for anyone who was slandered in a play.[103] There were some limits to the scope of the satire, but they are not easily defined. Impiety could be punished in 5th century Athens but absurdities implicit in traditional religion were open to ridicule.[104] The polis was not allowed to be slandered but, as stated in the biography section of this article, that could depend on who was in the audience and which festival was involved.

For convenience, Old Comedy, as represented by Aristophanes' early plays, is analysed below in terms of three broad characteristics - topicality, festivity and complexity. Dramatic structure contributes to the complexity of Aristophanes' plays. However it is associated with poetic rhythms and meters that have little relevance to English translations and it is therefore treated in a separate section.



Old Comedy's emphasis on real personalities and local issues makes the plays difficult to appreciate today without the aid of scholarly commentaries - see for example articles on The Knights, The Wasps and Peace for lists of topical references. The topicality of the plays had unique consequences for both the writing and the production of the plays in ancient Athens.

  • Individual masks: All actors in classical Athens wore masks, but whereas in tragedy and New Comedy these identified stereotypical characters, in Old Comedy the masks were often caricatures of real people. Perhaps Socrates attracted a lot of attention in Old Comedy because his face lent itself easily to caricature by mask-makers.[105] In The Knights we are told that the mask makers were too afraid to make a caricature of Cleon (there represented as a Paphlagonian slave) but we are assured that the audience is clever enough to identify him anyway.[106]
  • The real scene of action: Since Old Comedy makes numerous references to people in the audience, the theatre itself was the real scene of action and theatrical illusion was treated as something of a joke. In The Acharnians, for example, The Pnyx is just a few steps from the hero's front door, and in Peace Olympia is separated from Athens by a few moments' supposed flight on a dung beetle. The audience is sometimes drawn or even dragged into the action. When the hero in Peace returns to Athens from his flight to Olympia, he tells the audience that they looked like rascals when seen from the heavens, and seen up close they look even worse.[107]. In The Acharnians the hero confronts the archon basileus,[108] sitting in the front row, and demands to be awarded first prize for a drinking competition, which is a none too subtle way for Aristophanes to request first prize for the drama competition.
  • Self-mocking theatre: Frequent parodying of tragedy is an aspect of Old Comedy that modern audiences find difficult to understand. But the Lenaia and City Dionysia included performances of both comedies and tragedies, and thus references to tragedy were highly topical and immediately relevant to the original audience.[109] The comic dramatist also poked fun at comic poets and he even ridiculed himself. It is possible, as indicated earlier, that Aristophanes mocked his own baldness. In The Clouds, the Chorus compares him to an unwed, young mother[110] and in The Acharnians the Chorus mockingly depicts him as Athens' greatest weapon in the war against Sparta.[111]
  • Political theatre: The Lenaia and City Dionysus were state-sponsored, religious festivals, and though the latter was the more prestigious of the two, both were occasions for official pomp and circumstance. The ceremonies for the Lenaia were overseen by the archon basileus and by officials of the Eleusinian mysteries. The City Dionysia was overseen by the archon eponymous and the priest of Dionysus. Opening ceremonies for the City Dionysia featured, in addition to the ceremonial arrival of the god, a parade in full armour of the sons of warriors who died fighting for the polis and, until the end of the Peloponnesian War, a presentation of annual tribute from subject states.[112] Religious and political issues were topics that could hardly be ignored in such a setting and the plays often treat them quite seriously. Even jokes can be serious when the topic is politics - especially in wartime. The butts of the most savage jokes are opportunists who prey on the gullibility of their fellow citizens, including oracle-mongers,[113] the exponents of new religious practices,[114] war-profiteers and political fanatics. In The Acharnians, for example, Lamachus is represented as a crazed militarist whose preparations for war are hilariously compared to the hero's preparations for a dinner party.[115] Cleon emerges from numerous similes and metaphors in The Knights as a protean form of comic evil, clinging to political power by every possible means for as long as he can, yet the play also includes simple hymns invoking Poseidon and Athena,[116] and it ends with visions of a miraculously transformed Demos (i.e. the morally reformed citizenry of Athens).[117] Imaginative visions of a return to peaceful activities resulting from peace with Sparta,[118] and a plea for leniency for citizens suspected of complicity in an oligarchic revolt[119] are other examples of a serious purpose behind the plays.
  • Teasing and taunting: A festival audience presented the comic dramatist with a wide range of targets, not just political or religious ones - anyone known to the audience could be mocked for any reason, such as diseases, physical deformities, ugliness, family misfortunes, bad manners, perversions, dishonesty, cowardice in battle, and clumsiness.[120] Foreigners, a conspicuous presence in imperial Athens, particularly at the City Dionysia, often appear in the plays comically mispronouncing Attic words - these include Spartans (Lysistrata), Scythians (Thesmophoriazusae), Persians, Boeotians and Megarians (The Acharnians).


The Lenaia and City Dionysia were religious festivals, but they resembled a gala rather than a church service.[121]

  • Dirty jokes: A relaxation in standards of behaviour was permitted and the holiday spirit included bawdy irreverence towards both men and gods.[122] Old Comedy is rich in obscenities and the crude jokes are often very detailed, as when the Chorus in The Acharnians places a curse on Antimachus,[123] a choregus accused of niggardly conduct, wishing upon him a night-time mugging as he returns home from some drunken party and envisioning him, as he stoops down to pick up a rock in the darkness, accidentally picking up a fresh turd instead. He is then envisioned hurling the turd at his attacker, missing and accidentally hitting Cratinus, a lyric poet not admired by Aristophanes.[124] This was particularly funny because the curse was sung (or chanted) in choreographed style by a Chorus of 24 grown men who were otherwise known to the audience as respectable citizens.
  • The musical extravaganza: The Chorus was vital to the success of a play in Old Comedy long after it had lost its relevance for tragedy.[125] Technically, the competition in the dramatic festivals was not between poets but between choruses.[126] In fact eight of Aristophanes' eleven surviving plays are named after the Chorus. In Aristophanes' time, the Chorus in tragedy was relatively small (twelve members) and its role had been reduced to that of an awkwardly placed commentator, but in Old Comedy the Chorus was large (numbering 24), it was actively involved in the plot, its entry into the action was frequently spectacular, its movements were practised with military precision and sometimes it was involved in choreographed skirmishes with the actors.[127] The expenditure on costumes, training and maintenance of a Chorus was considerable,[128] and perhaps many people in the original audience enjoyed comedy mainly for the spectacle and music.[129] The chorus gradually lost its significance as New Comedy began to develop.
  • Obvious costumes: Consistent with the holiday spirit, much of the humour in Old Comedy is slapstick buffoonery that doesn't require the audience's careful attention, often relying on visual cues. Actors playing male roles appear to have worn tights over grotesque padding, with a prodigious, leather phallus barely concealed by a short tunic. Female characters were played by men but were easily recognized in long, saffron tunics.[130] Sometimes the visual cues are deliberately confused for comic effect, as in The Frogs, where Dionysus arrives on stage in a saffron tunic, the buskin boots of a tragic actor and a lion skin cloak that usually characterized Heracles - an absurd outfit that provokes the character Heracles (as no doubt it provoked the audience) to guffaws of helpless mirth.[131]
  • The farcical anti-climax: The holiday spirit might also have been responsible for an aspect of the comic plot that can seem bewildering to modern audiences. The major confrontation (agon) between the 'good' and 'bad' characters in a play is often resolved decisively in favour of the former long before the end of the play. The rest of the play deals with farcical consequences in a succession of loosely connected scenes. The farcical anti-climax has been explained in a variety of ways, depending on the particular play. In The Wasps, for instance, it has been thought to indicate a gradual change in the main character's perspective as the lessons of the agon are slowly absorbed.[132] In The Acharnians, it has been explained in terms of a unifying theme that underlies the episodes, demonstrating the practical benefits that come with wisdom.[133] But the early release of dramatic tension is consistent with the holiday meanings in Old Comedy[134] and it allows the audience to relax in uncomplicated enjoyment of the spectacle, the music, jokes and celebrations that characterize the remainder of the play. The celebration of the hero's victory often concludes in a sexual conquest and sometimes it takes the form of a wedding, thus providing the action with a joyous sense of closure.[135]


The development of New Comedy involved a trend towards more realistic plots, a simpler dramatic structure and a softer tone.[136] Old Comedy was the comedy of a vigorously democratic polis at the height of its power and it gave Aristophanes the freedom to explore the limits of humour, even to the point of undermining the humour itself.[137]

  • Inclusive comedy: Old Comedy provided a variety of entertainments for a diverse audience. It accommodated a serious purpose, light entertainment, hauntingly beautiful lyrics, the buffoonery of puns and invented words, obscenities, disciplined verse, wildly absurd plots and a formal, dramatic structure.
  • Fantasy and absurdity: Fantasy in Old Comedy is unrestricted and impossibilities are ignored.[138] Situations are developed logically to absurd conclusions, an approach to humour that is echoed for instance in the works of Lewis Carroll and Eugene Ionesco (the Theatre of the Absurd).[139] The crazy costume worn by Dionysus in The Frogs is typical of an absurd result obtained on logical grounds - he wears a woman's saffron-coloured tunic because effeminacy is an aspect of his divinity, buskin boots because he is interested in reviving the art of tragedy, and a lion skin cape because, like Heracles, his mission leads him into Hades. Absurdities develop logically from initial premises in a plot. In The Knights for instance, Cleon's corrupt service to the people of Athens is originally depicted as a household relationship in which the slave dupes his master. The introduction of a rival, who is not a member of the household, leads to an absurd shift in the metaphor, so that Cleon and his rival become erastai competing for the affections of an eromenos, hawkers of oracles competing for the attention of a credulous public, athletes in a race for approval and orators competing for the popular vote.
  • The resourceful hero: In Aristophanic comedy, the hero is an independent-minded and self-reliant individual. He has something of the ingenuity of Homer's Odysseus and much of the shrewdness of the farmer idealized in Hesiod's Works and Days, subjected to corrupt leaders and unreliable neighbours. Typically he devises a complicated and highly fanciful escape from an intolerable situation.[140] Thus Dikaiopolis in The Acharnians contrives a private peace treaty with the Spartans; Bdelucleon in The Wasps turns his own house into a private law court in order to keep his jury-addicted father safely at home; Trygaeus in Peace flies to Olympus on a giant dung beetle to obtain an end to the Peloponnesian War; Pisthetairus in Birds sets off to establish his own colony and becomes instead the ruler of the bird kingdom and a rival to the gods.
  • The resourceful cast: The numerous surprising developments in an Aristophanic plot, the changes in scene, and the farcical comings and goings of minor characters towards the end of a play, were managed according to theatrical convention with only three principal actors (a fourth actor, often the leader of the chorus, was permitted to deliver short speeches).[141] Songs and addresses to the audience by the Chorus gave the actors hardly enough time off-stage to draw breath and to prepare for changes in scene.
  • Complex structure: The action of an Aristophanic play obeyed a crazy logic of its own and yet it always unfolded within a formal, dramatic structure that was repeated with minor variations from one play to another. The different, structural elements are associated with different poetic meters and rhythms and these are generally lost in English translations.

Dramatic structure

The structural elements of a typical Aristophanic plot can be summarized as follows:

  • prologue - an introductory scene with a dialogue and/or soliloquy addressed to the audience, expressed in iambic trimeter and explaining the situation that is to be resolved in the play;
  • parodos - the arrival of the chorus, dancing and singing, sometimes followed by a choreographed skirmish with one or more actors, often expressed in long lines of tetrameters;
  • symmetrical scenes - passages featuring songs and declaimed verses in long lines of tetrameters, arranged symmetrically in two sections such that each half resembles the other in meter and line length; the agon and parabasis can be considered specific instances of symmetrical scenes:
    • parabasis - verses through which the Chorus addresses the audience directly, firstly in the middle of the play and again near the end (see the section below Parabasis);
    • agon - a formal debate that decides the outcome of the play, typically in anapestic tetrameter, though iambs are sometimes used to delineate inferior arguments;[142]
  • episodes - sections of dialogue in iambic trimeter, often in a succession of scenes featuring minor characters towards the end of a play;
  • songs ('strophes'/'antistrophes' or 'odes'/'antodes') - often in symmetrical pairs where each half has the same meter and number of lines as the other, used as transitions between other structural elements, or between scenes while actors change costume, and often commenting on the action;
  • exodus - the departure of the Chorus and the actors, in song and dance celebrating the hero's victory and sometimes celebrating a symbolic marriage.

The rules of competition did not prevent a playwright arranging and adjusting these elements to suit his particular needs.[143] In The Acharnians and Peace, for example, there is no formal agon whereas in The Clouds there are two agons.


The parabasis is an address to the audience by the Chorus and/or the leader of the Chorus while the actors are leaving or have left the stage. The Chorus in this role speaks sometimes out of character, as the author's mouthpiece, and sometimes in character, but very often it isn't easy to distinguish its two roles. Generally the parabasis occurs somewhere in the middle of a play and often there is a second parabasis towards the end. The elements of a parabasis have been defined and named by scholars but it is probable that Aristophanes' own understanding was less formal.[144] The selection of elements can vary from play to play and it varies considerably within plays between first and second parabasis. The early plays (The Acharnians to The Birds) are fairly uniform in their approach however and the following elements of a parabasis can be found within them.

  • kommation: This is a brief prelude, comprising short lines and often including a valediction to the departing actors, such as ἴτε χαίροντες (Go rejoicing!).
  • parabasis proper: This is a usually a defense of the author's work and it includes criticism of the audience's attitude. It is declaimed in long lines of 'anapestic tetrameters'. Aristophanes himself refers to the parabasis proper only as 'anapests'.
  • pnigos: Sometimes known as 'a choker', it comprises a few short lines appended to the parabasis proper as a kind of rapid patter (it has been suggested that some of the effects achieved in a pnigos can be heard in "The Lord Chancellor's Nightmare Song", in act 2 of Gilbert and Sullivan's Iolanthe).[79]
  • epirrhematic syzygies: These are symmetrical scenes that mirror each other in meter and number of lines. They form part of the first parabasis and they often comprise the entire second parabasis. They are characterized by the following elements:
    • strophe or ode: These are lyrics in a variety of meters, sung by the Chorus in the first parabasis as an invocation to the gods and as a comic interlude in the second parabasis.
    • epirrhema: These are usually long lines of trochaic tetrameters. Broadly political in their significance, they were probably spoken by the leader of the Chorus in character.[145]
    • antistrophe or antode: These are songs that mirror the strophe/ode in meter, length and function.
    • antepirrhema. This is another declaimed passage and it mirrors the epirrhema in meter, length and function.

The Wasps is thought to offer the best example of a conventional approach[146] and the elements of a parabasis can be identified and located in that play as follows.

Elements in The Wasps 1st parabasis 2nd parabasis
kommation lines 1009-14 [19] ---
parabasis proper lines 1015-50 ---
pnigos lines 1051-59 ---
strophe lines 1060-70 lines 1265-74 [20]
epirrhema lines 1071-90 lines 1275-83
antistrophe lines 1091-1101 missing
antepirrhema lines 1102-1121 lines 1284-91

Textual corruption is probably the reason for the absence of the antistrophe in the second parabasis.[147] However, there are several variations from the ideal even within the early plays. For example, the parabasis proper in The Clouds (lines 518-62) is composed in eupolidean meter rather than in anapests[148] and the second parabasis includes a kommation but it lacks strophe, antistrophe and antepirrhema (The Clouds lines 1113-30). The second parabasis in The Acharnians lines 971-99 [21] can be considered a hybrid parabasis/song (i.e. the declaimed sections are merely continuations of the strophe and antistrophe) [149] and, unlike the typical parabasis, it seems to comment on actions that occur on stage during the address. An understanding of Old Comedy conventions such as the parabasis is necessary for a proper understanding of Aristophanes' plays; on the other hand, a sensitive appreciation of the plays is necessary for a proper understanding of the conventions.

Influence and legacy

Aristophanes, the master of Old Comedy, and Menander, the master of New Comedy.

The tragic dramatists, Sophocles and Euripides, died near the end of the Peloponnesian War and the art of tragedy thereafter ceased to develop, yet comedy did continue to develop after the defeat of Athens and it is possible that it did so because, in Aristophanes, it had a master craftsman who lived long enough to help usher it into a new age.[150] Aristophanes seems to have had some appreciation of his formative role in the development of comedy, as indicated by his comment in Clouds that his audience would be judged by other times according to its reception of his plays.[151] Clouds was awarded third (i.e. last) place after its original performance and the text that has come down to the modern age was a subsequent draft that Aristophanes intended to be read rather than acted.[152] The circulation of his plays in manuscript extended their influence beyond the original audience, over whom in fact they seem to have had little or no practical influence: they did not affect the career of Cleon, they failed to persuade the Athenians to pursue an honourable peace with Sparta and it is not clear that they were instrumental in the trial and execution of Socrates, whose death probably resulted from public animosity towards the philosopher's disgraced associates (such as Alcibiades),[153] exacerbated of course by his own intransigence during the trial.[154] The plays, in manuscript form, have been put to some surprising uses - as indicated earlier, they were used in the study of rhetoric on the recommendation of Quintilian and by students of the Attic dialect in the Fourth and Fifth Centuries AD. It is possible that Plato sent copies of the plays to Dionysius of Syracuse so that he might learn about Athenian life and government.[155]

Latin translations of the plays by Andreas Divus (Venice 1528) were circulated widely throughout Europe in the Rennaissance and these were soon followed by translations and adaptations in modern languages. Racine, for example, drew Les Plaideurs (1668) from The Wasps. Goethe (who turned to Aristophanes for a warmer and more vivid form of comedy than he could derive from readings of Terence and Plautus) adapted a short play Die Vögel from The Birds for performance in Weimar. Aristophanes has appealed to both conservatives and radicals in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries - Anatoly Lunacharsky, first Commissar of Enlightenment for the USSR in 1917, declared that the ancient dramatist would have a permanent place in proletarian theatre and yet conservative, Prussian intellectuals interpreted Aristophanes as a satirical opponent of social reform.[156] The avant-gardist stage-director Karolos Koun directed a version of The Birds under the Acropolis in 1959 that established a trend in modern Greek history of breaking taboos through the voice of Aristophanes.[157]

The plays have a significance that goes beyond their artistic function, as historical documents that open the window on life and politics in classical Athens, in which respect they are perhaps as important as the writings of Thucydides. The artistic influence of the plays is immeasurable. They have contributed to the history of European theatre and that history in turn shapes our understanding of the plays. Thus for example the operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan can give us insights into Aristophanes' plays[158] and similarly the plays can give us insights into the operettas.[159]

Listed below is a random and very tiny sample of works influenced (more or less) by Aristophanes.


  • 1909: Wasps, original Greek, Cambridge University undergraduate production, music by Vaughan Williams;
  • 2004, July-October: The Frogs (musical), adapted by Nathan Lane, music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, performed at The Vivian Beaumont Theatre Broadway;
  • 1962-2006: various plays by students and staff, Kings College London, in the original Greek [22]: Frogs 1962,1971,1988; Thesmophoriazusae 1965, 1974, 1985; Acharnians 1968, 1992, 2004; Clouds 1977, 1990; Birds 1982, 2000; Ecclesiazusae 2006; Peace 1970; Wasps 1981
  • 2002: Lysistrata, adapted by Robert Brustein, music by Galt McDermot, performed by American Repertory Theatre, Boston U.S.A.;
  • 2008, May-June: Frogs, adapted by David Greenspan, music by Thomas Cabaniss, performed by Classic Stage Company, New York, U.S.A.


  • The romantic poet, Percy Shelley, wrote a comic, lyrical drama (Swellfoot the Tyrrant) in imitation of Aristophanes' play The Frogs after he was reminded of the Chorus in that play by a herd of pigs passing to market under the window of his lodgings in San Giuliano, Italy.[160]
  • Aristophanes (particularly in reference to The Clouds) is mentioned frequently by the character Menedemos in the Hellenic Traders series of novels by H N Turteltaub.
  • A liberal version of the comedies have been published in comic book format, initially by "Agrotikes Ekdoseis" during the 1990s and republished over the years by other companies. The plot was written by Tasos Apostolidis and the sketches were of George Akokalidis. The stories feature either Aristophanes narrating them, directing the play, or even as a character inside one of his stories.

Electronic media

  • The Wasps, radio play adapted by David Pountney, music by Vaughan Williams, recorded 26-28 July 2005, Albert Halls, Bolten, in association with BBC, under Halle label;
  • Acropolis Now is a comedy radio show for the BBC set in Ancient Greece. It features Aristophanes, Socrates and many other famous Greeks. (Not to be confused with the Australian sitcom of the same name.)
  • Aristophanes Against the World was a radio play by Martyn Wade and broadcast on BBC Radio 4. Loosely based on several of his plays, it featured Clive Merrison as Aristophanes.
  • In The Odd Couple, Oscar and Felix are on Password, and when the password is bird, Felix’s clue is Aristophanes because of his play The Birds. After failing to guess it, Oscar says that the clue is ridiculous, and then when it's Oscar’s turn to give the clue on the team’s next shot, the password is ridiculous and Oscar's clue is Aristophanes, to which Felix instantly responds, "Ridiculous!"


Surviving plays

Most of these are traditionally referred to by abbreviations of their Latin titles; Latin remains a customary language of scholarship in classical studies.

  • The Acharnians (Ἀχαρνεῖς Akharneis; Attic Ἀχαρνῆς; Latin: Acharnenses) (425 BC)
  • The Knights (Ἱππεῖς Hippeis; Attic Ἱππῆς; Latin: Equites) (424 BC)
  • The Clouds (Νεφέλαι Nephelai; Latin: Nubes) (original 423 BC, uncompleted revised version from 419 BC – 416 BC survives)
  • The Wasps (Σφήκες Sphekes; Latin: Vespae) (422 BC)
  • Peace (Εἰρήνη Eirene; Latin: Pax) (first version, 421 BC)
  • The Birds (Ὄρνιθες Ornithes; Latin: Aves) (414 BC)
  • Lysistrata (Λυσιστράτη Lysistrate (411 BC)
  • Thesmophoriazusae or The Women Celebrating the Thesmophoria (Θεσμοφοριάζουσαι Thesmophoriazousai (first version, c. 411 BC)
  • The Frogs (Βάτραχοι Batrakhoi; Latin: Ranae) (405 BC)
  • Ecclesiazusae or The Assemblywomen; (Ἐκκλησιάζουσαι) Ekklesiazousai (c. 392 BC)
  • Wealth (Πλοῦτος Ploutos; Latin Plutus) (second version, 388 BC)

Datable non-surviving (lost) plays

The standard modern edition of the fragments is Kassel-Austin, Poetae Comici Graeci III.2.

  • Banqueters (427 BC)
  • Babylonians (426 BC)
  • Farmers (424 BC)
  • Merchant Ships (423 BC)
  • Clouds (first version) (423 BC)
  • Proagon (422 BC)
  • Amphiaraos (414 BC)
  • Plutus (Wealth, first version, 408 BC)
  • Gerytades (uncertain, probably 407 BC)
  • Kokalos (387 BC)
  • Aiolosikon (second version, 386 BC)

Undated non-surviving (lost) plays

  • Aiolosikon (first version)
  • Anagyros
  • Frying-Pan Men
  • Daidalos
  • Danaids
  • Centaur
  • Heroes
  • Lemnian Women
  • Old Age
  • Peace (second version)
  • Phoenician Women
  • Polyidos
  • Seasons
  • Storks
  • Telemessians
  • Triphales
  • Thesmophoriazusae (Women at the Thesmophoria Festival, second version)
  • Women in Tents

Attributed (doubtful, possibly by Archippos)

  • Dionysos Shipwrecked
  • Islands
  • Niobos
  • Poetry

See also


  1. ^ The Frogs and Other Plays David Barrett, Penguin Books 1964, page 9.
  2. ^ Aristophanes: Lysistrata, The Acharnians, The Clouds Alan Sommerstein, Penguin Books 1973, page 9
  3. ^ Aristophanes: Clouds K.J.Dover (ed), Oxford University Press 1970, Intro. page X.
  4. ^ Aristophanes in Performance 421 BC-AD 2007:Peace, Birds and Frogs Edith Hall and Amanda Wrigley, Legenda (Oxford) 2007, page 1
  5. ^ Character Sketches of Romance, Fiction and the Drama, Vol. 1
  6. ^ The Birds and Other plays David Barrett and Alan Sommerstein (eds), Penguin Classics 2003, page 26
  7. ^ The Apology translated by Benjamin Jowett, section 4
  8. ^ Apology, Greek text, edited J Burnet, section 19c
  9. ^ Lysistrata, The Acharnians, The Clouds Alan Sommerstein, Penguin Books 1973, p16
  10. ^ Aristophanis Comoediae Tomus 1, F.W.Hall and W.M.Geldart (eds), Oxford Classical Texts, Knights ln 516
  11. ^ Birds, l.1447-8; quotation as translated in Macmillan Dictionary of Political Quotations
  12. ^ Frogs and Other Plays David Barrett, Penguin Classics 1964, page 21
  13. ^ Greek Comedy and Ideology David Konstan, Oxford University Press US 1995, page 6
  14. ^ Aristophanes: The Clouds K.J.Dover, Oxford University Press 1970, Intro. page XIV
  15. ^ Aristophanis Comoediae Tomus 1, F.W.Hall and W.M.Geldart (eds), Oxford Classical Texts,Clouds 520-25
  16. ^ Aristophanis Comoediae Tomus 1, F.W.Hall and W.M.Geldart (eds), Oxford Classical Texts,Clouds 560-62
  17. ^ Wasps 1536-7 Wikisource original Greek, Clouds 545-48, Peace 739-58
  18. ^ The Birds and Other Plays by Aristophanes David Barrett and Alan Sommerstein, Penguin Classics 2003, page 9
  19. ^ Greek Society Antony Andrewes, Pelican Books, 1981, pages 247-48
  20. ^ Aristophanes: Lysistrata, The Acharnians, The Clouds A.H. Sommerstein (ed), Penguin Books 1975, page9, footnote
  21. ^ Aristophanes:The Frogs and Other Plays David Barrett (ed), Penguin Classics 1964, page 26
  22. ^ Aristophanes:The Frogs and Other Plays David Barrett (ed), Penguin Classics 1964, page 25
  23. ^ Aristophanis Comoediae Tomus 1, F.W.Hall and W.M.Geldart (eds), Oxford Classical Texts, The Knights lines 911-25
  24. ^ Wasps 1075-1101 Wikisource original Greek [1], Knights 565-576
  25. ^ Acharnians Wikisource Greek text [2] 692-700
  26. ^ Wasps 669-677 Wikisource original Greek [3]; Knights 438-39, 833-35, 864-67; Peace 1210-64; Birds 1410-65
  27. ^ The Acharnians, Wikisource [4] lines 910-58
  28. ^ Aristophanes: Lysistrata, The Acharnians, The Clouds A.H.Sommerstein (ed), Penguin Books 1975, pp 13-14
  29. ^ Aristophanes: The Frogs and Other Plays David Barrett (ed), Penguin Classics 1964, page 12
  30. ^ 'Greek Drama' P.Levi in The Oxford History of the Classical World J.Boardman, J.Griffin, O.Murray (eds), Oxford University Press 1986, page 177
  31. ^ The Acharnians, Wikisource [5] lines 515-17
  32. ^ The Birds and Other Plays by Aristophanes David Barrett and Alan Sommerstein (eds), Penguin Classics 2003, page 34
  33. ^ Aristophanis Comoediae Tomus 1, F.W.Hall and W.M.Geldart (eds), Oxford Classical Texts, The Clouds lns 528-32
  34. ^ Aristophanes: Lysistrata, The Acharnians, The Clouds Alan Sommerstein (ed), Penguin Classics 1975, page 9
  35. ^ Wasps Wikisource original Greek [6] lines 1265-91
  36. ^ Aristophanes:Wasps Douglas MacDowell (ed), Oxford University Press 1978, page 299
  37. ^ Acharnians Wikisource original Greek [7] 377-82
  38. ^ Aristophanes: The Frogs and Other Plays David Barrett (ed), Penguin Books 1964, page 9
  39. ^ Aristophanis Comoediae Tomus 1, F.W. Hall and W.M. Geldart (eds), Oxford Classical Texts, Clouds 540-45, Peace 767-74
  40. ^ The Acharnians Wikisource original Greek [8] lns 652-54
  41. ^ Knights 512-14
  42. ^ Clouds 530-33
  43. ^ Clouds Peter Meineck (translator) and Ian Storey (Introduction), Hackett Publishing 2000, page 15
  44. ^ IG II2 2325. 58
  45. ^ Aristophanes, testimonium 1, lines 54-56, in Kassel-Austin, Poetae Comici Graeci vol. III.2 (Berlin 1984), p. 4.
  46. ^ Aristophanes, Κώκαλος, testimonium iii, in Kassel-Austin, Poetae Comici Graeci vol. III.2 (Berlin 1984), p. 201.
  47. ^ IG II2 2318. 196
  48. ^ IG II2 2325. 140
  49. ^ Eubulus, testimonium 4, in Kassel-Austin, Poetae Comici Graeci vol. V (Berlin 1986), p. 188.
  50. ^ Clouds Peter Meineck (translator) and Ian Storey (Introduction), Hackett Publishing 2000, page XVIII
  51. ^ IG II2 2325. 143 (just after Anaxandrides and just before Eubulus)
  52. ^ Aristophanes:Clouds K.J.Dover (ed), Oxford University Press 1970, Intro. page IX note 1.
  53. ^ Aristophanes: Lysistrata, The Acharnians, The Clouds Alan Sommerstein (ed), Penguin Books 1973, page10
  54. ^ The Birds and Other Plays David Barrett and Alan Sommerstein (eds), Penguin Classics 2003, page10
  55. ^ The Symposium original Greek text:[9] section 189b
  56. ^ The Symposium (English translation) Benjamin Jowett [10] (scroll half way down).
  57. ^ Aristophanis Comoediae Tomus 1, F.W.Hall and W.M.Geldart (eds), Knights ln 507-550
  58. ^ Aristophanes: Clouds K.J. Dover (ed), Oxford University Press 1970, Introduction page IX
  59. ^ Aristophanes: The Birds and Other Plays D. Barrett and A. Sommerstein (eds),Penguin Classics 2003, page 7
  60. ^ Wikisource, Plato's Apology, John Burnet (ed)[11] section 32a
  61. ^ Plato's Apology, Benjamin Jowett (trans)s:Apology (Plato)#23 (section23).
  62. ^ a b The Orator's Training Quintilian 10.1.65-6, cited in The Birds and Other Plays by Aristophanes David Barrett and Alan Sommersteinn (eds), Penguin Classics 2003, page 15
  63. ^ Quintilian 10.1.65-6 10.1.61
  64. ^ The Frogs and Other Plays David Barrett (ed), Penguin Classics 1964, pages 151-52
  65. ^ Aristophanis Comoediae Tomus 1, F.W.Hall and W.M.Geldart (eds), Oxford Classical Texts, Clouds lns 553-54
  66. ^ Aristophanis Comoediae Tomus 1, F.W. Hall and W.M. Geldart (eds), Oxford Classical Texts, Knights lns 519-40
  67. ^ The Frogs and Other Plays David Barrett, Penguin Classics 1964, page 30
  68. ^ The Birds and Other Plays by Aristophanes David Barrett and Alan Sommerstein (eds), Penguin Classics 2003, page 9
  69. ^ Aristophanes Wasps Douglas MacDowell (ed), Oxford University Press 1978, page 21
  70. ^ Birds and Other Plays David Barrett and Alan Sommerstein (eds), Penguin Classics 2003, pages 7-8
  71. ^ Birds and Other Plays David Barrett and Alan Sommerstein (eds), Penguin Classics 2003, page 27; Aristophanes Wasps Douglas MacDowell (ed), Oxford University Press 1978, page 16
  72. ^ Original Greek, Wikisource The Acharnians [12] lines 1-3
  73. ^ Aristophanes Wasps Douglas MacDowell (ed), Oxford University Press 1978, page17
  74. ^ Aristophanes Wasps Douglas MacDowell (ed), Oxford University Press 1978, page13; Aristophanes:Lysistrata, The Acharnians, The Clouds Alan Sommerstein, Penguin Classics 1973, page 37
  75. ^ L.P.E. Parker, The Songs of Aristophanes, Oxford, 1997, p. 36
  76. ^ a b Birds and Other Plays David Barrett and Alan Sommerstein (eds), Penguin Classics 2003, page 27
  77. ^ Aristophanis Comoediae Tomus 2, F.W.Hall and W.M.Geldart (eds), Oxford Classical Texts, Frogs lns 1032-38
  78. ^ Greek Drama, Peter Levi, in The Oxford History of the Classical World edited by J. Boardman, J. Griffin and O. Murray, Oxford University Press 1986, page 175
  79. ^ a b Aristophanes Wasps Douglas MacDowell (ed), Oxford University Press 1978, page 27
  80. ^ Aristophanes Wasps Douglas MacDowell, Oxford University Press 1978, lines 1265-74: Wikisource: [13]
  81. ^ Birds and Other Plays David Barrett and Alan Sommerstein (eds), Penguin Classics 2003, page 21
  82. ^ The Acharnians Wikisource original Greek [14] lns 729-835
  83. ^ Aristophanes Wasps Douglas MacDowell, Oxford University Press 1978, page 17
  84. ^ Aristophanis Comoediae Tomus 1, F.W. Hall and W.M. Geldart (eds), Oxford Classical Texts, Knights lns 1347-48;
  85. ^ The Frogs lines 902-4
  86. ^ The Poetics 1449a11, Wikisource English translation s:The Poetics#IV section IV
  87. ^ Clouds translated by Peter Meineck with introduction by Ian Storey, Hackett Publishing 2000, page IX
  88. ^ ibid page XIX
  89. ^ The Poetics 1448b38 - 1449b, Wikisource English translation s:The Poetics#V section V
  90. ^ Aristophanis Comoediae Tomus 1, F.W. Hall and W.M. Geldart (eds), Oxford Classical Texts, Knights ln 516
  91. ^ Aristophanes:The Frogs and Other Plays David Barrett, Penguin Classics 1964, page 12
  92. ^ Nichomachean Ethics 1128a 21-24
  93. ^ Aristophanes D. Slavitt and P. Bovie (eds), University of Pennsylvania Press 1999, page XIV
  94. ^ Clouds translated by P. Meineck with introduction by I. Storey, Hackett Publishing 2000, page VIII
  95. ^ Comparison of Aristophanes and Menander
  96. ^ Clouds translated by P.Meineck with introduction by I.Storey, Hackett Publishing 2000, page VII
  97. ^ Clouds P.Meineck (translator) and I.Storey (Introduction), Hackett Publishing 2000, page VIII
  98. ^ Clouds P.Meineck (translator) and I.Storey (Introduction), Hackett Publishing 2000, page XIX
  99. ^ Greek Society Antony Andrewes, Pelican Books 1981, page 247
  100. ^ Aristophanes: Lysistrata, The Acharnians, The Clouds A.Sommerstein, Penguin Classics 1975, page 18
  101. ^ Frogs Wikisource English translation s:The Frogs; original Greek text [15] lines 12-18
  102. ^ Greek Society Antony Andrewes, Pelican Books 1981, page 248
  103. ^ Aristophanes: The Frogs and Other Plays David Barrett, Penguin Classics 1964, page 27
  104. ^ Aristophanes: Lysistrata, The Acharnians, Clouds A. Sommerstein, Penguin Classics 1975, page 17
  105. ^ Aristophanes: Lysistrata, The Acharnians, Clouds A. Sommerstein, Penguin Classics 1975, page 31
  106. ^ Knights lines 230-33
  107. ^ Peace 821-23
  108. ^ The Acharnians Wikisource original Greek [16] lines 1224-25
  109. ^ "Greek Drama" Peter Levi in The Oxford History of the Classical World J.Boardman, J. Griffin and O. Murray (eds), Oxford University Press 1986, page 176
  110. ^ Clouds lines 528-33
  111. ^ Acharnians lines 646-51
  112. ^ Aristophanes:Lysistrata, The Acharnians, The Clouds A.Sommerstein, Penguin Classics 1973, pages 18-19
  113. ^ e.g. Knights lines 997-1095; Birds lines 959-91
  114. ^ e.g. Clouds lines 263-66, Frogs lines 891-94
  115. ^ Acharnians lines 1097-1142 lines
  116. ^ Knights lines 551-64 and 581-594
  117. ^ Knights lines 1321-38
  118. ^ e.g. Peace lines 551-97
  119. ^ Frogs lines 686-705
  120. ^ Aristophanes: Clouds K.J. Dover (ed), Oxford University Press 1970, pages XIII-XIV
  121. ^ Aristophanes: Clouds K.J. Dover, Oxford University Press 1970, page XV
  122. ^ "Greek Drama" Peter Levi in The Oxford History of the Classical World, Oxford University Press 1986, page 175
  123. ^ The Acharnians Wikisource original Greek lines 1164-73
  124. ^ Aristophanes: Lysistrata, The Acharnians, The Clouds A. Sommerstein, Penguin Classics, pages 243-4, notes 69,80,81
  125. ^ Aristophanes: The Frogs and Other Plays David Barrett, Penguin Classics 1964, pages 14-15
  126. ^ Aristophanes: Lysistrata, The Acharnians, The Clouds A. Sommerstein, Penguin Classics, page 23
  127. ^ The Acharnians lines 280-301 Wikisource original Greek [17]; Knights lines 247-72; Wasps lines 452-460 Wikisource original Greek [18]
  128. ^ Aristophanes: The Frogs and Other Plays David Barrett, Penguin Classics 1964, page 9
  129. ^ Aristophanes: Wasps Douglas MacDowell (ed), Oxford University Press 1978, page 14-15
  130. ^ Aristophanes: Lysistrata, The Acharnians, The Clouds A. Sommerstein, Penguin Classics, page 29
  131. ^ Frogs lines 45-47
  132. ^ Aristophanes: Wasps Douglas MacDowell, Oxford University Press 1978, page 7
  133. ^ Aristophanes: Lysistrata, The Acharnians, The Clouds A. Sommerstein, Penguin Classics, pages 33-34
  134. ^ Aristophanes' Old-and-new Comedy Kenneth J.Reckford, UNC Press 1987, page 15
  135. ^ Aristophanes: The Frogs and Other Plays David Barrett, Penguin Classics 1964, pages 13-14
  136. ^ Aristophanes D. Slavitt and P. Bovie (eds), University of Pennsylvania Press 1999, page XIII
  137. ^ Aristophanes and the Definition of Comedy M.S.Silk, Oxford University Press 2002, page 418
  138. ^ Aristophanes: Clouds K.J.Dover, Oxford University Press 1970, page XIII
  139. ^ Aristophanes: Wasps Douglas MacDowell, Oxford University Press 1978, page 12
  140. ^ Clouds Peter Meineck (translator) and Ian Storey (Introduction), Hackett Publishing 2000, page VIII
  141. ^ Aristophanes: The Frogs and other Plays David Barrett (ed), Penguin Classics 1964, page 17
  142. ^ Aristophanes:Wasps D.MacDowell (ed.), Oxford University Press 1971, page 207 note 546-630
  143. ^ Aristophanes: Lysistrata, The Acharnians, The Clouds A. Sommerstein, Penguin Classics 1975, page 27
  144. ^ Aristophanes: Wasps Dougles MacDowell, Oxford University Press 1978, page 261
  145. ^ Aristophanes: Clouds K.J. Dover (ed), Oxford University Press 1970, page 126
  146. ^ Aristophanes:Wasps Douglas M.MacDowell, Oxford University Press 1978, note 1283 page 298
  147. ^ Aristophanes Wasps Douglas MacDowell (ed), Oxford University Press 1978, pages 298-99
  148. ^ Aristophanes:Clouds K.J.Dover, Oxford University Press 1970, page 119 note 518-62
  149. ^ Comedy E.Handley in 'The Cambridge History of Classical Literature I' P.Easterling, R. MacGregor Walker Knox, E.Kenney (eds), page 360
  150. ^ "Greek Drama" Peter Levi, in The Oxford History of the Classical World J. Boardman, J. Griffin and O. Murray (eds), Oxford University Press 1986, page 176
  151. ^ Clouds lines 560-62
  152. ^ Aristophanes: Clouds K.J.Dover, Oxford University Press 1970, pages XXIX-XXX
  153. ^ Aristophanes: Clouds K.J. Dover, Oxford University Press 1970, pages XIV-XV
  154. ^ Plato's Apology, Benjamin Jowett (trans), Wikisource copy:s:Apology (Plato)#33 (section 33)
  155. ^ Clouds Peter Meineck (translator) and Ian Storey (Introduction), Hackett Publishing 2000, page X
  156. ^ Aristophanes in Performance 421 BC-AD 2007:Peace, Birds and Frogs Edith Hall and Amanda Wrigley, Legenda (Oxford) 2007, pages 9-12
  157. ^ Politics and Aristophanes: watchword Caution! by Gonda Van Steen in 'The Cambridge Companion to Greek and Roman Theatre' Marianne McDonald and J.Michael Walton (eds) , Cambridge University Press 2007, page 109
  158. ^ e.g. Aristophanes: Lysistrata, The Acharnians, The Clouds A. Sommerstein, Penguin Classics 1975, page 37
  159. ^ "W.S. Gilbert: A Mid-Victorian Aristophanes" in W.S. Gilbert: A Century of Scholarship and Commentary, John Bush Jones (ed), New York University Press 1970
  160. ^ Note on Oedipus Tyrannus by Mrs Shelley, quoted in Shelley: Poetical Works Thomas Hutchinson (ed), Oxford University Press 1970, page 410

Further reading

  • reviewed by W.J. Slater, Phoenix, Vol. 30, No. 3 (Autumn, 1976), pp. 291-293 doi:10.2307/1087300
  • Platter, Charles. Aristophanes and the Carnival of Genres (Arethusa Books). Baltimore, MD; London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006 (hardcover, ISBN 0-8018-8527-2).
  • Lee, Jae Num. "Scatology in Continental Satirical Writings from Aristophanes to Rabelais" and "English Scatological Writings from Skelton to Pope." Swift and Scatological Satire. Albuquerque: U of New Mexico P, 1971. 7-22; 23-53.
  • Aristophanes and the Comic Hero by Cedric H. Whitman Author(s) of Review: H. Lloyd Stow The American Journal of Philology, Vol. 87, No. 1 (Jan., 1966), pp. 111–113
  • G. M. Sifakis The Structure of Aristophanic Comedy The Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol. 112, 1992 (1992), pp. 123–142 doi:10.2307/632156
  • Van Steen, Gonda. 2000 Venom in Verse: Aristophanes in Modern Greece. Princeton University Press.

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

"Comedy too can sometimes discern what is right. I shall not please, but I shall say what is true."
(Acharnians, 500-501)

"I pained folk but little and caused them much amusement; my conscience rebuked me for nothing."
(Peace, 764)

Terracotta figurine of an actor wearing the mask of a bald-headed man, Hellenistic artwork, 2nd c. BC. (Aristophanes was bald.)

Aristophanes (Greek: Aριστοφάνης, ca. 446 BC – ca. 386 BC) was a Greek poet and playwright of the Old Comedy, also known as the Father of Comedy and the Prince of Ancient Comedy. Of his forty plays, eleven are extant, plus a thousand fragments of the others.



Each quote is often given in multiple versions: always the translation at Perseus (usually reliable literal translation with hypertext original Greek available) and often another, more oft-quoted translation. For identical translations, the earliest translator found is given. Character names may vary between editions (from different transliteration, translation, or attribution) and are thus always given on the same line as each translation.

Acharnians (425 BC)

  • Dicaepolis: Comedy too can sometimes discern what is right. I shall not please, but I shall say what is true.
    (tr. Athen. 1912, Perseus)
    • Acharnians, line 500-501

  • Dicaeopolis: Well, how are things at Megara?
    Megarian: We are crying with hunger at our firesides.
    Dicaeopolis: The fireside is jolly enough with a piper. But what else is doing at Megara, eh?
    Megarian: What else? When I left for the market, the authorities were taking steps to let us die in the quickest manner.
    Dicaeopolis: That is the best way to get you out of all your troubles.
    Megarian: True.
    Dicaeopolis: What other news of Megara? What is wheat selling at?
    Megarian: With us it is valued as highly as the very gods in heaven!
    (tr. Athen. 1912, vol. 1, Perseus)
    • Acharnians, line 751-759

  • Lamachus: Ah! the Generals! they are numerous, but not good for much!
    (tr. Athen. 1912, vol. 1, Perseus)
    • Acharnians, line 1078

Birds (414 BC)

  • Epops: You're mistaken: men of sense often learn from their enemies. Prudence is the best safeguard. This principle cannot be learned from a friend, but an enemy extorts it immediately. It is from their foes, not their friends, that cities learn the lesson of building high walls and ships of war. And this lesson saves their children, their homes, and their properties.
    Chorus [leader]: It appears then that it will be better for us to hear what they have to say first; for one may learn something at times even from one's enemies.
    (tr. Anon. 1812 rev. in Ramage 1864, p. 45)[1]
  • Epops: Yet, certainly, the wise learn many things from their enemies; for caution preserves all things. From a friend you could not learn this, but your foe immediately obliges you to learn it. For example, the states have learned from enemies, and not from friends, to build lofty walls, and to possess ships of war. And this lesson preserves children, house, and possessions.
    Chorus [leader]: It is useful, as it appears to me, to hear their arguments first; for one might learn some wisdom even from one's foes.
    (tr. Hickie 1853, vol. 1, p. 322; l. 375 identical in SEA 1838, p. 236, and in Bartlett 1968, p. 91 or
  • Epops: The wise can often profit by the lessons of a foe, for caution is the mother of safety. It is just such a thing as one will not learn from a friend and which an enemy compels you to know. To begin with, it's the foe and not the friend that taught cities to build high walls, to equip long vessels of war; and it's this knowledge that protects our children, our slaves and our wealth.
    Leader of the Chorus [leader]: Well then, I agree, let us first hear them, for that is best; one can even learn something in an enemy's school.
    (tr. O'Neill 1938, Perseus)
  • Epops: A man may learn wisdom even from a foe.
    (tr. in Goldstein-Jackson 1983, p. 163)
    • Birds, line 375-382 (our emphasis on 375 and 378-379 and 382)
    • Compare the later: "We can learn even from our enemies", Ovid, Metamorphoses, IV, 428.

  • Chorus [of Birds]: Man naturally is deceitful, ever indeed, and always, in every one thing.
    (tr. Warter 1830, p. 199)
  • Chorus [of Birds]: Man is naturally deceitful ever, in every way!
    (tr. Hickie 1853, vol. 1, p. 326)
  • Chorus [of Birds]: Man is a truly cunning creature.
    (abridged tr. O'Neill 1938, Perseus)
  • Chorus [of Birds]: Full of wiles, full of guile, at all times, in all ways, are the children of Men.
    (tr. in Bartlett 1968, p. 91 or
    • Birds, line 451-452
    • Compare the earlier-written but later-known: "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked", Jeremiah, 17:9 KJV Bible.

  • Chorus [leader]: Ye Children of Man! whose life is a span, / Protracted with sorrow from day to day, / Naked and featherless, feeble and querulous, / Sickly, calamitous creatures of clay!
    (heavily rewritten tr. Frere 1839, p. 38)
  • Chorus [leader]: Come now, ye men, in nature darkling, like to the race of leaves, of little might, figures of clay, shadowy feeble tribes, wingless creatures of a day, miserable mortals, dream-like men.
    (tr. Hickie 1853, vol. 1, p. 338)
  • Leader of the Chorus: Weak mortals, chained to the earth, creatures of clay as frail as the foliage of the woods, you unfortunate race, whose life is but darkness, as unreal as a shadow, the illusion of a dream.
    (tr. O'Neill 1938, Perseus)
    • Birds, line 685-687

  • Epops: Come let me see, what shall the name be for our city? [...]
    Euelpides: Hence, from the clouds, and these meteoric regions, some all-swelling name.
    Pisthetaerus: Would you “Cloud-cuckoo-land?”
    (tr. Warter 1830, p. 215)
  • Leader of the Chorus: Let's see. What shall our city be called? [...]
    Euelpides: Some name borrowed from the clouds, from these lofty regions in which we dwell — in short, some well-known name.
    Pisthetaerus: Do you like Nephelococcygia?
    (tr. O'Neill 1938, Perseus)
    • Birds, line 812 & 817-819 (our emphasis on 819)

  • Poet: “Straton wanders among the Scythian nomads, but has no linen garment. He is sad at only wearing an animal's pelt and no tunic.” Do you get what I mean?
    Pisthetaerus: I understand that you want me to offer you a tunic. Hi! you (To the acolyte.) take off yours; we must help the poet.
    (tr. O'Neill 1938, Perseus)
    • Birds, line 941-947 (our emphasis on 947)

  • Informer: My friend, I am asking you for wings, not for words.
    Pisthetaerus: It's just my words that gives you wings.
    Informer: And how can you give a man wings with your words?
    Pisthetaerus: They all start this way. [...]
    Informer: So that words give wings?
    Pisthetaerus: Undoubtedly; words give wings to the mind and make a man soar to heaven. Thus I hope that my wise words will give you wings to fly to some less degrading trade.
    (tr. O'Neill 1938, Perseus)
  • Pisthetaerus: By words the mind is winged. (tr. unknown, seen in Airpower Journal 1990, and in Macmillan Dictionary of Political Quotations 1993, Google Books Search)
    • Birds, line 1436-1439 & 1446-1450 (our emphasis on 1447-1448)

Clouds (423 BC)

  • Socrates: What Jupiter? Do not trifle. There is no Jupiter.
    (tr. Hickie 1853, vol. 1, Perseus)
  • Strepsiades: Vortex reigns, having expelled Jupiter.
    (tr. Hickie 1853, vol. 1, Perseus)
  • Strepsiades: ‘Tis the Whirlwind, that has driven out Jupiter and is King now.
    (tr. Athen. 1912, vol. 1, p. 350)
  • Strepsiades: Whirl is King, having driven out Zeus.
    (tr. in Lippmann 1929, p. 1 and 4)
    • Clouds, line 828

  • Just Cause: [Learn] not to contradict your father in anything; nor by calling him Iapetus, to reproach him with the ills of age, by which you were reared in your infancy.
    (tr. Hickie 1853, vol. 1, Perseus)
  • Just Discourse: Do not bandy words with your father, nor treat him as a dotard, nor reproach the old man, who has cherished you, with his age.
    (tr. Athen. 1912, vol. 1, p. 359)
    • Clouds, line 998-999

  • Unjust Cause: This art is worth more than ten thousand staters, that one should choose the worse cause, and nevertheless be victorious.
    (tr. Hickie 1853, vol. 1, Perseus)
  • Unjust Discourse: To invoke solely the weaker arguments and yet triumph is a talent worth more than a hundred thousand drachmae.
    (tr. Athen. 1912, vol. 1, p. 361)
    • Clouds, line 1041-1042

Ecclesiazusae (392 BC)

  • Praxagora: Woman is adept at getting money for herself and will not easily let herself be deceived; she understands deceit too well herself.
    (tr. O'Neill 1938, Perseus)
    • Ecclesiazusae, line 236-238

  • Praxagora: I want all to have a share of everything and all property to be in common; there will no longer be either rich or poor; [...] I shall begin by making land, money, everything that is private property, common to all. [...]
    Blepyrus: But who will till the soil?
    Praxagora: The slaves.
    (tr. O'Neill 1938, Perseus)
    • Ecclesiazusae, line 590-591 & 597-598 & 651

Frogs (405 BC)

  • Æschylus: High thoughts must have high language.
    (rewritten and embellished tr. Fitts 1955, p. 108)
  • Aeschylus: It is the compelling power of great thoughts and ideas to engender phrases of equal size.
    (tr. Dillon 1995, Perseus)
    • Frogs, line 1058-1059

Knights (424 BC)

  • Demosthenes: Do you dare to accuse wine of clouding the reason? Quote me more marvellous effects than those of wine. Look! when a man drinks, he is rich, everything he touches succeeds, he gains lawsuits, is happy and helps his friends. Come, bring hither quick a flagon of wine, that I may soak my brain and get an ingenious idea.
    (tr. O'Neill 1938, Perseus)
    • Knights, line 90-96 (our emphasis on 95-96)

  • Demosthenes: A demagogue must be neither an educated nor an honest man; he has to be an ignoramus and a rogue.
    (tr. O'Neill 1938, Perseus)
    • Knights, line 191-193

  • Demosthenes [to the Sausage-Seller]: Mix and knead together all the state business as you do for your sausages. To win the people, always cook them some savoury that pleases them. Besides, you possess all the attributes of a demagogue; a screeching, horrible voice, a perverse, crossgrained nature and the language of the market-place. In you all is united which is needful for governing.
    (tr. O'Neill 1938, Perseus)
    • Knights, line 214-219

  • Sausage-Seller: You [demagogues] are like the fishers for eels; in still waters they catch nothing, but if they thoroughly stir up the slime, their fishing is good; in the same way it's only in troublous times that you line your pockets.
    (tr. O'Neill 1938, Perseus)
    • Knights, line 864-867
    • Dialog aimed at the politician Cleon, symbolizing demagogues for the author.

  • Leader of the Chorus: An insult directed at the wicked is not to be censured; on the contrary, the honest man, if he has sense, can only applaud.
    (tr. O'Neill 1938, Perseus)
    • Knights, line 1274-1275

Lysistrata (411 BC)

  • Lysistrata: O women, if we would compel the men to bow to Peace, [...] We must refrain from every depth of love.... Why do you turn your backs? Where are you going? Why do you bite your lips and shake your heads? Why are your faces blanched? Why do you weep?
    (tr. Lindsay 1925, Perseus)
    • Lysistrata, line 120-121 & 124-127

  • [Choir of] Women: It should not prejudice my voice that I'm not born a man, if I say something advantageous to the present situation. For I'm taxed too, and as a toll provide men for the nation.
    (tr. Lindsay 1925, Perseus)
    • Lysistrata, line 649-651

  • [Choir of] Men: There is no beast, no rush of fire, like woman so untamed. She calmly goes her way where even panthers would be shamed.
    [Choir of] Women: And yet you are fool enough, it seems, to dare to war with me, when for your faithful ally you might win me easily.
    (tr. Lindsay 1925, Perseus)
    • Lysistrata, line 1014-1017

Peace (421 BC)

  • Chorus [speaking for Aristophanes]: Yet I have not been seen frequenting the wrestling school intoxicated with success and trying to seduce young boys; but I took all my theatrical gear and returned straight home. I pained folk but little and caused them much amusement; my conscience rebuked me for nothing. Hence both grown men and youths should be on my side and I likewise invite the bald to give me their votes; for, if I triumph, everyone will say, both at table and at festivals, “Carry this to the bald man, give these cakes to the bald one, do not grudge the poet whose talent shines as bright as his own bare skull the share he deserves.”
    (tr. O'Neill 1938, Perseus)
    • Peace, line 762-773 (our emphasis on 764)
    • Aristophanes was bald.

  • Hierocles: You will never make the crab walk straight.
    (tr. O'Neill 1938, Perseus)
    • Peace, line 1083

Plutus (388 BC)

  • Chremylus: [Wealth], the most excellent of all the gods.
    (tr. O'Neill 1938, Perseus)
    • Plutus, line 230

  • Blepsidemus: There is no honest man! not one, that can resist the attraction of gold!
    (tr. O'Neill 1938, Perseus)
    • Plutus, line 362-363

  • Chremylus: And what good thing can [Poverty] give us, unless it be burns in the bath, and swarms of brats and old women who cry with hunger, and clouds uncountable of lice, gnats and flies, which hover about the wretch's head, trouble him, awake him and say, “You will be hungry, but get up!” [...]
    Poverty: It's not my life that you describe; you are attacking the existence beggars lead. [...] The beggar, whom you have depicted to us, never possesses anything. The poor man lives thriftily and attentive to his work; he has not got too much, but he does not lack what he really needs. [...] But what you don't know is this, that men with me are worth more, both in mind and body, than with [Wealth]. With him they are gouty, big-bellied, heavy of limb and scandalously stout; with me they are thin, wasp-waisted, and terrible to the foe. [...] As for behavior, I will prove to you that modesty dwells with me and insolence with [Wealth]. [...] Look at the orators in our republics; as long as they are poor, both state and people can only praise their uprightness; but once they are fattened on the public funds, they conceive a hatred for justice, plan intrigues against the people and attack the democracy. [...]
    Chremylus: Then tell me this, why does all mankind flee from you?
    Poverty: Because I make them better. Children do the very same; they flee from the wise counsels of their fathers. So difficult is it to see one's true interest.
    (tr. O'Neill 1938, Perseus)
    • Plutus, line 535-539 & 548 & 552-554 & 558-561 & 563-564 & 567-570 & 575-578

Thesmophoriazusae (411 BC)

  • Agathon: One must not try to trick misfortune, but resign oneself to it with good grace.
    (tr. Athen. 1912, vol. 2, p. 278)
    (tr. O'Neill 1938, Perseus)
    • Thesmophoriazusae, line 198-199

  • Chorus: [We] must look beneath every stone, lest it conceal some orator ready to sting us.
    (tr. O'Neill 1938, Perseus)
  • Chorus: Under every stone lurks a politician.
    (tr. in Bartlett 1968, p. 91 or
    • Thesmophoriazusae, line 529-530
    • A play on the Greek proverb "Under every stone lurks a scorpion.". In context, "orator" was a synonym for "politician".

Wasps (422 BC)

  • Sosias: The love of wine is a good man's failing.
    (tr. O'Neill 1938, Perseus)
    • Wasps, line 80

  • Bdelycleon: It is so that you may know only those who nourish you
    (tr. O'Neill 1938, Perseus)
  • Phobokleon: Hunger knows no friend but its feeder.
    (embellished tr. Parker 1962, p. 55)
    • Wasps, line 704



  • Youth ages, immaturity is outgrown, ignorance can be educated, drunkenness sobered, but stupid lasts forever.
    • Attribution claimed in the movie The Emperor's Club (2002), given by Kevin Kline (as William Hundert);[2] also attributed to Diogenes, without sources;[3] no published occurrences of this statement prior to the movie having been located in any of the Aristophanes Plays or Fragments, it is considered a fictional attribution.


  • [909] Just Cause: You are debauched and shameless.
    [910] Unjust Cause: You have spoken roses of me.
    [910] Just Cause: And a dirty lickspittle.
    [911] Unjust Cause: You crown me with lilies.
    [911] Just Cause: And a parricide.
    [912] Unjust Cause: You don't know that you are sprinkling me with gold.
    [913] Just Cause: Certainly not so formerly, but with lead.
    [914] Unjust Cause: But now this is an ornament to me.
    (tr. Hickie 1853, vol. 1, Perseus - for comparison with tr. below)
  • [909] Philosophy: Why, you Precocious Pederast! You Palpable Pervert!
    [910] Sophistry: Pelt me with roses!
    [910] Philosophy: You Toadstool! O Cesspool!
    [911] Sophistry: Wreath my hairs with lilies!
    [911] Philosophy: Why, you Parricide!
    [912] Sophistry: Shower me with gold! Look, don't you see I welcome your abuse?
    [913] Philosophy: Welcome it, monster? In my day we would have cringed with shame.
    [914] Sophistry: Whereas now we're flattered. Times change. The vices of your age are stylish today.
    (heavily rewritten and embellished tr. Arrowsmith 1962, p. 70)
    • William Arrowsmith (tr.) after Aristophanes, in Clouds, line 914 (our emphasis, citing 909-914)
    • This apocryphal line is found quoted only from the Arrowsmith translation.

  • Philokleon: Let each man exercise the art he knows.
    (tr. Rogers 1909, p. 110)
    • Anonymous ancient proverb, quoted by Aristophanes in Wasps, line 1431
    • Also later found in Plato (Republic 4.423d, 4.433a-d) and Cicero (Tusc. I.18.41)


For editions and translations, missing or conflicting information was primarily checked in Walton 2006.
Translations cited above
  • Anon. (tr.) (1812). Birds. — Cf. Various 1812.
  • Arrowsmith, William (tr.) (1962). Aristophanes. The Clouds. University of Michigan Press.
  • Athen. (tr.) (1912). Aristophanes. The Eleven Comedies (2 vol.), vol. 1 (Knights, Acharnians, Peace, Lysistrata, Clouds), vol. 2 (Wasps, Birds, Frogs, Thesmophoriazusae, Ecclesiazusae, Plutus). London: The Athenian Society. [Translator unknown (strangely attributed to Horace Liveright in Walton 2006[4]). Many partial reprints within other eds., esp. O'Neill 1938.] Online Acharnians at Perseus/Tufts
  • Bartlett, John (comp.) & al. (tr., comp., ed.) (... [1855]). Familiar Quotations. Boston: Little, Brown & Co. [mostly]. [Oft-quoted translation of some quotes.] Eds. feat. Aristophanes include: 13th (1955), 14th (1968)
  • Cumberland, Richard (tr.) (1797). Clouds. — Cf. Various 1812.
  • Dillon, Matthew (tr.) (1995). Aristophanes. Frogs. Translated for the Perseus Digital Library,[5] Tufts University. Online at Perseus/Tufts
  • Dunster, Charles (tr.) (1785). Frogs. — Cf. Various 1812.
  • Fielding, Henry (tr.) & Young, William (tr.) (1742). Plutus. — Cf. Various 1812.
  • Fitts, Dudley (tr.) (1955). Aristophanes. The Frogs. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co.
  • Frere, John Hookham (tr.) (1839). Aristophanes. The Birds. Malta: Printed at the Government Press.
  • Goldstein-Jackson, Kevin (comp.) (1983). The Dictionary of Essential Quotations. London: Croom Helm (ISBN 9780389203933) [Oft-quoted translation of some quotes.]
  • Hickie, William James (tr.) (1853). The Comedies of Aristophanes (2 vol.), vol. 1 (Acharnians, Knights, Clouds, Wasps, Peace, Birds), vol. 2 (Lysistrata, Thesmophoriazusae, Frogs, Ecclesiazusae, Plutus). London: H. G. Bohn. Online vol. 1, 2 at Google Books. Online Clouds at Perseus/Tufts
  • Lindsay, Jack (tr.) (1925). Lysistrata by Aristophanes (in English verse, illustrated by Norman Lindsay). Sydney: Fanfrolico Press. Online at Perseus/Tufts
  • Lippmann, Walter (1929). A Preface to Morals. Transaction Publishers (reprint ISBN 0878559078). [Oft-quoted translation of a single quote.]
  • O'Neill, Eugene, Jr. (ed.) (1938). Aristophanes in The Complete Greek Drama, vol. 2. New York: Random House. [Tr. rev. by O'Neill from tr. borrowed from Athen. 1912, except Frogs from Gilbert Murray 1902.] Online Birds, Ecclesiazusae, Knights, Peace, Plutus (Wealth), Thesmophoriazusae (Women at the Thesmophoria), Wasps at Perseus/Tufts
  • Parker, Douglass (tr.) (1962). Aristophanes. The Wasps. University of Michigan Press.
  • Ramage, C. T. (comp.) & al. (tr.) (1864). Beautiful thoughts from Greek authors. Liverpool: E. Howell. "Aristophanes" (p. 39-48). [Oft-quoted translation of some quotes.] Online at Google Books
  • Rogers, Benjamin B. (tr.) (1909). The Wasps of Aristophanes. Cambridge University press.
  • SEA [Sophocles, Evangelinus Apostolides] (1838). A Greek Grammar for the Use of Learners. Hartford: H. Huntington, Junr.; New York: F. J. Huntington & Co. [Oft-quoted translation of some quotes.]
  • Various (tr.) (1812). Comedies of Aristophanes [vol. 1]. London: Printed by A. J. Valpy for Lackington, Allen & Co. Viz: Clouds (tr. Richard Cumberland, 1786/1797), Plutus (tr. Henry Fielding & William Young, 1742), Frogs (tr. Charles Dunster, 1785), Birds (tr. Anon. by "a Member of One of the Universities", 1812)
  • Walton, J. Michael (2006). Found in Translation: Greek Drama in English. Cambridge University Press (ISBN 9780521861106). Appendix: English Translations, "Aristophanes", p. 253-269.
  • Warter, John Wood (tr.) (1830). The Acharnians, Knights, Wasps and Birds of Aristophanes (tr. by "a Graduate of the University of Oxford" [J. W. Warter]). Oxford: Henry Slatter. Online at Google Books


  1. The original Anon. 1812 translation was: "You're mistaken; men of sense often learn much from their enemies. Prudence is the best safeguard. This principle cannot be learnt from a friend: but an enemy extorts it immediately. It is from their foes and not their friends, that cities learn the lesson of building high walls and ships of war. And this lesson saves their children, their homes, and their properties." — It received five minor changes in Ramage 1864, chiefly: "often learn from" (was "often learn MUCH from "), "learned" (was "LEARNT"), "from their foes, not" (was "from their foes AND not").
  2. IMDb, "Memorable quotes for The Emperor's Club", Internet Movie Database,
  3. Two pages attributing it to Diogenes: [1][2]
  4. The Athenian Society translation is by an anonymous translator or group of translators (though there is a "Foreword from the Translator"), and it is solely in Walton's Found in Translation that it is attributed to a "Horace Liveright", to which is also attributed a previous 1898 translation of three Aristophanes plays (both in Walton 2006, p. 255) for apparently the same society (the publication for this one being referenced at Athens instead of London[3]). On the one hand, it was indeed publisher Horace Liveright (1884-1933) who later reprinted the original 1912 British private edition in the U.S. (New York: Horace Liveright Pub., 1928, 1931, etc., stating: "This beautiful translation was originally published by the Athenian Society, London, 1912, for subscribers only. The name of the translator was not stated"[4]); on the other hand, it seems however unusual that this hard-partying U.S. businessman would also be an Ancient Greek scholar working with a London society on translating eleven plays: additional sources thus seem required for this translation attribution.
  5. Faculty resume of "Matthew Dillon, PhD" listing this new translation as made for Perseus.

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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

There is more than one meaning of Aristophanes discussed in the 1911 Encyclopedia. We are planning to let all links go to the correct meaning directly, but for now you will have to search it out from the list below by yourself. If you want to change the link that led you here yourself, it would be appreciated.


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary



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From Ancient Greek Ἀριστοφάνης (Aristophanēs).

Proper noun




  1. An Ancient Greek male name, most famously borne by a playwright who lived from circa 446 BC to circa 386 BC.

Derived terms

  • Aristophanic


Simple English

Aristophanes (born around 450-445 BC – died around 385 BC) was a Greek writer who wrote 40 plays. However, only 11 of his plays survive in their entirety. He is famous for writing comedies (funny plays), and even today his plays make people laugh.

Many of the jokes in his plays relate to sex. For example, Lysistrata is about a group of women who protest a war by not having sexual intercourse with their husbands until the war is ended.

Another well known play by Aristophanes is The Frogs.


A licence for slander

George Grote said of Aristophanes:

"Never probably will the full power of unshackled comedy be so exhibited again...the unsparing licence of attack upon the gods, the institutions, the politicians, philosophers, poets, private citizens... and even upon the women of Athens".
"[Athenians] bore with good-humoured indulgence the full outpouring of ridicule... upon those democratic institutions to which they were sincerely attached... The democracy was strong enough to tolerate unfriendly tongues either in earnest or in jest.[1]p450/452

Surviving plays

  • The Acharnians (425 BC)
  • The Knights (424 BC)
  • The Clouds (original 423 BC, uncompleted revised version from 419 BC – 416 BC survives)
  • The Wasps (422 BC)
  • Peace (first version, 421 BC)
  • The Birds (414 BC)
  • Lysistrata (411 BC)
  • Thesmophoriazusae (The Festival Women, first version, c. 410 BC)
  • The Frogs (405 BC)
  • Ecclesiazousae (The Assemblywomen, c. 392 BC)
  • Plutus (Wealth, second version, 388 BC)

Other pages

Other websites


  1. Grote, George 1850. History of Greece, vol VIII. Murray, London.


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