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Context for the Evidence: Aristophanes

Christopher W. Blackwell, edition of April 8, 2003

· Aristophanes ·

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Aristophanes (Aristoph. Kn.).
Aristophanes (Aristoph. Cl.).
Aristophanes (Aristoph. Frogs).
Aristophanes (Aristoph. Thes.).
 
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Athens.

Born probably between 457 BCE and 445 BCE, he died around 385 BCE (Source for dates: OCD3). Aristophanes was the greatest of the poets of Old Comedy, the comic drama of 5th century Athens. He is the only poet of Old Comedy whose works survive intact. The eleven plays that survive are full of references to daily life and politics. Aristophanes often parodies prominent Athenians, from the politician Cleon (mocked in the Knights) to the philosopher Socrates (parodied in the Clouds), to the famous tragic poets Euripides and Aeschylus (parodied in the Frogs, with Euripides also appearing in the Thesmophoriazusae). While Aristophanes’ plays deal with political issues, he did not seem to advance any particular political agenda. The butts of his jokes come from across the spectrum of Athenian politics from die-hard defenders of the democracy to would-be oligarchs.

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Aristophanes (Aristoph. Ach.).
Aristophanes (Aristoph. Ach.).
 
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Athens.
Dionysia.

Despite his relentless mockery of public figures and the institutions of Athens, Aristophanes only once, as far as we know, got into trouble for the content of his plays. According to a “scholion”, or marginal notation, on a manuscript of AristophanesAcharnians, the politician Cleon prosecuted the poet for having ridiculed him in an earlier play (the Babylonians, which does not survive). The scholion says, “Before the Acharnians, Aristophanes produced the Babylonians, in which he spoke badly of many people. He makes jokes at the expense of all the chosen and elected offices, and especially at the expense of Cleon, and he did so when foreigners were present. For the Babylonians was performed during the festival of the Dionysia, which is conducted in the spring, and during which the Allies used to bring their tribute. Because of this, then, Cleon was angered and indicted him on a charge of crimes against the citizens, on the grounds that he had committed violence against the People and the Council, and he idicted him on a charge of usurpation of civic rights, and brought him to trial.”(τούτους γὰρ πρὸ τῶν Ἀχαρνέων Ἀριστοφάνης ἐδίδαξεν, ἐν οἷς πολλοὺς κακῶς εἶπεν. ἐκωμῴδησε γὰρ τάς τε κληρωτὰς καὶ χειροτονητὰς ἀρχὰς καὶ Κλέωνα, παρόντων τῶν ξένων. καθῆκε γὰρ δρᾶμα τοὺς Βαβυλωνίους ἐν τῇ τῶν Διονυσίων ἑορτῇ, ἥτις ἐν τῷ ἔαρι ἐπιτελεῖται, ἐν ἔφερον τοὺς φόρους οἱ σύμμαχοι. καὶ διὰ τοῦτο ὀργισθεὶς Κλέων ἐγράψατο αὐτὸν ἀδικίας εἰς τοὺς πολιτάς, ὡς εἰς ὕβριν τοῦ δήμου καὶ τῆς βουλῆς ταῦτα πεποιηκότα, καὶ ξενίας δὲ αὐτὸν ἐγράψατο καὶ εἰς ἀγῶνα ἐνέβαλεν.) (Schol. in Aristoph. Ach. 378).

(See Comedy).