Mary Stone | September 18, 2022


Aristophanes of Athens (Greek: Ἀριστοφάνης, Aristophanes) (c. 446-385 BC) – Greek comedy writer, one of the founders of Old Athenian comedy, son of a moderately wealthy peasant named Philippos. His work fell during the declining period of Athenian democracy, when changes were taking place in political, social and cultural life, as well as in the way of thinking and methods of educating young people (see Socrates). Arguably, he did not completely abandon the countryside, and although he did not live in Athens, he frequented it. He did not hold office in the city and looked at Athenian democracy from the sidelines, remaining more objective.

Aristophanes is the best-recognized and most widely described of the authors of Ancient Greek comedy. His predecessors were Kratinos and Eupolis. He staged his first comedies under the names of actors, since he himself was too young to submit works for theatrical competitions. His last two comedies, The Diet of Women and Plutos, are sometimes categorized as middle comedy, which evolved through the 4th century BC.

Unlike the works of Aristophanes, the works of Kratinos and Eupolis have survived to our time only in fragments.

Kratinos staged comedies from 453 to 423 BC. He created some 30 of them, the most famous of which is The Bottle (Pytíne). This comedy was a response to Aristophanes” criticism of Kratinos” drunkenness and declining talent in the Knights. The Bottle was a huge success in the comic agon, beating Aristophanes” first version of The Clouds.

Eupolis staged some 17 plays between 429 and 410 BC. He was a peer of Aristophanes and began his career at the same time as him. He was a talented poet who died young. The rivalry between the two poets was interrupted by the tragic death of Eupolis in a shipwreck during the war with Sparta. He was initially supposed to collaborate with Aristophanes, but the poets quarreled and subsequently accused each other of stealing each other”s ideas. He differed from Kratinos and Aristophanes in that he shunned both mythological and literary parody, though at the same time he was characterized by a rich creative imagination, ingenuity, elegance and sharp political and personal satire.

Aristophanes began his artistic career with the unmaintained Feasts, which was staged in 427 BC by Callistratos or Philonides. The title came from the chorus, which consisted of worshippers of Heracles gathered for a feast on his feast day. One member of the chorus was an old man who held discussions with his dissolute son. The sparse fragments of the comedy make it impossible to determine what its plot and issues were. One can think that it outlined a conflict between devotion to traditional values and education and modern rhetorical tricks.

The first victory in the competition was secured for Aristophanes only by the Babylonians in 426 BC.

Aristophanes” works had sharp social and political emphases. The core issue of his comedies concerned efforts to establish peace. In the works he presented a rich picture of the life of Athens at the turn of the fifth and fourth centuries BC. He was a staunch opponent of the rich and defender of the interests of the middle classes and peasants. He expressed the views of the Attic peasants. In addition to political and social issues, he addressed literary topics, criticizing especially the works of Euripides.

Aristophanes” comedies were preserved thanks to the school, where they were treated as compulsory reading. Because of the purity of the Attic dialect, they became a model. The characters in his works use the Attic dialect, but other dialects can be found in them besides it, such as the Megarean dialect in the Acharnaeans. Aristophanes” works are largely based on comic linguistic transformations and are characterized by incredible ingenuity in creating neologisms. What is also typical of this work is the wealth of references to human sexual life. Aristophanes was fond of using colloquialisms denoting sexual organs, as well as filling his works with scatological jokes.

Because of their numerous operations on words, Aristophanes” comedies can be seen as examples of “verbal pyrotechnics.” Athenians of the fifth century BC were fascinated by language and the power it gives, so oratorical skills were highly valued. This led to the development of rhetoric and dialectics, and placed great demands on dramatic authors.

The constituent elements of Aristophanes” works are parodic, but at the same time, in this case, parody cannot be regarded as a compositional dominant. The comedies that show the highest degree of saturation with parody are Acharnae, Thesmophoria and Frogs, i.e. works for which the main point of reference is Euripides” tragedies. The basic concept introduced in the descriptions of Aristophanes” works is paratragedy, or parody of tragedy. The conventions attacked and parodied by the poet are both tragic and comic conventions.

Aristophanes” comedies are a typical example of operating metatheatrical tricks. Dramatic dialogue here is theatrical dialogue, and is always assumed to exist in the theatrical space. Aristophanes introduces statements and situations that refer back to the dramatic-theatrical material itself. Characters usually present their own situation as a theatrical situation, show an awareness that they are part of the theatrical world and that they are the object of the audience”s observation. It is proposed that Aristophanes” comedy should be regarded as an example of “non-illusionary theater.”

In Aristophanes” works, one can observe the confrontation of imagined Athens and real Athens. This is a result of the fact that the poet constantly addresses current social and political problems and criticizes the personalities of Athenian public life. The characters in his comedies aim to seek and find solutions to the problems of Athenian citizens. They express the real interests of Athenians. Aristophanes acts as an advisor to the citizens of Athens, and promotes the kind of theater that aims to strengthen civic attitudes. At the same time, he uses typical comic elements to co-create a fantasy adventure that is supported by reminiscences of divine or heroic myth.


According to the findings of Tadeusz Zieliński, Old Attic comedy is built up of the following parts: a prologue that retains the form of a monologue or is a dialogue, a parodos, i.e. the entrance of the chorus on stage, then an agon, where the characters and their rationale are confronted, then a parabasis. After the parabasis, generic iambic scenes are introduced, which are supplemented by the stasimony of the chorus. The comedy is crowned with an exodos. Aristophanes” comedies do not adhere strictly to this pattern, especially since as the poet”s oeuvre develops, his works become more and more coherent and unified. For example, there is no parabasis in the last surviving comedies, i.e. The Diet of Women and Plutos, which is “an intermediate link in the historical-dramatic process.” Aristophanes” comedy is based not only on spoken dialogue, but an important role was assigned to music, singing and dancing.

An atypical realization of the pattern of Ancient Athenian comedy is Frogs. Here Aristophanes experiments with new compositional solutions and at the same time uses conventionalized structural tricks. Two parabases and an agon are introduced, which occupies a significant part of the work (proagon and two parts of the agon). With parabasis treatments already present in Knights and Clouds. There are also two distinct and independent choruses in Frogs, which have a different purpose and function, i.e. the Chorus of Frogs, which occurs in the parodos and is exclusively an introductory chorus, and the Chorus of Mystery Initiates, which consists of souls undergoing the initiation path, or initiation into the Eleusinian Mysteries.

The declining comedy is Plutos, which can be an example of middle comedy and a forerunner of the new comedy, so it is not easy to classify it as an Old Attic comedy. In the work, the function of the chorus decreased and the role of the slave increased. There was an abandonment of involvement in political affairs and a departure from criticism of important politicians. Plutos does not contain scatological jokes and obscene humor. Aristophanes also reduced the vocal and musical elements, which allowed him to pay more attention to social and moral issues.

Personal names

The names of characters in Aristophanes” comedies are evidence of his linguistic ingenuity. The comedian gave characters such names that have metaphorical overtones and are a preliminary characterization of these characters, e.g. Dikajopolis from The Acharnae is translated as “Right-born”, Peysthetajros and Euelpides from The Birds were translated as “Radodairos” and “Dobromysius”, Trigaios from The Peace as “The Vine”, and Lysistrata from the comedy of the same title as “Bojomira” or “Gromiwoia”. Aristophanes also used verbs as a starting point, e.g. the name of the protagonist of the Knights of Paflagon indicates his gibberish.

Other evidence of the poet”s linguistic ingenuity are original, comical place names like “Chmurokułczyn,” “Jękowice” or “Biadolice” in Birds, and nouns like “thinkhouse,” “antis.” The richness of the nomenclature makes Aristophanes” work a huge challenge for the translator.

Rivalry versus the shape of comedy

Old Attic comedy was created because of dramatic competitions, so poets probably took into account audience expectations. The best example is Aristophanes” reaction in the edited version of The Clouds, where the comedian complains about the negative reception of his work at the Dionysia in 424

Myth in the comedies of Aristophanes

Aristophanes” comedy – like Greek tragedy – makes use of mythological themes, but in the case of comedy, myth is used for ridicule, caricature, parody or travesty. At the same time, comedies are rarely based on one particular myth, usually with parodic-mythological motifs the poet encrusts political or literary satire. Aristophanes likes to bring gods and demigods to the stage: Dionysus, Hermes, Poseidon, Prometheus or Heracles. Elements of totemic, cosmogonic and eschatological myths can be found in his works.

Romuald Turasiewicz points out that in the works of Aristophanes, myth fulfills the following functions:

The problem of utopia

The specialty of the Greek tragedians was to depict madness, while the specialty of the comedy writers was to create utopian visions. The comedies of Aristophanes are works that are based on scenarios that create utopias, and at the same time show the story of a hero who improvises on tragic themes. Dicayopolis from The Acharnaeans, Caelus from The Knights, Trigaios from The Peace, Peysthetairos from The Birds, Lysistrata from Lysistrata, Praxagoras from The Diet of Women and Chremylos from Plutos are an ensemble of heroes who fight for a utopian world. Aristophanes” imagination offers the chance to create the best possible world (Plutos) or to create a world that becomes a dystopia (The Birds).

Aristophanes” collection of “women”s plays” consists of the following comedies: the Lysistrata, the Thesmophoria and the Diet of Women. Lysistrata depicts a picture of the world in which sexual relations are the priority of individuals, that is, the condition of society depends on the successful fulfillment of sexual needs. The comedy is also a work considered in Western culture as one of the first texts with feminist overtones, with Aristophanes” feminism not being declarative. The piece is a diagnosis of the crisis of patriarchal culture, as it is not the man, but the woman who proves to be the figure capable of ending the war and eliminating the crisis in the state. Lysistrata also evokes typical female and male roles in Athenian society, and thus addresses the problem of gender stereotypes. The title character of the work “can be interpreted in terms of masculinism and

Thesmoforie, on the other hand, oscillates around the issue of transvestism. The driving force of the plot is “the dressing up of an individual in the clothes of the opposite sex.” The comedy allows itself to be interpreted in light of the issue of transvestism, for the reason that it recreates a model of society in which there is a strong division of social roles into female and male roles. The comedy features Euripides” character who, as part of a devised plot, disguises his relative as a woman to avoid trouble. The poet also invokes the tragedian Agathon and portrays him as half-man and half-woman, drawing attention to issues of homosexuality and gender props. What emerges from the piece is the idea that it is not only a person”s gender that determines certain costumes and props, but also the use of certain costumes and props to determine what a person”s gender is. Thesmoforie suggests the thesis that gender is a costume.

The starting point of the Women”s Diet plot is the need for change in a non-functional patriarchal society. The protagonist”s plan of action is based on the transfer of power in the city to women and the communist distribution of private property, which leads to the establishment of matriarchy, which turns out to be a more repressive order than the one being challenged. The Women”s Parliament addresses the problem of gender stereotypes, pointing out what behavior is typical of men and what behavior is typical of women: “in comedy, masculinity and femininity appear as certain projects. They are products of culture: costumes, gestures, language. Thus, they are models intended for reproduction. They constitute a set of characteristics, subject to interpretation and identification processes.”

Recent years in the Polish theater have resulted in several stagings of Aristophanes” comedies, but neither the comedies themselves nor their few productions have generated more serious interest among artists and audiences.

On May 11, 2002, at the National Theater in Warsaw, Zbigniew Zamachowski and Wojciech Malajkat presented Frogs, which used quotations from the works of the national bards (Adam Mickiewicz, Stanisław Wyspiański) and introduced allusions to contemporary events. Grzegorz Turnau took part in the performance. Critics said that in the performance the philosophical and political aspect of the comedy was covered up with farcical solutions: “the clever comedy about Dionysus, among the dead poets seeking salvation from the fall of the corrupted, to the point of corruption Athens, turned into a series of stage antics.”

On September 10, 2005, Michal Ratynski staged Lysistrata at the Stanislaw Wyspianski Silesian Theater in Katowice. The performance abandoned the reconstruction of the Greek theater and did not maintain fidelity to the text of the comedy, focusing on the play with form and the interpenetration of theatrical conventions, which was a manifestation of a postmodern reading of the work. The performance highlighted Aristophanes” typical issue of male-female relations and the problem of gender identity: “in this staging, moreover, it is not the men who play the women (as custom dictated), but the actresses, when necessary, put on masks and speak the issues of men. Anna Kadulska, Alina Chechelska and Dorota Chaniecka build their characters in different styles and with varying degrees of distance, so that the viewer is quickly drawn into the multi-layered game of myths and reality.”

A staging of The Birds entitled After the Birds was also produced in 2005. The performance was a modernized interpretation of Aristophanes” comedy. It was created at the “Chorea” Theater Association in Lublin in cooperation with the Welsh theater Earthfall Dance Company. Jessica Cohen, Jim Ennis and Tomasz Rodowicz were responsible for directing. The creators built distance from the scenic events, operated theatrical shortcuts, combined comic elements with episodes of cruelty to depict the consequences of fanaticism. The performance was enriched with ancient songs and minimalist choreography by Earthfall Dance Company. Critics noted that “different conventions are mixed here. Precisely composed choreography – especially group choreography – and clowning. Dancing-like dances and elements of acrobatics. Realistic and symbolic gestures. The aesthetics of kitsch and the aesthetics of today”s street: coats, suits and bird feathers on the hat. Greek songs reconstructed from two-thousand-year-old papyri and their hip-hop remixes. Organs, jazzy trumpet and country bagpipes (Lubuska goat). Bach. DJ and folk wedding song.” The final marriage, meanwhile, was portrayed as a rape-sanctioning ceremony: “The bridegroom locks the bride in a cage of arms. He presses her against the wall.”

The most widely commented staging of Aristophanes” comedy in recent years was the Women”s Sejm directed by Mikołaj Grabowski at the Helena Modrzejewska National Old Theater in Cracow. The premiere took place on January 6, 2007. The performance opened the Old Theater”s project “re: visions of the

May 9, 2013 saw the premiere of Between the Legs by the Non-Consequential Theater, directed by Adam Kuzycz-Berezowski, Michal Lewandowski, Maciej Litkowski and Wojciech Sandach at the Malarnia Stage of the Contemporary Theater in Szczecin. The script was based on four comedies by Aristophanes, i.e. Lysistrata, Thesmoforie, Frogs and Birds. The play is “a perverse play on stereotypes about sex and gender. It is not without reason that the roles of men and women here are interchangeable, and the swapping of these roles is done through very conventional means and small details of costume.”

In the last dozen years or so, one can notice interest among Polish researchers in the works of Aristophanes. An important place is occupied by two publications that introduce the legacy of the Greek poet to a wide Polish readership, i.e. the two-volume edition of the surviving comedies in the series “Antique Library” compiled by Janina Ławińska-Tyszkowska, and the publication Greek Comedy. From Epicharm to Menander prepared by Krystyna Bartol and Jerzy Danielewicz

In 2015, Olga Smiechowicz”s monograph Aristophanes was published, remaining “on the border of philological analysis.” And in 2018, the editors of Political Theology published Leo Strauss” work Socrates and Aristophanes in Polish translation. The book is a comprehensive analysis of Aristophanes” works from the perspective of issues in political philosophy.

In addition, in several problem papers, researchers analyzed comic devices in Frogs (Piotr Makowski), the role of the chorus and the function of the protagonist in this comedy (Sylwester Dworacki and Szymon Kostek), interpreted Lysistrata, Thesmophoria and The Diet of Women in socio-cultural contexts (Yvonne Borowski and Szymon Kostek). The researchers also paid attention to the images of judges and courts in Aristophanes” comedies (Szymon Kostek and Waldemar Szeflinski), and looked at the figure of Socrates, which emerges from the poet”s work (Ryszard Legutko). Besides, Janusz Goćkowski elaborated on the problem of Aristophanes” critique of democracy, while Rafał Michalski used Hegel”s philosophical concepts in his analysis of Clouds. Olga Śmiechowicz also dealt with the presence of Aristophanes” works in Polish reading circulation.

Of Aristophanes” 44 works, 11 have survived:

Non-preserved comedies with a specific year of creation:

Of Aristophanes” unpreserved works, numerous fragments are known (the number reaches 1000).


  1. Arystofanes
  2. Aristophanes
  3. ^ a b Barrett 1964, p. 9
  4. ^ Jones, Daniel; Roach, Peter (2006). James Hartman; Jane Setter (eds.). Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary (17th ed.). Cambridge UP..
  5. W literaturze przedmiotu można znaleźć twierdzenia, że ojciec poety otrzymał działkę na wyspie Eginie, gdzie Arystofanes mógł się urodzić, zwłaszcza że w Acharnejczykach nazywa wyspę swoją ojczyzną. Por. Janina Ławińska-Tyszkowska: Demokracja ateńska i jej wielki prześmiewca, w: Arystofanes: Komedie. T. 1, Prószyński i S-ka, Warszawa 2001, s. 15.
  6. a b c d Ławińska-Tyszkowska 2001 ↓, s. 15.
  7. Selon Victor-Henry Debidour 1979, p. 5, la tête n”appartient pas au socle de ce buste, et Aristophane nous apprend lui-même dans La Paix qu’il était chauve avant trente ans.
  8. ^ Tutte le testimonianze relative alla biografia di Aristofane sono in R. Cantarella, Prolegomeni a Aristofane, Commedie, vol. I, Milano, 1949, pp. 133-152.
  9. ^ Per quanto segue, cfr. M. G. Bonanno, La commedia, in Storia e civiltà dei Greci, Milano, Bompiani, 1979, vol. 3, pp. 333 ss.
  10. ^ Un riferimento a quest”opera ed al fatto che non fu Aristofane a portarla in scena è presente in Nuvole, 528-532.
  11. ^ Cfr. Poetae Comici Graeci, vol. III/2.
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