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The Comedic Banter of Aristophanes

Updated on November 28, 2016

Aristophanes

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Aristophanes uses his comedies to illustrate the current events around him and he does this in a very sarcastic way that mocks certain Athenian aristocrats. In The Acharnians the character Lamachus, who represents a prominent military commander, is constantly mocked by the protagonist Dikailopolis, who is believed to possibly represent Aristophanes. One instance of this humiliation or mocking is when Dikaiopolis wins over the chorus by asking Lamachus if he supports the war because of his duty owed to Athens of because of money. Another instance is at the end when Lamachus returns from war and Dikaiopolis returns from a drinking party and Lamachus is in pain and Dikaiopolis is cheery and drunk. Another way Dikaiopolis mocks Lamachus is the secret peace he negotiated with the Spartans. It's funny because the commander has no knowledge of this peace, but the audience is well aware.

Going back to my earlier claim of Dikaiopolis representing Aristophanes, we can see this when he notes in the play that he hasn't forgotten about Cleon dragging him to trial over a previous play, The Babylonians. Aristophanes was known as the Father of Comedy, and has been accused of slander in a few of his plays. "Plato singled out Aristophanes' play The Clouds as slander that contributed to the trial and subsequent condemning to death of Socrates although other satirical playwrightshad also caricatured the philosopher" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aristophanes). Aristophanes was a playwright who often ridiculed the aristocrats in his work and was both feared and revered for his work. "In The Acharnians, Aristophanes reveals his resolve not to yield to attempts at political intimidation. Along with the other surviving plays of Aristophanes, The Acharnians is one of the few examples we have of a highly satirical genre of drama known as Old Comedy." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Acharnians). This play was written in response to the condemning of his previous play, The Babylonians.

Lysistrata

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Lysistrata was designed to illustrate how war affects women and how it can make things difficult for them and their future. One of the main reasons for the women wanting the war to end is because women have a short life span when it comes to marriage and if the men are constantly away on campaigns then many women are left unmarried and childless. So Aristophanes gives these women masculine power so that they can preserve Athen's traditional way of life, something they believe the men are destroying with war.

In the play the women take on this role by taking over the treasury and by withholding sex from their men. The women do this in order for the men to seek peace and not war, but it back fires and ends up being a battle of the sexes. "The play is notable for being an early exposé of sexual relations in a male-dominated society" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lysistrata).

Strepsiades and Pheidippides are discussing, Socrates is hanging in the air in a basket. Scene from Aristophanes's comedy Clouds.
Strepsiades and Pheidippides are discussing, Socrates is hanging in the air in a basket. Scene from Aristophanes's comedy Clouds. | Source

The Clouds focuses on issues involving the Ionian thinkers and their scientific ideals that seem to question traditional values. "The scientific speculations of Ionian thinkers such as Thales in the sixth century were becoming commonplace knowledge in Aristophanes' time and this had led, for instance, to a growing belief that civilized society was not a gift from the gods but rather had developed gradually from primitive man's animal-like existence." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Clouds).

The main focus of the play is Socrates and his teachings. In the play he teaches Pheidippides different ways of argument, Inferior and Superior, which ultimately lead to him beating his father. "Superior Argument and Inferior Argument debate with each other over which of them can offer the best education. Superior Argument sides with Justice and the gods, offering to prepare Pheidippides for an earnest life of discipline, typical of men who respect the old ways; Inferior Argument, denying the existence of Justice, offers to prepare him for a life of ease and pleasure, typical of men who know how to talk their way out of trouble."(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Clouds). This then leads to the argument that a son has the right to beat his father because a father has the right to beat his son. This parallels what Socrates is put on trial for which is teaching young boys to question Athenian traditions. The issue that Aristophanes focuses on in this play is old versus new. It was written in a time when ideals began to clash and when people began to question the old traditions and the gods. Obviously this didn't go over well with the Athenians and as a result this play was believed to have contributed to the trial and death of Socrates.

Lecture on Aristophanes' The Clouds

An interesting lecture on Aristophanes' play The Clouds, it is a bit lengthy, but it is a very interesting video about the playwright and the play itself. I found it to be a very insightful account of Aristophanes and his work.

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