Aristophanes: the 'Father of Comedy'

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The most famous comic playwright of Ancient Greece was Aristophanes. He is often referred to as the "Father of Comedy."

Aristophanes

Of the 40 plays that he wrote, only 11 survive. But those 11 continue to be studied by historians, classicists, and dramatists to this day.

As is often the case with ancient people, a complete biography of Aristophanes is unavailable. He is thought to have been born in the 440s B.C. Some sources identify him as having a father named Philippos who lived on Aegina, an island.

He is thought to have been educated in Athens and certainly found great fame there. His first known play, The Banqueters, won second prize at the most prestigious annual drama competition in the Athens, the City Dionysia, in 427 B.C. The following year, his second play, The Babylonians, won first prize. Both of these plays are now lost.

The plays of Aristophanes, which he himself sometimes directed, often targeted famous and powerful people, holding them up to ridicule, warranted or not. Perhaps his most famous target was the philosopher Socrates, whom Aristophanes skewered in The Clouds. Another powerful target, Cleon, sought to prosecute Aristophanes on charges of slander. Greek law had no provision to punish such satirical speech, and Cleon featured in other Aristophanes works.

Other surviving plays by Aristophanes:

  • The Acharnians
  • The Birds
  • Ecclesiazusae
  • The Frogs
  • The Knights
  • Lysistrata
  • Peace
  • Plutus
  • Thesmophoriazusae
  • The Wasps

Aristophanes is thought to have had three sons, all of whom followed in their father's footsteps. He is thought to have died in the 380s B.C.

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