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Known for Playwright and director of Old Comedy


Aristophanes (ărˌĭstŏfˈənēz), c.448 B.C.–c.388 B.C., Greek playwright, Athenian comic poet, greatest of the ancient writers of comedy. His plays, the only full extant samples of the Greek Old Comedy, mix political, social, and literary satire. The direct attack on persons, the severity of invective, and the burlesque extravagances made the plays fitting for the festival of Dionysus. Aristophanes was conservative in all things, hence he distrusted sophistry and Socrates alike, satirized Euripides' art as degenerate, and deplored the tendency to excessive imperialism that ruined Athens in the Syracusan expedition. The typical plan of an Aristophanic comedy is simple—the protagonist undertakes seriously some preposterous project, and the play is an elaboration of his success or failure. Despite the absurdity of the situation, Aristophanes' characters are real as types; their verisimilitude comes from their perfectly natural behavior in unnatural circumstances. Aristophanes' Greek is exceptionally beautiful, and many of his choruses are among the finest lyric pieces in Greek literature. His careful diction and his ability to characterize in a few words are remarkable, and he shows himself especially astute in his parodies of Euripides. Eleven of his plays survive: The Acharnians (425 B.C.), an attack on the Peloponnesian War; The Knights (424), a political satire on the demagoguery of the period; The Clouds (423), a satire on the sophists and on Socrates; The Wasps (422), a satire on the Athenian passion for litigation; The Peace (421), a defense of the Peace of Nicias; The Birds (414), an escape into an amazing imaginary kingdom; Lysistrata (411), in which the Athenian women deny their husbands sex to end a war; The Thesmophoriazusae or The Women at Demeter's Festival (411), in which the women conspire to ruin Euripides because of his misogyny; The Frogs (405), a literary satire involving Aeschylus and Euripides; The Ecclesiazusae or The Women in Politics (c.392), in which the women take over the government; and Plutus (388), in which the blind god of wealth recovers his eyesight and distributes the gifts of fortune more equitably.


See his plays (ed. by M. Hadas, 1962); studies by G. Murray (1933, repr. 1964), C. Whitman (1964), K. J. Dover (1972), and V. Ehrenberg (new ed. 1974).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



Born circa 445 B.C.; died circa 385 B.C. Ancient Greek playwright; the “father of comedy.”

Biographical information about Aristophanes is very meager. Of the 44 comedies attributed to him, only 11 have survived in their complete forms. They are as follows: Acharnians (425), Knights (424), Clouds (423), Wasps (422), Peace (421), Birds (414), Thesmophoriazusae and Lysistrata (411), Frogs (405), Ecclesiazusae (392), and Plutus (388). Only about 900 small fragments are left of the other plays.

Aristophanes’ comedies contained a criticism of the war policy, of the worsening social inequality, and of the ideological tendencies that were undermining the traditional foundations of Athenian democracy. It was characteristic for Aristophanes to utilize individual traits of specific historical persons who were his contemporaries (the tanner Cleon and the philosopher Socrates).

The scourging, satirical boldness of Aristophanes’ comedies was highly valued during the Renaissance by Erasmus of Rotterdam and F. Rabelais; in the 18th century by H. Fielding; in the 19th century by H. Heine, V. G. Belinskii, N. V. Gogol, A. I. Herzen, and N. G. Chernyshevskii; and in Soviet criticism by A. V. Lunacharskii. J. Racine’s The Litigants is an adaptation of Wasps; there is a reworking of Birds by J. W. Goethe and of Peace by L. Feuchtwanger (1917). Lysistrata was staged in the musical studio of the Moscow Art Theater (1923) as well as in the S. E. Radlov Theater (1924).


Aristophane, vols. 1–5. Text established and translated by V. Coulon and H. Van Daele. Paris, 1949–54.
In Russian translation:
Komedii, vols. 1–2. Moscow-Leningrad, 1934.
Ibid., vols. 1–2. Moscow, 1954.


Sobolevskii, S. I. Aristofan i ego vremia. Moscow, 1957.
Golovnia, V. V. Aristofan. Moscow, 1955.
Iarkho, V. Aristofan. Moscow, 1954.
Aristofan: Sb. statei. [Moscow,] 1956. (In honor of the 2,400th anniversary of his birth.)
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


?448--?380 bc, Greek comic dramatist, who satirized leading contemporary figures such as Socrates and Euripides. Eleven of his plays are extant, including The Clouds, The Frogs, The Birds, and Lysistrata
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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