Biography of Aristophanes

Aristophanes was a Greek comic playwright and poet who wrote 40 plays in his lifetime during the 5th century B.C.E. 11 of those plays have been preserved and are still performed today. He is known by many as the "Father of Comedy" from this era, and often included many different elements in his plays, including fantastical scenarios, sexual frankness, satirical critique, and physical comedy. His plays include The Clouds, The Wasps, The Birds, Lysistrata, The Women at the Thesmophoria Festival, and The Frogs.

Born in Athens at some point between 450 and 445, Aristophanes came from a wealthy family and was well-educated in Athenian literature and philosophy. When he was 17, he began submitting his plays to dramatic competitions. His plays belong to the Greek tradition of Old Comedy. His primary way of satirizing events was by making the actions of people in elevated positions seem ridiculous and poorly thought out. He often wrote plays that reflected the political realities of Athens. In The Knights, he wrote a character that was meant to stand in for an Athenian leader. The character is an avaricious slave to a rather unintelligent master, who represents the Athenian people. The play was well-received, even though it included a scathing critique of the government.

Aristophanes' plays, though comedic and ridiculous, were always a comment on the political realities of the time in which they were written. During a pre-war conflict between Sparta and Athens, Aristophanes wrote Lysistrata, a satire about the unnecessariness of war. Then, after the Peloponnesian War and the plague, Aristophanes wrote The Frogs, about Dionysus traveling to the underworld to bring Euripides back from the dead to write a tragedy. After the war ended, Athens had lost some of its spirit, and New Comedy, which was more conservative and less bawdy or vivacious, replaced Old Comedy. Aristophanes died in Athens around 386 BC.


Study Guides on Works by Aristophanes

The Acharnians is the oldest surviving play of Aristophanes and is considered the first part of his trilogy of “peace plays,” which also includes Peace and the far more famous Lysistrata. The satirical comedy was first presented at the Lenaea...

The Birds premiered at the theater of Dionysus at Athens as part of the festival taking place in that city in what would have been March of 414 B.C. As proof that some things never change, today this comedy is generally agreed to be one of the...

Aristophanes utilized his prodigious talent as a satirical dramatist in The Clouds to formulate his critique toward the growing influent of the Sophists that he deemed to be akin to a pernicious infestation of thought. In its original form, The...

The Ecclesiazusae is the last known surviving play written by the legendary ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes. First produced almost four centuries before the birth of Christ, the play is an example of Middle Comedy in that it lacks the...

Frogs, orThe Frogs, is one of Aristophanes's greatest comedies and is justly celebrated for its wit and keen commentary on Athenian politics and society. It is the last surviving work of Old Comedy and is thus also notable for its heralding a...

Lysistrata, a comedy by Athens' greatest comedic writer, Aristophanes, debuted in Athens in the year 411 BCE, around the time when the Peloponnesian War was just beginning. The play itself centers on the beginnings of this war and the efforts of a...