Aristophanes : biography

c. 446 BC – c. 388 BC

The Wasps is thought to offer the best example of a conventional approachAristophanes:Wasps Douglas M.MacDowell, Oxford University Press 1978, note 1283 page 298 and the elements of a parabasis can be identified and located in that play as follows.

Elements in The Wasps 1st parabasis 2nd parabasis
kommation lines 1009-14
parabasis proper lines 1015-50
pnigos lines 1051-59
strophe lines 1060-70 lines 1265-74
epirrhema lines 1071-90 lines 1275-83
antistrophe lines 1091-1101 missing
antepirrhema lines 1102-1121 lines 1284-91

Textual corruption is probably the reason for the absence of the antistrophe in the second parabasis.Aristophanes Wasps Douglas MacDowell (ed), Oxford University Press 1978, pages 298-99 However, there are several variations from the ideal even within the early plays. For example, the parabasis proper in The Clouds (lines 518-62) is composed in eupolidean meter rather than in anapestsAristophanes:Clouds K.J.Dover, Oxford University Press 1970, page 119 note 518-62 and the second parabasis includes a kommation but it lacks strophe, antistrophe and antepirrhema (The Clouds lines 1113-30). The second parabasis in The Acharnians lines 971-99 can be considered a hybrid parabasis/song (i.e. the declaimed sections are merely continuations of the strophe and antistrophe)Comedy E.Handley in ‘The Cambridge History of Classical Literature I’ P.Easterling, R. MacGregor Walker Knox, E.Kenney (eds), page 360 and, unlike the typical parabasis, it seems to comment on actions that occur on stage during the address. An understanding of Old Comedy conventions such as the parabasis is necessary for a proper understanding of Aristophanes’ plays; on the other hand, a sensitive appreciation of the plays is necessary for a proper understanding of the conventions.


Influence and legacy

The tragic dramatists, Sophocles and Euripides, died near the end of the Peloponnesian War and the art of tragedy thereafter ceased to develop, yet comedy did continue to develop after the defeat of Athens and it is possible that it did so because, in Aristophanes, it had a master craftsman who lived long enough to help usher it into a new age."Greek Drama" Peter Levi, in The Oxford History of the Classical World J. Boardman, J. Griffin and O. Murray (eds), Oxford University Press 1986, page 176 Indeed, according to one ancient source (Platonius, c.9th Century AD), one of Aristophanes’s last plays, Aioliskon, had neither a parabasis nor any choral lyrics (making it a type of Middle Comedy), while Kolakos anticipated all the elements of New Comedy, including a rape and a recognition scene.E.W.Handley, ‘Comedy’ in The Cambridge History of Classical Literature: Greek Literature, P.Easterling and B.Knox (eds), Cambridge University Press (1985), page 400 Aristophanes seems to have had some appreciation of his formative role in the development of comedy, as indicated by his comment in Clouds that his audience would be judged by other times according to its reception of his plays.Clouds lines 560-62 Clouds was awarded third (i.e. last) place after its original performance and the text that has come down to the modern age was a subsequent draft that Aristophanes intended to be read rather than acted.Aristophanes: Clouds K.J.Dover, Oxford University Press 1970, pages XXIX-XXX The circulation of his plays in manuscript extended their influence beyond the original audience, over whom in fact they seem to have had little or no practical influence: they did not affect the career of Cleon, they failed to persuade the Athenians to pursue an honourable peace with Sparta and it is not clear that they were instrumental in the trial and execution of Socrates, whose death probably resulted from public animosity towards the philosopher’s disgraced associates (such as Alcibiades),Aristophanes: Clouds K.J. Dover, Oxford University Press 1970, pages XIV-XV exacerbated of course by his own intransigence during the trial.Plato’s Apology, Benjamin Jowett (trans), Wikisource copy: s:Apology (Plato)#33 (section 33) The plays, in manuscript form, have been put to some surprising uses — as indicated earlier, they were used in the study of rhetoric on the recommendation of Quintilian and by students of the Attic dialect in the Fourth and Fifth Centuries AD. It is possible that Plato sent copies of the plays to Dionysius of Syracuse so that he might learn about Athenian life and government.Clouds Peter Meineck (translator) and Ian Storey (Introduction), Hackett Publishing 2000, page X