Aristophanes

74

Aristophanes : biography

c. 446 BC – c. 388 BC

Latin translations of the plays by Andreas Divus (Venice 1528) were circulated widely throughout Europe in the Renaissance and these were soon followed by translations and adaptations in modern languages. Racine, for example, drew Les Plaideurs (1668) from The Wasps. Goethe (who turned to Aristophanes for a warmer and more vivid form of comedy than he could derive from readings of Terence and Plautus) adapted a short play Die Vögel from The Birds for performance in Weimar. Aristophanes has appealed to both conservatives and radicals in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries — Anatoly Lunacharsky, first Commissar of Enlightenment for the USSR in 1917, declared that the ancient dramatist would have a permanent place in proletarian theatre and yet conservative, Prussian intellectuals interpreted Aristophanes as a satirical opponent of social reform.Aristophanes in Performance 421 BC-AD 2007:Peace, Birds and Frogs Edith Hall and Amanda Wrigley, Legenda (Oxford) 2007, pages 9-12 The avant-gardist stage-director Karolos Koun directed a version of The Birds under the Acropolis in 1959 that established a trend in modern Greek history of breaking taboos through the voice of Aristophanes.Politics and Aristophanes: watchword Caution! by Gonda Van Steen in ‘The Cambridge Companion to Greek and Roman Theatre’ Marianne McDonald and J.Michael Walton (eds), Cambridge University Press 2007, page 109

The plays have a significance that goes beyond their artistic function, as historical documents that open the window on life and politics in classical Athens, in which respect they are perhaps as important as the writings of Thucydides. The artistic influence of the plays is immeasurable. They have contributed to the history of European theatre and that history in turn shapes our understanding of the plays. Thus for example the operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan can give us insights into Aristophanes’ playse.g. Aristophanes: Lysistrata, The Acharnians, The Clouds A. Sommerstein, Penguin Classics 1975, page 37 and similarly the plays can give us insights into the operettas."W.S. Gilbert: A Mid-Victorian Aristophanes" in W.S. Gilbert: A Century of Scholarship and Commentary, John Bush Jones (ed), New York University Press 1970 The plays are a source of famous sayings, such as "By words the mind is winged."Birds, l.1447-8; quotation as translated in Macmillan Dictionary of Political Quotations

Listed below is a random and very tiny sample of works influenced (more or less) by Aristophanes.

Drama

  • 1909: Wasps, original Greek, Cambridge University undergraduate production, music by Vaughan Williams;
  • 2004, July–October: The Frogs (musical), adapted by Nathan Lane, music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, performed at The Vivian Beaumont Theater Broadway;
  • 1962-2006: various plays by students and staff, Kings College London, in the original Greek: Frogs 1962,1971,1988; Thesmophoriazusae 1965, 1974, 1985; Acharnians 1968, 1992, 2004; Clouds 1977, 1990; Birds 1982, 2000; Ecclesiazusae 2006; Peace 1970; Wasps 1981
  • 2002: Lysistrata, adapted by Robert Brustein, music by Galt McDermot, performed by American Repertory Theatre, Boston U.S.A.;
  • 2008, May–June: Frogs, adapted by David Greenspan, music by Thomas Cabaniss, performed by Classic Stage Company, New York, U.S.A.

Literature

  • The romantic poet, Percy Shelley, wrote a comic, lyrical drama (Swellfoot the Tyrrant) in imitation of Aristophanes’ play The Frogs after he was reminded of the Chorus in that play by a herd of pigs passing to market under the window of his lodgings in San Giuliano, Italy.Note on Oedipus Tyrannus by Mrs Shelley, quoted in Shelley: Poetical Works Thomas Hutchinson (ed), Oxford University Press 1970, page 410
  • Aristophanes (particularly in reference to The Clouds) is mentioned frequently by the character Menedemos in the Hellenic Traders series of novels by H N Turteltaub.
  • A liberal version of the comedies have been published in comic book format, initially by "Agrotikes Ekdoseis" during the 1990s and republished over the years by other companies. The plot was written by Tasos Apostolidis and the sketches were of George Akokalidis. The stories feature either Aristophanes narrating them, directing the play, or even as a character inside one of his stories.