Aristophanes : biography

c. 446 BC – c. 388 BC

The Acharnians, Wikisource

People among us, and I don’t mean the polis,
Remember this — I don’t mean the polis –
But wicked little men of a counterfeit kind….

Aristophanes repeatedly savages Cleon in his later plays. But these satirical diatribes appear to have had no effect on Cleon’s political career — a few weeks after the performance of The Knights, a play full of anti-Cleon jokes, Cleon was elected to the prestigious board of ten generals.Barrett (2003) p.34 Cleon also seems to have had no real power to limit or control Aristophanes: the caricatures of him continued up to and even beyond his death.

In the absence of clear biographical facts about Aristophanes, scholars make educated guesses based on interpretation of the language in the plays. Inscriptions and summaries or comments by Hellenistic and Byzantine scholars can also provide useful clues. We know however from a combination of these sources,D.Welsh, IG ii2 2343, Philonides and Aristophanes’ Banqueters, Classical Quarterly 33 (1983) and especially from comments in The KnightsKnights 512-14 and The Clouds,Clouds 530-33 that Aristophanes’ first three plays were not directed by him — they were instead directed by Callistratus and Philoneides,Ian Storey, General Introduction, in Clouds, Wasps, Birds By Aristophanes, Peter Meineck (translator), Hackett Publishing 1998, page xiii an arrangement that seemed to suit Aristophanes since he appears to have used these same directors in many later plays as well (Philoneides for example later directed The Frogs and he was also credited, perhaps wrongly, with directing The Wasps.)MacDowell (1971) p.124 Aristophanes’s use of directors complicates our reliance on the plays as sources of biographical information since apparent self-references might have been made on behalf of his directors instead. Thus for example a statement by the chorus in The AcharniansThe Acharnians lines 652-54 seems to indicate that the ‘poet’ had a close, personal association with the island of Aegina, yet the terms ‘poet’ (poietes) and ‘director’ (didaskalos) are often interchangeable since dramatic poets usually directed their own plays and therefore the reference in the play could be either to Aristophanes or Callistratus. Similarly, the hero in The Acharnians complains about Cleon "dragging me into court" over "last year’s play"Acharnians 377-82 but here again it is not clear if this was said on behalf of Aristophanes or Callistratus, either of whom might have been prosecuted by Cleon.W.Rennie, The Acharnians of Aristophanes, Edward Arnold (London, 1909), page 12-15, reproduced by Bibliolife

Comments made by the Chorus on behalf of Aristophanes in The CloudsAristophanis Comoediae Tomus 1, F.W.Hall and W.M.Geldart (eds), Oxford Classical Texts, The Clouds lines 528-32 have been interpreted as evidence that he can have been hardly more than 18 years old when his first play The Banqueters was produced.Aristophanes: Lysistrata, The Acharnians, The Clouds Alan Sommerstein (ed), Penguin Classics 1975, page 9 The second parabasis in WaspsWasps lines 1265-91 appears to indicate that he reached some kind of temporary accommodation with Cleon following either the controversy over The Babylonians or a subsequent controversy over The Knights.MacDowell (1978) p.299 It has been inferred from statements in The Clouds and Peace that Aristophanes was prematurely bald.Aristophanis Comoediae Tomus 1, F.W. Hall and W.M. Geldart (eds), Oxford Classical Texts, Clouds 540-45, Peace 767-74

We know that Aristophanes was probably victorious at least once at the City Dionysia (with Babylonians in 427)IG II2 . 58 and at least three times at the Lenaia, with Acharnians in 425, Knights in 424, and Frogs in 405. Frogs in fact won the unique distinction of a repeat performance at a subsequent festival. We know that a son of Aristophanes, Araros, was also a comic poet and he could have been heavily involved in the production of his father’s play Wealth II in 388.Aristophanes, testimonium 1, lines 54-56, in Kassel-Austin, Poetae Comici Graeci vol. III.2 (Berlin 1984), p. 4. Araros is also thought to have been responsible for the posthumous performances of the now lost plays Aeolosicon II and Cocalus,Aristophanes, Κώκαλος, testimonium iii, in Kassel-Austin, Poetae Comici Graeci vol. III.2 (Berlin 1984), p. 201. and it is possible that the last of these won the prize at the City Dionysia in 387.IG II2 . 196 It appears that a second son, Philippus, was twice victorious at the LenaiaIG II2 2325. 140 and he could have directed some of Eubulus’ comedies.Eubulus, testimonium 4, in Kassel-Austin, Poetae Comici Graeci vol. V (Berlin 1986), p. 188. A third son was called either Nicostratus or Philetaerus,Clouds Peter Meineck (translator) and Ian Storey (Introduction), Hackett Publishing 2000, page XVIII and a man by the latter name appears in the catalogue of Lenaia victors with two victories, the first probably in the late 370s.IG II2 2325. 143 (just after Anaxandrides and just before Eubulus)