Plays by Aristophanes

The Surviving Plays of Greek Old Comedy, by Aristophanes

Aristophanes was born about 447 B.C. and produced his first comedy about 20 years later. This play Daitaleis (The Banqueters) is lost, except for fragments suggesting the objects of its satire were educational and moral theories. Here are brief descriptions of the remaining comedies of Aristophanes, our only surviving writer of Greek Old Comedy.

Print References:

  • The Complete Plays of Aristophanes, edited by Moses Hadas
  • A History of Greek Literature, by Albin Lesky
  • The Clouds, by K.J. Dover
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Acharnians (425), which satirizes war, is the first of Aristophanes' plays to survive. Aristophanes won first place for Acharnians at the Lenaia.
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The year following his victory for the Acharnians, 424, Aristophanes won first place also at the Lenaia for the Knights, which was a political satire poking fun at popular opinion.
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In 423, Aristophanes' Clouds fared badly. The version of Clouds we have was rewritten, since it mentions the earlier failure and the youthfulness of its writer. It also accuses Eupolis, once Aristophanes' friend and collaborator of having plagiarized Aristophanes' Knights. In both versions of Clouds, Aristophanes satirizes Socrates and the sophistry passing for education in Athens.

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Aristophanes' Wasps, in 422, deriding the political leader Cleon, won second place in the Lenaia.
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Aristophanes' Peace is a comedy about war profiteers that won second place at the Dionysia in 421.
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In Birds, which won second place for Aristophanes at the City Dionysia, in 414, two humans try to flee Athenian life by joining the land of the Birds.
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Thesomophoria and Lysistrata

In 411, Aristophanes produced two plays about women, but we don't know which was produced at which festival. Lysistrata is about the women's sex strike to bring about peace. Thesomophoria is about Euripides planting a male in the secret rites of women for Demeter.
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In 405, under the direction of chorodidascalos (person who trains the chorus and is credited with the production) Philonides, Frogs won first place at the Lenaia. In the Frogs Dionysus dresses up as Hercules in order to go to the Underworld to bring back Euripides.
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We can date Ecclesiazusae (Women in Assembly) to 392 because it was produced two years after the alliance between Sparta and Athens. Like Lysistrata, the play involves a revolutionary conspiracy of women, but Ecclesiazusae doesn't have the serious motive of ending the slaughter of husbands and sons. Instead, it is a light-hearted play about women trying to wrest the power of government from the men.
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Plutus (Wealth), the last play we have by Aristophanes was produced in 388. Moses Hadas describes it as the only extant example of Middle Comedy. There are no choral lyrics in the play. Jokes are few. It doesn't attack any existing institution or person. Instead it treats human avarice and the unjustness of the distribution of blessings among men.

Aristophanes appears to have died shortly after the production of Plutus. He is thought to have written at least forty and perhaps more than fifty comedies spanning the end of the period of Old Comedy and bringing the genre into its next stage, Middle Comedy.

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Gill, N.S. "Plays by Aristophanes." ThoughtCo, Feb. 24, 2016, Gill, N.S. (2016, February 24). Plays by Aristophanes. Retrieved from Gill, N.S. "Plays by Aristophanes." ThoughtCo. (accessed November 25, 2017).