In this episode of Literary Tales we explore the satirical writings of Aristophanes and examine him as a satirist, literary critic, and political theorist/critic. Far from being a “comic,” we begin to realize Aristophanes as a serious thinker and critic examining the pressing issues of his day while cloaking it in the veil of comedy.

A surviving marble bust of the poet-critic Aristophanes. Aristophanes is regarded as a comic playwright, as opposed to the tragic playwrights before him. He is also regarded as one of the last canonical figures in the Greek literary corpus. Despite being a comic, his works are as profound and deep as the poet-playwrights before him. He was also a prominent figure in Plato’s dialogues, included most prominently in the Symposium. In real life, Aristophanes had a cordial relationship with Socrates although, intellectually, the two men were opponents.
A marble bust of the poet-playwright Euripides. Euripides is one of the historical playwrights who appears in The Frogs. Euripides challenges the superiority and achievement of Aeschylus (and Sophocles) and is declared the loser in the battle between the poets. In this dynamic dialectic, Aristophanes is also serving as the first social and literary critic of the ancient world; ruling in favor of Aeschylus (and Sophocles) as superior playwrights in a playful comic form.
Rape of Persephone
Peter Paul Rubens, “The Rape of Proserpina” (Persephone), 1637. Sexual violence is a recurring theme in the Greek classics, and is at the center of Aristophanes’ play Lysistrata.
H. Voegel, “Destruction of the Athenian Army in Sicily,” drawn in the nineteenth century. This engraving depicts the decisive defeat of the Athenians at the hands of the Spartans at the siege of Syracuse in 413 B.C. during the Second Peloponnesian War. The Peloponnesian War was raging during the life of Aristophanes. Several of his characters were real life leaders of the Peloponnesian War, one such person was the Greek strategos Cleon who is indirectly the target of criticism in the play Wasps.
A bust of an unknown Athenian general (strategos), possibly the demagogue Cleon.


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