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XIII

COMEDY

Before Aristophanes

Ancient comedy, a development from the mumming of the vintage and harvest feasts, took artistic form in the two great centres of commercial and popular life, Syracuse and Athens. The Sicilian comedy seems to have come first. Epicharmus is said to have flourished in 486. He was a native of Cos, who migrated first to Sicilian Megara, and then to Syracuse. His remains are singularly scanty compared with his reputation, and it is hard to form a clear idea of him. He was a comedy-writer and a philosopher, apparently of a Pythagorean type. His comedies are partly burlesques of heroic subjects, like the Cyclops,* Busîris,* Promâtheus,* resembling the satyric dramas of Athens, and such comedies as the Odyssês,* and Chirônes* of Cratînus. Others, like the Rustic* and the Sight-Seers,* were mimes, representing scenes from ordinary life. In this field he had a rival, Sophron, who wrote 'Feminine Mimes' and 'Masculine Mimes,' and has left us such titles as the Tunny-Fisher,* the Messenger,* the Seamstresses,* the Mother-in-Law.* A third style of composition followed by Epicharmus was semi-philosophical, like the discussion between 'Logos' and 'Logîna,' Male and Female Reason, or whatever the words mean. And he wrote one strictly philosophical poem, On Nature.* We hear that the comedies were rapid and bustling; but, of course, the remnants that have survived owe their life merely to some literary quality, whether pithiness of thought or grammatical oddity. His description of a parasite—the thing existed in his time, though not the word—is excellent.[1] It is interesting to find him using puns of the most undisguised type, as where one speaker describes Zeus as Πέλοπι γ᾽ ἔρανον ἱστιῶν, and the other hears γ᾽ ἔρανον as γέρανον, and supposes that the god fed his guest on a crane. A typical piece of conversation is the following:[2] "A. After the sacrifice came a feast, and after the feast a drinking-party. B. That seems nice. A. And after the drinking-party a revel , after the revel a swinery, after the swinery a summons, after the summons a condemnation, and after the condemnation fetters and stocks and a fine." The other side of the man is represented by his philosophical sayings: "Mind hath sight and Mind hath hearing; all things else are deaf and blind"; "Character is destiny to man"; or, one of the most frequently-quoted lines of antiquity, "Be sober, and remember to disbelieve: these are the sinews of the mind." The metre of Epicharmus is curiously loose; it suggests the style of a hundred years later, but his verbose and unfinished diction marks the early craftsman. He often reminds one of Lucilius and Plautus.


The Attic comedy was developed on different lines, and, from about 460 B.C. onwards, followed in the steps of tragedy. The ground-form seems to be a twofold division, with the 'parabasis' between. First comes a general explanation of the supposed situation and the meaning of the disguises; then the 'parabasis,' the 'coming-forward' of the whole choir as the author's representative, to speak in his name about current topics of interest; then a loose string of farcical scenes, illustrating, in no particular order or method, the situation as reached in the first part. The end is a 'cômos' or revel, in which the performers go off rejoicing. For instance, in our earliest surviving comedy, the Acharnians of Aristophanes, the first part, which has become genuinely dramatic by this time, explains how the hero contrives to make a private peace with the Peloponnesians; then comes the 'parabasis'; then a series of disconnected scenes showing the fun that he and his family have, and the unhappy plight of all the people about them.

Of the oldest comic writers—Chionides, Ecphantides, Magnes—we know little. The first important name is Cratînus, who carried on against Pericles—"the squill-headed God Almighty," "the child of Cronos and Double-dealing"—the same sort of war which was waged by Aristophanes against Cleon. Critics considered him incomparable in force, but too bitter. Aristophanes often refers to him: he was "like a mountain-torrent, sweeping down houses and trees and people who stood in his way." He was an initiated Orphic, who had eaten the flesh of the bull Bacchus,[3] and also a devotee of Bacchus in the modern sense. In the Knights (424 B.C.) his younger rival alluded to him pityingly as a fine fellow quite ruined by drink. The reference roused the old toper. Next year he brought out the Pytîne* ('Wine-Flask'), a kind of outspoken satire on himself, in which his wife Comedy redeems him from the clutches of the designing Pytîne. He won the first prize, and Aristophanes was last on the list. But a wreck he was after all, and was dead by 421. One of his actors—he employed three—was Crates, who wrote with some success, and has the distinction of having first produced drunken men on the stage.

Pherekrates, who won his first victory in 437, was a praiseworthy but tiresome writer, to judge by his very numerous fragments. He had better plots than his contemporaries, and approached the manner of the later comedy. He treats social subjects, such as the impudence of slaves and the ways of 'hetairai'; he has a violent attack on Timotheus and the new style of music. He also shows signs of the tendency which is so strong in Aristophanes, to make plays about imaginary regions of bliss; in his Miners,* for instance, a golden age is found going on somewhere deep in or under the earth, and in his Ant-Men* there was probably something similar. We only know of one political drama by him—an attack on Alcibiades.

Eupolis is the most highly praised of the contemporaries of Aristophanes. His characteristic was χάρις, 'charm' or 'grace,' as contrasted with the force and bitterness of Cratînus, and the mixture of the two in Aristophanes. These three formed the canon of comic writers in Alexandria. It is said that the death of Eupolis in battle at the Hellespont was the occasion of exemption from military service being granted to professional poets. His political tendencies were so far similar to those of Aristophanes that the two collaborated in the most savage piece of comedy extant, the Knights, and accused one another of plagiarism afterwards. That play was directed against Cleon. In the Marikâs* Eupolis wrote against Hyperbolus; in the Dêmoi* he spoke well of Pericles as an orator (frag. 94), but this was after his death and probably did not mean much. In reviling Cleon it was well to praise Pericles, just as in reviling Hyperbolus it was well to praise Cleon. Comedy was an ultra-democratic institution, as the Old Oligarch remarked, yet all the comic writers have an aristocratic bias. This is partly because their province was satire, not praise: if they were satisfied with the course of politics, they wrote about something else which they were not satisfied with. Partly, perhaps, it is that they shared the bias of the men of culture. But Eupolis was more liberal than Aristophanes. Aristophanes does not seem ever to have violently attacked rich people.[4] Eupolis wrote his Flatterers* against 'Money-bag Callias' and his train, and his Baptai* or Dippers* against Alcibiades. The latter piece represented one of those mystical and enthusiastic worships which were so prominent at the time, that of a goddess named Cotytto. Baptism was one of the rites; and so was secrecy, unfortunately for the reputation of those concerned. The Greek layman attributed the worst possible motives to any one who made a secret of his religious observances or prayed in a low voice.

Phrynichus, son of Eunomides, who won his first prize in 429, and Plato, of whom we know no piece certainly earlier than 405, bridge the transition to the comedy of manners, which arose in the fourth century. The Solitary* of Phrynichus is an instance of a piece which was a failure because it was produced some twenty years before the public were ready for it. We have no purely political play from Phrynichus; from Plato we have a Hyperbolus,* a Cleophon,* and one called the Alliance,* dealing with the alleged conspiracy of Nikias, Phæax, and Alcibiades to get Hyperbolus ostracised.


Aristophanes, son of Philippus, from Kydathenaion
(ca. 450 B.C. to ca. 385 B.C.)

By far the most successful of the writers of the old comedy was Aristophanes; and though he had certain external advantages over Cratînus, and enjoyed a much longer active life than Eupolis, he seems, by a comparison of the fragments of all the writers of this form of literature, to have deserved his success. He held land in Ægina. There is no reason to doubt his full Athenian citizenship, though some lines of Eupolis (frag. 357), complaining of the success of foreigners, have been supposed to refer to him. He probably began writing very young. At least he explains that he had to produce his first piece, the Daitalês* ('Men of Guzzleton') under the name of his older friend the actor Caliistratus; partly because he was too young for something or other—perhaps too young to have much chance of obtaining a chorus from the archon; partly because, though he had written the play, he had not enough experience to train the chorus. This manner of production became almost a habit with him. He produced the Daitalês,* Babylonians,* Acharnians, Birds, and Lysistrata under the name of Callistratus; the Wasps, Amphiarâus,* and Frogs under that of Philônides. That is, these two persons had the trouble of teaching the chorus, and the pleasure of receiving the state payment for the production. They also had their names proclaimed as authors, though every one knew that they were not so. Whatever monetary arrangement the poet eventually made, this process meant the payment of money for the saving of trouble; and, taken in conjunction with his land in Ægîna, and his general dislike for the poor, it warrants us in supposing that Aristophanes was a rich man. He had the prejudices and also the courage of the independent gentleman. His first piece (427 B.C.) was an attack on the higher education of the time, which the satirist, of course, represented as immoral in tendency. The main character was the father of two sons, one virtuous and old-fashioned, the other vicious and new-fashioned. The young poet obtained the second prize, and was delighted. Next year (426) he made a violent attack, with the vigour but not the caution of the Old Oligarch, on the system of the Democratic Empire. The play was called the Babylonians;* the chorus consisted of the allies represented as slaves working on the treadmill for their master Demos. The poet chose for the production of this play the midsummer Dionysia when the representatives of the allies were all present in Athens. He succeeded in making a scandal, and was prosecuted by Cleon, apparently for treason. We do not know what the verdict was. In the Acharnians, Aristophanes makes a kind of apology for his indiscretion, and remarks that he had had such a rolling in dirt as all but killed him. He afterwards reserved his extreme home-truths for the festival of the Lenæa, in early spring, before the season for foreigners in Athens.

The Acharnians was acted at the Lenæa of 425; it is the oldest comedy preserved, and a very good one (see p. 277). It is political in its main purpose, and is directed against Cleon and Lamachus, as representing the war party; but the poet handles his formidable enemy with a certain caution; while, on the other hand, he goes out of his way to attack Euripides (p, 260), whom he had doubtless already made responsible for the 'corruption of the age' in the Daitalês* We do not know of any personal cause of enmity between the two men; but it is a fact that, in a degree far surpassing the other comic writers, Aristophanes can never get Euripides out of his head. One might be content with the fact that Euripides was just the man to see how vulgar and unreal most of the comedian's views were, and that Aristophanes was acute enough to see that he saw it. But it remains a curious thing that Aristophanes, in the first place, imitates Euripides to a noteworthy extent—so much so that Cratînus invented a word 'Euripidaristophanize' to describe the style of the two; and, secondly, he must, to judge from his parodies, have read and re-read Euripides till he knew him practically by heart.

In 424 Aristophanes had his real fling. The situation assumed in the Knights is that a crusty old man called Demos has fallen wholly into the power of his rascally Paphlagonian slave; his two home-bred slaves get hold of an oracle of Bakis, ordaining that Demos shall be governed in turn by four 'mongers' or 'chandlers'—the word is an improvised coinage—each doomed to yield to some one lower than himself. The 'hemp-chandler' has had his day, and the 'sheep-chandler'; now there is the Paphlagonian 'leather-chandler,' who shall in due time yield to—what? A 'black-pudding chandler!' "Lord Poseidon, what a trade!" shouts the delighted house-slave, and at the critical instant there appears an abnormally characteristic costermonger with a tray of black-puddings. The two conspirators rouse the man to his great destiny. The rest of the play is a wild struggle between the Paphlagonian and the black-pudding man, in which the former is routed at his own favourite pursuits—lying, perjury, stealing, and the art of 'cheek.' The Paphlagonian, of course, is Cleon, who owned a tannery; the two slaves are Nikias and Demosthenes; the previous 'chandlers' were apparently Lysicles and Eucrates. But the poet tells us that, in the first place, he could get no actor to take the part of Cleon, and, secondly, that when he took the part himself the mask-painters refused to make a mask representing Cleon. The play is a perfect marvel of rollicking and reckless abuse. Yet it is wonderfully funny, and at the end, where there is a kind of transformation scene, the black-pudding man becoming a good genius, and Demos recovering his senses, there is some eloquent and rather noble patriotism. The attack is not exactly venomous nor even damaging. It can have done very little to spoil Cleon's chances of election to any post he desired. It is a hearty deluge of mud in return for the prosecution of 426. Such a play, if once accepted by the archon, and not interrupted by a popular tumult, was likely to be a succès fou; as a matter of fact, the Knights won the first prize.

The next year there was a reaction. The Clouds, attacking the new culture as typified in Socrates, was beaten, both by the Wine-Flask* of the 'wreck' Cratînus, and by the Connus* of Ameipsias. Aristophanes complains of this defeat[5] in a second version of the play, which has alone come down to us. He considered it the best thing he had ever written. Besides the 'parabasis,' two scenes in our Clouds are stated not to have occurred in the original play—the dialogue between the Just Cause and the Unjust Cause, and the rather effective close where Socrates's house is burnt. The present play is manifestly unfinished and does not hang together, but the interest taken by posterity in the main character has made it perhaps the most celebrated of all Aristophanes's works. The situation—an old man wishing to learn from a sophist the best way to avoid paying his debts—is not really a very happy one; and, in spite of the exquisite style which Aristophanes always has at command, and the humour of particular situations, the play is rather tame. Socrates must have done something to attract public notice at this time, since he was also the hero of the Connus.* Ameipsias described him as a poor, hungry, ragged devil, who 'insulted the bootmakers' by his naked feet, but nevertheless 'never deigned to flatter.' That caricature is nearer to the original than is the sophist of the Clouds, who combines various traits of the real Socrates with all the things he most emphatically disowned—the atheism of Diagoras, the grammar of Protagoras, the astronomy and physics of Diogenes of Apollonia. However, the portrait is probably about as true to life as those of Cleon, Agathon, or Cleonymus, and considerably less ill-natured.

In 422 Aristophanes returned again from the movement of thought to ordinary politics. The Wasps is a satire on the love of the Athenians for sitting in the jury courts and trying cases. It must have been a fascinating occupation to many minds: there was intellectual interest in it, and the charm of conscious power. But it is hard to believe that too many difficulties were settled by 'Justice,' and too few by force, even in the last quarter of the fifth century. Nor is it necessary to conclude that Aristophanes would really have liked a return to the more primitive methods which the growth of Athenian law had superseded. The Wasps probably[6] won the first prize. Its political tendency is visible in the names of the insane old judge Philocleon and his wiser son Bdelycleon—'Love-Cleon' and 'Loathe-Cleon' respectively. And the sham trial got up for the entertainment of Philocleon is a riddle not hard to read: the dog Labes is vexatiously prosecuted by a dog ('Kuôn') from Kydathenaion for stealing a cheese, just as the general Laches had been prosecuted by Cleon from Kydathenaion for extortion. The various ways in which Philocleon's feelings are worked upon, his bursts of indignation and of pity, look like a good parody of the proceedings of an impulsive Athenian jury. Racine's celebrated adaptation, Les Plaideurs, does not quite make up by its superior construction for its loss of 'go' and naturalness. The institutions of the Wasps are essentially those of its own age.

In 421 Aristophanes produced the Peace, a weak rechauffé of the Acharnians, only redeemed by the parody of Euripides's Bellerophon* with which it opens. The hero does not possess a Pegasus, as Bellerophon did, but he fattens up a big Mount Etna beetle—the huge beast that one sees rolling balls in the sandy parts of Greece and Italy—and flies to heaven upon it, to the acute annoyance of his servants and daughters. The Peace won the second prize.

After 421 comes a gap of seven years in our records. We may guess that the Old Age* in which some old men were rejuvenated, was produced in the interval, and also the Amphiarâus,* in which some one goes to 'dream a dream' in the temple of the hero at Orôpus. The same subject is satirised in the Plutus many years after (cf. also p. 328). The next play in our tradition is Aristophanes's unquestioned masterpiece, the Birds (414 B.C.). It has perhaps more fun, certainly more sustained interest, and more exquisite imagination and lyric beauty, than any of his other works. It is a revelation of the extraordinary heights to which the old comedy with all its grotesqueness could rise. The underlying motive is the familiar desire to escape from the worry of reality, into some region of a quite different sort. Two Athenians, Peithetairus ('Persuader') and Euelpidês ('Hopefulson'), having realised the fact that Têreus was a king of Athens before he was turned into a hoopoe and became king of the Birds—a fact established beyond doubt by Sophocles and other highly-respected poets—determine to find him out, and to form a great Bird-commonwealth. Peithetairus is a splendid character, adapting himself to every situation and converting every opponent. He rouses the melancholy Têreus; convinces the startled and angry Birds; gets wings made; establishes a constitution, public buildings, and defences; receives and rejects multitudes of applicants for citizenship, admitting, for instance, a lyric-poet and a 'father-beater,' who seems to be the ancient equivalent for a wife-beater, but drawing the line at a prophet, an inspector, and a man of science. Meantime the new city has blocked the communication of the gods with Earth, and cut off their supplies of incense. Their messenger Iris is arrested for trespassing on the Birds' territory, and Peithetairus makes the poor girl cry! At last the gods have to propose terms. But a deserter has come to Peithetairus beforehand: it is Prometheus, the enemy of Zeus, hiding from 'Them Above' under a large umbrella—how much further can cheery profanity go?—and bringing information about the weakness of the gods. When the embassy comes, it consists of one wise man, Poseidon; one stupid man, who is seduced by the promise of a good dinner, Heracles; and one absolute fool, Triballos, who cannot talk intelligibly, and does not know what he is voting for. Zeus restores to the Birds the sceptre of the world, and gives to Peithetairus the hand of his beautiful daughter Basileia ('Sovereignty'), and 'Cloudcuckootown' is established for ever. A lesser man would have felt bound to bring it to grief; but the rules of comedy really forbade such an ending, and Aristophanes is never afraid of his own fancies. There is very little political allusion in the play. Aristophanes's party were probably at the time content if they could prevent Athens from sending reinforcements to Sicily and saving the army that was during these very months rotting under the walls of Syracuse. The whole play is a refusal to think about such troublous affairs. It was beaten by Ameipsias's Revellers* but seems to have made some impression, as Archippus soon after wrote his Fishes* in imitation of it.

The next two plays of our tradition are written under the shadow of the oligarchy of 411. Politics are not safe, and Aristophanes tries to make up for them by daring indecency. The Lysistrata might be a very fine play; the heroine is a real character, a kind of female Peithetairus, with more high principle and less sense of humour. The main idea—the women strike in a body and refuse to have any dealings with men until peace is made—was capable of any kind of treatment; and the curious thing is that Aristophanes, while professing to ridicule the women, is all through on their side. The jokes made by the superior sex at the expense of the inferior—to give them their Roman names—are seldom remarkable either for generosity or for refinement. And it is our author's pleasant humour to accuse everybody of every vice he can think of at the moment. Yet with the single exception that he credits women with an inordinate fondness for wine-parties—the equivalent, it would seem, of afternoon tea—he makes them, on the whole, perceptibly more sensible and more 'sympathetic' than his men. Of course the emancipation of women was one of the ideas of the time. Aristophanes wrote two plays on the subject. Two other comedians, Amphis and Alexis, wrote one each, and that before Plato had made his famous pronouncement, or the Cynics started their women-preachers. It was an instinct in Aristophanes to notice and superficially to assimilate most of the advanced thought of his time; if he had gone deeper, he would have taken things seriously and spoilt his work. He always turns back before he has understood too much, and uses his half-knowledge and partial sympathy to improve his mocking.

The Thesmophoriazusæ, written in the same year and under the same difficulties, is a very clever play. The women assembled at the feast of Thesmophoria, to which no men were admitted, take counsel together how to have revenge on Euripides for representing such 'horrid' women in his tragedies. Euripides knows of the plan, and persuades his father-in-law to go to the meeting in disguise and speak in his defence. The intruder is discovered and handed over to a policeman; he eventually escapes by his son-in-law's help. Euripides hums fragments of his own plays behind the scenes, and the prisoner hums answering fragments under the policeman's nose, till the plot is arranged. The play was acted twice in slightly different versions.

In the next few years we have the Lemnian Women,* about the newly-established worship of Bendis at the Piræus; the Gêrŷtadês,* which seems to have been similar in plot to the Frogs; and the Phœnissæ,* in mere parody—a new departure this—of Euripides's tragedy of that name. We have also a play directed against Alcibiades, the Triphalês.* It dealt certainly with his private life, and possibly with his public action. If so, it is the last echo of the political drama of the fifth century, a production for which the world has never again possessed sufficient 'parrhêsia'—'free-spokenness.'

The death of Euripides in 406 gave Aristophanes the idea of founding a whole play, the Frogs, on the contrast between the poetry of his childhood and that which was called new—though, as a matter of fact, this latter was passing swiftly out of existence. Æschylus and Euripides were dead, Sophocles dying; Agathon had retired to Macedonia. The patron-god of the drama, Dionysus, finds life intolerable with such miserable poets as now are left him. He resolves to go to Hades and fetch Euripides back. When he gets there—his adventures on the way, disguised as Heracles, but very unworthy of the lion's skin, are among the best bits of fun in Aristophanes—he finds that after all Euripides is not alone. Æschylus is there too; and the position becomes delicate. The two were already disputing about the place of honour when he came. The death of Sophocles must have occurred when the play was half written: he has to be mentioned, but is represented as having no wish to return to earth; while Dionysus himself affects to be anxious to see what sort of work Iophon will do without his father's help. His poetry is not criticised or parodied. On the arrival of Dionysus, there follows a long contest between the two poets. It seems a pedantic subject, and it is certainly wonderful that an Athenian audience can have sat listening and laughing for hours to a piece of literary criticism in the form of a play. But the fact remains that the play makes even a modern reader laugh aloud as he reads. As to the judgments passed on the two poets, one may roughly say that the parodies are admirable, the analytical criticism childish.[7] Aristophanes feels all the points with singular sensitiveness, but he does not know how to name them or expound them, as, for instance, Aristotle did. The choice is hard to make: "I think the one clever, but I enjoy the other," says Dionysus. Eventually he leaves the decision to his momentary feelings and chooses Æschylus. It would be quite wrong to look on the play as a mere attack on Euripides. The case would be parallel if we could imagine some modern writer like the late Mr. Calverley, a writer of comedy and parody with a keen and classic literary taste, sending Dionysus to call Browning back to us, and deciding in the end that he would sooner have Keats.

There comes another great gap before we meet, in 392, the poorest of Aristophanes's plays, the Ecclêsiazûsæ or 'Women in Parliament.' It reads at first like a parody of the scheme for communism and abolition of the family given by Plato in Republic V. The dates will not allow this; but it is, of course, quite likely that Plato had expressed some such views in lectures or conversation before he put them in writing. The schemes are far from identical. In Plato the sexes are equal; in Aristophanes the men are disfranchised. The marriage system is entirely different. The communism and the simplification of life might be sympathetic parodies of Plato, but Aristophanes will not have the severe training or the military saints at any price. The Ecclêsiazûsæ has a larger subject than the merely political Lysistrata, but it is a much tamer play.

The Plutus (388 B.C.) is the last play of Aristophanes preserved, and is very different from the rest. It may almost be called a play without personalities, without politics, without parabasis; that is, it belongs practically not to the old but to the middle comedy—the transition to the pure comedy of manners. It is, indeed, still founded on a sort of 'hypothesis,' like the Birds or the Acharnians. Plutus ('Wealth') is a blind god; if we could catch him and get his eyesight restored by a competent oculist or a miracle-working temple, what a state of things it would be! The main lines of the play form merely the working out of this idea. But the new traits appear in many details; we have the comic slave, impudent, rascally, but indispensable, who plays such an important part in Menander and Terence, and we have character-drawing for its own sake in the hero's friend Blepsidêmus. We hear of two later plays called Aiolosikon* and Côcalus,* which Aristophanes gave to his son Arârôs to make his debut with, Sikon is a cook's name; so, presumably, the first represented the old Wind-god acting in that capacity. The second, like so many of the new comedy plays, contained a story, not comic but romantic, with a seduction and a recognition.

Aristophanes is beyond doubt a very great writer. The wisdom of his politics, the general value of his view of life, and, above all, the 'Sittliche Ernst' which his admirers find in his treatment of his opponents' alleged vices, may well be questioned. Yet, admitting that he often opposed what was best in his age, or advocated it on the lowest grounds; admitting that his slanders are beyond description, and that as a rule he only attacks the poor, and the leaders of the poor—nevertheless he does it all with such exuberant high spirits, such an air of its all being nonsense together, such insight and swiftness, such incomparable directness and charm of style, that even if some Archelaus had handed him over to Euripides to scourge, he would probably have escaped his well-earned whipping. His most characteristic quality, perhaps, is his combination of the wildest and broadest farce on the one hand, with the most exquisite lyric beauty on the other. Of course the actual lyrics are loose and casual in workmanship; it argues mere inexperience in writing lyric verse for a critic seriously to compare them in this respect with the choruses of Sophocles and Euripides. But the genius is there, if the hard work is not.

As a dramatist, Aristophanes is careless about construction; but he has so much 'go' and lifting power that he makes the most absurd situations credible. He has a real gift for imposing on his audience's credulity. His indecency comes partly, no doubt, from that peculiarly Greek naïveté, which is the result of simple and unaffected living; partly it has no excuse to urge except that it is not deliberately vicious (and cf. p. 211). It is instructive to know that Plato liked Aristophanes. Of course their politics agreed; but if there is any truth in the anecdote[8] that Plato made Dionysius of Syracuse read the Knights in order to see what Athenian political life was like, it was merely the free-speaking that he wished to illustrate. The comedian's speech in the Symposium shows the inner bond which united these two great princes of imagination. But only his own age could really stand Aristophanes. The next century wanted more refinement and character-work, more plot and sentiment and sobriety. It got what it wanted in Menander. The Alexandrians indeed had enough of the genuine antiquarian spirit to love the old comedy. It was full of information about bygone things, it was hard, it belonged thoroughly to the past; they studied Aristophanes more than any poet except Homer. But later ages found him too wild and strong and breezy. Plutarch's interesting criticism of him as compared with Menander is like an invalid's description of a high west wind. At the present day he seems to share with Homer and Æschylus and Theocritus the power of appealing directly to the interest and sympathy of almost every reader.


  1. P. 225, Lorenz, Leben, &c.
  2. Fr. incert. 44.
  3. Fr. 357. See Maass, Orpheus, p. 106.
  4. Alcibiades had fallen at the time of the Triphales.*
  5. Clouds, 'parabasis.'
  6. The 'Hypothesis' is corrupt. Cf. Leo in Rh. Mus. xxxiii. 20
  7. The musical criticism, which is plentiful, of course passes over our heads.
  8. Vita xi. in Duebner's Scholia.