ARISTONICUS, of Alexandria, Greek grammarian, lived during the reigns of Augustus and Tiberius. He taught at Rome and wrote commentaries and grammatical treatises. His chief work was Περὶ Σημείων Όμήρου, in which he gave an account of the “critical marks” inserted by Aristarchus in the margin of his recension of the text of the Iliad and Odyssey. Important fragments are preserved in the scholia of the Venetian Codex A of the Iliad.
ARISTOPHANES (c. 448–385 B.C.), the great comic dramatist and poet of Athens. His birth-year is uncertain. He is known to have been about the same age as Eupolis, and is said to have been “almost a boy” when his first comedy (The Banqueters) was brought out in 427 B.C. His father Philippus was a landowner in Aegina. Aristophanes was an Athenian citizen of the tribe Pandionis, and the deme Cydathene. The stories which made him a native of Camirus in Rhodes, or of the Egyptian Naucratis, had probably no other foundation than an indictment for usurpation of civic rights (ξενίας γραφή) which appears to have been more than once laid against him by Cleon. His three sons— Philippus, Araros and Nicostratus—were all comic poets. Philippus, the eldest, was a rival of Eubulus, who began to exhibit in 376 B.C. Araros brought out two of his father’s latest comedies—the Cocalus and the Aeolosicon, and in 375 began to exhibit works of his own. Nicostratus, the youngest, is assigned by Athenaeus to the Middle Comedy, but belongs, as is shown by some of the names and characters of his pieces, to the New Comedy also.
Although tragedy and comedy had their common origin in the festivals of Dionysus, the regular establishment of tragedy at Athens preceded by half a century that of comedy. The Old Comedy may be said to have lasted about eighty years (470–390 B.C.), and to have flourished about fifty-six (460–404 B.C.). Of the forty poets who are named as having illustrated it the chief were Cratinus, Eupolis and Aristophanes. The Middle Comedy covers a period of about seventy years (390–320 B.C.), its chief poets being Antiphanes, Alexis, Theopompus and Strattis. The New Comedy was in vigour for about seventy years (320–250 B.C.), having for its foremost representatives Menander, Philemon and Diphilus. The Old Comedy was possible only for a thorough democracy. Its essence was a satirical censorship, unsparing in personalities, of public and of private life—of morality, of statesmanship, of education, of literature, of social usage—in a word, of everything which had an interest for the city or which could amuse the citizens. Preserving all the freedom of banter and of riotous fun to which its origin gave it an historical right, it aimed at associating with this a strong practical purpose—the expression of a democratic public opinion in such a form that no misconduct or folly could altogether disregard it. That licentiousness, that grossness of allusion which too often disfigures it, was, it should be remembered, exacted by the sentiment of the Dionysiac festivals, as much as a decorous cheerfulness is expected at the holiday times of other worships. This was the popular element. Without this the entertainment would have been found flat and unseasonable. But for a comic poet of the higher calibre the consciousness of a recognized power which he could exert, and the desire to use this power for the good of the city, must always have been the uppermost feelings. At Athens the poet of the Old Comedy had an influence analogous, perhaps, rather to that of the journalist than to that of the modern dramatist. But the established type of Dionysiac comedy gave him an instrument such as no public satirist has ever wielded. When Molière wished to brand hypocrisy he could only make his Tartuffe the central figure of a regular drama, developed by a regular process to a just catastrophe. He had no choice between touching too lightly and using sustained force to make a profound impression. The Athenian dramatist of the Old Comedy worked under no such limitations of form. The wildest flights of extravagance were permitted to him. Nothing bound him to a dangerous emphasis or a wearisome insistence. He could deal the keenest thrust, or make the most earnest appeal, and at the next moment—if his instinct told him that it was time to change the subject—vary the serious strain by burlesque. He had, in short, an incomparable scope for trenchant satire directed by sure tact.
Aristophanes is for us the representative of the Old Comedy. But his genius, while it includes, also transcends the genius of the Old Comedy. He can denounce the frauds of a Cleon, he can vindicate the duty of Athens to herself and to her allies, with a stinging scorn and a force of patriotic indignation which makes the poet almost forgotten in the citizen. He can banter Euripides with an ingenuity of light mockery which makes it seem for the time as if the leading Aristophanic trait was the art of seeing all things from their prosaic side. Yet it is neither in the denunciation nor in the mockery that he is most individual. His truest and highest faculty is revealed by those wonderful bits of lyric writing in which he soars above everything that can move laughter or tears, and makes the clear air thrill with the notes of a song as free, as musical and as wild as that of the nightingale invoked by his own chorus in the Birds. The speech of Dikaios Logos in the Clouds, the praises of country life in the Peace, the serenade in the Ecclesiazusae, the songs of the Spartan and Athenian maidens in the Lysistrata, above all, perhaps, the chorus in the Frogs, the beautiful chant of the Initiated,—these passages, and such as these, are the true glories of Aristophanes. They are the strains, not of an artist, but of one who warbles for pure gladness of heart in some place made bright by the presence of a god. Nothing else in Greek poetry has quite this wild sweetness of the woods. Of modern poets Shakespeare alone, perhaps, has it in combination with a like richness and fertility of fancy.
Fifty-four comedies were ascribed to Aristophanes. Forty-three of these are allowed as genuine by Bergk. Eleven only are extant. These eleven form a running commentary on the outer and the inner life of Athens during thirty-six years. They may be ranged under three periods. The first, extending to 420 B.C., includes those plays in which Aristophanes uses an absolutely unrestrained freedom of political satire. The second ends with the year 405. Its productions are distinguished from those of the earlier time by a certain degree of reticence and caution. The third period, down to 388 B.C., comprises two plays in which the transition to the character of the Middle Comedy is well marked, not merely by disuse of the parabasis, but by general self-restraint.
I. First Period, (1) 425 B.C. The Acharnians.—Since the defeat in Boeotia the peace party at Athens had gained ground, and in this play Aristophanes seeks to strengthen their hands. Dicaeopolis, an honest countryman, is determined to make peace with Sparta on his own account, not deterred by the angry men of Acharnae, who crave vengeance for the devastation of their vineyards. He sends to Sparta for samples of peace; and he is so much pleased with the flavour of the Thirty Years’ sample that he at once concludes a treaty for himself and his family. All the blessings of life descend on him; while Lamachus, the leader of the war party, is smarting from cold, snow and wounds.
(2) 424 B.C. The Knights.—Three years before, in his Babylonians, Aristophanes had assailed Cleon as the typical demagogue. In this play he continues the attack. The Demos, or State, is represented by an old man who has put himself and his household into the hands of a rascally Paphlagonian steward. Nicias and Demosthenes, slaves of Demos, contrive that the Paphlagonian shall be supplanted in their master’s favour by a sausage-seller. No sooner has Demos been thus rescued than his youthfulness and his good sense return together.
(3) 423 B.C. The Clouds (the first edition; a second edition was brought out in 422 B.C.).—This play would be correctly described as an attack on the new spirit of intellectual inquiry and culture rather than on a school or class. Two classes of
- [The dates in the text, as given by Jebb, are retained. According to R. G. Kent, Classical Review (April 1905, April 1906), Aristophanes was born in 455, and died in 375 B.C.]
- [Or “fourty-four” (reading μδ´ for νδ´ in Suidas).]