thinkers or teachers are, however, specially satirized under the general name of “Sophist” (v. 331)—1. The Physical Philosophers—indicated by allusions to the doctrines of Anaxagoras, Heraclitus and Diogenes of Apollonia. 2. The professed teachers of rhetoric, belles lettres, &c., such as Protagoras and Prodicus. Socrates is taken as the type of the entire tendency. A youth named Pheidippides—obviously meant for Alcibiades—is sent by his father to Socrates to be cured of his dissolute propensities. Under the discipline of Socrates the youth becomes accomplished in dishonesty and impiety. The conclusion of the play shows the indignant father preparing to burn up the philosopher and his hall of contemplation.
(4) 422 B.C. The Wasps.—This comedy, which suggested Les Plaideurs to Racine, is a satire on the Athenian love of litigation. The strength of demagogy, while it lay chiefly in the ecclesia, lay partly also in the paid dicasteries. From this point of view the Wasps may be regarded as supplementing the Knights. Philocleon (admirer of Cleon), an old man, has a passion for lawsuits—a passion which his son, Bdelycleon (detester of Cleon) fails to check, until he hits upon the device of turning the house into a law-court, and paying his father for absence from the public suits. The house-dog steals a Sicilian cheese; the old man is enabled to gratify his taste by trying the case, and, by an oversight, acquits the defendant. In the second half of the play a change comes over the dream of Philocleon; from litigation he turns to literature and music, and is congratulated by the chorus on his happy conversion.
(5) 421 B.C. The Peace.—In its advocacy of peace with Sparta, this play, acted at the Great Dionysia shortly before the conclusion of the treaty, continues the purpose of the Acharnians. Trygaeus, a distressed Athenian, soars to the sky on a beetle’s back. There he finds the gods engaged in pounding the Greek states in a mortar. In order to stop this, he frees the goddess Peace from a well in which she is imprisoned. The pestle and mortar are laid aside by the gods, and Trygaeus marries one of the handmaids of Peace.
II. Second Period. (6) 414 B.C. The Birds.—Peisthetaerus, an enterprising Athenian, and his friend Euelpides persuade the birds to build a city—“Cloud-Cuckoo-borough”—in mid-air, so as to cut off the gods from men. The plan succeeds; the gods send envoys to treat with the birds; and Peisthetaerus marries Basileia, daughter of Zeus. Some have found in the Birds a complete historical allegory of the Sicilian expedition; others, a general satire on the prevalence at Athens of headstrong caprice over law and order; others, merely an aspiration towards a new and purified Athens—a dream to which the poet had turned from his hope for a revival of the Athens of the past. In another view, the piece is mainly a protest against the religious fanaticism which the incident of the Hermae had called forth.
(7) 411 B.C. The Lysistrata.—This play was brought out during the earlier stages of those intrigues which led to the revolution of the Four Hundred. It appeared shortly before Peisander had arrived in Athens from the camp at Samos for the purpose of organizing the oligarchic policy. The Lysistrata expresses the popular desire for peace at any cost. As the men can do nothing, the women take the question into their own hands, occupy the citadel, and bring the citizens to surrender.
(8) 411 B.C. The Thesmophoriazusae (Priestesses of Demeter).— This came out three months later than the Lysistrata, during the reign of terror established by the oligarchic conspirators, but before their blow had been struck. The political meaning of the play lies in the absence of political allusion. Fear silences even comedy. Only women and Euripides are satirized. Euripides is accused and condemned at the female festival of the Thesmophoria.
(9) 405 B.C. The Frogs.—This piece was brought out just when Athens had made her last effort in the Peloponnesian War, eight months before the battle of Aegospotami, and about fifteen months before the taking of Athens by Lysander. It may be considered as an attempt to distract men’s minds from public affairs. It is a literary criticism. Aeschylus and Euripides were both lately dead. Athens is beggared of poets; and Dionysus goes down to Hades to bring back a poet. Aeschylus and Euripides contend in the under-world for the throne of tragedy; and the victory is at last awarded to Aeschylus.
III. Third Period. (10) 393 B.C. The Ecclesiazusae (women in parliament).—The women, disguised as men, steal into the ecclesia, and succeed in decreeing a new constitution. At this time the demagogue Agyrrhius led the assembly; and the play is, in fact, a satire on the general demoralization of public life.
(11) 388 B.C. The Plutus (Wealth).—The first edition of the play had appeared in 408 B.C., being a symbolical representation of the fact that the victories won by Alcibiades in the Hellespont had brought back the god of wealth to the treasure-chamber of the Parthenon. In its extant form the Plutus is simply a moral allegory. Chremylus, a worthy but poor man, falls in with a blind and aged wanderer, who proves to be the god of wealth. Asclepius restores eyesight to Plutus; whereupon all the just are made rich and all the unjust are reduced to poverty.
Among the lost plays, the following are the chief of which anything is known:—
1. The Banqueters Δαιταλεῖς, 427 B.C.—A satire on young Athens. A father has two sons; one is brought up in the good old school, another in the tricky subtleties of the new; and the contrast of results is the chief theme.
2. The Babylonians, 426 B.C.—Under this name the subject-allies of Athens are represented as “Babylonians”—barbarian slaves, employed to grind in the mill. The oppression of the allies by the demagogues—a topic often touched elsewhere—was, then, the main subject of the piece, in which Aristophanes is said to have attacked especially the system of appointing to offices by lot. The comedy is memorable as opening that Aristophanic war upon Cleon which was continued in the Knights and the Wasps.
The Merchantmen, The Farmers, The Preliminary Contest (Proagon), and possibly the Old Age (Geras), belonged to the First Period. The Geras is assigned by Süvern to 422 B.C., and is supposed to have been a picture of dotage similar to that in the Knights. A comedy called The Islands is conjectured to have dealt with the sufferings imposed by the war on the insular tributaries. The Triphales was probably a satire on Alcibiades; the Storks, on the tragic poet Patrocles.In the Aeolosicon—produced by his son Araros in 387 B.C.—Aristophanes probably parodied the Aeolus of Euripides. The Cocalus is thought to have been a parody of the legend, according to which a Sicilian king of that name slew Minos.
A sympathetic reader of Aristophanes can hardly fail to perceive that, while his political and intellectual tendencies are well marked, his opinions, in so far as they colour his comedies, are too indefinite to reward, or indeed to tolerate, analysis. Aristophanes was a natural conservative. His ideal was the Athens of the Persian wars. He disapproved the policy which had made Athenian empire irksome to the allies and formidable to Greece; he detested the vulgarity and the violence of mob-rule; he clave to the old worship of the gods; he regarded the new ideas of education as a tissue of imposture and impiety. How far he was from clearness or precision of view in regard to the intellectual revolution which was going forward, appears from the Clouds, in which thinkers and literary workers who had absolutely nothing in common are treated with sweeping ridicule as prophets of a common heresy. Aristophanes is one of the men for whom opinion is mainly a matter of feeling, not of reason. His imaginative susceptibility gave him a warm and loyal love for the traditional glories of Athens, however dim the past to which they belonged; a horror of what was ugly or ignoble in the present; a keen perception of what was offensive or absurd in pretension. The broad preferences and dislikes thus generated were enough not only to point the moral of comedy, but to make him, in many cases, a really useful censor for the city. The service which he could render in this way was, however, only negative. He could hardly be, in any positive sense, a political or a moral teacher for Athens. His rooted antipathy to intellectual progress, while it affords easy and wide scope for his wit, must after all, lower his intellectual rank. The great minds are not the enemies of ideas. But as a mocker—to use the word which seems most closely to describe him on this side—he is incomparable for the union of subtlety with riot of the comic
- See E. Curtius, Hist. of Greece, iii (Eng. trans. p. 275).
- [The date is uncertain; others give 392 and 389.]