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Page:Masterpieces of Greek Literature (1902).djvu/279

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ARISTOPHANES




Although Comedy originated about the same time as Tragedy, the middle of the sixth century before Christ, it was not recognized by the Athenian State until after the Persian Wars, when it was admitted to the official programme of the City Dionysia. The subject of the comic performances was far less restricted than that of the tragic,—mythology, the basis of tragedy, being here treated only in parody,—and the chorus was often used as the mouthpiece of the poet to speak directly to the audience. The essence of the Old Comedy, says Sir Richard Jebb, "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. . . . At Athens the poet of the Old Comedy had an influence analogous, perhaps, rather to that of a journalist than to that of the modern dramatist."

The eleven Greek comedies which have come down to us are all from the hand of one author—fortunately for us by far the greatest of the comedians—Aristophanes. Little is known of his life beyond the fact that he brought out his first play in 427 B. C., when "almost a boy." His birth was probably in or about the year 448 B. C., and his death