Tag: Aristophanes

80. Wealth, by Aristophanes (388 BC)

80. Wealth, by Aristophanes (388 BC)

Plot: The God Wealth has been blinded by a jealous Zeus and cannot tell good men from bad, thereby bestowing his gifts on undeserving criminals and politicians. A poor farmer Chremylus and his slave Carion give him shelter and take him to the Temple of Asclepius where his sight is restored, and the good people of the city are finally rewarded.

The final play in the Penguin edition of Aristophanes’The Birds and other plays
My thoughts:  Like The Assemblywomen before it, Wealth comes from Aristophanes’ later years, and the magic has definitely faded. There is the trademark vulgarity intertwined with political comment, but the play comes across as half finished and tired, although I liked the fantasy aspects of the personifications of Wealth and Poverty. You can see the author has lost some of his skill as Poverty presents good arguments why she should be allowed to continue her rule, but the other characters cannot manage any comeback except to harangue her and banish her from the city.

Also like the previous play, there is not the strong sense of dramatic or comedic buildup to the storyline throughout, but an initial setup followed by several short vignettes which barely sustain interest. The role of the Chorus is further reduced, which is not unwelcome to me personally.
Favourite lines/passages:  Nothing magical lifted itself from the text.
Personal rating: 3, which is a disappointing conclusion to a great series of comic plays
Next : Back to Plato with Euthyphro, but I suspect in a darker vein, as we approach the trial and death of Socrates.


75. The Ecclesiazusae (Assemblywomen), by Aristophanes (c.392 BC)

Plot:  The women of Athens have had enough ineffective government from the men of the city, so they disguise themselves as men, and led by Praxagora, invade the Assembly and vote women into the role of managing the city. They instil a form of communism or shared wealth, with banquets for all to share, and although Scene 2 shows one man unwilling to hand over all his goods to the State, we don’t see his clever idea for evading the collection as promised.  Closure of the brothels and encouragement to open lovemaking is also made a priority, providing any man wanting to sleep with a beautiful young woman must first satisfy an ugly old woman or two.

This was the fourth play in the Penguin edition of Aristophanes’  The Birds and other plays translated by David Barrett and Alan Sommerstein (ISBN 9780140449518)

My thoughts : While certainly in his usual vein of comedy, with social and political commentary alongside quite graphic toilet humour : singeing off pubic hair with oil lamps, and defecating in the street (I will never feel comfortable near a cucumber again!) this is a fairly disjointed play with each scene (especially the short second and third ones) being separate vignettes. There is no reversal or comeuppance for the new order, no discovery of the trick and every citizen bar one just goes along with the new rules.

It was suggested by the editor that the reduced role of the Chorus in this play reflects the financial constraints of a defeated and battered Athens, after their defeat in the Peloponnesian wars. It is also suggested that the utopia created by the women in the play matches Plato’s Republic, which I will have to remember to consider when I get to that in due course.

Favourite lines/passages:  Despite being a result of the new laws and not part of the story of their creation, the most fun is in Scene 3, where three old painted hags compete to be the one to insist on having their legal rights by way of the randy young suitor who is trying to reach the nearby young beauty.

Personal rating : 4

Also in that year : In 405 BC, Athens lost the war to Sparta, and her empire was in tatters. Pro-Sparta rulers started a reign of terror with thousands of Athenians killed or banished. Persia joined forces with Athens to recover, and by 392 BC, a slow recovery of Athenian power is realised. Meanwhile, Roman dictator Camillus is consolidating his control over his neighbours and Rome is now the most powerful city on the Italian peninsula…..
Next : Back to Plato and his Socratic dialogue Charmides


68. The Frogs by Aristophanes (405 BC)

Plot : Dionysus, God of drama, seeks Heracles’ advice. He wants to go down to Hades and return with Euripides, as all the current living playwrights are rubbish. After receiving some interesting practical advice, Dionysus and his slave Xanthias reach the Palace of Hades, where a dispute has erupted between Aeschylus and Euripides over who deserves to sit on the Throne of Tragedy, with Sophocles as Aeschylus’ second, and Dionysus and Hades as judges. Will Dionysus choose his avowed favourite , or can Aeschylus persuade him otherwise?

My version was the last of the three Aristophanes plays in the volume Frogs and other plays translated by David Barrett and Shomit Dutta (ISBN 9780140449693)

My thoughts

Lots to like about this play, but also for me some less riveting parts.

Firstly I love how Dionysus asks Heracles on the quickest ways to get to Hades, and he suggests trying hanging, poison, or jumping from a high tower!

Aristophanes makes Dionysus a figure of fun and ridicule, cowardly and even soiling his robes in fear of humans. This is a very irreligious portrayal of a God, and certainly not the vengeful demon Dionysus seen in The Bacchae.

Euripides and Aeschylus must debate each other to convince Dionysus and Pluto who best deserves the throne. I actually laughed out loud when Aeschylus kept inserting the line “lost his little flask of oil” in every one of Euripides’ prologue speeches – I guess you have to be there.  But the discussions of their lyrics’ shortcomings lost me entirely.

I also liked how they literally weighed their poetry, with words like ‘river’ and ‘Death’ weighing more than ‘flights’ and ‘persuasion’ – the  emptiness of the latter weighing virtually nothing at all.

And what about the frogs, you ask? On paper they are just an aside to the main action of the play, possibly only heard off-stage. Unusually they form a second chorus to the play, which would have been a financial and logistic drain on the production, and may be the reason they were kept off-stage.

Diversions/digressions:  Why did Aristophanes (or the translator) use the Roman name Pluto so often in this play instead of the Greek Hades?  According to trusty Google, it is not as simple as that – the name Pluto was used by classical Greek authors as a quasi-substitute for Hades which became more associated as a a name for the Underworld. Pluto is a more benign manifestation and more appropriate in quest tales involving heroes seeking to retrieve people or objects from there.

Favourite lines/passages

The Chorus praises Aeschylus

“Ah how impressive the rage that burns in the heart of

the Thunderer,

Seeing the fangs of his rival exposed in a gesture of hate!

Note how superbly he raves, and with what

independence his eyeballs

in divers directions gyrate!

Words are his weapons: watch out, as the armour-clad

syllables hurtle,

Helmeted, crested and plumed, from the lips of the poet

most high!

Wait for the clash and din as the metaphors collide

and mingle,

The sparks as the particles fly!”                                                                 Chorus, pages 165-166


Personal rating : 6

This was my 100th post on Chronolit.com.  – thanks all for your support – and 68th book review, meaning 1/3 of the time I’m just  chatting with you! Better get on with more reading!

Next :  A collection of Hippocratic treatises on ancient medicine, including the famous Hippocratic oath. Apparently none were written by Hippocrates.

58. Lysistrata, by Aristophanes (411 BC)

Plot : The Athenian woman Lysistrata hatches a plot with her friends and the other wives and lovers of Athenian and Spartan men, to refuse sex with them until the War can be ended. They barricade themselves inside the Acropolis where the monies to rebuild the Athenian fleet are kept. The men on all sides soon succumb to the boycott, incapacitated as they are with huge erections.

Finishing this play also completes my work with the Penguin edition Lysistrata and other plays, translated by Alan Sommerstein (ISBN 0140448144)

My thoughts : Essentially a one-joke comedy, Lysistrata is not as satisfying as The Wasps, The Clouds or The Thesmophoriazusae. It is more blatant in its bawdiness and doesn’t have the same level of quirky surrealism. But it is a fun romp and is probably more popular in modern retellings thanks to its sex strike theme.

Favourite lines/passages:

Lysistrata’s stratagem begins to bite

O what, tell me what, is there left for me to do?

And, robbed of her beauty, who’s there for me to screw?

Philostratus, I need you, do come and help me quick

Could I please hire a nurse for my poor young orphan prick?                                   Cinesias

What heart, what soul, what bollocks could long endure this plight,

Having no one to shag in the middle of the night?                             Male chorus, page 179

 Personal rating : 5

Next : The Phonecian Women, by Euripides


57. The Thesmophoriazusae, by Aristophanes (411 BC)

57. The Thesmophoriazusae, by Aristophanes (411 BC)

Plot: The playwright Euripides fears that the women of Athens seek his death due to the way he portrays them in his plays. He asks a fellow playwright Agathon to dress up as a woman (as is his penchant) and infiltrate the Thesmophoria, a womens-only festival where he fears they will vote on his death. Agathon refuses, but Euripides’ old relative Mnesilochus volunteers instead. He gets inside the women’s festival, but then needs Euripides’ help to get out again.

I read the Penguin Classics edition The Frogs and other plays translated by David Barrett, revised by Shomit Dutta (ISBN 9780140449693) which provides a brief introduction to each play plus extensive footnotes.

My thoughts: Not only the world’s first Battle of the Sexes in literature, but also the first transvestite comedy, The Thesmophoriazusae (Women at the Thesmophoria) is my favourite Aristophanean comedy so far, mainly because the plot is far more coherent and structured, flowing on from cause to effect.  There is still plenty of slapstick, double entendre, coarse humour and ribald behaviour, but the level of surrealism is not as noticeable.

Aristophanes’ use of Euripides as a major character in his play allows him to satirize many of Euripides’ works, notably Helen at the beginning of Act Two (which I totally got this time around, having just read Helen two days ago) but also unfortunately lost plays such as Andromeda and Telephus.

The last minute reversal of the women’s rancour towards Euripides is a little unbelievable but I think the audience would have had such a good time that they could forgive a weak ending.

The characterization of women in this all-male play performed for a mostly-male audience is interesting. The plot starts with the accusation that Euripides denigrates women, yet Aristophanes portrays them as lustful and  drink-loving (no better than men, in fact  😉 )

“A curse upon the man who plans our enemies to please,

Or puts his lot in with the Persians or Euripides

Aspires to be a tyrant, or to set one on the throne,

Or tells a woman’s  husband that the baby’s not his own;

The maid who knows the very man when Mistress wants some fun,

But spills the beans to Master when a good night’s work is done;

The messenger who bears false tales; the lover who seduces

with talk of all the gifts he’ll bring, and then no gift produces

……. And last of all the characters who meet with our displeasure,

The barman or the barmaid who serves us a short measure,

On these and on their houses may the wrath of heaven fall

But otherwise we pray the gods will guard and bless us all”       Chorus-Leader, page 89

I’m thinking Aristophanes would have made a great writer for the Carry On movies. Even down to the not-very politically correct stereotyping “Italian” accent inflicted on the Scythian guard.

And as for the singeing of Mnesiloichus’ crotch hairs….. ouch!!!

Favourite lines/passages : Mnesilochus’ disguise is revealed, and with accusers on all sides, he tries to hide his “damning evidence”

Cleisthenes: Stand up straight! Where’s his … thing? He’s hidden it!

Mica [lifting his robe at the rear]: Ooh! He’s pushed it through to the back. A nice one too!

Cleisthenes : Where? I can’t see it.

Mica : It’s back at the front again.

Cleisthenes  [lifting his robe at the front] : No it isn’t.

Mica: Oh no, it’s here again.

Cleisthenes : What is this? He’s sending his old chap back and forth like a shuttle service across the Isthmus.

page 99

Personal rating: Lots of laughs. An 8. 9.

Also in that year : Things were not so rosy for the Athenians on the war front. Following the defeat of their land and sea forces in Sicily in 413, their siege of Miletus was also thwarted in 412.

Next : Another battle of the sexes in Lysistrata by Aristophanes.




53. The Birds, by Aristophanes (414 BC)

53. The Birds, by Aristophanes (414 BC)

Plot : Two Athenians, Peisthetaerus and Euelpides, searching for a more ideal place to live, seek out Tereus, formerly an Athenian prince and now transformed into a hoopoe bird. Peisthetaerus convinces the Hoopoe and his feathered associates that birds are really the rightful gods of Earth, and in building a city in the air (Much-Cuckoo) they can bring both the Gods of Olympus and mankind to account by impeding all the prayers and sacrificial smoke from reaching Heaven.

This edition was, as previously, the Penguin version of The Birds and other plays, translated by David Barrett and Alan Sommerstein. Barrett translated this script for The Birds.

My thoughts : Lots of puns and wordplay (judging by the modern English translation) and some of the Chorus songs reminded me a little of vaudevillian jokes – short and snappy snatches of humour. Despite the off-stage building of Much-Cuckoo city of real bricks and mortar suspended in the air, what was missing for me was the same extent of immediate fantastical surrealism and whimsy as in Aristophanes’ masterpieces The Clouds and The Wasps.

And in mentioning the nature of the translation, I must confress to some annoyance when the translator uses modern idioms in the characters’ speeches – “what the dickens are you playing at?” on the very first page doesn’t sound like a true translation of classical Greek to me, and lifts me away from the story – I don’t mind when directors recast Shakespeare plays into more modern settings but please don’t tamper with the words! Likewise I understand classical Greek translations will not always give the modern reader the exact meaning of all the speeches, but a little more sympathy to the original nature would be more respectful – am I being inconsistent here?

I was also uncomfortable with Aristophanes’ tacit approval of pederasty, even with accepting that social mores have changed drastically in many ways in 2000 years.

Favourite lines/passages

I did enjoy the seeming unending parade of Chaucerian officials and profit-seekers who arrived so quickly to take advantage of the new city: the inspector, the lawmaker, the mathematician/surveyor, the poet and even an oracle seller, and Peisthetaerus’ sending them all packing.

And what happened to Euelpides? Sent off by Peisthetaerus to do all the work while he scores Sovereignty (both the bride and the lordship) over all.


I had heard the expression “cloud-cuckoo land” occasionally before, but has assumed it had arisen from some piece of obscure English literature around Shakespeare’s time or earlier. Quite surprised to find it arose with the Greeks.

Personal rating : 5. A little disappointing.

Kimmy’s rating :Kimmy would have been quite excited with all the colour and caw-ing, and as she hates magpies, their absence was also a plus for her. Two paws.

Next : Euripides’ Ion




49. Peace, by Aristophanes (421 BC)

49. Peace, by Aristophanes (421 BC)

Plot : Trygaeus flies up to heaven on the back of a giant dung beetle (wisely surmising that he will only need to carry enough food for himself for the trip!) to speak to Zeus. Finding all the gods except Hermes have retreated higher where they cannot hear the constant cries from Earth, Trygaeus instead discovers that Peace has been held captive in a deep well, from which he and other Greeks (including Spartans, Athenians and representatives from other cities) work together to pull her out into the light, accompanied by the beautiful young Harvest and Festival. Trygaeus returns to Earth, is praised by the peace loving farmers and merchants and the play ends with his marriage to Harvest.

My version is the Penguin Black Classic The Birds and other plays, translated by David Barrett and Alan Sommerstein (ISBN 9780140449518)

My thoughts :  A fortnight before the Peace of Nicias brought about an end (albeit temporarily) to the Peloponnesian War,  Aristophanes presented this play, which is not as strong or satisfying as his earlier plays, yet still won second prize at the City Dionysia.

Even though Cleon is dead, Aristophanes still can’t resist a parting dig or two

First Slave : “he’s eating shit these days, down amerng the dead men”     p. 99.

There is also a lot more bawdiness in this play than earlier – presumably in peace time there is more time for partying and seduction.

Personal rating : 6

Kimmy’s rating : Asleep on my lap throughout. One ear flicker.

Also in that year :  As mentioned, the Peace of Nicias is agreed between Sparta and Athens, ending ten years of hostilities. Designed to stand for half a century, it was broken the following year when Sparta signed a treaty with Boeotia, and the War resumed.

Next: Electra by Euripides