The Athenian playwright, Aristophanes, has been considered to be one of the greatest writers of comedy in literary history. His plays have been used as sources for political and social history, as well as works of literature and drama.1 Throughout Aristophanes’ writings, he made particular use of politics, war, societal figures and women as main themes. When considering other historians of fifth century Athens and their accounts of society during that time, one can begin to fully recognize Aristophanes’ conservative political and progressive social views as well as the satiric nature of his plays. In extension, through analysis of his work and knowledge of fifth century Athens, one begins to wonder if Aristophanes was satirizing or critiquing their society and if he aimed to influence society through his plays or to create a superior form of entertainment.
Through my discussion, I will briefly summarize the domestic developments of Athens during Aristophanes‘ youth, analyze the themes of Aristophanes plays to prove he took a conservative standpoint in regards to politics but have progressive social views, as well as demonstrate that Aristophanes did attempt to influence society through his plays but failed. Throughout the course of my paper, I will also demonstrate the framework of politics and social order of fifth century Athens through comparing the political and social structures Aristophanes established in his works, to that of other historians during that time. By way of my examination, I aim to exemplify for my audience the foreign and domestic undertakings of fifth century Athens and how these developments influenced Aristophanes’ beliefs as well as his writings.
At the time of Aristophanes birth, between 450 and 455 b.c., Athens was engaged in the first Peloponnesian War against Corinth, and in extension Sparta. Although Athens’ power and fame had escalated immensely since their victory over the Persians in Ionia and the establishment of the Delian League, approximately thirty years prior, their reoccurring conflicts with the Peloponnesian League attempted to limit the expansion of the Athenian Empire. 2 During Aristophanes’ childhood and adolescents, Athens had undergone a five years‘ truce with Sparta, the relaunch of the first Peloponnesian War, and the ratification of the Thirty Years‘ of Peace Treaty. During this time, the Athenian government had taken the form of a radical democracy, in which all adult male citizens had an equal share in policy decisions3.
Although every man over thirty had an equal opportunity to be involved in the administration of the polis, the respected political and military leader, Pericles held a majority of the influence in Athenian politics.4 By means of his personality, oratory, popular policies and the power that comes from success, Pericles occupied the role of a demagogue in that time. Following Pericles’ death, in 429 b.c., his rival, Cleon, succeeded him as the new political and military...