Tag Archives: Aristophanes

FIVE MORE ANCIENT GREEK COMEDIES VIEWED THROUGH A MODERN LENS

Balladeer’s Blog’s previous look at Seven Ancient Greek Comedies with Themes That Are Still Relevant went over pretty well, so here are five more.

aristophanes picTHE BANQUETERS – By Aristophanes. This was the very first comedy from the Athenian whose name is synonymous with ancient Greek comedies, especially political satires. The nineteen-year-old presented a landowner from Athens whose two sons were being introduced to his phratry brothers at a banquet dedicated to Herakles. 

The sons were on opposite ends of what we would today call the political left & the political right. Following an argument between the two of them they switch friend groups to see who can handle the other’s daily life better. Jokes abound about values, hair styles, tastes in music and more. Continue reading

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SEVEN ANCIENT GREEK COMEDIES WITH THEMES THAT ARE STILL RELEVANT

Map

Map

The satirical comedies written and performed during the glory years of the ancient Athenian Democracy still pack a punch after more than 2,400 years. Athens faced many of the same issues and dilemmas we Americans face. Part of the reason for that is the fact that our founding fathers were great students of ancient Greek democracy and modeled some of our own institutions on the Athenian model.

The comedies are also much more sophisticated than modern audiences expect, featuring political views, sexual material and metatheatrical humor that seem several centuries ahead of their time. Breaking the fourth wall is not a postmodern concept like some people have convinced themselves – it was a convention established in these ancient works of comedy.

Irreverence toward any and all subjects – including the gods they worshipped – was permitted by the Athenians in the “anything goes” arena of the Theatre of Dionysus, where the comedies competed with each other at festivals, chiefly the Dionysia and the Lenaea.

For more details click here: https://glitternight.com/2011/09/22/at-long-last-my-ancient-greek-comedy-posts-begin/   

plutoiWEALTH GODS (PLUTOI) – By Cratinus. In this satirical comedy the Titans are depicted overthrowing Zeus in a metaphor for the fall of the political leader Pericles. This was a reference either to his actual death or to the loss of his position as Strategos  (Commander in Chief) depending on which year you go with for the comedy.

With Zeus/Pericles out of the way, Cratinus depicted the Titans returning Earth to the Golden Age when they ruled and all wealth was shared equally. The comedy presented various Athenian tycoons being put on trial by the Titans, who would confiscate  wealth acquired in an “unjust” way and give it to others. But just WHO gets to decide what qualifies as an “unjust” way of acquiring wealth? Continue reading

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PYTINE (423 B.C.) – ANCIENT GREEK COMEDY

As anniversary month continues at Balladeer’s Blog here’s my 2012 review of Cratinus’ ancient comedy Pytine.

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PYTINE (423 B.C.) – Welcome to Balladeer’s Blog’s latest post on ancient Greek comedies. If Pytine was an episode of Friends it would be titled The One Where Cratinus Fires Back At Aristophanes. This play is also known under English language titles like Wine Flask, Flagon, The Bottle, and others along those lines.

Cratinus, galvanized by the tongue-in- cheek caricature that Aristophanes presented of a drunken, washed- up Cratinus in his previous year’s comedy The Knights, turned that caricature into the premise of his final comedy.

THE PLAY

From the fragments of Pytine that remain it seems Cratinus had an actor portraying himself (Cratinus) as the booze-soaked Grand Old Man of Attic comedy at the time. I always picture the character as a cross between Dudley Moore in Arthur and Tom Conti in Reuben, Reuben. Anyway, in the play Cratinus is married either to Thalia, the Muse of Comedy or to simply a female personification of Comedy.  

Comedy complains to Cratinus’ friends, who make up the chorus, that she wants to take her husband to court for abandonment. She states that he is neglecting their marital bed because he has been spending too much time sleeping around with Methe, in this comedy a personification of  Drunkenness. Continue reading

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THE CLOUDS (C 423 B.C.): ANCIENT GREEK COMEDY

It’s Anniversary Month here at Balladeer’s Blog! Here’s my second review of an Ancient Greek Comedy from back in the year 2011. FOR BACKGROUND INFORMATION IF YOU MISSED MY FIRST POST ON ANCIENT GREEK COMEDIES CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/2011/09/22/at-long-last-my-ancient-greek-comedy-posts-begin/

the cloudsThe Clouds was written by Aristophanes around 423 BCE and next to Lysistrata, which I examined last week, is the Big A’s most- discussed satire, mostly because of its lampooning of the philosopher Socrates, a contemporary of Aristophanes. Many modern readers, who have been programmed to sneeringly “deconstruct”  old works of art rather than understand them, love to regard this comedy with hostility. They accuse Aristophanes of being “anti – intellectual” for subjecting Socrates in particular and the Sophist philosophers in general to the same satirical criticism that every other aspect of Athenian society was subjected to in comic plays.

There are many arguments I can use to refute this claim, and  I’ll present them below following my synopsis of the play itself. To provide just a brief argument right now since you may be curious, let me remind everyone that Shakespeare is famous for the line about killing all the lawyers, but I’ve never met one rational person who thinks that line means Shakespeare was seriously proposing the execution of all lawyers or the elimination of the law and/or the  judiciary system. By the same token I hardly think Aristophanes was railing against every form of education or intellectual inquiry. More on this controversy, including the trial of Socrates, below. 

THE PREMISE

the clouds picIn the ancient Greek democracy Athenian citizens were expected to represent themselves in court in both criminal and civil proceedings.

Since juries are the same no matter what the time period a guilty person who was a good speaker could get acquitted while an innocent person who was an inept speaker could get found guilty.

Conversely, since there were no public prosecutors, citizens could charge their fellow Athenians with crimes and if they were skilled enough at speaking they could railroad an innocent person. Many Athenian citizens who faced a court date would pay some of the “streetcorner” Sophist philosophers to teach them rhetorical skills to make them better prepared for their appearance in court. Continue reading

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THE BIRDS (414/6 BC): ANCIENT GREEK COMEDY

Birds by Aristophanes 1Balladeer’s Blog presents another examination of an ancient Greek political satire. This comedy by Aristophanes was one that I was planning on covering very soon when I started posting my reviews of Attic Old Comedy years ago. For various reasons it kept falling by the wayside.

Where am I going with this? For Aristophanes’ line “In Cloud-Cuckooland things become what they are called rather than being called what they are” make it “In Ivory Towerland things become what they are called rather than being called what they are.” But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Birds is Aristophanes’ lengthiest surviving comedy and also the most analyzed (some would say over-analyzed). So much has already been written about this particular work that I’ve decided to forego my usual intensive examination of every scene. Instead I’ll go with a brief synopsis followed by a way I feel The Birds could be adapted (as opposed to translated) for the present day. 

SYNOPSIS

Birds by Aristophanes 2More than 2,300 years before George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984, Aristophanes was dealing with some of the same political themes. 

Pisthetaerus and Euelpides, Athenians feeling alienated by the increasingly restrictive laws and lawsuits of their home city have left Athens behind to start over with a new society. Part of the comedy centers around the ages-old theme of how those who seek to overthrow oppression often wind up becoming the new oppressors themselves. (Think of the 1960s generation of American leftists who became just as oppressive as they claimed previous generations had been) 

Another Orwellian theme finds Aristophanes satirizing the way in which the ruling class in any society uses and corrupts language to strengthen the subjugation of the populace. The Birds even features the importance of religious and historical myths in any culture as the leaders of the new civilization conjure up an all-new cosmology with “the birds” at the center to justify their own rule. Continue reading

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TWENTY MORE “ANCIENT” SCIENCE FICTION STORIES

One of the most popular topics here at Balladeer’s Blog is “Ancient” Science Fiction. That category covers science fiction stories – often very primitive – from the 1st Century A.D. up through about a hundred years ago. Here’s another list of twenty items for 2020.

Nth ManTHE Nth MAN (1920?)

Author: Homer Eon Flint

“Ancient” Kaiju! An enormous humanoid being with skin like turtle shells rises from the depths to rampage across the United States. The entity is intelligent and lays down political and economic ultimatums to the career politicians of Washington DC and to the plutocrats who pull their strings. Though the enormous Nth Man is told that his demands will be met, the tycoons betray him. They construct a high-tech army to try to kill the giant when he returns and the battle is on.

FOR MY REVIEW CLICK HERE   

Mexican MysteryA MEXICAN MYSTERY (1888)

Author: W. Grove

An inventor in 1860s Mexico seeks favor with Emperor Maximilian by devising an actual “thinking” train engine complete with mechanical arms which allow it to function without humans manning it. The intelligent construct develops a predatory mentality, then goes on a wild killing spree throughout the country while outfighting its human foes at nearly every turn.

FOR MY REVIEW CLICK HERE  Continue reading

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SYNOPSES FOR ANCIENT GREEK COMEDIES

map of greeceBy reader request here is a blog post featuring a brief synopsis of the subject matter to each of the dozens of reviews I’ve written of ancient Greek comedies. Some of you indicated that you don’t like clicking on one with no idea what it will be about, so here we go.

I will start with the Big Three of Aristophanes, Eupolis and Cratinus. 

FIRST – My overview of the themes of ancient Greek political satire. CLICK HERE

ARISTOPHANES

LYSISTRATA – The women of Athens and Sparta conspire to withhold sex from their men until they bring about an end to the Peloponnesian War. CLICK HERE 

THE CLOUDS – A comedic look at the lighter side of the Sophist revolution in education and scientific research, with an emphasis on rhetorical ploys used in the courts. CLICK HERE  

THE KNIGHTS – Aristophanes takes on the demagogue Cleon in this examination of the way dishonest candidates always have a built-in advantage in political campaigns. CLICK HERE

THE BIRDS – Proto-Orwellian fantasy in which two Athenians seeking to escape the increasingly oppressive atmosphere of their homeland join with birds to form the absurd Cloud-cuckooland. CLICK HERE  

THE BANQUETERS – A clash of generations and values begins when an Athenian farmer inducts his two sons into his Phratry. CLICK HERE 

MERCHANT SHIPS – Two merchant ships – one from Athens and one from Sparta – carve out a separate peace when they meet at sea. CLICK HERE

THESMOPHORIAZUSAE aka THE POET AND THE WOMEN – The women of Athens call for retribution against the famous tragedian Euripides for his negative portrayal of women in his plays. CLICK HERE

EUPOLIS

DEMOI – An Athenian man brings four dead statesmen back to life to set straight the mess that their political successors have made of the city-state. CLICK HERE

AUTOLYCUS – A less than bright athlete is supported for a political position by his well-to-do gay lover. CLICK HERE 

MARIKAS – Eupolis went after the demagogue Hyperbolus the way Aristophanes went after Cleon in this comedy. The corrupt Marikas was a fictional stand-in for Hyperbolus. CLICK HERE Continue reading

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THREE ANCIENT GREEK COMEDIES WITH “PROFESSIONAL ACCUSERS”

AristophanesBalladeer’s Blog frequently examines ancient Greek comedies written by Aristophanes, Cratinus, Eupolis and others. Recently I was put in mind of the way those comedians often satirized the “professional accusers” in the political and legal forums of ancient Athens. 

Ballsey FraudDemagogues like Cleon and Hyperbolus and others often used “professional accusers” against their political opponents. These figures – called sycophantes by the ancient Athenians – are often termed “informers” in many translations of Greek comedies but I feel the word accuser is more accurate.

Such “professional accusers” would hurl scandalous accusations at their secret patron’s political foes, blackening their name in the public’s eyes and often causing them to face court costs, etc. (In English, sycophant has come to mean groveling toady and flatterer but back then the word carried a different meaning.)

Here are three examples: Continue reading

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ASK BALLADEER: WHY’D YOU LEAVE SICILY OUT OF YOUR REVIEW OF ARISTOPHANES’ COMEDY THE BIRDS?

Mascot new lookHere at Balladeer’s Blog I’ve been reviewing ancient Greek comedies for years and a fair amount of people have recently asked me why I didn’t take the traditional view of Aristophanes’ comedy The Birds. That traditional view claims that The Birds was written at least partially as a commentary on the failed military expedition to Sicily. 

FOR MY EXAMINATION OF THE BIRDS CLICK HERE

ANSWER: I omitted any reference to the Sicilian Expedition from my blog post on The Birds for a variety of reasons. For starters, it’s been covered to death by others who INSIST that that is the main subject of the comedy, so there’s no lack of alternate sources who cover that particular angle.

Next, I disagree with the notion that The Birds had much – if anything – to do with the disasters suffered by the Athenian forces in Sicily. It all comes back to my overall view that too many people force interpretations into Aristophanes’ comedies just because he’s the only ancient Greek comedian whose plays have survived in something resembling complete form.  

Let’s revisit my usual spiel about the way most study of Aristophanes’ comedies takes place in a virtual vacuum of “All Aristophanes and nothing BUT Aristophanes.” Much of that is understandable since the other comedians’ works came down to us only in fragmentary form.

As I’ve made clear in my examinations of comedies by Eupolis, Cratinus and others it really opens your mind about the entirety of Attic Old Comedy to read the many, many academic works analyzing the fragments of the other comedians’ works. Too few people do this, I guess because most people aren’t as boring as I am.  Continue reading

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THE KNIGHTS (424 B.C.) ANCIENT GREEK COMEDY

Here’s a rerun of Balladeer’s Blog’s examination of the Ancient Greek Comedy called The Knights by Aristophanes. For background info on ancient Greek comedies see my original post on the topic: https://glitternight.com/2011/09/22/at-long-last-my-ancient-greek-comedy-posts-begin/

This comedy deals with the still-relevant situation in which honest people stand no chance against vile, corrupt demagogues.

In The Knights Aristophanes pioneered a new sub-genre of Attic Old Comedy: the  Demagogue Comedy. The villain of this masterpiece of political satire was a figure called the Paphlagonian, who was patterned on Cleon, a notorious Athenian politician of the time period. I’ll have Continue reading

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