Aristophanes

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Plays by Aristophanes

Acharnians

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

It is the fifth century BC and Dikaiopolis, a peasant who is forced by war to live in the city, has secured an unlikely peace for Athens in their war against the Spartans. However, not all his fellow citizens agree with the new détente between themselves and their hated enemies. It is up to Dikaiopolis, in increasingly farcical circumstances, to defend his anti-war stance and save his precious peace.

In their introduction to the play, translator Kenneth McLeish and editor J. Michael Walton write 'If Sophocles' Oidipous Tyrannos is the very model of an 'Aristotelian' tragedy, a kind of template for the form, then Acharnians could serve the same function for the comedy. The agon, parabasis, alazones scenes, and komos are fine examples of how each should be written . . . In particular the formal dialogues between Dikaiopolis and Lamachos demonstrate the maxim that adherence to rules can liberate the imagination - demonstrate it as triumphantly as Bach's Art of Fugue.'

A timely and timeless comedy, Acharnians was first produced in 452BC during one of the sporadic and unreliable ceasefires in the Peloponnesian war between Athens and Sparta.

Birds

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Tired of the unending wittering of Athenian lawmen, Euelpides and Peithetairos flee the city with their trusty feathered companions. However, their hoped for exile begins with getting lost, and the play opens with them crowing and pecking at one another with all the fury of the most terminally bird-brained democrat.

Which is when they meet 'his Hoopoeness', the once king Tereus, whom they convince to take them up to a new city, high above the base and grounded demos, burying the age-old animosity between birds and men and, ultimately, challenging the mighty Zeus for the top spot in the sky.

Full of the most bawdy of Aristophanes' jokes, and rife with the exasperated cynicism typical of the early satirist of the earliest democracy, Birds is translated in all its irreverent glory by Kenneth McLeish.

Frogs

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Losing all faith in humanity, and their basest incarnation, the tragedians, Dionysos, god of the theatre, vows to go to the underworld to revive the greatest tragedian of all, the barely cold Euripides, who had died the year before.

Enlisting his servant Xanthias, and asking his half brother Herakles for directions, Dionysos sets off to Hades' Halls, only to find Euripides engaged in a contest with Aeschylus, as to who was the greatest of them all. Dionysos sets himself the task of judging their weighty words, but more often than not these tragedians make him the butt of their jokes.

Described in his introduction by translator Kenneth McLeish as 'one of [Aristophanes'] most brilliant comedies', Frogs is a wonderful mix of the living and the dead, of the tragic and the comic.

Knights

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

When Nikias and Demosthenes discover that their fellow slave, the loud-mouthed Paphlagon, is destined to rule the city of Athens, they immediately set out to find the one man prophesised to defeat him — the local sausage-seller. Paphlagon and the sausage-seller face off in an uproarious battle to win over the hearts and minds of the citizens, using whatever means necessary.

With its simple staging and small cast, Knights is imminently accessible and modern in this translation by Kenneth McLeish. Aristophanes employs bawdy caricature and hard-hitting humour to satirize the most controversial political issues of his day, showing that ultimately, the one thing needed to succeed in politics is the ability to sell sausages.

Lysistrata - the sex strike (adapt. Greer, Wilmott)

Aurora Metro Books
Type: Text

The world's leading feminist raconteur, polemicist and wit plunders the archetypal story of female resistance . . . Lysistrata, the play's heroine persuades the women to barricade themselves inside a building, refusing to give their husbands sex until they negotiate an end to the Peloponnesian War and secure peace. She also persuades the women of Sparta, the enemy, to join her cause and refuse sex to their husbands until they agree to stop the war. The men eventually give in, peace is agreed and the women go home to their husbands.

Lysistrata (trans. Dickinson)

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Aristophanes' Lysistrata is a classic Greek comedy about an extraordinary attempt by an Athenian woman, Lysistrata, to bring an end to the war that is afflicting Greece by persuading the women to withhold sexual privileges from their menfolk in order to force them to negotiate peace. It was originally performed in Athens in 411 BC during the Peloponnesian War, which by then had been raging for an entire generation.

The play's action takes place in the besieged city of Athens, some twenty years into the Peloponnesian War (a civil war fought between Athens and her former ally Sparta). Lysistrata ('disbander of armies') forms a plan to end the fighting. She calls together all the women in Greece, and tells them her plan: since the war is getting nowhere under men's control, and Greece is being torn to pieces, the only solution is for women to take over public affairs and manage them as successfully as they run their homes. Not only will they seize the Acropolis (so gaining control of the Athenian armoury and war-treasury), they will also withhold sex and thus persuade their men to make peace. As the men on both sides of the conflict become increasingly desperate for sex, they finally turn to Lysistrata and sue for peace.

This translation by Patric Dickinson was first published in 1957. Following Dickinson's death, it was lightly revised by Kenneth McLeish before being republished in 1996 by Nick Hern Books in its Drama Classics series. The dialogue is vividly colloquial without being constrained to a particular time-period. Lysistrata speaks with an earthy immediacy ('I told them all to be here; I said it was most important, / And they've none of them come'), while, according to an author's note, the Spartans speak with a Lancashire accent.

In his introduction to the Nick Hern Books edition, McLeish writes: 'At one level, Lysistrata is a farce about frustration. But its underlying ideas – that the impotence of war can be symbolised by sexual frustration, that resolution is possible and that women may be better able than men to bring this about – must have resonated with the original spectators in a way which brilliantly challenged their (and, later, our) ideas of what 'farce' ought to be.'

Lysistrata (trans. McLeish)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

What’s a woman to do when the men refuse to stop fighting a war? Withhold the only thing the men want more than war: sex. Seizing the advantage of their domestic power, Lysistrata leads her fellow Greek women in a country-wide sex-strike. The women stand strong against the strike-breaking activities of their husbands, but not all the strikers are quite so willing to give up the pleasures of the flesh . . .

One of Aristophanes’ most frequently adapted plays, Lystistrata retains its resonance and hilarity to this day. It continues to reflect the struggles of women in war, and has been evoked and made newly relevant by real-life sex-strikes in modern war zones. Bawdy, cutting, and inspiring, it is among the finest works of classical comedy.

Peace

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Seeking peace after endless years of war, Trygaeus, a citizen of Athens, flies his giant dung-beetle to the heavens to argue with the gods. When he arrives, he discovers that the god of War has imprisoned the goddess of Peace, and he calls on his fellow Athenians to help set her free.

Peace includes some of Aristophanes’ most reflective, eloquent writing, while retaining his signature biting wit. Full of slapstick, physical humour, and honest discussion of the frustrations of war, it reflects the politics of the city at an uncertain time, as its citizens adjusted to a fragile peace after years of conflict.

Women in Power

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Women in Power tells the story of a group of women, tired (just like their author) of the incompetent politicians in the demos. Convinced they could do a much better job than their male counterparts, they inveigle themselves into the council and, with their leader Praxagora at the helm, succeed in signing over working powers from the men to the women, powers they use to institute a proto-socialist state.

A suitable companion piece to the slightly lest chaste Lysistrata, Women in Power is as cynical about the status quo as it is romantic about the possibility for change. This translation is by the eminently talented Kenneth McLeish.

Aristophanes (c. 446-386 BC) was Athens's greatest comic playwright, whose plays define the genre of Old Comedy. His was a precise, poetic vision articulated in pin-sharp images, his works being some of the most revealing about the society for which he wrote. Although only eleven of the some forty plays he wrote survive, his unique blend of slapstick, fantasy, bawdy and political satire provide us with a vivid picture of the ancient Athenians - their social mores, their beliefs and their exuberant sense of occasion.