Very little autobiographical information exists for Aristophanes, Greece's great comedian. He is supposed to be the son of Philippus of Aegina, born between 456 and 446 BC. Although not Athenian born, he lived his life mainly in Athens. It is often noted about Aristophanes that most information about him is derived from his plays, during the typical segment in which the chorus steps forward and speaks for the playwright. Based on one of these verses in his most famous play, the Clouds, it is believed that Aristophanes wrote his first play, the Banqueters, when he was only eighteen. From then he saw many of his plays produced, and even winning the play contests at the annual Lenaia and City Dionysia festival in Athens. Aristophanes' work generated mixed feelings in his viewers. In general, he was very popular, as his plays were witty and full of the usual parody on politics and the tragic playwrights. However, some politicians like the demagogue Cleon (who himself was constantly the target of many jokes in the plays) did not appreciate Aristophanes' presentation of the polis, especially in front of visiting dignitaries.
Aristophanes gives modern readers a fascinating view of Athenian life and politics in the fifth century BC, not to mention popular humor. In many ways, the pure joy of wisecracks, antics, and allusions based on prevailing custom and ethos found in Aristophanes' comedies mirrors what we find entertaining today. But Aristophanes truly was an artist in his own right, and not just a purveyor of jokes. Scholars commend the beauty of his poetic style (even the way he established himself as a poet, not an instructor, as playwrights traditionally presented themselves) as true to the style of Old Comedy, yet transcending it with his own innovation. The abandon with which he writes, combined with the focus and intentionality of his particular craft, have rendered him one of the master playwrights of all time.
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