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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

An Introduction to Aristophanes

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"It is difficult to compare the Aristophanic Comedy to any one form of modern literature, dramatic or other. It perhaps most resembles what we now call burlesque; but it had also very much in it of broad farce and comic opera, and something also (in the hits at the fashions and follies of the day with which it abounded) of the modern pantomime. But it was something more, and more important to the Athenian public than any or all of these could have been. Almost always more or less political, and sometimes intensely personal, and always with some purpose more or less important underlying its wildest vagaries and coarsest buffooneries, it supplied the place of the political journal, the literary review, the popular caricature and the party pamphlet, of our own times. It combined the attractions and influence of all these; for its grotesque masks and elaborate 'spectacle' addressed the eye as strongly as the author's keenest witticisms did the ear of his audience."[See Ancient Classics for English Readers: Aristophanes, by Lucas Collins, Introductory Chapter, p. 2.]


Rollicking, reckless, uproarious fun is the key-note; though a more serious intention is always latent underneath. Aristophanes was a strong--sometimes an unscrupulous--partisan; he was an uncompromising Conservative of the old school, an ardent admirer of the vanishing aristocratic régime, an anti-Imperialist--'Imperialism' was a democratic craze at Athens--and never lost an opportunity of throwing scorn on Cleon the demagogue, his political bête noïre and personal enemy, Cleon's henchmen of the popular faction, and the War party generally. Gravity, solemnity, seriousness, are conspicuous by their absence; even that 'restraint' which is the salient characteristic of Greek expression in literature no less than in Art, is largely relaxed in the rough-and-tumble, informal, miscellaneous modern phantasmagoria of these diverting extravaganzas.

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