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Greek-American Stories: Aristophanes, Take a Bow

I want to introduce you to Aristophanes, one of my favorite ancient Greek characters. Not Aristophanes of Byzantium 257 BC Nor Aristophanes of Samothrace, 145 BC. My Aristophanes, born 448 BC in Athens was a talented writer and poet. But, he was more than that. His thinking was so far advanced, it reaches into the twenty first century. He was conservative in his reasoning, distrusting sophistry and satirizing Euripides’ art as degenerate, but his ability to characterize someone in few words is remarkable. Making direct attacks on certain characters and turning the play into a literary satire aroused the audience.

He wrote many comedies and political satires, some of them representing a strong voice for women’s causes, making their causes public, daring, and reasonable. Using his unique sense of humor, he created the finest lyric pieces in Greek literature. He tells the audience, with serious projection, about women’s lack of rights. “Why must women have fewer rights than men.” he asked. “Cannot we trust them when their minds are as agile and orderly as our own?” One such play is Lysistrata, in which women boycott sex with their husbands in order to end the Peloponnesian War. Another is The Women in Demeter’s Festival, where women gather together in a conspiracy to ruin Euripides because he was a well known misogynist. Another meaningful play was called Women in Politics, a play in which women take over the government and about how different certain situations would be under the auspices of women, bless his heart. That tells you things were no better in those days when men led governments, exclusively. You gotta give a standing ovation for a playwright that can combine politics and social situations with reality. I could find no info on his private life. Did he marry? If he did, was it to a woman who complimented his genius? Or, did he choose a biddable, ‘yes dear’ type? Then, try visualizing someone with his exceptional intellect, going to a country like Saudi Arabia and attempting to make his mark with plays like those he’d written for women’s rights, a place where even in this enlightened era women are forbidden to walk outdoors without a husband or male escort, cannot drive a car alone, or give their opinion, or speak without permission. Aristophanes would have been hanged by daylight.

Although he wrote about 40 plays, unfortunately only eleven survived. One was The Wasps, a satire on the way Athenians love to litigate. And, then he wrote with his unwavering imagination, The Birds, about going to a kingdom so wonderful and perfect that every citizen lives elated every day. That piece of writing, alone, could have gotten Aristophanes a run for presidency.

Anyway, Aristophanes’ style of writing stayed simple while the protagonist undertook, in a serious manner, a preposterous situation, then turns it into a success or failure with perfectly natural and acceptable language and believable outcomes. His characters are described with such realism they’d resemble someone you know despite the absurdity of the situation. The play, Acharnians, tells about a soldier that came home wounded and forgotten while the draft-dodger enjoyed wine, women, and life to the fullest.

His plays made direct attacks on well known persons, using burlesque in combination with reason, and they were accepted for the festival of Dionysus where only strictly serious presentations were accepted.

It really jars the imagination that someone like Aristophanes really existed, that there existed a brain so enlightened, so rational and sensible, and so ahead of the times. You cannot but admit that the Greeks were out of the ordinary in talent and knowledge. Thankfully, encyclopedias and other sources of information give those facts credence.

The Bible tells us that Methuselah lived 900 years. Yeah, right! But, someone like Aristophanes gets to live only 60 years. However, I believe that had someone like him been born in this age, presenting the same plays with more modern language, he’d have met with the same resistance and disdain from the critics – with the exception of the more liberal, more accepting minds.

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