Starting with his first play in the early 5th century BC, Arisophanes took the Greek world by storm, or at least wanted to think he did.
Recently Aristophanes was here in Missoula and we met up at Starbucks.
Let me just say it is an honor to have you here, sir.
Thank you, Greg.
So most people today have no idea who you are.
Well that’s fine – I have no idea who they are. Should I?
Not really. So can you tell us a little more about your first play, The Banqueters.
Yes, that play came out in what I believe you would call…427, is that right?
Yes, what is this…BC? I don’t seem to remember anyone saying anything about BC when I was living back then.
Golly, that would have to deal with Jesus Christ and the church and–”
<Holds up hand and frowns> I’m sorry I asked. Anyways, that play came out in 427…BC….and caused quite a stir.
At that time we’d been at war for four years, with Sparta and–”
This would be the Peloponesian War, and specifically the Archidamian War that lasted from 431 to 421 BC.
Whatever you say. To get back to what I was saying, that all pertains to Pericles opposing any action against the Spartans after they invaded the Peloponnese. And that, of course, is what allowed Cleon to rise.
Cleon, being the popular general and leader of Athens after Pericles died of the plague in 429, right?
Yes, once Pericles was gone there was nothing to stand in Cleon’s way.
But wasn’t he wildly popular?
Not necessarily. He was rather back-woodsy, but he had a certain amount of charisma, eloquence, and speaking voice. What’s more, he could really play on the emotions of a crowd. He was also wily. <Aristophanes sneers and laughs before shaking his head> See, he first gained support from the aristocrats, who also opposed Pericles. But then later he played both sides, gaining the support of the common people by increasing the pay given for jury duty.
Anyways…the play we were talking about – The Banqueters – really went after Cleon and a lot of those other war profiteers, mainly–
Oh, yes. <Laughs> What, you thought your Halliburton was the first corrupt quasi-military organization? Please!
You’re not very good at this, are you? How many of these have you done?
Uh…just one a couple months ago.
Who was that?
<Leans forward and puts head in hands> Oh…don’t even get me started on that fool.
I won’t. Now, back to 427 BC…old man.
<Frowns> I don’t think you’re giving me the respect I deserve.
Deserve? <laughs> For what? Weren’t you just some silly playwright writing for the rich masses? I mean, I don’t think there was a helluva lot of poor people packing into that amphitheatre, huh? They were all waiting in line for jury duty, right?
<Raises hands> Alright! What’s your next question.
<Shuffles through notes for a moment while scowling at Aristophanes> Here it is…You’ve been called the “Father of Comedy” and “Prince of Ancient Comedy,” but if that’s the case, how come no one today really cares about you at all.
<Stands up and points finger> Listen, I don’t have to take this shit from you. I’ve been accused of slander and been on trial. I’ve outlived rulers, the Peloponnesian War, two revolutions of the oligarchs and two democratic restorations to get rid of them. I’ve seen states crumble and fall! Between that first play and my last in 386 I saw Athens go from the political center of Greece to the intellectual and cultural center of the world. Who the hell do you think helped bring that about, huh? <Laughs> And these comedy titles you’re talking about? Bah! We made the transition from Old to New Comedy during that time. Hell, I bet you don’t even know what the difference is, do you?
Uh…no, not really.
They’d make your comedy…movies look like a joke, that’s what they’d do.
Oh, have you been watching a lot of our comedy films?
I’ve seen a few since I’ve been here, yes.
And can you tell us about them, what they were, maybe what you thought of them.
Oh, Tropic Thunder, by far!
The fake Vietnam movie with Ben Stiller?
Yes, yes…that’s the one! And where can I see this Simple Jack? That looks like pure Old Comedy gold!
I don’t think that movie…exists.
<Frowns> Well, that is a disappointment.
Alright, Aristophanes, it was nice talking to you. What do you have planned next, sir?
I think I’ll head back to Athens.
Because I’m buried there somewhere.