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Stephen Tracy

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780520256033

Published to California Scholarship Online: March 2012

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520256033.001.0001

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Aristophanes and Old Comedy

Aristophanes and Old Comedy

Caricature and Personal Attack

(p.96) Aristophanes and Old Comedy

Stephen V. Tracy

University of California Press

In Athens during Pericles' time, one of the major forms of entertainment was the presentation at state expense of comedies that bristled with explicit attacks on public figures, who were often present in the audience. These plays are known as Old Comedy. The only extant complete examples of Old Comedy are the wickedly inventive plays of Aristophanes, who was born about 455 B.C. and was very active throughout the years of the Peloponnesian War. Old Comedy flourished for the greater part of Pericles' public career, and he was naturally very often the butt of attacks. Characters in comedies call Pericles a tyrant, describe him as Zeus-like in his aloofness, and attack him for his womanizing (a common criticism of powerful men in every age). Aspasia, his Milesian common-law wife, was treated very harshly. In the Acharnians of Aristophanes, performed in 425, the lowly Athenian citizen Dicaeopolis—the Everyman and hero of the play—gives a mock-epic account of the origin of the war.

Keywords:   Pericles, Old Comedy, Athens, Peloponnesian War, Aristophanes, plays, Aspasia, Dicaeopolis

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