This document was originally published in The Drama: Its History, Literature and Influence on Civilization, vol. 2. ed. Alfred Bates. London: Historical Publishing Company, 1906. pp. 53-55.

Of the private character of Aristophanes we know but little, save that, like all other Athenians, he was fond of pleasure; and it is intimated by Plato that he was not distinguished by abstinence and sobriety. That coarseness of language was in those times no proof of moral depravity has already been sufficiently shown by a modern admirer of Aristophanes; the fault was not in the man, but in the manners of the age in which he lived, and to blame the comedian for it is to give proof of an unwillingness to lay aside modern associations, which acts as a fatal obstacle to the student of the classic drama. The object of Aristophanes was one most worthy of a wise and good man; it was to cry down the pernicious quackery which was forcing its way into Athens and polluting, or drying up, the springs of public and private virtue; which had turned religion into the folly of word-wisdom, and which was the cause alike of the corruption of tragedy and of the downfall of the State. He is not to be blamed for his method of opposing these evils; it was the only course open to him; the demagogues had introduced the comus into the city, and he turned it against them till it repented them that they had ever used such an instrument. So far, then, from charging Aristophanes with immorality, it may be said, in the words which a great and good man of our own day used when speaking of his antitype, Rabelais, that the morality of his works is of the most refined and exalted character, however little worthy of praise their manners be. On the whole, he who can accept without shrinking the ingredients with which the necessities of the time forced the great comedian to dress his golden truths will find in the plays of Aristophanes an excellent picture of men and manners at Athens in the most glorious days of her history. "Men smile," says one of his critics, "when they hear the story of one of the most venerable fathers of the Church--no other than St. Chrysostom--who never went to bed without a copy of Aristophanes under his pillow, and to whom, it is said, we owe his extant plays."

Purchase Books on Aristophanes


Home · Theatre Links · Script Archive · Bookstore · Email · © 2002