Aristophanes: An Author for the Stage

Aristophanes: An Author for the Stage

Aristophanes: An Author for the Stage

Aristophanes: An Author for the Stage


Carlo Ferdinando Russo's book has been a seminal work on Aristophanes since its publication in Italy in 1962. In his detailed analysis, Professor Russo considers the plays as libretti for actors and singers rather than as mere texts, and never loses sight of the stage. This is the classic book about Aristophanes. Now finally available in English and much-updated, it is essential reading for any student of Athenian comedy.


Aristophanes continues to gather suitors, and in recent years I too have kept biting, or rather nibbling, at the strings of his comedies. Some time ago, moreover, at the theatre at Syracuse, I strove to acquaint myself with the historical dawn of comedy, when in the times of Miltiades and Aristides comedy was legitimized and first admitted to the official contests.

When I started work on Aristophanes, an Author for the Stage, I was living in Forio d’Ischia-Pithekoussai, where along with Giorgio Buchner and David Ridgway I savoured the Celebration Cup of Nestor and Aphrodites for Olympiad XIV of 724, and with Ingeborg Bachmann and Wystan Auden discussed Acharnians and the poetics of Aristophanes. From Pithekoussai I moved to another Mediterranean environment, accepting an appointment in Bari after my years with Giorgio Pasquali at the Scuola Normale di Pisa and in Florence, and then as an afternoon lecturer in Cologne.

The aim of my work on Aristophanes was to point out the theatrical properties inherent in the Word. During the preparatory phases, the University library—so much appreciated by Eduard Fraenkel, professor at Bari throughout the 1960s—offered me Granville-Barker’s Prefaces to Shakespeare, with its innovative introduction addressed to the ‘new scholarship’. In 1929, John Dover Wilson had acclaimed this theatrical philologist as follows:

It is one of the most important literary discoveries of our age that Shakespeare wrote, not to be read, but to be acted; that his plays are not books, but, as it were, libretti for stage performance. It is amazing that so obvious a fact should so late have come to recognition.

Every comedy is indeed a ‘libretto’, or rather a work of thought designed for theatrical execution. Take Clouds and Frogs, for instance, both bruised and revised by the author in response to pressing demands. Whereas these comedies simply confound the desk-bound reader, they reward anyone who takes their theatrical properties into account, ranging from the three professional and the amateur actors to the very ‘strings of the comedy’ themselves, which the author was obliged brusquely to pull: on the one hand when Clouds was defeated and subsequently revised, and again when Sophocles

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