Aristophanes and Athens: An Introduction to the Plays

Aristophanes and Athens: An Introduction to the Plays

Aristophanes and Athens: An Introduction to the Plays

Aristophanes and Athens: An Introduction to the Plays

Synopsis

Aristophanes' comedies are famous for their comic characters and earthy humor. But they are also highly topical, with many contemporary political allusions easily missed today. This book provides students with a long needed accessible and essential introductory guide to the plays, focusingparticularly on information about the Athens of the day.

Excerpt

Aristophanes is the most versatile and iridescent of authors. It is hard to define his qualities at all, and quite impossible to discuss them all fully within one book of moderate length. This book is primarily an introduction for those reading him for the first time, and I concentrate mainly on the subjects of the plays in relation to the historical circumstances of Athens, because that seems to me a good way for a newcomer to approach them. I say relatively little about literary and theatrical features, although those are not entirely ignored.

Some problems about Aristophanes have aroused much scholarly controversy. I state my own views, of course, but I have tried to alert readers to the existence of alternatives, either in the text or in the footnotes. The footnotes refer, as a rule, to the more recent books and articles, in which references to earlier works can be found by anyone wanting a more exhaustive bibliography. They also give a few words in Greek, whereas the main text is written so as to be clear to readers who know only English.

I quote Aristophanes in my own translations, because I find no published translation satisfactory for my purpose. For a scholarly study, a translation must be fairly literal and accurate; but besides giving the right sense it should also convey something of the original form. In the case of Aristophanes that means it must be in verse, in rhythms which are comparable to the rhythms of the original. English verse has to be based on stress rather than quantity of syllables, and I have used the familiar English five-foot iambic line to represent the Greek trimeter, but in other respects my translations keep close to the original metres. In recent years publishers have been reluctant to publish verse translations, and consequently there are now thousands of people who think that Aristophanes' plays are in the form and language of everyday conversation. They are not; the man in the Athenian street did not speak in iambic trimeters, still less in the trochaic, anapaestic, and other forms which Aristophanes often uses. If my translations seem more formal . . .

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