Birds; Lysistrata; Assembly-Women; Wealth

By Aristophanes; Stephen Halliwell | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

Wealth is Aristophanes' last surviving comedy, having been produced in 388 (festival unknown) towards the end of the play‐ wright's life. 1 The relationship of the play which we have to another with the same title produced by Aristophanes twenty years earlier, in 408, is extremely obscure; but we can be confident that the differences must at any rate have been extensive, and it is safe to assume that the text we read was substantially created for the production of 388. Since Wealth has been widely neglected in modern times, and is now standardly dismissed as the weakest of the eleven extant comedies, it may come as a surprise to some readers to discover that for a long time it was by far the most commonly read Aristophanic play. This was probably already the case in later antiquity, and was certainly so in the Middle Ages, when Wealth existed in many more manuscripts than any other of the poet's comedies. This relative popularity was sustained after the advent of printing. In England, for example, four of the nine translations made from Aristophanes before the end of the eighteenth century were of this play. 2 There can be no doubt that the main reason for this standing was a pair of factors: one, a scenario which is ostensibly moral(istic) in its idealistic marrying of social justice with material prosperity; the other, a reduction in the topical elements which, even in antiquity itself, often proved a stumbling-block for readers not entirely au fait with the fine detail of classical Athenian life and culture.

There is plausibility in the supposition that it is precisely these same factors which have led many modern critics and readers to find the play somewhat dull and lacking in comic vigour. Such a judgement, however, is in itself unlikely to advance our understanding of why the work is as it is, or of what kind of interest it might have held for its original audience. Like Assembly-Women,

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1
After Wealth only two more of Aristophanes' comedies were staged in his lifetime, Aiolosikon (produced by his son Araros) and Kokalos: further details will be found with the selection of fragments in volume iii of this translation. There is no firm evidence for the date of the poet's death, which is generally assumed to have occurred around 385.
2
Wealth was also the first Aristophanic play to receive a production in England, at Cambridge in 1536: see the general Introduction, 'Aristophanes and Posterity'.

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Birds; Lysistrata; Assembly-Women; Wealth
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Aristophanes - Birds Lysistrata Assembly-Women Wealth *
  • Preface *
  • Contents *
  • Introduction - Aristophanes' Career in Context *
  • Note on the Translation *
  • Select Bibliography *
  • Chronology *
  • Introduction *
  • Birds *
  • Introduction *
  • Lysistrata *
  • Introduction *
  • Assembly-Women *
  • Introduction *
  • Wealth *
  • Explanatory Notes *
  • Index of Names *
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