Keynote Abstract: Remembering Aristophanes

“Remembering Aristophanes”


The story of Aristophanes’ survival from the original productions of his plays in Athens down to the age of printing is by no means straightforward. Much as we might like to believe (and Aristophanes himself surely would have told us) that the brilliance of his plays in performance is what guaranteed his place in theatrical history and cultural memory, Aristophanes may owe his poetic afterlife more to his choice of comic targets and the moralizing tastes of both scholars and schoolmasters in antiquity than to his poetry and dramatic instincts. Along with all the other Old Comedians he missed out on canonization by the city of Athens in the late 4th-century. Yet he may have been the first poet after Homer to have a commentary written about him. A reading public kept a good selection of his plays alive for four or five centuries after they vanished from the stage. Though we cannot observe the process directly, he then won out in a contest with Menander to be the representative of real Attic Greek in the late antique and Byzantine school curriculum. He was misremembered as a father of satire and more accurately, if also more vaguely, remembered as the progenitor of fantastic and travel narratives.  Lucian’s narrator of a journey to the moon floats by Cloudcuckooland on the way but has no chance to land there—we’ll see if we get any closer on this trip.

Dr. Niall W. Slater, Emory University