Aristophanes, the only writer of comedy in ancient Greece any of whose entire works are still extant, probably born between 450 and 444 B. C, died not later than 380. Very little is known of his life outside of his literary work, the only sources of information being allusions of contemporaries, passages in his plays, and a very unsatisfactory biography by an unknown ancient author. He was an Athenian of the tribe Pandionis, the son of a certain Philippus or Philippides; though traditions, probably having their origin in the attempts of his enemies to deprive him of the privileges of a native Athenian citizen, speak of him as born in Rhodes, others in Egypt, Camirus, or Naucratis. He seems to have appeared as a comic poet in the fourth year of the Peloponnesian war (427). A clue to the time of his birth is found in the fact that at this time he was too young to compete for a prize, and that his first comedy, "The Banqueters," was therefore produced under the name of another. In 426 he produced "The Babylonians;" in 425 "The Acharnians," still extant, which, put in competition in the name of Callistratus, won the first prize.
In some passages of these earliest works he had satirized Cleon, the Athenian demagogue, and the latter avenged himself by making the first of those attempts noticed above to prove that Aristophanes was of foreign birth. This attempt was afterward twice repeated, but each time the poet successfully repelled the charge. In 424 he attacked Cleon with unsparing satire in the famous comedy of "The Knights; " and finding no actor brave enough to take the part of the demagogue, then at the height of his popularity, Aristophanes played the role himself, with his face smeared with lees of wine; for no one dared even to make a mask representing Cleon. His plays now appeared in rapid succession. Of the 54 which we are told he wrote, we possess 11, which, besides "The Acharnians" and "Knights" already mentioned, are as follows: "The Clouds," produced in 423 B. C, directed against the Sophists and their leader Socrates; "The Wasps," 422, an attack on the corruption of the courts; "The Peace," 419, written to point out the evils wrought by the Pelopon-nesian war; "The Birds," 414, to ridicule the Sicilian expedition; " Lysistrata," 411, a further picture of the evils brought about by the Peloponnesian war; "Thesmophoriazusae," probably in the same year, an attack on Euripides; "Plutus," 408, ridiculing the imitation of Dorian fashions which prevailed at the time of its production; " The Frogs," 405, a second satirical attack on Euripides; " Ecclesiazusae," 392, a play with the same aim as " Plutus." Of the comedies of Aristophanes it is exces-sively difficult for a modern reader to form anything approaching to an accurate judgment.
His wit is expended on topics so purely local, that it requires the closest acquaintance with the occurrences and characters of the day, the temper of the people, and the every-day cir-cumstances of Athenian life, to enable a person to appreciate and enjoy his humor. His style and versification are among the best examples left us of a complete mastery of the Attic dialect. In general, the persons and things which Aristophanes attacked were worthy of condemnation. Where a prominent exception to this statement is found in the case of Socra-tes, he probably only seized upon the natural temptations offered to a satirist by the philosopher's notoriety and eccentricities; and it seems most improbable that he acted, as many have thought, in collusion with the future accusers, of the great Sophist. - Among the best edi-tions of Aristophanes are those of Kuster and Brunck, and that of Invernizzi, completed by Beck and Dindorf; besides some editions of separate plays of rare excellence by Mitchell, who has also ably translated some of the nuin-ber, and by Prof. Felton of Harvard university An admirable translation of five plays was made by John Hookham Frere while in Malta, which were first printed for private circulation, but are now contained in the collective edition of his " Works " (London, 1872).