Aristophanes vs Thucydides Essay

Published: 2020-04-22 15:25:56
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Aristophanes and Thucydides both wrote during the Peloponnesian War, the former wrote comic plays and the latter wrote a more serious account of what was happening. Although they were authors of two very different forms of literature they had the common tie of being critical of democracy and blamed its downfalls for the Athenian loss of the war. They looked at the same facts about the same events threw different lenses. Aristophanes was much more emotional in his criticism of the war and its causes since his family had been forced from their farm which was near Athens into the city itself.

Thucydides, on the other hand, gave a more sophisticated account of the war, he was careful to not exaggerate. With these two authors we have history and comedy coming together to make the same analysis of the Peloponnesian war, the analysis of course being that Athenian democrats and their failures caused the war and resulted in the defeat of Athens. Aristophanes, who grew up on a wealthy farm near Athens, was forced to move into the city at the outbreak of the war against Sparta. There he spoke out for those who had lost their land.

He believed these were the people who had given up the most for the war, his obvious admiration for the countryside makes its way into his beloved works. His plays were extremely popular and won him awards at the festival of Dionysus more than once, though one play also lead to him being tried for treason as him shamelessly insulted Cleon, a supporter of the war and a politician Aristophanes detested. As his time progressed, Aristophanes disillusionment with the war progresses with it. He becomes ever more tired of war and the politicians who support it.

He brutally bashes the ruling class for causing the generation long war, portraying them, in his play Knights as manipulating tricksters who have little use of education. When talking to the Sausageman about the attributes useful to a ruler, Demosthenes, a slave of Demos, describes the Sausagemans problem of only being able to read and write a little bit as an issue of being too educated. Your only handicap- the little bit! No educated man can be boss, These days, nor yet a man a character¦. Only an ignoramus and a rogue! (Knights, p. 0)Clearly Aristophanes did not think the rulers of the city had any value for education.

In Pomeroys text Cleon himself is found to be supporting this idea when his says ordinary people¦ run their cities far better than intelligent ones¦ (Pomeroy, p. 324) The political bashing continues when the Sausageman brags to Paphlagon how he was able to fool the scullions in the kitchen when he was still in the cradle by stealing meat and successfully hiding it from them by placing it between his legs. A politician, who had watched the event take place, declared This boy will surely some day lead the Democratic Partly! since naturally taking from the people what is rightfully theirs was what politics was all about.

The writer was bitter about losing his familys farm, and justly blamed the ruling class. Aristophanes thought that the mistreatment of the common people and the ignorance the ruling class seemed to admire were the fundamental problems with the democracy in Athens. Thucydides had a similar criticism of his government, though he was more tactful in the way he presented it. His histories were not exaggerated to make a point or get a laugh, which was a tactic employed by Aristophanes.

Rather Thucydides wrote a serious account of what he truly believed happened. There were no references to the gods, who were at times characters in the plays. At the same time he made no effort to suppress his sentiments toward the governing class in Athens and the mistakes he believed they made. The overarching problem with the Athenian democracy, he thought, was that the people in control were ignorant in their never-ending drive fueled by greed and ambition, those were not the individuals he wanted in control of the population.

Greed and corruption were the ailments of the governing class, in his chapter on the Sedition of Corcyra he explains the cause of all these evils was the lust for power arising from greed and ambition; and from these passions proceeded the violence of parties once engaged in contention. (Finley, p. 297). The greed and ambition he attributed to the Democratic Party are to be blamed not only for a poor form of government but also for the Athenian loss of the war.

On the same page he continues that in their acts of vengeance they went to even greater lengths, not stopping at what justice or the good of the state demanded, but making the party caprice of the moment their only standard, and invoking with equal readiness the condemnation of an unjust verdict or the authority of the strong arm to glut the animosities of the hour. (Finley, p. 297). By always desiring the very best for themselves the selfish rulers over stepped the boundaries of justice and let vengeance control their decisions that affected the whole of Athenian Empire. Aristophanes idea about the loss of the war is a little different.

From his earliest surviving play Acharnians it is clear his thinks the war is pointless from the start since a peace with Sparta could easily be reached. It was so easy in fact a lone farmer could make an agreement with the Lacedaemonian government. In this play the lead, Dicaeopolis, who is an Athenian farmer, is tired of the ruinous war so he decides to make his own peace agreement with Sparta. An attempt by Dicaeopolis to justify his actions to Lamachus is highlighted by the chorus of the play, who at one point to say that people would come from far and wide to see someone who had spoken something uncorrupt in Athens.

Consumed by desire to behold and admire the poet so fearless and witty, Who dared in the presence of Athens to speak the thing that is rightful and true. (Acharnians, p. 33) For people to come from outside the city just to see someone speak something other than lies is surely one of the exaggerations we spoke of in class, but Aristophanes thought it was close enough to the truth for his audience to think it would be funny. He believed the war to be unjustified and instigated by the greed of the power hungry leaders of the state.

Both of these authors view democracy through a very critical lens. Both blamed the downfalls of this system of government for the Athenian defeat in the Peloponnesian war. Since they were writing for two different kinds of audiences, Aristophanes for the public of his time and Thucydides for future generations, the style and content are strikingly different. However, their overall analysis of the events was the similar, it was corruption and greed of the rulers that led to the suffering of the populace.

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