The theatrical works of 5C Athens represent a very significant advance on Homer's Iliad

The theatrical works of 5C Athens represent a very significant advance on Homer's Iliad

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The theatrical works of 5C Athens represent a very significant advance on Homer's Iliad

It is difficult to compare the works of Aristophanes and Homer, and make a decision as to whether or not Aristophanes' plays are more advanced than Homer's writing, as they serve a different purpose and are told conpletely differently. Aristophanes's stories are meant to be performed in the form of a play. Homer's Iliad is an epic, and through his language the reader can only picture the scene. They cannot be compared as such, but we may pass judgment on whether the works of Aristophanes has advanced in quality, in relation to Homer's Iliad. Literature reflects the circumstances of the times by providing a social and political commentary. This commentary is represented by Aristophanes, one of the best known tragic and comic poets of the fifth and fourth century B.C.

As Greek society became more sophisticated a new type of poetry arose among the Greeks. Unlike Homer, authors of this lyric poetry sang not of legendary events but of present delights and sorrows. This new note, personal and passionate, can be seen in the works of Aristophanes, in which the contrast between the new values and those of Homer's heroic age is sharply clear.

By the fifth century B.C. in Athens, two distinct forms, tragedy and comedy, had evolved. Borrowing from the old familiar legends of gods and heroes for their plots, the tragedians reinterpreted them in the light of the values and problems of their own times.
Comedies were vulgar and lively. There were no laws against libel or obscenity in Athens, so political satire became a favorite subject of the comedians. Aristophanes, the most famous comic-dramatist, brilliantly satirized Athenian democracy as a mob led by demagogues. A favorite target of his was the political leader Cleon - he based several of his plays around him. Yet he also put intelligent messages between his jokes. For example, in his play Lysistrata, the women of Greece stop the Peloponnesian War with a sex boycott, refusing to sleep with their husbands until they agree to end the fighting; thus, he could advocate peace and women's rights in the same story. By allowing such coarse humor even in difficult times, the Athenians may have shown us why Athens remained a cultural center after its best years ended; they were never afraid of the truth, and could always laugh at themselves.

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Aristophanes' Wasps is a parody on the political situation in Athens at the time of his writing, namely an attack on the entire jury system. Aristophanes is attacking the irresponsible use of power by these juries. It should not be thought that Aristophanes wants to end the jury system or even has any idea of how its processes could be reformed. Rather Aristophanes is focusing on the moral corruption of the people who pay for the jurors and the jurors themselves. The main characters' names, Procleon and Anticleon, represent both supporters and non-supporters of the political leader Cleon, whom Aristophanes has also targeted.

The Illiad by Homer is an epic which recounts the tale of the Trojan War, and the valiance of Greek heroes who are inspired by the whims of the gods. Homer represents the gods as irreverent supernatural entities who govern the fates of men. Homer intertwines the natural world of men with the divine world of the gods in which the gods are active participants in the lives of men. By contrast, Aristophanes ridicules the gods in his play The Frogs. He presents Dionysus in an unflattering light, trying to cash in on the brave image on Heracles by dressing up as him. His servant Xanthias even gets the better of him.

In The Frogs, Dionysus and Xanthias call at the house of Heracles, to whom Dionysus explains that he sadly misses Euripides, who has recently died; as the god of the dramatic festivals, Dionysus is especially affected by the loss of a man whose career as a tragic dramatists had lasted for nearly fifty years. So Dionysus is going to the underworld to bring him back, and has disguised himself as Heracles to fortify himself against the dangers of the journey. The real Heracles once went down to the underworld to bring up the monstrous dog which guarded its door, and Dionysus wants advice from him on how to get there. Heracles makes fun of him and does his best to frighten him, but at last promises him that when he hears the sounds of the initiates he will be close by the palace of Pluto, the god of the underworld. Aristophanes has made a reference to Hercules and Odysseus going into the underworld, which contrasts with Dionysus making the same journey - it becomes a parody.

Dionysus was in fact the patron god of poetry, song and drama - he represents the very poetry competition that Arisophanes's plays are performed in, thus Aristophanes shows a lack of respect towards the gods. There is another reference to Homer in The Wasps. Procleon climbs up the chimney, pretending to be smoke when he is seen emerging from it; he tries to push the front door open against the slaves who push it shut; he clings to the underside of a donkey, like Odysseus escaping from the cave of the Cyclops by clinging to the underside of a great ram . Anticleon says "anyone'd think you'd got Odysseus hanging on underneath."

Homer's Iliad was the first war book written, carrying timeless messages. Aristophanes' plays were specific to the time, commenting on what he believed was wrong in Greek society. We cannot understand many of the references as they were relevant to the current situation in Athens. The chorus in The Wasps and The Frogs carried many important messages and reflected the views of Aristophanes. They would perform what is known as the parabasis, speaking to the audience on issues not directly related to the play. Homer and Aristophanes cannot be compared. To say whether one is better than the other comes to down to a personal choice, of what is more enjoyed. Aristophanes is less demanding to read, and does not require as much thought, being far less of a challenge. However, although his plays appear to be mere comedies they do carry many serious messages, especially political, which are of great importance. He doesn't appear to believe that if something cannot be explained, then it must be by the whim of the gods. That is the difference between Aristophanes and Homer. Homer clearly believes in the gods, and uses them for many explanations as seen in The Iliad. To judge whether one is more advanced than the other can merely be through enjoyment of reading them.

Works Cited:

Homer, Translated by Martin Hammond. The Iliad 1987 Penguin Group, London.
Aristophanes, Translated by David Barrett. The Wasps The Poet and The Women The Frogs. 1964 Penguin Group London.
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