The History of Literature #328 – Aristophanes (with Aaron Poochigian)

328 Aristophanes (with Aaron Poochigian)

Often called the Father of Comedy, the satirical playwright Aristophanes (c. 450 BCE – 388 BCE) used his critical eye and sharp tongue to skewer politicians and philosophers alike. In this episode, poet and classicist Aaron Poochigian joins Jacke to discuss his new translation of four plays by Aristophanes – and explains why these ancient Athenian comedies (CloudsBirdsLysistrata, and Women of the Assembly) are especially relevant today.

Works Discussed

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History of Literature Episode 7 – Greek Comedy – Aristophanes

Author Jacke Wilson examines the life and works of Aristophanes, whose comic plays included The Clouds, which pokes fun at philosophers such as Socrates, and Lysistrata, where the females of Athens and Sparta go on a sex strike in an attempt to end the war.


Sneak Preview: Aristophanes and More

Well hello there! It’s Sunday, and that means sneak preview day here on the Jacke Blog.

On Monday, we’ll take a look at the comic plays of Aristophanes on the History of Literature podcast.  What did that comedic pioneer actually invent? What were his satirical targets and how well does the satire hold up?

And the key question: are 2,500-year-old jokes still funny?

Are they as funny as this?

INTERVIEWER: If you came home and saw that your house was on fire, what’s the one thing you’d run into the house to save?

ERIC IDLE: My penis.

What else, what else… how about another run through the best and worst posts of the year? You can see some highlights (and lowlights) from last year here:

The Best

And the Worst

On Thursday, we’ll be back with another edition of the Restless Mind Show, topic TBD. I’m going to scrap the idea of imagining Friedrich Nietzsche playing the part of the Bandit in a modern-day Smokey and the Bandit because, well, some ideas must die. Instead, we might talk about reading Proust in China.

Ad finally, here’s some holiday cheer for you, and by “cheer” I mean that special bluesy kind of cheer that makes all your synapses fire and brings a lump to the back of your throat. There’s no real video, so just click on the link, play this song in the background, think of Wynton and his hero (“Pops is bad, man. Pops is bad”), and think of fireplaces, baking cookies, and snuggling under warm blankets with loved ones. Happy Holidays!

Quick Links:

Aristophanes and Spike Lee

Our History of Literature journey takes us to Aristophanes next.  I’m working on the episode now, which of course will have a heavy emphasis on his play Lysistrata. And then I realize that the play has been adapted to a modern-day setting for a movie (Chi-Raq) by none other than Spike Lee.

I admire Spike Lee and his films, although I probably have only seen about half of them (and none of the recent ones). I’ve always viewed him as someone with a vision and a voice, who fights to get his movies made, sometimes taking on more commercial projects in order to fund his more personal ones, but not really succeeding at that in any clear way. It seems like there’s a parallel to be found between the career paths of Lee and Orson Welles – wildly successful early film, celebrity, a rush of follow-up projects that don’t go as well, and then a whole patchwork career of artistic successes, even more artistic compromises, tangling with the studios, projects done for money, more celebrity, an utter devotion to film and what it can do (even as the film industry and/or viewing public repeatedly disappoints the filmmaker), and still more celebrity. In short, a filmmaker to be reckoned with, and a model for how a person with talent and an independent streak wrestles with the film establishment of his time.

In any case, it’s easy to see Spike as an artist who can appreciate the potential of a story like Lysistrata…although, well, let’s just say that gender relations have never exactly been one of his strongest suits. And after reading this Stranger review I’m a little worried. A taste:

Here we were, the most antisocial people in the writing world, reaching out to share the pain we had just experienced. The pain of Chi-Raq, Spike Lee’s ambitious new film tackling inner-city Chicago violence through the power of the pussy (I wish I were exaggerating, but it’s based on the ancient Greek playLysistrata). A fucking horrible film. This film is so bad, that even after 20 minutes of commiserating with other reviewers, even after bitching about it on my date later in the evening for another 20 minutes, I still don’t know how to pour all my hate for this film into one review.

Ouch. On the other hand, Chi-Raq has also gotten several good reviews. It’s free for those of us who can stream Amazon prime videos.* And–in true History of Literature podcast spirit–we can learn from artistic failures as well as successes. What makes the movie fail (if indeed it does)? What, if anything, does that say about Aristophanes?

I guess I’ll have to watch Chi-Raq to see where I stand on this.

*I was mistaken about this. The movie has been produced by Amazon but is being released in theaters.