A few years ago, I was asked in a biographical sketch who I would most like to have dinner with. My answer? Aristophanes. Called by his contemporaries “Old Baggy Pants.” See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aristophanes
Aristophanes (448 B.C. – 385 B.C.), the Athenian satirist, was probably the world’s first stand-up comedian (“I’d love to be a stand-up comic but I don’t have the legs for it“). He was well-educated and began writing satires in his teens. He wrote more than 40 plays of which only 11 have survived.
The first play penned under his own name was The Knights (424 B.C.). It was a scathing satire about the Athenian politician and military leader Cleon – the arrogant demagogue who succeeded Pericles. Cleon is aptly depicted in the play as a bloated and intoxicated lout – whose face and tunic are always smeared with wine. It is said that Aristophanes sometimes played the part of Cleon – lurching onto stage, staggering around – because he wanted to make sure the part was played “properly.” The spoof was wonderfully popular with everyone in Athens — except for Cleon who sent messengers to Aristophanes to suggest strongly that he “cool it.”
In the world of literature, the satiric works of Ben Jonson and Henry Fielding were especially influenced by Aristophanes. Examine the comedies of Shakespeare and you will find the tongue-in-cheek humor of Aristophanes swimming beneath the surface.
If we sat down to dinner, I’d order the spaghetti carbonara for both of us — with a nice Barolo (see post of July 27th). Then we’d start telling jokes. . . . .