In my prior post on “The Best Medicine,” I mentioned a favorite jokester — Aristophanes. A few years ago, I was asked (for a biographical sketch) what famous figure I would most like to have dinner with. My answer? Aristophanes. Nicknamed by his contemporaries “Old Baggy Pants.” He was my kinda guy. . . . .
This Athenian satirist, was probably the world’s first stand-up comedian (I would love to be a stand-up comic but I don’t have the legs for it). He was well-educated and began writing satire 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 toga are always smeared with wine. As mentioned in my prior post, Aristophanes sometimes played the part of Cleon – lurching onto stage, staggering around and mumbling – 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 suggesting that he “cool it.”
In the world of literature, the satiric works of Ben Jonson and Henry Fielding were 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 some Greek crab cakes, moussaka, spanakopita and pastitsio — with a bottle or two of agiorgitiko. Then we’d start telling jokes . . . . .