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Why is Aristophanes called "The Father of Comedy"? - Mark Robinson

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Aristophanes, often referred to as the Father of Comedy, wrote the world’s earliest surviving comic dramas. They're stuffed full of parodies, songs, sexual jokes and surreal fantasy -- and they’ve shaped how comedy’s been written and performed ever since. Mark Robinson shares a brief history of Aristophanes.

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Meet The Creators

  • Educator Mark Robinson
  • Director Anton Bogaty
  • Script Editor Brendan Pelsue
  • Animator Anton Bogaty
  • Associate Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott, Elizabeth Cox
  • Content Producer Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Producer Alex Rosenthal
  • Narrator Adrian Dannatt

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Though there were many comic playwrights in 5th century Athens, the works of Aristophanes are the only ones that survive. Luckily, they provide us with a wealth of detail about Athenian life and lots of topical and satirical jokes. There are 11 surviving plays written by Aristophanes, and they are easy to read as none of them are very long.

The best known and most regularly performed play nowadays is ‘Lysistrata’. As well as giving a strong message about the benefits of peace, it’s also full of jokes (some of which are rather rude, so beware!). A version of the play performed by some students at Warwick University, England, is available here.

You can read about the nature of Greek theatre here and learn about comedy’s companion genre, tragedy, in this Ted-Ed lesson on The battle of the Greek tragedies.

The Athenians held two drama festivals each year, the Lenaea in January, and the Dionysia in early Spring. Because of the hazards involved in travelling during the Greek winter, the Lenaea’s audience tended to be confined to Athenians, allowing more critical comedy. In the better weather, foreigners were able to travel to the Dionysia, and this is what got Aristophanes into trouble for his attack on Cleon through the performance of ‘The Babylonians’ in 426 BC. Luckily for us, Aristophanes was able to continue writing, and the result is a collection of plays that will deepen your understanding of life in Athens in the 5th century BCE, and will make you laugh while you learn.

Deepen your understanding of the context of life in Athens at the time of Aristophanes with What did democracy really mean in Athens? and A day in the life of an ancient Athenian.

For further thinking about the nature of comedy, you can consult What is the definition of comedy? Banana.

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About TED-Ed Originals

TED-Ed Original lessons feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed original? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Mark Robinson
  • Director Anton Bogaty
  • Script Editor Brendan Pelsue
  • Animator Anton Bogaty
  • Associate Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott, Elizabeth Cox
  • Content Producer Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Producer Alex Rosenthal
  • Narrator Adrian Dannatt

Share

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