Aristophanes

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"Comedy too can sometimes discern what is right. I shall not please, but I shall say what is true."
(Acharnians, 500-501)

"I pained folk but little and caused them much amusement; my conscience rebuked me for nothing."
(Peace, 764)

Terracotta figurine of an actor wearing the mask of a bald-headed man, Hellenistic artwork, 2nd c. BC. (Aristophanes was bald.)

Aristophanes (Greek: Ἀριστοφάνης; c. 446 – c. 386 BC) was a Greek poet and playwright of the Old Comedy, also known as the Father of Comedy and the Prince of Ancient Comedy. Of his forty plays, eleven are extant, plus a thousand fragments of the others.

Sourced[edit]

Each quote is often given in multiple versions: always the translation at Perseus (usually reliable literal translation with hypertext original Greek available) and often another, more oft-quoted translation. For identical translations, the earliest translator found is given. Character names may vary between editions (from different transliteration, translation, or attribution) and are thus always given on the same line as each translation.

Acharnians (425 BC)[edit]

  • Dicaepolis: Comedy too can sometimes discern what is right. I shall not please, but I shall say what is true.
    (tr. Athen. 1912, Perseus)
    • Acharnians, line 500-501

  • Dicaeopolis: Well, how are things at Megara?
    Megarian: We are crying with hunger at our firesides.
    Dicaeopolis: The fireside is jolly enough with a piper. But what else is doing at Megara, eh?
    Megarian: What else? When I left for the market, the authorities were taking steps to let us die in the quickest manner.
    Dicaeopolis: That is the best way to get you out of all your troubles.
    Megarian: True.
    Dicaeopolis: What other news of Megara? What is wheat selling at?
    Megarian: With us it is valued as highly as the very gods in heaven!
    (tr. Athen. 1912, vol. 1, Perseus)
    • Acharnians, line 751-759

  • Lamachus: Ah! the Generals! they are numerous, but not good for much!
    (tr. Athen. 1912, vol. 1, Perseus)
    • Acharnians, line 1078

Birds (414 BC)[edit]

  • Epops: You're mistaken: men of sense often learn from their enemies. Prudence is the best safeguard. This principle cannot be learned from a friend, but an enemy extorts it immediately. It is from their foes, not their friends, that cities learn the lesson of building high walls and ships of war. And this lesson saves their children, their homes, and their properties.
    Chorus [leader]: It appears then that it will be better for us to hear what they have to say first; for one may learn something at times even from one's enemies.
    (tr. Anon. 1812 rev. in Ramage 1864, p. 45)[1]
  • Epops: Yet, certainly, the wise learn many things from their enemies; for caution preserves all things. From a friend you could not learn this, but your foe immediately obliges you to learn it. For example, the states have learned from enemies, and not from friends, to build lofty walls, and to possess ships of war. And this lesson preserves children, house, and possessions.
    Chorus [leader]: It is useful, as it appears to me, to hear their arguments first; for one might learn some wisdom even from one's foes.
    (tr. Hickie 1853, vol. 1, p. 322; l. 375 identical in SEA 1838, p. 236, and in Bartlett 1968, p. 91 or Archive.org)
  • Epops: The wise can often profit by the lessons of a foe, for caution is the mother of safety. It is just such a thing as one will not learn from a friend and which an enemy compels you to know. To begin with, it's the foe and not the friend that taught cities to build high walls, to equip long vessels of war; and it's this knowledge that protects our children, our slaves and our wealth.
    Leader of the Chorus [leader]: Well then, I agree, let us first hear them, for that is best; one can even learn something in an enemy's school.
    (tr. O'Neill 1938, Perseus)
  • Epops: A man may learn wisdom even from a foe.
    (tr. in Goldstein-Jackson 1983, p. 163)
    • Birds, line 375-382 (our emphasis on 375 and 378-379 and 382)
    • Compare the later: "We can learn even from our enemies", Ovid, Metamorphoses, IV, 428.

  • Chorus [of Birds]: Man naturally is deceitful, ever indeed, and always, in every one thing.
    (tr. Warter 1830, p. 199)
  • Chorus [of Birds]: Man is naturally deceitful ever, in every way!
    (tr. Hickie 1853, vol. 1, p. 326)
  • Chorus [of Birds]: Man is a truly cunning creature.
    (abridged tr. O'Neill 1938, Perseus)
  • Chorus [of Birds]: Full of wiles, full of guile, at all times, in all ways, are the children of Men.
    (tr. in Bartlett 1968, p. 91 or Archive.org)
    • Birds, line 451-452
    • Compare the earlier-written but later-known: "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked", Jeremiah, 17:9 KJV Bible.

  • Chorus [leader]: Ye Children of Man! whose life is a span, / Protracted with sorrow from day to day, / Naked and featherless, feeble and querulous, / Sickly, calamitous creatures of clay!
    (heavily rewritten tr. Frere 1839, p. 38)
  • Chorus [leader]: Come now, ye men, in nature darkling, like to the race of leaves, of little might, figures of clay, shadowy feeble tribes, wingless creatures of a day, miserable mortals, dream-like men.
    (tr. Hickie 1853, vol. 1, p. 338)
  • Leader of the Chorus: Weak mortals, chained to the earth, creatures of clay as frail as the foliage of the woods, you unfortunate race, whose life is but darkness, as unreal as a shadow, the illusion of a dream.
    (tr. O'Neill 1938, Perseus)
    • Birds, line 685-687

  • Epops: Come let me see, what shall the name be for our city? [...]
    Euelpides: Hence, from the clouds, and these meteoric regions, some all-swelling name.
    Pisthetaerus: Would you “Cloud-cuckoo-land?”
    (tr. Warter 1830, p. 215)
  • Leader of the Chorus: Let's see. What shall our city be called? [...]
    Euelpides: Some name borrowed from the clouds, from these lofty regions in which we dwell — in short, some well-known name.
    Pisthetaerus: Do you like Nephelococcygia?
    (tr. O'Neill 1938, Perseus)
    • Birds, line 812 & 817-819 (our emphasis on 819)

  • Poet: “Straton wanders among the Scythian nomads, but has no linen garment. He is sad at only wearing an animal's pelt and no tunic.” Do you get what I mean?
    Pisthetaerus: I understand that you want me to offer you a tunic. Hi! you (To the acolyte.) take off yours; we must help the poet.
    (tr. O'Neill 1938, Perseus)
    • Birds, line 941-947 (our emphasis on 947)

  • Informer: My friend, I am asking you for wings, not for words.
    Pisthetaerus: It's just my words that gives you wings.
    Informer: And how can you give a man wings with your words?
    Pisthetaerus: They all start this way. [...]
    Informer: So that words give wings?
    Pisthetaerus: Undoubtedly; words give wings to the mind and make a man soar to heaven. Thus I hope that my wise words will give you wings to fly to some less degrading trade.
    (tr. O'Neill 1938, Perseus)
  • Pisthetaerus: By words the mind is winged. (tr. unknown, seen in Airpower Journal 1990, and in Macmillan Dictionary of Political Quotations 1993, Google Books Search)
    • Birds, line 1436-1439 & 1446-1450 (our emphasis on 1447-1448)

Clouds (423 BC)[edit]

  • Strepsiades: But come, by the Earth, is not Zeus, the Olympian, a god?
    Socrates: What Zeus? Do not trifle. There is no Zeus.
    (tr. Hickie 1853, vol. 1, Perseus)
    • Clouds, line 366-367 (our emphasis on 367)
    • The Greek-mythology equivalent of "There is no God."

  • Strepsiades: Vortex reigns, having expelled Zeus.
    (tr. Hickie 1853, vol. 1, Perseus)
  • Strepsiades: ‘Tis the Whirlwind, that has driven out Zeus and is King now.
    (tr. Athen. 1912, vol. 1, p. 350)
  • Strepsiades: Whirl is King, having driven out Zeus.
    (tr. in Lippmann 1929, p. 1 and 4)
    • Clouds, line 828

  • Just Cause: [Learn] not to contradict your father in anything; nor by calling him Iapetus, to reproach him with the ills of age, by which you were reared in your infancy.
    (tr. Hickie 1853, vol. 1, Perseus)
  • Just Discourse: Do not bandy words with your father, nor treat him as a dotard, nor reproach the old man, who has cherished you, with his age.
    (tr. Athen. 1912, vol. 1, p. 359)
    • Clouds, line 998-999

  • Old age is second childhood.
    • Clouds, line 1417

  • Unjust Cause: This art is worth more than ten thousand staters, that one should choose the worse cause, and nevertheless be victorious.
    (tr. Hickie 1853, vol. 1, Perseus)
  • Unjust Discourse: To invoke solely the weaker arguments and yet triumph is a talent worth more than a hundred thousand drachmae.
    (tr. Athen. 1912, vol. 1, p. 361)
    • Clouds, line 1041-1042

Ecclesiazusae (392 BC)[edit]

  • Praxagora: Woman is adept at getting money for herself and will not easily let herself be deceived; she understands deceit too well herself.
    (tr. O'Neill 1938, Perseus)
    • Ecclesiazusae, line 236-238

  • Praxagora: I want all to have a share of everything and all property to be in common; there will no longer be either rich or poor; [...] I shall begin by making land, money, everything that is private property, common to all. [...]
    Blepyrus: But who will till the soil?
    Praxagora: The slaves.
    (tr. O'Neill 1938, Perseus)
    • Ecclesiazusae, line 590-591 & 597-598 & 651

Frogs (405 BC)[edit]

  • Æschylus: High thoughts must have high language.
    (rewritten and embellished tr. Fitts 1955, p. 108)
  • Aeschylus: It is the compelling power of great thoughts and ideas to engender phrases of equal size.
    (tr. Dillon 1995, Perseus)
    • Frogs, line 1058-1059

Knights (424 BC)[edit]

  • Demosthenes: Do you dare to accuse wine of clouding the reason? Quote me more marvellous effects than those of wine. Look! when a man drinks, he is rich, everything he touches succeeds, he gains lawsuits, is happy and helps his friends. Come, bring hither quick a flagon of wine, that I may soak my brain and get an ingenious idea.
    (tr. O'Neill 1938, Perseus)
    • Knights, line 90-96 (our emphasis on 95-96)

  • Demosthenes: A demagogue must be neither an educated nor an honest man; he has to be an ignoramus and a rogue.
    (tr. O'Neill 1938, Perseus)
    • Knights, line 191-193

  • Demosthenes [to the Sausage-Seller]: Mix and knead together all the state business as you do for your sausages. To win the people, always cook them some savoury that pleases them. Besides, you possess all the attributes of a demagogue; a screeching, horrible voice, a perverse, crossgrained nature and the language of the market-place. In you all is united which is needful for governing.
    (tr. O'Neill 1938, Perseus)
    • Knights, line 214-219

  • Sausage-Seller: You [demagogues] are like the fishers for eels; in still waters they catch nothing, but if they thoroughly stir up the slime, their fishing is good; in the same way it's only in troublous times that you line your pockets.
    (tr. O'Neill 1938, Perseus)
    • ὅπερ γὰρ οἱ τὰς ἐγχέλεις θηρώμενοι πέπονθας.
      ὅταν μὲν ἡ λίμνη καταστῇ, λαμβάνουσιν οὐδέν·
      ἐὰν δ᾽ ἄνω τε καὶ κάτω τὸν βόρβορον κυκῶσιν,
      αἱροῦσι· καὶ σὺ λαμβάνεις, ἢν τὴν πόλιν ταράττῃς.
    • Knights, line 864-867
    • Dialog aimed at the politician Cleon, symbolizing demagogues for the author.

  • Leader of the Chorus: An insult directed at the wicked is not to be censured; on the contrary, the honest man, if he has sense, can only applaud.
    (tr. O'Neill 1938, Perseus)
    • Knights, line 1274-1275

Lysistrata (411 BC)[edit]

  • Lysistrata: O women, if we would compel the men to bow to Peace, [...] We must refrain from every depth of love.... Why do you turn your backs? Where are you going? Why do you bite your lips and shake your heads? Why are your faces blanched? Why do you weep?
    (tr. Lindsay 1925, Perseus)
    • Lysistrata, line 120-121 & 124-127

  • [Choir of] Women: It should not prejudice my voice that I'm not born a man, if I say something advantageous to the present situation. For I'm taxed too, and as a toll provide men for the nation.
    (tr. Lindsay 1925, Perseus)
    • Lysistrata, line 649-651

  • [Choir of] Men: There is no beast, no rush of fire, like woman so untamed. She calmly goes her way where even panthers would be shamed.
    [Choir of] Women: And yet you are fool enough, it seems, to dare to war with me, when for your faithful ally you might win me easily.
    (tr. Lindsay 1925, Perseus)
    • Lysistrata, line 1014-1017

Peace (421 BC)[edit]

  • Chorus [speaking for Aristophanes]: Yet I have not been seen frequenting the wrestling school intoxicated with success and trying to seduce young boys; but I took all my theatrical gear and returned straight home. I pained folk but little and caused them much amusement; my conscience rebuked me for nothing. Hence both grown men and youths should be on my side and I likewise invite the bald to give me their votes; for, if I triumph, everyone will say, both at table and at festivals, “Carry this to the bald man, give these cakes to the bald one, do not grudge the poet whose talent shines as bright as his own bare skull the share he deserves.”
    (tr. O'Neill 1938, Perseus)
    • Peace, line 762-773 (our emphasis on 764)
    • Aristophanes was bald.

  • Hierocles: You will never make the crab walk straight.
    (tr. O'Neill 1938, Perseus)
    • Peace, line 1083

Plutus (388 BC)[edit]

  • Chremylus: [Wealth], the most excellent of all the gods.
    (tr. O'Neill 1938, Perseus)
    • Plutus, line 230

  • Blepsidemus: There is no honest man! not one, that can resist the attraction of gold!
    (tr. O'Neill 1938, Perseus)
    • Plutus, line 362-363

  • Chremylus: And what good thing can [Poverty] give us, unless it be burns in the bath, and swarms of brats and old women who cry with hunger, and clouds uncountable of lice, gnats and flies, which hover about the wretch's head, trouble him, awake him and say, “You will be hungry, but get up!” [...]
    Poverty: It's not my life that you describe; you are attacking the existence beggars lead. [...] The beggar, whom you have depicted to us, never possesses anything. The poor man lives thriftily and attentive to his work; he has not got too much, but he does not lack what he really needs. [...] But what you don't know is this, that men with me are worth more, both in mind and body, than with [Wealth]. With him they are gouty, big-bellied, heavy of limb and scandalously stout; with me they are thin, wasp-waisted, and terrible to the foe. [...] As for behavior, I will prove to you that modesty dwells with me and insolence with [Wealth]. [...] Look at the orators in our republics; as long as they are poor, both state and people can only praise their uprightness; but once they are fattened on the public funds, they conceive a hatred for justice, plan intrigues against the people and attack the democracy. [...]
    Chremylus: Then tell me this, why does all mankind flee from you?
    Poverty: Because I make them better. Children do the very same; they flee from the wise counsels of their fathers. So difficult is it to see one's true interest.
    (tr. O'Neill 1938, Perseus)
    • Plutus, line 535-539 & 548 & 552-554 & 558-561 & 563-564 & 567-570 & 575-578

Thesmophoriazusae (411 BC)[edit]

  • Agathon: One must not try to trick misfortune, but resign oneself to it with good grace.
    (tr. Athen. 1912, vol. 2, p. 278)
    (tr. O'Neill 1938, Perseus)
    • Thesmophoriazusae, line 198-199

  • Chorus: [We] must look beneath every stone, lest it conceal some orator ready to sting us.
    (tr. O'Neill 1938, Perseus)
  • Chorus: Under every stone lurks a politician.
    (tr. in Bartlett 1968, p. 91 or Archive.org)
    • Thesmophoriazusae, line 529-530
    • A play on the Greek proverb "Under every stone lurks a scorpion". In context, "orator" was a synonym for "politician".

Wasps (422 BC)[edit]

  • Sosias: The love of wine is a good man's failing.
    (tr. O'Neill 1938, Perseus)
    • Wasps, line 80

  • Bdelycleon: It is so that you may know only those who nourish you
    (tr. O'Neill 1938, Perseus)
  • Phobokleon: Hunger knows no friend but its feeder.
    (embellished tr. Parker 1962, p. 55)
    • Wasps, line 704


Misattributed[edit]

  • Youth ages, immaturity is outgrown, ignorance can be educated, drunkenness sobered, but stupid lasts forever.
    • Fictional attribution in the movie The Emperor's Club (2002), given by Kevin Kline (as William Hundert);[2] also attributed to Diogenes, without sources;[3] no published occurrences of this statement prior to the movie have been located in any of the Aristophanes Plays or Fragments.
  • [909] Just Cause: You are debauched and shameless.
    [910] Unjust Cause: You have spoken roses of me.
    [910] Just Cause: And a dirty lickspittle.
    [911] Unjust Cause: You crown me with lilies.
    [911] Just Cause: And a parricide.
    [912] Unjust Cause: You don't know that you are sprinkling me with gold.
    [913] Just Cause: Certainly not so formerly, but with lead.
    [914] Unjust Cause: But now this is an ornament to me.
    (tr. Hickie 1853, vol. 1, Perseus — for comparison with tr. below)
  • [909] Philosophy: Why, you Precocious Pederast! You Palpable Pervert!
    [910] Sophistry: Pelt me with roses!
    [910] Philosophy: You Toadstool! O Cesspool!
    [911] Sophistry: Wreath my hairs with lilies!
    [911] Philosophy: Why, you Parricide!
    [912] Sophistry: Shower me with gold! Look, don't you see I welcome your abuse?
    [913] Philosophy: Welcome it, monster? In my day we would have cringed with shame.
    [914] Sophistry: Whereas now we're flattered. Times change. The vices of your age are stylish today.
    (heavily rewritten and embellished tr. Arrowsmith 1962, p. 70)
    • William Arrowsmith (tr.) after Aristophanes, in Clouds, line 914 (our emphasis, citing 909-914)
    • This apocryphal line is found quoted only from the Arrowsmith translation.

  • Philokleon: Let each man exercise the art he knows.
    (tr. Rogers 1909, p. 110)
    • Anonymous ancient proverb, quoted by Aristophanes in Wasps, line 1431
    • Also later found in Plato (Republic 4.423d, 4.433a-d) and Cicero (Tusc. I.18.41)

Sources[edit]

For editions and translations, missing or conflicting information was primarily checked in Walton 2006.
Translations cited above
  • Anon. (tr.) (1812). Birds. — Cf. Various 1812.
  • Arrowsmith, William (tr.) (1962). Aristophanes. The Clouds. University of Michigan Press.
  • Athen. (tr.) (1912). Aristophanes. The Eleven Comedies (2 vol.), vol. 1 (Knights, Acharnians, Peace, Lysistrata, Clouds), vol. 2 (Wasps, Birds, Frogs, Thesmophoriazusae, Ecclesiazusae, Plutus). London: The Athenian Society. [Translator unknown (strangely attributed to Horace Liveright in Walton 2006[4]). Many partial reprints within other eds., esp. O'Neill 1938.] Online Acharnians at Perseus/Tufts
  • Bartlett, John (comp.) & al. (tr., comp., ed.) (... [1855]). Familiar Quotations. Boston: Little, Brown & Co. [mostly]. [Oft-quoted translation of some quotes.] Eds. feat. Aristophanes include: 13th (1955), 14th (1968)
  • Cumberland, Richard (tr.) (1797). Clouds. — Cf. Various 1812.
  • Dillon, Matthew (tr.) (1995). Aristophanes. Frogs. Translated for the Perseus Digital Library,[5] Tufts University. Online at Perseus/Tufts
  • Dunster, Charles (tr.) (1785). Frogs. — Cf. Various 1812.
  • Fielding, Henry (tr.) & Young, William (tr.) (1742). Plutus. — Cf. Various 1812.
  • Fitts, Dudley (tr.) (1955). Aristophanes. The Frogs. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co.
  • Frere, John Hookham (tr.) (1839). Aristophanes. The Birds. Malta: Printed at the Government Press.
  • Goldstein-Jackson, Kevin (comp.) (1983). The Dictionary of Essential Quotations. London: Croom Helm (ISBN 9780389203933) [Oft-quoted translation of some quotes.]
  • Hickie, William James (tr.) (1853). The Comedies of Aristophanes (2 vol.), vol. 1 (Acharnians, Knights, Clouds, Wasps, Peace, Birds), vol. 2 (Lysistrata, Thesmophoriazusae, Frogs, Ecclesiazusae, Plutus). London: H. G. Bohn. Online vol. 1, 2 at Google Books. Online Clouds at Perseus/Tufts
  • Lindsay, Jack (tr.) (1925). Lysistrata by Aristophanes (in English verse, illustrated by Norman Lindsay). Sydney: Fanfrolico Press. Online at Perseus/Tufts
  • Lippmann, Walter (1929). A Preface to Morals. Transaction Publishers (reprint ISBN 0878559078). [Oft-quoted translation of a single quote.]
  • O'Neill, Eugene, Jr. (ed.) (1938). Aristophanes in The Complete Greek Drama, vol. 2. New York: Random House. [Tr. rev. by O'Neill from tr. borrowed from Athen. 1912, except Frogs from Gilbert Murray 1902.] Online Birds, Ecclesiazusae, Knights, Peace, Plutus (Wealth), Thesmophoriazusae (Women at the Thesmophoria), Wasps at Perseus/Tufts
  • Parker, Douglass (tr.) (1962). Aristophanes. The Wasps. University of Michigan Press.
  • Ramage, C. T. (comp.) & al. (tr.) (1864). Beautiful thoughts from Greek authors. Liverpool: E. Howell. "Aristophanes" (p. 39-48). [Oft-quoted translation of some quotes.] Online at Google Books
  • Rogers, Benjamin B. (tr.) (1909). The Wasps of Aristophanes. Cambridge University press.
  • SEA [Sophocles, Evangelinus Apostolides] (1838). A Greek Grammar for the Use of Learners. Hartford: H. Huntington, Junr.; New York: F. J. Huntington & Co. [Oft-quoted translation of some quotes.]
  • Various (tr.) (1812). Comedies of Aristophanes [vol. 1]. London: Printed by A. J. Valpy for Lackington, Allen & Co. Viz: Clouds (tr. Richard Cumberland, 1786/1797), Plutus (tr. Henry Fielding & William Young, 1742), Frogs (tr. Charles Dunster, 1785), Birds (tr. Anon. by "a Member of One of the Universities", 1812)
  • Walton, J. Michael (2006). Found in Translation: Greek Drama in English. Cambridge University Press (ISBN 9780521861106). Appendix: English Translations, "Aristophanes", p. 253-269.
  • Warter, John Wood (tr.) (1830). The Acharnians, Knights, Wasps and Birds of Aristophanes (tr. by "a Graduate of the University of Oxford" [J. W. Warter]). Oxford: Henry Slatter. Online at Google Books

Notes[edit]

  1. The original Anon. 1812 translation was: "You're mistaken; men of sense often learn much from their enemies. Prudence is the best safeguard. This principle cannot be learnt from a friend: but an enemy extorts it immediately. It is from their foes and not their friends, that cities learn the lesson of building high walls and ships of war. And this lesson saves their children, their homes, and their properties." — It received five minor changes in Ramage 1864, chiefly: "often learn from" (was "often learn MUCH from "), "learned" (was "LEARNT"), "from their foes, not" (was "from their foes AND not").
  2. IMDb, "Memorable quotes for The Emperor's Club", Internet Movie Database, www.imdb.com
  3. Two pages attributing it to Diogenes: [1][2]
  4. The Athenian Society translation is by an anonymous translator or group of translators (though there is a "Foreword from the Translator"), and it is solely in Walton's Found in Translation that it is attributed to a "Horace Liveright", to which is also attributed a previous 1898 translation of three Aristophanes plays (both in Walton 2006, p. 255) for apparently the same society (the publication for this one being referenced at Athens instead of London[3]). On the one hand, it was indeed publisher Horace Liveright (1884-1933) who later reprinted the original 1912 British private edition in the U.S. (New York: Horace Liveright Pub., 1928, 1931, etc., stating: "This beautiful translation was originally published by the Athenian Society, London, 1912, for subscribers only. The name of the translator was not stated"[4]); on the other hand, it seems however unusual that this hard-partying U.S. businessman would also be an Ancient Greek scholar working with a London society on translating eleven plays: additional sources thus seem required for this translation attribution.
  5. Faculty resume of "Matthew Dillon, PhD" listing this new translation as made for Perseus.

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