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In the AcliarnianS) Aristophanes exhorts his countrymen to peace. An Athenian named Dicae-opolis makes a separate treaty with Sparta for himself and his family, and is exhibited in the full enjoyment of its blessings, whilst Lamachns, as the representative of the war party, is introduced in the want of common necessaries, and suffering from cold, and snow, and wounds. The Knights was directed against Cleon, whose power at this time was so great, that no one was bold enough to make a mask to represent his features ; so that Aristophanes performed the character himself, with his face smeared with wine-lees. Cleon is the confidential steward of Demus, the impersonation of the Athenian people, who is represented as almost in his dotage, but at the same time cunning, suspicious, ungovernable, and tyrannical. His slaves, Nicias and Demosthenes, determine to rid themselves of the insolence of Cleon by raising up a rival in the person of a sausage-seller, by which the poet ridicules the mean occupation of the demagogues. This man completely triumphs over Cleon in his own arts of lying, stealing, fawning, and blustering. Having thus gained the day, he suddenly becomes a model of ancient Athenian excellence, and by boiling Demus in a magic cauldron, restores him to a condition worthy of the companionship of Aristeides and Miltiades. (Eq. 1322.)
In the Clouds^ Aristophanes attacks the sophistical principles at their source., and selects as their representative Socrates, whom he depicts in the most odious light. The selection of Socrates for this purpose is doubtless to be accounted for by the supposition, that Aristophanes observed the great philosopher from a distance only, while his own unphilosophical turn of mind prevented him from entering into Socrates' merits both as a teacher and a practiser of morality; and by the fact, that Socrates was an innovator, the friend of Euripides, the tutor of Alcibiades, and pupil of Archelaus; and that there was much in his appearance and habits in the highest degree ludicrous. The philosopher, who wore no under garments, and the same upper robe in winter and summer,—who generally went barefoot, and appears to have possessed one pair of dress-shoes which lasted him for life (Bockh, Economy of Athens, i. p. 150), who used to stand for hours in a public place in a fit of abstraction—to say nothing of his snub nose, and extraordinary face and figure—could hardly expect to escape the license of the old comedy. The invariably speculative turn which he gave to the conversation, his bare acquiescence in the stories of Greek mythology, which Aristophanes would think it dangerous even to subject to inquiry (see Plat. Phaedrus, p. 299), had certainly produced an unfavourable opinion of Socrates in the minds of many, and explain his being set down by Aristophanes as an archsophist, and represented even as a thief. In the Clouds, he is described as corrupting a young man named Pheidippides, who is wasting his father's money by an insane passion for horses, and is sent to the subtlety-shop (</>poj/rt(r-rrfpiov} of Socrates and Chaerephon to be still further set free from moral restraint, and particularly to acquire the needful accomplishment of cheating his creditors. In this spendthrift youth it is scarcely possible not to recognise Alcibiades, not only from his general character and connexion with the Sophists, but also from more particular
traits, as allusions to his TpauAioyios, or inability to articulate certain letters (Nub. 1381 ; Plut. Ale. p. 19 2), and to his fancy for horse-breeding and driving. (Satyrus, ap. Athen. xii. p. 534.) Aristophanes would be prevented from introducing him by name either here or in the Birds, from fear of the violent measures which Alcibiades took against the comic poets. The instructions of Socrates teach Pheidippides not only to defraud his creditors, but also to beat his father, and disown the authority of the gods ; and the play ends by the father's preparations to burn the philosopher and his whole establishment. The hint given towards the end, of the propriety of prosecuting him, was acted on twenty years afterwards, and Aristophanes was believed to have contributed to the death of Socrates, as the charges brought against him before the court of justice express the substance of those contained in the Clouds. (Plat. Apol. Soc. p. 18, &c.) The Clouds, though perhaps its author's masterpiece, met with a complete failure in the contest for prizes, probably owing to the intrigues of Alcibiades ; nor was it more successful when altered for a second representation, if indeed the alterations were ever completed, which Silvern denies. The play, as we have it, contains the parabasis of the second edition.
The Wasps is the pendant to the Knights. As in the one the poet had attacked the sovereign assembly, so here he aims his battery at the courts of justice, the other stronghold of party violence and the power of demagogues. This play furnished Racine with the idea of Les Plaideurs. The Peace is a return to the subject of the Acharnians, and points out forcibly the miseries of the Peloponnesian war, in order to stop which Trygaeus, the hero of the play, ascends to heaven on a dung-beetle's back, where he finds the god of war pounding the Greek states in a mortar. With the assistance of a large party of friends equally desirous to check thic proceeding, he succeeds in dragging up Peace herself from a well in which she is imprisoned, and finally marries one of her attendant nymphs. The play is full of humour, but neither it nor the Wasps is among the poet's greater works.
Six years now elapse during which no plays are preserved to us. The object of the Ampliiaraus and the Birds, which appeared after this interval, was to discourage the disastrous Sicilian expedition. The former was called after one of the seven chiefs against Thebes, remarkable for prophesying ill-luck to the expedition, and therein corresponding to Nicias. The object of the Birds has been a matter of much dispute ; many persons, as for instance Schlegel, consider it a mere fanciful piece of buffoonery — a supposition hardly credible, when we remember that every one of the plays of Aristophanes has a distinct purpose connected with the history of the time. The question seems to have been set at rest by S'uvern, whose theory, to say the least, is supported by the very strongest circumstantial evidence. The Birds — the Athenian people — are persuaded to build a city in the clouds by Peisthetaerus (a character combining traits of Alcibiades and Gorgias, mixed perhaps with some from other Sophists), and who is attended by a sort of Sancho Panza, one Euelpides, designed to represent the credulous young Athenians (ei3eA7n'5es, Time. vi. 24). The city, to be called NetyeXoicoKKvyia (Cloudcuckootown), is to occupy the whole horizon, and to cut off the gods from all connexion with