Table of Contents
Literature has been preserved over very long times, and this book is an embodiment of that preservation. The authors and editors of this book present this book in a chronological order that makes the reader read through the whole work. Indeed, this work entails a lot of classical literature that has been preserved over long periods. Modern writers derive their writing from the guidance of classical pieces, and this makes these works have a timeless touch. In fact, the same themes that classical writers addressed are the same themes that continue to rock the modern literary world. This book presents these themes in a manner that shows the interrelationship between the classical and the modern authors. In as much as the styles and times may differ, the two eras have the same concerns. In this book review, the things that differ between the two eras are evident, and the similarities make the works of both eras gems to the lovers of literature.
Diversity in the Works
In this book, the editor has included a wide range of literary materials. This is because the classical authors wrote a variety of works, and they are famous for works such as poetry, drama and critical essays. In fact, most of these authors were the best dramatists, poets and political critiques. These people were also philosophers, and they influenced the leadership during their time. They critiqued such issues as religion and politics, and some of them even got killed because of their views. However, this just proved that they were right, and their views are taken as true even in the modern society. In fact, their teachings, beliefs and concerns are recorded in history and literature, and they are even quoted in some portions of the law of many countries. These works including drama and poetry have also been adapted for modern plays and film, and this helps preserve these works even in the modern society that is different from the classical society (Knox, 1993). However, as expected, various critiques have risen to claim that these adaptations kill the originality and the aesthetics of the original works.
The author of this book concentrates on Aristophanes. Thus, the style used by Aristophanes is evident throughout the book. During this time, drama was written in verse, not prose. Therefore, all the drama and comedies of this time had a very poetic texture. In fact, some of the conversations among characters in the plays and comedies of this time are very complex, and it takes lots of time to comprehend. Thus, a person needs to refer to some earlier utterances to understand the concerns of the ‘present’ moment in the play. However, this gives these works a lot of artistic appeal, and works that were produced during this time are said to convey a lot of artistic genius (Knox, 1993). The author of this book, Bernard Knox, reveals the genius of these works by including extracts and full works of these authors in this anthology. This makes the reader feel a connection with these works.
Aristophanes, Old Comedy
The editors of this book start by giving the works of Aristophanes. This is because Aristophanes is considered the pioneer or the father of comedy. His works show that other authors may have borrowed from him, and this gives him credit as the father of this genre. Critiques and scholars of literature and history have analyzed the works of many Athenian authors, and they have concluded that Aristophanes works present the life of Athenians more vividly than any other author. Thus, his works provide a very detailed history of Athenians, and the motivations that he had when writing these works are very evident. In fact, some historians have said that the ancient (classical) Greek literature and history can never be understood minus Aristophanes’ works. Thus, Aristophanes, even in the modern times, has continued to be a legend in the literary and historical world (Knox, 1993).
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However, the authors of this book clarify that only 11 plays authored by Aristophanes exist. This is because the library in which the works were preserved were destroyed, and, among the forty plays (by Aristophanes), only 11 survive; the surviving parts and sections of the other works cannot be compiled since they are abstract sections that lack coherence. These authors say that there were also some works of other literary giants in the classical literature that did not survive the destruction. Such authors include Euculus and Critinus. Therefore, the editors of this anthology seem to be telling readers that there are lots of things that are unknown about the Greek literature. This is because the views that exist are limited to some very few people, and this leaves some room for error when analyzing these works. Bernard Knox derives a lot of credibility to the readers since he makes this fact known.
Aristophanes uses a variety of styles in this work. These styles are common to the people in his time, and this makes him use diverse styles that will make people understand. Bernard Knox says that Aristophanes was very sensitive to the needs of the people, and his works were meant to have a functional value in the society. He used a lot of performers (chorus), and these performers were meant to represent members of the society. In most cases, these people came from different backgrounds (rich and poor; educated and uneducated), and they were expected to wear similar costumes. Therefore, people with different social affiliations were connected. The rich and the poor were brought to the same level. Therefore, this style united people, and it attracted a lot of people from various backgrounds. Evidently, this style attracted a lot of people, and Aristophanes theaters were always full. Aristophanes also used very few characters in the plays ad comedies, and many parts were recited by the chorus. Therefore, people could participate in these recitations (if they knew the words). It also made people feel that the ideas in the plays were the ideas of many people; thus people understood the message transmitted.
In these plays and comedies, the chorus used to perform various roles. These roles were expected to gain the support or denial from the audience, and the audience felt the need to watch these plays to the end. First, the chorus could act in hostility towards the hero or the heroin. In such cases, the audience would feel sympathetic towards the hero (in), and this would make the audience active in anticipation of the resolution (Knox, 1993). The chorus could also be hostile to the hero (in) because of a bad deed that the hero (in) does. In such cases, the audience seems to support the chorus in the admission of justice; they want the hero (in) to be punished for something wrong that he does.
The chorus, in Aristophanes’ plays, could also play the role of contestants to the hero. In these cases, the hero and the chorus are in need of a common thing, and only one group can have such a thing. For instance, the chorus and the hero could be competing to win the heart of a lady in marriage or love. In these instances, the chorus tends to act in all means possible to deny the hero the chance of getting this lady. The audience is also involved in that it supports either the hero or the chorus. Presented with these choices, there is also a division among the audience, and this becomes a competition, not only between hero and the chorus, but even among the audience. The resolution, in most cases, leaves one group disgruntled, but something happens to the losing group, and the conflict is resolved (Knox, 1993).
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The chorus can also act to reconcile the hero (in) with some issues in the play. For instance, the hero could have faced some injustice, and he wants to take revenge on the offenders. In most cases, these offenders are close friends, members of the family or people in power. These people have used their positions of influence to harden the life of the main character (hero), and the hero feels that there is a need for revenge. For instance, a king may steal the wife of the hero, and the hero feels that he must take revenge. In such a case, the chorus tends to guide the hero towards a resolution that will benefit the hero. The chosen method can also cause the downfall of the king without having the hero to blame.
Aristophanes, as reflected in this book, uses a lot of fantasy in his works. The only work that does not reflect this fantasy is Lyristrata. Most of Aristophanes works have a setting that is not earthly, and this makes these works seem abnormal and unrealistic. For instance, Aristophanes makes his characters go in to the clouds; this is unrealistic.in this way, Aristophanes was able to criticize things with which people were not comfortable. People were taken to some lands of fantasy, and this ensured that people viewed these episodes for a distant place, and they only reflected these after the play or comedy was gone. This method became very popular in plays and comedy, and many authors adopted this style; they were not criticized, and they could deny allegations that they were referring to certain people in these plays. This style also enabled authors (playwrights) employ satire in their work, and people could not incriminate authors in such cases.
Aristophanes (and other authors) also used actual people as fictionalized characters in their works (Knox, 1993). They fictionalized these people so that people can derive fun from this fictionalization. In these cases, according to Knox, playwrights have the power to control the method in which they (authors) handle their material. This book gives the instances that authors used real characters (but fictionalized them). Aristophanes used Euripides (as a fictionalized character) in his play, and Euripides was alive during this time. In most cases, Aristophanes fictionalized people to make fun of their lives. For instance, he used to make fun of the rich using this style; in doing this, he lowered the rich to the level of other people. He used feature such as exaggerated body parts (especially the stomach) to realize such effects.
In this book, Knox has selected works that have similar themes that are relevant at all times. For instance, feminism and the power of women I the society is addressed in Lyristrata. In this play, men are engaged in war, but women remain to guard the homes. Lyristrata feels that this war is wasting a lot of funds, and she seeks for a method of ending this war. She suggests that the women from the two warring societies should deny their men sex, and this will make these men give up the war. The women agree to Lyristrata’s suggestion, and a cold war between men and women begin. When men return from war, women refuse to ‘warm’ their beds, and the men become very troubled. Women from both societies are engaged in this war, and men seek for means of ending the war; the faster they do this, the faster their sexual needs will be fulfilled. Therefore, they (men) are forced to cut short the war in favor of sexual pleasure. This shows that women have the power to transform their societies. In most societies (in the modern days), people conduct debates that seek to include women in running the society; they want to end the patriarchal system that has been followed for a very long time. In the same play, the theme of unity is expressed by the fact that women from the two warring societies are united towards the same course (Knox, 1993).
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The themes highlighted in this book also reflect issues that have continued to face people since creation. The most popular theme is the theme of love. Aristophanes addresses this theme in these works, and the poems and plays in this book reflect the theme of love. The authors show that love is controlling, and it makes people want to use all means possible to look for love. In fact, love is also universal since the poor, rich, powerful and powerless all want to have love. A lot of conflicts, in this anthology, also arise because people are denied love. However, love also acts as a unifying factor since it makes people live in harmony. Societies that have love are reflected as prosperous, and the authors (in this anthology) attribute love to many (good) things in the society. Other themes that are addressed include politics, betrayal, oppression and other related themes that are prevalent in most societies.