We tend to think of the Greeks as big time intellectuals and some of them were, but most of them were like you and me. That is, they liked stuff that was funny, stuff they could relate to, and stuff that meshed with their experience of life.
So when we talk about Greek plays you have to realize that they were written for the masses and are completely accessible to modern readers. There is nothing more lowbrow than the Greek comedies. That is not to say that they don’t have poignant lessons for our lives, they do, but they do it with satire and humor–kinda like Saturday Night Live.
The Knights by Aristophanes
Give a go at one of the Greek plays. We’ve re-written a play by Aristophanes called The Knights. It’s a political satire lambasting the elected leader of the city of Athens, a guy named Creon. According to Aristophanes, Creon was a liar, a usurper, a cheat, and he siphoned money off the public funds for his own use. Apparently part of Creon’s plan was to keep most of the population of Athens on the dole so they would keep electing him year after year. If that sounds eerily like our modern day politicians then you’ll see why this play is still relevant and entertaining today.
Read our version, simplified, shortened and in prose. The first link will take you to the play written with modern names inserted in place of the ancient Greek names. The second link will take you to the play where we’ve left blanks for you to fill in modern day political figure’s names. This will give you a real feel for how it would have been to sit in the amphitheater during the Dionysian Festival watching this play and knowing that President Creon himself is sitting in the first row. Both versions leave space on each of seven pages to draw your own illustrations.
The Knights (with modern names)
The Knights (with blanks to fill in modern politicians)
Older kids, high school and adults, will not find the original play (translated into English) too difficult. It’s also short; you can read it in an hour easy.
After reading don’t forget to discuss the play. You get nothing but entertainment if you don’t take a hard look at what Aristophanes really was trying to get across. (By the way, it didn’t work. Creon kept getting elected over and over. The public absolutely loved that guy.)
- The Dionysian festival was a once-a-year theater contest in Athens. To win it was the greatest of honors. Learn more about it.
- Aristophanes was a phenom in the world of Greek playwrights. He won his first Dionysian festival when he was about seventeen. The Knights was entered when he was twenty and it won first place too. Learn more about Aristophanes.
- What are Comedy and Tragedy in terms of the Greek plays? Look up the definitions.
- Are there any modern movies or plays you’ve seen that use satire to comment on politics or society?