5 Satirical Playwrights Who Lampooned Socrates

Source: Britannica

Source: Britannica

The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.
— Socrates

Socrates, a classical Greek philosopher renowned for his contributions to the field of ethics and Western philosophy, was actually often the butt of jokes in the satirical plays of his contemporaries.

Short and stocky, with a snub nose and bulging eyes, there was no mistaking him for a handsome Olympian god. While his looks did not win him any brownie points, it was really his teachings, public criticisms and humiliation of opponents in contests of wisdom that got him into trouble. Socrates challenged conventional Greek wisdom and its value of wealth, physical beauty and past glories. Some admired Socrates for his break from the status quo but just as many felt that his teachings threatened their way of life.

What little that is known about Socrates comes down to us through the writings of his pupils Plato and Xenophon, who portrayed him the most favorably. Aristophanes, a comic playwright at the time, was not so kind; he harshly lampooned the philosopher in his play The Clouds.

Aristophanes

Possessing the lofty titles of "Father of Comedy" and "Prince of Ancient Comedy," this comic playwright of ancient Athens had a way with words that inspired fear amongst his influential contemporaries. His unmatched powers of ridicule could really cut apart someone's reputation.

Only eleven of his forty plays survived the centuries in nearly complete form, one of them being The Clouds, notorious for its caricature of Socrates. It wasn't unusual for Aristophanes to target radical new influences and ideas in Athenian society, but Plato blames the play for contributing to the trial and execution of Socrates.

Aristophanes is the only extant dramatist of Greek "Old Comedy," which is why we know very little about Socrates' other lampooners from the same period.  

Callias

Callias got the nickname "Schoenion," which means "cordage," because his father was a rope maker. Other than that, all we really know is that he wrote the Alphabet Tragedy and these other plays: Aigyptios (The Egyptian), Atalante Batrakhoi (Frogs), Kyklopes (The Cyclopes), Pedetai (Men in Shackles) and Scholazontes (Men at Leisure).

Allegedly, he lampooned Socrates, too.  

Eupolis

A rival of Aristophanes, Eupolis' works of satire criticized the wealthy demagogues of his time. He also attacked Socrates, which seems to be what any playwright worth his salt during that time was doing.

Telecleides

Six titles and a few fragments is all that remains of Telecleides plays.

Ameipsias

Ameipsias beat the "Father of Comedy" twice in dramatic contests, and his play Konnos had the same subject and aim as Aristophanes' The Clouds. And of course, he used it as a vehicle to lampoon Socrates. 

To learn more about the classical Greek philosopher Socrates, check out the episode about him on Remarkable Lives. Tragic Deaths, a Parcast Network podcast series.

New episodes for Remarkable Lives. Tragic Deaths will resume January 4th.

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