SAMPLE ESSAY Prompt 2: The Argumentative Strategies of Aristophanes and Plato In the writings of Aristophanes’ Clouds and Plato’s Apology , Socrates is satirically attacked and rationally defended respectively. While Aristophanes’ condemnation of Socrates’ teachings and the sophist philosophy proves effective in persuading the jury to sentence Socrates to death, the more persuasive of the two arguments is Socrates’ defense. The two argumentative styles of Aristophanes and Plato are on opposite ends of the spectrum. Aristophanes employs humorous exaggerations of sophist teachings to denounce Socrates, whereas the defense of Socrates uses reason to separate himself from the sophist philosophy and to try to win over the jury. By comparing the two works, it is clear that Socrates’ defense is the more effective argument, but Aristophanes’ slanderous statements, portrayal of Socrates, and several external opposing factors end up being too much for Socrates to overcome. In Plato’s Apology , Socrates’ account can be described as conversational and quite direct. Socrates outlines his argumentative strategy in his initial dialogue, hoping that addressing the audience in a plain and honest fashion would open their willingness to listen to his defense. He says, “From me you will hear the whole truth, though not, … expressed in embroidered and stylized phrases like theirs, but things spoken at random and expressed in the first words that come to mind,” (17b 7, 17c 2) in order to lower the audience’s guard after they had been cautioned that they should be careful of deceit by an accomplished speaker by Socrates’ accusers. Socrates then denies the charges of impiety (“Socrates is guilty of wrongdoing in that he busies himself studying things in the sky and below the earth,” [19b 4-6]) and the corruption of youth (“He makes the worse into the stronger argument, and he teaches these same things to others,” [19b 6-7]) that have been brought forth against him. He reasons that his accusers have been his critics from the start, and therefore will be difficult to argue against because of their “malicious and slanderous” persuasion of the Athenian people for a long time (18d 1). By informing his audience of his plea and retort against his critics, Socrates is able to open up his audience before delivering his statements. In this format, Socrates is also able to approach each accusation and logically argue against it. In order to refute the accusation of impiety, Socrates states that it is not true that he justifies natural phenomena with science rather than with the will of the gods. In fact, he does not have that knowledge nor does he care much for it, “A Socrates swinging about there, saying he
Aristophanes is considered the most accomplished of the Greek comic poets, and his place in the Western canon is immovable. His surviving eleven plays are mainstays of the stage, scholarly discourse, and literature and theatre courses in colleges and universities.
Aristophanes was born around 450 BC to Phillippus and Zenodora. He was from the deme of Cydathenaeum, born in Attica near Athens. There is very little known about his life; what scholars have gleaned comes from his work and the writing of other poets and philosopher. Plato portrayed him as a raucous man in his Symposium, and he has been celebrated for his keen, biting wit and satire, as well as for his intellectual prowess.
Aristophanes grew up in a time of immense Athenian power, prosperity, and artistic achievement. The Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta, which began in 431 BCE and lasted for about 25 years, profoundly affected him. As Harold Bloom wrote, "the spirit of his work reflects both the former predominance and later reestablishment of Athens. On the one hand, his work is an expression of freedom and exuberance, of democratic and cultural self-confidence...on the other hand, his work also reflects a time in which Athens' self-confidence is being tested and threatened with enormous conflict." He often used actual people and events in his works, and was renowned for his social and political commentary. His work is also highly crass and even obscene in terms of its humor centered on sex and bodily functions.
Many of his plays are examples of Old Comedy, while others near the end of his life are classified as Middle Comedy. His first play (now lost) was The Banqueters, written in 427 BCE. Babylonians, from 426 BCE, caused controversy at the Great Dionysia (an annual festival to honor Dionysus), when the demagogue Cleon criticized Aristophanes for lampooning the city's magistrates before foreigners. Although Athenians enjoyed freedom of speech, Aristophanes was indeed often the target of hostility on behalf of politicians. Never daunted, Aristophanes' two plays, The Acharnians and Knights, satirized the situation with Cleon and resulted in prizes for the poet.
Clouds (423 BCE) and Wasps (422 BCE) showed Aristophanes at the height of his talent, as he brings intellectuals, educators, Socrates, and the Athenian jury system under his microscope. He is justly lauded for Birds (414 BCE), a fantastical utopian play that probes the current state of affairs in Athens. Other plays also dealt with the political situation in Athens; the famed Lysistrata (411 BCE) featured the women of Sparta and Athens using sex to preclude their husbands from participating in the war. Frogs (405 BCE) concerns poetry, along with Aristophanes' belief that the deceased poet Euripides was more talented than anyone living at the time. After several decades of awards and success, Aristophanes was renowned enough to play around with the structures of drama, and was thus celebrated for his improvisations and innovations.
Aristophanes died around 388 BCE. While 11 plays survive, there are about 32 lost to history, and many surviving fragments and citations.