Aaron Poochigian and the Comedy of Aristophanes

Mark Haskell Smith in the Los Angeles Review of Books:

I have said fuck off to the most powerful man in the world. Maybe you did too. It was on Twitter, which gave me some distance, but I stand by my word choice. It was the right thing to do.

Imagine having the ability to do more than that, to not just speak rudely to the powerful, but to publicly humiliate them in front of the nation. We can’t really do that now, the public sphere is too diverse — bifurcated and branched out in every possible direction — but 2,500 years ago in Athens you could. Citizens had the right of parrhesia, a kind of radical free speech that allowed them to share their thoughts on any subject or any person, and no one used it more effectively than the comic playwrights of the period.

Of the many comedic playwrights active in Athens in the fifth century BCE, only the work of Aristophanes has survived relatively intact, which is kind of a fluky miracle given the ravages of time and the power of the Catholic Church. But we are lucky his ancient comedies did survive, because, as classics scholar and poet Aaron Poochigian’s new translation, Aristophanes: Four Plays: Clouds, Birds, Lysistrata, Women of the Assembly, demonstrates, they are still vibrantly alive and necessary.

More here.