Western Canon, A Lifetime's Reading
Podcasts: La Trobe University's course on Ancient Greece
Brow: In Ancient Greece, most of this was pretty low brow, but nowadays it's high brow.
Summary: Aristophanes was the Adam Sandler of Ancient Greece, writing slapstick comedy plays for the masses. Yes, most of them are on serious themes, like Athenian politics and intellectuals, and yes, The Clouds may have been responsible for getting Socrates executed, but it's also about a popular, athletic teenager who's into fast horses and refuses to go to 'nerd school.' His dad goes instead, and gets kicked out for masturbating when he's supposed to be lying there meditating.
What I liked about it: The Birds, which is about two friends who get sick of living in Athens and convince a former king who now lives as a bird to build a whole bird city in the sky for them, is pretty good because it's not about arcane political machinations and you can imagine people today feeling the same. Lysistrata, which is about the women of Greece staging a sex strike in order to force an end to the Pelopennesian war, is also pretty funny, especially the scene where some of the ladies get horny and keep trying to make all these excuses for why they need to go home. Finally, Thesmophoriazusae or more easily pronounced The Parliament of Women, where the women go off to a festival by themselves. The playwright Euripides, worried they're talking about them behind his back, sends a friend in disguised as a woman to spy on them. Inside, he discovers a democracy, complete with voting, committees and action plans, debating how to punish Euripides for his negative portrayals of women in his plays. Of course the women quickly discover the cross-dresser and arrest him, only agreeing to release him when Euripides promises to stop treating them so horribly in his works.
What I didn't like about it: I read the Bantam Classics edition, which not only uses anachronistic words like hamburger, it also translates all the parts for foreigners into a weird form of Scots English. Not only that, it completely lacks footnotes, so when someone or something unfamiliar is mentioned, not that surprising in a 2000 year old book of plays, you either have to turn to Wikipedia to figure it out or just skip over that bit.