Old Comedy (archaia) is the first period of the ancient Greek comedy, according to the canonical division by the Alexandrian grammarians. The most important Old Comic playwright is Aristophanes, whose works, with their pungent political satire and abundance of sexual and scatological innuendo, effectively define the genre today. Aristophanes lampooned the most important personalities and institutions of his time, as can be seen, for example, in his scurrilous portrayal of Socrates in The Clouds, and in his racy anti-war farce Lysistrata. However he was only one of a large number of comic poets working in Athens in the late 5th century BC, his most important contemporary rivals being Hermippus and Eupolis.
The Old Comedy subsequently influenced later European writers such as Rabelais, Cervantes, Swift, and Voltaire. In particular, they copied the technique of disguising a political attack as buffoonery. The legacy of Old Comedy can be seen today in political satires such as Dr. Strangelove and in the televised buffoonery of Monty Python and Saturday Night Live.
The earliest Athenian comedy, from the 480s to 440s BC, is almost entirely lost. The most important poets of the period were Magnes, whose work survives only in a few fragments of dubious authenticity, and Cratinus, who took the prize at the City Dionysia probably sometime around 450 BC. Although no complete plays by Cratinus are preserved, they are known through hundreds of fragments.
- Mastromarco (1994) p.12
- Seth Lerer, Comedy through the Ages (recorded lecture series), Springfield, Virginia: The Teaching Company, 2000.
- Barrett, David (1964) The Frogs and Other Plays Penguin Books
- Barrett, David and Alan Sommerstein (eds)(2003) The Birds and Other plays Penguin Classics
- Mastromarco, Giuseppe (1994) Introduzione a Aristofane (Sesta edizione: Roma-Bari 2004). ISBN 88-420-4448-2