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 daring political commentary and abundance of sexual innuendo, effectively define the genre today. Aristophanes satirized and lampooned the most prominent 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. Aristophanes was only one of a large number of comic poets, however, working in Athens in the late 5th century BC; his biggest rivals were Hermippus and Eupolis.
The Old Comedy subsequently influenced later European writers such as François Rabelais, Miguel de Cervantes, Jonathan Swift, and Voltaire. They took particular inspiration from Aristophanes' disguising of political attacks as buffoonery. Old Comedy displays similarities to modern-day political satires such as Dr. Strangelove (1964) and 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.