Critical Evaluation

If Plutus had not survived, a vital link in the history of Greek comedy would have been lost. So different is this play from the other surviving works of Aristophanes, one might suppose it to be an aberration or to have been written by a different author. In fact, evidence suggests that Aristophanes wrote other works similar to Plutus, which was presented in 388 b.c.e. The unusual features of this play are also not explained away by the fact that the work was written when Aristophanes was approximately sixty. The poet went on to write two more plays, now lost. Plutus may be regarded as the sole surviving example of the new comic genre referred to as Middle Comedy. The term distinguishes this play from the other surviving plays of Aristophanes, all of which are representative of the style and concerns of Old Attic Comedy. On the other hand, Plutus is not to be classed with New Comedy, which is best represented by Menander (c. 342-291 b.c.e.).

What distinguishes Plutus—and thus the genre of Middle Comedy—from other plays of Aristophanes is a general retreat from direct political or personal satire, an absence of crude obscenity, and a curtailing or complete omission of some of the traditional elements of Old Comedy, such as choral lyrics. The beginnings of some of these changes are apparent in Ekklesiazousai (392 b.c.e.?; Ecclesiazusae, 1837). Other features of Plutus are not so common in Aristophanes’ earlier work, such as the use of moral allegory with personified abstractions (the Greek word ploutos means “wealth”), the focus on social interaction that suggests the comedy of manners, which would develop later, and passionate, unapologetic idealism. Also different from Aristophanes’ earlier plays is the lack of topical controversy in Plutus: Virtually no person could object to the central concept of Plutus, that Wealth is a blind god and therefore may favor scoundrels and abandon good people to the misery of poverty.

Plutus is not devoid of humor. Although verbal jesting is reduced in the play in comparison to earlier works, it contains some of the irrelevancy and situational humor of the earlier plays. For example, the antics that Cario reports from the temple of Asclepius,...

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