I read the Penguin Classics translation of Wasps by Aristophanes the other day. It’s a satirical play about how an older generation of Athenians who fought in the Peloponnesian War were taken in by a pandering demagogue called Cleon. To grasp what’s happening and get the jokes, you have to know a little bit about the context of Athenian politics at the time and how the jury system worked. But all of that is explained in a very quick note at the beginning of the edition.
The point of this note though is that it’s funny, really funny! It’s broad humour, some of it aimed as sly political aside, some of it just laughing at a slapstick servant in the mould of Blackadder’s Baldrick, at the foolishness of the old jurors. There’s a real revival of the classics being democratised in things like Mythos by Stephen Fry and reimagined in things like Circe by Madeline Miller. There was a lot of buzz around Emily Wilson’s new translation of The Odyssey, for its readability and relevance. I think there’s a place for a lot of these modern translations of Greek comedies to enter more popular circulation too. I would have loved this in school.