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- The Acharnians - 1/12 -


THE ACHARNIANS by Aristophanes

[Translator uncredited. Footnotes have been retained because they provide the meanings of Greek names, terms and ceremonies and explain puns and references otherwise lost in translation. Occasional Greek words in the footnotes have not been included. Footnote numbers, in brackets, start anew at [1] for each piece of dialogue, and each footnote follows immediately the dialogue to which it refers, labeled thus: f[1].

INTRODUCTION

This is the first of the series of three Comedies--'The Acharnians,' 'Peace' and 'Lysistrata'--produced at intervals of years, the sixth, tenth and twenty-first of the Peloponnesian War, and impressing on the Athenian people the miseries and disasters due to it and to the scoundrels who by their selfish and reckless policy had provoked it, the consequent ruin of industry and, above all, agriculture, and the urgency of asking Peace. In date it is the earliest play brought out by the author in his own name and his first work of serious importance. It was acted at the Lenaean Festival, in January, 426 B.C., and gained the first prize, Cratinus being second.

Its diatribes against the War and fierce criticism of the general policy of the War party so enraged Cleon that, as already mentioned, he endeavoured to ruin the author, who in 'The Knights' retorted by a direct and savage personal attack on the leader of the democracy.

The plot is of the simplest. Dicaeopolis, an Athenian citizen, but a native of Acharnae, one of the agricultural demes and one which had especially suffered in the Lacedaemonian invasions, sick and tired of the ill-success and miseries of the War, makes up his mind, if he fails to induce the people to adopt his policy of "peace at any price," to conclude a private and particular peace of his own to cover himself, his family, and his estate. The Athenians, momentarily elated by victory and over-persuaded by the demagogues of the day--Cleon and his henchmen, refuse to hear of such a thing as coming to terms. Accordingly Dicaeopolis dispatches an envoy to Sparta on his own account, who comes back presently with a selection of specimen treaties in his pocket. The old man tastes and tries, special terms are arranged, and the play concludes with a riotous and uproarious rustic feast in honour of the blessings of Peace and Plenty.

Incidentally excellent fun is poked at Euripides and his dramatic methods, which supply matter for so much witty badinage in several others of our author's pieces.

Other specially comic incidents are: the scene where the two young daughters of the famished Megarian are sold in the market at Athens as suck[l]ing-pigs--a scene in which the convenient similarity of the Greek words signifying a pig and the 'pudendum muliebre' respectively is utilized in a whole string of ingenious and suggestive 'double entendres' and ludicrous jokes; another where the Informer, or Market-Spy, is packed up in a crate as crockery and carried off home by the Boeotian buyer.

The drama takes its title from the Chorus, composed of old men of Acharnae.

DRAMATIS PERSONAE

DICAEOPOLIS HERALD AMPHITHEUS AMBASSADORS PSEUDARTABAS THEORUS WIFE OF DICAEOPOLIS DAUGHTER OF DICAEOPOLIS EURIPIDES CEPHISOPHON, servant of Euripides LAMACHUS ATTENDANT OF LAMACHUS A MEGARIAN MAIDENS, daughters of the Megarian A BOEOTIAN NICARCHUS A HUSBANDMAN A BRIDESMAID AN INFORMER MESSENGERS CHORUS OF ACHARNIAN ELDERS

SCENE: The Athenian Ecclesia on the Pnyx; afterwards Dicaeopolis' house in the country.

DICAEOPOLIS[1] (alone) What cares have not gnawed at my heart and how few have been the pleasures in my life! Four, to be exact, while my troubles have been as countless as the grains of sand on the shore! Let me see! of what value to me have been these few pleasures? Ah! I remember that I was delighted in soul when Cleon had to disgorge those five talents;[2] I was in ecstasy and I love the Knights for this deed; 'it is an honour to Greece.'[3] But the day when I was impatiently awaiting a piece by Aeschylus,[4] what tragic despair it caused me when the herald called, "Theognis,[5] introduce your Chorus!" Just imagine how this blow struck straight at my heart! On the other hand, what joy Dexitheus caused me at the musical competition, when he played a Boeotian melody on the lyre! But this year by contrast! Oh! what deadly torture to hear Chaeris[6] perform the prelude in the Orthian mode![7] --Never, however, since I began to bathe, has the dust hurt my eyes as it does to-day. Still it is the day of assembly; all should be here at daybreak, and yet the Pnyx[8] is still deserted. They are gossiping in the marketplace, slipping hither and thither to avoid the vermilioned rope.[9] The Prytanes[10] even do not come; they will be late, but when they come they will push and fight each other for a seat in the front row. They will never trouble themselves with the question of peace. Oh! Athens! Athens! As for myself, I do not fail to come here before all the rest, and now, finding myself alone, I groan, yawn, stretch, break wind, and know not what to do; I make sketches in the dust, pull out my loose hairs, muse, think of my fields, long for peace, curse town life and regret my dear country home,[11] which never told me to 'buy fuel, vinegar or oil'; there the word 'buy,' which cuts me in two, was unknown; I harvested everything at will. Therefore I have come to the assembly fully prepared to bawl, interrupt and abuse the speakers, if they talk of anything but peace. But here come the Prytanes, and high time too, for it is midday! As I foretold, hah! is it not so? They are pushing and fighting for the front seats.

f[1] A name invented by Aristophanes and signifying 'a just citizen.' f[2] Clean had received five talents from the islanders subject to Athens, on condition that he should get the tribute payable by them reduced; when informed of this transaction, the knights compelled him to return the money. f[3] A hemistich borrowed from Euripides' 'Telephus.' f[4] The tragedies of Aeschylus continued to be played even after the poet's death, which occurred in 436 B.C., ten years before the production of 'The Acharnians.' f[5] A tragic poet, whose pieces were so devoid of warmth and life that he was nicknamed [the Greek for] 'snow.' f[6] A bad musician, frequently ridiculed by Aristophanes; he played both the lyre and the flute. f[7] A lively and elevated method. f[8] A hill near the Acropolis, where the Assemblies were held. f[9] Several means were used to force citizens to attend the assemblies; the shops were closed; circulation was only permitted in those streets which led to the Pnyx; finally, a rope covered with vermilion was drawn round those who dallied in the Agora (the market-place), and the late-comers, ear- marked by the imprint of the rope, were fined. f[10] Magistrates who, with the Archons and the Epistatae, shared the care of holding and directing the assemblies of the people; they were fifty in number. f[11] The Peloponnesian War had already, at the date of the representation of 'The Acharnians,' lasted five years, 431-426 B.C.; driven from their lands by the successive Lacedaemonian invasions, the people throughout the country had been compelled to seek shelter behind the walls of Athens.

HERALD Move on up, move on, move on, to get within the consecrated area.[1]

f[1] Shortly before the meeting of the Assembly, a number of young pigs were immolated and a few drops of their blood were sprinkled on the seats of the Prytanes; this sacrifice was in honour of Ceres.

AMPHITHEUS Has anyone spoken yet?

HERALD Who asks to speak?

AMPHITHEUS I do.

HERALD Your name?

AMPHITHEUS Amphitheus.

HERALD You are no man.[1]

f[1] The name, Amphitheus, contains [the Greek] word [for] 'god.'

AMPHITHEUS No! I am an immortal! Amphitheus was the son of Ceres and Triptolemus; of him was born Celeus. Celeus wedded Phaenerete, my grandmother, whose son was Lucinus, and, being born of him I am an immortal; it is to me alone that the gods have entrusted the duty of treating with the Lacedaemonians. But, citizens, though I am immortal, I am dying of hunger; the Prytanes give me naught.[1]

f[1] Amongst other duties, it was the office of the Prytanes to look after the wants of the poor.

A PRYTANIS Guards!

AMPHITHEUS


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