THE ACHARNIANS was produced in 425 b.c., when Aristophanes was barely twenty, but in exuberant inventiveness, lyrical quality, serious political criticism, it is among Aristophanes' best plays. It won the first prize over Cratinus and Eupolis. The characteristic topsy-turvy fantasy upon which the play hinges is the notion that a man weary of an ill-considered war might make an individual peace with the enemy. Here Dicaeopolis makes such a peace with Sparta, but as he is about to celebrate the long-intermitted vintage festival he is attacked by a chorus of Acharnian charcoal burners who represent the war party and he wins a hearing by a parody of Euripides' Telephus. In a seriocomic speech he shows that the causes of the war were trifling, and wins over half the chorus, who are engaged in a violent agon by the other half. These call in the general Lamachus to assist them, but the general too is bested in argument, and the chorus, uniting on Dicaeopolis' side, deliver the poet's parabasis. Then Megarians and Boeotians bring in for sale the good things Athens has lacked. A herald summons Lamachus to a hard campaign, and another, Dicaeopolis to a wine party. Lamachus returns wounded, and Dicaeopolis reels in, having won the prize for drinking, on the arms of pretty flute girls, whom he leads out in procession. If we are astonished at the temerity of a poet who could say a word for the enemy and many words for pacifism amid the passions of war, we must be amazed at a democracy which permitted and sponsored such a play in time of war, and gave it first prize.
DAUGHTER OF DICAEOPOLIS
SLAVE OF EURIPIDES
TWO YOUNG GIRLS, DAUGHTERS OF THE MEGARIAN
SLAVE OF LAMACHUS
DERCETES, AN ATHENIAN FARMER
A WEDDING GUEST
CHORUS OF ACHARNIAN CHARCOAL BURNERS
Translated by B. B. Rogers
(dicaeopolis is discovered near the Pnyx, impatiently awaiting the opening of the Assembly. His house, flanked by those of lamachus and euripides, is in the background.)
DICAEOPOLIS. What heaps of things have bitten me to the heart!
A small few pleased me, very few, just four;
But those that vexed were sand-dune-hundredfold.
Let's see: what pleased me, worth my gladfulness?
I know a thing it cheered my heart to see;
The five-talent bribe vomited up by Cleon.
At that I brightened; and I love the Knights
For that performance; 'twas of price to Hellas.
Then I'd a tragic sorrow, when I looked
With open mouth for Aeschylus, and lo,
The Crier called, Bring on your play, Theognis.
Judge what an icy shock that gave my heart!
Next; pleased I was when Moschus left, and in
Dexitheus came with his Boeotian song.
But oh this year I nearly cracked my neck,
When in slipped Chaeris for the Orthian Chant.
But never yet since first I washed my face
Was I so bitten--in my brows with soap,
As now, when here's the fixed Assembly Day,
And morning come, and no one in the Pnyx.
They're in the Agora chattering, up and down
Scurrying to dodge the cord dripping red.
Why, even the Prytanes are not here! They'll come
Long after time, elbowing each other, jostling
For the front bench, streaming down all together
You can't think how. But as for making Peace
They do not care one jot. O City! City!
But I am always first of all to come,
And here I take my seat; then, all alone,
I pass the time complaining, yawning, stretching,
I fidget, write, twitch hairs out, do my sums,
Gaze fondly countryward, longing for Peace,
Loathing the town, sick for my village home,
Which never cried, Come, buy my charcoal, or
My vinegar, my oil, my anything;
But freely gave us all; no buy-word there.
So here I'm waiting, thoroughly prepared
To riot, wrangle, interrupt the speakers
Whene'er they speak of anything but Peace.
--But here they come, our noon-day Prytanes!
Aye, there they go! I told you how 'twould be;
Everyone jostling for the foremost place.
CRIER.Move forward all,
Move up, within the consecrated line.
(amphitheus enters in a violent hurry.)
AMPHITHEUS. Speaking begun?
CRIER.Who will address the meeting?
CRIER. Who are you?
CRIER.Not a man?
AMPHITHEUS. No, an immortal. For the first Amphitheus
Was of Demeter and Triptolemus
The son: his son was Celeus; Celeus married
Phaenarete, who bore my sire Lycinus.
Hence I'm immortal; and the gods committed
To me alone the making peace with Sparta.
But, though immortal, I've no journey money;
The Prytanes won't provide it.
AMPHITHEUS. O help me, Celeus! help, Triptolemus!
DICAEOPOLIS. Ye wrong the Assembly, Prytanes, ye do wrong it,
Dragging away a man who only wants
To give us Peace, and hanging up of shields.
CRIER. St! Take your seat.
DICAEOPOLIS.By Apollo, no, not I,
Unless you prytanize about the Peace.
CRIER. Oyez! The Ambassadors from the Great King!
(Enter, clad in gorgeous oriental apparel, the envoys sent to the Persian court eleven years previously in the archonship of Euthymenes, 437-436 b.c.)
DICAEOPOLIS. What King! I'm sick to death of embassies,
And all their peacocks and their impositions.
CRIER. Keep silence!
DICAEOPOLIS.Hey! Ecbatana, here's a show.
AMBASSADOR. You sent us, envoys to the Great King's Court,
Receiving each two drachmas daily, when
Euthymenes was Archon.
DICAEOPOLIS.O me, the drachmas!
AMBASSADOR. And weary work we found it, sauntering on,
Supinely stretched in our luxurious litters
With awnings o'er us, through CaØstrian plains.
'Twas a bad time.
DICAEOPOLIS.Aye, the good time was mine,
Stretched in the litter on the ramparts here!
AMBASSADOR. And oft they feted us, and we perforce
Out of their gold and crystal cups must drink
The pure sweet wine.
DICAEOPOLIS.O Cranaan city, mark you
The insolent airs of these ambassadors?
AMBASSADOR. For only those are there accounted men
Who drink the hardest, and who eat the most.
DICAEOPOLIS. As here the most debauched and dissolute.
AMBASSADOR. In the fourth year we reached the Great King's Court.
But he, with all his troops, had gone to sit
An eight-month session on the Golden Hills!
DICAEOPOLIS. Pray, at what time did he conclude his session?
AMBASSADOR. At the full moon; and so came home again.
Then he too feted us, and set before us
Whole pot-baked oxen--
DICAEOPOLIS.And who ever heard
Of pot-baked oxen? Out upon your lies!
AMBASSADOR. And an enormous bird, three times the size
Of our Cleonymus: its name was--Gull.
DICAEOPOLIS. That's why you gulled us out of all those drachmas!
AMBASSADOR. And now we bring you Pseudo-Artabas
The Great King's Eye.
DICAEOPOLIS.O how I wish some raven
Would come and strike out yours, the Ambassador's.
CRIER. Oyez! the Great King's Eye!
By Heaven, my man, you wear a warship look!
What! Do you round the point, and spy the docks?
Is that an oar pad underneath your eye?
AMBASSADOR. Now tell the Athenians, Pseudo-Artabas,
What the Great King commissioned you to say.
PSEUDO-ARTABAS. Ijisti boutti furbiss upde rotti.1
AMBASSADOR. Do you understand?
DICAEOPOLIS.By Apollo, no not I.
AMBASSADOR. He says the King is going to send you gold.
(To pseudo-artabas.) Be more distinct and clear about the gold.
PSEUDO-ARTABAS. No getti goldi, nincompoop Iawny.
DICAEOPOLIS. Wow, but that's clear enough!
AMBASSADOR.What does he say?
DICAEOPOLIS. He says the Ionians must be nincompoops
If they're expecting any gold from Persia.
AMBASSADOR. No, no: he spoke of golden income coupons.
DICAEOPOLIS. What income coupons? You're a great big liar!
You, get away; I'll test the man myself.
Now look at this (Showing his fist.): and answer Yes, or No!
Or else I'll dye you with a Sardian dye.
Does the Great King intend to send us gold?
(pseudo-artabas nods dissent.)
Then are our envoys here bamboozling us?
(He nods assent.)
These fellows nod in pure Hellenic style;
I do believe they come from hereabouts.
Aye, to be sure; why, one of these two eunuchs
Is Cleisthenes, Sibyrtius' son!
O you young shaver of the hot-souled rump,
With such a beard, you monkey, do you come
Tricked out among us in a eunuch's guise?
And who's this other chap? Not Straton, surely?
CRIER. St! Take your seat! Oyez!
The Council ask the Great King's Eye to dinner
At the Town Hall.
DICAEOPOLIS.Now is not that a throttler?
Here must I drudge at soldiering; while these rogues,
The Town-Hall door is never closed to them.
Now then, I'll do a great and startling deed.
Amphitheus! Where's Amphitheus?
AMBASSADOR.Here am I.
DICAEOPOLIS. Here be eight drachmas; take them; and with all
The Lacedaemonians make a private peace
For me, my wife and children: none besides.
(To the Prytanes1 and citizens.)
Stick to your embassies and befoolings, you.
CRIER. Oyez! Theorus from Sitalces!
DICAEOPOLIS. O here's another humbug introduced.
THEORUS. We should not, sirs, have tarried long in Thrace--
DICAEOPOLIS. But for the salary you kept on drawing.
THEORUS. But for the storms, which covered Thrace with snow
And froze the rivers. 'Twas about the season
At which Theognis was performing here.
I all that time was drinking with Sitalces;
A most prodigious Athens lover he,
So loyal an admirer, he would scribble
On every wall My beautiful Athenians!
His son, our newly made Athenian, longed
To taste his Apaturian sausages,
And bade his father help his fatherland.
And he, with deep libations, vowed to help us
With such a host that everyone would say
Heavens! what a swarm of locusts comes this way!
DICAEOPOLIS. Hang me, if I believe a single word
Of all that speech, except about the locusts.
THEORUS. And here he sends you the most warlike tribe
Of all in Thrace.
DICAEOPOLIS.Come, here's proof positive.
CRIER. The Thracians whom Theorus brought, come forward!
DICAEOPOLIS. What the plague's this?
THEORUS. The Odomantian host.
DICAEOPOLIS. The Odomantians, phew! Hallo, look here.
Are Odomantians all equipped like this?
THEORUS. Give them two drachmas each a day, and these
Will targeteer Boeotia all to bits.
DICAEOPOLIS. Two drachmas for these scarecrows! Oh, our tars,
Our noble tars, the safeguard of our state,
Well may they groan at this. O! Murder! O!
These Odomantian thieves have sacked my garlic.
Put down the garlic! drop it!
THEORUS. You rapscallion,
How dare you touch them, when they're garlic-primed.
DICAEOPOLIS. O will you let them, Prytanes, use me thus,
Barbarians too, in this my fatherland?
But stop! I warn you not to hold the Assembly
About the Thracians' pay. I tell you there's
A portent come; I felt a drop of rain!
CRIER. The Thracians are to go, and two days hence
Come here again. The Assembly is dissolved.
DICAEOPOLIS. O me, the salad I have lost this day!
But here's Amphitheus, back from Lacedaemon.
Well met, Amphitheus!
AMPHITHEUS. Not till I've done running.
I have to flee the Acharnians, clean away.
DICAEOPOLIS. What mean you?
AMPHITHEUS.I was bringing back in haste
The treaties, when some veterans smelt them out,
Acharnians, men of Marathon, hard in grain
As their own oak and maple, rough and tough;
And all at once they cried, O villain, dare you
Bring treaties when our vineyards are cut down?
Then in their lappets up they gathered stones;
I fled away: they followed roaring after.
DICAEOPOLIS. So let them roar. But have you got the treaties?
AMPHITHEUS. O yes, I have. Three samples; here they are.
These are the five-year treaties; take and taste them.
AMPHITHEUS. What's the matter?
DICAEOPOLIS.I don't like the things,
They smell of tar and naval preparations.
AMPHITHEUS. Then taste the ten-year samples; here they are.
DICAEOPOLIS. These smell of embassies to all the states,
Urgent, as if the Allies are hanging back.
AMPHITHEUS. Then here are treaties both by land and sea
For thirty years.
DICAEOPOLIS.O Feast of Dionysus!
These have a smell of nectar and ambrosia,
And never mind about the three days' rations,
And in your mouth they say, Go where you please.
These do I welcome, these I pour, and drain,
Nor care a hang about your old Acharnians.
But I, released from War and War's alarms,
Will hold, within, the Rural Dionysia.
AMPHITHEUS. And I will flee those peppery old Acharnians.
CHORUS. Here's the trail; pursue, pursue him;
follow, follow, every man;
Question whosoever meets you
whitherward the fellow ran.
Much it boots the state to catch him!
(To the audience.) O inform me, if ye know,
Where the man who bears the treaties
managed from my sight to go.
Fled and gone! Disappears!
O this weary weight of years!
O were I Now as spry
As in youthful days gone by,
When I stuck Like a man
To Phaullus as he ran,
And achieved Second place
In the race,
Though a great Charcoal freight
I was bearing on my head--
Not so light From my sight
Had this treaty bearer fled,
Nor escaped With such ease
From the chase.
Now because my joints have stiffened,
and my shins are young no more,
And the legs of Lacrateides
by old age are burdened sore,
He's escaped us! But we'll follow:
but he shall not boast that he
Got away from us Acharnians,
howsoever old we be.
Who has dared Father Zeus!
Gods of heaven! to make a truce,
Who has pledged Faith with those
Who are evermore my foes;
Upon whom War I make
For my ruined vineyard's sake;
And I ne'er From the strife
Will give o'er,
No, I ne'er Will forbear,
Till I pierce them in return,
Like a reed, Sharply barbed
Dagger-pointed, and they learn
Not to tread Down my vines
Now 'tis ours to seek the fellow,
and Peltene-ward to look,
And from land to land to chase him,
till we bring the rogue to book.
Never shall I tire of pelting,
pelting him to death with stones.
DICAEOPOLIS (within). Keep ye all the holy silence!
CHORUS. Hush! we've got him. Heard ye, comrades,
silence called in solemn tones?
This is he, the man we're seeking.
Stand aside, and in a trice
He, methinks, will stand before us,
coming out to sacrifice!
DICAEOPOLIS (coming out). Keep ye all the holy silence!
Now, basket bearer, go you on in front,
You, Xanthias, hold the phallus pole erect.
WIFE. Sit down the basket, girl: and we'll begin.
DAUGHTER. O mother, hand me here the gravy spoon,
To ladle out the gravy on the cake.
DICAEOPOLIS. 'Tis well. Lord Dionysus, grant me now
To show the show and make the sacrifice
As thou would'st have me, I and all my house;
Then keep with joy the Rural Dionysia;
No more of soldiering now. And may this Peace
Of thirty summers answer to my hopes.
WIFE. O daughter, bear the basket sweetly, sweet,
With savory-eating look. Happy the man,
Whoe'er he is, who weds you and begets
Kittens as fair and saucy as yourself.
Move on! but heed lest any in the crowd
Should nibble off, unseen, your bits of gold.
Excerpted from Complete Plays of Aristophanes by Aristophanes. Copyright © 2006 by Aristophanes. Excerpted by permission of Bantam Classics, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.