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
WIFE OF DICAEOPOLIS
DAUGHTER OF DICAEOPOLIS
CEPHISOPHON, servant of Euripides
ATTENDANT OF LAMACHUS
MAIDENS, daughters of the Megarian
CHORUS OF ACHARNIAN ELDERS
SCENE: The Athenian Ecclesia on the Pnyx; afterwards Dicaeopolis' house
in the country.
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.