Produced by Derek Davis, and David Widger
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).]
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.
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. 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
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
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.
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.
Has anyone spoken yet?
Who asks to speak?
You are no man.(1)
f(1) The name, Amphitheus, contains (the Greek) word (for) 'god.'
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.
Oh, Triptolemus and Ceres, do ye thus forsake your own blood?
Prytanes, in expelling this citizen, you are offering an outrage
to the Assembly. He only desired to secure peace for us and to sheathe
Sit down and keep silence!
No, by Apollo, I will not, unless you are going to discuss the
question of peace.
The ambassadors, who are returned from the Court of the King!
Of what King? I am sick of all those fine birds, the peacock
ambassadors and their swagger.
Oh! oh! by Ecbatana,(1) what a costume!
f(1) The summer residence of the Great King.
During the archonship of Euthymenes, you sent us to the Great King
on a salary of two drachmae per diem.
Ah! those poor drachmae!
We suffered horribly on the plains of the Cayster, sleeping under a tent,
stretched deliciously on fine chariots, half dead with weariness.
And I was very much at ease, lying on the straw along the
f(1) Referring to the hardships he had endured garrisoning the walls of
Athens during the Lacedaemonian invasions early in the War.
Everywhere we were well received and forced to drink delicious
wine out of golden or crystal flagons....
Oh, city of Cranaus,(1) thy ambassadors are laughing at thee!
f(1) Cranaus, the second king of Athens, the successor of Cecrops.
For great feeders and heavy drinkers are alone esteemed as men
by the barbarians.
Just as here in Athens, we only esteem the most drunken debauchees.
At the end of the fourth year we reached the King's Court, but
he had left with his whole army to ease himself, and for the space of
eight months he was thus easing himself in the midst of the golden
f(1) Lucian, in his 'Hermotimus,' speaks of these golden mountains as an
apocryphal land of wonders and prodigies.
And how long was he replacing his dress?
The whole period of a full moon; after which he returned to his palace;
then he entertained us and had us served with oxen roasted whole
in an oven.
Who ever saw an oxen baked in an oven? What a lie!
On my honour, he also had us served with a bird three
times as large as Cleonymus,(1) and called the Boaster.
f(1) Cleonymus was an Athenian general of exceptionally tall stature;
Aristophanes incessantly rallies him for his cowardice; he had cast away
his buckler in a fight.
And do we give you two drachmae, that you should treat us to all
We are bringing to you Pseudartabas(1), the King's Eye.
f(1) A name borne by certain officials of the King of Persia. The actor of
this part wore a mask, fitted with a single eye of great size.
I would a crow might pluck out thine with his beak, you cursed
The King's Eye!
Eh! Great Gods! Friend, with thy great eye, round like the hole through
which the oarsman passes his sweep, you have the air of a galley
doubling a cape to gain port.
Come, Pseudartabas, give forth the message for the Athenians
with which you were charged by the Great King.
Jartaman exarx 'anapissonia satra.(1)
f(1) Jargon, no doubt meaningless in all languages.
Do you understand what he says?
By Apollo, not I!
AMBASSADOR (TO THE PRYTANES)
He says that the Great King will send you gold. Come, utter the word
'gold' louder and more distinctly.
Thou shalt not have gold, thou gaping-arsed Ionian.(1)
f(1) The Persians styled all Greeks 'Ionians' without distinction; here
the Athenians are intended.
Ah! may the gods forgive me, but that is clear enough!
What does he say?
That the Ionians are debauchees and idiots, if they expect to receive
gold from the barbarians.
Not so, he speaks of medimni(1) of gold.
f(1) A Greek measure, containing about six modii.
What medimni? Thou are but a great braggart; but get your way; I
will find out the truth by myself. Come now, answer me clearly, if you
do not wish me to dye your skin red. Will the Great King send us gold?
(PSEUDARTABAS MAKES A NEGATIVE SIGN.) Then our ambassadors
are seeking to deceive us? (PSEUDARTABAS SIGNS AFFIRMATIVELY.)
These fellows make signs like any Greek; I am sure that they are
nothing but Athenians. Oh! ho! I recognize one of these eunuchs; it is
Clisthenes, the son of Sibyrtius.(1) Behold the effrontery of this shaven
rump! How! great baboon, with such a beard do you seek to play the
eunuch to us? And this other one? Is it not Straton?
f(1) Noted for his extreme ugliness and his obscenity. Aristophanes
frequently holds him to scorn in his comedies.
Silence! Let all be seated. The Senate invites the King's Eye to the
f(1) Ambassadors were entertained there at the public expense.
Is this not sufficient to drive one to hang oneself? Here I
stand chilled to the bone, whilst the doors of the Prytaneum fly
wide open to lodge such rascals. But I will do something great and
bold. Where is Amphitheus? Come and speak with me.
Here I am.
Take these eight drachmae and go and conclude a truce with the
Lacedaemonians for me, my wife and my children; I leave you free,
my dear citizens, to send out embassies and to stand gaping in the air.
Bring in Theorus, who has returned from the Court of Sitalces.(1)
f(1) King of Thrace.
I am here.
We should not have remained long in Thrace...
Forsooth, no, if you had not been well paid.
...if the country had not been covered with snow; the rivers were
ice-bound at the time that Theognis(1) brought out his tragedy here;
during the whole of that time I was holding my own with
Sitalces, cup in hand; and, in truth, he adored you to such a degree,
that he wrote on the walls, "How beautiful are the Athenians!" His
son, to whom we gave the freedom of the city, burned with desire to
come here and eat chitterlings at the feast of the Apaturia;(2) he prayed
his father to come to the aid of his new country and Sitalces swore on
his goblet that he would succour us with such a host that the Athenians
would exclaim, "What a cloud of grasshoppers!"
f(1) The tragic poet.
f(2) A feast lasting three days and celebrated during the month Pyanepsion
(November). The Greek word contains the suggestion of fraud.
May I die if I believe a word of what you tell us! Excepting the
grasshoppers, there is not a grain of truth in it all!
And he has sent you the most warlike soldiers of all Thrace.
Now we shall begin to see clearly.
Come hither, Thracians, whom Theorus brought.
What plague have we here?
'Tis the host of the Odomanti.(1)
f(1) A Thracian tribe from the right bank of the Strymon.
Of the Odomanti? Tell me what it means. Who has mutilated them
If they are given a wage of two drachmae, they will put all
Boeotia(1) to fire and sword.
f(1) The Boeotians were the allies of Sparta.
Two drachmae to those circumcised hounds! Groan aloud, ye people
of rowers, bulwark of Athens! Ah! great gods! I am undone; these
Odomanti are robbing me of my garlic!(1) Will you give me back
f(1) Dicaeopolis had brought a clove of garlic with him to eat during
Oh! wretched man! do not go near them; they have eaten garlic(1).
f(1) Garlic was given to game-cocks, before setting them at each other,
to give them pluck for the fight.
Prytanes, will you let me be treated in this manner, in my own
country and by barbarians? But I oppose the discussion of paying
a wage to the Thracians; I announce an omen; I have just felt a drop
f(1) At the lest unfavourable omen, the sitting of the Assembly was
declared at an end.
Let the Thracians withdraw and return the day after tomorrow;
the Prytanes declare the sitting at an end.
Ye gods, what garlic I have lost! But here comes Amphitheus
returned from Lacedaemon. Welcome, Amphitheus.
No, there is no welcome for me and I fly as fast as I can, for I
am pursued by the Acharnians.
Why, what has happened?
I was hurrying to bring your treaty of truce, but some old dotards
from Acharnae(1) got scent of the thing; they are veterans of Marathon,
tough as oak or maple, of which they are made for sure--rough and
ruthless. They all started a-crying: "Wretch! you are the bearer of
a treaty, and the enemy has only just cut our vines!" Meanwhile they
were gathering stones in their cloaks, so I fled and they ran after
f(1) The deme of Acharnae was largely inhabited by charcoal-burners,
who supplied the city with fuel.
Let 'em shout as much as they please! But HAVE you brought me
Most certainly, here are three samples to select from,(1) this one is
five years old; take it and taste.
f(1) He presents them in the form of wines contained in three separate
It does not please me; it smells of pitch and of the ships they are
f(1) Meaning, preparations for war.
Here is another, ten years old; taste it.
It smells strongly of the delegates, who go around the towns
to chide the allies for their slowness.(1)
f(1) Meaning, securing allies for the continuance of the war.
This last is a truce of thirty years, both on sea and land.
Oh! by Bacchus! what a bouquet! It has the aroma of nectar and
ambrosia; this does not say to us, "Provision yourselves for three
days." But it lisps the gentle numbers, "Go whither you will."(1)
I accept it, ratify it, drink it at one draught and consign the
Acharnians to limbo. Freed from the war and its ills, I shall
keep the Dionysia(2) in the country.
f(1) When Athens sent forth an army, the soldiers were usually ordered
to assemble at some particular spot with provisions for three days.
f(2) These feasts were also called the Anthesteria or Lenaea; the Lenaem
was a temple to Bacchus, erected outside the city. They took place
during the month Anthesterion (February).
And I shall run away, for I'm mortally afraid of the Acharnians.
This way all! Let us follow our man; we will demand him of
everyone we meet; the public weal makes his seizure imperative. Ho,
there! tell me which way the bearer of the truce has gone; he has escaped
us, he has disappeared. Curse old age! When I was young, in the days
when I followed Phayllus,(1) running with a sack of coals on my back, this
wretch would not have eluded my pursuit, let him be as swift as he will;
but now my limbs are stiff; old Lacratides(2) feels his legs are
weighty and the traitor escapes me. No, no, let us follow him; old
Acharnians like ourselves shall not be set at naught by a
scoundrel, who has dared, great gods! to conclude a truce, when I wanted
the war continued with double fury in order to avenge my ruined lands.
No mercy for our foes until I have pierced their hearts like sharp
reed, so that they dare never again ravage my vineyards.
Come, let us seek the rascal; let us look everywhere, carrying our
stones in our hands; let us hunt him from place to place until we trap
him; I could never, never tire of the delight of stoning him.
f(1) A celebrated athlete from Croton and a victor at Olympia; he was
equally good as a runner and at the 'five exercises.'
f(2) He had been Archon at the time of the battle of Marathon.
Peace! profane men!(1)
f(1) A sacred formula, pronounced by the priest before offering
Silence all! Friends, do you hear the sacred formula? Here is he,
whom we seek! This way, all! Get out of his way, surely he comes
to offer an oblation.
Peace, profane men! Let the basket-bearer(1) come forward, and thou
Xanthias, hold the phallus well upright.(2)
f(1) The maiden who carried the basket filled with fruits at the Dionysia
in honour of Bacchus.
f(2) The emblem of the fecundity of nature; it consisted of a representation,
generally grotesquely exaggerated, of the male genital organs;
the phallophori crowned with violets and ivy and their faces shaded
with green foliage, sang improvised airs, call 'Phallics,' full of obscenity
and suggestive 'double entendres.'
WIFE OF DICAEOPOLIS
Daughter, set down the basket and let us begin the sacrifice.
DAUGHTER OF DICAEOPOLIS
Mother, hand me the ladle, that I may spread the sauce on the
It is well! Oh, mighty Bacchus, it is with joy that, freed from
military duty, I and all mine perform this solemn rite and offer
thee this sacrifice; grant that I may keep the rural Dionysia
without hindrance and that this truce of thirty years may be
propitious for me.
WIFE OF DICAEOPOLIS
Come, my child, carry the basket gracefully and with a grave, demure
face. Happy he, who shall be your possessor and embrace you so firmly
at dawn,(1) that you belch wind like a weasel. Go forward, and have a care
they don't snatch your jewels in the crowd.
f(1) The most propitious moment for Love's gambols, observes the
Xanthias, walk behind the basket-bearer and hold the phallus well
erect; I will follow, singing the Phallic hymn; thou, wife, look on from
the top of the terrace.(1) Forward! Oh, Phales,(2) companion of the orgies
of Bacchus, night reveller, god of adultery, friend of young men, these
past six(3) years I have not been able to invoke thee. With what joy I
return to my farmstead, thanks to the truce I have concluded, freed
from cares, from fighting and from Lamachuses!(4) How much sweeter,
oh Phales, oh, Phales, is it to surprise Thratta, the pretty woodmaid,
Strymodorus' slave, stealing wood from Mount Phelleus, to catch her
under the arms, to throw her on the ground and possess her, Oh, Phales,
Phales! If thou wilt drink and bemuse thyself with me, we shall
to-morrow consume some good dish in honour of the peace, and I will
hang up my buckler over the smoking hearth.
f(1) Married women did not join in the processions.
f(2) The god of generation, worshipped in the form of a phallus.
f(3) A remark which fixes the date of the production of 'The Acharnians,'
viz. the sixth year of the Peloponnesian War, 426 B.C.
f(4) Lamachus was an Athenian general, who figures later in this comedy.
It is he, he himself. Stone him, stone him, stone him, strike
the wretch. All, all of you, pelt him, pelt him!
What is this? By Heracles, you will smash my pot.(1)
f(1) At the rural Dionysia a pot of kitchen vegetables was borne in
the procession along with other emblems.
It is you that we are stoning, you miserable scoundrel.
And for what sin, Acharnian Elders, tell me that!
You ask that, you impudent rascal, traitor to your country; you
alone amongst us all have concluded a truce, and you dare to look us
in the face!
But you do not know WHY I have treated for peace. Listen!
Listen to you? No, no, you are about to die, we will annihilate
you with our stones.
But first of all, listen. Stop, my friends.
I will hear nothing; do not address me; I hate you more than I
do Cleon,(1) whom one day I shall flay to make sandals for the Knights.
Listen to your long speeches, after you have treated with the
Laconians? No, I will punish you.
f(1) Cleon the Demagogue was a currier originally by trade. He was the
sworn foe and particular detestation of the Knights or aristocratic party
Friends, leave the Laconians out of debate and consider only
whether I have not done well to conclude my truce.
Done well! when you have treated with a people who know neither
gods, nor truth, nor faith.
We attribute too much to the Laconians; as for myself, I know that
they are not the cause of all our troubles.
Oh, indeed, rascal! You dare to use such language to me and then
expect me to spare you!
No, no, they are not the cause of all our troubles, and I who
address you claim to be able to prove that they have much to
complain of in us.
This passes endurance; my heart bounds with fury. Thus you dare to
defend our enemies.
Were my head on the block I would uphold what I say and rely on
the approval of the people.
Comrades, let us hurl our stones and dye this fellow purple.
What black fire-brand has inflamed your heart! You will not hear
me? You really will not, Acharnians?
No, a thousand times, no.
This is a hateful injustice.
May I die, if I listen.
Nay, nay! have mercy, have mercy, Acharnians.
You shall die.
Well, blood for blood! I will kill your dearest friend. I have
here the hostages of Acharnae;(1) I shall disembowel them.
f(1) That is, the baskets of charcoal.
Acharnians, what means this threat? Has he got one of our children
in his house? What gives him such audacity?
Stone me, if it please you; I shall avenge myself on this.
(SHOWS A BASKET.) Let us see whether you have any love
for your coals.
Great Gods! this basket is our fellow-citizen. Stop, stop,
in heaven's name!
I shall dismember it despite your cries; I will listen to nothing.
How! will you kill this coal-basket, my beloved comrade?
Just now, you would not listen to me.
Well, speak now, if you will; tell us, tell us you have a weakness
for the Lacedaemonians. I consent to anything; never will I forsake
this dear little basket.
First, throw down your stones.
There! 'tis done. And you, do put away your sword.
Let me see that no stones remain concealed in your cloaks.
They are all on the ground; see how we shake our garments. Come,
no haggling, lay down your sword; we threw away everything while
crossing from one side of the stage to the other.(1)
f(1) The stage of the Greek theatre was much broader, and at the same
time shallower, than in a modern playhouse.
What cries of anguish you would have uttered had these coals of
Parnes(1) been dismembered, and yet it came very near it; had they
perished, their death would have been due to the folly of their
fellow-citizens. The poor basket was so frightened, look, it has
shed a thick black dust over me, the same as a cuttle-fish does.
What an irritable temper! You shout and throw stones, you will not
hear my arguments--not even when I propose to speak in favour of the
Lacedaemonians with my head on the block; and yet I cling to life.
f(1) A mountain in Attica, in the neighbourhood of Acharnae.
Well then, bring out a block before your door, scoundrel, and
let us hear the good grounds you can give us; I am curious to know
them. Now mind, as you proposed yourself, place your head on the block
Here is the block; and, though I am but a very sorry speaker, I
wish nevertheless to talk freely of the Lacedaemonians and without the
protection of my buckler. Yet I have many reasons for fear. I know our
rustics; they are delighted if some braggart comes, and rightly or
wrongly, loads both them and their city with praise and flattery; they
do not see that such toad-eaters(1) are traitors, who sell them for gain.
As for the old men, I know their weakness; they only seek to overwhelm
the accused with their votes.(2) Nor have I forgotten how Cleon treated
me because of my comedy last year;(3) he dragged me before the Senate
and there he uttered endless slanders against me; 'twas a tempest of
abuse, a deluge of lies. Through what a slough of mud he dragged me! I
almost perished. Permit me, therefore, before I speak, to dress in the
manner most likely to draw pity.
f(1) Orators in the pay of the enemy.
f(2) Satire on the Athenians' addiction to law-suits.
f(3) 'The Babylonians.' Cleon had denounced Aristophanes to the Senate for
having scoffed at Athens before strangers, many of whom were present at
the performance. The play is now lost.
What evasions, subterfuges and delays! Hold! here is the sombre
helmet of Pluto with its thick bristling plume; Hieronymus(1) lends it to
you; then open Sisyphus'(2) bag of wiles; but hurry, hurry, pray, for
discussion does not admit of delay.
f(1) A tragic poet; we know next to nothing of him or his works.
f(2) Son of Aeolus, renowned in fable for his robberies, and for the tortures
to which he was put by Pluto. He was cunning enough to break loose out
of hell, but Hermes brought him back again.
The time has come for me to manifest my courage, so I will go
and seek Euripides. Ho! slave, slave!
Is Euripides at home?
He is and he isn't; understand that, if you have wit for't.
How? He is and he isn't!(1)
f(1) This whole scene is directed at Euripides; Aristophanes ridicules the
subtleties of his poetry and the trickeries of his staging, which, according
to him, he only used to attract the less refined among his audience.
Certainly, old man; busy gathering subtle fancies here and
there, his mind is not in the house, but he himself is; perched aloft,
he is composing a tragedy.
Oh, Euripides, you are indeed happy to have a slave so quick at
repartee! Now, fellow, call your master.
So much the worse. But I will not go. Come, let us knock at the door.
Euripides, my little Euripides, my darling Euripides, listen;
never had man greater right to your pity. It is Dicaeopolis of the
Chollidan Deme who calls you. Do you hear?
I have no time to waste.
Very well, have yourself wheeled out here.(1)
f(1) "Wheeled out"--that is, by means of a mechanical contrivance of
the Greek stage, by which an interior was shown, the set scene
with performers, etc., all complete, being in some way, which cannot
be clearly made out from the descriptions, swung out or wheeled out
on to the main stage.
Well, let them roll me out; as to coming down, I have not
What words strike my ear?
You perch aloft to compose tragedies, when you might just as
well do them on the ground. I am not astonished at your introducing
cripples on the stage.(1) And why dress in these miserable tragic rags?
I do not wonder that your heroes are beggars. But, Euripides, on my knees
I beseech you, give me the tatters of some old piece; for I have to
treat the Chorus to a long speech, and if I do it ill it is all over
f(1) Having been lamed, it is of course implied, by tumbling from the lofty
apparatus on which the Author sat perched to write his tragedies.
What rags do you prefer? Those in which I rigged out Aeneus(1) on
the stage, that unhappy, miserable old man?
f(1) Euripides delighted, or was supposed by his critic Aristophanes to
delight, in the representation of misery and wretchedness on the stage.
'Aeneus,' 'Phoenix,' 'Philoctetes,' 'Bellerophon,' 'Telephus,' Ino' are titles
of six tragedies of his in this genre of which fragments are extant.
No, I want those of some hero still more unfortunate.
Of Phoenix, the blind man?
No, not of Phoenix, you have another hero more unfortunate than him.
Now, what tatters DOES he want? Do you mean those of the beggar
No, of another far more the mendicant.
Is it the filthy dress of the lame fellow, Bellerophon?
No, 'tis not Bellerophon; he, whom I mean, was not only lame and a
beggar, but boastful and a fine speaker.
Ah! I know, it is Telephus, the Mysian.
Yes, Telephus. Give me his rags, I beg of you.
Slave! give him Telephus' tatters; they are on top of the rags
of Thyestes and mixed with those of Ino.
Catch hold! here they are.
Oh! Zeus, whose eye pierces everywhere and embraces all, permit me
to assume the most wretched dress on earth. Euripides, cap your
kindness by giving me the little Mysian hat, that goes so well with
these tatters. I must to-day have the look of a beggar; "be what I am,
but not appear to be";(1) the audience will know well who I am, but
the Chorus will be fools enough not to, and I shall dupe 'em with my
Line borrowed from Euripides. A great number of verses are similarly
parodied in this scene.
I will give you the hat; I love the clever tricks of an ingenious
brain like yours.
Rest happy, and may it befall Telephus as I wish. Ah! I already
feel myself filled with quibbles. But I must have a beggar's staff.
Here you are, and now get you gone from this porch.
Oh, my soul! You see how you are driven from this house, when I
still need so many accessories. But let us be pressing, obstinate,
importunate. Euripides, give me a little basket with a lamp alight inside.
Whatever do you want such a thing as that for?
I do not need it, but I want it all the same.
You importune me; get you gone!
Alas! may the gods grant you a destiny as brilliant as your
f(1) Report said that Euripides' mother had sold vegetables on the market.
Leave me in peace.
Oh, just a little broken cup.
Take it and go and hang yourself. What a tiresome fellow!
Ah! you do not know all the pain you cause me. Dear, good
Euripides, nothing beyond a small pipkin stoppered with a sponge.
Miserable man! You are robbing me of an entire tragedy.(1) Here, take it
and be off.
f(1) Aristophanes means, of course, to imply that the whole talent of
Euripides lay in these petty details of stage property.
I am going, but, great gods! I need one thing more; unless I
have it, I am a dead man. Hearken, my little Euripides, only give me
this and I go, never to return. For pity's sake, do give me a few
small herbs for my basket.
You wish to ruin me then. Here, take what you want; but it is
all over with my pieces!
I won't ask another thing; I'm going. I am too importunate and
forget that I rouse against me the hate of kings.--Ah! wretch that I am!
I am lost! I have forgotten one thing, without which all the rest is
as nothing. Euripides, my excellent Euripides, my dear little Euripides,
may I die if I ask you again for the smallest present; only one, the last,
absolutely the last; give me some of the chervil your mother left
you in her will.
Insolent hound! Slave, lock the door!
Oh, my soul! I must go away without the chervil. Art thou
sensible of the dangerous battle we are about to engage upon in
defending the Lacedaemonians? Courage, my soul, we must plunge
into the midst of it. Dost thou hesitate and art thou fully steeped
in Euripides? That's right! do not falter, my poor heart, and let us risk
our head to say what we hold for truth. Courage and boldly to
the front. I wonder I am so brave.
What do you purport doing? what are you going to say? What an
impudent fellow! what a brazen heart! to dare to stake his head and
uphold an opinion contrary to that of us all! And he does not
tremble to face this peril. Come, it is you who desired it, speak!
Spectators, be not angered if, although I am a beggar, I dare in
a Comedy to speak before the people of Athens of the public weal;
Comedy too can sometimes discern what is right. I shall not please,
but I shall say what is true. Besides, Cleon shall not be able to accuse
me of attacking Athens before strangers;(1) we are by ourselves at the
festival of the Lenaea; the period when our allies send us their tribute
and their soldiers is not yet. Here is only the pure wheat
without chaff; as to the resident strangers settled among us, they
and the citizens are one, like the straw and the ear.
I detest the Lacedaemonians with all my heart, and may Posidon,
the god of Taenarus,(2) cause an earthquake and overturn their dwellings!
My vines also have been cut. But come (there are only friends who
hear me), why accuse the Laconians of all our woes? Some men (I do not
say the city, note particularly that I do not say the city), some
wretches, lost in vices, bereft of honour, who were not even
citizens of good stamp, but strangers, have accused the Megarians of
introducing their produce fraudulently, and not a cucumber, a leveret,
a suck(l)ing pig, a clove of garlic, a lump of salt was seen without its
being said, "Halloa! these come from Megara," and their being
instantly confiscated. Thus far the evil was not serious and we were
the only sufferers. But now some young drunkards go to Megara and
carry off the courtesan Simaetha; the Megarians, hurt to the quick, run
off in turn with two harlots of the house of Aspasia; and so for three
gay women Greece is set ablaze. Then Pericles, aflame with ire on his
Olympian height, let loose the lightning, caused the thunder to
roll, upset Greece and passed an edict, which ran like the song, "That
the Megarians be banished both from our land and from our markets
and from the sea and from the continent."(3) Meanwhile the Megarians,
who were beginning to die of hunger, begged the Lacedaemonians to bring
about the abolition of the decree, of which those harlots were the
cause; several times we refused their demand; and from that time there
was horrible clatter of arms everywhere. You will say that Sparta
was wrong, but what should she have done? Answer that. Suppose that
a Lacedaemonian had seized a little Seriphian(4) dog on any pretext and
had sold it, would you have endured it quietly? Far from it, you would
at once have sent three hundred vessels to sea, and what an uproar
there would have been through all the city! there 'tis a band of
noisy soldiery, here a brawl about the election of a Trierarch;
elsewhere pay is being distributed, the Pallas figure-heads are
being regilded, crowds are surging under the market porticos,
encumbered with wheat that is being measured, wine-skins,
oar-leathers, garlic, olives, onions in nets; everywhere are chaplets,
sprats, flute-girls, black eyes; in the arsenal bolts are being
noisily driven home, sweeps are being made and fitted with leathers;
we hear nothing but the sound of whistles, of flutes and fifes to
encourage the work-folk. That is what you assuredly would have done,
and would not Telephus have done the same? So I come to my general
conclusion; we have no common sense.
f(1) 'The Babylonians' had been produced at a time of year when Athens
was crowded with strangers; 'The Acharnians,' on the contrary, was played
f(2) Sparta had been menaced with an earthquake in 427 B.C. Posidon
was 'The Earthshaker,' god of earthquakes, as well as of the sea.
f(3) A song by Timocreon the Rhodian, the words of which were practically
identical with Pericles' decree.
f(4) A small and insignificant island, one of the Cyclades, allied with
the Athenians, like months of these islands previous to and during
the first part of the Peloponnesian War.
Oh! wretch! oh! infamous man! You are naught but a beggar and
yet you dare to talk to us like this! you insult their worships
By Posidon! he speaks the truth; he has not lied in a single detail.
But though it be true, need he say it? But you'll have no great
cause to be proud of your insolence!
Where are you running to? Don't you move; if you strike this man,
I shall be at you.
Lamachus, whose glance flashes lightning, whose plume
petrifies thy foes, help! Oh! Lamachus, my friend, the hero of my
tribe and all of you, both officers and soldiers, defenders of our
walls, come to my aid; else is it all over with me!
Whence comes this cry of battle? where must I bring my aid?
where must I sow dread? who wants me to uncase my dreadful Gorgon's
f(1) A figure of Medusa's head, forming the centre of Lamachus' shield.
Oh, Lamachus, great hero! Your plumes and your cohorts terrify me.
This man, Lamachus, incessantly abuses Athens.
You are but a mendicant and you dare to use language of this sort?
Oh, brave Lamachus, forgive a beggar who speaks at hazard.
But what have you said? Let us hear.
I know nothing about it; the sight of weapons makes me dizzy.
Oh! I adjure you, take that fearful Gorgon somewhat farther away.
Now place it face downwards on the ground.
It is done.
Give me a plume out of your helmet.
Here is a feather.
And hold my head while I vomit; the plumes have turned my stomach.
Hah! what are you proposing to do? do you want to make yourself
vomit with this feather?
Is it a feather? what bird's? a braggart's?
Ah! ah! I will rip you open.
No, no, Lamachus! Violence is out of place here! But as you are so
strong, why did you not circumcise me? You have all the tools you want
for the operation there.
A beggar dares thus address a general!
How? Am I a beggar?
What are you then?
Who am I? A good citizen, not ambitious; a soldier, who has fought
well since the outbreak of the war, whereas you are but a vile
They elected me...
Yes, three cuckoos did!(1) If I have concluded peace, 'twas
disgust that drove me; for I see men with hoary heads in the ranks and
young fellows of your age shirking service. Some are in Thrace getting
an allowance of three drachmae, such fellows as Tisamenophoenippus
and Panurgipparchides. The others are with Chares or in Chaonia, men
like Geretotheodorus and Diomialazon; there are some of the same
kidney, too, at Camarina and at Gela,(2) the laughing-stock of all and sundry.
f(1) Indicates the character of his election, which was arranged, so
Aristophanes implies, by his partisans.
f(2) Town in Sicily. There is a pun on the name Gela and 'ridiculous'
which it is impossible to keep in English. Apparently the Athenians
had sent embassies to all parts of the Greek world to arrange treaties
of alliance in view of the struggle with the Lacedaemonians; but only
young debauchees of aristocratic connections had been chosen as envoys.
They were elected.
And why do you always receive your pay, when none of these
others ever gets any? Speak, Marilades, you have grey hair; well then,
have you ever been entrusted with a mission? See! he shakes his
head. Yet he is an active as well as a prudent man. And you, Dracyllus,
Euphorides or Prinides, have you knowledge of Ecbatana or
Chaonia? You say no, do you not? Such offices are good for the son
of Caesyra(1) and Lamachus, who, but yesterday ruined with debt, never
pay their shot, and whom all their friends avoid as foot passengers
dodge the folks who empty their slops out of window.
f(1) A contemporary orator apparently, otherwise unknown.
Oh! in freedom's name! are such exaggerations to be borne?
Lamachus is well content; no doubt he is well paid, you know.
But I propose always to war with the Peloponnesians, both at sea, on land
and everywhere to make them tremble, and trounce them soundly.
For my own part, I make proclamation to all Peloponnesians,
Megarians and Boeotians, that to them my markets are open; but I debar
Lamachus from entering them.
Convinced by this man's speech, the folk have changed their view
and approve him for having concluded peace. But let us prepare for the
recital of the parabasis.(1)
Never since our poet presented Comedies, has he praised himself
upon the stage; but, having been slandered by his enemies amongst
the volatile Athenians, accused of scoffing at his country and of
insulting the people, to-day he wishes to reply and regain for himself
the inconstant Athenians. He maintains that he has done much that is
good for you; if you no longer allow yourselves to be too much
hoodwinked by strangers or seduced by flattery, if in politics you are
no longer the ninnies you once were, it is thanks to him. Formerly,
when delegates from other cities wanted to deceive you, they had but
to style you, "the people crowned with violets," and at the word
"violets" you at once sat erect on the tips of your bums. Or if, to
tickle your vanity, someone spoke of "rich and sleek Athens," in
return for that "sleekness" he would get all, because he spoke of you
as he would have of anchovies in oil. In cautioning you against
such wiles, the poet has done you great service as well as
in forcing you to understand what is really the democratic
principle. Thus, the strangers, who came to pay their tributes,
wanted to see this great poet, who had dared to speak the truth to
Athens. And so far has the fame of his boldness reached that one day
the Great King, when questioning the Lacedaemonian delegates, first
asked them which of the two rival cities was the superior at sea,
and then immediately demanded at which it was that the comic poet
directed his biting satire. "Happy that city," he added, "if it
listens to his counsel; it will grow in power, and its victory is
assured." This is why the Lacedaemonians offer you peace, if you
will cede them Aegina; not that they care for the isle, but they
wish to rob you of your poet.(2) As for you, never lose him, who will
always fight for the cause of justice in his Comedies; he promises you
that his precepts will lead you to happiness, though he uses neither
flattery, nor bribery, nor intrigue, nor deceit; instead of loading
you with praise, he will point you to the better way. I scoff at
Cleon's tricks and plotting; honesty and justice shall fight my cause;
never will you find me a political poltroon, a prostitute to the
I invoke thee, Acharnian Muse, fierce and fell as the devouring fire;
sudden as the spark that bursts from the crackling oaken coal when
roused by the quickening fan to fry little fishes, while others knead
the dough or whip the sharp Thasian pickle with rapid hand, so break
forth, my Muse, and inspire thy tribesmen with rough, vigorous,
We others, now old men and heavy with years, we reproach the city;
so many are the victories we have gained for the Athenian fleets
that we well deserve to be cared for in our declining life; yet far
from this, we are ill-used, harassed with law-suits, delivered over to
the scorn of stripling orators. Our minds and bodies being ravaged
with age, Posidon should protect us, yet we have no other support than
a staff. When standing before the judge, we can scarcely stammer forth
the fewest words, and of justice we see but its barest shadow, whereas
the accuser, desirous of conciliating the younger men, overwhelms us
with his ready rhetoric; he drags us before the judge, presses us with
questions, lays traps for us; the onslaught troubles, upsets and ruins
poor old Tithonus, who, crushed with age, stands tongue-tied;
sentenced to a fine,(3) he weeps, he sobs and says to his friend,
"This fine robs me of the last trifle that was to have bought my coffin."
Is this not a scandal? What! the clepsydra(4) is to kill the
white-haired veteran, who, in fierce fighting, has so oft covered
himself with glorious sweat, whose valour at Marathon saved the
country! 'Twas we who pursued on the field of Marathon,
whereas now 'tis wretches who pursue us to the death and crush us!
What would Marpsias reply to this?(5) What an injustice that a man,
bent with age like Thucydides, should be brow-beaten by this braggart
advocate, Cephisodemus,(6) who is as savage as the Scythian desert
he was born in! Is it not to convict him from the outset? I wept tears
of pity when I saw an Archer(7) maltreat this old man, who, by Ceres,
when he was young and the true Thucydides, would not have permitted
an insult from Ceres herself! At that date he would have floored
ten orators, he would have terrified three thousand Archers with his
shouts; he would have pierced the whole line of the enemy with his shafts.
Ah! but if you will not leave the aged in peace, decree that the advocates
be matched; thus the old man will only be confronted with a toothless
greybeard, the young will fight with the braggart, the ignoble
with the son of Clinias;(8) make a law that in the future, the old man
can only be summoned and convicted at the courts by the aged
and the young man by the youth.
f(1) The 'parabasis' in the Old Comedy was a sort of address or topical
harangue addressed directly by the poet, speaking by the Chorus,
to the audience. It was nearly always political in bearing, and the subject
of the particular piece was for the time being set aside altogether.
f(2) It will be remembered that Aristophanes owned land in Aegina.
f(3) Everything was made the object of a law-suit in Athens. The old
soldiers, inexpert at speaking, often lost the day.
f(4) A water-clock used to limit the length of speeches in the courts.
f(5) A braggart speaker, fiery and pugnacious.
f(6) Cephisodemus was an Athenian, but through his mother possessed
f(7) The city of Athens was policed by Scythian archers.
These are the confines of my market-place. All Peloponnesians,
Megarians, Boeotians, have the right to come and trade here,
provided they sell their wares to me and not to Lamachus. As
market-inspectors I appoint these three whips of Leprean(1) leather,
chosen by lot. Warned away are all informers and all men of Phasis.(2)
They are bringing me the pillar on which the treaty is inscribed(3) and
I shall erect it in the centre of the market, well in sight of all.
f(1) The leather market was held in Lepros, outside the city.
f(2) Mean an informer ((from the Greek) 'to denounce').
f(3) According to the Athenian custom.
Hail! market of Athens, beloved of Megarians. Let Zeus, the patron
of friendship, witness, I regretted you as a mother mourns her son.
Come, poor little daughters of an unfortunate father, try to find
something to eat; listen to me with the full heed of an empty belly.
Which would you prefer? To be sold or to cry with hunger?
To be sold, to be sold!
That is my opinion too. But who would make so sorry a deal as to
buy you? Ah! I recall me a Megarian trick; I am going to disguise
you as little porkers, that I am offering for sale. Fit your hands
with these hoofs and take care to appear the issue of a sow of good
breed, for, if I am forced to take you back to the house, by Hermes!
you will suffer cruelly of hunger! Then fix on these snouts and cram
yourselves into this sack. Forget not to grunt and to say wee-wee like
the little pigs that are sacrificed in the Mysteries. I must summon
Dicaeopolis. Where is be? Dicaeopolis, do you want to buy
some nice little porkers?
Who are you? a Megarian?
I have come to your market.
Well, how are things at Megara?(1)
f(1) Megara was allied to Sparta and suffered during the war more than
any other city because of its proximity to Athens.
We are crying with hunger at our firesides.
The fireside is jolly enough with a piper. But what else is
doing at Megara, eh?
What else? When I left for the market, the authorities were taking
steps to let us die in the quickest manner.
That is the best way to get you out of all your troubles.
What other news of Megara? What is wheat selling at?
With us it is valued as highly as the very gods in heaven!
Is it salt that you are bringing?
Are you not holding back the salt?
'Tis garlic then?
What! garlic! do you not at every raid grub up the ground with your
pikes to pull out every single head?
What DO you bring then?
Little sows, like those they immolate at the Mysteries.
Ah! very well, show me them.
They are very fine; feel their weight. See! how fat and fine.
But what is this?
A SOW, for a certainty.(1)
f(1) Throughout this whole scene there is an obscene play upon (a) word
which means in Greek both 'sow' and 'a woman's organs of generation.'
You say a sow! Of what country, then?
From Megara. What! is it not a sow then?
No, I don't believe it is.
This is too much! what an incredulous man! He says 'tis not a sow;
but we will stake, an you will, a measure of salt ground up with
thyme, that in good Greek this is called a sow and nothing else.
But a sow of the human kind.
Without question, by Diocles! of my own breed! Well! What think
you? will you hear them squeal?
Well, yes, I' faith, I will.
Cry quickly, wee sowlet; squeak up, hussy, or by Hermes! I take you
back to the house.
Is that a little sow, or not?
Yes, it seems so; but let it grow up, and it will be a fine fat bitch.
In five years it will be just like its mother.
But it cannot be sacrificed.
And why not?
It has no tail.(1)
f(1) Sacrificial victims were bound to be perfect in every part; an animal,
therefore, without a tail could not be offered.
Because it is quite young, but in good time it will have a big one,
thick and red.
The two are as like as two peas.
They are born of the same father and mother; let them be fattened,
let them grow their bristles, and they will be the finest sows you can
offer to Aphrodite.
But sows are not immolated to Aphrodite.
Not sows to Aphrodite! Why, 'tis the only goddess to whom they
are offered! the flesh of my sows will be excellent on the spit.
Can they eat alone? They no longer need their mother!
Certainly not, nor their father.
What do they like most?
Whatever is given them; but ask for yourself.
Speak! little sow.
Can you eat chick-pease?
Wee-wee, wee-wee, wee-wee!
And Attic figs?
What sharp squeaks at the name of figs. Come, let some figs be
brought for these little pigs. Will they eat them? Goodness! how
they munch them, what a grinding of teeth, mighty Heracles! I
believe those pigs hail from the land of the Voracians. But surely
'tis impossible they have bolted all the figs!
Yes, certainly, bar this one that I took from them.
Ah! what funny creatures! For what sum will you sell them?
I will give you one for a bunch of garlic, and the other, if you
like, for a quart measure of salt.
I buy them of you. Wait for me here.
The deal is done. Hermes, god of good traders, grant I may sell
both my wife and my mother in the same way!
Hi! fellow, what countryman are you?
I am a pig-merchant from Megara.
I shall denounce both your pigs and yourself as public enemies.
Ah! here our troubles begin afresh!
Let go that sack. I will punish your Megarian lingo!(1)
f(1) The Megarians used the Doric dialect.
Dicaeopolis, Dicaeopolis, they want to denounce me.
Who dares do this thing? Inspectors, drive out the informers.
Ah! you offer to enlighten us without a lamp!(1)
f(1) A play upon (a) word which both means 'to light' and 'to denounce.'
What! I may not denounce our enemies?
Have a care for yourself, if you don't go off pretty quick to denounce
What a plague to Athens!
Be reassured, Megarian. Here is the price for your two swine,
the garlic and the salt. Farewell and much happiness!
Ah! we never have that amongst us.
Well! may the inopportune wish apply to myself.
Farewell, dear little sows, and seek, far from your father, to
munch your bread with salt, if they give you any.
Here is a man truly happy. See how everything succeeds to his
wish. Peacefully seated in his market, he will earn his living; woe to
Ctesias,(1) and all other informers who dare to enter there! You will not
be cheated as to the value of wares, you will not again see Prepis(2)
wiping his foul rump, nor will Cleonymus(3) jostle you; you will take your
walks, clothed in a fine tunic, without meeting Hyperbolus(4) and his
unceasing quibblings, without being accosted on the public place by
any importunate fellow, neither by Cratinus,(5) shaven in the fashion
of the debauchees, nor by this musician, who plagues us with his silly
improvisations, Artemo, with his arm-pits stinking as foul as a goat,
like his father before him. You will not be the butt of the villainous
Pauson's(6) jeers, nor of Lysistratus,(7) the disgrace
of the Cholargian deme, who is the incarnation of all the vices,
and endures cold and hunger more than thirty days in the month.
f(1) An informer (sycophant), otherwise unknown.
f(2) A debauchee of vile habits; a pathic.
f(3) Mentioned above; he was as proud as he was cowardly.
f(4) An Athenian general, quarrelsome and litigious, and an Informer
into the bargain.
f(5) A comic poet of vile habits.
f(6) A painter.
f(7) A debauchee, a gambler, and always in extreme poverty.
By Heracles! my shoulder is quite black and blue. Ismenias, put
the penny-royal down there very gently, and all of you, musicians
from Thebes, pipe with your bone flutes into a dog's rump.(1)
f(1) This kind of flute had a bellows, made of dog-skin, much like
the bagpipes of to-day.
Enough, enough, get you gone. Rascally hornets, away with you!
Whence has sprung this accursed swarm of Charis(1) fellows which comes
assailing my door?
f(1) A flute-player, mentioned above.
Ah! by Iolas!(1) Drive them off, my dear host, you will please me
immensely; all the way from Thebes, they were there piping behind me
and have completely stripped my penny-royal of its blossom.
But will you buy anything of me, some chickens or some locusts?
f(1) A hero, much honoured in Thebes; nephew of Heracles.
Ah! good day, Boeotian, eater of good round loaves.(1) What do you
f(1) A form of bread peculiar to Boeotia.
All that is good in Boeotia, marjoram, penny-royal, rush-mats,
lamp-wicks, ducks, jays, woodcocks, water-fowl, wrens, divers.
'Tis a very hail of birds that beats down on my market.
I also bring geese, hares, foxes, moles, hedgehogs, cats, lyres,
martins, otters and eels from the Copaic lake.(1)
f(1) A lake in Boeotia.
Ah! my friend, you, who bring me the most delicious of fish,
let me salute your eels.
Come, thou, the eldest of my fifty Copaic virgins, come and
complete the joy of our host.
Oh! my well-beloved, thou object of my long regrets, thou art here
at last then, thou, after whom the comic poets sigh, thou, who art
dear to Morychus.(1) Slaves, hither with the stove and the bellows.
Look at this charming eel, that returns to us after six long years
of absence.(2) Salute it, my children; as for myself, I will supply
coal to do honour to the stranger. Take it into my house; death itself
could not separate me from her, if cooked with beet leaves.
f(1) He was the Lucullus of Athens.
f(2) This again fixes the date of the presentation of 'The
Acharnians' to 436 B.C., the sixth year of the War, since the
beginning of which Boeotia had been closed to the Athenians.
And what will you give me in return?
It will pay for your market dues. And as to the rest, what do
you wish to sell me?
On what terms? For ready-money or in wares from these parts?
I would take some Athenian produce, that we have not got
Phaleric anchovies, pottery?
Anchovies, pottery? But these we have. I want produce that is
wanting with us and that is plentiful here.
Ah! I have the very thing; take away an Informer, packed up
carefully as crockery-ware.
By the twin gods! I should earn big money, if I took one; I
would exhibit him as an ape full of spite.
Hah! here we have Nicarchus,(1) who comes to denounce you.
f(1) An informer.
How small he is!
But in his case the whole is one mass of ill-nature.
Whose are these goods?
Mine; they come from Boeotia, I call Zeus to witness.
I denounce them as coming from an enemy's country.
What! you declare war against birds?
And I am going to denounce you too.
What harm have I done you?
I will say it for the benefit of those that listen; you introduce lamp-wicks
from an enemy's country.
Then you go as far as denouncing a wick.
It needs but one to set an arsenal afire.
A wick set an arsenal ablaze! But how, great gods?
Should a Boeotian attach it to an insect's wing, and, taking
advantage of a violent north wind, throw it by means of a tube into
the arsenal and the fire once get hold of the vessels, everything
would soon be devoured by the flames.
Ah! wretch! an insect and a wick devour everything!
(HE STRIKES HIM.)
NICARCHUS (TO THE CHORUS)
You will bear witness, that he mishandles me.
Shut his mouth. Give me some hay; I am going to pack him up like
a vase, that he may not get broken on the road.
Pack up your goods carefully, friend; that the stranger may not
break it when taking it away.
I shall take great care with it, for one would say he is cracked already;
he rings with a false note, which the gods abhor.
But what will be done with him?
This is a vase good for all purposes; it will be used as a vessel for holding
all foul things, a mortar for pounding together law-suits, a lamp
for spying upon accounts, and as a cup for the mixing up and poisoning
None could ever trust a vessel for domestic use that has such a
ring about it.
Oh! it is strong, my friend, and will never get broken, if care is
taken to hang it head downwards.
There! it is well packed now!
Marry, I will proceed to carry off my bundle.
Farewell, worthiest of strangers, take this informer, good for
anything, and fling him where you like.
Bah! this rogue has given me enough trouble to pack! Here!
Boeotian, pick up your pottery.
Stoop, Ismenias, that I may put it on your shoulder, and be very
careful with it.
You carry nothing worth having; however, take it, for you will
profit by your bargain; the Informers will bring you luck.
A SERVANT OF LAMACHUS
What do you want crying this gait?
Lamachus wants to keep the Feast of Cups,(1) and I come by his order
to bid you one drachma for some thrushes and three more for a Copaic eel.
f(1) The second day of the Dionysia or feasts of Bacchus, kept in the month
Anthesterion (February), and called the Anthesteria. They lasted three
days; the second being the Feast of Cups, the third the Feast of Pans.
Vases, filled with grain of all kinds, were borne in procession and
dedicated to Hermes.
And who is this Lamachus, who demands an eel?
'Tis the terrible, indefatigable Lamachus, who is always brandishing
his fearful Gorgon's head and the three plumes which o'ershadow
No, no, he will get nothing, even though he gave me his buckler.
Let him eat salt fish, while he shakes his plumes, and, if he comes
here making any din, I shall call the inspectors. As for myself,
I shall take away all these goods; I go home on thrushes' wings
and black-birds' pinions.(1)
f(1) A parody on some verses from a lost poet.
You see, citizens, you see the good fortune which this man owes to
his prudence, to his profound wisdom. You see how, since he has
concluded peace, he buys what is useful in the household and good to
eat hot. All good things flow towards him unsought. Never will I welcome
the god of war in my house; never shall he chant the "Harmodius" at
my table;(1) he is a sot, who comes feasting with those who are
overflowing with good things and brings all manner of mischief at his
heels. He overthrows, ruins, rips open; 'tis vain to make him a
thousand offers, "be seated, pray, drink this cup, proffered in all
friendship," he burns our vine-stocks and brutally pours out the wine
from our vineyards
on the ground. This man, on the other hand, covers his table with
a thousand dishes; proud of his good fortunes, he has had these feathers
cast before his door to show us how he lives.
f(1) A feasting song in honour of Harmodius, the assassin of Hipparchus
the Tyrant, son of Pisistratus.
Oh, Peace! companion of fair Aphrodite and of the sweet Graces,
how charming are thy features and yet I never knew it! Would that Eros
might join me to thee, Eros, crowned with roses as Zeuxis(1) shows him to
us! Perhaps I seem somewhat old to you, but I am yet able to make you a
threefold offering; despite my age I could plant a long row of vines for you;
then beside these some tender cuttings from the fig; finally a young
vine-stock, loaded with fruit and all around the field olive trees, which
would furnish us with oil, wherewith to anoint us both at the New Moons.
f(1) The celebrated painter, born in Heraclea, a contemporary
List, ye people! As was the custom of your forebears, empty a full
pitcher of wine at the call of the trumpet; he, who first sees the
bottom, shall get a wine-skin as round and plump as Ctesiphon's belly.
Women, children, have you not heard? Faith! do you not heed the
herald? Quick! let the hares boil and roast merrily; keep them
a-turning; withdraw them from the flame; prepare the chaplets;
reach me the skewers that I may spit the thrushes.
I envy you your wisdom and even more your good cheer.
What then will you say when you see the thrushes roasting?
Ah! true indeed!
Slave! stir up the fire.
See, how he knows his business, what a perfect cook! How well
he understands the way to prepare a good dinner!
Ah! woe is me!
Heracles! What have we here?
A most miserable man.
Keep your misery for yourself.
Ah! friend! since you alone are enjoying peace, grant me a part
of your truce, were it but five years.
What has happened to you?
I am ruined; I have lost a pair of steers.
The Boeotians seized them at Phyle.(1)
f(1) A deme and frontier fortress of Attica, near the Boeotian border.
Ah! poor wretch! and yet you have not left off white?
Their dung made my wealth.
What can I do in the matter?
Crying for my beasts has lost me my eyesight. Ah! if you care for poor
Dercetes of Phyle, anoint mine eyes quickly with your balm of peace.
But, my poor fellow, I do not practise medicine.
Come, I adjure you; perhaps I shall recover my steers.
'Tis impossible; away, go and whine to the disciples of Pittalus.(1)
f(1) An Athenian physician of the day.
Grant me but one drop of peace; pour it into this reedlet.
No, not a particle; go a-weeping elsewhere.
Oh! oh! oh! my poor beasts!
This man has discovered the sweetest enjoyment in peace; he will share it
Pour honey over this tripe; set it before the fire to dry.
What lofty tones he uses! Did you hear him?
Get the eels on the gridiron!
You are killing me with hunger; your smoke is choking your
neighbours, and you split our ears with your bawling.
Have this fried and let it be nicely browned.
Who are you?
A young bridegroom sends you these viands from the marriage feast.
Whoever he be, I thank him.
And in return, he prays you to pour a glass of peace into this vase,
that he may not have to go to the front and may stay at home
to do his duty to his young wife.
Take back, take back your viands; for a thousand drachmae I
would not give a drop of peace; but who are you, pray?
I am the bridesmaid; she wants to say something to you
from the bride privately.
Come, what do you wish to say? (THE BRIDESMAID WHISPERS IN
HIS EAR.) Ah! what a ridiculous demand! The bride burns with longing
to keep by her her husband's weapon. Come! \bring hither my truce; to
her alone will I give some of it, for she is a woman, and, as such,
should not suffer under the war. Here, friend, reach hither your vial.
And as to the manner of applying this balm, tell the bride, when a
levy of soldiers is made to rub some in bed on her husband, where
most needed. There, slave, take away my truce! Now, quick, bring me
the wine-flagon, that I may fill up the drinking bowls!
I see a man, striding along apace, with knitted brows; he seems
to us the bearer of terrible tidings.
Oh! toils and battles, 'tis Lamachus!
What noise resounds around my dwelling, where shines the glint
The Generals order you forthwith to take your battalions and
your plumes, and, despite the snow, to go and guard our borders.
They have learnt that a band of Boeotians intend taking advantage
of the Feast of Cups to invade our country.
Ah! the Generals! they are numerous, but not good for much!
It's cruel, not to be able to enjoy the feast!
Oh! warlike host of Lamachus!
Wretch! do you dare to jeer me?
Do you want to fight this four-winged Geryon?
Oh! oh! what fearful tidings!
Ah! ah! I see another herald running up; what news does he bring me?
What is the matter?
Come quickly to the feast and bring your basket and your cup;
'tis the priest of Bacchus who invites you. But hasten, the guests
have been waiting for you a long while. All is ready--couches,
tables, cushions, chaplets, perfumes, dainties and courtesans to boot;
biscuits, cakes, sesame-bread, tarts, lovely dancing women, the sweetest
charm of the festivity. But come with all haste.
Oh! hostile gods!
This is not astounding; you have chosen this huge, great ugly Gorgon's head
for your patron. You, shut the door, and let someone get ready the meal.
Slave! slave! my knapsack!
Slave! slave! a basket!
Take salt and thyme, slave, and don't forget the onions.
Get some fish for me; I cannot bear onions.
Slave, wrap me up a little stale salt meat in a fig-leaf.
And for me some good greasy tripe in a fig-leaf; I will have it cooked here.
Bring me the plumes for my helmet.
Bring me wild pigeons and thrushes.
How white and beautiful are these ostrich feathers!
How fat and well browned is the flesh of this wood-pigeon!
Bring me the case for my triple plume.
Pass me over that dish of hare.
OH! the moths have eaten the hair of my crest.
I shall always eat hare before dinner.
Hi! friend! try not to scoff at my armor?
Hi! friend! will you kindly not stare at my thrushes.
Hi! friend! will you kindly not address me.
I do not address you; I am scolding my slave. Shall we wager and submit
the matter to Lamachus, which of the two is the best to eat, a locust or
He much prefers the locusts.
Slave, unhook my spear and bring it to me.
Slave, slave, take the sausage from the fire and bring it to me.
Come, let me draw my spear from its sheath. Hold it, slave, hold it tight.
And you, slave, grip, grip well hold of the skewer.
Slave, the bracings for my shield.
Pull the loaves out of the oven and bring me these bracings of my stomach.
My round buckler with the Gorgon's head.
My round cheese-cake.
What clumsy wit!
What delicious cheese-cake!
Pour oil on the buckler. Hah! hah! I can see reflected there an old
man who will be accused of cowardice.
Pour honey on the cake. Hah! hah! I can see an old man who makes
Lamachus of the Gorgon's head weep with rage.
Slave, full war armour.
Slave, my beaker; that is MY armour.
With this I hold my ground with any foe.
And I with this with any tosspot.
Fasten the strappings to the buckler; personally I shall carry the knapsack
Pack the dinner well into the basket; personally I shall carry the cloak.
Slave, take up the buckler and let's be off. It is snowing! Ah!
'tis a question of facing the winter.
Take up the basket, 'tis a question of getting to the feast.
We wish you both joy on your journeys, which differ so much. One goes
to mount guard and freeze, while the other will drink, crowned
with flowers, and then sleep with a young beauty, who will excite
I say it freely; may Zeus confound Antimachus, the poet-historian,
the son of Psacas! When Choregus at the Lenaea, alas! alas! he
dismissed me dinnerless. May I see him devouring with his eyes a
cuttle-fish, just served, well cooked, hot and properly salted; and
the moment that he stretches his hand to help himself, may a dog seize
it and run off with it. Such is my first wish. I also hope for him a
misfortune at night. That returning all-fevered from horse practice,
he may meet an Orestes,(1) mad with drink, who breaks open his head;
that wishing to seize a stone, he, in the dark, may pick up a fresh stool,
hurl his missile, miss aim and hit Cratinus.(2)
f(1) An allusion to the paroxysms of rage, as represented in many tragedies
familiar to an Athenian audience, of Orestes, the son of Agamemnon,
after he had killed his mother.
f(2) No doubt the comic poet, rival of Aristophanes.
SLAVE OF LAMACHUS
Slaves of Lamachus! Water, water in a little pot! Make it warm, get ready
cloths, cerate greasy wool and bandages for his ankle. In leaping a ditch,
the master has hurt himself against a stake; he has dislocated and twisted
his ankle, broken his head by falling on a stone, while his Gorgon shot far
away from his buckler. His mighty braggadocio plume rolled on the
ground; at this sight he uttered these doleful words, "Radiant star, I gaze
on thee for the last time; my eyes close to all light, I die." Having
he falls into the water, gets out again, meets some runaways and pursues
the robbers with his spear at their backsides.(1) But here he comes,
himself. Get the door open.
f(1) Unexpected wind-up of the story. Aristophanes intends to deride
the boasting of Lamachus, who was always ascribing to himself most
Oh! heavens! oh! heavens! What cruel pain! I faint, I tremble! Alas!
I die! the foe's lance has struck me! But what would hurt me most
would be for Dicaeopolis to see me wounded thus and laugh
at my ill-fortune.
DICAEOPOLIS (ENTERS WITH TWO COURTESANS)
Oh! my gods! what bosoms! Hard as a quince! Come, my treasures, give
me voluptuous kisses! Glue your lips to mine. Haha! I was the first to
empty my cup.
Oh! cruel fate! how I suffer! accursed wounds!
Hah! hah! hail! Knight Lamachus! (EMBRACES LAMACHUS.)
By the hostile gods! (BITES DICAEOPOLIS.)
Ah! Great gods!
Why do you embrace me?
And why do you bite me?
'Twas a cruel score I was paying back!
Scores are not evened at the Feast of Cups!
Oh! Paean, Paean!
But to-day is not the feast of Paean.
Oh! support my leg, do; ah! hold it tenderly, my friends!
And you, my darlings, take hold of this, both of you!
This blow with the stone makes me dizzy; my sight grows dim.
For myself, I want to get to bed; I am bursting with lustfulness,
I want to be bundling in the dark.
Carry me to the surgeon Pittalus.
Take me to the judges. Where is the king of the feast?
The wine-skin is mine!
That spear has pierced my bones; what torture I endure!
You see this empty cup! I triumph! I triumph!
Old man, I come at your bidding! You triumph! you triumph!
Again I have brimmed my cup with unmixed wine and drained it at
You triumph then, brave champion; thine is the wine-skin!
Follow me, singing "Triumph! Triumph!"
Aye! we will sing of thee, thee and thy sacred wine-skin, and we all,
as we follow thee, will repeat in thine honour, "Triumph, Triumph!"
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