ACHARNIANS is the first of a series
of three Comedies--also including Peace
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 Lenæan Festival, in January, 426 B.C.,
and gained the first prize, Cratinus
Its diatribes against the War and fierce
criticism of the general policy of the War party so enraged Cleon
that 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. Dicæopolis,
an Athenian citizen, but a native of Acharnæ, one of the
agricultural demes and one which had especially suffered in the
Lacedæmonian 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 demagoges of the
day--Cleon and his henchmen--refuse to hear of such a thing as
coming to terms. Accordingly Dicæopolis 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 sucking-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
The drama takes its title from the
Chorus, composed of old men of Acharnæ.
This article is reprinted
from Aristophanes: The Eleven Comedies. Trans. Anonymous.
London: The Athenian Society, 1922.