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Title: Aristophanes
Author: Collins, W. Lucas (William Lucas)
Language: English
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                      REV. W. LUCAS COLLINS, M.A.

                               AUTHOR OF
                ‘ETONIANA,’ ‘THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS,’ ETC.

                      WILLIAM BLACKWOOD AND SONS
                         EDINBURGH AND LONDON



CHAP.    I. INTRODUCTION,                                              1

 “      II. THE KNIGHTS,                                              14

            ACHARNIANS.--THE PEACE.--LYSISTRATA,                      38

 “      IV. THE CLOUDS,                                               75

 “       V. THE WASPS,                                               101

 “      VI. THE BIRDS,                                               112

 “     VII. THE FROGS,                                               125

 “    VIII. THE WOMEN’S FESTIVAL.--THE ECCLESIAZUSÆ,                 139

 “      IX. PLUTUS,                                                  154


In ‘The Knights,’ ‘The Acharnians,’ ‘The Birds,’ and ‘The Frogs,’ most
of the translated extracts are taken, by permission, from the admirable
version of those comedies by the late Mr Hookham Frere, and are marked
(F.) For all translations not so marked the present writer is




It has been observed already,[1] in speaking of these “ancient”
classical authors, that some of them, in their tone and spirit, have
much more in common with modern literature than with their great
predecessors who wrote in the same language, and whose volumes stand
ranged upon the same shelves. This may be remarked with especial truth
of these Comedies of Aristophanes. A national comedy which has any
pretension at all to literary merit--which is anything more than mere
coarse buffoonery--must, in its very nature, be of later growth than
epic or lyric poetry, tragedy, or historic narrative. It assumes a
fuller intellectual life, a higher civilisation, and a keener taste in
the people who demand it and appreciate it. And Athenian comedy, as we
have it represented in the plays of Aristophanes, implies all these in
a very high degree on the part of the audience to whom it was presented.
It flourished in those glorious days of Athens which not long preceded
her political decline,--when the faculties of her citizens were strung
to full pitch, when there was much wealth and much leisure, when the
arts were highly cultivated and education widely spread, and the
refinements and the vices which follow such a state of things presented
an ample field for the play of wit and fancy, the _badinage_ of the
humorist, or the more trenchant weapons of satire.

But although this Athenian comedy is, in one sense, so very modern in
its spirit, we must not place it in comparison with that which we call
comedy now. It was something quite different from that form of drama
which, with its elaborate and artistic plot, its lively incidents, and
brilliant dialogue, has taken possession under the same name of the
modern stage. It is difficult to compare it to any one form of modern
literature, dramatic or other. It perhaps most resembled what we now
call burlesque; but it had also very much in it of broad farce and comic
opera, and something also (in the hits at the fashions and follies of
the day with which it abounded) of the modern pantomime. But it was
something more, and more important to the Athenian public, than any or
all of these could have been. Almost always more or less political, and
sometimes intensely personal, and always with some purpose more or less
important underlying its wildest vagaries and coarsest buffooneries, it
supplied the place of the political journal, the literary review, the
popular caricature, and the party pamphlet, of our own times. It
combined the attractions and the influence of all these; for its
grotesque masks and elaborate “spectacle” addressed the eye as strongly
as the author’s keenest witticisms did the ear of his audience. Some
weak resemblance of it might have been found, in modern times, in that
curious outdoor drama, the Policinella of the Neapolitans: something of
the same wild buffoonery overlying the same caustic satire on the
prominent events and persons of the day, and even something of the same
popular influence.[2] The comic dramatist who produced his annual budget
of lampoon and parody has also been compared, not inaptly, to the “Terræ
Filius” of our universities in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries;
that curious shadow of the old pagan saturnalia, when once in the year
some clever and reckless graduate claimed prescriptive right to launch
the shafts of his wit against proctors, doctors, heads of houses, and
dignities in general--too often without much more regard to decency than
his Athenian prototype. The Paris ‘Charivari’ and the London ‘Punch,’ in
their best days, had perhaps more of the tone of Aristophanes about them
than any other modern literary production; for Rabelais, who resembled
the Athenian dramatist in many of his worst characteristics as well as
his best, can scarcely be called modern, and has few readers. The ‘Age’
and the ‘Satirist’ newspapers, to those who remember them during their
brief day of existence, may well represent Athenian comedy in its worst
and most repulsive features--its scurrilous personalities and disregard
of decency.

It may be remembered by the readers of these volumes that the dramatic
representations at Athens took place only at the Dionysia, or Great
Festivals of Bacchus, which were held three times a-year, and that each
play was brought out by its author in competition for the prize of
tragedy or comedy which was then awarded to the successful exhibitors by
the public voice, and which was the object of intense ambition.[3] This
will in some degree account for the character of Attic comedy. It was an
appeal to the audience,--not only to their appreciation of wit and
humour, but also to their sympathies, social and political, their
passions, and their prejudices. Therefore it was so often bitterly
personal and so hotly political. The public demand was always for
something “sensational” in these respects, and the authors took care to
comply with it. And therefore, also, we find introduced so frequently
confidential appeals to the audience themselves, not only in those
addresses (called the _parabasis_) in which the author is allowed to
speak in his own proper person through the mouth of the Chorus, but also
on the part of the individual characters during the action of the play.
They enlist the spectators themselves among the _dramatis
personæ_,--not a very artistic proceeding, but no doubt popular and very
tempting. It has been adopted by modern dramatists, even by so high an
authority as Molière,[4] and notoriously by farce-writers of more recent

But there could be no greater mistake than to suppose that the audience
before whom these plays of Aristophanes were represented were
impressible only by these lower influences. It has just been said that
education at Athens was widely spread. Readers, indeed, might not be
many, when books were necessarily so few; but the education which was
received by the masses through their constant attendance at the theatre,
the public deliberative assembly, and the law-courts, was quite as
effective in sharpening their intelligence and their memory. Fully to
realise to ourselves what Greek intellect was in the bright days of
Athens, and to understand how well that city deserved her claim to be
the intellectual “eye of Greece,” we should not appeal to the works of
her great poets, her historians, or her orators, which may be assumed
(though scarcely in the case of the tragedians) to have depended for
their due appreciation upon the finer tastes of the few: we must turn to
these comedies, addressed directly to an audience in which, although
those finer tastes were not unrepresented, the verdict of what we
should call the “masses” was essential to the author’s success. There is
abundant evidence in these pieces--it is impressed upon the reader
disagreeably in every one of them--that, willingly or unwillingly, the
writer pandered to the vulgar taste, and degraded his Muse to the level
of the streets in order to catch this popular favour; though not without
occasional protests in his own defence against such perversion of his
art--protests which we must fear were only half sincere. But there is
evidence quite as conclusive that the intellectual calibre, and even the
literary taste, of this audience was of a far higher character than that
of the modern pit and gallery. The dramatist not only assumes on their
behalf a familiarity with all the best scenes and points in the dramas
of the great tragedians--which, in the case of such inveterate
play-goers as the Athenians were, is not so very surprising--and an
acquaintance with the political questions and the public celebrities of
the day which possibly might be found, in this age when every man is
becoming a politician, amongst a Paris or a London theatrical auditory;
but he also expects to find, and evidently did find, an acquaintance
with, and an appreciation of, poetry generally, a comprehension of at
least the salient points of different systems of philosophy, and an
ability to seize at once and appropriate all the finer points of
allusion, of parody, and of satire. Aristophanes is quite aware of the
weaknesses and the wilfulness of this many-headed multitude, whom he
satirises so unsparingly to their faces; but he had good right to say
of them, as he does in his ‘Knights,’ that they were an audience with
whom he might make sure at least of being understood,--“For our friends
here are sharp enough.”[5]

It is to be regretted that the Comedies of Aristophanes are now less
read at our universities than they were some years ago. If one great
object of the study of the classics is to gain an accurate acquaintance
with one of the most brilliant and interesting epochs in the history of
the world, no pages will supply a more important contribution to this
knowledge than those of the great Athenian humorist. He lays the flesh
and blood, the features and the colouring, upon the skeleton which the
historian gives us. His portraits of political and historical
celebrities must of course be accepted with caution, as the works of a
professional caricaturist; but, like all good caricatures, they preserve
some striking characteristics of the men which find no place in their
historical portraits, and they let us know what was said and thought of
them by irreverent contemporaries. It is in these comedies that we have
the Athenians at home; and although modern writers of Athenian history
have laid them largely under contribution in the way of reference and
illustration, nothing will fill in the outline of the Athens of Cleon
and Alcibiades and Socrates so vividly as the careful study of one of
these remarkable dramas in the Greek original. One is inclined to place
more faith than is usually due to anecdotes of the kind in that which is
told of Plato, that when the elder Dionysius, tyrant of Syracuse, wrote
to him to request information as to the state of things at Athens, the
philosopher sent him a copy of Aristophanes’s ‘Clouds,’ as the best and
most trustworthy picture of that marvellous republic.

Of the writers of the “Old” Athenian comedy (so termed to distinguished
it from the “New,” which was of a different character, and more like our
own), Aristophanes is the only one whose works have come down to us. He
had some elder contemporaries who were formidable and often successful
rivals with him in the popular favour, but of their plays nothing now
remains but a few titles and fragments of plots preserved by other
writers. Of one of them, Cratinus, who died a few years after
Aristophanes began to write for the stage, the younger author makes some
not unkindly mention more than once, though he had been beaten by him
somewhat unexpectedly upon the old man’s last appearance, after some
interval of silence, in the dramatic arena. It is curious to learn that
in this his last production the veteran satirist found a subject in
himself. The critics and the public had accused him (not unjustly, if we
may trust Aristophanes here) of having grown too fond of wine, and of
dulling his faculties by this indulgence. His reply was this comedy,
which he called ‘The Bottle.’ He himself was the hero of the piece, and
was represented as having deserted his lawful wife, the Comic Muse, for
the charms of this new mistress. But in the catastrophe he was reformed
and reconciled to the worthier lady; and the theatrical critics--perhaps
out of sympathy with their old favourite--awarded him the first prize,
though Aristophanes had brought forward in the competition of that year
what he esteemed one of his masterpieces.[6]

The extreme licence of personal attack which was accorded by general
consent to the writers of comedy, so that any man whose character and
habits were at all before the public might find himself at any moment
held up to popular ridicule upon the stage, will be the subject of
remark hereafter. It must have been very unpleasant and embarrassing,
one must suppose, to the individuals thus marked out; but the sacredness
of private life and character was something unknown to an Athenian, and
he would not be nearly so sensitive on these points as ourselves. The
very fact that this licence was allowed to exist so long is some proof
that it was on the whole not unfairly exercised. The satiric writer must
have felt that his popularity depended upon his aiming his blows only
where the popular feeling held them to be well deserved; and there are
some follies and vices which this kind of castigation can best reach,
and cases of public shamelessness or corruption which, under a lax code
of morality, can only be fitly punished by public ridicule. When,
towards the close of the great struggle between Athens and Sparta, the
executive powers of the State had been usurped by the oligarchy of the
“Four Hundred,” a law was passed to prohibit, under strong penalties,
the introduction of real persons into these satiric dramas: but the
check thus put to the right of popular criticism upon public men and
measures was only a token of the decline of Athenian liberty. The free
speech of comedy was in that commonwealth what the freedom of the press
is in our own; and, in both cases, the risk of its occasional abuse was
not so dangerous as its suppression.

Something must be said of the personal history of our author himself,
though such biographical account of him as we have is more or less
apocryphal. He was no doubt a free citizen of Athens, because when the
great popular demagogue Cleon, whom he had so bitterly satirised on the
stage, took his revenge by an attempt to prove the contrary in a court
of law, he failed in his purpose. Aristophanes was also probably a man
of some wealth, since he had property, as he tells us in one of his
plays, in the island of Ægina. In politics and in social questions he
was a stanch Conservative; proud of the old days of Athenian greatness,
jealous of the new habits and fashions which he thought tended to
enervate the youth of the state, and the new systems of philosophy which
were sapping the foundations of morality and honesty. His conservatism
tended perhaps to the extreme, or at least takes that appearance in the
exaggeration natural to the comic satirist; for he certainly appears
occasionally as the champion of a pre-scientific age, when gymnastics
held a higher place in education than philosophy, and when the stout
Athenian who manned the galleys at Salamis thought he knew enough if he
“knew how to ask for barley-cake, and shout his yo-heave-oh!”[7] He was
as much of an aristocrat as a man might be, to be an Athenian: he hated
the mob-orators of his time, not only for their principles but for their
vulgar origin, with an intensity which he did not care to disguise, and
which, had not his wit and his boldness made him a popular favourite,
rather in spite of his opinions than because of them, would have brought
him into even more trouble than it actually did. He began to write for
the stage at a very early age--so early, that he was not allowed by law
to produce his two first pieces (now unfortunately lost) in his own
name. Some of the old commentators would have us believe that he wrote
his first comedy when he was only eighteen, but this, from internal
evidence, seems improbable; he must have been five or six years older.
He supplied the dramatic festivals with comedies, more or less
successful, for at least thirty-seven years (from B.C. 427 to 390); but
of the forty plays which he is known to have produced we have only
eleven, and some of them in a more or less imperfect form. For the
preservation of these, according to ancient tradition, we are indebted
to one who might have seemed a very unlikely patron for this kind of
pagan literature--no other than St John Chrysostom. That worthy father
of the Church is said to have slept with a manuscript of Aristophanes
under his pillow; it is at least certain that he had studied his plays
and admired them, since he has not unfrequently imitated their language
in his own writings.

Some enthusiastic admirers of Aristophanes would have us regard him not
only as a brilliant humorist, but as a high moral teacher, concealing a
grand design under the mask of a buffoon. They seem to think that he
was impelled to write comedy chiefly by a patriotic zeal for the welfare
of Athens, and a desire to save his countrymen from corrupting
influences. This is surely going too far. His comedies have a political
cast, mainly because at Athens every man was a politician; and no doubt
the opinions which he advocates are those which he honestly entertained.
But he would probably have been content himself with the reputation of
being what he was,--a brilliant and successful writer for the stage; a
vigorous satirist, who lashed vice by preference, but had also a jest
ready against ungainly virtue; a professional humorist who looked upon
most things on their ludicrous side; who desired to be honest and manly
in his vocation, and, above all things, not to be dull.

It may be right to say a word here, very briefly, as to the coarseness
of the great comedian. It need not be said that it will find no place in
these pages. He has been censured and apologised for on this ground,
over and over again. Defended, strictly speaking, he cannot be. His
personal exculpation must always rest upon the fact, that the wildest
licence in which he indulged was not only recognised as permissible, but
actually enjoined as part of the ceremonial at these festivals of
Bacchus: that it was not only in accordance with public taste, but was
consecrated (if terms may be so abused) as a part of the national
religion. Such was the curse which always accompanied the nature-worship
of Paganism, and infected of necessity its literature. But the
coarseness of Aristophanes is not corrupting. There is nothing immoral
in his plots, nothing really dangerous in his broadest humour. Compared
with some of our old English dramatists, he is morality itself. And when
we remember the plots of some French and English plays which now attract
fashionable audiences, and the character of some modern French and
English novels not unfrequently found upon drawing-room tables, the
least that can be said is, that we had better not cast stones at



The two first comedies which Aristophanes brought out--‘The Revellers’
and ‘The Babylonians’--are both unfortunately lost to us. The third was
‘The Acharnians,’ followed in the next year by ‘The Knights.’ It may be
convenient, for some reasons, to begin our acquaintance with the author
in this latter play, because it is that into which he seems to have
thrown most of his personality as well as the whole force of his satiric
powers. There was a reason for this. In its composition he had not only
in view his fame as a dramatic writer, or the advocacy of a political
principle, but also a direct personal object.

It is now the eighth year of the Peloponnesian War, in which all Greece
is ranged on the side of the two great contending powers, Athens and
Sparta. The great Pericles--to whose fatal policy, as Aristophanes held,
its long continuance has been due--has been six years dead. His place in
the commonwealth has been taken by men of inferior mark. And the man who
is now most in popular favour, the head of the democratic interest, now
completely in the ascendant, is the poet’s great enemy, Cleon: an able
but unscrupulous man, of low origin, loud and violent, an able speaker
and energetic politician. Historians are at variance as to his real
claim to honesty and patriotism, and it remains a question never likely
to be set at rest. It would be manifestly unfair to decide it solely on
the evidence of his satirical enemy. He and his policy had been fiercely
attacked in the first comedy produced by Aristophanes--‘The
Babylonians,’ of which only the merest fragment has come down to us. But
we know that in it the poet had satirised the abuses prevalent in the
Athenian government, and their insolence to their subject-allies, under
the disguise of an imaginary empire, the scene of which he laid in
Babylon. Cleon had revenged himself upon his satirist by overwhelming
him with abuse in the public assembly, and by making a formal accusation
against him of having slandered the state in the presence of foreigners
and aliens, and thus brought ridicule and contempt upon the commonwealth
of Athens. In the drama now before us, the author is not only satirising
the political weakness of his countrymen; he is fulfilling the threat
which he had held out the year before in his ‘Acharnians,’--that he
would “cut up Cleon the tanner into shoe-leather for the Knights,”--and
concentrating the whole force of his wit, in the most unscrupulous and
merciless fashion, against his personal enemy. In this bitterness of
spirit the play stands in strong contrast with the good-humoured
burlesque of ‘The Acharnians’ and ‘The Peace,’ or, indeed, with any
other of the author’s productions which have reached us.

This play follows the fashion of the Athenian stage in taking its name
from the Chorus, who are in this case composed of THE KNIGHTS--the class
of citizens ranking next to the highest at Athens. A more appropriate
title, if the title is meant to indicate the subject, would be that
which Mr Mitchell gives it in his translation--‘The Demagogues.’ The
principal character in the piece is “Demus”--_i.e._, People: an
impersonation of that many-headed monster the Commons of Athens, the
classical prototype of Swift’s John Bull; and the satire is directed
against the facility with which he allows himself to be gulled and
managed by those who are nominally his servants but really his
masters--those noisy and corrupt demagogues (and one in particular, just
at present) who rule him for their own selfish ends.

The characters represented are only five. “People” is a rich
householder--selfish, superstitious, and sensual--who employs a kind of
major-domo to look after his business and manage his slaves. He has had
several in succession, from time to time. The present man is known in
the household as “The Paphlagonian,” or sometimes as “The Tanner”--for
the poet does not venture to do more than thus indicate Cleon by names
which refer either to some asserted barbarian blood in his family, or to
the occupation followed by his father. He is an unprincipled, lying
rascal; a slave himself, fawning and obsequious to his master, while
cheating him abominably--insolent and bullying towards the fellow-slaves
who are under his command. Two of these are Nicias and Demosthenes--the
first of them holding the chief naval command at this time, with
Demosthenes as one of his vice-admirals. These characters bear the real
names in most of the manuscripts, though they are never so addressed in
the dialogue; but they would be readily known to the audience by the
masks in which the actors performed the parts. But in the case of Cleon,
no artist was found bold enough to risk his powerful vengeance by
caricaturing his features, and no actor dared to represent him on the
stage. Aristophanes is said to have played the part himself, with his
face, in the absence of a mask, smeared with wine-lees, after the
primitive fashion, when “comedy” was nothing more than a village revel
in celebration of the vintage. Such a disguise, moreover, served
excellently well, as he declared, to imitate the purple and bloated
visage of the demagogue. The remaining character is that of “The
Black-pudding-Seller,” whose business in the piece will be better
understood as it proceeds. The whole action takes place without change
of scene (excepting the final tableau) in the open air, in front of
Demus’s house, the entrance to which is in the centre of the proscenium.

The two slaves, Nicias and Demosthenes, come out rubbing their
shoulders. They have just had a lashing from the major-domo. After
mutual condolences, and complaints of their hard lot, they agree to sit
down together and howl in concert--to the last new fashionable tune--

    “Ŏ ōħ, Ŏ ōħ,--Ŏ ōħ, Ŏ ōħ,--Ŏ ōħ, Ŏ ōħ!”

Perhaps the burlesque of the two well-known commanders bemoaning
themselves in this parody of popular music does not imply more
childishness on the part of an Athenian audience than the nigger
choruses and comic operas of our own day. But, as Demosthenes, the
stronger character of the pair, observes at last--“crying’s no good.”
They must find some remedy. And there is one which occurs to him,--an
effectual one--but of which the very name is terrible, and not safely to
be uttered. It lies in a word that may be fatal to a slave, and is
always of ill omen to Athenian ears. At last, after a fashion quite
untranslatable, they contrive to say it between them--“Run away.” The
idea seems excellent, and Demosthenes proposes that they should take the
audience into their confidence, which accordingly they do,--begging them
to give some token of encouragement if the plot and the dialogue so far
please them:--

    “_Dem. (to the audience.)_ Well, come now! I’ll tell ye
        about it--Here are we,
    A couple of servants--with a master at home
    Next door to the hustings. He’s a man in years,
    A kind of a bean-fed,[8] husky, testy character,
    Choleric and brutal at times, and partly deaf.
    It’s near about a month now, that he went
    And bought a slave out of a tanner’s yard,
    A Paphlagonian born, and brought him home,--
    As wicked a slanderous wretch as ever lived.
    This fellow, the Paphlagonian, has found out
    The blind side of our master’s understanding,
    With fawning and wheedling in this kind of way:
    ‘Would not you please go to the bath, sir? surely
    It’s not worth while to attend the courts to-day.’
    And--‘Would not you please to take a little refreshment?
    And there’s that nice hot broth--and here’s the threepence
    You left behind you--and would not you order supper?’
    Moreover, when we get things out of compliment
    As a present for our master, he contrives
    To snatch ’em and serve ’em up before our faces.
    I’d made a Spartan cake at Pylos lately,
    And mixed and kneaded it well, and watched the baking;
    But he stole round before me and served it up:[9]
    And he never allows us to come near our master
    To speak a word; but stands behind his back
    At meal times, with a monstrous leathern fly-flap,
    Slapping and whisking it round, and rapping us off.
       Sometimes the old man falls into moods and fancies,
    Searching the prophecies till he gets bewildered,
    And then the Paphlagonian plies him up,
    Driving him mad with oracles and predictions.
    And that’s his harvest. Then he slanders us,
    And gets us beaten and lashed, and goes his rounds
    Bullying in this way, to squeeze presents from us:
    ‘You saw what a lashing Hylas got just now;
    You’d best make friends with me, if you love your lives.’
    Why then, we give him a trifle, or, if we don’t,
    We pay for it; for the old fellow knocks us down,
    And kicks us on the ground.”--(F.)

But, after all, what shall they do?--“Die at once,” says the despondent
Nicias--“drink bull’s blood, like Themistocles.” “Drink a cup of good
wine, rather,” says his jovial comrade. And he sends Nicias to purloin
some, while their hated taskmaster is asleep. Warming his wits under its
influence, Demosthenes is inspired with new counsels. The oracles which
this Paphlagonian keeps by him, and by means of which he strengthens his
influence over their master, must be got hold of. And Nicias--the weaker
spirit--is again sent by his comrade upon the perilous service of
stealing them from their owner’s possession while he is still
snoring.[10] He succeeds in his errand, and Demosthenes (who has paid
great attention to the wine-jar meanwhile) takes the scrolls from his
hands and proceeds to unroll and read them, his comrade watching him
with a face of superstitious eagerness. The oracles contain a prophetic
history of Athens under its successive demagogues. First there should
rise to power a hemp-seller, secondly a cattle-jobber, thirdly a dealer
in hides--this Paphlagonian, who now holds rule in Demus’s household.
But he is to fall before a greater that is to come--one who plies a
marvellous trade. Nicias is all impatience to know who and what this
saviour of society is to be. Demosthenes, in a mysterious whisper, tells
him the coming man is--a Black-pudding-seller!

    “Black-pudding-seller! marvellous, indeed!
    Great Neptune, what an art!--but where to find him?”

Why, most opportunely, here he comes! He is seen mounting the steps
which are supposed to lead from the city, with his tray of wares
suspended from his neck. The two slaves make a rush for him, salute him
with the profoundest reverence, take his tray off carefully, and bid him
fall down and thank the gods for his good fortune.

    “_Black-P.-Seller._ Hallo! what is it?

    _Demosth._ O thrice blest of mortals!
    Who art nought to-day, but shall be first to-morrow!
    Hail, Chief that shall be of our glorious Athens!

    _B.-P.-S._ Prithee, good friend, let me go wash my tripes,
    And sell my sausages--you make a fool of me.

    _Dem._ Tripes, quotha! tripes? Ha-ha!--Look yonder,
        man--(_pointing to the audience._)
    You see these close-packed ranks of heads?

    _B.-P.-S._ I see.

    _Dem._ Of all these men you shall be sovereign chief,
    Of the Forum, and the Harbours, and the Courts,
    Shall trample on the Senate, flout the generals,
    Bind, chain, imprison, play what pranks you will.

    _B.-P.-S._ What,--I?

    _Dem._ Yes--you. But you’ve not yet seen all;
    Here--mount upon your dresser there--look out!

    (_Black-Pudding-Seller gets upon the dresser, from
    which he is supposed to see all the dependencies
    of Athens, and looks stupidly round him._)

    You see the islands all in a circle round you?

    _B.-P.-S._ I see.

    _Dem._ What, all the sea-ports, and the shipping?

    _B.-P.-S._ I see, I tell ye.

    _Dem._ Then, what luck is yours!
    But cast your right eye now towards Caria--there--
    And fix your left on Carthage,--both at once.

    _B.-P.-S._ Be blest if I shan’t squint--if that’s good luck.”

The Black-pudding-man is modest, and doubts his own qualifications for
all this preferment. Demosthenes assures him that he is the very man
that is wanted. “A rascal--bred in the forum,--and with plenty of
brass;” what could they wish for more? Still, the other fears he is “not
strong enough for the place.” Demosthenes begins to be alarmed: modesty
is a very bad symptom in a candidate for preferment; he is afraid, after
all, that the man has some hidden good qualities which will disqualify
him for high office. Possibly, he suggests, there is some gentle blood
in the family? No, the other assures him: all his ancestors have been
born blackguards like himself, so far as he knows. But he has had no
education--he can but barely spell. The only objection, Demosthenes
declares, is that he has learnt even so much as that.

    “The only harm is, you can spell at all;
    Our leaders of the people are no longer
    Your men of education and good fame;
    We choose the illiterate and the blackguards, always.”

Demosthenes proceeds to tell him of a prophecy, found amongst the stolen
scrolls, in which, after the enigmatical fashion of such literature, it
is foretold that the great tanner-eagle shall be overcome by the cunning
serpent that drinks blood. The tanner-eagle is plainly none other than
this Paphlagonian hide-seller; and as to his antagonist, what can be
plainer? It is the resemblance of Macedon to Monmouth. “A serpent is
long, and so is a black-pudding; and both drink blood.” So Demosthenes
crowns the new-found hero with a garland, and they proceed to finish the
flagon of wine to the health of the conqueror in the strife that is to
come. Nor will allies be wanting:--

    “Our Knights--good men and true, a thousand strong,--
    Who hate the wretch, shall back you in this contest;
    And every citizen of name and fame,
    And each kind critic in this goodly audience,
    And I myself, and the just gods besides.
    Nay, never fear; you shall not see his features;
    For very cowardice, the mask-makers
    Flatly refused to mould them. Ne’ertheless,
    He will be known,--our friends have ready wits.”

At this moment the dreaded personage comes out from the house in a fury.
The Black-pudding-man takes to flight at once, leaving his
stock-in-trade behind him, but is hauled back by Demosthenes, who
loudly summons the “Knights” to come to the rescue,--and with the usual
rhythmical movement, and rapid chant, the Chorus of Knights sweep up
through the orchestra.

    “Close around him and confound him, the confounder of us all!
    Pelt him, pummel him, and maul him,--rummage, ransack, overhaul him!
    Overbear him, and out-bawl him; bear him down, and bring him under!
    Bellow like a burst of thunder--robber, harpy, sink of plunder!
    Rogue and villain! rogue and cheat! rogue and villain! I repeat.
    Oftener than I can repeat it has the rogue and villain cheated.
    Close upon him left and right--spit upon him, spurn and smite;
    Spit upon him as you see: spurn and spit at him, like me.”

They surround and hustle the representative of Cleon, who calls in vain
for his partisans to come to his assistance. The Black-pudding man takes
courage, and comes to the front; and a duel in the choicest Athenian
Billingsgate takes place, in which the current truths or slanders of the
day are paraded, no doubt much to the amusement of an Athenian
audience--hardly so to the English reader. The new champion shows
himself at least the equal of his antagonist in this kind of warfare,
and the Chorus are delighted. “There is something hotter, after all,
than fire--a more consummate blackguard has been found than Cleon!” From
words the battle proceeds to blows, and the Paphlagonian retires
discomfited, threatening his antagonist with future vengeance, and
challenging him to meet him straightway before the Senate.[11]

The Chorus fill up the interval of the action by an address to the
audience; in which, speaking on the author’s behalf, they apologise on
the ground of modesty for his not having produced his previous comedies
in his own name and on his own responsibility, and make a
complaint--common to authors in all ages--of the ingratitude of the
public to its popular favourites of the hour. Thence the chant passes
into an ode to Neptune, the tutelary god of a nation of seamen, and to
Pallas Athene, who gives her name to the city. And between the pauses of
the song they rehearse, in a kind of recitative, the praises of the good
old days of Athens.

    “Let us praise our famous fathers, let their glory be recorded,
    On Minerva’s mighty mantle consecrated and embroidered.
    That with many a naval action, and with infantry by land,
    Still contending, never ending, strove for empire and command.
    When they met the foe, disdaining to compute a poor account
    Of the number of their armies, of their muster and amount:
    But whene’er at wrestling matches they were worsted in the fray,
    Wiped their shoulders from the dust, denied the fall, and fought away.
    Then the generals never claimed precedence, or a separate seat,
    Like the present mighty captains, or the public wine or meat.
    As for us, the sole pretension suited to our birth and years,
    Is with resolute intention, as determined volunteers,
    To defend our fields and altars, as our fathers did before;
    Claiming as a recompense this easy boon, and nothing more:
    When our trials with peace are ended, not to view us with malignity,
    When we’re curried, sleek and pampered, prancing in our pride
        and dignity.”[12]--(F.)

From these praises of themselves--the Knights--they pass on, in pleasant
banter, to the praises of their horses,--who, as the song declares, took
a very active part in the late expedition against Corinth, in which the
cavalry, conveyed in horse-transports, had done excellent service.

    “Let us sing the mighty deeds of our illustrious noble steeds:
    They deserve a celebration for their service heretofore,--
    Charges and attacks,--exploits enacted in the days of yore:
    These, however, strike me less, as having been performed ashore.
    But the wonder was to see them, when they fairly went aboard,
    With canteens, and bread, and onions, victualled and completely stored,
    Then they fixed and dipped their oars, beginning all to shout and neigh,
    Just the same as human creatures,--‘Pull away, boys! pull away!
    Bear a hand there, Roan and Sorrel! Have a care there, Black and Bay!’
    Then they leapt ashore at Corinth; and the lustier younger sort
    Strolled about to pick up litter, for their solace and disport:
    And devoured the crabs of Corinth, as a substitute for clover,
    So that a poetic _Crabbe_[13] exclaimed in anguish--‘All is over!
    What awaits us, mighty Neptune, if we cannot hope to keep
    From pursuit and persecution in the land or in the deep?’”

As the song ends, their champion returns triumphant from his encounter
with Cleon in the Senate. The Knights receive him with enthusiasm, and
he tells for their gratification the story of his victory, which he
ascribes to the influence of the great powers of Humbug and Knavery,
Impudence and Bluster, whom he had piously invoked at the outset. He had
distracted the attention of the senators from his rival’s harangue by
announcing to them the arrival of a vast shoal of anchovies, of which
every man was eager to secure his share. In vain had Cleon tried to
create a diversion in his own favour by the announcement that a herald
had arrived from Sparta to treat of peace. “Peace, indeed, when
anchovies are so cheap!--never.” Then rushing into the market, he had
bought up the whole stock-in-trade of coriander-seed and wild
onions--seasoning for the anchovies--and presented them with a little
all round. This won their hearts completely. “In short,” says this
practical politician, “I bought the whole Senate for sixpennyworth of
coriander-seed!” A tolerably severe satire upon the highest deliberative
assembly at Athens.

But Cleon is not conquered yet. Rushing on the stage in a storm of fury,
he vows he will drag his rival before PEOPLE himself. There no one will
have any chance against him; for he knows the old gentleman’s humour
exactly, and feeds him with the nice soft pap which he likes. “Ay,” says
the other--“and, like the nurses, you swallow three mouthfuls for every
one you give him.” He is perfectly willing to submit their respective
claims to the master whose stewardship they are contending for. So both
knock loudly at Demus’s door; and the impersonation of the great
Athenian Commons comes out--not in very good case as regards dress and
personal comforts, as may be gathered from the dialogue which follows;
his majordomo has not taken over-good care of him, after all.

The rival claimants seize him affectionately by either arm, and profess
their attachment; while he eyes them both with a divided favour, like
Captain Macheath in our comic opera. “I love you,” says the
Paphlagonian: “I love you better,” says the other. “Remember, I brought
you the Spartans from Pylos.”[14] “A pretty service,” says the
Black-pudding-man,--“just like the mess of meat once I stole which
another man had cooked.” “Call a public assembly, and decide the matter,
then,” says Cleon. “No--not in the assembly--not in the Pnyx,” begs the
other; “Demus is an excellent fellow at home, but once set him down at a
public meeting, and he goes wild!”

To the Pnyx, however, Demus vows they must all go; and to that place the
scene changes. There the contest is renewed: but the interest of the
political satire with which it abounds has passed away, in great
measure, with the occasion. Some passages in this battle of words are
more generally intelligible, as depending less upon local colour, but
they are not such good specimens of the satirist’s powers. The new
aspirant to office is shocked to find that Demus is left to sit
unprotected on the cold rock (on which the Pnyx was built), and produces
a little padded cushion of his own manufacture--a delicate attention
with which the old gentleman is charmed. “What a noble idea!” he cries:
“Do tell me your name and family--you must surely come of the patriot
stock of Harmodius, the great deliverer of Athens!” Then his zealous
friend notices the condition of his feet, which are actually peeping
through his sandals, and indignantly denounces the selfishness of his
present steward:--

                                        “Tell me whether
    You, that pretend yourself his friend, with all your wealth in leather,
    Ever supplied a single hide to mend his reverend, battered
    Old buskins?

    _Dem._ No, not he, by Jove; look at them, burst and tattered!

    _B.-P.-S._ That shows the man! now, spick and span, behold
        my noble largess!
    A lovely pair, bought for your wear, at my own cost and charges.

    _Dem._ I see your mind is well inclined, with views and temper suiting,
    To place the state of things--and toes--upon a proper footing.

    _B.-P.-S._ But there now, see--this winter he might pass
        without his clothing;
    The season’s cold--he’s chilly and old--but still you think of nothing;
    Whilst I, to show my love, bestow this waistcoat as a present,
    Comely and new, with sleeves thereto, of flannel, warm and pleasant.

    _Dem._ How strange it is! Themistocles was reckoned mighty clever;
    With all his wit he could not hit on such a project ever;
    Such a device! so warm! so nice! in short it equals fairly
    His famous wall, with port and all, that he contrived so rarely.”--(F.)

Not to be outdone in such attentions, Cleon offers his cloak, to keep
his master from the cold; but Demus, who is already turning his fickle
affections towards his new flatterer, rejects it--it stinks so
abominably of leather. “That’s it,” says the other; “he wants to poison
you; he tried it once before!”

The old gentleman has made up his mind that the new claimant is his best
friend, and desires the Paphlagonian to give up his seal of office. The
discarded minister begs that at least his employer will listen to some
new oracles which he has to communicate. They promise that he shall be
sovereign of all Greece, and sit crowned with roses. The new man
declares that he has oracles too--plenty of them; and they promise that
he shall rule not Greece alone, but Thrace, and wear a golden crown and
robe of spangles. So both rush off to fetch their documents, while the
Chorus break into a chant of triumph, as they prognosticate the fall of
the great Demagogue before the antagonist who thus beats him at his own

The rivals return, laden with rolls of prophecy. Cleon declares he has a
trunkful more at home; the Black-pudding-man has a garret and two
outhouses full of them. They proceed to read the most absurd parodies
on this favourite enigmatical literature. Here is one which Cleon

    “Son of Erectheus, mark and ponder well
    This holy warning from Apollo’s cell;
    It bids thee cherish him, the sacred whelp,
    Who for thy sake doth bite and bark and yelp.”

Demus shakes his head with an air of puzzled wisdom; he cannot make it
out at all. “What has Erectheus to do with a whelp?” “That’s me,” says
Cleon; “I watch and bark for you. I’m Tear’em, and you must make much of
me.”[15] “Not at all,” says his rival; “the whelp has been eating some
of that oracle, as he does everything else. It’s a defective copy; I’ve
got the complete text here:”--

    “Son of Erectheus, ’ware the gap-toothed dog,
    The crafty mongrel that purloins thy prog;
    Fawning at meals, and filching scraps away,
    The whiles you gape and stare another way;
    He prowls by night and pilfers many a prize
    Amidst the sculleries and the--colonies.”--(F.)

“That’s much more intelligible,” remarks the master. Cleon produces
another, about a lion, who is to be carefully preserved “with a wooden
wall and iron fortifications:”--“and I’m the lion.” “I can give the
interpretation of that,” says the other; “the wood and iron are the
stocks that you are to put this fellow in.” “That part of the oracle,”
says Demus, “at any rate, is very likely to come true.” And again he
declares that his mind is made up; he shall make a change in his
establishment forthwith. Once more Cleon begs a respite, until his
master sees what nice messes he will bring him. The other assures him he
has far better viands, all ready hot; and the sensual old Demus, licking
his lips, will wait until he has made trial of both. While they are gone
to fetch the dainties, the Chorus rallies him upon his being so open to
the practices of his flatterers:--


    “Worthy Demus, your estate
    Is a glorious thing, we own;
    The haughtiest of the proud and great
    Watch and tremble at your frown;
    Like a sovereign or a chief,
    But so easy of belief,
    Every fawning rogue and thief
    Finds you ready to his hand;
    Flatterers you cannot withstand;
    To them your confidence is lent,
    With opinions always bent
    To what your last advisers say,
    Your noble mind is gone astray.


    *       *       *       *       *
    But though you see me dote and dream,
    Never think me what I seem;
    For my confidential slave
    I prefer a pilfering knave;
    And when he’s pampered and full-blown,
    I snatch him up and dash him down.

    *       *       *       *       *

    Hark me--when I seem to doze,
    When my wearied eyelids close,
    Then they think their tricks are hid;
    But beneath the drooping lid
    Still I keep a corner left,
    Tracing every secret theft:
    I shall match them by-and-by,
    All the rogues you think so sly.”--(F.)

The two candidates for office now run in from different directions,
meeting and nearly upsetting each other, laden with trays of delicacies
to tempt the master’s appetite.

    “_Dem._ Well, truly, indeed, I shall be feasted rarely;
    My courtiers and admirers will quite spoil me.

    _Cleon._ There, I’m the first, ye see, to bring ye a chair.

    _B.-P.-S._ But a table--here, I’ve brought it first and foremost.

    _Cleon._ See here, this little half-meal cake from Pylos,
    Made from the flour of victory and success.

    _B.-P.-S._ But here’s a cake! see here! which the heavenly goddess
    Patted and flatted herself, with her ivory hand,
    For your own eating.

    _Dem._ Wonderful, mighty goddess!
    What an awfully large hand she must have had!”--(F.)

Ragouts, pancakes, fritters, wine, rich cake, hare-pie, are all tendered
him in succession. This last is brought by Cleon; but the other
cunningly directs his attention to some foreign envoys, whom he declares
he sees coming with bags of gold; and while Cleon runs to pounce upon
the money, he gets possession of the pie, and presents it as his own
offering--“Just as you did the prisoners from Pylos, you know.” Demus
eats in turn of all the good things, and grows quite bewildered as to
his choice between two such admirable purveyors. He cannot see on which
side his best interests lie, and at last appeals helplessly to the
audience to advise him. The Black-pudding-man proposes that as a test of
the honesty of their service, he should search the lockers of each of
them. His own proves to be empty; he has given all he had. But in the
Paphlagonian’s are found concealed all manner of good things, especially
a huge cake, from which it appears he had cut off but a miserable slice
for his master. This decides the question: Cleon is peremptorily desired
to surrender his office at once. He makes a last struggle, and a scene
ensues which reads like an antedated parody on the last meeting of
Macbeth and Macduff. He holds an oracle which forewarns him of the only
man who can overthrow his power. Where was his antagonist educated, and
how?--“By the cuffs and blows of the scullions in the kitchen.” What did
his next master teach him!--“To steal, and then swear he did not.”
Cleon’s mind misgives him. What is his trade, and where does he practise
it? And when he learns that his rival sells black-puddings at the city
gates, he knows that all is over--Birnam Wood is come to Dunsinane. He
wildly tears his hair, and takes his farewell in the most approved vein
of tragedy.

    “O me! the oracles of heaven are sped!
    Bear me within, unhappy! O farewell
    Mine olive crown! Against my will I leave thee,
    A trophy for another’s brow to wear;
    Perchance to prove more fortunate than me;
    But greater rascal he can never be.”[16]

Here the action of the drama might have ended; but the dramatist had not
yet driven his moral home. He had to show what Athens might yet be if
she could get rid of the incubus of her demagogues. A choral ode is
introduced--quite independent, as is so often the case, of the subject
of the comedy--chiefly perhaps, in this case, in order to give
opportunity for what we must conclude was a change of scene. The doors
in the flat, as we should call it, are thrown open, and disclose to view
the citadel of Athens. There, seated on a throne, no longer in his
shabby clothes, but in a magnificent robe, and glorious in renewed
youth, sits Demus, such as he was in the days of Miltiades and
Aristides. His new minister has a secret like Medea’s, and has boiled
him young again. “The good old times are come again,” as he declares,
thanks to his liberator. There shall be no more ruling by favour and
corruption; right shall be might, and he will listen to no more
flatterers. To crown the whole, his new minister leads forth
Peace--beautiful Peace, in _propria persona_, hitherto hid away a close
prisoner in the house of the Paphlagonian--and presents her to Demus in
all her charms. And with this grand tableau the drama closes; it is not
difficult to imagine, without being an Athenian, amid what thunders of
applause. If the satire had been bitter and trenchant as to the faults
and follies of the present--that unfortunate tense of existence, social
and political, which appears never to satisfy men in any age of the
world--this brilliant reminiscence of the glories of the past, and
anticipation of a still more glorious future, was enough to condone for
the poet the broadest licence which he had taken. Not indeed that any
such apology was required. There was probably not a man among the
audience--not a man in the state, except Cleon himself--who would not
enjoy the wit far more than he resented its home application. That such
a masterpiece was awarded the first prize of comedy by acclamation we
should hardly doubt, even if we were not distinctly so informed. Those
who know the facile temper of the multitude--and it may be said,
perhaps, especially of the Athenian multitude--will understand, almost
equally as a matter of course, that the political result was simply
nothing. As Mr Mitchell briefly but admirably sums it up--“The piece was
applauded in the most enthusiastic manner, the satire on the sovereign
multitude was forgiven, and--Cleon remained in as great favour as



The momentous period in the history of Greece during which Aristophanes
began to write, forms the ground-work, more or less, of so many of his
Comedies, that it is impossible to understand them, far less to
appreciate their point, without some acquaintance with its leading
events. All men’s thoughts were occupied by the great contest for
supremacy between the rival states of Athens and Sparta, known as the
Peloponnesian War. It is not necessary here to enter into details; but
the position of the Athenians during the earlier years of the struggle
must be briefly described. Their strength lay chiefly in their fleet; in
the other arms of war they were confessedly no match for Sparta and her
confederate allies. The heavy-armed Spartan infantry, like the black
Spanish bands of the fifteenth century, was almost irresistible in the
field. Year after year the invaders marched through the Isthmus into
Attica, or were landed in strong detachments on different points of the
coast, while the powerful Bœotian cavalry swept all the champaign,
burning the towns and villages, cutting down the crops, destroying vines
and olive-groves,--carrying this work of devastation almost up to the
very walls of Athens. For no serious attempt was made to resist these
periodical invasions. The strategy of the Athenians was much the same as
it had been when the Persian hosts swept down upon them fifty years
before. Again they withdrew themselves and all their movable property
within the city walls, and allowed the invaders to overrun the country
with impunity. Their flocks and herds were removed into the islands on
the coasts, where, so long as Athens was mistress of the sea, they would
be in comparative safety. It was a heavy demand upon their patriotism;
but, as before, they submitted to it, trusting that the trial would be
but brief, and nerved to it by the stirring words of their great leader
Pericles. The ruinous sacrifice, and even the personal suffering,
involved in this forced migration of a rural population into a city
wholly inadequate to accommodate them, may easily be imagined, even if
it had not been forcibly described by the great historian of those
times. Some carried with them the timber framework of their houses, and
set it up in such vacant spaces as they could find. Others built for
themselves little “chambers on the wall,” or occupied the outer courts
of the temples, or were content with booths and tents set up under the
Long Walls which connected the city with the harbour of Piræus. Some--if
our comic satirist is to be trusted--were even fain to sleep in tubs and
hen-coops. Provisions grew dear and scarce. Pestilence broke out in the
overcrowded city; and in the second and third years of the war, the
Great Plague carried off, out of their comparatively small population,
above 10,000 of all ranks. The lands were either left unsown, or sown
only to be ravaged before harvest-time by the enemy. No wonder that, as
year after year passed, and brought no respite from suffering to the
harassed citizens, they began to ask each other how long this was to
last, and whether even national honour was worth purchasing at this
heavy cost. Even the hard-won victories and the successful blows struck
by their admirals at various points on their enemies’ coasts failed to
reconcile the less warlike spirits to the continuance of the struggle.
Popular orators like Cleon, fiery captains like Alcibiades, still
carried the majority with them when they called for new levies and
prophesied a triumphant issue; but there was a party at Athens, not so
loud but still very audible, who said that such men had personal
ambitions of their own to serve, and who had begun to sigh for “peace at
any price.”

But it needed a pressure of calamity far greater than the present to
keep a good citizen of Athens away from the theatre. If the times were
gloomy, so much the more need of a little honest diversion. And if the
war party were too strong for him to resist in the public assembly, at
least he could have his laugh out against them when caricatured on the
stage. It has been already shown that the comic drama was to the
Athenians what a free press is to modern commonwealths. As the
government of France under Louis XIV. was said to have been “a
despotism tempered by epigrams,” so the power of the popular leaders
over the democracy of Athens found a wholesome check in the free
speech--not to say the licence--accorded to the comedian. Sentiments
which it might have been dangerous to express in the public assembly
were enunciated in the most plain-spoken language by the actor in the
new burlesque. The bolder the attack was, and the harder the hitting,
the more the audience were pleased. Nor was it at all necessary, in
order to the spectator’s keen enjoyment of the piece, that he should
agree with its politics. Many an admirer of the war policy of Lamachus
laughed heartily enough, we may be sure, at his presentment on the stage
in the caricature of military costume in which the actor dressed the
part: just as many a modern Englishman has enjoyed the political
caricatures of “H. B.,” or the cartoons in ‘Punch,’ not a whit the less
because the satire was pointed against the recognised leaders of his own
party. It is probable that Aristophanes was himself earnestly opposed to
the continuance of the war, and spoke his own sentiments on this point
by the mouth of his characters; but the prevalent disgust at the
hardships of this long-continued siege--for such it practically
was--would in any case be a tempting subject for the professed writer of
burlesques; and the caricature of a leading politician, if cleverly
drawn, is always a success for the author. To win the verdict of popular
applause, which was the great aim of an Athenian play-writer, he must
above all things hit the popular taste.

The Peloponnesian War lasted for twenty-nine years--during most of the
time for which our dramatist held possession of the stage. Nearly all
his comedies which have come down to us abound, as we should naturally
expect, in allusions to the one absorbing interest of the day. But three
of them--‘The Acharnians,’ ‘The Peace,’ and ‘Lysistrata,’--are founded
entirely on what was the great public question of the day--How long was
this grinding war to continue? when should Athens see again the
blessings of peace? Treated in various grotesque and amusing forms, one
serious and important political moral underlies them all.


‘The Acharnians’ might indeed have fairly claimed the first place here,
on the ground that it was the earliest in date of the eleven comedies of
Aristophanes which have been preserved to us. Independently of its great
literary merits, it would have a special interest of its own, as being
the most ancient specimen of comedy of any kind which has reached us. It
was first acted at the great Lenæan festival held annually in honour of
Bacchus, in February of the year 425 B.C., when the war had already
lasted between six and seven years. It took its name from Acharnæ, one
of the “demes,” or country boroughs of Attica, about seven miles north
of Athens; and the Chorus in the play is supposed to consist of old men
belonging to the district. Acharnæ was the largest, the most fertile,
and the most populous of all the demes, supplying a contingent of 3000
heavy-armed soldiers to the Athenian army. It lay right in the
invader’s path in his march from the Spartan frontier upon the city of
Athens: and when, in the first year of the war, the Spartan forces
bivouacked in its corn-fields and olive-grounds, and set fire to its
homesteads, the smoke of their burning and the camp of the destroying
enemy could be seen from the city walls. The effect was nearly being
that which the Spartan king Archidamus had desired. The Athenians--and
more especially the men of Acharnæ, now cooped within the fortifications
of the capital--clamoured loudly to be led out to battle; and it needed
all the influence of Pericles to restrain them from risking an
engagement in which he knew they would be no match for the invaders. The
Acharnians, therefore, had their national hostility to the Spartans yet
more imbittered by their own private sufferings. Yet it was not
unnatural that a sober-minded and peaceful yeoman of the district,
remembering what his native canton had suffered and was likely to suffer
again, should strongly object to the continuance of a war carried on at
such a cost. His zeal for the national glory of Athens and his
indignation against her enemies might be strong: but the love of home
and property is a large component in most men’s patriotism. He was an
Athenian by all means--but an Acharnian first.

Such a man is Dicæopolis, the hero of this burlesque. He has been too
long cooped up in Athens, while his patrimony is being ruined: and in
the first scene he comes up to the Pnyx--the place where the public
assembly was held--grumbling at things in general, and the war in
particular. The members of the Committee on Public Affairs come, as
usual, very late to business--every one, in this city life, is so lazy,
as the Acharnian declares: but when business does begin, an incident
occurs which interests him very much indeed. One Amphitheus--a personage
who claims to be immortal by virtue of divine origin--announces that he
has obtained, perhaps on that ground, special permission from the gods
to negotiate a peace with Sparta. But there is one serious obstacle;
nothing can be done in this world, even by demigods, without money, and
he would have the Committee supply him with enough for his long journey.
Such an outrageous request is only answered on the part of the
authorities by a call for “Police!” and the applicant, in spite of the
remonstrances of Dicæopolis at such unworthy treatment of a public
benefactor, is summarily hustled out of court. Dicæopolis, however,
follows him, and giving him eight shillings--or thereabouts--to defray
his expenses on the road, bids him haste to Sparta and bring back with
him, if possible, a private treaty of peace--for himself, his wife and
children, and maid-servant. Meanwhile the “House” is occupied with the
reception of certain High Commissioners who have returned from different
foreign embassies. Some have been to ask help from Persia, and have
brought back with them “the Great King’s Eye, Sham-artabas” (Dicæopolis
is inclined to look upon him as a sham altogether)--who is, in fact, all
eye, as far as the mask-maker’s art can make him so. He talks a jargon
even more unintelligible than modern diplomatic communications, which
the envoys explain to mean that the king will send the Athenians a
subsidy of gold, but which Dicæopolis interprets in quite a contrary
sense. Others have come back from a mission to Thrace, and have brought
with them a sample of the warlike auxiliaries which Sitalces, prince of
that country (who had a sort of Athenomania), is going to send to their
aid--at two shillings a-day; some ragamuffin tribe whose appearance on
the stage was no doubt highly ludicrous, and whose character is somewhat
like that of Falstaff’s recruits, or Bombastes Furioso’s “brave army,”
since their first exploit is to steal Dicæopolis’s luncheon: a palpable
warning against putting trust in foreign hirelings.

Within a space of time so brief as to be conceivable upon the stage
only, Amphitheus has returned from Sparta, to the great joy of
Dicæopolis. His mission has been successful. But he is quite out of
breath; for the Acharnians, finding out what his business is, have
hunted and pelted him up to the very walls of Athens. “Peace, indeed! a
pretty fellow you are, to negotiate a peace with our enemies after all
our vines and corn-fields have been destroyed!” He has escaped them,
however, for the present, and has brought back with him three samples of
Treaties--in three separate wine-skins. The contents are of various
growth and quality.[18]

    “_Dic._ You’ve brought the Treaties?

    _Amph._ Ay, three samples of them;
    This here is a five years’ growth--taste it and try.

    _Dic._ (_tastes, and spits it out_). Don’t like it.

    _Amph._ Eh?

    _Dic._ Don’t like it--it won’t do;
    There’s an uncommon ugly twang of pitch,
    A touch of naval armament about it.

    _Amph._ Well, here’s a ten years’ growth may suit you better.

    _Dic._ (_tastes again_). No, neither of them; there is a sort of sourness
    Here in this last,--a taste of acid embassies,
    And vapid allies turning to vinegar.

    _Amph._ But here’s a truce of thirty years entire,
    Warranted sound.

    _Dic._ (_smacking his lips and then hugging the jar_).
        O Bacchus and the Bacchanals!
    This is your sort! here’s nectar and ambrosia!
    Here’s nothing about providing three days’ rations;[19]
    It says, ‘Do what you please, go where you will;’
    I choose it, and adopt it, and embrace it,
    For sacrifice, and for my private drinking.
    In spite of all the Acharnians, I’m determined
    To remove out of the reach of wars and mischief,
    And keep the Feast of Bacchus on my farm.”--(F.)

He leaves the stage on these festive thoughts intent. The scene changes
to the open country in the district of Acharnæ, and here what we must
consider as the second act of the play begins. The Chorus of ancient
villagers--robust old fellows, “tough as oak, men who have fought at
Marathon” in their day--rush in, in chase of the negotiators of this
hateful treaty. Moving backwards and forwards with quick step in
measured time across the wide orchestra (which, it must be remembered,
was their proper domain), they chant a strain of which the rhythm, at
least, is fairly preserved in Mr Frere’s translation:--

    “Follow faster, all together! search, inquire of every one.
    Speak--inform us--have you seen him? whither is the rascal run?
    ’Tis a point of public service that the traitor should be caught
    In the fact, seized and arrested with the treaties he has brought.”

Then they separate into two bodies, mutually urging each other to the
pursuit, and leave the scene in different directions as Dicæopolis
reappears. He is come to hold a private festival on his own account to
Bacchus, in thanksgiving for the Peace which he, at all events, is to
enjoy from henceforward. But he will have everything done in regular
order, so far as his resources admit, with all the pomp and solemnity of
a public festival. His daughter is to act as “Canephora,” or
basket-bearer, carrying the sacred emblems of the god--a privilege which
the fairest and noblest maidens of Athens were proud to claim--and her
mother exhorts her to move and behave herself like a lady,--if on this
occasion only. Their single slave is to follow behind with other mystic
emblems. But a spectacle is nothing, as Dicæopolis feels, without
spectators; so he bids his wife go indoors, and mount upon the house-top
to see the procession pass. Next to a caricature of their great men, an
Athenian audience enjoyed a caricature of their religion. They had this
much of excuse, that Paganism was full of tempting themes for
burlesque, of which their comic dramatists liberally availed themselves.
But in truth there is a temptation to burlesque and parody presented by
all religions, more or less, on their external side. Romanism and
Puritanism have met with very similar treatment amongst ourselves; and
one has only to refer to the old miracle-plays, and such celebrations as
the Fête d’Ane, to be convinced how closely in such matters jest and
earnest lie side by side.

But the festivities are very soon interrupted. The Acharnians have
scented their prey at last, and rush in upon the celebrant with a shower
of stones. Dicæopolis begs to know what crime he has committed. They
soon let him know it: he has presumed to separate his private interest
from the public cause, and to make a private treaty with the detested
Spartans. They will listen to no explanation:--

    “Don’t imagine to cajole us with your argument and fetches!
    You confess you’ve made a peace with these abominable wretches?

    _Dic._ Well--the very Spartans even--I’ve my doubts and scruples whether
    They’ve been totally to blame, in every instance, altogether.

    _Cho._ Not to blame in every instance?--villain, vagabond! how dare ye?
    Talking treason to our faces, to suppose that we shall spare ye?

    _Dic._ Not so totally to blame; and I will show that, here and there,
    The treatment they received from us has not been absolutely fair.

    _Cho._ What a scandal! what an insult! what an outrage on the state!
    Are ye come to plead before us as the Spartans’ advocate?”--(F.)

Well,--yes, he is, if they will only listen to him; and so confident is
he of the justice of his views, that he undertakes to plead his cause
with his head laid upon a chopping-block, with full permission to his
opponents to cut it off at once if he fails to convince them. Even this
scanty grace the indignant Acharnians are unwilling to allow him, until
he fortunately lays his hand upon an important hostage, whose life
shall, he declares, be forfeited the moment they proceed to violence. He
produces what looks like a cradle, and might contain a baby. It is
really nothing more or less than a basket of charcoal--the local product
and staple merchandise of Acharnæ. “Lo,” says he to his irate
antagonists, throwing himself into a tragic attitude and brandishing a
dagger--“Lo, I will stab your darling to the heart!” The joke seems so
very feeble in itself, that it is necessary to bear in mind that a
well-known “situation” in a lost tragedy of Euripides (Telephus), which
would have been fresh in the memory of an audience of such inveterate
play-goers, is here burlesqued for their amusement. The threat brings
the Acharnians to terms at once; they lay down their stones, and prepare
to listen to argument, even in apology for the detested Spartans. The
chopping-block is brought out; but before Dicæopolis begins to plead, he
remembers that he is not provided with one very important requisite for
a prisoner on trial for his life. He ought to be clothed in “a most
pathetical and heart-rending dress”--to move the compassion of his
judges. Will they allow him just to step over the way and borrow one
from that great tragedian Euripides, who keeps a whole wardrobe of
pathetic costumes for his great characters? They give him leave; and as
Euripides--most conveniently for dramatic purposes--appears to live
close by, Dicæopolis proceeds at once to knock at the door of his
lodging, and a servant answers from within. The humour of the scene
which follows must have been irresistible to an audience who were
familiar with every one of the characters mentioned, and who enjoyed the
caricature none the less because they had, no doubt, applauded the
tragic original.

    “_Servant._ Who’s there?

    _Dic._ Euripides within?

    _Serv._ Within, yet not within. You comprehend me?

    _Dic._ Within and not within! why, what d’ye mean?

    _Serv._ I speak correctly, old sire! his outward man
    Is in the garret writing tragedy;
    While his essential being is abroad,
    Pursuing whimsies in the world of fancy.

    _Dic._ O happy Euripides, with such a servant,
    So clever and accomplished!--Call him out.

    _Serv._ It’s quite impossible.

    _Dic._ But it must be done.
    Positively and absolutely I must see him;
    Or I must stand here rapping at the door.
    Euripides! Euripides! come down,
    If ever you came down in all your life!
    ’Tis I--’tis Dicæopolis from Chollidæ.

    _Eur._ I’m not at leisure to come down.

    _Dic._ Perhaps--
    But here’s the scene-shifter can wheel you round.

    _Eur._ It cannot be.

    _Dic._ But, however, notwithstanding.

    _Eur._ Well, there then, I’m wheeled round; for I had not time
    For coming down.

    _Dic._ Euripides, I say!

    _Eur._ What say ye?

    _Dic._ Euripides! Euripides!
    Good lawk, you’re there! up-stairs! you write up-stairs,
    Instead of the ground-floor? always up-stairs?
    Well now, that’s odd! But, dear Euripides,
    If you had but a suit of rags that you could lend me!
    You’re he that brings out cripples in your tragedies,
    A’nt ye?[20] You’re the new Poet, he that writes
    Those characters of beggars and blind people?
    Well, dear Euripides, if could you but lend me
    A suit of tatters from a cast-off tragedy!
    For mercy’s sake, for I’m obliged to make
    A speech, in my own defence before the Chorus,
    A long pathetic speech, this very day;
    And if it fails, the doom of death betides me.

    _Eur._ Say, what d’ye seek? is it the woful garb
    In which the wretched aged Æneus acted?

    _Dic._ No, ’twas a wretcheder man than Æneus, much.

    _Eur._ Was it blind Phœnix?

    _Dic._ No, not Phœnix; no,
    A fellow a great deal wretcheder than Phœnix.”--(F.)

After some further suggestions on the part of Euripides of other tragic
characters, whose piteous “get-up” might excite the compassion of
audience or judges, it turns out that the costume on which the applicant
has set his heart is that in which Telephus the Mysian, in the tragedy
which bears his name, pleads before Achilles, to beg that warrior to
heal, as his touch alone could do, the wound which he had made. The
whole scene should be read, if not in the original, then in Mr Frere’s
admirable translation. Dicæopolis begs Euripides to lend him certain
other valuable stage properties, one after the other: a beggar’s
staff,--a little shabby basket,--a broken-lipped pitcher. The tragedian
grows out of patience at last at this wholesale plagiarism of his
dramatic repertory:--

    “_Eur._ Fellow, you’ll plunder me a whole tragedy!
    Take it, and go.

    _Dic._ Yes; I forsooth, I’m going.
    But how shall I contrive? There’s something more
    That makes or mars my fortune utterly;
    Yet give them, and bid me go, my dear Euripides;
    A little bundle of leaves to line my basket.

    _Eur._ For mercy’s sake!... But take them.--There they go!
    My tragedies and all! ruined and robbed!

    _Dic._ No more; I mean to trouble you no more.
    Yes, I retire; in truth I feel myself
    Importunate, intruding on the presence
    Of chiefs and princes, odious and unwelcome.
    But out, alas! that I should so forget
    The very point on which my fortune turns;
    I wish I may be hanged, my dear Euripides,
    If ever I trouble you for anything,
    Except one little, little, little boon,--
    A single lettuce from your mother’s stall.”--(F.)

This parting shot at the tragedian’s family antecedents (for his mother
was said to have been a herb-woman) is quite in the style of Athenian
wit, which was nothing if not personal. Euripides very naturally orders
the door to be shut in the face of this uncivil intruder,--who has got
all he wanted, however. Clad in the appropriate costume, he lays his
head on the chopping-block, while one of the Chorus stands over him with
an axe; and in this ludicrous position makes one of those addresses to
the audience which were usual in these comedies, in which the poet
assumes for the moment his own character, and takes the house into his
personal confidence. As he has already told Euripides,--

    “For I must wear a beggar’s garb to-day,
    Yet be myself in spite of my disguise,
    That the audience all may know me.”

He will venture upon a little plain-speaking to his fellow-Athenians,
upon a very delicate subject, as he is well aware. But at this January
festival, unlike the greater one in March, no foreigners were likely to
be present, so that all that was said might be considered as between

    “The words I speak are bold, but just and true.
    Cleon, at least, cannot accuse me now,
    That I defame the city before strangers.
    For this is the Lenæan festival,
    And here we meet, all by ourselves alone;
    No deputies are arrived as yet with tribute,
    No strangers or allies; but here we sit,
    A chosen sample, clean as sifted corn,
    With our own denizens as a kind of chaff.
    First, I detest the Spartans most extremely;
    And wish that Neptune, the Tænarian deity,
    Would bury them and their houses with his earthquakes.
    For I’ve had losses--losses, let me tell ye,
    Like other people: vines cut down and ruined.
    But, among friends (for only friends are here),
    Why should we blame the Spartans for all this?
    For people of ours, some people of our own,--
    Some people from amongst us here, I mean;
    But not The PEOPLE--pray remember that--
    I never said The PEOPLE--but a pack
    Of paltry people, mere pretended citizens,
    Base counterfeits, went laying informations,
    And making confiscation of the jerkins
    Imported here from Megara; pigs, moreover,
    Pumpkins, and pecks of salt, and ropes of onions,
    Were voted to be merchandise from Megara,
    Denounced, and seized, and sold upon the spot.”--(F.)

He goes on to mention other aggressions on the part of his own
countrymen--to wit, the carrying off from Megara a young woman, no great
loss to any community in point of personal character, but still a
Megarian--aggressions not of much importance in themselves, but such as
he feels sure no high-spirited nation could be expected to put up

    “Just make it your own case; suppose the Spartans
    Had manned a boat, and landed on your islands,
    And stolen a pug puppy-dog from Seriphos”--

why, as he says, the whole nation would have flown to arms at once to
avenge the insult.

At this point he is interrupted. One party of the Acharnians are for
making short work with such a blasphemer. But the other Semi-chorus vow
that he says nothing but the truth, and dare them to lay hands upon
him. A struggle ensues, and the war faction call aloud for Lamachus--the
“Great Captain” of the day. And that general, being ready within call
(as every one is who is required for stage purposes), makes his
appearance in grand military costume, with an enormous crest towering
over his helmet, and a gorgon’s head of gigantic dimensions upon his
shield. He speaks in heroics, as befits him:--

    “Whence falls that sound of battle on mine ear?
    Who needs my help? for Lamachus is here!
    Whose summons bids me to the field repair,
    And wakes my slumbering gorgon from her lair?”

Dicæopolis is paralysed at the terrible vision, and humbly begs pardon
of the hero for what he has said. Lamachus bids him repeat his words:--

    “_Dic._ I--I can’t remember--I’m so terrified.
    The terror of that crest quite turned me dizzy:
    Do take the hobgoblin away from me, I beseech you.[21]

    _Lam._ (_takes off his helmet._) There then.

    _Dic._ Now turn it upside down.

    _Lam._ See, there.

    _Dic._ Now give me one of the feathers.”--(F.)

And, to the general’s great disgust, he pretends to use it to tickle his
throat. He is so terribly frightened he _must_ be sick. Lamachus draws
his sword, and makes at the scoffer; but in the tussle the general (to
the great amusement, no doubt, of the audience) gets the worst of it. He
indignantly demands to know who this vulgar fellow is, who has no
respect for dignities:--

    “_Dic._ I’ll tell ye--an honest man; that’s what I am.
    A citizen that has served his time in the army,
    As a foot-soldier, fairly; not like you,
    Pilfering and drawing pay with a pack of foreigners.”--(F.)

He appeals to his audience--did any of them ever get sent out as High
Commissioners, with large salaries, like Lamachus? Not one of them. The
whole administration of the Athenian war office is nothing but rank
jobbery. The general, finding the argument taking a rather personal and
unpleasant turn, goes off, with loud threats of what he will do to the
Spartans; and Dicæopolis, assuming his own acquittal by the Acharnians,
proclaims, on the strength of his private treaty of peace, a free and
open market on his farm for Megarians and Thebans, and all the
Peloponnesian Greeks.

An interval between what we should call the acts of the play is filled
up by a “_Parabasis_” as it was termed--a chant in which the Chorus
pleads the author’s cause with the audience. By his comedy of ‘The
Babylonians,’ produced the year before, he had drawn upon him, as has
been already said, the wrath of Cleon and his party, and they had even
gone so far as to bring an indictment against him for treason against
the state. And he now, by the mouth of the Chorus, makes a kind of
half-apology for his former boldness, and assures the spectators that he
has never been really disloyal to Athens. As to Cleon the tanner--he
will “cut him into shoe-soles for the Knights;” and we have already seen
how he kept his word.

When the regular action of the comedy is resumed, Dicæopolis has opened
his free market. The first who comes to take advantage of it is an
unfortunate Megarian, who has been reduced to poverty by the war. His
native district, lying midway between the two powerful neighbours, had
in its perplexity taken what they thought the strongest side, had put an
Athenian garrison to the sword, and had suffered terribly from the
vengeance of the Athenians in consequence. They had been excluded, on
pain of death, from all ports and markets within the Athenian rule, and
twice in every year orders were given to march into their territory and
destroy their crops. The misery to which the wretched inhabitants were
thus reduced is described with a grim humour. The Megarian, having
nothing else left to dispose of, has brought his two little daughters to
market for sale.

    “_Meg._ Ah, there’s the Athenian market! heaven bless it,
    I say; the welcomest sight to a Megarian.
    I’ve looked for it, and longed for it, like a child
    For its own mother. You, my daughters dear,
    Disastrous offspring of a dismal sire,
    List to my words, and let them sink impressed
    Upon your empty stomachs; now’s the time
    That you must seek a livelihood for yourselves,
    Therefore resolve at once, and answer me;
    Will you be sold abroad, or starve at home?

    _Daughters_ (_both together_). Let us be sold, papa! Let us be sold!

    _Meg._ I say so too; but who do ye think will purchase
    Such useless, mischievous commodities?
    However, I have a notion of my own,
    A true Megarian scheme; I mean to sell ye
    Disguised as pigs, with artificial pettitoes.
    Here, take them, and put them on. Remember now,
    Show yourselves off; do credit to your breeding,
    Like decent pigs; or else, by Mercury,
    If I’m obliged to take you back to Megara,
    There you shall starve, far worse than heretofore.
    This pair of masks too--fasten ’em on your faces,
    And crawl into the sack there on the ground.
    Mind ye, remember--you must squeak and whine.”--(F.)

After some jokes upon the subject, not over-refined, Dicæopolis becomes
the purchaser of the pair for a peck of salt and a rope of onions. He is
sending the Megarian home rejoicing, and wishing that he could make as
good a bargain for his wife and his mother as well, when that curse of
the Athenian commonwealth, an informer, comes upon the scene. He at once
denounces the pigs as contraband; but Dicæopolis calls the constables to
remove him--he will have no informers in his market. The next visitor is
a Theban, a hearty, good-humoured yeoman, but who disgusts Dicæopolis by
bringing with him two or three pipers, whom the master of the market
bids hold their noise and be off; Bœotian music, we are to understand,
being always excruciating to the fine Athenian ear. The new-comer has
brought with him, to barter for Athenian produce, fish, wild-fowl, and
game of all kinds, including grasshoppers, hedgehogs, weasels,
and--writing-tables. But what attracts the attention of Dicæopolis most
is some splendid Copaic eels.[22] He has not seen their sweet faces, he
vows, for six years or more--never since this cursed war began. He
selects the finest, and calls at once for brazier and bellows to cook
it. The Bœotian naturally asks to be paid for this pick of his basket;
but Dicæopolis explains to him that he takes it by the landlord’s right,
as “market-toll.” For the rest of the lot, however, he shall have
payment in Athenian wares. “What will he take?--sprats? crockery?” Nay,
they have plenty of these things at home, says the Theban; he would
prefer some sort of article that is plentiful in Attica and scarce at
Thebes. A bright idea strikes Dicæopolis at once:--

    “_Dic._ Ah! now I have it! take an Informer home with ye--
    Pack him like crockery--and tie him fast.

    _Bœot._ By the Twin Gods, I will! I’ll make a show of him
    For a tricksy ape. ’Twill pay me well, I warrant.”

Apropos to the notion, an informer makes his appearance, and Dicæopolis
stealthily points him out to the Bœotian. “He’s small,” remarks the
latter, in depreciation. “Yes,” replies the Athenian; “but every inch of
him is thoroughly bad.” As the man, intent on his vocation, is
investigating the stranger’s goods, and calling witnesses to this breach
of the law, Dicæopolis gives the signal, and in a trice he is seized,
tied up with ropes and straw like a large jar, and after a few hearty
kicks--administered to him just to see whether he rings sound or
not--this choice specimen of Athenian produce is hoisted on the
shoulders of a slave, and carried off as a curiosity to Thebes.

The concluding scene brings out in strong contrast the delights of peace
and the miseries of war. General Lamachus has heard of the new market,
and cannot resist the temptation to taste once more some of its now
contraband luxuries. He sends a slave to buy for him a three-shilling
eel. But no eel shall the man of war get from Dicæopolis--no, not if he
would give his gorgon-faced shield for it; and the messenger has to
return to his master empty. A farmer who has lost his oxen in one of the
raids made by the enemy, and has heard of the private supply of Peace
which is in the possession of Dicæopolis, comes to buy a small measure
of it for himself, even if not of the strongest quality--the
“five-years’ sort” would do. But he asks in vain. Next arrives a
messenger from a newly-married bridegroom, who has a natural dislike
under the circumstances to go on military service. Would Dicæopolis
oblige him with a little of this blessed balsam, so that he may stay at
home this one campaign?

    “_Dic._ Take it away;
    I would not part with a particle of my balsam
    For all the world; not for a thousand drachmas.
    But that young woman there--who’s she?

    _Mess._ The bridesmaid,
    With a particular message from the bride,
    Wishing to speak a word in private with you.

    _Dic._ Well, what have ye got to say? let’s hear it all.
    Come--step this way--no, nearer--in a whisper--
    Nearer, I say--Come then, now, tell me about it.

    (_After listening with comic attention to a
    supposed whisper._)

    O, bless me! what a capital, comical,
    Extraordinary string of female reasons
    For keeping a young bridegroom safe at home!
    Well, we’ll indulge her, since she’s only a woman;
    She’s not obliged to serve; bring out the balsam!
    Come, where’s your little vial?”--(F.)

While Dicæopolis is continuing his culinary preparations for the banquet
which is to close the festival--preparations in which the old gentlemen
of the Chorus, in spite of their objections to the truce, take a very
lively interest--a messenger comes in hot haste to summon Lamachus. The
Bœotians are meditating an attack on the frontier, hoping to take the
Athenians at disadvantage at this time of national holiday. It is
snowing hard; but the orders of the commanders-in-chief are imperative,
and Lamachus must go to the front. And at this moment comes another
messenger to call Dicæopolis to the banquet, which stays only for him. A
long antithetic dialogue follows, pleasant, it must be supposed, to
Athenian ears, who delighted in such word-fencing, tiresome to English
readers. Lamachus orders out his knapsack; Dicæopolis bids his slave
bring his dinner-service. The general, cursing all commanders-in-chief,
calls for his plume; the Acharnian for roast pigeons. Lamachus calls for
his spear; Dicæopolis for the meat-spit. The hero whirls his gorgon
shield round; the other mimics the performance with a large cheese-cake.
Losing patience at last, partly through envy of such good fare, and
partly at the mocking tone of the other, Lamachus threatens him with his
weapon; Dicæopolis defends himself with the spit, like Bailie Nicol
Jarvie with his hot poker; and so, after this passage of broad farce,
the scene closes--the general shouldering his knapsack and marching off
into the snow-storm, while the other packs up his contribution to the
public supper, at which he hastens to take his place.

A brief interval, filled by a choral ode, allows time enough in dramatic
imagination for Lamachus’s expedition and for Dicæopolis’s feast. A
messenger from the army rushes in hot haste upon the stage, and knocks
loudly at the door of the former. “Hot-water, lint, plaister, splints!”
The general has been wounded. In leaping a ditch he has sprained his
ankle and broken his head; and here he comes. As the discomfited warrior
limps in on the one side, groaning and complaining, Dicæopolis, with a
train of joyous revellers, enters on the other. He does not spare his
jests and mockeries upon the other’s miserable condition; and the piece
closes with a tableau sufficiently suggestive of the advantages of peace
over war--the general, supported by his attendants, having his wounds
dressed, and roaring with pain, occupying one side of the stage; while
the Acharnian revellers, crowned with garlands, shout their joyous
drinking-songs to Bacchus on the other.


‘The Peace’ was brought out four years after ‘The Acharnians,’ when the
war had already lasted ten years. This was not long before the
conclusion of that treaty between the two great contending powers which
men hoped was to hold good for fifty years, known as the Peace of
Nicias. The leading idea of the plot is the same as in the previous
comedy; the intense longing, on the part of the more domestic and less
ambitious citizens, for relief from the prolonged miseries of the war.

Trygæus,--whose name suggests the lost merriment of the
vintage,--finding no help in men, has resolved to undertake an
expedition in his own person, to heaven, to expostulate with Jupiter for
allowing this wretched state of things to go on. With this object in
view (after some previous attempts with a ladder, which, owing to the
want of anything like a _point d’appui_, have naturally resulted in some
awkward falls), he has fed and trained a dung-beetle, which is to carry
him up to the Olympian throne; there being an ancient fable to the
effect that the creature had once upon a time made his way there in
pursuit of his enemy the eagle.[23] It is a burlesque upon the aerial
journey of Bellerophon on Pegasus, as represented in one of the popular
tragedies of Euripides; and Trygæus addresses his strange steed as his
“little Pegasus” accordingly. Mounted in this strange fashion, to the
great alarm of his two daughters, he makes his appearance on the stage,
and is raised bodily through the air, with many soothing speeches to the
beetle, and a private “aside” to the machinist of the theatre to take
great care of him, lest like his predecessor Bellerophon he should fall
down and break his leg, and so furnish Euripides with another crippled
hero for a tragedy. By some change of scenery he is next represented as
having reached the door of Jupiter’s palace, where Mercury, as the
servant in waiting, comes out to answer his knock.

    _Mercury_ (_looks round and sniffs_). What’s this
        I smell--a mortal? (_Sees Trygæus on his beetle._) O, great Hercules!
    What horrible beast is this?

    _Tryg._ A beetle-horse.

    _Merc._ O you abominable, impudent, shameless beast!
    You cursed, cursed, thrice accursed sinner!
    How came you up here? what business have you here?
    O you abomination of abominations,
    Speak--what’s your name? D’ye hear?

    _Tryg._ Abomination.

    _Merc._ What place d’ye come from?

    _Tryg._ From Abomination.

    _Merc._ (_rather puzzled_). Eh?--what’s your father’s name?

    _Tryg._ Abomination.

    _Merc._ (_in a fury_). Look here now,--by the Earth, you die this minute,
    Unless you tell me your accursed name.

    _Tryg._ Well--I’m Trygæus of Athmon; I can prune
    A vine with any man--that’s all. I’m no informer,
    I do assure you; I hate law like poison.

    _Merc._ And what have you come here for?

    _Tryg._ (_pulling something out of a bag_). Well, you see,
    I’ve brought you this beefsteak.

    _Merc._ (_softening his tone considerably_). Oh, well--poor fellow!
    But how did you come?

    _Tryg._ Aha, my cunning friend!
    I’m not such an abomination, after all!
    But come, call Jupiter for me, if you please.

    _Merc._ Ha, ha! you can’t see him, nor any of the gods;
    They’re all of them gone from home--went yesterday.

    _Tryg._ Why, where on earth are they gone to?

    _Merc._ Earth, indeed!

    _Tryg._ Well, then, but where?

    _Merc._ They’re gone a long way off
    Into the furthest corner of the heavens.

    _Tryg._ And why are you left here, pray, by yourself?

    _Merc._ Oh, I’m taking care of the pots and pans, and suchlike.

    _Tryg._ What made them all leave home so suddenly?

    _Merc._ Disgusted with you Greeks. They’ve given you up
    To War, to do exactly what he likes with:
    They’ve left him here to manage all their business,
    And gone themselves as far aloft as possible,
    That they may no more see you cutting throats,
    And may be no more bothered with your prayers.

    _Tryg._ What makes them treat us in this fashion--tell me?

    _Merc._ Because you would have war, when they so often
    Offered you peace. Whenever those fools the Spartans
    Met with some small success, then it was always--
    “By the Twin Gods, Athens shall catch it now!”
    And then, when you Athenians got the best of it,
    And Sparta sent proposals for a peace,
    You would say always--“Oh, they’re cheating us!
    We won’t be taken in--not we, by Pallas!
    No, by great Jupiter! they’ll come again
    With better terms, if we keep hold of Pylos.”

    _Tryg._ That is uncommonly like what we _did_ say.

No doubt it was: Aristophanes is writing history here with quite as much
accuracy as most historians. Mercury goes on to explain to his visitor
that the Greeks are never likely to see Peace again: War has cast her
into a deep pit (which he points out), and heaped great stones upon her:
and he has now got an enormous mortar, in which he proposes to pound all
the cities of Greece, if he can only find a pestle big enough for his
purpose. “But hark!” says Mercury--“I do believe he’s coming out! I must
be off.” And while the god escapes, and Trygæus hides himself in
affright from the terrible presence, War, a grim giant in full panoply,
and wearing, no doubt, the most truculent-looking mask which the
theatrical artist could furnish, comes upon the scene, followed by his
man Tumult, who lugs a huge mortar with him. Into this vessel War
proceeds to throw various ingredients, which represent the several towns
and states which were the principal sufferers in the late campaigns:
leeks for Prasiæ, garlic for Megara, cheese for Sicily. When he goes on
to add some Attic honey to his olio, Trygæus can scarcely restrain
himself from giving vent aloud to the remonstrance which he utters in an
“aside”--not to use so terribly expensive an article. Tumult is
forthwith despatched (with a cuff on the head for his slowness) to fetch
a pestle of sufficient weight for his master’s purpose. He goes to
Athens first; but their great war-pestle has just been lost--Cleon, the
mainstay of the war party, has been killed in battle at Amphipolis, in
Thrace. The messenger is next despatched to Sparta, but returns with no
better success: the Spartans had lent their pestle to the Thracians, and
Brasidas had fallen, with the Athenian general, in that same battle at
Amphipolis. Trygæus, who all this while has been trembling in his
hiding-place, begins to take heart, while War retires with his slave to
manufacture a new pestle for himself. Now, in his absence, is the great
opportunity to rescue Peace from her imprisonment. Trygæus shouts to all
good Greeks, especially the farmers, the tradesmen, and the working
classes, to come to his aid; and a motley Chorus, equipped with shovels,
ropes, and crow-bars, appear in answer to his call. They give him a good
deal of annoyance, however, because, true to their stage business as
Chorus, instead of setting to work at once they will waste the precious
minutes in dancing and singing,--a most incongruous proceeding, as he
observes, when everything depends upon speed and silence; an amusing
sarcasm from a writer of what we may call operatic burlesque upon the
conventional absurdities which are even more patent in our modern
serious opera than in Athenian comedy. At last they go to work in
earnest, and succeed in bribing Mercury, who returns when War is out of
the way, to help them. But to get Peace out of the pit requires, as
Trygæus tells them, “a long pull, and a strong pull, and a pull
altogether.” And first the Bœotians will not pull, and then the
Argives, and then the Megarians; and Lamachus, the impersonation of the
war party at Athens here as in ‘The Acharnians,’ gets in the way, and
has to be removed; until at last the “country party”--the
husbandmen--lay hold with a will, and Peace, with her companions
“Plenty” and “Holiday,” represented also by two beautiful women, is
drawn up from the pit, and hailed with great joy by Trygæus and the
Chorus. But Peace, for a while, stands silent and indignant in the midst
of their congratulations. She will not open her lips, says Mercury, in
the presence of this audience. She has confided the reason to him in a
whisper--for she never speaks throughout the play: she is angry at
having been thrice rejected by vote in the Athenian assembly when she
offered herself to them after the affair of Pylos. But she is soon so
far appeased, that with her two fair companions she accompanies Trygæus
to earth. The beetle remains behind--having received an appointment to
run under Jupiter’s chariot and carry the lightning.

The last act--which, as is commonly the case with these comedies, is
quite supplementary to what we moderns should call the catastrophe of
the piece--takes place in front of Trygæus’s country house, where he
celebrates his nuptials with the fair Opóra (Plenty), whom Mercury has
presented to him as the reward of his good service. The festival held on
the occasion is represented on the stage with a detail which was
probably not tedious to an Athenian audience. All who ply peaceful arts
and trades are freely welcomed to it; while those who make their gain by
war--the sooth-sayer who promulgates his warlike oracles to delude
men’s minds, the trumpeter, the armourer, and the singer of
war-songs--are all dismissed by the triumphant vine-dresser with
ignominy and contempt.

One little point in this play is worth notice, as a trait of generous
temper on the part of the dramatist. Cleon, his great personal enemy,
was now dead. He has not been able to restrain himself from aiming a
blow at him even now, as one of those whom he looks upon, justly or
unjustly, as the authors of the miseries of Greece. But he holds his
hand half-way. When Mercury is descanting upon some of these evils which
went near to the ruin of Athens, he is made to say that “the
Tanner”--_i.e._, Cleon--was the cause of them. Trygæus interrupts him,--

    Hold--say not so, good master Mercury;
    Let that man rest below, where now he lies.
    He is no longer of our world, but yours.

This forbearance towards his dead enemy is turned off, it is true, with
a jest to the effect that anything bad which Mercury could say of him
now would be a reproach to that ghostly company of which the god had
especial charge; but even under the sarcasm we may willingly think there
lies a recognition of the great principle, that the faults of the dead
should be buried with them.


The comedy of ‘Lysistrata,’ which was produced some ten years later,
deals with the same subject from quite a different point of view. The
war has now lasted twenty-one years. The women of Athens have grown
hopeless of any termination of it so long as the management of affairs
is left in the hands of the men, and impatient of the privations which
its continuance involves. They determine, under the leading of the
clever Lysistrata,[24] wife to one of the magistrates, to take the
question into their own hands. They resolve upon a voluntary separation
from their husbands--a practical divorce _a mensa et thoro_--until peace
with Sparta shall be proclaimed. The meeting of these fair conspirators
is called very early in the morning, while the husbands (at least such
few of them as the campaign has left at home) are in bed and asleep. By
a liberal stage licence, the women of Sparta (who talk a very broad
Doric), of Corinth, and Bœotia, and, in fact, the female representatives
generally of all Greece, attend the gathering, in spite of distance and
of the existence of the war. All take an oath to observe this
self-denying ordinance strictly--not without an amusing amount of
reluctance on the part of some weaker spirits, which is at last overcome
by the firm example of a Spartan lady. It is resolved that a body of the
elder matrons shall seize the Acropolis, and make themselves masters of
the public treasury. These form one of the two Choruses in the play, the
other being composed of the old men of Athens. The latter proceed (with
a good deal of comic difficulty, owing to the steepness of the ascent
and their shortness of breath) to attack the Acropolis, armed with
torches and fagots and pans of charcoal, with which they hope to smoke
out the occupants. But the women have provided themselves with buckets
of water, which they empty on the heads of their assailants, who soon
retire discomfited to call the police. But the police are in their turn
repulsed by these resolute insurgents, whom they do not exactly know how
to deal with. At last a member of the Public Committee comes forward to
parley, and a dialogue takes place between him and Lysistrata. Why, he
asks, have they thus taken possession of the citadel? They have resolved
henceforth to manage the public revenues themselves, is the reply, and
not allow them to be applied to carrying on this ruinous war. That is no
business for women, argues the magistrate. “Why not?” says Lysistrata;
“the wives have long had the management of the private purses of the
husbands, to the great advantage of both.” In short, the women have made
up their minds to have their voice no longer ignored, as hitherto, in
questions of peace and war. Their remonstrances have always been met
with the taunt that “war is the business of men;” and to any question
they have ventured to ask their husbands on such points, the answer has
always been the old cry--old as the days of Homer--“Go spin, you jade,
go spin!”[25] But they will put up with it no longer. As they have
always had wit enough to clear the tangled threads in their work, so
they have no doubt of settling all these difficulties and complications
in international disputes, if it is left to them. But what concern, her
opponent asks, can women have with war, who contribute nothing to its
dangers and hardships? “Contribute, indeed!” says the lady--“we
contribute the sons who carry it on.” And she throws down to her
adversary her hood, her basket, and her spindle, and bids him “go home
and card wool,”--it is all such old men are fit for; henceforth the
proverb (of the men’s making) shall be reversed,--“War shall be the care
of the women.” The magistrate retires, not having got the best of it,
very naturally, in an encounter of words; and the Chorus of elders raise
the cry--well known as a popular partisan-cry at Athens, and sure to
call forth a hearty laugh in such juxtaposition--that the women are
designing to “set up a Tyranny!”

But poor Lysistrata soon has her troubles. Her unworthy recruits are
fast deserting her. They are going off to their husbands in the most
sneaking manner--creeping out through the little hole under the citadel
which led to the celebrated cave of Pan, and letting themselves down
from the walls by ropes at the risk of breaking their necks. Those who
are caught all have excellent excuses. One has some fleeces of fine
Milesian wool at home which _must_ be seen to,--she is sure the moths
are eating them. Another has urgent occasion for the doctor; a third
cannot sleep alone for fear of the owls--of which, as every one knows,
there were really a great many at Athens. The husbands, too, are
getting uncomfortable without their housekeepers; there is no one to
cook their victuals; and one poor soul comes and humbly entreats his
wife at least to come home to wash and dress the baby.

It is becoming plain that either the war or the wives’ resolution will
soon give way, when there arrives an embassy from Sparta. _They_ cannot
stand this general strike of the wives. They are agreed already with
their enemies the Athenians on one point--as to the women--that the old
Greek comedian’s[26] proverb, which we have borrowed and translated
freely, is true,--

    There is no living with ’em--or without ’em.

They are come to offer terms of peace. When two parties are already of
one mind, as Lysistrata observes, they are not long in coming to an
understanding. A treaty is made on the spot, with remarkably few
preliminaries. The Spartan ambassadors are carried off at once to an
entertainment in the Acropolis under the presidency of Lysistrata; and
the Athenians find, as is so often the case when those who have been the
bitterest opponents become better acquainted, that the Spartans are
excellent fellows in their cups--nay, positively entertaining, as one of
the plenipotentiaries who returns from the banquet declares; which last
would be quite a new characteristic, to the ears of an Athenian
audience, of their slow and steady neighbours. So charmed are the Chorus
with the effect of a little wholesome conviviality upon national temper,
that they deliver it as their decided opinion that in future all
embassies to foreign states should be fairly drunk before they set out.
When men are sober, they are critical and suspicious, and put a wrong
interpretation on things, and stand upon their dignity; but under the
genial influence of good liquor there is a disposition to make
everything pleasant. And so, with two choric hymns, chanted by Spartans
and Athenians in turn--so bright and graceful that they would seem out
of place in such wild company, but that we know the poet meant them to
herald the joy with which a real Peace would be welcomed--this broad
extravaganza ends.

For the humour is indeed of the broadest, in some passages, even for
Aristophanes. But in spite of coarse language, it has been justly said
by modern critics in the poet’s defence, that the moral of the piece is
honest and true. The longing for that domestic happiness which has been
interrupted and shattered by twenty years of incessant war, is a far
more wholesome sentiment, in its nature and effects, than very much of
modern sentiment which passes under finer names.



The satire in this, one of the best-known of Aristophanes’s comedies, is
directed against the new schools of philosophy which had been lately
developed in Athens, and which reckoned among their disciples not only
the more intellectual of the rising generation, but also a good many
idle young men of the richer classes, who were attracted by the novelty
of the tenets which were there propounded, the eloquence of the
teachers, and the richness of illustration and brilliant repartee which
were remarkable features in their method. There were several reasons
which would make this new learning unpopular, whatever its real merits
might have been. These men controverted popular opinions, and assumed to
know more than other people--which was an offence to the dignity of the
great Athenian commons. The lecturers themselves were nearly all of them
foreigners--Thrasymachus from Chalcedon, Gorgias from Leontini in
Sicily, Protagoras from Abdera in Thrace. These, with many others of
less note, had brought their talents to Athens as the great
intellectual mart, where such ware was understood, and was sure to find
its price, both in renown and in the grosser and more literal sense.
Besides, they sneered (so it was said) at the national religion; and the
national religion, especially to the lower ranks of citizens, meant
holidays, and public feasts, and processions, and a good deal of licence
and privilege which was very much valued. There were reasons, too, why
the poet himself should be very willing to exercise his wit at the
expense of the philosophers: to his conservative mind these outlandish
teachers, with their wild speculations and doctrine of free thought, and
generally aggressive attitude towards the established order of things,
were especially objectionable.

The term “Sophist,” though in its original and wider sense it was
applied to the professors of philosophy generally, had come to mean, in
the popular language of Athens, those who, for pay, undertook to teach a
method of rhetoric and argument by which a man might prove anything
whatever. It is against these public lecturers, who either taught or
were commonly believed to teach this perversion of the great science of
dialectics, that Aristophanes brings the whole weight of his biting
humour to bear in ‘The Clouds.’ This is no place to inquire how far the
accusation brought against them was or was not a fair one, or whether
that abuse of their powers which was the disgrace of a few may not have
been attributed by unjust clamour to a whole class of public teachers in
which they were but the exceptions. It is possible to believe not only,
with Mr Grote, that the Sophists “bear the penalty of their name in its
modern sense,” but also that in their own day they bore the penalty of
superior ability and intelligence in becoming the objects of dislike,
and therefore of misrepresentation, and yet to understand how they may
have afforded very fair material for the professional satirist. The art
of public speaking, which these professors taught, is a powerful engine,
which in unscrupulous hands may do as much to mislead as to instruct.
That the love of disputation and the consciousness of power will tempt a
clever man to maintain a paradox, and discomfit an opponent by what he
knows to be a fallacy--that a keen intellect will delight in questioning
an established belief--and that the shallow self-sufficiency of younger
disciples will push any doctrine to its wildest extremes,--are moral
facts for whose confirmation we have no need to go to ancient history.
And we are not to suppose that either the poet or his audience intended
the fun of the piece to be taken as serious evidence either of the
opinions or the practice of any school whatever.

But the question which has, with much more reason, exercised the
ingenuity of able critics, is the choice which Aristophanes has made of
Socrates as the representative of this sophistical philosophy, and his
motive in holding him up to ridicule, as he here does, by name. For
Socrates, it is generally allowed, was the opponent of these Sophists,
or at least of those objectionable doctrines which they were said to
teach. But there were some very important points--and those such as
would come most under public observation--in which he, as a
philosophical teacher, bore a broad resemblance to them. The whole
character of this new intellectual movement in Greece was negative and
critical, professing to aim rather at detecting error than establishing
certainty. To this the method of Socrates formed no exception. His
favourite assertion, that he himself knew nothing for certain, expressed
this in the strongest form. And if the reproach brought against the
Sophists was that they loved argument too much for argument’s sake, and
thought more of confounding an opponent than of demonstrating a truth,
we have only to read some of the dialogues in which Socrates bears a
part, as we have them recorded by his friends and pupils, to see that he
at least supplied abundant ground to an ordinary hearer to say the same
of him. He could scarcely have realised to the public of his own day the
definition which Schiller gives of the true philosopher--“One who loves
truth better than his system.” Xenophon tells us that in argument he did
what he liked with his opponents; and Plato has compared him to the
mythical giant Antæus, who insisted that every stranger whom he met
should try a fall with him.

It is of the very essence, again, of caricature to take gravity and
wisdom for its subject. And caricature on the Athenian stage knew no
limits in this. Nothing was sacred for the comic dramatist and his
Chorus. The national gods, the great religious mysteries, the mighty
Athenian people itself, were all made to put on the comic mask, and
figure in the wild procession. Why should the philosophers escape? The
higher the ground upon which Socrates stood, the more tempting mark did
he present. Lucian understood perfectly the kind of taste to which a
writer of comedy must appeal at Athens, when, in his own defence for
having made sport of the philosophers, he says: “For such is the temper
of the multitude, they delight in listening to banter and abuse,
especially when what is solemn and dignified is made the subject of

But besides this, the author who was to write a new burlesque for the
Athenians, and had resolved to take as his theme these modern vagaries
of speculative philosophy, wanted a central figure for his piece. So in
‘The Acharnians’ he takes Lamachus, a well-known general of the day, to
represent the passion for war which he there holds up to ridicule, and
dresses him up with gorgon-faced shield and tremendous crest, in parody
of military splendour: though we have no reason whatever to suppose that
he had any private grudge against the man, or that Lamachus was more
responsible for the war than others. Here the representative figure must
be a philosopher, and well known. Whether his opinions were very
accurately represented or not, probably neither the dramatist nor his
audience would very much care. Who so convenient for his purpose as the
well-known and remarkable teacher whose grotesque person must have
struck every passer-by in the public streets, whose face, with its flat
nose, lobster-like eyes, and thick lips, seemed a ready-made comic mask,
and whose round and protuberant body made his very friends liken him to
the figures of Silenus,--who went about barefooted, unwashed, and in
shabby clothes, and would sometimes stand for half an hour in a public
thoroughfare as it were wrapt in a dream? There is surely no need to
imagine that the comic dramatist had any personal grudge against the
philosopher, or any special horror of his particular teaching. Such an
artist could hardly have helped caricaturing him, if he had been his
personal friend.

The opening scene in this comedy is an interior. It represents a room in
the house of Strepsiades, a well-to-do citizen, in which he and his son
Pheidippides are discovered occupying two pallet-beds. The household
slaves are supposed to be sleeping in an outer room, the door of which
is open. So much of the antecedents of the drama as is required to be
known in order to its ready comprehension come out at once in the
soliloquy of the anxious father.

    _Str._ (_yawning in his bed_). O--h!
    Great Jove, how terribly long the nights are now!
    Interminable! will it never be day, I wonder?
    I’m sure I heard the cock crow long ago.
    These slaves are snoring still, the rascals. Ah!
    It was not so in the old times of peace.
    Curse the war, I say, both for other reasons,
    And specially that I daren’t punish my own slaves.[28]
    And there’s that hopeful son of mine can sleep
    Sound as a top, the whole night long, rolled up
    Like a great sausage there, in five thick blankets.
    Well--I suppose I’d as well put my head
    Under the clothes, and try to get a snooze.--
    I can’t--I _can’t_ get to sleep! There are things biting me--
    I mean the bills, the stable expenses, and the debts
    Run up for me by that precious son of mine.
    And he--oh, he lives like a gentleman,
    Keeps his fine horses, drives his curricle--
    Is dreaming of them now, no doubt--while I lie vexing,
    Knowing next month those notes of hand come due,
    With interest mounting up. (_Calls to his slave without._)
                                Boy! light a lamp;
    Bring me my pocket-book, that I may see
    How my accounts stand, and just cast them up.

(_Slave brings a lamp, and holds it while Strepsiades sits up and looks
over his account-book._)

    Let’s see now. First, here’s Prasias, fifty pounds.
    Now, what’s that for? When did I borrow that?
    Ah! when I bought that grey. Oh dear, oh dear!
    I shall grow grey enough, if this goes on.

    _Ph._ (_talking in his sleep_). That’s not fair,
        Philo! keep your own side of the course!

    _Str._ Ay, there he goes! that’s what is ruining me;
    He’s always racing, even in his dreams.

    _Ph._ (_still asleep_). How many times round do the war-chariots go?

    _Str._ You make your old father’s head go round, you do.
    But let me see--what stands here next to Prasias?--
    Twelve pounds to Amynias,--for a car and wheels.

    _Ph._ There--give that horse a roll, and take him home.

    _Str._ You’ll roll me out of house and home, young man!
    I’ve judgment debts against me, and the rest of them
    Swear they’ll proceed.

    _Ph._ (_awaking_). Good heavens! my dear father,
    What makes you groan and toss so all night long?

    _Str._ There’s a sheriff’s officer at me--in the bed-clothes.

    _Ph._ Lie quiet, sir, do pray, and let me sleep.

    _Str._ Sleep, if you like; but these debts, I can tell you,
    “Will fall on your own head some day, young man.
    Heugh! may those match-makers come to an evil end
    Who drew me into marrying your good mother!
    There I was living a quiet life in the country,--
    Shaved once a-week, may-be, wore my old clothes--
    Full of my sheep, and goats, and bees, and vineyards,
    And I must marry the fine niece of Megacles.
    The son of Megacles! an awkward country fellow
    Marry a fine town belle, all airs and graces!
    A pretty pair we were to come together--
    I smelling of the vineyard and the sheep-shearing,
    She with her scents, and essences, and cosmetics,
    And all the devilries of modern fashion.
    Not a bad housekeeper though--I will say that--
    For she kept open house. “Madam,” said I,
    Showing her one day my old coat with a hole in’t,
    By way of parable,--“this can’t last long.”

    _Slave_ (_examining the lamp, which is going out_).
       This lamp has got no oil in it.

    _Str._ Deuce take you,
    Why did you light that thirsty beast of a lamp?
    Come here, and you shall catch it.

    _Slave._ Catch it,--why?

    _Str._ (_boxes his ears_). For putting such a thick wick in,
        to be sure.--
    Well,--in due time this boy of ours was born
    To me and my grand lady. First of all,
    We got to loggerheads about his name;
    She would have something that had got a _horse_ in it,--
    Xanthippus--or Charippus--or Philippides;[29]
    I was for his grandfather’s name--Pheidonides.
    Well, for some time we squabbled; then at last
    We came to a compromise upon Pheid--ippides.
    This boy--she’d take him in her lap and fondle him,
    And say, “Ah! when it grows up to be a man,
    It shall drive horses, like its uncle Megacles,
    And wear a red cloak, it shall.” Then I would say,
    “He shall wear a good sheep-skin coat, like his own father,
    And drive his goats to market from the farm.”
    But there--he never would listen to me for a moment;
    He’s had a horse-fever always--to my ruin.

He has thought of a scheme, however, if he can but get his son to fall
in with it, by which they may both be relieved from the pressure of
these debts. So he awakes young Pheidippides, and takes him into his
counsels. They both walk to the front; the scene shuts, and they are
outside the house. The father points to another building at the wing.

    That’s the great Thinking-School of our new philosophers;
    There live the men who teach that heaven around us
    Is a vast oven, and we the charcoal in it.[30]
    And they teach too--for a consideration, mind--
    To plead a cause and win it, right or wrong.

    _Ph._ (_carelessly_). Who are these fellows?

    _Str._ I don’t quite remember
    The name they call themselves, it’s such a long one;
    Very hard thinkers--but they’re first-rate men.

    _Ph._ Faugh! vulgar fellows--I know ’em. Dirty vagabonds,
    Like Socrates there and Chœrephon--a low set.

    _Str._ Pray hold your tongue--don’t show your ignorance.
    But, if you care at all for your old father,
    Be one of them, now, do, and cut the turf.

    _Ph._ Not I, by Bacchus! not if you would give me
    That team of Arabs that Leogoras drives.

    _Str._ (_coaxingly_). Do, my dear boy, I beg you--go and be taught.

    _Ph._ And what shall I learn there?

    _Str._ Learn? (_Confidentially._) “Why, they _do_ say
    That these men have the secret of both Arguments,
    The honest Argument (if there be such a thing) and the other;
    Now this last--this false Argument, you understand--
    Will make the veriest rascal win his cause.
    So, if you’ll go and learn for us this glorious art,
    The debts I owe for you will all be cleared;
    For I shan’t pay a single man a farthing.

    _Ph._ (_after a little hesitation_). No--I can’t
        do it. Studying hard, you see,
    Spoils the complexion. How could I show my face
    Among the Knights, looking a beast, like those fellows?

    _Str._ Then, sir, henceforth I swear, so help me Ceres,
    I won’t maintain you--you, nor your bays, nor your chestnuts.
    Go to the dogs--or anywhere--out of my house!

    _Ph._ Well, sir, I’m going. I know my uncle Megacles
    Won’t see me without a horse--so I don’t mind.

Indignant as he is with his son, the father is determined not to lose
the chance which this new science offers him of getting rid of his
creditors. If his son will not learn, he will take lessons himself, old
as he is; and with this resolve he knocks at the door of this
“Thinking-School,” the house of Socrates. One of the students comes to
answer his summons--in no very good humour, for the loudness and
suddenness of Strepsiades’s knock has destroyed in embryo a thought
which he was breeding. Still, as the old gentleman seems an earnest
disciple, he condescends to expatiate to him on the subject of some of
the great master’s subtle speculations; subtle in the extreme, not to
say childish, but yet not very unfair caricatures of some which we find
attributed to Socrates in the ‘Dialogues’ of Plato. Charmed with what he
hears, the new scholar begs to be at once introduced. The back scene
opens, and discovers the students engaged in their various
investigations, with Socrates himself suspended in a kind of basket,
deeply engaged in thought. The extraordinary attitude of one class of
learners arrests the attention of the visitor especially:--

    _Str._ What _are_ those doing--stooping so very oddly?

    _Student._ They probe the secrets that lie deep as Tartarus.

    _Str._ But why--excuse me, but--their hinder quarters--
    Why are they stuck so oddly up in the air?

    _Stud._ The other end is studying astronomy
    Quite independently. (_To the students, whose
        attention is, of course, diverted to the
        visitor._) Go in, if you please!
    Suppose HE comes, and catches us all idling!

But Strepsiades begs to ask a few more questions. These mathematical
instruments,--what are they for?

    _Stud._ Oh, that’s geometry.

    _Str._ And what’s the use of it?

    _Stud._ For measuring the Earth.

    _Str._ You mean the grants
    We make in the colonies to Athenian citizens?

    _Stud._ No--_all_ the Earth.

    _Str._ A capital idea!
    Divide it all?--I call that true democracy.

    _Stud._ See, here’s an outline-map of the whole world;
    And here lies Athens.

    _Str._ Athens! nay, go to--
    It cannot be--I see no law-courts sitting.

    _Stud._ ’Tis Attica, I assure you, none the less.

    _Str._ And where’s my parish, then--and my fellow-townsmen?

    _Stud._ Oh, they’re all there.--And here’s Eubœa, you see,
    That long strip there, stretched out along the coast.

    _Str._ Ay--we and Pericles stretched that--pretty tight.[31]
    But where’s Lacedæmon, now?

    _Stud._ Why, there, of course.

    _Str._ How close to Athens! Pray, with all your thinking,
    Can’t ye contrive to get it further off?

    _Stud._ (_shaking his head_). That we can’t do, by Jove!

    _Str._ Then worse luck for ye.--
    But who hangs dangling in the basket yonder?

    _Stud._ HIMSELF.

    _Str._ And who’s Himself?

    _Stud._ Why, Socrates.

    _Str._ Ho, Socrates!--Call him, you fellow--call loud.

    _Stud._ Call him yourself--I’ve got no time for calling.

    (_Exit indoors._)

    _Str._ Ho, Socrates! sweet, darling Socrates!

    _Soc._ Why callest thou me, poor creature of a day?

    _Str._ First tell me, pray, what _are_ you doing up there?

    _Soc._ I walk in air, and contemplate the sun.

    _Str._ Oh, _that’s_ the way that you despise the gods--
    You get so near them on your perch there--eh?

    _Soc._ I never could have found out things divine,
    Had I not hung my mind up thus, and mixed
    My subtle intellect with its kindred air.
    Had I regarded such things from below,
    I had learnt nothing. For the earth absorbs
    Into itself the moisture of the brain.--
    It is the very same case with water-cresses.

    _Str._ Dear me! so water-cresses grow by thinking!

He begs Socrates to come down and help him in his difficulties. He is
very anxious to learn this new Argument--that “which pays no bills.”
Socrates offers to introduce him to the Clouds, the new goddesses of
philosophers--“great divinities to idle men;” and Strepsiades--first
begging to be allowed to wrap his cloak round his head for fear of rain,
having left home in his hurry without a hat--sits down to await their

(SOCRATES _chants_.)

        Come, holy Clouds, whom the wise revere,
        Descend in the sight of your votaries here!
    Whether ye rest on the heights of Olympus,
        whereon the sacred snow lies ever,
    Or in coral groves of your father Ocean
        ye weave with the Nymphs the dance together,
    Or draw aloft in your golden vessels
        the holy waters of ancient Nile,
    Or haunt the banks of the lake Mæotis,
        or clothe the Mimas’ steeps the while,--
    Hear our prayer, O gentle goddesses,
        take the gifts your suppliants bring,
    Smile propitious on these our offerings,
        list to the mystic chant we sing!

It is not very easy to comprehend the mode in which the succeeding scene
was managed, but the appliances of the Athenian stage were no doubt
quite equal to presenting it very effectively. The vast amphitheatre in
which these performances took place, open to the sky, and from which
actors and audience commanded a view of the hills round Athens, and of
the “illimitable air” and “cloudless heaven” which Socrates
apostrophises in his invocation to the goddesses, would add greatly to
the effect of the beautiful choric songs which follow. But, on the other
hand, it presents difficulties to any arrangement for the actual descent
of the Clouds upon the stage. Probably their first chorus is sung behind
the scenes, and they are invisible,--present to the imagination only of
the audience, until they enter the orchestra in palpable human shape.
Theories and guesses on these points are, after all, but waste of
ingenuity. The beauty of the lines which herald their entrance (which
can receive but scant justice in a translation) is one of the many
instances in which the poet rises above the satirist.

(CHORUS OF CLOUDS, _in the distance, accompanied by the low rolling of

            Eternal clouds!
        Rise we to mortal view,
      Embodied in bright shapes of dewy sheen,
      Leaving the depths serene
    Where our loud-sounding Father Ocean dwells,
      For the wood-crownèd summits of the hills:
        Thence shall our glance command
      The beetling crags which sentinel the land,
      The teeming earth,
      The crops we bring to birth;
    Thence shall we hear
    The music of the ever-flowing streams,
    The low deep thunders of the booming sea.
      Lo, the bright Eye of Day unwearied beams!
      Shedding our veil of storms
      From our immortal forms,
    We scan with keen-eyed gaze this nether sphere.

Socrates falls to the ground in adoration of his beloved deities; and
Strepsiades follows his example, in great terror at the thunder, with
all the buffoonish exaggeration which would delight an Athenian

(CHORUS OF CLOUDS, _nearer_.)

    Sisters who bring the showers,
      Let us arise and greet
    This glorious land, for Pallas’ dwelling meet,
    Rich in brave men, beloved of Cecrops old;
      Where Faith and Reverence reign,
      Where comes no foot profane,
    When for the mystic rites the Holy Doors unfold.
      There gifts are duly paid
    To the great gods, and pious prayers are said;
    Tall temples rise, and statues heavenly fair.
      There, at each holy tide,
        With coronals and song,
    The glad processions to the altars throng;
      There, in the jocund spring,
      Great Bacchus, festive king,
    With dance and tuneful flute his Chorus leads along.

And now, while Socrates directs the attention of his pupil towards Mount
Parnes, from whose heights he sees (and the imagination of the audience
is not slow to follow him) the ethereal goddesses descending towards the
earth, the Chorus in bodily form enter the orchestra, to the sound of
slow music--four-and-twenty nymphs in light cloud-like drapery. They
promise, at the request of their great worshipper Socrates, to instruct
his pupil in the mysterious science which is to free him from the
importunity of his creditors. For these, says the philosopher, are your
only true deities--Chaos, and the Clouds, and the Tongue. As to Jupiter,
whom Strepsiades just ventures to mention, he is quite an exploded idea
in these modern times; the great ruler of the universe is Vortex.[33]
The machinery of the world goes on by a perpetual whirl. Socrates will,
with the help of the Clouds, instruct him in all these new tenets. There
is one point, however, upon which he wishes first to be satisfied--has
he a good memory?

    _Str._ ’Tis of two sorts, by Jove! remarkably good,
    If a man owes me anything; of my own debts,
    I’m shocked to say, I’m terribly forgetful.

    _Soc._ Have you good natural gifts in the way of speaking?

    _Str._ Speaking,--not much; cheating’s my strongest point.

He appears to the philosopher not so very unpromising a pupil, and the
pair retire into the “Thinking-shop,” to begin their studies, while the
Chorus make their usual address to the audience in the poet’s name,
touching chiefly upon topics of the day which have lost their interest
for us moderns.

But the next act of the comedy brings in Socrates, swearing by all his
new divinities that he never met with so utterly hopeless a pupil, in
the whole course of his experience, as this very late learner, who has
no one qualification for a sophist except his want of honesty. He puts
him through a quibbling catechism on the stage about measures, and
rhythms, and grammar, all which he declares are necessary preliminaries
to the grand science which Strepsiades desires to learn, although the
latter very naïvely remonstrates against this superfluous education: he
wants to learn neither music nor grammar, but simply how to defeat his
creditors. At last his instructor gets out of patience, and kicks him
off the philosophical premises as a hopeless dunce. By the advice of the
Clouds the rejected candidate goes in search of his son, to attempt once
more to persuade him to enter the schools, and learn the art which has
proved too difficult for his father’s duller faculties.

One step, indeed, the old gentleman has made in his education; he swears
no more by Jupiter, and rebukes his son, when he does so, for
entertaining such very old-world superstitions; somewhat to the
astonishment of that elegant young gentleman, whose opinions (if he has
any on such subjects) are not so far advanced in the way of scepticism.
The latter is, however, at last persuaded to become his father’s
substitute as the pupil of Socrates, though not without a warning on the
young man’s part that he may one day come to rue it. On this head the
father has no misgivings, but introduces him to the philosopher
triumphantly as a scholar who is sure to do him credit--he was always a
remarkable child:--

    He was so very clever always, naturally;
    When he was but so high, now, he’d build mud houses,
    Cut out a boat, make a cart of an old shoe,
    And frogs out of pomegranate-stones--quite wonderful![34]

And Socrates, after a sneer at the young gentleman’s fashionable lisp,
admits him as a pupil, and undertakes to instruct him in this “new way
of paying old debts.”

The choral ode which must have divided this scene from the next is lost.
The dialogue which follows, somewhat abruptly as we now have the play,
is but another version of the well-known “Choice of Hercules” between
Virtue and Vice, by the sophist Prodicus--known probably to the audience
of the day as well as to ourselves. The Two Arguments, the Just and the
Unjust, now appear upon the stage in character; one in the grave dress
of an elder citizen, the other as a young philosopher of the day.[35] It
is very probable that they wore masks which would be recognised by the
audience as caricatures of real persons; it has been suggested, of
Æschylus and Euripides, or of Thrasymachus the sophist, and of
Aristophanes himself. What is certain is, that they represent the old
and new style of training and education: and they set forth the claims
of their respective systems in a long discussion, in which each abuses
the other with the utmost licence of Athenian comedy. Yet there are
passages of great simplicity and beauty here and there, in the speeches
of the worthier claimant. The Unjust Argument, confident in the
popularity of his system and his powers of argument, permits his rival
to set his claims before the audience first. He proceeds to speak of the
days when justice, temperance, and modesty were in fashion; when the
Athenian youth were a hardy and a healthy race, not languid and
effeminate as now; and he calls upon young Pheidippides to choose for
himself the principles and the training which “had made the men of

    Cast in thy lot, O youth, with me, and choose the better paths--
    So shalt thou hate the Forum’s prate, and shun the lazy baths;
    Be shamed for what is truly shame, and blush when shame is said,
    And rise up from thy seat in hall before the hoary head;
    Be duteous to thy parents, to no base act inclined,
    But keep fair Honour’s image deep within thine heart enshrined;
    And speak no rude irreverent word against the father’s years,
    Whose strong hand led thine infant steps, and dried thy
       childhood’s tears.

But the arguments of the evil counsellor are many and plausible. What
good, he argues, have men ever gained by justice, continence, and
moderation? For one poor instance which his opponent can adduce of
virtue being rewarded upon earth, the fluent sophist quotes a dozen
against him of those who have made their gain by the opposite qualities.
Honesty is _not_ the best policy among mortals; and most assuredly the
moral virtues receive no countenance from the example of the gods.
Sophistical as the argument is, and utterly unfair as we know it to be
if intended to represent the real teaching of Socrates, the satirist
seems to have been fully justified in his representation so far as some
of the popular lecturers of the day were concerned. The arguments which
Plato, in his ‘Republic,’ has put into the mouth of the sophist
Thrasymachus--that justice is really only the good of _others_, while
injustice is more profitable to a man’s self--that those who abuse
injustice do so “from the fear of suffering it, not from the fear of
doing it”--that justice is merely “an obedience yielded by the weak to
the orders of the strong,”--do but express in grave philosophical
language the same principles which Aristophanes here exaggerates in the
person of his devil’s advocate.[36] This latter winds up the controversy
by plying his antagonist with a few categorical questions, quite in the
style of Socrates:--

    _Unjust A._ Come now,--from what class do our lawyers spring?

    _Just A._ Well--from the blackguards.

    _Unj. A._ I believe you. Tell me
    Again, what are our tragic poets?

    _Just A._ Blackguards.

    _Unj. A._ Good; and our public orators?

    _Just A._ Blackguards all.

    _Unj. A._ D’ye see now, how absurd and utterly worthless
    Your arguments have been? And now look round--

    (_turning to the audience_)

    Which class amongst our friends here seems most numerous?

    _Just A._ I’m looking.

    _Unj. A._ Well;--now tell me what you see.

    _Just. A._ (_after gravely and attentively
        examining the rows of spectators_). The
        blackguards have it, by a large majority.
    There’s one, I know--and yonder there’s another--
    And there, again, that fellow with long hair.

And amidst the roars of delighted laughter with which the Athenian
“gallery” would be sure to receive this sally of buffoonery, the
advocate of justice and morality declares that he throws up his brief,
and joins the ranks of the dissolute majority.

The creditors of Strepsiades have not been quiescent meanwhile. We find
him, in the next scene, calculating with dismay that it wants but five
days to the end of the month, when debts and interest must be paid, or
legal proceedings will be taken. He is come to the School, to inquire
how his son gets on with his studies. Socrates assures him that his
education is quite complete; that he is now furnished with a mode of
argument which will win any lawsuit, and get him off scot-free of all
liabilities, even in the teeth of a thousand witnesses who could prove
the debt. He presents the youth to his father, who is charmed at first
sight with the change in his complexion, which has now the genuine
disputatious tint. He looks, as Strepsiades declares, “all negations and
contradictions,” and has the true Attic expression in his face. The
father takes him home rejoicing, and awaits confidently the summons of
his creditors.

The devices with which the claimants are put off by the new learning of
Pheidippides, turn so entirely on the technical expressions of Athenian
law, that they have little interest for an English reader. Suffice it to
say that the unfortunate tradesmen with whom this young gentleman has
run up bills for his horses and chariots do not seem likely to get their
money. But the training which he has received in the “Thinking-shop” has
some other domestic results which the father did not anticipate. He
proceeds, on some slight quarrel (principally because he will quote
Euripides, whom his father abominates), to cudgel the old gentleman, and
further undertakes to justify his conduct on the plea that when he was a
child his father had often cudgelled _him_.

    _Strep._ Ay, but I did it for your good.

    _Pheid._ No doubt;
    And pray am I not also right to show
    Goodwill to you--if beating means goodwill?
    Why should your back escape the rod, I ask you,
    Any more than mine did? was not I, forsooth,
    Born like yourself a free Athenian?
    Perhaps you will say, beating’s the rule for children;
    I answer, that an old man’s twice a child;
    And it is fair the old should have to howl
    More than poor children, when they get into mischief,
    Because there’s ten times less excuse for the old ones.

    _Strep._ There never was a law to beat one’s father.

    _Pheid._ Law? pray who made the law? a man, I suppose,
    Like you or me, and so persuaded others:
    Why have not I as good a right as he had
    To start a law for future generations
    That sons should beat their fathers in return?
    We shall be liberal, too, if all the stripes
    You laid upon us before the law was made
    We make you a present of, and don’t repay them.
    Look at young cocks, and all the other creatures,--
    They fight their fathers; and what difference is there
    ’Twixt them and us--save that they don’t make laws?

The unlucky father finds himself quite unprepared with any reply to
these ingenious arguments. Too late he begins to see that this new
liberal education has its inconvenient side. He protests it would have
been better for him to allow his son to go on driving four-in-hand to
his heart’s content, than to become so subtle a philosopher. The only
comfort which the young student offers him is the assurance that he is
quite as ready to beat his mother, if occasion should arise; but it is
much to the credit of domestic relations at Athens that, although the
old gentleman has complained of his wife, in the earlier part of the
play, as having been the cause of all his present difficulties, he shows
no desire to accept this kind of consolation. He curses Socrates, and
appeals to the Clouds, who, he complains, have terribly misled him. The
Chorus reply with truth that the fault was his own; he had sought to be
instructed in the school of Injustice, and the teaching has recoiled
deservedly on his own head. But he has his revenge. Summoning his
slaves, he bids them bring ladders and mattocks, and storm the
stronghold of these charlatans and atheists. He mounts the roof himself,
torch in hand, and proceeds to set fire to the timbers. When the
students rush to the window in dismay to ask what he means by it, he
tells them mockingly he is only

    Holding a subtle disputation with the rafters.

Socrates is at length aroused from his lucubrations, and inquires what
he is doing up there. Strepsiades retorts upon him his own explanation
of his position in the hanging basket--

    I walk in air, and contemplate the sun.

And the piece concludes with a grand tableau of the Thinking-school in
flames, and Socrates and his pupils shrieking half-smothered from the

The comedy, as has been said above,[37] was not so far successful as to
obtain for its author either the first or second place in the award of
the judges; Cratinus being placed first with his comedy of ‘The
Bottle’--the child of his old age--and Ameipsias second. It has been
thought necessary to account for this on other grounds than the
respective merits of the three pieces; though, as we are not in
possession of the text of either of the others, we have no means of
ascertaining how far the award was or was not an honest one. It has
been suggested by some critics, that ‘The Clouds’ was _too_ clever for
the audience, who preferred a coarser article; and indeed (unless the
two gamecocks were produced upon the stage) the jests are more
intellectual than practical, and the comic “business” has little of that
uproarious fun with which some of the other plays abound. The author
himself, as would appear from some expressions put into the mouth of the
Chorus in his subsequent comedy of ‘The Wasps,’ was of opinion that his
finer fancies had been in this case thrown away upon an unsympathetic
public. Another explanation which has been given is, that the glaring
injustice with which the character of Socrates is treated was resented
by the audience--a supposition which carries with it a compliment to
their principles which it is very doubtful whether they deserved, and
which the author himself would have been very slow to pay them. There is
a story that the result was brought about by the influence of
Alcibiades, who had been already severely satirised in the poet’s comedy
of ‘The Revellers,’ and who felt that the character of Pheidippides--his
extravagance and love of horses, his connection by his mother’s side
with the great house of Megacles, his relation to Socrates as pupil, and
even the lisping pronunciation which his teacher notices[38]--were all
intended to be caricatures of himself, which seems by no means
improbable; and that he and friends accordingly exerted themselves to
prevent the poet’s success.

It is not probable that the broader caricature of the great philosopher,
any more than that of Cleon in ‘The Knights,’ had any special effect
upon the popularity of its object. The story told by Ælian, that the
subsequent condemnation of Socrates was due in great measure to the
prejudice raised against him by this comedy, has been long refuted by
the observation that it at least did not take place until more than
twenty years after the performance. A traditionary anecdote of a very
different kind, though resting upon not much better authority, has more
of probability about it,--that the philosopher himself, having been made
aware of what was in store for him, took his place among the audience at
the representation, and laughed as heartily as any of them: nay, that he
even rose and mounted upon a bench, in order that the strangers in the
house to whom his person was previously unknown might see how admirable
a counterpart the stage Socrates was of the original.



This comedy, which was produced by its author the year after the
performance of ‘The Clouds,’ may be taken as in some sort a companion
picture to that piece. Here the satire is directed against the passion
of the Athenians for the excitement of the law-courts, as in the former
its object was the new philosophy. And as the younger generation--the
modern school of thought--were there the subjects of the caricature, so
here the older citizens, who took their seats in court as jurymen day by
day, to the neglect of their private affairs and the encouragement of a
litigious disposition, appear in their turn in the mirror which the
satirist holds up. It is calculated that in the ten courts at Athens,
when all were open, there might sometimes be required as many as six
thousand jurymen, and there was never any difficulty in obtaining them.
It was not the mere temptation of the “threepence,” more or less, to
which each juryman was entitled as compensation for his loss of time,
which drew so many to the courts, however convenient it might be for the
purposes of burlesque to assume that it was so. No doubt the pay was an
object to some of the poorer citizens; and so far the influence of such
a regulation was bad, inasmuch as it led to the juries being too often
struck from an inferior class, less independent and less intelligent.
Nor need we be so uncharitable as the historian Mitford, and calculate
that “besides the pay, which was small, there was the hope of bribes,
which might be large.” It is not probable that bribery could often be
applied to so numerous a body. But the sense of dignity and personal
importance which attaches to the right of giving a judicial decision,
and the interest and excitement which are aroused by legal or criminal
questions, especially in those who have to investigate them, are
feelings perfectly well understood in our days, as well as in those of
Aristophanes. Such feelings are not only natural, but have their use,
more especially when the cause to be decided is, as it so often was at
Athens, of a public character. Plato considered that a citizen who took
no interest in these duties made himself a kind of alien in the state,
and we Englishmen hold very much the same doctrine. But the passion for
hearing and deciding questions, judicial or political, was carried to
great excess among the Athenians at this date. Their own historians and
orators are full of references to this national peculiarity, and
Aristophanes is not the only satirist who has taken advantage of it.
Lucian, in one of his very amusing dialogues, represents Menippus as
looking down from the moon upon the earth below, and watching the
various pursuits of the inhabitants. The northern hordes are fighting,
the Egyptian is ploughing, the Phœnician is carrying his merchandise
over the sea, the Spartan is undergoing corporal discipline, and the
Athenian is “sitting in the jury-box.”[39]

This is perhaps the least amusing of all Aristophanes’s productions to a
modern reader, although it was adopted by Racine as the basis of his
only comedy, “Les Plaideurs.” There are but two characters in it of any
importance to the action, a father and son. Philocleon,[40] the father,
is strongly possessed with this mania for the courts. His family cannot
keep him at home. He neglects his person, hardly sleeps at night for
thinking of his duties in the courts, and is off before daylight in the
morning to secure a good seat; he even declares the cock must have been
bribed, by some profligates who have reason to dread the terrors of the
law, not to crow loud enough to awake him. He keeps in his house “a
whole beach” of little round pebbles, that he may always have one ready
for giving his vote; and goes about holding his three fingers pinched
together as if he had got one between them ready to slip into the
ballot-box. In vain has his son remonstrated, and had him washed and
dressed, and sent for the physicians, and even the priests, to try to
rid him of his malady. And now, as a last resource, they have been
obliged to lock him up, and set a watch upon the house. His
contrivances to escape are in the very wildest vein of extravaganza. He
tries to get out through the chimney, and pretends he’s “only the
smoke;” and they all rush to put a cover on the chimney-top, and a great
stone on it. He escapes through a hole in the tiles and sits on the
roof, pretending to be “only a sparrow;” and they have to set a net to
catch him. His son--a young gentleman of the more modern school--and the
two slaves who are set to watch him day and night, have a very trying
time of it.

The second scene introduces the Chorus of the play, consisting of
Philocleon’s fellow-jurymen. The time is early daybreak, and they are
already on their way to the courts, preceded by two or three boys with
torches. Their appearance is of the strangest,--they are the “Wasps” who
give the name to the piece. A mask resembling a wasp’s head, a black and
yellow body, and some comic appendage in their rear to represent a
sting,--were, we may presume, the costume provided by the stage manager.
The poet probably intended to represent the acrimonious temper which
delighted in the prosecution of individuals without much reference to
their actual guilt, and the malevolence which often instigated the
accusation. But he allows them to give, on their own behalf, another and
more honourable explanation of their name, which, though it occurs later
in the play, may find its place here. It is the old story, which the
dramatist knew his audience were never tired of hearing:--

    If any of this good company should note our strange array--
    The wasp-like waists and cross-barred suits that we have donned to-day--
    And if he asks what means this sting we brandish, as you see,
    Him will we undertake to teach, dull scholar though he be
    All we who wear this tail-piece claim true Athenian birth
    The rightful Aborigines, sole sons of Mother earth;[41]
    A lusty race, who struck good blows for Athens in the fight,
    What time as the Barbarian came on us like the night.
    With torch and brand the Persian horde swept on from east to west,
    To storm the hives that we had stored, and smoke us from our nest:
    Then we laid our hand to spear and targe, and met him on his path;
    Shoulder to shoulder, close we stood, and bit our lips for wrath.
    So fast and thick the arrows flew, that none might see the heaven,
    But the gods were on our side that day, and we bore them back at even.
    High o’er our heads, an omen good, we saw the owlet wheel,
    And the Persian trousers in their backs felt the good Attic steel.
    Still as they fled we followed close, a swarm of vengeful foes,
    And stung them where we chanced to light, on cheek, and lip, and nose.
    So to this day, barbarians say, when whispered far or near,
    More than all else the Attic WASP is still a name of fear.

The party are come, as usual, to summon their trusty comrade Philocleon
to go with them to the courts. What makes him so late this morning? He
was never wont to be the last on these occasions. They knock at the
door, and call him loudly by name. He puts his head out of the window,
and begging them not to make such a noise for fear they should awake his
guard, explains to them his unfortunate case. He will try to let himself
down to the street by a rope, if they will catch him,--and if he should
fall and break his neck, they must promise to bury him with all
professional honours “within the bar.” But he is discovered in the
attempt by one of the watchful slaves, and thrust back again.

Then the leader of the Chorus, a veteran Wasp who has seen service,
cheers on his troops to the attack of the fortress in which their
comrade is so unjustifiably confined. He reminds them of the exploits of
their youth:--

    Forward, good friends--advance! Quick march!--Now,
        Comias, why so slow, man?
    There was a day when I may say you and I gave way to no man;
    Then you were as tough as dog’s hide--now Charinades moves faster!
    Ha! Strymodorus! in the Courts ’twere hard to find your master!
    Where’s Chabes? and Euérgides?--do any of ye know?--
    Alack! alack! for the young blood that warmed us long ago!
    Dost mind when at Byzantium we two kept watch together,
    And walked our rounds at night, old boy, in that tremendous weather?
    And how we stole the kneading-trough from that old baker’s wife,
    Split it, and fried our rations with it?--Ha, ha!--Ay, _that_ was life!

Shakspeare had assuredly never read ‘The Wasps;’ but the mixture of the
farcical with the pathetic which always accompanies the garrulous
reminiscences of old age, and which Aristophanes introduces frequently
in his comedies, is common to both these keen observers. In the comrades
of the old Athenian’s youth we seem to recognise Master Shallow’s
_quondam_ contemporaries: “There was I, and little John Doit of
Staffordshire, and black George Barr, and Francis Pickbone, and “Will
Squele, a Cotswold man,--you had not four such swinge-bucklers in all
the Inns of Court again.... O the mad days that I have spent! and to see
how many of my old acquaintance are dead!”[42]

A battle-royal takes place on the stage; the Wasps, with their
formidable stings, trying to storm the house, while the son and his
retainers defend their position with clubs and other weapons, and
especially by raising a dense smoke, which is known to be very effective
against such an enemy.

The Wasps are driven back, and the old gentleman and his son agree upon
a compromise. Bdelycleon promises, on condition that his father will no
longer attend the public trials, to establish a little private tribunal
for him at home. He shall there take cognisance of all domestic
offences; with this great advantage, that if it rains or snows he can
hold his courts without being obliged to turn out of doors. And--a
point on which the old gentleman makes very particular inquiries--his
fee shall be paid him every day as usual. On these terms, with the
approval of the Chorus, the domestic truce is concluded.

It seems doubtful, however, whether the household will supply sufficient
business for the court. They are thinking of beginning with an unlucky
Thracian slave-girl who has burnt a sauce-pan, when most opportunely one
of the other slaves rushes on the stage in hot pursuit of the house-dog
Labes, who has run off with a piece of Sicilian cheese.[43] The son
determines to bring this as the first case before his father, and a mock
trial ensues, in which all the appliances and forms of a regular court
of justice are absurdly travestied. Another dog appears in the character
of prosecutor, and he is allowed to bring the accusation forward through
Xanthias, one of the slaves. The indictment is drawn in due form, and
the counsel for the prosecution urges in aggravation that the prisoner
had refused to give the other dog, his client, a share of it.
Philocleon, with a contempt for the ordinary formalities of law which
would greatly shock the modern profession, is very much disposed to
convict the delinquent Labes at once, on the evidence of his own senses:
he stinks of cheese disgustingly, in the very nostrils of the court, at
this present moment. But his son recalls him to a sense of the
proprieties, and undertakes to be counsel for the defence. He calls as
witnesses the cheesegrater, the brazier, and other utensils, to prove
that a good deal of the said cheese had been used in the kitchen. He
lays stress also on poor Labes’s previous good character as a house-dog;
and pleads that, even if he has pilfered in this instance, it is
entirely owing to “a defective education.” The whole scene reads very
much like a chapter out of one of those modern volumes of clever nursery
tales, which are almost too clever for the children for whom they are
professedly intended. The Athenian audience did in fact resemble
children in many points--only children of the cleverest kind. The
advocate winds up with one of those visible appeals _ad misericordiam_
which were common at the Athenian as subsequently at the Roman bar, and
which even Cicero did not disdain to make use of--the production of the
unhappy family of the prisoner. The puppies are brought into court, and
set up such a lamentable yelping that Philocleon desires they may be
removed at once.[44] He shows, as his son thinks, some tokens of
relenting towards the prisoner. He moves towards the ballot-boxes, and
asks which is the one for the condemning votes. The son shows him the
wrong one, and into that he drops his vote. He has acquitted the dog by
mistake, and faints away when he finds out what he has done--he has
never given a vote for acquittal before in his life, and cannot forgive
himself. And with this double stroke at the bitter spirit of an Athenian
jury and at the ballot-box, the action of the comedy, according to our
notions of dramatic fitness, might very properly end.

So strongly does one of the ablest English writers upon Aristophanes, Mr
Mitchell, feel this, that in his translation he here divides the comedy,
and places the remaining portion in a sequel, to which he gives the
title of “The Dicast turned Gentleman.” Philocleon has been persuaded by
his son to renounce his old habits of life, and to become more
fashionable in his dress and conversation; but the new pursuits to which
he betakes himself are scarcely so respectable as his old ones. His son,
after a few lessons on modern conversation and deportment, takes him out
to a dinner-party, where he insults the guests, beats the servants, and
from which he returns in the last scene very far from sober, and not in
the best possible company. He is followed by some half-dozen
complainants, male and female, whom he has cudgelled in the streets on
his way home; and when they threaten to “take the law” of him, he laughs
uproariously at the old-fashioned notion. Law-courts, he assures them,
are quite obsolete. In vain his son remonstrates with him upon his
outrageous proceedings; he bids the “old lawyer,” as he calls him, get
out of his way. So that we have here the counterpart to the conclusion
of ‘The Clouds:’ as, in the former play, young Pheidippides gives up the
turf, at his father’s request, only to become a word-splitting
philosopher and an undutiful son; so here the father is weaned from the
law-courts, and persuaded to mix in more refined society, only to turn
out a “grey iniquity” like Falstaff. The moral, if there be one, is
somewhat hard to find. It may possibly be contained in a few words of
the Chorus, which speak of the difficulty and the danger of a sudden
change in all the habits of a man’s life. Or is it necessary always for
the writer of burlesques, any more than for the poet, to supply his
audience with any moral at all? Might it not be quite enough to have
raised a laugh at the absurd termination of the son’s attempt to reform
the father, and the tendency of all new converts to run into extremes?



‘The Birds’ of Aristophanes, though one of the longest of his comedies,
and one which evidently stood high in the estimation of the author
himself, has comparatively little interest for a modern reader. Either
the burlesque reads to us, as most modern burlesques assuredly would,
comparatively poor and spiritless without the important adjuncts of
music, scenery, dresses, and what we call the “spectacle” generally,
which we know to have been in this instance on the most magnificent
scale; or the points in the satire are so entirely Athenian, and
directed to the passing topics of the day, that the wit of the allusions
is now lost to us. Probably there is also a deeper political meaning
under what appears otherwise a mere fantastical trifling; and this is
the opinion of some of the best modern critics. It may be, as Süvern
thinks, that the great Sicilian expedition, and the ambitious project of
Alcibiades for extending the Athenian empire, form the real point of the
play; easily enough apprehended by contemporaries, but become obscure
to us. This is no place to discuss a question upon which even professed
scholars are not agreed; but all these causes may contribute to make us
incompetent judges of the effect of the play upon those who saw it
acted. It failed, however, to secure the first prize that year: the
author was again beaten by Ameipsias--a specimen of whose comedies one
would much like to see.

Two citizens of Athens, Peisthetærus and Euelpides--names which we may,
perhaps, imperfectly translate into “Plausible” and “Hopeful”--disgusted
at the state of things in Athens both politically and socially, have set
out in search of some hitherto undiscovered country where there shall be
no lawsuits and no informers. They have hired as guides a raven and a
jackdaw--who give a good deal of trouble on the road by biting and
scratching--and are at last led by them to the palace of the King of the
Birds, formerly King Tereus of Thrace, but changed, according to the
mythologists, into the Hoopoe, whose magnificent crest is a very fit
emblem of his royalty. His wife is Procne--“the Nightingale”--daughter
of a mythical king of Attica, so that, in fact, he may be considered as
a national kinsman. The royal porter, the Trochilus, is not very willing
to admit the visitors, looking upon them as no better than a couple of
bird-catchers; but the Bird-king himself receives them, when informed of
their errand, with great courtesy, though he does not see how he can
help them. But can they possibly want a finer city than Athens? No--but
some place more quiet and comfortable. But why, he asks, should they
apply to him?

    “Because you were a man, the same as us;
    And found yourself in debt, the same as us;
    And did not like to pay, the same as us;
    And after that you changed into a bird,
    And ever since have flown and wandered far
    Over the land and seas, and have acquired
    All knowledge that a bird or man can learn.”--(F.)

The adventurers do not learn much, however, from the Hoopoe. But an
original idea strikes Peisthetærus--why not build a city up here, in the
region of the Birds, the mid atmosphere between earth and heaven? If the
Hoopoe and his subjects will but follow his advice, they will thus hold
the balance of power in the universe.

    “From that position you’ll command mankind,
    And keep them in utter thorough subjugation,--
    Just as you do the grasshoppers and locusts;
    And if the gods offend you, you’ll blockade them,
    And starve them to surrender.”--(F.)

The king summons a public meeting of his subjects to consider the
proposal of their human visitors; and no doubt the appearance of the
Chorus in their grotesque masks and elaborate costumes, representing
twenty-four birds of various species, from the flamingo to the
woodpecker, would be hailed with great delight by an Athenian audience,
who in these matters were very much like grown-up children. The music
appears to have been of a very original character, and more elaborate
than usual; and the part of the Nightingale, with solos on the flute
behind the scenes, is said to have been taken by a female performer of
great ability, a public favourite who had just returned to Athens after
a long absence. But the mere words of a comic extravaganza, whether
Greek or English, without the accompaniments, on which so much depends,
are little better than the dry skeleton of the piece, and can convey but
a very inadequate idea of its attractions when fittingly “mounted” on
the stage. This is notably the case with this production of our author,
which, from its whole character, must have depended very much upon the
completeness of such accessories for its success.

The Birds are at first inclined to receive their human visitors as
hereditary and notorious enemies. “Men were deceivers ever,” is their
song, in so many words; and it requires all the king’s influence to keep
them from attacking them and killing them at once. At length they agree
to a parley, and Peisthetærus begins by paying some ingenious
compliments to the high respectability and antiquity of the feathered
race. Was not the cock once king of the Persians? is he not still called
the “Persian bird”? and still even to this day, the moment he crows, do
not all men everywhere jump out of bed and go to their work? And was not
the cuckoo king of Egypt; and still when they hear him cry “cuckoo!” do
not all the Egyptians go into the harvest-fields? Do not kings bear
eagles and doves now on their sceptres, in token of the true sovereignty
of the Birds? Is not Jupiter represented always with his eagle, Minerva
with her owl, Apollo with his hawk? But now,--he goes on to say--“men
hunt you, and trap you, and set you out for sale, and, not content
with, simply roasting you, they actually pour scalding sauce over
you,--oil, and vinegar, and grated cheese,--spoiling your naturally
exquisite flavour.” But, if they will be advised by him, they will bear
it no longer. If men will still prefer the gods to the birds, then let
the rooks and sparrows flock down and eat up all the seed-wheat--and let
foolish mortals see what Ceres can then do for them in the way of
supplies. And let the crows peck out the eyes of the sheep and oxen; and
let them see whether Apollo (who calls himself a physician, and takes
care to get his fees as such) will be able to heal them. [Euelpides here
puts in a word--he hopes they will allow him first to sell a pair of
oxen he has at home.] And indeed the Birds will make much better gods,
and more economical: there will be no need of costly marble temples, and
expensive journeys to such places as Ammon and Delphi; an oak-tree or an
olive-grove will answer all purposes of bird-worship.

He then propounds his great scheme for building a bird-city in mid-air.
The idea is favourably entertained, and the two featherless bipeds are
equipped (by means of some potent herb known to the Bird-king) with a
pair of wings apiece, to make them presentable in society, before they
are introduced at the royal table. The metamorphosis causes some
amusement, and the two human travellers are not complimentary as to each
other’s appearance in these new appendages; Peisthetærus declaring that
his friend reminds him of nothing so much as “a goose on a cheap
sign-board,” while the other retorts by comparing him to “a plucked

The Choral song that follows is one of the gems of that elegance of
fancy and diction which, here and there, in the plays of Aristophanes,
almost startle us by contrast with the broad farce which forms their
staple, and show that the author possessed the powers of a true poet as
well as of a clever satirist.

    “Ye children of man! whose life is a span,
    Protracted with sorrow from day to day,
    Naked and featherless, feeble and querulous,
    Sickly calamitous creatures of clay!
    Attend to the words of the sovereign birds,
    Immortal, illustrious lords of the air,
    Who survey from on high, with a merciful eye,
    Your struggles of misery, labour, and care.
    Whence you may learn and clearly discern
    Such truths as attract your inquisitive turn;
    Which is busied of late with a mighty debate,
    A profound speculation about the creation,
    And organical life, and chaotical strife,
    With various notions of heavenly motions,
    And rivers and oceans, and valleys and mountains,
    And sources of fountains, and meteors on high,
    And stars in the sky.... We propose by-and-by
    (If you’ll listen and hear) to make it all clear.”--(F.)

There follows here some fantastical cosmogony, showing how all things
had their origin from a mystic egg, laid by Night, from which sprang the
golden-winged Eros--Love, the great principle of life, whose offspring
were the Birds.

    “Our antiquity proved, it remains to be shown
    That Love is our author and master alone;
    Like him we can ramble and gambol and fly
    O’er ocean and earth, and aloft to the sky:
    And all the world over, we’re friends to the lover,
    And where other means fail, we are found to prevail,
    When a peacock or pheasant is sent as a present.
      All lessons of primary daily concern
    You have learnt from the birds, and continue to learn,
    Your best benefactors and early instructors;
    We give you the warning of seasons returning;
    When the cranes are arranged, and muster afloat
    In the middle air, with a creaking note,
    Steering away to the Lybian sands,
    Then careful farmers sow their lands;
    The crazy vessel is hauled ashore,
    The sail, the ropes, the rudder, and oar
    Are all unshipped, and housed in store.
    The shepherd is warned, by the kite reappearing,
    To muster his flock, and be ready for shearing.
    You quit your old cloak at the swallow’s behest,
    In assurance of summer, and purchase a vest.
      For Delphi, for Ammon, Dodona, in fine
    For every oracular temple and shrine,
    The birds are a substitute equal and fair,
    For on us you depend, and to us you repair
    For counsel and aid when a marriage is made,
    A purchase, a bargain, a venture in trade:
    Unlucky or lucky, whatever has struck ye--
    An ox or an ass that may happen to pass,
    A voice in the street, or a slave that you meet,
    A name or a word by chance overheard--
    If you deem it an omen, you call it a _bird_;
    And if birds are your omens, it clearly will follow
    That birds are a proper prophetic Apollo.”--(F.)

The Birds proceed at once to build their new city. Peisthetærus prefers
helping with his head rather than his hands, but he orders off his
simple-minded companion to assist them in the work.

    _Peis._ Come now, go aloft, my boy, and tend the masons;
    Find them good stones; strip to it, like a man,
    And mix the mortar; carry up the hod--
    And tumble down the ladder, for a change.
    Set guards over the wall; take care of fire;
    Go your rounds with the bell as city watchman--
    And go to sleep on your post--as I know you will.

    _Euelp._ (_sulkily_). And you stay here and be hanged,
        if you like--there, now!

    _Peis._ (_winking at the King_). Go! there’s a good
        fellow, go! upon my word,
    They couldn’t possibly get on without you.

The building is completed, by the joint exertions of the Birds, in a
shorter time than even the enthusiastic speculations of Peisthetærus had

    “_Messenger._ There came a body of thirty thousand cranes
    (I won’t be positive, there might be more)
    With stones from Africa in their craws and gizzards,
    Which the stone-curlews and stone-chatterers
    Worked into shape and finished. The sand-martins
    And mudlarks too were busy in their department,
    Mixing the mortar; while the water-birds,
    As fast as it was wanted, brought the water,
    To temper and work it.

    _Peis._ (_in a fidget_). But who served the masons?
    Who did you get to carry it?

    _Mess._ To carry it?
    Of course the _carrion_ crows and carrier-pigeons.”[46]--(F.)

The geese with their flat feet trod the mortar, and the pelicans with
their saw-bills were the carpenters. The name fixed upon for this new
metropolis is “Cloud-Cuckoo-Town”--the first recorded “castle in the
air.” It must be the place, Euelpides thinks, where some of those great
estates lie which he has heard certain friends of his in Athens boast
of. It appears to be indeed a very unsubstantial kind of settlement; for
Iris, the messenger of the Immortals, who has been despatched from
heaven to inquire after the arrears of sacrifice, quite unaware of its
existence and its purpose, dashes through the airy blockade immediately
after its building. She is pursued, however, by a detachment of light
cavalry--hawks, falcons, and eagles--and brought upon the stage as
prisoner, in a state of great wrath at the indignity put upon
her,--wrath which is by no means mollified by the sarcasms of
Peisthetærus on the flaunting style and very pronounced colours of her
costume as goddess of the Rainbow.

The men seem well inclined to the new ruling powers, and many apply at
once to be furnished with wings. But the state of things in the
celestial regions soon gets so intolerable, owing to the stoppage of all
communication with earth and its good things, that certain barbarian
deities, the gods of Thrace, who are--as an Athenian audience would
readily understand--of a very carnal and ill-mannered type, break out
into open rebellion, and threaten mutiny against the supremacy of
Jupiter, unless he can come to some terms with this new intermediate
power. Information of this movement is brought by Prometheus--here, as
in the tragedians, the friend of man and the enemy of Jupiter--who comes
secretly to Peisthetærus (getting under an umbrella, that Jupiter may
not see him) and advises him on no account to come to any terms with
that potentate which do not include the transfer into his possession of
the fair Basileia (sovereignty), who rules the household of Olympus, and
is the impersonation of all good things that can be desired. In due time
an embassy from the gods in general arrives at the new city, sent to
treat with the Birds. The Commissioners are three: Neptune, Hercules
(whose appetite for good things was notorious, and who would be a
principal sufferer by the cutting off the supplies), and a Thracian
god--a Triballian--who talks very bad Greek indeed, and who has
succeeded in some way in getting himself named on the embassy, to the
considerable disgust of Neptune, who has much trouble in making him look
at all respectable and presentable.

    “_Nep._ There’s Nephelococcugia! that’s the town,
    The point we’re bound to with our embassy.
          (_Turning to the Triballian._)
    But you! what a figure have ye made yourself!
    What a way to wear a mantle! slouching off
    From the left shoulder! Hitch it round, I tell ye,
    On the right side. For shame--come--so; that’s better;
    These folds, too, bundled up; there, throw them round
    Even and easy,--so. Why, you’re a savage,
    A natural-born savage.--Oh, democracy!
    What will it bring us to, when such a ruffian
    Is voted into an embassy!

    _Trib._ (_to Neptune, who is pulling his dress about_). Come, hands off,
    Hands off!

    _Nep._ Keep quiet, I tell ye, and hold your tongue,
    For a very beast! in all my life in heaven,
    I never saw such another. Hercules,
    I say, what shall we do? What should you think?

    _Her._ What would I do? what do I think? I’ve told you
    Already--I think to throttle him--the fellow,
    Whoever he is, that’s keeping us blockaded.

    _Nep._ Yes, my good friend; but we were sent, you know,
    To treat for a peace. Our embassy is for peace.

    _Her._ That makes no difference; or if it does,
    It makes me long to throttle him all the more.”--(F.)

Hercules, ravenous as he always is, and having been kept for some time
on very short commons, is won over by the rich odour of some cookery in
which he finds Peisthetærus, now governor of the new state, employed on
their arrival. He is surprised to discover that the _roti_ consists of
birds, until it is explained to him that they are aristocrat birds, who
have, in modern phrase, been guilty of conspiring against democracy.
This brief but bitter satire upon this Bird-Utopia is thrown in as it
were by the way, quite casually; but one wonders how the audience
received it. Hercules determines to make peace on any terms; and when
Neptune seems inclined to stand upon the dignity of his order, and
taunts his brother god with being too ready to sacrifice his father’s
rights, he draws the Triballian aside, and threatens him roundly with a
good thrashing if he does not give his vote the right way. Having
secured his majority of votes by this powerful argument--a kind of
argument by no means peculiar to aerial controversies, but familiar
alike to despots and demagogues in all times--Hercules concludes on
behalf of the gods the truce with the Birds. Jupiter agrees to resign
his sceptre to them, on condition that there is no further embargo on
the sacrifices, and to give up to Peisthetærus the beautiful Basileia;
and in the closing scene she appears in person, decked as a bride,
riding in procession by the side of Peisthetærus, while the Chorus chant
a half-burlesque epithalamium. “Plausible” has won the sovereignty, but
of a very unsubstantial kingdom--if that be the moral of the play.

Süvern contends, in his very ingenious Essay on this comedy, that the
fantastic project in which the Birds are persuaded by Peisthetærus to
engage is intended to represent the ultimate designs of Alcibiades in
urging the expedition of the Athenians to Sicily,--no less than the
subjugation of Italy, Carthage, and Libya, and obtaining the sovereignty
of the Mediterranean: by which the Spartans (the gods of the comedy)
would be cut off from intercourse with the smaller states, here
represented by the men. He considers that in Peisthetærus we have
Alcibiades, compounded with some traits of the sophist Gorgias, whose
pupil he is said to have been. Iris’s threat of the wrath of her father
Jupiter--which certainly is more seriously worded than the general tone
of the play--he takes to be a prognostication of the unhappy termination
of the expedition, a feeling shared by many at Athens; while in the
transfer of Basileia--all the real power--to Peisthetærus, and not to
the Birds, he foreshadows the probable results of the personal ambition
of Alcibiades. Such an explanation receives support from many other
passages in the comedy, and is worked out by the writer with great pains
and ability.



The point of the satire in this comedy is chiefly critical, and directed
against the tragedian Euripides, upon whom Aristophanes is never weary
of showering his ridicule. There must have been something more in this
than the mere desire to raise a laugh by a burlesque of a popular
tragedian, or the satisfaction of a purely literary dislike. It is
probable, as has been suggested, that our conservative and aristocratic
author looked upon Euripides as a dangerous innovator in philosophy as
well as in literature; one of the “new school” at Athens, whom he was so
fond of contrasting with the “men of Marathon.”

Bacchus, the patron of the drama, has become disgusted with its present
state. He finds worse writers now in possession of the stage than
Euripides; and he has resolved upon undertaking a journey to Tartarus,
to bring him back to earth again. He would prefer Sophocles; but to get
away from the dominions of Pluto requires a good deal of scheming and
stratagem: and Sophocles is such a good easy man that he is probably
contented where he is, while the other is such a clever, contriving
fellow, that he will be sure to find some plan for his own escape.
Remembering the success of Hercules on a similar expedition to the lower
regions, Bacchus has determined to adopt the club and the lion’s skin,
in order to be taken for that hero. Followed by his slave Xanthias--who
comes in riding upon an ass (a kind of classical Sancho Panza), and
carrying his master’s luggage--he calls upon Hercules on his way, in
order to gather from him some information as to his route,--which is the
best road to take, what there is worth seeing there, and especially what
inns he can recommend, where the beds are reasonably clean, and free
from those disagreeable bedfellows with which the Athenians of old seem
to have been quite as well acquainted as any modern Londoner.

Hercules laughs to himself at the figure which his brother deity cuts in
a costume so unsuited to his habits and character, and answers him in a
tone of banter. Bacchus wants to know the shortest and most convenient
road to the regions of the dead.

    “_Her._ “Well,--which shall I tell ye first, now? Let me see--
    There’s a good convenient road by the Rope and Noose--
    The Hanging Road.

    _Bac._ No, that’s too close and stifling.

    _Her._ Then there’s an easy, fair, well-beaten track,
    As you go by the Pestle and Mortar.

    _Bac._ What, the Hemlock?

    _Her._ To be sure.

    _Bac._ That’s much too cold,--it will never do.
    They tell me it strikes a chill to the legs and feet.

    _Her._ Should you like a speedy, rapid, downhill road?

    _Bac._ Indeed I should, for I’m a sorry traveller.

    _Her._ Go to the Keramicus, then.

    _Bac._ What then?

    _Her._ Get up to the very top of the tower--

    _Bac._ What then?

    _Her._ Stand there and watch when the Race of the Torch begins;
    And mind, when you hear the people cry ‘Start, start!’
    Then start at once with ’em.

    _Bac._ Me? Start? Where from?

    _Her._ From the top of the tower to the bottom.

    _Bac._ No, not I.
    It’s enough to dash my brains out! I’ll not go
    Such a road upon any account.”--(F.)

Bacchus gets the needful information at last, and sets out on his
journey--not without some remonstrance from his slave as to the weight
of the luggage he has to carry. Surely, Xanthias says, there must be
some dead people going that way on their own account, in a conveyance,
who would carry it for a trifle? His master gives him leave to make such
an arrangement if he can--and as a bier is borne across the stage,
Xanthias stops it, and tries to make a bargain with the occupant. The
dead man asks eighteenpence; Xanthias offers him a shilling; the other
replies that he “would rather come to life again,” and bids his bearers
“move on.”

There must have been some kind of change of scene, to enable the
travellers to arrive at the passage of the Styx, where Charon’s
ferry-boat is in waiting. He plies his trade exactly after the fashion
of a modern omnibus-conductor. “Any one for Lethe, Tænarus, the Dogs,
or No-man’s-Land?” “You’re sure you’re going straight to Hell?” asks the
cautious traveller. “Certainly--to oblige you.” So Bacchus steps into
the boat, begging Charon to be very careful, for it seems very small and
crank, as Hercules had warned him. But Charon carries no
slaves--Xanthias must run round and meet them on the other side. The god
takes his place at the oar, at the ferryman’s bidding (but in very
awkward “form,” as a modern oarsman would term it), to work his passage
across: and an invisible Chorus of Frogs, who give their name to the
piece--the “Swans of the Marsh,” as Charon calls them--chant their
discordant music, in which, nevertheless, occur some very graceful
lines, to the time of the stroke. It must be remembered that the oldest
temple of Bacchus--the Lenæan--was known as that “In the Marsh,” and it
was there that the festival, was held at which this piece was brought

The chant of the Frogs dies away in the distance, and the scene changes
to the other side of the infernal lake, where Xanthias was to await the
arrival of his master. It does not seem likely that any means could have
been adopted for darkening a stage which was nearly five hundred feet
broad, and open to the sky: but it is plain that much of the humour of
the following scene depends upon its being supposed to take place more
or less in the dark. Probably the darkness was conventional, and only by
grace of the audience--as indeed must be the case to some extent even in
a modern theatre.

    [_Enter Bacchus, on one side of the stage._]

    _B._ Hoy! Xanthias!--Where’s Xanthias?--I say, Xanthias!

    [_Enter Xanthias, on the other side._]

    _X._ Hallo!

    _B._ Come here, sir,--quick!

    _X._ Here I am, master!

    _B._ What kind of a place is it, out yonder?

    _X._ Dirt and darkness.

    _B._ Did you see any of those perjurers and assassins
    He told us of?

    _X._ Aye,--lots. (_Looking round at the audience._)
        I see ’em now--don’t you?

    _B._ (_looking round_). To be sure I do, by Neptune! now I see ’em!--

    What shall we do?

    _X._ Go forward, I should say;
    This is the place where lie those evil beasts--
    The monsters that he talked of.

    _B._ Oh! confound him!
    He was romancing--trying to frighten me,
    Knowing how bold I was--jealous, that’s the fact:
    Never was such a braggart as that Hercules!
    I only wish I _could_ fall in with something--
    Some brave adventure, worthy of my visit.

    _X._ Stop!--there!--by Jove, I heard a roar out yonder!

    _B._ (_nervously_). Where, where?

    _X._ Behind us.

    _B._ (_pushing himself in front of Xanthias_). Go behind, sir, will you?

    _X._ No--it’s in front.

    _B._ (_getting behind Xanthias again_). Why don’t you go in front, then?

    _X._ Great Jupiter! I see an awful beast!

    _B._ What like?

    _X._ Oh--horrible! like everything!
    Now it’s a bull--and now a stag--and now
    A beautiful woman!

    _B._ (_jumping from behind X., and pushing him back_).
        Where?--Let me go first!

    _X._ It’s not a woman now--it’s a great dog!

    _B._ (_in great terror, getting behind X. again_).
        Oh!--it’s the Empusa![47]

    _X._ (_getting frightened_). It’s got eyes like fire,
    And its face all of a blaze!

    _B._ And one brass leg?

    _X._ Lawk-a-mercy, yes!--and a cloven foot on the other
   --It has indeed!

    _B._ (_looking round in terror_). “Where can I get to--tell me?

    _X._ “Where can I go? (_runs into a corner._)

    _B._ (_makes as if he would run into the arms of the Priest
    of Bacchus, who had a seat of honour in the front

    Good priest, protect me!--take me home to supper![48]

    _X._ (_from his corner_). We’re lost--we’re lost!
        O Hercules, dear master!

    _B._ (_in a frightened whisper_). Don’t call me by
        that name, you fool--don’t, don’t!

    _X._ Well,--Bacchus, must I say?

    _B._ No-o!--that’s worse still!

    _X._ (_to something in the distance_). Avaunt, there!
        go thy ways! (_Joyfully._) Here, master! here!

    _B._ What is it?

    _X._ Hurrah! take heart! we’ve had the greatest luck--
    We can say now, in our great poet’s words,--
    “After a storm there comes a calm.”--It’s gone!

    _B._ Upon your oath?

    _X._ Upon my oath.

    _B._ You swear it?

    _X._ I swear it.

    _B._ Swear again.

    _X._ I swear--by Jupiter.

But now the sound of flutes is heard in the distance, and with music and
torches, a festive procession enters the orchestra. A parody of the
great Eleusinian mysteries (for even these were lawful game to the
comedy-writer) introduces the true Chorus of this play, consisting of
the ‘Initiated,’ who chant an ode, half serious half burlesque, in
honour of Bacchus and Ceres. They direct the travellers to the gates of
Pluto’s palace, which are close at hand. Bacchus eyes the awful portal
for some time before he ventures to lift the knocker, and is very
anxious to announce himself in the most polite fashion. “How do people
knock at doors in these parts, I wonder?”

    “_Æac._ (_from within, with the voice of a royal and
        infernal porter_). Who’s there?

    _Bac._ (_with a forced voice_). ’Tis I,--the valiant Hercules.

    _Æac._ (_coming out_). Thou brutal, abominable, detestable,
    Vile, villanous, infamous, nefarious scoundrel!
    How durst thou, villain as thou wert, to seize
    Our watchdog Cerberus, whom I kept and tended,
    Hurrying him off half-strangled in your grasp?
    But now, be sure, we have you safe and fast,
    Miscreant and villain! Thee the Stygian cliffs
    With stern adamantine durance, and the rocks
    Of inaccessible Acheron, red with gore,
    Environ and beleaguer, and the watch
    And swift pursuit of the hideous hounds of hell,
    And the horrible Hydra with her hundred heads,
    “Whose furious ravening fangs shall rend and tear thee.”--(F.)

Before the terrible porter has ended his threats, Bacchus has dropped to
the ground from sheer terror. “Hallo!” says Xanthias, “what’s the
matter?” “I’ve had an accident,” says his master, recovering himself
when he sees that Æacus is gone. But finding that the _rôle_ of Hercules
has so many unforeseen responsibilities, he begs Xanthias to change
dresses and characters,--to relieve him of the club and lion’s skin,
while he takes his turn with the bundles. No sooner has the change been
effected, than a waiting-woman of Queen Proserpine makes her
appearance--she has been sent to invite Hercules to supper. She
addresses herself, of course, to Xanthias:--

    “Dear Hercules! so you’re come at last! come in!
    For the goddess, as soon as she heard of it, set to work
    Baking peck-loaves, and frying stacks of pancakes,
    And making messes of frumenty: there’s an ox,
    Besides, she has roasted whole, with a relishing stuffing.”--(F.)

There is the best of wine, besides, awaiting him--and such lovely
singers and dancers!

Xanthias, after some modest refusals, allows himself to be persuaded,
and prepares to follow his fair guide, bidding his master look after the
luggage. But Bacchus prefers on this occasion to play the part of
Hercules himself, and insists on each resuming their original
characters,--the slave warning him that he may come to rue it yet. The
warning soon comes true. Before he can get to the palace, he is seized
upon by a brace of infernal landladies, at whose establishments
Hercules, on his previous visit, has left some little bills unpaid.
“Hallo!” says one lady, “here’s the fellow that ate me up sixteen
loaves!” “And me a score of fried cutlets at three-halfpence apiece,”
says the other, “And all my garlic!” “And my pickled fish, and the new
cream-cheeses, which he swallowed rush-baskets and all! and then, when I
asked for payment, he only grinned and roared at me like a bull, and
threatened me with his sword.” “Just like him!” says Xanthias. After
abusing poor Bacchus, and shaking their fists in his face, they go off
to fetch some of the infernal lawyers; and Bacchus once more begs
Xanthias to stand his friend, and play Hercules again,--he shall really
be Hercules for the future,--the part suits him infinitely better. The
slave consents, and again they change dresses, when Æacus comes in with
the Plutonian police. He points out to them the representative of
Hercules--“Handcuff me this fellow that stole the dog!” But Xanthias is
not easily handcuffed; he stands on his defence; protests that “he
wishes he may die if he was ever that way before;”--he “never touched a
hair of the dog’s tail.” If Æacus won’t believe him, there stands his
slave--he may take and torture him, after the usual fashion, and see
whether he can extract any evidence of guilt. This seems so fair a
proposal that Æacus at once agrees to it.

    “_Æac._ (_to Bac._) Come, you--put down your bundles, and make ready.
    And mind--let me hear no lies.

    _Bac._ I’ll tell you what--

    I’d advise people not to torture me;
    I give you notice--I’m a deity;
    So mind now--you’ll have nobody to blame
    But your own self.

    _Æac._ What’s that you’re saying there?

    _Bac._ Why, that I’m Bacchus, Jupiter’s own son;
    That fellow there’s a slave (_pointing to Xanthias_).

    _Æac._ (_to Xanthias_). Do you hear?

    _Xan._ I hear him:

    A reason the more to give him a good beating;
    If he’s immortal, he need never mind it.”--(F.)

Æacus proceeds to test their divinity, by administering a lash to each
of them in turn; but they endure the ordeal so successfully, that at
last he gives it up in despair.

    “By the Holy Goddess, I’m completely puzzled!
    I must take you before Proserpine and Pluto--
    Being gods themselves, they’re likeliest to know.

    _Bac._ Why, that’s a lucky thought!--I only wish
    It had happened to occur before you beat us.”--(F.)

There is an interval of choral song, with a political bearing, during
which we are to suppose that Bacchus is being entertained at the
infernal court, while Xanthias improves his acquaintance with Æacus in
the servants’ hall, or whatever might be the equivalent in Pluto’s
establishment. The conversation between the two is highly confidential.
“Your master seems quite the gentleman,” says Æacus. “Oh! quite,” says
Xanthias”--he does nothing but game and drink.” They find that life
“below stairs” is very much the same in Tartarus as it is in the upper
regions; and both agree that what they enjoy most is listening at the
door, and discussing their masters’ secrets with their own friends
afterwards. While the two retainers are engaged in this interesting
conversation, a noise outside attracts the new-comer’s attention. “Oh,”
says Æacus, “it’s only Æschylus and Euripides quarrelling. There’s a
tremendous rivalry going on just now among these dead people.” He
explains to his guest that special rank and precedence, with a seat at
the royal table, is accorded in the Shades to the artist or professor
who stands first in his own line. Æschylus had held the chair of tragedy
until Euripides appeared below: but now this latter has made a party in
his own favour--“chiefly of rogues and vagabonds”--and has laid claim to
the chair. Æschylus has his friends among the respectable men; but
respectable men are as scarce in the Shades--“as they are in this
present company,” observes Æacus, with a wave of his hand towards the
audience.[49] So Pluto (who appears a very affable and good-humoured
monarch) has determined that there shall be a public trial and
discussion of their respective merits. Sophocles has put in no claim on
his own behalf. The tribute which his brother dramatist here pays him is
very graceful: “The first moment that he came, he went up straight to
Æschylus and saluted him, and kissed his cheek, and took his hand quite
kindly, and Æschylus edged a little from his seat, to give him room.”

But--if Euripides is elected against Æschylus, Sophocles will challenge
his right. The difficulty is to find competent judges, Æschylus has
declined to leave the decision to the Athenians--he has no confidence in
their honesty or their taste. [A bold stroke of personal satire, we
might think, from a candidate for the dramatic crown of the festival, as
against those whose verdict he was awaiting; the author was perhaps
still smarting (as Brunck suggests) from the reception his “Clouds” had
met with: but he knew his public--it was just the thing an Athenian
audience would enjoy.] It had been already proposed to get Bacchus, as
the great patron of the drama, to sit as judge in this controversy, so
that his present visit has been most opportune; and whichever of the
rival poets he places first, Pluto promises to allow his guest to take
back to earth with him.

The contest between the rival dramatists takes place upon the stage, in
full court, with Bacchus presiding, and the Chorus encouraging the
competitors. It is extended to some length, but must have been full of
interest to a play-loving audience, thoroughly familiar with the
tragedies of both authors. Some of the points we can even now quite
appreciate. Æschylus, in the hands of Aristophanes, does not spare his

    “A wretch that has corrupted everything--
    Our music with his melodies from Crete,
    Our morals with incestuous tragedies.

           *       *       *       *       *

    I wish the place of trial had been elsewhere--
    I stand at disadvantage here.

    _Bac._ As how?

    _Æs._ Because my poems live on earth above,
    And his died with him, and descended here,
    And are at hand as ready witnesses.”--(F.)

Euripides retorts upon his rival the use of “breakneck words, which it
is not easy to find the meaning of”--a charge which some modern
schoolboys would be quite ready to support. The two poets proceed, at
the request of the arbitrator, each to recite passages from their
tragedies for the other to criticise: and if we suppose, as we have
every right to do, that the voice and gestures of some well-known
popular tragedian were cleverly mimicked at the same time, we should
then have an entertainment of a very similar kind to that which Foote
and Matthews, and in later days Robson, afforded to an English audience
by their remarkable imitations.

After various trials of skill, a huge pair of scales is produced, and
the verses of each candidate are weighed, as a test of their comparative
value. Still Bacchus cannot decide. At last he puts to each a political
question--perhaps _the_ question of the day--which has formed the
subject of pointed allusion more than once in the course of the play.
Alcibiades, long the popular favourite, has recently been banished, and
is now living privately in Thrace;--shall he be recalled? Both answer
enigmatically; but the advice of the elder poet plainly tends to the
policy of recall, which was no doubt the prevailing inclination of the
Athenians. In vain does Euripides remind Bacchus that he had come there
purposely to bring him back, and had pledged his word to do so. The god
quotes against him a well-known verse from his own tragedy of
‘Hippolytus,’ with the sophistry of which his critics were never tired
of taunting him--

    It was my _tongue_ that swore.

And Æschylus, crowned by his decision as the First of Tragedians, is led
off in triumphal procession in the suite of the god of the drama, with
Pluto’s hearty approbation. He leaves his chair in the Shades to
Sophocles,--with strict injunctions to keep Euripides out of it.

This very lively comedy, the humour of which is still so intelligible,
seems to have supplied the original idea for those modern burlesques
upon the Olympian and Tartarian deities which were at one time so
popular. For some reason it was not brought out in the author’s own
name; but it gained the first prize, and was acted a second time,
probably in the same year--an honour, strange to say, very unusual at



The ‘Thesmophoriazusæ,’ as this piece is called in the Greek, is a
comedy in which, as in the ‘Lysistrata,’ the fair sex play the chief
part, although its whole point lies in a satire (though scarcely so
severe as that in ‘The Frogs’) upon Euripides, whom our author was never
tired of holding up to ridicule. The secret history of this literary
quarrel we shall never know; if indeed there was really any quarrel
which could have a history, and if the unceasing jests which
Aristophanes dealt out in this and other comedies against his brother
dramatist were not mainly prompted by the fact that his tragedies were
highly popular, universally known and quoted, and therefore an excellent
subject for the caricature and parody which were the essence of this
style of comedy. It has been remarked that the conservative principles
of the comic author are supposed to have been scandalised by the
new-fashioned ideas of the tragedian: but the shafts of his ridicule are
directed much more frequently against the plots and versification of
Euripides’s plays than against his philosophy.[50]

The ‘Thesmophoria,’ or great feast of Ceres and Proserpine, from which
this comedy takes its name, was exclusively a women’s festival, and none
of the other sex were allowed to be present at its celebration.
Euripides had the reputation among his contemporaries of being a
woman-hater, and he had undoubtedly said bitter things of them in many
of his tragedies.[51] But to those who remember his characters of
Iphigenia, and Theonöe, and the incomparable Alcestis, the reproach may
well seem much too general. However, in this comedy the women of Athens
are supposed to have resolved upon his condign punishment; and at this
next festival they are to sit in solemn conclave, to determine the mode
in which it is to be carried out. Euripides has heard of it, and is in
great dismay. He goes, in the opening scene, accompanied by his
father-in-law Mnesilochus, to his friend and fellow-dramatist Agathon,
to beg him to go to the festival disguised in woman’s clothes, and there
plead his cause for him. He would do it himself, but that he is so well
known, and has such a huge rough beard, while Agathon is really very
lady-like in appearance. In fact, he is used to the thing; for he always
wears female attire when he has to write the female parts in his
tragedies--it assists the imagination: as Richardson is said not to have
felt equal to the composition of a letter to one of his
lady-correspondents unless he sat down in full dress. Agathon contents
himself, by way of reply, with asking his petitioner whether he ever
wrote this line in a certain tragedy, in which a son requests his father
to be so good as to suffer death in his stead--

    Thou lovest thy life,--why not thy father too?

And when Euripides cannot deny the quotation from his ‘Alcestis,’ his
friend recommends him not to expect other people to run risks to get
_him_ out of trouble.

Upon this, Mnesilochus takes pity upon his son-in-law, and consents to
undertake the necessary disguise, though it will require very close
shaving--an operation which Euripides immediately sets to work to
perform upon the stage, while Agathon supplies him with the necessary
garments. Euripides promises that, should his advocate get into any
difficulties, he will do his best to extricate him by some of those
subtle devices for which his tragedies are so celebrated. He offers to
pledge himself by an oath to this effect; but Mnesilochus begs it may be
a mental oath only--reminding him of that unfortunate line of his which
we have already found Bacchus quoting against him in ‘The Frogs’--

    It was my tongue that swore, and not my mind.

The scene is changed to the temple of Ceres, where the women hold
solemn debate upon the crimes of the poet. He has vilely slandered the
sex, and made them objects of ridicule and suspicion. One of their
number puts in a claim of special damages against him; she had
maintained herself and “five small children” by making wreaths for the
temples, until this Euripides began to teach people that “there were no
gods,” and so ruined her trade. The disguised Mnesilochus rises to
defend his relative. But the apology which the author puts into his
mouth is conceived in the bitterest spirit of satire. He shows that the
tragedian, far from having slandered the ladies, has really dealt with
them most leniently. True, he has said some severe things of them, but
nothing to what he _might_ have said. And he proceeds to relate some
very scurrilous anecdotes, to show that the sex is really much worse
than the poet has represented it. He is repeatedly interrupted, in spite
of his protests in behalf of that freedom of speech which is the
admitted right of every Athenian woman. How was it, asks one of the
audience, that Euripides never once took the good Penelope as the
subject of a tragedy, when he was always so ready to paint characters
like Helen and Phædra? Mnesilochus answers that it was because there are
no wives like Penelope nowadays, but plenty of wives like Phædra.

His audience are naturally astonished and indignant at this unexpected
attack from one of their own number. Who is this audacious woman, this
traitress to her sex? No one knows her, of course: and it is whispered
that there is a man among them in disguise. There is a terrible uproar
in the meeting, and the intruder, after a sharp cross-examination by a
shrewish dame, is soon detected. To save himself from the vengeance of
the exasperated women, he flies for refuge to the altar, snatching a
baby from one of their number, and (like Dicæopolis in ‘The
Acharnians’)[52] threatens to kill it at once unless they let him go.
But the women who have no babies display a good deal of indifference to
his threats, and vow they will burn him, then and there, whatever
happens to the unfortunate hostage. Mnesilochus proceeds to strip it,
when, lo! it turns out to be nothing more or less than a wine-skin in
baby’s clothes. He will cut its throat, nevertheless. The foster-mother
is almost as much distressed as if it were a real child.

    _Woman._ Hold, I beseech you! Never be so cruel!
    Do what you will with me, but spare my darling.

    _Mnes._ I know you love it--it’s a woman’s weakness--
    But, none the less, its blood must flow to-day.

    _Wom._ O my poor child!--Bring us a bowl, dear Mania!
    If it must die, do let us catch its blood.

    _Mnes._ Well--hold it under. I’ll oblige you. (_Slits
        the wine-skin, and drinks off the contents._) There!
    And here’s the skin of the victim--for the priestess.

Mnesilochus is detained in custody until the constables can be sent for.
In this strait he naturally looks to Euripides, on whose account he has
got into trouble, to come and help him according to promise. And from
this point the whole action of the piece becomes the broadest burlesque
upon the tragedies of that author, which only an Athenian audience, to
whom every scene and almost every line was familiar, could fully
appreciate. Indeed no comedy of Aristophanes illustrates so strongly
what the character of this audience was, and how, with all their love
for coarseness and buffoonery, the poet saw in the masses who filled
that vast amphitheatre a literary “public” the like of which was never
seen before or since.

How then is the prisoner to communicate his situation to Euripides? He
will do what that poet makes his own “Palamedes” do in the
tragedy--write a message containing his sad story upon the oars, and
throw them out. But there are no oars likely to be found in the temple.
He substitutes some little images of the gods, which are at hand, and
throws them off the stage--a double blow at the alleged profanity of the
tragedian and at his far-fetched devices.

The interval is filled up by a song from the Chorus of Women, the first
part of which is light and playful enough, and so thoroughly modern in
its tone that it does not lose much in a free translation:--

    They’re always abusing the women,
      As a terrible plague to men:
    They say we’re the root of all evil,
      And repeat it again and again;
    Of war, and quarrels, and bloodshed,
      All mischief, be what it may:
    And pray, then, why do you marry us,
      If we’re all the plagues you say?
    And why do you take such care of us,
      And keep us so safe at home,
    And are never easy a moment,
      If ever we chance to roam?
    When you ought to be thanking heaven
      That your Plague is out of the way--
    You all keep fussing and fretting--
      “Where _is_ my Plague to-day?”
    If a Plague peeps out of the window,
      Up go the eyes of the men;
    If she hides, then they all keep staring
      Until she looks out again.

But Euripides, supposed (with a good deal of theatrical licence) to have
been summoned by the message so oddly despatched, does not appear to his
rescue. “It must be because he is so ashamed of his Palamedes,” says
Mnesilochus--“I’ll try some device from another of his tragedies--I’ll
be Helen, that’s his last--I’ve got the woman’s dress on, all ready.”
And he proceeds to quote, from the tragedy of that name, her invocation
to her husband Menelaus to come to her aid. This second appeal is
successful; the poet enters, dressed in that character; and a long
dialogue takes place between the two, partly in quotation and partly in
parody of the words of the play,--to the considerable mystification of
the assembled women. But it is in vain that the representative of
Menelaus tries to take his Helen “back with him to Sparta.” The police
arrive, and Mnesilochus is put in the stocks. And there he remains,
though various devices from other tragedies, which give occasion for
abundant parody, are tried to rescue him: forming a scene which,
supposing again that the peculiar style of well-known actors was
cleverly imitated, must lose nearly all its humour when read instead of
being heard and seen. But the Athenian police show themselves as
insensible to theatrical appeals and poetic quotations as their London
representatives would probably be. At last Euripides offers terms of
peace to the offended ladies: he will never abuse them in future, if
they will only let his friend off now. They agree, so far as they are
concerned; but the prisoner is now in the hands of the law, and
Euripides must deal with the law’s representatives for his release. It
is effected by the commonplace expedient of bribing the constable on
duty; and so the burlesque ends,--somewhat feebly, according to our
modern requirements.


“The Female Parliament,” as the name of this comedy may be freely
rendered, was not produced until nineteen years after the play last
noticed, but may be classed with it as being also in great measure
levelled against the sex. It is a broad but very amusing satire upon
those ideal republics, founded upon communistic principles, of which
Plato’s well-known treatise is the best example. His ‘Republic’ had been
written, and probably delivered in the form of oral lectures at Athens,
only two or three years before, and had no doubt excited a considerable
sensation. But many of its most startling principles had long ago been
ventilated in the Schools; and their authorship has been commonly
attributed, as was also the art of “making the worse cause appear the
better,” with very much besides of the sophistical teaching of the day,
to Protagoras of Abdera.

The women have determined, under the leadership of a clever lady named
Praxagora, to reform the constitution of Athens. For this purpose they
will dress like men--beards included--and occupy the seats in the Pnyx,
so as to be able to command a majority of votes in the next public
Assembly, the parliament of Athens. Praxagora is strongly of opinion,
with the modern Mrs Poyser, that on the point of speaking, at all
events, the women have great natural advantages over the men; that “when
they have anything to say, they can mostly find words to say it in.”
They hold a midnight meeting for the purpose of rehearsing their
intended speeches, and getting accustomed to their new clothes. Two or
three of the most ambitious orators unfortunately break down at the very
outset, much to their leader’s disgust, by addressing the Assembly as
“ladies,” and swearing female oaths, and using many other
unparliamentary expressions quite unbefitting their masculine attire.
Praxagora herself, however, makes a speech which is very generally
admired. She complains of the mismanagement hitherto of public affairs,
and asserts that the only hope of salvation for the state is to put the
government into the hands of the women; arguing, like Lysistrata in the
other comedy, that those who have so long managed the domestic
establishment successfully are best fitted to undertake the same duties
on a larger scale. The women, too, are shown by their advocate to be
highly conservative, and therefore safe guardians of the public

    They roast and boil after the good old fashion,
    They keep the holidays that were kept of old,
    They make their cheesecakes by the old receipts,
    They keep a private bottle, like their mothers,
    They plague their husbands--as they always did.

Even in the management of a campaign, they will be found more prudent
and more competent than the men:--

    Being mothers, they’ll be chary of the blood
    Of their own sons, our soldiers; being mothers,
    They will take care their children do not starve
    When they’re on service; and, for ways and means,
    Trust us, there’s nothing cleverer than a woman.
    And as for diplomacy, they’ll be hard indeed
    To cheat--they know too many tricks themselves.

Her speech is unanimously applauded; she is elected lady-president on
the spot, by public acclamation, and the Chorus of ladies march off
towards the Pnyx to secure their places, like the old gentleman in ‘The
Wasps,’ ready for daybreak.

In the next scene, two of the husbands enter in great perplexity, one
wrapped in his wife’s dressing-gown, and the other with only his
under-garment on, and without his shoes. They both want to go to the
Assembly, but cannot find their clothes. While they are wondering what
in the world their wives can have done with them, and what is become of
the ladies themselves, a third neighbour, Chremes, comes in. He has
been to the Assembly; but even he was too late to get the threepence
which was allowed out of the public treasury to all who took their seat
in good time, and which all Athenian citizens, if we may trust their
satirist, were so ludicrously eager to secure. The place was quite full
already, and of strange faces too. And a handsome fair-faced youth
(Praxagora in disguise, we are to understand) had got up, and amid the
loud cheers of those unknown voters had proposed and carried a
resolution, that the government of the state should be placed in the
hands of a committee of ladies,--an experiment which had found favour
also with others, chiefly because it was “the only change which had not
as yet been tried at Athens.” His two neighbours are somewhat confounded
at his news, but congratulate themselves on the fact that the wives will
now, at all events, have to see to the maintenance of the children, and
that “the gods sometimes bring good out of evil.”

The women return, and get home as quickly as they can to change their
costume, so that the trick by which the passing of this new decree has
been secured may not be detected. Praxagora succeeds in persuading her
husband that she had been sent for in a hurry to attend a sick
neighbour, and only borrowed his coat to put on “because the night was
so cold,” and his strong shoes and staff, in order that any
evil-disposed person might take her for a man as she tramped along, and
so not interfere with her. She at first affects not to have heard of the
reform which has been just carried, but when her husband explains it,
declares it will make Athens a paradise. Then she confesses to him that
she has herself been chosen, in full assembly, “Generalissima of the
state.” She puts the question, however, just as we have all seen it put
by a modern actress,--“Will this house agree to it?” And if Praxagora
was at all attractively got up, we may be sure it was carried by
acclamation in the affirmative. Then, in the first place, there shall be
no more poverty; there shall be community of goods, and so there shall
be no lawsuits, and no gambling, and no informers. Moreover, there shall
be community of wives,--and all the ugly women shall have the first
choice of husbands. So she goes off to her public duties, to see that
these resolutions are carried out forthwith; the good citizen begging
leave to follow close at her side, so that all who see him may say,
“What a fine fellow is our Generalissima’s husband!”

The scene changes to another street in Athens, where the citizens are
bringing out all their property, to be carried into the market-place and
inventoried for the common stock. Citizen A. dances with delight as he
marshals his dilapidated chattels into a mock procession--from the
meal-sieve, which he kisses, it looks so pretty with its powdered hair,
to the iron pot which looks as black “as if Lysimachus” (some well-known
fop of the day, possibly present among the audience) “had been boiling
his hair-dye in it.” This patriot, at least, has not much to lose, and
hopes he may have something to gain, under these female communists. But
his neighbour, who is better off, is in no such hurry. The Athenians, as
he remarks, are always making new laws and abrogating them; what has
been passed to-day very likely will be repealed to-morrow. Besides, it
is a good old national habit to _take_, not to _give_. He will wait a
while before he gives in any inventory of his possessions.

But at this point comes the city-beadle (an appointment now held, of
course, by a lady) with a summons to a banquet provided for all citizens
out of the public funds: and amongst the items in the bill of fare is
one dish whose name is composed of seventy-seven syllables--which
Aristophanes gives us, but which the reader shall be spared. Citizen B.
at once delivers it as his opinion that “every man of proper feeling
should support the constitution to the utmost of his ability,” and
hurries to take his place at the feast. There are some difficulties
caused, very naturally, by the new communistic regulations as to
providing for the old and ugly women, but with these we need not deal.
The piece ends with an invitation, issued by direction of Praxagora
through her lady-chamberlain, to the public generally, spectators
included, to join the national banquet which is to inaugurate the new
order of things. The “tag,” as we should call it in our modern
theatrical slang, spoken from what in a Greek theatre was equivalent to
the footlights in a London one, by the leader of the Chorus of ladies,
neatly requests, on the author’s behalf, the favourable decision of
judges and spectators:--

    One little hint to our good critics here
    I humbly offer; to the wise among you,
    Remember the wise lessons of our play,
    And choose me for my wisdom. You, again,
    Who love to laugh, think of our merry jests,
    And choose me for my wit. And so, an’t please you,
    I bid you all to choose me for the crown.
    And let not this be counted to my loss--
    That ’twas my lot to be presented first:
    But judge me by my merits, and your oaths;
    And do not take those vile coquettes for tutors,
    Who keep their best smiles for their latest suitors.

It is plain from the whole character of this play, as well as from the
‘Lysistrata’ and the ‘Women’s Festival,’ that whatever reason the
Athenian women might have had for complaining of their treatment at the
hands of Euripides, they had little cause to congratulate themselves
upon such an ally as Aristophanes. The whip of the tragic poet was as
balm compared with the scorpions of the satirist. But it must be borne
in mind, in estimating these unsparing jests upon the sex which we find
in his comedies, as well as the coarseness which too often disfigures
them--though it is but a poor apology for either--that it is very
doubtful whether it was the habit for women to attend the dramatic
performances. Their presence was certainly exceptional, and confined
probably under any circumstances to the less public festivals, and to
the exhibitions of tragedy. But women had few acknowledged rights among
the polished Athenians. They laughed to scorn the notion of the ruder
but more chivalric Spartan, who saluted his wife as his “lady,” and
their great philosopher Aristotle reproached the nation who could use
such a term as being no better than “women-servers.” These “women’s
rights” have been a fertile source of jest and satire in all times, our
own included; but there is a wide interval in tone and feeling between
the Athenian poet’s Choruses of women, and the graceful picture, satire
though it be, drawn by the English Laureate, of the

    “Six hundred maidens clad in purest white
    Before two streams of light from wall to wall.”[53]



The comedy which takes its name from the god of riches is a lively
satire on the avarice and corruption which was a notorious feature of
Athenian society, as it has been of other states, modern as well as
ancient, when luxury and self-indulgence have created those artificial
wants which are the danger of civilisation. The literal points of the
satire are, of course, distinctly Athenian; but the moral is of no
exclusive date or locality.

Chremylus--a country gentleman, or rather yeoman, living somewhere close
to the city of Athens--has found, in his experience of life, that mere
virtue and honesty are _not_ the best policy; at any rate, not the
policy which pays. He has made a visit, therefore, to the oracle of
Apollo, to consult that authority as to how he shall bring up his only
son; whether he shall train him in the honest and simple courses which
were those of his forefathers, or have him initiated in the wicked but
more profitable ways of the world, as the world is now. He is, in fact,
the Strepsiades of ‘The Clouds,’ only that he is a more unwilling
disciple in the new school of unrighteousness. The answer given him by
the god is, that he must accost the first person he meets on quitting
the temple, and persuade or compel him to accompany him home to his

Chremylus appears on the stage accompanied by his slave Cario,--a clever
rascal, the earliest classical type which has come down to us of the
Davus with whom we become so familiar in Roman comedy, and the Leporello
and Scapin, and their numerous progeny of lying valets and sharp
servants, impudent but useful, who occupy the modern stage. They have
encountered the stranger, and are following him; he is in rags, and he
turns out to be blind. With some difficulty, and not without threats of
beating, they get him to disclose his name: it is Plutus, the god of
wealth himself. But how, then, in the name of wonder, does he appear in
this wretched plight? He has just escaped, he tells them, from the house
of a miser (who is satirised by name, with all the liberty of a satirist
to whom actions for libel were unknown), where he has had a miserable
time of it. And how, they ask, came he to be blind?

    _Pl._ Jove wrought me this, out of ill-will to men.
    For in my younger days I threatened still
    I would betake me to the good and wise
    And upright only; so he made me blind,
    That I should not discern them from the knaves.
    Such grudge bears he to worth and honesty.

    _Chr._ Yet surely ’tis the worthy and the honest
    Alone who pay him sacrifice?

    _Pl._ I know ’tis so.

    _Chr._ Go to, now, friend: suppose you had your sight
    As heretofore--say, wouldst thenceforth avoid
    All knaves and rascals?

    _Pl._ Yea, I swear I would.

    _Chr._ And seek the honest?

    _Pl._ Ay, and gladly too,
    For ’tis a long time since I saw their faces.

    _Chr._ No marvel--I have eyes, and cannot see them.

Plutus is very unwilling to accompany his new friend home, though
Chremylus assures him that he is a man of unusual probity. “All men say
that,” is the god’s reply; “but the moment they get hold of me, their
probity goes to the winds.” Besides, he is afraid of Jove. Chremylus
cries out against him for a coward. Would the sovereignty of Jove be
worth three farthings’ purchase, but for him? What do men offer prayer
and sacrifice to Jove himself for, but for money? Money is the true
ruler, alike of gods and men. “I myself,” puts in Cario, “should not now
be another gentleman’s property, as I am, but for the fact of my master
here having a little more money than I had.” All arts and handicrafts,
all inventions good or evil, have this one source--both master and man
(for Cario is very forward in giving his opinion) agree in protesting;
while the god listens to what he declares is, to his simpler mind, a new

    _Car._ Is’t not your fault the Persian grows so proud?

    _Chr._ Do not men go to Parliament through you?

    _Car._ Who swells the navy estimates, but you?

    _Chr._ Who subsidises foreigners, but you?

    _Car._ For want of you our friend there goes to jail.

    _Chr._ Why are bad novels written, but for you?

    _Car._ That league with Egypt, was it not through you?

    _Chr._ And Lais loves that lout--and all for you!

    _Car._ And our new admiral’s tower--

    _Chr._ (_impatiently to Cario_). May fall, I trust,
    Upon your noisy head!--But in brief, my friend,
    Are not all things that are done done for you?
    For, good or bad, you are alone the cause.
    Ay, and in war, that side is safe to win
    Into whose scale you throw the golden weight.

    _Pl._ Am I indeed so potent as all this?

    _Chr._ Yea, by great heaven, and very much more than this,
    Since none hath ever had his fill of you:
    Of all things else there comes satiety;
    We tire of Love--

    _Car._ Of loaves--

    _Chr._ Of music--

    _Car._ Sweetmeats--

    _Chr._ Of honour--

    _Car._ Cheesecakes--

    _Chr._ Valour--

    _Car._ Of dried figs--

    _Chr._ Ambition--

    _Car._ Biscuit--

    _Chr._ High command--

    _Car._ Pea-soup.

    _Chr._ Of you alone is no man filled too full.

Still Plutus follows his guides unwillingly. His experiences as the
guest of men have not hitherto been pleasant:--

    _Pl._ If I perchance took lodging with a miser,
    He digs me a hole i’ the earth, and buries me;
    And if some honest friend shall come to him,
    And ask the loan of me, by way of help,
    He swears him out he never saw my face.
    Or, if I quarter with your man of pleasure,
    He wastes me on his dice and courtesans,
    And forthwith turns me naked on the street.

    _Chr._ Because you never had the luck, as yet,
    To light upon a moderate man--like me.
    I love economy, look ye--no man more;
    Then again, I know how to spend, in season.
    But let’s indoors: I long to introduce
    My wife, and only son, whom I do love
    Best in this world--next to yourself, I should say.

So Plutus goes home with his new host, and Cario is forthwith sent to
call together the friends and acquaintances of his master from the
neighbouring farms to rejoice with them at the arrival of this blessed
guest. These form the Chorus of the comedy. They enter with dance and
song, and are welcomed heartily by Chremylus, with some apology for
taking them away from their business,--but the occasion is exceptional.
They protest against any apology being required. If they can bear the
crush and wrangle of the law-courts, day after day, for their poor dole
of threepence as jurymen, they are not going to let Plutus slip through
their hands for a trifle. Following more leisurely in the rear of the
common rush,--perhaps as a person of more importance,--comes in a
neighbour, Blepsidemus, whose name and character is something equivalent
to that of “Mr Facing-both-ways” in Bunyan’s allegory. He has heard that
Chremylus has become suddenly rich, and is most of all surprised that in
such an event he should think of sending for his old friends,--a very
unusual proceeding, as he observes, in modern society. Chremylus,
however, informs his friend that the report is true; at least, that he
is in a fair way to become rich, but that there is, as yet, some little
risk in the matter:--

    If all go right, I’m a made man for ever;
    But,--if we slip--we’re ruined past redemption.

Blepsidemus thinks he sees the state of the case. This sudden wealth,
this fear of possible disaster,--the man has robbed a temple, or
something of that kind, it is evident; and he tells him so. In vain does
Chremylus protest his innocence. Blepsidemus will not believe him, and
regards him with pious horror:--

    Alack! that in this world there is no honesty,
    But every man is a mere slave to pelf!

    _Chr._ Heaven help the man!--has he gone mad on a sudden?

    _Bl._ (_looking at Chremylus, and half aside_). What
        a sad change from his old honest ways!

    _Chr._ You’ve lost your wits, sirrah, by all that’s good!

    _Bl._ And his eyes quail--he dares not meet my look--
    For damning guilt stands written in his face!

    _Chr._ Ha! now I see! you take me for a thief,
    And would go shares, then, would ye?

    _Bl._ (_eagerly_). Shares? in what?

    _Chr._ Stuff! don’t be a fool! ’tis quite another matter.

    _Bl._ (_in a whisper_). Not a mere larceny then, but--robbery?

    _Chr._ (_getting angry_). I say, no.

    _Bl._ (_confidentially_). Hark ye, old friend--for
        a mere trifle, look you,
    I’ll undertake, before this gets abroad,
    To hush it up,--I’ll bribe the prosecutors.

Chremylus has great difficulty in making his conscientious friend
understand the real position--that he has Wealth in person come to be
his guest, and means to keep him, if possible. But the god is blind at
present, and the first thing to be done is to get him restored to sight.
“Blind! is he really?” says Blepsidemus; “then no wonder he never found
his way to my house!” They agree that the best means to effect a cure is
to make him pass the night in the temple of Æsculapius; and this they
are proceeding to arrange, when they are interrupted by the appearance
of a very ill-looking lady. It is Poverty, who comes to put a stop, if
it may be, to a revolution which threatens to banish her altogether from
Athens. Chremylus fails to recognise her, in spite of a long practical
acquaintanceship. Blepsidemus at first thinks she must be one of the
Furies out of the tragedy repertory, by her grim visage and squalid
habit. But the moment he learns who his friend’s visitor really is, he
takes to flight at once--as is the way of the world--scared at her very
appearance. He is persuaded, however, to return and listen to what the
goddess has to say. She proceeds to explain the great mistake that will
be made for the true interest of the citizens, if she be really banished
from the city. For she it is who is their real benefactor, as she
assures them, and not Wealth. All the real blessings of mankind come
from the hand of Poverty. This Chremylus will by no means admit. It is
possible that Wealth may have done some harm heretofore by inadvertence;
but if this blessed guest can once recover his sight, then will he for
the future visit only the upright and the virtuous; and so will all
men--as soon as virtue and honesty become the only introduction to
Wealth--be very sure to practise them. Poverty continues to argue the
point in the presence of the Chorus of rustic neighbours, who now come
on the stage, and naturally take a very warm interest in the question.
She contends that were it not for the stimulus which she continually
applies, the work of the world would stand still. No man would learn or
exercise any trade or calling. There would be neither smith, nor
shipwright, nor tailor, nor shoemaker, nor wheelwright--nay, there would
be none either to plough or sow, if all alike were rich. “Nonsense,”
interposes Chremylus, “the slaves would do it.” But there would be no
slaves, the goddess reminds him, if there were no Poverty. It is Wealth,
on the other hand, that gives men the gout, makes them corpulent and
thick-legged, wheezy and pursy; “while I,” says Poverty, “make them
strong and wiry, with waists like wasps--ay, and with stings for their
enemies.” “Look at your popular leaders” (for the satirist never spares
the demagogues)--“so long as they continue poor, they are honest enough;
but when once they have grown rich at the public expense, they betray
the public interest.” Chremylus confesses that here, at least, she
speaks no more than the truth. But if such are the advantages which
Poverty brings, he has a very natural question to ask--

    How comes it then that all men flee thy face?

    _Pov._ Because I make men better.

But her pleading is in vain. “Away with your rhetoric,” says Chremylus;
“our ears are deaf to all such arguments.” He uses almost the very words
of Sir Hudibras--

    “He who complies against his will,
    Is of his own opinion still.”[54]

And an unanimous sentence of expulsion is passed against the unpopular
deity, while Plutus is sent, under the escort of Cario, with bed and
bedding, to take up his quarters for the night in the temple of
Æsculapius, there to invoke the healing power which can restore his

An interval of time unusually long for the Athenian drama is supposed to
elapse between this and what we may call the second act of the
comedy--the break in the action having been most probably marked by a
chant from the Chorus, which has not, however, come down to us in the
manuscripts. The scene reopens with the return of Cario from the temple
on the morning following.

The resort to Æsculapius has been entirely successful. But Aristophanes
does not miss the opportunity of sharp satire upon the gross
materialities of the popular creed and the tricks of priestcraft. Cario
informs his mistress and the Chorus, who come to inquire the result,
that the god has performed the cure in person--going round the beds of
the patients, who lay there awaiting his visit, for all the world like a
modern hospital surgeon, making his diagnosis of each case, with an
assistant following him with pestle and mortar and portable
medicine-chest. Plutus had been cured almost instantaneously--quicker,
as the narrator impudently tells his mistress, than she could toss off
half-a-dozen glasses of wine. But one Neoclides, who had come there on
the same errand (though, blind as he was, observes Cario, not the
sharpest-sighted of them all could match him in stealing), fares very
differently at the hands of the god of medicine; for Æsculapius applies
to his eyes a lotion of garlic and vinegar, which makes him roar with
pain, and leaves him blinder than ever. Another secret of the temple,
too, the cunning varlet has seen, while he was pretending to be asleep
like the rest. He saw the priests go round quietly, after the lamps were
put out, and eat all the cakes and fruit brought by the patients as
offerings to the god. He took the liberty, he says--“thinking it must be
a very holy practice”--of following their example, and so got possession
of a pudding which an old lady, one of the patients, had placed
carefully by her bedside for her supper, and on which he had set his
heart when first he saw it. His mistress is shocked at such profanity.

    Unhallowed varlet! didst not fear the god?

    _Cario._ Marry did I, and sorely--lest his godship
    Should get the start of me, and grab the dish.
    But the old lady, when she heard me coming,
    Put her hand out; and so I gave a hiss,
    And bit her gently; ’twas the Holy Snake,
    She thought, and pulled her hand in, and lay still.

But the mistress of the house is too delighted with the good news which
Carlo has brought to chide him very severely for his irreverence. She
orders her maids at once to prepare a banquet for the return of this
blessed guest, who presently reappears, attended by Chremylus and a
troop of friends. Plutus salutes his new home in a burlesque of the high
vein of tragedy:--

    All hail! thou first, O bright and blessed sun,
    And thou, fair plain, where awful Pallas dwells,
    And this Cecropian land, henceforth mine home!
    I blush to mind me of my past estate--
    Of the vile herd with whom I long consorted;
    While those who had been worthy of my friendship
    I, poor blind wretch! unwittingly passed by.
    But now the wrong I did will I undo,
    And show henceforth to all mankind, that sore
    Against my will I kept bad company.

[Enter Chremylus, surrounded and followed by a crowd of congratulating
friends, whom he thrusts aside right and left.]

    _Chr._ To the devil with you all--d’ye hear, good people!
    Why, what a plague friends are on these occasions!
    One hatches them in swarms, when one gets money.
    They nudge my sides, and pat me on the back,
    And smother me with tokens of affection;
    Men bow to me I never saw before;
    And all the pompous dawdlers in the Square
    Find me the very centre of attraction!

Even his wife is unusually affectionate; and the welcome guest is
ushered into the house with choral dance and song--highly burlesque, no
doubt; but both are lost to us, and such losses are not always to be

The scene which follows introduces Cario in a state of great contentment
with the new order of things. It is possible that, as in ‘The Knights,’
there was an entire change of scenery as well as of dresses at this
point of the performance; that the ancient country grange has been
transmuted into a grand modern mansion, with all the appliances of
wealth and luxury. At all events, Cario (who from a rustic slave has now
become quite a “gentleman’s gentleman”) informs the Chorus, who listen
to him open-mouthed, that such has been the result of entertaining

    _Cario_ (_stroking himself_). Oh what a blessed thing,
        good friends, is riches!
    And with no toil or trouble of our own!
    Lo, there is store of all good things within,
    Yea, heaped upon us--yet we’ve cheated no one!
    Our meal-chest’s brimming with the finest boltings,
    The cellar’s stocked with wine--of such a bouquet!
    And every pot and pan in the house is heaped
    With gold and silver--it’s a sight to see!
    The well runs oil--the very mustard-pot
    Has nothing but myrrh in it, and you can’t get up
    Into the garret, it’s so full of figs.
    The crockery’s bronze, the wooden bowls are silver,
    And the oven’s made of ivory. In the kitchen,
    We play at pitch-and-toss with golden pieces;
    And scent ourselves (so delicate are we grown) with--garlic.[55]
    As to my master, he’s within there, sacrificing
    A hog and a goat and a ram, full drest, good soul!
    But the smoke drove me out--(_affectedly_)--I can_not_ stand it.
    I’m rather sensitive, and smoke hurts my eyelids.

The happy results of the new administration are further shown in the
cases of some other characters who now come upon the scene. An Honest
Man, who has spent his fortune on his friends and met with nothing but
ingratitude in return, now finds his wealth suddenly restored to him,
and comes to dedicate to the god who has been his benefactor the
threadbare cloak and worn-out shoes which he had been lately reduced to
wear. A public Informer--that hateful character whom the comic dramatist
was never tired of holding up to the execration of his audience--has now
found his business fail him, and threatens that, if there be any law or
justice left in Athens, this god who leaves the poor knaves to starve
shall be made blind again. Cario--quite in the spirit of the clown in a
modern pantomime--strips him of his fine clothes, puts the honest man’s
ragged cloak on him instead, hangs the old shoes round his neck, and
kicks him off the stage, howling out that he will surely “lay an
information.” An old lady who has lost her young lover, as soon as under
the new dispensation she lost the charms of her money, in vain appeals
to Chremylus, as having influence with this reformed government, to
obtain her some measure of justice. Not only the world of men, but the
world of gods, is out of joint. In the last scene, Mercury knocks at the
door of Chremylus. He has brought a terrible message from Jupiter. He
orders Cario to bring out the whole family--“master, mistress, children,
slaves--and the dog--and himself--and the pig,” and the rest of the
brutes, that they may all be thrown together into the Barathrum--the
punishment inflicted on malefactors of the deepest dye. Cario answers
the Olympian messenger with a courtesy as scant as his own; under the
new _régime_, he and his master are become very independent of Jupiter.
“You’d be none the worse for a slice off your tongue, young fellow,”
says the mortal servant to him of Olympus; “why, what’s the matter?”
“Matter enough,” answers Mercury:--

    Why, ye have wrought the very vilest deed;
    Since Plutus yonder got his sight again,
    No man doth offer frankincense or bays,
    Or honey-cake or victim or aught else,
    To us poor gods.

    _Car._ Nay, nor will offer, now;
    Ye took poor care of us when we _were_ pious.

    _Mer._ As for the other gods, I care not much;
    But ’tis myself I pity.

    _Car._ You’re right there.

    _Mer._ Why, in the good old times, from every shop
    I got good things,--rich wine-cakes, honey, figs,
    Fit for a god like Mercury to eat;
    But now I lie and sleep to cheat my hunger.

    _Car._ It serves you right; you never did much good.

    _Mer._ Oh for those noble cheesecakes, rich and brown!

    _Car._ ’Tis no use calling--cheesecakes an’t in season.

    _Mer._ O those brave gammons that I once enjoyed!

    _Car._ Don’t gammon me--be off with you to--heaven!

Mercury begs him at last, for old acquaintance’ sake, and in remembrance
of the many little scrapes which his pilfering propensities would have
brought him into with his master, but that he, the god of craft, helped
him out of them,--to have a little fellow-feeling for a servant out of
place and thrown upon his own finding. Is there no place for him in
Chremylus’s household? What? says Cario; would he leave Olympus and take
service with mortals? Certainly he would--the living and the perquisites
are so much better. Would he turn deserter? asks the other (deserter
being a word of abomination to Greek ears). The god replies in words
which seem to be a quotation or a parody from some of the tragic poets--

    That soil is fatherland which feeds us best.

The dialogue which follows is an amusing play upon the various offices
assigned to Mercury, who was a veritable Jack-of-all-trades in the
popular theology. The humour is very much lost in any English version,
however free:--

    _Car._ What place would suit you, now, suppose we hired you?

    _Mer._ I’ll turn my hand to anything you please;
    You know I’m called the “Turner.”

    _Car._ Yes, but now
    Luck’s on our side, we want no turns at present.

    _Mer._ I’ll make your bargains for you.

    _Car._ Thankye, no--
    Now we’ve grown rich, we don’t much care for bargains.

    _Mer._ But I can cheat--

    _Car._ On no account--for shame!
    We well-to-do folks all go in for honesty.

    _Mer._ Let me be Guide, then.

    _Car._ Nay, our godship here
    Has got his sight again, and needs no guiding.

    _Mer._ Well, Master of the revels? don’t say no--
    Wealth must have pleasures,--music, and all that.

    _Car._ (_ironically turning to the audience_). Why,
        what a lucky thing it is to be Jack-of-all-trades!
    Here’s a young man, now, who’s sure to make a living!
    (_To Mercury._) Well--go and wash these tripes,--be quick--let’s see
    What sort of training servants get in heaven.

If the gods are suffering from this social revolution in the world
below, still more lamentable are its effects upon the staff of officials
maintained in their temples. The priest of Jupiter the Protector--one of
the most important ecclesiastical functionaries in Athens--enters in
great distress.

    _Priest._ Be good enough to tell me, where is Chremylus?

    _Chr._ (_coming out_). What is it, my good sir?

    _Priest._ What is it?--ruin!
    Why, since this Plutus has begun to see,
    I’m dying of starvation. Positively,
    I haven’t a crust to eat! I, my dear sir,
    The Priest of the Protector! think of that!

    _Chr._ Dear me! and what’s the reason, may I ask?

    _Priest._ Why, because everybody now is rich:
    Before, if times _were_ bad, there still would come
    Some merchant-captain home from time to time,
    And bring us thank-offerings for escape from wreck;
    Some lucky rogue, perhaps, who had got a verdict;
    Or some good man held a family sacrifice,
    And asked the priest, of course. But now no soul
    Pays either vows or sacrifice, or comes
    To the temple--save to shoot their rubbish there.

    _Car._ (_half aside_). You take your tithe of that, I warrant me.

Chremylus, whose good fortune in entertaining such a desirable guest has
put him into good-humour with all the world, comforts the despairing
official. The true Father Protector--the deity whom all men
acknowledge--is here, he tells him, in the house. They mean to set him
up permanently at Athens, in his proper place--the Public Treasury. And
he shall be the minister of the new worship, if he likes to quit the
service of Jupiter. The priest gladly consents, and an extempore
procession is at once formed upon the stage, into which the old lady who
has lost her lover is pressed, and persuaded to carry a slop-pail upon
her head, to represent the maidens who, on such occasions, bore the
lustral waters for the inauguration. Cario and the Chorus bring up the
rear in an antic dance, and they proceed to establish at Athens, with
all due formalities, the worship of Wealth alone.

This play, as we now have it (for it had been brought out in a different
form twenty years before), shows evident signs of a transition in the
character of Athenian comedy. It is less extravagant, and more domestic,
and so far approaches more nearly to what is called the “New” Comedy, of
which we know little except from a few fragmentary remains and from its
Roman adapters, but of which our modern drama is the result. Possibly,
now that the great war was over, and the spirit as well as the power of
Athens was somewhat broken, Aristophanes no longer felt that deep
personal interest in politics which has left such a mark on all his
earlier pieces. Another reason for the change, independent of the public
taste, seems to have been the growing parsimony in the expenditure of
public money on such performances. Critics have detected, in the
character of the Chorus of ‘The Ecclesiazusæ,’ exhibited five years
previously, in which the masks and dresses for a body of old women could
have involved but little expense in comparison with the elaborate
mounting of such plays as ‘The Birds’ and ‘Wasps,’ an accommodation to
this new spirit of economy; and the same remark has been made as to the
poverty of the musical portion of the play. The same may be said of the
Chorus of rustics in this latter drama. ‘Plutus’ was the last comedy put
upon the stage by Aristophanes himself, though two pieces which he had
composed, of which we know little more than the titles, were exhibited
in his name, after his death, by his son. They appear to have approached
still more nearly, in their plot and general character, to our modern
notions of a comedy than even ‘Plutus.’ Whether the author made any
important alterations in this second edition of the play is not known;
but in its present state, the piece seems to want something of his old
dash and vigour. He was getting an old man; and probably some young
aspirants to dramatic fame remarked upon his failing powers in somewhat
the same terms as those in which, thirty-seven years before, he had
spoken of his elder rival Cratinus--

    “The keys work loose, the strings are slack, the melodies a jar.”[56]

If so, Aristophanes never challenged and won the dramatic crown again,
as Cratinus had done, to confound his younger critics. The curtain was
soon about to fall for him altogether. He died a year or two afterwards.




[1] Introd. to ‘Cicero’ (A. C.)

[2] “Here, in his native tongue and among his own countrymen, Punch is
a person of real power: he dresses up and retails all the drolleries
of the day; he is the channel and sometimes the source of the passing
opinions; he could gain a mob, or keep the whole kingdom in good
humour.”--Forsyth’s Italy, ii. 35.

[3] See ‘Æschylus’ (A. C.), chap. i.

[4] The appeal which Harpagon makes to the audience to help him to
discover the thief who has stolen his money (‘L’Avare,’ act iv. sc. 7)
is an exact parallel with that of the two slaves in ‘The Knights’ (see
p. 18), and again in ‘The Wasps,’ when they come forward and consult
them confidentially in their difficulties.

[5] The Knights, I. 233.

[6] The Clouds.

[7] The Frogs, l. 1073.

[8] Alluding to the passion of the Athenian citizens for the
law-courts, in which the verdict was given by depositing in the
ballot-boxes a black or white bean or pebble.

[9] This affair at Pylos is so repeatedly alluded to in this comedy,
that at the risk of telling what to many readers is a well-known story,
some explanation must be given here. About six months before this
performance took place, a detachment of four hundred Spartans, who had
been landed on the little island of Sphacteria, which closes in the
Bay of Pylos (the modern Navarino), had been cut off by an Athenian
squadron under Eurymedon and Demosthenes, and were closely blockaded
there, in the hope of starving them into surrender. The Spartans
offered terms of peace, for the men were all citizens of Sparta itself,
and their loss would have been a calamity to the state. The proposal
was refused by the triumphant Athenians; but afterwards the blockade
was not maintained effectively, and the capitulation became doubtful.
At this juncture, Cleon came forward in the Assembly, and boasted
loudly that, if the command were given to him, he would bring the men
prisoners to Athens within twenty days. He was taken at his word;
and possibly to his own surprise, and certainly to the dismay of his
political opponents, he made his boast good. The constant sneers at
this exploit on the part of Cleon’s enemies seem to prove that it was
not the mere piece of good luck which they represented it.

[10] “A general feature of human nature, nowhere more observable than
among boys at school, where the poor timid soul is always despatched
upon the most perilous expeditions. Nicias is the fag--Demosthenes the
big boy.”--Frere.

The influence of oracles on the public mind at Athens during the
Peloponnesian War is notorious matter of history.

[11] The Senate was an elective Upper Chamber, in which all “bills”
were brought in and discussed, before they were put to the vote in the
General Assembly.

[12] This Chorus has been imitated, in the true Aristophanic vein, by
Mr Trevelyan, in his ‘Ladies in Parliament:’--

    “We much revere our sires, who were a mighty race of men;
    For every glass of port we drink, they nothing thought of ten.
    They dwelt above the foulest drains: they breathed the closest air:
    They had their yearly twinge of gout, and little seemed to care.
    They set those meddling people down for Jacobins or fools,
    Who talked of public libraries and grants to normal schools;
    Since common folks who read and write, and like their betters speak,
    Want something more than pipes and beer, and sermons once a-week.
    And therefore both by land and sea their match they rarely met,
    But made the name of Britain great, and ran her deep in debt.
    They seldom stopped to count the foe, nor sum the moneys spent,
    But clenched their teeth, and straight ahead with sword and musket went.
    And, though they thought if trade were free that England
        ne’er would thrive,
    They freely gave their blood for Moore, and Wellington, and Clive.
    And though they burned their coal at home, nor fetched
        their ice from Wenham,
    They played the man before Quebec, and stormed the lines at Blenheim.
    When sailors lived on mouldy bread, and lumps of rusty pork,
    No Frenchman dared his nose to show between the Downs and Cork;
    But now that Jack gets beef and greens, and next his skin wears flannel,
    The ‘Standard’ says, we’ve not a ship in plight to keep the Channel.”

[13] Karkinos (_Crab_) was an indifferent tragedian of the day, some of
whose lines are here parodied.

[14] See note, p. 19.

[15] The speech of a late member for Sheffield--much missed in the
House, and whom it would be most unfair to compare with Cleon--will
occur to many readers: “I’m Tear’em.”

[16] A parody on the touching farewell of Alcestis to her nuptial
chamber, in the tragedy of Euripides:--

    “Farewell! and she who takes my place--may she
    Be happier!--truer wife she cannot be.”

[17] Preface to The Knights.

[18] Half the joke is irreparably lost in English. The Greek word for
“_treaty_” or “_truce_” meant literally the “_libation_” of wine with
which the terms were ratified.

[19] Which each soldier was required to take with him on the march.

[20] Telephus, Philoctetes, Bellerophon, and probably other tragedy
heroes, were all represented by Euripides as lame. But no one could
possibly have made greater capital out of the physical sufferings of
Philoctetes from his lame foot than the author’s favourite Sophocles.

[21] Of course every Athenian would be amused by the parody of the
well-remembered scene in the Iliad:--

    “The babe clung crying to his nurse’s breast,
    Scared at the dazzling helm and nodding crest.
    With secret pleasure each fond parent smiled,
    And Hector hastened to relieve his child;
    The glittering terrors from his brow unbound,
    And placed the beaming helmet on the ground.”

[22] Their reputation has continued down to modern days. “I was able to
partake of some fine eels of an extraordinary size, which had been sent
to us by the Greek primates of the city. They were caught in the Lake
Copais, which, as in ancient times, still supplies the country round
with game and wild-fowl.”--Hughes’s Travels in Greece, i. 33. (Note to
Walsh’s Aristophanes.)

[23] The old commentators assign the story to Æsop. The eagle had eaten
the beetle’s young ones; the beetle, in revenge, rolled the eagle’s
eggs out of her nest: so often, that the latter made complaint to her
patron Jupiter, who gave her leave to lay her eggs in his bosom. The
beetle flew up to heaven, and buzzed about the god’s head, who jumped
up in a hurry to catch his tormentor, quite forgetting his duty as
nurse, and so the eggs fell out and were broken.

[24] Her name, like most of those used in these comedies, is
significant. It means, “Dissolver of the Army.”

[25] Hom. Iliad, vi. 490. Hector to Andromache:--

    “No more--but hasten to thy tasks at home;
    There guide the spindle and direct the loom.”

[26] Susarion. So also the Roman censor, Metellus Numidicus: “It is not
possible to live with them in any comfort--or to live without them at
all.”--Aul. Gellius, i. 6.

[27] Lucian, Dial. ‘Piscator.’

[28] For fear lest they should desert at once to the enemy.

[29] Names thus compounded with ‘_ippos_’ (‘horse’) were much affected
by the Athenian aristocracy. ‘_Pheidōn_,’ on the other hand, in the
proposed name Pheidōnides, means ‘economical.’

[30] A caricature of the doctrine of Heraclitus, that Heat was the
great principle of all things.

[31] Eubœa had revolted from its allegiance to Athens some years before
this war. Pericles had swept the island with an overwhelming force,
banished the chiefs of the oligarchical party, and distributed their
lands amongst colonists from Athens.

[32] The Greek commentators inform us very particularly by what
appliances thunder was imitated on the Athenian stage; either “by
rolling leather bags full of pebbles down sheets of brass,” or by
“pouring them into a huge brazen caldron.” (See note to Walsh’s
Aristoph., p. 302.) But Greek commentators are not to be depended upon
in such matters.

[33] A doctrine taught by the philosopher Anaxagoras, whose lectures
Socrates is said to have attended.

[34] A hit, no doubt, at theories of education which were in fashion
then, and which have been revived in modern days. Plato, in his
treatise on Legislation, advises that the child who is intended for an
architect should be encouraged to build toy-houses, the future farmer
to make little gardens, &c.--(De Leg., i. 643.)

[35] Some of the old commentators say that the disputants were brought
upon the stage in the guise of game-cocks; but there are no allusions
in the dialogue to justify such an interpretation of the scene.

[36] See Plato’s Republic, Book I. Of course it must be remembered
that we have here only the representation of Thrasymachus’s teaching
as given by an opponent. As Mr Grote fairly remarks: “How far the real
Thrasymachus may have argued in the slashing and offensive style here
described, we have no means of deciding.”--Grote’s Plato, i. 145.

[37] See p. 8.

[38] See p. 92.

[39] Dialog. Icaro-Menippus.

[40] The names in the Greek are significant. “Philocleon” means “friend
of Cleon” (who represents litigation, as he does most other things
which are bad, in the view of Aristophanes); “Bdelycleon,” the name of
the son, means “hater of Cleon.”

[41] The Athenians affected to wear a golden grasshopper in their hair,
as being “sprung from the soil.”

[42] K. Henry IV., Pt. ii., act iii. sc. 2.

[43] There is a political allusion here to the conduct of Laches,
(whose name is slightly modified), an Athenian admiral accused at the
time of taking bribes in Sicily.

[44] This scene has been borrowed by Racine (Les Plaideurs, act iii.
sc. 3.) The French dramatist has added, as to the behaviour of the
puppies in court, a touch of his own which is very Aristophanic indeed.
Ben Jonson has also adapted the idea in his play of ‘The Staple of
News’ (act v. sc. 2), where he makes the miser Pennyboy sit in judgment
on his two dogs. It is somewhat surprising that two such authors should
have considered an incident which, after all, is not so very humorous,
worth making prize of.

[45] If the reader would like to see how thoroughly this kind of
humour is in the spirit of modern burlesque, he cannot do better
than glance at Mr Planché’s “Birds of Aristophanes,” produced at
the Haymarket in 1846. This is his free version of the passage just
noticed--(‘Tomostyleron’ and ‘Jackanoxides’ are the two adventurers of
the Greek comedy):--

    “_King of Birds._ And what bird will you be--a popinjay?

    _Tom._ No, no; they pop at him. (_To Jack._) What kind would you be?

    _King_ (_aside_). The bird you’re most akin to is a booby.

    _Jack._ For fear of accidents, some fowl I’d be,
    That folks don’t shoot or eat.

    _Tom._ Humph! let me see--
    There may be one I never heard the name of.

    _King_ (_aside_). You can’t be anything they won’t make _game_ of.”

[46] The play on the names is, of course, not the same in the Greek as
in the English. Mr Frere has perhaps managed it as well as it could be

[47] A sort of Night-hag belonging to Hecate, which assumed various
shapes to terrify belated travellers at cross-roads.

[48] The priests of Bacchus had probably (and very naturally) a
reputation as _bons vivants_. At all events, they gave a sumptuous
official entertainment at these dramatic festivals.

[49] We find something of this professional _badinage_ to the audience
in Shakspeare’s “Hamlet” (act v. sc. i.):--

    _Ham._ Marry, why was he sent into England?

    _1st Grave-d._ Why, because he was mad: he shall recover
        his wits there; or if he do not, ’tis no great
        matter there.

    _Ham._ Why?

    _1st Gr._ ’Twill not be seen in him there--there
        the men are as mad as he.

[50] See, however, on this question, ‘Euripides’ (Anc. Cl.), p. 37, &c.

[51] Perhaps his most bitter words are those addressed to Phædra by
Bellerophon, in the lost tragedy of that name,--

    “O thou most vile! thou--_woman_!--For what word
    That lips could frame could carry more reproach?”

But we must not forget Shakspeare’s--“Frailty, thy name is woman!” or
judge the poet too harshly by a passionate expression put into the
mouth of one of his characters.

[52] The “situation” seems to have been a favourite one. It may be
remembered in Kotzebue’s play, which Sheridan turned into ‘Pizarro,’ in
the scene where Rolla carries off Cora’s child.

[53] Tennyson’s ‘Princess.’

[54] “I’ll not be convinced, even if you convince me,” are his words.

[55] This is a good instance of those jokes “contrary to expectation”
(as the Greek term has it) which are very common in these comedies, but
which can very seldom be reproduced, for more reasons than one, in an
English version. Of course the audience were led to expect something
more fragrant than “garlic.” We are accustomed to something of the
same kind in the puns which frequently conclude a line in our modern
burlesques. In neither case, perhaps, is the wit of the highest order.

Mr Walsh, in the preface to his ‘Aristophanes’ (p. viii), illustrates
not inaptly this style of jest by a comparison with Goldsmith’s “Elegy
on the Glory of her sex, Mrs Mary Blaize.”

[56] The Knights, l. 532.

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