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Trygaeus, a middle-aged Athenian, miraculously brings about a peaceful end to the Peloponnesian War, thereby earning the gratitude of farmers while bankrupting various tradesmen who had profited from the hostilities. He celebrates his triumph by marrying Harvest, a companion of Festival and Peace, all of whom he has liberated from a celestial prison.
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Published by Sovereign Classic
First published in 2016
Copyright © 2016 Sovereign Classic
The ‘Peace’ was brought out four years after ‘The Acharnians’ (422 B.C.), when the War had already lasted ten years. The leading motive is the same as in the former play—the intense desire of the less excitable and more moderate-minded citizens for relief from the miseries of war.
Trygaeus, a rustic patriot, finding no help in men, resolves to ascend to heaven to expostulate personally with Zeus for allowing this wretched state of things to continue. With this object he has fed and trained a gigantic dung-beetle, which he mounts, and is carried, like Bellerophon on Pegasus, on an aerial journey. Eventually he reaches Olympus, only to find that the gods have gone elsewhere, and that the heavenly abode is occupied solely by the demon of War, who is busy pounding up the Greek States in a huge mortar. However, his benevolent purpose is not in vain; for learning from Hermes that the goddess Peace has been cast into a pit, where she is kept a fast prisoner, he calls upon the different peoples of Hellas to make a united effort and rescue her, and with their help drags her out and brings her back in triumph to earth. The play concludes with the restoration of the goddess to her ancient honours, the festivities of the rustic population and the nuptials of Trygaeus with Opora (Harvest), handmaiden of Peace, represented as a pretty courtesan.
Such references as there are to Cleon in this play are noteworthy. The great Demagogue was now dead, having fallen in the same action as the rival Spartan general, the renowned Brasidas, before Amphipolis, and whatever Aristophanes says here of his old enemy is conceived in the spirit of ‘de mortuis nil nisi bonum.’ In one scene Hermes is descanting on the evils which had nearly ruined Athens and declares that ‘The Tanner’ was the cause of them all. But Trygaeus interrupts him with the words:
“Hold-say not so, good master Hermes; Let the man rest in peace where now he lies. He is no longer of our world, but yours.”
Here surely we have a trait of magnanimity on the author’s part as admirable in its way as the wit and boldness of his former attacks had been in theirs.
TWO SERVANTS OF TRYGAEUS
MAIDENS, DAUGHTERS OF TRYGAEUS
HIEROCLES, a Soothsayer
SON OF LAMACHUS
SON OF CLEONYMUS
CHORUS OF HUSBANDMEN
SCENE: A farmyard, two slaves busy beside a dungheap; afterwards, in Olympus.
FIRST SERVANT Quick, quick, bring the dung-beetle his cake.
SECOND SERVANT Coming, coming.
FIRST SERVANT Give it to him, and may it kill him!
SECOND SERVANT May he never eat a better.
FIRST SERVANT Now give him this other one kneaded up with ass’s dung.
SECOND SERVANT There! I’ve done that too.
FIRST SERVANT And where’s what you gave him just now; surely he can’t have devoured it yet!
SECOND SERVANT Indeed he has; he snatched it, rolled it between his feet and bolted it.
FIRST SERVANT Come, hurry up, knead up a lot and knead them stiffly.
SECOND SERVANT Oh, scavengers, help me in the name of the gods, if you do not wish to see me fall down choked.
FIRST SERVANT Come, come, another made from the stool of a young scapegrace catamite. ‘Twill be to the beetle’s taste; he likes it well ground.
SECOND SERVANT There! I am free at least from suspicion; none will accuse me of tasting what I mix.
FIRST SERVANT Faugh! come, now another! keep on mixing with all your might.
SECOND SERVANT I’ faith, no. I can stand this awful cesspool stench no longer, so I bring you the whole ill-smelling gear.
FIRST SERVANT Pitch it down the sewer sooner, and yourself with it.
SECOND SERVANT Maybe, one of you can tell me where I can buy a stopped-up nose, for there is no work more disgusting than to mix food for a beetle and to carry it to him. A pig or a dog will at least pounce upon our excrement without more ado, but this foul wretch affects the disdainful, the spoilt mistress, and won’t eat unless I offer him a cake that has been kneaded for an entire day.... But let us open the door a bit ajar without his seeing it. Has he done eating? Come, pluck up courage, cram yourself till you burst! The cursed creature! It wallows in its food! It grips it between its claws like a wrestler clutching his opponent, and with head and feet together rolls up its paste like a rope-maker twisting a hawser. What an indecent, stinking, gluttonous beast! I know not what angry god let this monster loose upon us, but of a certainty it was neither Aphrodite nor the Graces.
FIRST SERVANT Who was it then?
SECOND SERVANT No doubt the Thunderer, Zeus.
FIRST SERVANT But perhaps some spectator, some beardless youth, who thinks himself a sage, will say, “What is this? What does the beetle mean?” And then an Ionian,(1) sitting next him, will add, “I think ‘tis an allusion to Cleon, who so shamelessly feeds on filth all by himself.”—But now I’m going indoors to fetch the beetle a drink.
f(1) ‘Peace’ was no doubt produced at the festival of the
Apaturia, which was kept at the end of October, a period
when strangers were numerous in Athens.
SECOND SERVANT As for me, I will explain the matter to you all, children, youths, grownups and old men, aye, even to the decrepit dotards. My master is mad, not as you are, but with another sort of madness, quite a new kind. The livelong day he looks open-mouthed towards heaven and never stops addressing Zeus. “Ah! Zeus,” he cries, “what are thy intentions? Lay aside thy besom; do not sweep Greece away!”
TRYGAEUS Ah! ah! ah!
SECOND SERVANT Hush, hush! Mehinks I hear his voice!
TRYGAEUS Oh! Zeus, what art thou going to do for our people? Dost thou not see this, that our cities will soon be but empty husks?
SECOND SERVANT As I told you, that is his form of madness. There you have a sample of his follies. When his trouble first began to seize him, he said to himself, “By what means could I go straight to Zeus?” Then he made himself very slender little ladders and so clambered up towards heaven; but he soon came hurtling down again and broke his head. Yesterday, to our misfortune, he went out and brought us back this thoroughbred, but from where I know not, this great beetle, whose groom he has forced me to become. He himself caresses it as though it were a horse, saying, “Oh! my little Pegasus,(1) my noble aerial steed, may your wings soon bear me straight to Zeus!” But what is my master doing? I must stoop down to look through this hole. Oh! great gods! Here! neighbours, run here quick! here is my master flying off mounted on his beetle as if on horseback.
f(1) The winged steed of Perseus—an allusion to a lost
tragedy of Euripides, in which Bellerophon was introduced
riding on Pegasus.
TRYGAEUS Gently, gently, go easy, beetle; don’t start off so proudly, or trust at first too greatly to your powers; wait till you have sweated, till the beating of your wings shall make your limb joints supple. Above all things, don’t let off some foul smell, I adjure you; else I would rather have you stop in the stable altogether.
SECOND SERVANT Poor master! Is he crazy?
TRYGAEUS Silence! silence!
SECOND SERVANT (TO TRYGAEUS) But why start up into the air on chance?
TRYGAEUS ‘Tis for the weal of all the Greeks; I am attempting a daring and novel feat.
SECOND SERVANT But what is your purpose? What useless folly!
TRYGAEUS No words of ill omen! Give vent to joy and command all men to keep silence, to close down their drains and privies with new tiles and to stop up their own vent-holes.(1)
f(1) Fearing that if it caught a whiff from earth to its
liking, the beetle might descend from the highest heaven to
FIRST SERVANT No, I shall not be silent, unless you tell me where you are going.
TRYGAEUS Why, where am I likely to be going across the sky, if it be not to visit Zeus?
FIRST SERVANT For what purpose?
TRYGAEUS I want to ask him what he reckons to do for all the Greeks.
SECOND SERVANT And if he doesn’t tell you?
TRYGAEUS I shall pursue him at law as a traitor who sells Greece to the Medes.(1)
f(1) The Persians and the Spartans were not then allied as
the scholiast states, since a treaty between them was only
concluded in 412 B.C., i.e. eight years after the production
of ‘Peace’; the great king, however, was trying to derive
advantages out of the dissensions in Greece.
SECOND SERVANT Death seize me, if I let you go.
TRYGAEUS It is absolutely necessary.
SECOND SERVANT Alas! alas! dear little girls, your father is deserting you secretly to go to heaven. Ah! poor orphans, entreat him, beseech him.
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