The Wasps - Aristophanes - ebook

The play begins with a strange scene—a large net has been spread over a house, the entry is barricaded and two slaves are sleeping in the street outside. A third man is positioned at the top of an exterior wall with a view into the inner courtyard but he too is asleep. The two slaves wake and we learn from their banter that they are keeping guard over a 'monster'. The man asleep above them is their master and the monster is his father—he has an unusual disease.

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The Wasps




New Edition

Published by Sovereign Classic

This Edition

First published in 2016

Copyright © 2016 Sovereign Classic

ISBN: 9781911535874








SOSIAS, House-servant of Philocleon.

XANTHIAS, House-servant of Philocleon.





CHORUS OF ELDERS, costumed as Wasps.

SCENE: Philocleon’s house at Athens.


SOSIAS. Why, Xanthias! what are you doing, wretched man?

XANTHIAS. I am teaching myself how to rest; I have been awake and on watch the whole night.

SOSIAS. So you want to earn trouble for your ribs,[1] eh? Don’t you know what sort of an animal we are guarding here?

XANTHIAS. Aye indeed! but I want to put my cares to sleep for a while.

SOSIAS. Beware what you do. I too feel soft sleep spreading over my eyes.

Resist it, for you must be as mad as a Corybant if you fall asleep.[2]

XANTHIAS. No! ‘Tis Bacchus who lulls me off.

SOSIAS. Then you serve the same god as myself. Just now a heavy slumber settled on my eyelids like a hostile Mede; A nodded and, faith! I had a wondrous dream.

XANTHIAS. Indeed! and so had I. A dream such as I never had before. But first tell me yours.

SOSIAS. Methinks I saw an eagle, a gigantic bird, descend upon the market-place; it seized a brazen buckler with its talons and bore it away into the highest heavens; then I saw ‘twas Cleonymus had thrown it away.

XANTHIAS. This Cleonymus is a riddle worth propounding among guests. How can one and the same animal have cast away his buckler both on land, in the sky and at sea?[3]

SOSIAS. Alas! what ill does such a dream portend for me?

XANTHIAS. Rest undisturbed! An it please the gods, no evil will befall you.

SOSIAS. Nevertheless, ‘tis a fatal omen when a man throws away his weapons. But what was your dream? Let me hear.

XANTHIAS. Oh! it is a dream of high import. It has reference to the hull of the State; to nothing less.

SOSIAS. Tell it me quickly; show me its very keel.

XANTHIAS. In my first slumber I thought I saw sheep, wearing cloaks and carrying staves,[4] met in assembly on the Pnyx; a rapacious whale was haranguing them and screaming like a pig that is being grilled.

SOSIAS. Faugh! faugh!

XANTHIAS. What’s the matter?

SOSIAS. Enough, enough, spare me. Your dream stinks vilely of old leather.[5]

XANTHIAS. Then this scoundrelly whale seized a balance and set to weighing ox-fat.[6]

SOSIAS. Alas! ‘tis our poor Athenian people, whom this accursed beast wished to cut up and despoil of their fat.

XANTHIAS. Seated on the ground close to it, I saw Theorus,[7] who had the head of a crow. The Alcibiades said to me in his lisping way, “Do you thee? Theoruth hath a crow’th head.”[8]

SOSIAS. Ah! ‘twas very well lisped indeed!

XANTHIAS. This is might strange; Theorus turning into a crow!

SOSIAS. No, it is glorious.


SOSIAS. Why? He was a man and now he has suddenly become a crow; does it not foretoken that he will take his flight from here and go to the crows?[9]

XANTHIAS. Interpreting dreams so aptly certainly deserves two obols.[10]

SOSIAS. Come, I must explain the matter to the spectators. But first a few words of preamble: expect nothing very high-flown from us, nor any jests stolen from Megara;[11] we have no slaves, who throw baskets of nuts[12] to the spectators, nor any Heracles to be robbed of his dinner,[13] nor is Euripides loaded with contumely; and despite the happy chance that gave Cleon his fame[14] we shall not go out of our way to belabour him again. Our little subject is not wanting in sense; it is well within your capacity and at the same time cleverer than many vulgar Comedies.—We have a master of great renown, who is now sleeping up there on the other story. He has bidden us keep guard over his father, whom he has locked in, so that he may not go out. This father has a curious complaint; not one of you could hit upon or guess it, if I did not tell you.—Well then, try! I hear Amynias, the son of Pronapus, over there, saying, “He is addicted to gambling.”

XANTHIAS. He’s wrong! He is imputing his own malady to others.

SOSIAS. No, yet love is indeed the principal part of his disease. Ah! here is Sosias telling Dercylus, “He loves drinking.”

XANTHIAS. Not at all! The love of wine is the complaint of good men.

SOSIAS. “Well then,” says Nicostratus of the Scambonian deme, “he either loves sacrifices or else strangers.”

XANTHIAS. Ah! great gods! no, he is not fond of strangers, Nicostratus, for he who says “Philoxenus” means a dirty fellow.[15]

SOSIAS. ‘Tis mere waste of time, you will not find it out. If you want to know it, keep silence! I will tell you our master’s complaint: of all men, it is he who is fondest of the Heliaea.[16] Thus, to be judging is his hobby, and he groans if he is not sitting on the first seat. He does not close an eye at night, and if he dozes off for an instant his mind flies instantly to the clepsydra.[17] He is so accustomed to hold the balloting pebble, that he awakes with his three fingers pinched together[18] as if he were offering incense to the new moon. If he sees scribbled on some doorway, “How charming is Demos,[19] the son of Pyrilampes!” he will write beneath it, “How charming is Cemos!”[20] His cock crowed one evening; said he, “He has had money from the accused to awaken me too late.”[21] As soon as he rises from supper he bawls for his shoes and away he rushes down there before dawn to sleep beforehand, glued fast to the column like an oyster.[22] He is a merciless judge, never failing to draw the convicting line[23] and return home with his nails full of wax like a bumble-bee. Fearing he might run short of pebbles[24] he keeps enough at home to cover a sea-beach, so that he may have the means of recording his sentence. Such is his madness, and all advice is useless; he only judges the more each day. So we keep him under lock and key, to prevent his going out; for his son is broken-hearted over this mania. At first he tried him with gentleness, wanted to persuade him to wear the cloak no longer,[25] to go out no more; unable to convince him, he had him bathed and purified according to the ritual[26] without any greater success, and then handed him over the the Corybantes;[27] but the old man escaped them, and carrying off the kettle-drum,[28] rushed right into the midst of the Heliasts. As Cybelé could do nothing with her rites, his son took him again to Aegina and forcibly made him lie one night in the temple of Asclepius, the God of Healing, but before daylight there he was to be seen at the gate of the tribunal. Since then we let him go out no more, but he escaped us by the drains or by the skylights, so we stuffed up every opening with old rags and made all secure; then he drove short sticks into the wall and sprang from rung to rung like a magpie. Now we have stretched nets all round the court and we keep watch and ward. The old man’s name is Philocleon,[29] ‘tis the best name he could have, and the son is called Bdelycleon,[30] for he is a man very fit to cure an insolent fellow of his boasting.

BDELYCLEON. Xanthias! Sosias! Are you asleep?


SOSIAS. What is the matter?

XANTHIAS. Why, Bdelycleon is rising.

BDELYCLEON. Will neither of you come here? My father has got into the stove-chamber and is ferreting about like a rat in his hole. Take care he does not escape through the bath drain. You there, put all your weight against the door.

SOSIAS. Aye, aye, master.

BDELYCLEON. By Zeus! what is that noise in the chimney? Hullo! who are you?

PHILOCLEON. I am the smoke going up.

BDELYCLEON. Smoke? smoke of what wood?

PHILOCLEON. Of fig-wood.[31]

BDELYCLEON. Ah! ‘this the most acrid of all. But you shall not get out. Where is the chimney cover?[32] Come down again. Now, up with another cross-bar. Now look out some fresh dodge. But am I not the most unfortunate of men? Henceforward, I shall only be called the son of the smoky old man. Slave, hold the door stoutly, throw your weight upon it, come, put heart into the work. I will come and help you. Watch both lock and bolt. Take care he does not gnaw through the peg.

PHILOCLEON. What are you dong, you wretches? Let me go out; it is imperative that I go and judge, or Dracontides will be acquitted.

BDELYCLEON. What a dreadful calamity for you!

PHILOCLEON. Once at Delphi, the god, whom I was consulting, foretold, that if an accused man escaped me, I should die of consumption.

BDELYCLEON. Apollo, the Saviour, what a prophecy!

PHILOCLEON. Ah! I beseech you, if you do not want my death, let me go.

BDELYCLEON. No, Philocleon, no never, by Posidon!

PHILOCLEON. Well then, I shall gnaw through the net[33] with my teeth.

BDELYCLEON. But you have no teeth.

PHILOCLEON. Oh! you rascal, how can I kill you? How? Give me a sword, quick, or a conviction tablet.

BDELYCLEON. Our friend is planning some great crime.

PHILOCLEON. No, by Zeus! but I want to go and sell my ass and its panniers, for ‘this the first of the month.[34]

BDELYCLEON. Could I not sell it just as well?

PHILOCLEON. Not as well as I could.

BDELYCLEON. No, but better. Come, bring it here, bring it here by all means—if you can.

XANTHIAS. What a clever excuse he has found now! What cunning to get you to let him go out!

BDELYCLEON. Yes, but I have not swallowed the hook; I scented the trick. I will no in and fetch the ass, so that the old man may not point his weapons that way again….[35] Stupid old ass, are you weeping because you are going to be sold? Come, go a bit quicker. Why, what are you moaning and groaning for? You might be carrying another Odysseus.[36]

XANTHIAS. Why, certainly, so he is! someone has crept beneath his belly.

BDELYCLEON. Who, who? Let us see.

XANTHIAS. ‘Tis he.

BDELYCLEON. What does this mean? Who are you? Come, speak!

PHILOCLEON. I am Nobody.

BDELYCLEON. Nobody? Of what country?

PHILOCLEON. Of Ithaca, son of Apodrasippides.[37]

BDELYCLEON. Ha! Mister Nobody, you will not laugh presently. Pull him out quick! Ah! the wretch, where has be crept to? Does he not resemble a she-ass to the life?

PHILOCLEON. If you do not leave me in peace, I shall commence proceedings.