115: Peace

14 Jul

And here’s the light-hearted read I put aside for Medea yesterday …

Aristophanes’ Peace is a comedy, performed in 421 BC at the end of a ten-year war. I enjoyed the ribald humour, the self-referential aspects of the text, the acknowledgement of its own theatricality and the satire aimed at Aristophanes’ peers and rivals. But, for my tastes, the play is overly long and uneventful. The translation I read was by Benjamin Bickley Rogers and included copious notes.

The Peace of Aristophanes

Aristophanes’ Peace tells the story of a middle-aged Athenian named Trygaeus who is fed up with war and decides to travel to the heavens and persuade the gods to bring back Peace. Getting to the heavens is no simple task, so Trygaeus has his servants fatten up a dung beetle to carry him there. This allows for lots of poo jokes as one servant bosses the other, getting him to shape the dung into cakes for the beetle.

SECOND SERVANT: Can any one of you, I wonder, tell me
Where I can buy a nose not perforated?
There’s no more loathly miserable task
Than to be mashing dung to feed a beetle.
A pig or dog will take its bit of muck
Just as it falls: but this conceited brute
Gives himself airs, and, bless you, he won’t touch it,
Unless I mash it all day long, and serve it
As for a lady, in a rich round cake.

Once the dung beetle is big enough to carry him, Trygaeus saddles it to fly to the gods. His servants think he’s gone mad and call for his daughter to dissuade him. She tries, suggesting that he take Pegasus instead.

TRYGAEUS: Nay, then I must have had supplies for two;
But now the very food I eat myself,
All this will presently be food for him.

If that’s not enough to get the picture, how about this little gem as Trygaeus sets off?

TRYGAEUS: But you, for whom I toil and labour so,
Do for three days resist the calls of nature;
Since, if my beetle in the air should smell it,
He’ll toss me headlong off, and turn to graze.

Thankfully he soon arrives at the halls of Zeus and discovers only Hermes there as Zeus and all the other gods have gone to a higher heaven to get away from humanity’s squabbling. War is busy making a soup from all the warring factions and Peace has been buried in a pit. Trygaeus calls on representatives of the various factions and together they manage to haul Peace out of her pit and persuade her to come back to earth with them.

The second half of the play is where things get overly long and uneventful. It is filled with the celebrations and festivities upon Trygaeus’ arrival home with Peace in tow. Trygaeus has been given Harvesthome to wed and bed, bringing the bounty of harvest back to his farm.

Read an online version of Peace.

Cast: numerous!

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