(Synposes of Aristophanes are adapted from K. J. Dover, Aristophanic Comedy [Oxford 1972]; those of Plautus from H. J. Rose, Handbook of Latin Literature 3rd ed. [London and New York 1954])
Dicaeopolis goes into a door in the scene-building, which thereupon represents his farm; up to that point, we had to imagine the scene as the Pnyx, where the assembly met in Athens, and the scene-building did not represent anything. The chorus of old Acharnians now arrives, singing an angry song, exhorting one another to the pursuit, lamenting the years that have made them slow, threatening the man who has dared to make peace. They hear Dicaeopolis calling, inside his house, for silence, and they back to one side. Out comes Dicaeopolis, organizing his household in a celebration of the Rural Dionysia; his daughter carries the basket of offerings, a slave carries the big model phallus, his wife watches from the roof, and he himself utters a prayer to Dionysus and a happy song to Phales. Suddenly the chorus attacks, stoning him. The procession is broken up and the family flees indoors. Dicaeopolis does his best to keep the Acharnians at bay with argument, but this only angers them more; suddenly he turns the tables on them by producing a charcoal-basket which he threatens to "kill" if they harm him. Charcoal-burning is one of the characteristic activities of Acharnae, so that the basket is the "fellow-demesman" of the Chorus; the threat to kill it is a parody of Euripides' <lost> Telephus in which Telephus secured a hearing by seizing the infant son of Agamemnon as a hostage.
Now the chorus has to agree to hear Dicaeopolis' case, but first he wants to dress up as a beggar, to exploit their compassion. This too is parody of Telephus, and Dicaeopolis visits Euripides to borrow the beggar's rags in which Telephus had appeared in the play. Euripides is rolled out of the house on the trolley which was used in tragedy to reveal interior scenes, and Dicaeopolis, adopting the tone of a wheedling, importunate beggar, secures from Euripides' store of "properties" the complete rig-out of the disguised Telephus. So dressed, he delivers, to the chorus a long speech in which he suggests that the war was begun for no good reason and that he has done the sensible thing in opting out of it; the speech combines parody of Euripides with parody of Herodotus and with a good deal of comic rhetoric. Half the chorus is convinced, the other half incensed; the two halves are on the point of coming to blows, when a new character appears-Lamachus, invoked by the belligerent half-chorus. Lamachus was a man who had made a name for himself as an elected general, and therefore a man who stood to gain by continuation and enlargement of the war. Dicaeopolis makes a fool of him, pretending to be frightened to death, then switching to coarse mockery, then fiercely indignant, and indignant on the chorus's behalf; people like Lamachus get good jobs and high pay all over the place but when have these decent, hard-working old Acharnians ever been sent on embassies? Considering how many Athenian generals were killed in action (as Lamachus was eleven years later), and considering that it is prudent to appoint to embassies those who will do the job best rather than those who could do with the money, the argument is senseless, but (like many senseless arguments) it works. Lamachus is defeated and the whole Chorus is convinced.
The parabasis follows, the issue between hero and chorus being now resolved, and after the parabasis come two scenes illustrating the consequences of Dicaepolis' creation of a private market in which he will trade with enemy nations. In the first scene a Megarian comes to sell his daughters, whom he disguises as piglets. Megara, Attica's small western neighbour had been very hard hit by the war, but there is no suggestion in the play that it was not humane to hit so hard; cheerful and self-satisfied humour is extracted from the desperate hunger to which father and children have been reduced, and when an informer comes to make trouble about the presence of enemy goods on Attic soil Dicaeopolis drives him away for interference with his well-being, not with the Megarian's. In the second scene a Theban comes laden with all the good things to eat that Boeotia produces. He is in quite a different position from the Megarian, and cannot offhand think of anything he wants from Attica. Dicaeopolis has the bright idea of selling him an informer, a characteristic Attic product, and one such (named as Nicarchus) arrives opportunely; he is packed up in shavings, like a vase, and exported to Boeotia.
Time has flown by; earlier in the play we saw Dicaeopolis celebrating the Rural Dionysia, and now it is time for another festival, the Anthesteria. Lamachus sends Dicaeopolis some money for delicacies, but his messenger is sent away empty-handed. A farmer whose oxen have been taken by a Boeotian raiding party comes to beg for "a drop of peace", but gets none; Dicaeopolis does not propose to share with his benighted fellow-citizens the advantages he has gained by his private initiative. A messenger from a newly-married bridegroom is similarly rejected, but a messenger from the bride, who comes with him, fares better; the bride "doesn't deserve to suffer from the war", and Dicaeopolis gives her peace in the form of an ointment which (as if it had magical properties) she can put on her husband's penis to keep him safe from call-up.
Now a messenger comes for Lamachus, bringing an order from the board of generals; he is to watch the passes over Parnes in the snow and guard against Boeotian raiders. A second messenger summons Dicaeopolis to a feast with the priest of Dionysus. The luckless and the lucky make their preparations simultaneously; Lamachus' slave brings out the accoutrements of war, Dicaeopolis' brings out delicacies for a great hamper. Both go off their very different ways. After a choral interlude, we see them return: Lamachus wounded and limping, supported by his slaves, Dicaeopolis drunk, randy and hilarious, supported by two girls. Lamachus is taken off in one direction to the surgery, and the chorus follows Dicaeopolis off in the other direction, echoing his cries of triumphant victory.
Cleon and Demosthenes had together mastered the Spartan garrison on the island of Sphacteria, lying off Pylos, which Demosthenes had captured before Cleon was sent out; and although Cleon claimed the credit, it was open to those who did not like him to play down his responsibility. Aristophanes contrives to refer to the Pylos affair ten times in the course of the play.
Having decided that they cannot hope to desert successfully, the two slaves steal some wine in the hope of inspiration, and no sooner have they taken a drink than they pluck up courage to steal from the snoring Paphlagonian some of the oracles which he carefully guards. These oracles reveal to them that the Paphlagonian is destined to be overthrown by a sausage-seller; and sure enough, along comes a sausage-seller on his way to the market. They pounce on this bewildered man, assure him that he is destined to rule over the whole Athenian empire, and by sonorous recitation of the oracle persuade him that his destiny is inescapable. He is terrified at the prospect of conflict with the Paphlagonian, but they assure him that a thousand knights will be on his side. When the Paphlagonian wakes up and storms out of the house roaring and threatening, the Sausage-seller starts to run, but the situation is saved by the slave's cry to the knights--and the chorus comes charging into the orchestra with a rousing song based rhythmically on the cry actually uttered in a charge, paie, paie, "Strike! Strike!"
The Paphlagonian, beset by this furious attack, cries in vain for "old men of the juries" to help him, then equally vainly tries to flatter the chorus. The Sausage-seller, whose courage never deserts him from this point onwards, embarks on a slanging-match in which he trumps every threat or boast of the Paphlagonian with more shameless boasts, more bloodthirsty threats or coarser ridicule. In the course of the scene all the stock forms of political smear and charge are satirized, and at 475 the Paphlagonian declares he will go to the Council and denounce the Sausage-seller, the slave and chorus as conspirators against the security of the city. Off goes the Sausage-seller after him to outface him in the Council.
The parabasis is performed during their absence, and after it the Sausage-seller, ecstatically greeted by the chorus, returns with the news that he has won the day. He describes the proceedings in a long narrative speech, vulgar and hilarious, with little or none of the parody of tragic messenger-speeches which we might have expected. He tells how he crashed into the Council with the news that he had "never seen whitebait cheaper". The Paphlagonian countered with the proposal of a "good news sacrifice" of a hundred oxen to Athena (i.e. like most festivals, an orgy of beef within the formal framework of a religious ceremony), but the Sausage-seller outbid him at once: two hundred oxen, and a vow of a thousand goats to Artemis next day if anchovies came down to a hundred for an obol. The Council wouldn't stay to listen to the Paphlagonian:
No sooner has the chorus acclaimed this tale than the Paphlagonian arrives, full of fury, and threatens to haul the Sausage-seller before the assembly. They both call old Demos out of his house and declare themselves his rival "lovers"; in Thucydides Pericles is portrayed as calling on the Athenian people to be "lovers" of their city - for lovers try to outbid one another in generosity to the person whom they love - and it is possible that it was Pericles himself who had popularized the image. The contest which follows has the formal structure which we meet repeatedly in Aristophanes from this play onwards, except that neither side is allowed an uninterrupted presentation of his own case. Their flattery of Demos is gross, and reaches its nadir in 909f:
Eventually Demos regards the Sausage-seller as victor and demands back from the Paphlagonian the seal-ring which he held as the trusted steward of Demos. We might think that this has settled the matter, but the contest just completed is in fact only the first of three stages (the three successive throws required for a victory in wrestling, influential on Greek imagery, may be relevant here). The Paphlagonian asks Demos to hear his oracles; the Sausage-seller declares that he has even better oracles. The battle of oracles ends, like the previous stage of the contest, with Demos deciding in favour of the Sausage-seller. The third and final stage is to decide which of the two contestants does more for Demos and has more to offer him. Their efforts to press dainties on him leave him a little bewildered, and the Sausage-seller achieves final victory in an unforeseen way:
Demos now demands of the Paphlagonian his "crown"-the crown put on by a speaker in the assembly-that he may transfer it to the Sausage-seller. The Paphlagonian fights one last delaying action, claiming that an oracle foretells by whom, and by whom alone, he is to be worsted. Item by item he discovers, to his horror, that the Sausage-seller is the man of destiny. His increasingly dramatic exclamations and his despairing farewell to his crown are modelled on a variety of tragic passages.
The Sausage-seller's name, "Agoracritus", is now revealed. Demos is rejuvenated, restored to the majesty he enjoyed in the days of the Persian wars. He confesses with shame how easily he has been bamboozled in the past, and, instructed by Agoracritus, promises to behave better in the future. The Paphlagonian is carted off to take up the squalid trade of a sausage-seller. No other Aristophanic play ends without either a song of exultation or a plain reference to the fact that the play is over, and it is reasonably suspected that the original ending of Knights is lost. We would have expected a line or two of song from the chorus while the unhappy Paphlagonian is removed, and it is hard to think of any good reason why Aristophanes should not have written them.
His first impressions, the anecdotes told him by the student who admits him, the sight of the students at work, and the strange scientific instruments which they use, arouse in him amused astonishment as well as uncritical enthusiasm, but the latter prevails, and when he finally meets Socrates (suspended in the air, because one thinks better about difficult problems when removed from the moist air of ground-level) he begs to be taken on as a student. Socrates "initiates" him in a ceremony modelled on religious initiation, and invokes the deities to whose worship the school is devoted, the Clouds. Strepsiades is most impressed by the appearance of these majestic creatures (who constitute the chorus of the play), and all his traditional beliefs about the phenomena of nature and the government of the universe by Zeus fall like ninepins before the scientific theories promptly and confidently expounded by Socrates. He promises for the future to worship only the novel deities presented to him by Socrates - Void, Clouds and Tongue - and in return the Clouds promise him that if he is an assiduous student he will become a distinguished "consultant" to whom his fellow-citizens will bring their legal problems.
His ability, however, does not match his optimism, and he has neither the wit nor the patience to understand or remember any of the basic training in philology which Socrates tries to give him. Socrates then requires him to lie in a bed and give his imagination free reign (a certain analogy with the "free association" technique of psychotherapy must occur to modern readers, but the purpose of the exercise is rather different), in the hope that he may think of ingenious ways of escaping the legal actions brought by his creditors. The bed is painful, for vermin profit by the school's high-minded disregard of the good things of ordinary life. Even so, Strepsiades manages to concoct a few far-fetched ideas, but he over-reaches himself, Socrates loses patience, and Strepsiades is expelled.
Reduced to his original condition of despair, Strepsiades plucks up courage, fortified by half-baked recollections of what little he has learned, to insist that Pheidippides become a student. Pheidippides, a little afraid that his father has gone mad, and not quite able to defy him (for Greek society set a high standard of filial obedience), allows himself to be presented to Socrates, who sees in him a better prospect than in Strepsiades. Father and son become spectators of a set-piece contest between Right and Wrong, two abstract characters who emerge from the school, that they may choose at the end whether Right or Wrong is to have charge of the son's education. Right praises the culture and morality of earlier generations, and speaks of contemporary youth in terms essentially familiar in our own day. Wrong cross-questions Right, setting easy traps into which Right falls, and paints a lively picture of the pleasures, success and security open to the young man who is equipped to talk his way through anything. Strespiades is overjoyed, and Pheidippides, grumbling, is handed over as a pupil to Wrong.
His course completed, he seems at first to have fulfilled his father's hopes, and Strepsiades, in this euphoric state, drives away two creditors who come to ask him for their money. They retreat angered and insulted by the old man's bizarre mixture of mockery, violence and incoherent scraps of ideas borrowed from Socrates and Pheidippides. But then matters take a new turn. Strepsiades and his son quarrel after dinner about poetry, for Pheidippides despises the old poets on whose work Strepsiades has been brought up, and Strepsiades cannot stomach the immoralities of Euripides. Pheidippides simply knocks his father down; and quarrelsome though the Greeks were, they regarded with horror the ill-treatment of parents by their children. Strepsiades now wishes that he had never sent his son to Socrates' school, and his distress is only increased by the argument in which Pheidippides suggests that the long-standing traditions of society are not rationally defensible. Repenting now of that dishonest desire to cheat his creditors which has led him to disaster, Strepsiades, helped by one of his slaves, sets fire to the school and drives Socrates and the students away.
His friends, old men like himself with the same passion for jury-service, call for him before dawn; they are the chorus of the play, dressed like wasps as a symbol of their angry and unforgiving character. They are furious at finding their colleague imprisoned in his own house, and with their encouragement he bites his way through the net which has been fixed over the windows and starts to lower himself on a rope. At this moment Bdelycleon and his slaves wake up, just in time to stop Philocleon joining his old friends. Menaced by the chorus, they beat it off with the help of all the slaves of the household-they use smoke and branches, as for wasps, and words, as for men. Bdelycleon eventually persuades the chorus to listen while he tries to persuade Philocleon to alter his way of life. So we embark on a formal contest, in which Philocleon first expatiates on the delights of the supreme irresponsible power enjoyed and harshly exercised by the jurors and Bdelycleon replies by demonstrating that this power is an illusion; the real power belongs to the politicians who play upon the jurors in order to revenge themselves upon their own enemies and in the eantime fill their own pockets with impunity. The chorus is convinced, and adds its pleas to Bdelycleon's. But the old man is not so easily moved, and to maintain his interest in life Bdelycleon arranges for him to play the juror at home. A domestic imitation of a lawcourt is set up; by a lucky chance one of the dogs steals some cheese, and is promptly brought to trial. His prosecutor is another dog, and the case is a transparent disguise of the prosecution of Laches by Cleon for alleged embezzlement while in command of a force in Sicily (not the famous "Sicilian Expedition"). Philocleon is tricked into voting for acquittal, and faints with shame and horror at the realization that he has so betrayed his merciless principles.
The parabasis intervenes at this point, and after the parabasis we find Bdelycleon dressing his father up and preparing him for a more relaxed and self-indulgent life. The old man is still somewhat rebellious and seems likely to be an uncouth guest at the dinner-party to which he departs. But we soon hear that he has thrown himself into social life as immoderately as earlier into jury-service. Drunken and violent, in the highest of spirits, he arrives home with a slave-girl kidnapped from the party. Being as young as he feels, he talks to her rather as a lovesick youth with a stern father talks in much later comedies:
Bdelycleon deprives him of the girl, but is immediately faced with a ferocious bread-woman and a man, both of whom Philocleon has assaulted on his way home. Bread-women, like fishmongers (for some reason) and landladies were commonly unsympathetic characters in Greek comedy, but the other victim of Philocleon's violence is a reasonable person. But both are treated alike; Philocleon makes matters worse by insulting them, and they go off threatening prosecutions for hybris, much to Bdelycleon's dismay. Philocleon is now seized by a desire to show off his skill in dancing, and issues a challenge which provides a spectacular ending to the play; three dancers (not speaking characters) enter in response to the challenge, and the four of them lead the chorus out.
When War goes in again, Trygaeus calls on all the Greeks to come with shovels and crowbars and ropes and rescue Peace from the cave in which she is imprisoned. We now have to forget that Trygaeus is the only mortal who has ever flown up to Olympus, for the question of how the chorus gets there is not raised; nor will there be any reference to change of level on their part when later in the play the action moves back to earth. As soon as they address themselves to moving the rocks which block the mouth of the cave, Hermes reappears, proclaiming that Zeus has prescribed the death penalty for any attempt to rescue Peace (earlier he had said simply that the gods had left War to do as he pleased). The chorus pleads with him, reminding him of past sacrifices and promising more in future; Trygaeus, prompt in invention, like other Aristophanic heroes, tells him that the Sun and the Moon are conspiring to betray the Greek world to the barbarians, who worship them and will not sacrifice to the Olympian gods. Overwhelming Hermes with extravagant promises that all the festivals at present held in honour of the other gods will in future be held in his honour, Trygaeus clinches the matter with a bribe, a golden cup, such as might smooth the path of diplomacy on the human level. Hermes yields, and Peace is hauled out of her cave, together with her two beautiful attendants, Harvest and Games. After Peace has been joyfully saluted, the chorus puts a curious question to Hermes:
This question is taken as meaning "Why did the war start in the first place?", and Hermes embarks on a comic account of how Pericles, fearing exposure of his own involvement in some misdeed of the sculptor Pheidias, persuaded the Athenians to pass the Megarian Decree, and the subject-allies of Athens bribed the leading men at Sparta to open hostilities. Then Trygaeus returns to earth; Harvest is to be his wife (whether or not the mother of his children is still alive, or what is to be done with her, we are not told), and Games is to be given to the Council.
Back home, Trygaeus answers questions from his admiring slave about his voyage into the sky, sets in motion preparation for his wedding to Harvest, hands over Games to the Council (an apparent case of "audience participation", for the real Council had front seats in the theatre), and prepares for a ritual sacrifice to Peace. The sacrifice is in progress when the oracle-monger Hierocles arrives and tries to stop it; he is also hungry for a share of the sacrificial meat, and his importunity leads to his being stripped and driven away with blows by Trygaeus and the slave. The second parabasis follows the Hierocles scene, and then the consequences of peace are exhibited in a pair of scenes: dealers in peaceful products bring Trygaeus presents and are invited to the wedding, but dealers in arms are insulted and depart miserably.
Two boys, sons of guests at the wedding, come out to practise their songs. One, who sings resounding verses of heroic warfare, turns out to be the son of the bellicose Lamachus; the other, who sings a poem of Archilochus which deals jauntily with the loss of a shield, is the son of Cleonymus, against whom that same act of cowardice was alleged, and Trygaeus, so far from crying "That's the stuff!" deals more harshly with him than with the first boy. The play ends with the wedding procession of Trygaeus and Harvest, accompanied by a wedding song which uses the traditional refrain hymen hymenae' o and seems to be closely modelled on popular, sub-literary usage....
Men eat birds, and the Greeks like other Mediterranean people then and now, ate little birds as well as big ones. Birds therefore regard men as their natural enemies, and the chorus, loudly accusing the hoopoe of treason, prepares to destroy Pesithetaerus and Euelpides, who hastily arm themselves with all they have, cooking-pots and saucers and spits. Gradually the hoopoe persuades the birds that they really have something of great value to learn from the two humans. Their anger wanes, and the men cautiously lower their weapons; at length the birds swear a truce, and Peisthetaerus begins his detailed exposition. It is composed in the manner of a formal contest, each half being introduced by a choral stanza and exhortation; but instead of two opposed arguments, we find in the first half Peisthetaerus' "proof" that the birds were the original rulers of the universe, and in the second half his advice on the building of a bird-city midway between gods and men. The birds are convinced and delighted, and the hoopoe takes the men into his house, promising that he has a magic root which will make them sprout the necessary wings.
The parabasis comes at this point, and after it we see the two men winged, and rather self-conscious about it. With the hoopoe they choose a name for the bird-city, "Cloudcuckooland". Peisthetaerus issues businesslike orders for the building, and we do not see Euelpides or the hoopoe any more.
No less than eighteen new characters (or seventeen, if we identify the last messenger with an earlier one) appear between now and the end of the play. The first group is of people concerned in different ways with the founding of the city: a priest who officiates at the sacrifice of foundation, reeling of an interminable (but rudely terminated) list of bird-deities; a lyric poet who seeks patronage and is charitably given a shirt before being dismissed; an oracle-monger, like Hierocles in Peace, who is chased away; the mathematician and astronomer Meton, whose ideas on symmetrical city-planning earn him a beating; and finally an "inspector" and a "decree-seller" from Athens, who are also beaten despite their threats of vengeance at law. After this group comes the second parabasis. Then two messengers arrive: the first describes the miraculous speed with which the walls of the city are rising, thanks to the great flocks of birds and ingenuity with which they use their beaks and feet; the second brings the alarming news that a divine spy has penetrated the city's defences. The alarm is given, and Iris, the personification of the rainbow and in tradition one of Zeus's messengers, glides in to land, no doubt by means of the theatrical crane. Peisthetaerus mocks and bullies the poor goddess into a helpless rage and shoos her away as one would a bird.
Now the herald who had been sent to mankind returns with the news that all men are now bird-mad, and it is to be expected that thousands will come to Cloudcuckooland to be fitted with wings. Peisthetaerus has a stock of wings brought out in readiness, and three immigrants from earth arrive in succession. The first is a young man attracted by the lack of inhibition with which birds assault their own fathers; Peisthetaerus tells him the situation is not quite as simple as he things, arms him, and sends him off to war to work off his aggression in a more acceptable manner. The dithyrambic poet Cinesias skips on declaiming phrases about winds and birds and the sky, such as are associated in comedy with this genre of poetry; what Peisthetaerus does to get rid of him is not entirely clear form the text. The third character of the group reveals himself as a black-mailer who specializes in victimizing citizens of the subject-allies and realizes how he could speed up his work if her had wings. He is impervious to Peisthetaerus' reproaches and is driven away by whipping. The store of wings is abruptly taken indoors.
The siege of the gods has done its work, and Prometheus, traditionally the friend of man and enemy of Zeus, comes hiding under a parasol to tell Peisthetaerus how bad things are in heaven, and to advise him on the demands he should make when a divine embassy comes to treat for peace. The embassy consists of Poseidon, Heracles and a "Barbarian" god of the Triballians, a people who lived in the centre of the Balkans. Peisthetaerus has quickly organized the cooking of some birds "condemned", he says "for revolting against the democratic birds", and he affects to be much more interested in culinary details than in what the gods have to say. But he is magnanimous:
"Lunch" is enough for the gluttonous Heracles, who agrees and bullies the Triballian into agreeing. When Pesithetaerus goes on to demand the divine housekeeper, Kingship, as his wife (she looks after Zeus's thunderbolts), Poseidon threatens to break off negotiations, but Pesithetaerus again brings round Heracles by some fast talking, and the Triballian falls into line. Peisthetaerus has won. The final scene, introduced by a messenger proclaiming a splendid hotch-potch of poetic hyperboles, is the wedding-procession of Peisthetaerus and Kingship.
There are two choruses in this play, each presumably of twelve members. The first chorus, of old men, arrives at the gateway to the Acropolis laden with fire-pots and wood; having heard of the seizure of the Acropolis, they have come to burn down the door, if the women will not open it, and smoke the women out. Before they can put this plan into effect, a chorus of old women arrives from the opposite direction, carrying water. After an altercation between the two choruses, the men threaten the women with their torches and the women lower the men's spirits by throwing the contents of the water-jars over them. Further strife is averted by the arrival of an unnamed "Commissioner of Public Safety", one of a commission of elderly and distinguished citizens appointed in the autumn of 413, in the aftermath of the Sicilian disaster, to keep a tight hand on the economy. He is full of indignation-not at the sex-strike, the existence of which is not yet realized by the men-but at the occupation of the Acropolis, and he blames the increasing delinquency of women on the complacent permissiveness of modern husbands. Lysistrata, with other women in support, comes out to confront him. He orders his policemen to arrest them, but the police are routed by the Amazons, and Lysistrata and the Commissioner are left to fight out the issue in a verbal contest, the former backed by the women's chorus and the latter by the men's. Lysistrata contends that women have come to realize that they have more sense than men and will set everything to rights if they are given the chance. The Commissioner, bursting with indignation, unwisely says that war is "nothing to do with women," and Lysistrata retorts:
The women mockingly thrust on the Commissioner articles of their dress and spinning implements and send him packing with the suggestion that it's high time he was dead and buried.
Where we should expect a parabasis, we have an elaborate exchange of incivilities between the two choruses, the men exhorting one another to action which the threats from the women's side prevent them from taking. Then we see Lysistrata in trouble; abstinence is proving too much for her fellow-conspirators, and they are inventing excuses to slip away. She rallies them by producing an oracle, an ornithological enigma seasoned with obscenities. The women being thus confirmed in their resolve, the first tormented man appears-Cinesias, husband of Lysistrata's friend Myrrhine. Myrrhine comes down from the Acropolis as if willing to have intercourse with him, but repeatedly, as he comes within seconds of penetration, she puts him off by running in to bring out a mattress, a pillow, scent, another kind of scent, none of which seems to him required; and when she has exhausted the possibilities of delay, she slips back into the Acropolis for good and leaves him in the frenzy which she has so artfully aroused.
Now we learn that the women's conspiracy is successful at Sparta, for a Spartan herald, walking in as dignified a manner as his permanent erection will allow, arrives to announce his country's intention to treat for peace. Before the Spartan embassy comes, the two choruses become reconciled, the old women taking the initiative in a sentimental way and the old men grumbling:
The Spartan envoys and their Athenian counterparts appeal to Lysistrata to bring them together, which she does with a typical Aristophanic personification:
Lysistrata castigates both sides for their betrayal of their common religious and cultural heritage and for their forgetfulness of ancient favours conferred by Athens and Sparta on one another. Their eyes dwelling on the anatomy of Reconciliation, they make concessions with a minimum of resistance, and peace is assured.
While the chorus sings, Athenians and Spartans go into the Acropolis to feast and drink, their more obvious physical need now entirely forgotten, since its immediate satisfaction would be irreconcilable with the way Aristophanes wants the play to end. When they come out from the feast, a Spartan does a spectacular solo dance and song to a piper's accompaniment, and it is he, not the chorus, who utters the last words of the play:
Athena, the patron goddess of Athens, was worshipped at Sparta with the cult-title "of the House of Bronze".
We now have to envisage the scene as changed to the Thesmophoreion. The chorus of women enters, plus women who will have speaking roles, and the old man mingles with them. A series of prayers and formal curses is uttered, modelled on the customary procedure of the Athenian assembly but distorted to bring in references to Euripides and to the secret vices of women; the chorus responds in lyric stanzas. The "assembly" thus constituted, the first speaker begins with a formulaic disclaimer which we meet agin in the fourth-century orators:
A second woman speaks more briefly, and then it is the old man's turn. He argues that Euripides has not revealed more than a fraction of the tricks that women play; I myself, he says
The women are outraged by his catalogue of delinquencies, and fall upon him furiously as a traitor to their sex (but not, we notice, as a liar). Suddenly there arrives Cleisthenes, a contemporary Athenian whose sparseness of beard caused him to be regarded as effeminate - and so, for the purpose of this play, an "honorary woman". He tells them that there is a rumour of the presence of a disguised kinsman of Euripides among them. The old man cannot now escape; he is apprehended, his dress is lifted and his sex revealed. Cleisthenes goes off to tell the prytanes, for the intrusion of a disguised man into a women's festival is a serious offence. The old man seizes a baby from one of the women and takes refuge at the altar (the motif is the familiar one from Euripides' Telephus). The "baby" proves to be a wineskin, and when the old man "kills" it he pours out the wine; but there is no avenue of escape open to him.
After the parabasis the old man, hoping that Euripides will keep his promise, recites verses from Euripides' Helen. Euripides arrives pretending to be Menelaus, and the dialogue between them, at times interrupted scornfully and indignantly by the woman who is guarding the old man, is adapted from the recognition of Helen by Menelaus in the tragedy, combined with some passages from the prologue; this is the only sustained parody in Aristophanes for which we possess the original intact and can study the technique of parody in detail. The scene is interrupted by the arrival of a prytanis, and Euripides departs. The prytanis tells the policeman who accompanies him to take the old man indoors and fasten him to the "board", the cumbrous and painful ancient equivalent of handcuffs. While they are inside the chorus sings a long invocation to a series of deities.
The policeman comes out with the old man and almost at once goes in again to get himself a mat. The old man spots Euripides in the distance in the guise of Perseus, and he himself sings a long monody which parodies Euripides' Andromeda. When Euripides appears, however, it is first as the Echo which in the tragedy responded to Andromeda's lament; this provides an opportunity for him to mock the returning policeman by echoing all his words. Then Euripides declares himself to be Perseus and to be in love with "Andromeda"; the policeman, though mystified by this perverted passion for an old man, tolerantly suggests boring a hole in the back of the board, but soon turns nasty when Euripides makes as if to release the prisoner, and Euripides flees.
While the policeman snoozes on his mat the chorus sings an invocation to Athena, Demeter and Persephone, and Euripides reappears in the guise of an old woman, with a dancing-girl and a girl piper. He promises that if they will let him secure the release of his kinsman he will not slander them again, and they agree. The policeman is roused from sleep by the sound of the pipe and roused sexually by the dancer, whom Euripides, after a perfunctory show of reluctance, allows him to take indoors. At once Euripides releases the old man, and they make their escape. The policeman, returning satisfied (after less than one minute) from his encounter with the girl, is frantic on finding what has happened; the chorus deliberately gives him confusing information, and he rushes off in pursuit in the wrong direction.
Dionysus encounters a corpse on its way to burial and tries to engage it to carry the luggage, but the corpse wants too high a price, and Xanthias agrees to carry it all himself. They reach the lake which borders the underworld, and while Xanthias runs round it (for Charon, the ferryman of souls, will not let slave on to the boat) Dionysus is ferried across, to the accompaniment of a chorus of frogs, from which the play takes its title. Dionysus, who is required to do some of the rowing himself, engages in a lyric duel with the frogs. He meets Xanthias on the other side and they make their way through darkness, imagining unpleasant monsters on the way, until they hear singing, and the chorus of initiates (the main chorus of the play) enters.
The chorus has almost the whole of 316-459 to itself, and much is included here which in a play of more traditional pattern would have appeared in the parabasis; in particular, a recitation by the chorus-leader which is ostensibly a proclamation to the impure and uninitiated to stand aside form the procession of initiates, is turned into praise of comedy and denigration of various disagreeable individuals and types, using language which hovers all the time between mystery-ritual and the theatre.... Dionysus and Xanthias eventually accost the chorus and are told that they have arrived at the palace of Pluto.
But they are not welcome. The man who answers the door regards Heracles as a dog-thief, because of the seizure of Cerberus, and after denouncing the disguised Dionysus in ferocious tragic language goes off with threats of vengeance. Dionysus, terrified, persuades Xanthias to take over the Heracles-disguise, while he himself pretends to be a slave. Xanthias fancies himself as Heracles, but is embarrassed when the next person to appear is a servant of Persephone, Pluto's consort, with a pressing invitation to dinner. In the end he accepts, but Dionysus stops him and insists on a reversal of disguises. We can guess what is likely to happen next. Two indignant landladies, to whom the real Heracles owes money for enormous meals, beset Dionysus. When they are finally disposed of, Dionysus coaxes Xanthias into assuming the guise of Heracles once more.
The humour of alternating good and ill is now dropped, for the doorkeeper returns with policemen, who seize Xanthias-Heracles. Xanthias swears that he is innocent of the theft of Cerberus, and, availing himself of Athenian judicial procedure, in which a slave could be examined under torture, waves a hand airily towards his baggage-carrier Dionysus:
Dionysus declares his identity as an immortal, and they are beaten in turn to discover which of them, as a god, is immune to pain. Each of them exclaims in pain, but contrives to explain away his exclamations, and in the end the doorkeeper invites them in so that Pluto and Persephone can tell which is which.
The parabasis follows; there are no "anapaests", because we have had them already. The epirrhema and antepirrhema are of an unusually serious character, because unusually specific in the advice which they offer, the former recommending genuine amnesty for citizens who were involved in the short-lived oligarchic revolution of 411; the antepirrhema, characteristically employing a comic conceit which lightens the mood to a small degree, compares the politicians of the moment to the recently introduced bronze coinage and the class of potential leaders now spurned to the good old silver coinage which was respected throughout the world.
After the parabasis comes a conversation between Xanthias and a slave of Pluto. The plot is about to take a completely new turn, and this conversation serves as a kind of explanatory prologue. Euripides, on arrival in the world of the dead, laid claim to the seat next to Pluto's which belonged as a right to the supreme poet and was at the present time occupied by Aeschylus. Aeschylus resisted the claim, and Dionysus, a uniquely qualified judge who has arrived so opportunely, is to be asked to judge between them. Pluto has ruled that the issue is to be decided by a careful weighing and measuring of the art of the two poets.
The detailed scrutiny which we are thus led to expect does not in fact begin until 1119, and the "weighing" of tragic verses, transformed into a physical weighing on scales, not until 1365. Before any of this we have a full-dress contest between the two poets, adhering closely to the formal pattern of contest as we see it in Clouds, with the addition of Dionysus in the combined roles of moderator and buffoon. Euripides claims that Aeschylus used to stupefy his audiences with theatrical effects and portentous language, while he himself, having put Tragedy on a diet and slimmed her down, has introduced matter which falls within the everyday experience of the audience; thus he exposes himself to their informed criticism and at the same time sharpens their critical capacity in their ordinary lives. Aeschylus, having secured Euripides' agreement that poets should be judged by the teaching which they impart-and considering he point to which the previous stage of the argument had been led, Euripides is not in a position to disagree-Aeschylus claims that his pays set heroic examples of warlike courage, while Euripides' have by their example encouraged women in adultery and men in undisciplined idleness.
Now comes the detailed scrutiny. First, the opening words of plays: Euripides criticizes Aeschylus for ambiguity and obscurity, while Aeschylus enjoys himself in tacking on "...lost his oil-flask" to every prologue whose opening word Euripides recites. Secondly, lyrics: Euripides parodies Aeschylean lyrics as empty and incoherent verbal noise, while Aeschylus produces a long and skillful parody of the style of Euripidean lyrics. Thirdly, the weighing of individual verses in the scales; this is treated in such a way that the real weight of the subject-matter, e.g. a river or a pile of corpses, not the metaphorical weight of the language, decides the issue.
Aeschylus wins this test, but Dionysus still cannot make up his mind. Some one says:
This must be Pluto himself, for he goes on to give permission-permission which only the ruler of the underworld could give-for the return to earth of whichever of the two Dionysus does in the end choose, and Pluto is certainly present by 1479, for he there invites Dionysus and Aeschylus to dinner. How long he has been on stage we do not know for sure: a silent background figure since 830, or an unannounced arrival immediately before he speaks, or an arrival announced in lines now missing from the text? Dionysus decides to pose two questions on politics, but the two poets' answers still do not enable him to decide; we expect a third question, but it takes the unusual form of Dionysus's consultation of his own heart, in consequence of which he chooses Aeschylus. Euripides' anguish and indignation are of no avail; Aeschylus and Dionysus are entertained by Pluto, and Aeschylus is escorted in triumph on his way up to our world.
In order to disguise themselves as men they have taken their husband's clothes, and a certain Blepyrus, getting up in the night to relieve his overloaded bowels, has to come out wearing his wife's dress and women's shoes. A neighbour who spots him in the dark remarks that his own wife has treated him in the same way. This neighbour goes off to the assembly, and Blepyrus squats and strains to no effect until his efforts are cut short by another friend, Chremes, who is on his way back from the assembly. Chremes tells him now a great crowd in the assembly, pale-faced "like shoemakers", has voted:
Blepyrus and Chremes go into their houses, and the women return triumphant, taking care now to remove their disguises and return their menfolk's clothes. Praxagora does not quite make it before her husband indignantly accosts her, suspicious that she has been visiting a lover. She allays his suspicion by claiming that she had to go out in a hurry to a friend who was in labour, and she affects surprised innocence on hearing from him the decision of the assembly to hand over power to the women. But, she says, this will be greatly to the city's advantage, and she expounds her reasons in what formally resembles one side of the typical fifth-century "contest".
Up to now we have been given very little idea of the political reforms which the women have in mind, and their original insistence on "the old ways" has perhaps led us to think of reaction rather than revolution. More recently, Chremes' account of th argument used in the assembly, that women are accustomed to be more open-handed and more honest in the lending and returning of property has given us an important hint, and so has Blepyrus' foreboding that it will be hard for old men if women assume the sexual initiative. Now Praxagora unfolds her programme, answering her husband's succession of questions and objections. All property and money are to belong to the community. Any man may have intercourse with any woman and beget children by her; the interest of the ugly, men and women alike, will be protected by legislation which will give them first go. All children will regard all men as their fathers. There being no private property, there will be no lawsuits, and assault will be punished by exclusion from the communal meals. The work of the fields will be done by slaves. Praxagora returns at the end to the sexual aspect of the reforms, and this secures her husband's approval, since it offers him protection against the competition of the young and handsome.
We now see a law-abiding citizen preparing to hand in all his property, harassed by another man, an incorrigible cynic, on these lines:
When a woman herald proclaims that everyone should go to the general's office (Praxagora is the "general") to draw lots for places at dinner, the cynic cheerfully goes off to do so, trusting to luck that he will also manage to keep his own property.
The next scene, which is long and complex, illustrates some sexual consequences of the revolution. A girl and an old woman are waiting for a lover, mocking each other and singing love-songs in rivalry; the reforms being now in force, we should not think of them as prostitutes, but as members of humble citizen families, the girl probably fourteen or fifteen years old (she is sorry that her "friend" has not come, because her mother is out). The youth for whom the girl is longing comes to visit her, but before he can enter her house he is seized by the old woman, who demands her rights. The girl comes out and manages to drag him away, but is put to flight in her turn by a second old woman, who wants him for herself. The poor youth is being taken off by this old woman (who has the law on her side) when a third woman, even older and more hideous, stakes her claim to him, and still clings to him when he is finally forced into the second old woman's house. An interesting feature of this portion of the play is the duet of love-songs sung by the youth and the girl; one pair is in the same metrical form as some Athenian drinking-songs, while the other pair has an extensive refrain and (if correctly transmitted in the manuscript text) a certain metrical uncouthness, both features which may point to its "popular" character.
The play ends in something of a rush. A servant comes looking for her mistress's husband, who alone of the citizen population has not yet arrived for dinner. She comes across him, hands over to him the girls whom she has brought with her, and the all go off to dinner to the accompaniment of a choral song about food.
Carion summons Chremylus's friends, hard-working old men who consider themselves poorer than they should be. He teases them at first, sending them into a peevish rage, but finally reveals the good news. They dance for joy, singing with Carion, in alternating stanzas, a jocular song deriving its inspiration from the Odyssey. Meanwhile, Chremylus has sent for his friend Blepsidemus, who suspects that Chremylus has made money in some dishonest way. Chremylus finally persuades him of the truth, and tells him of his intention to take Wealth to the sanctuary of Asclepius for a miraculous cure. Their conversation is interrupted by the arrival of a menacing old woman who proclaims herself to be Poverty. Chremylus, with some backing from Blepsidemus, argues with Poverty in a contest which is formally a rather degenerate descendant of the contests which appear in the fifth-century plays; there are no choral introductions or comments, only one choral exhortation (to Chremylus, at the beginning), and no clear division into two halves. Poverty asserts that without the fear which she inspires no one would produce or import anything, so that if everyone had money there would be nothing for him to buy with it. She rejects Chremylus's denigration of poverty as "beggary", and draws a distinction between the two; but as the distinction does not appeal to Chremylus and Blepsidemus, she is doomed to lose the argument, and she flees with the threat:
Chremylus and Carion now go off to the sanctuary of Asclepius with Wealth, and immediately (that is, after a choral interlude?) Carion returns and give Chremylus's wife the good news that the cure has been successful. He describes the whole process in a long and colourful narrative, which includes the unpleasant fate of the politician Neoclides (who was trying to get his eye-disease cured, the greed of the priest who gathered up all edible offerings made to the god, and (of course) the fearful fart released by Carion on the approach of Asclepius, much to the embarrassment of the female deities accompanying the god. Wealth himself now returns, saluting Attica in tragic style, and Chremylus follows close behind.
Chremylus's house is now miraculously wealthy, with a cistern full of olive oil and all the crockery turned to gold and silver. The rest of the play illustrates the consequences of Wealth's recovery of his sight, but Aristophanes does not adhere consistently to one or the other of two concepts: that everyone is now wealthy, or that the good are now wealthy and the bad impoverished. The first tow men to arrive illustrate the second concept: a good man, suddenly finding himself rich, comes to pay his respects to Wealth, while an informer comes lamenting his poverty. The second pair is an old woman and a youth whom she has retained as her lover by lavish presents. Suddenly enriched, he no longer needs to conceal his contempt for the wrinkles that lie under her layer of make-up. He does not sound to us like a just man, but perhaps to the Athenians his ingratitude to a randy old woman raises no moral issue at all; he goes into the house to make a dedication to Wealth, and Chremylus, whose admonition of him is almost diffident compared with the harsh treatment given to the informer, jollies the old woman into coming in too. The next arrival is Hermes, who comes threatening divine vengeance on the household of Chremylus, since no one now troubles to sacrifice to the gods. But Carion, who opens the door to him, is in now way impressed by threats, and Hermes, desperately hungry, is reduced to begging for a job. Eventually he is admitted on condition he helps in the kitchen. The last to come is a priest, and he too is hungry, because he has relied in the past on the perquisites from sacrifices. He thinks it would be a good idea to forget about Zeus and stay with Wealth; but Chremylus identifies the two, and suggest that they instal Wealth on the Acropolis:
A procession for the installation is organized and moves off.