The Acharnians is the third play - and the earliest of the eleven surviving plays - by the Athenian playwright Aristophanes. It was produced in 425 BCE on behalf of the young dramatist by an associate, Callistratus. The play is notable for its absurd humour, its imaginative appeal for an end to the Peloponnesian War and for the author's spirited response to condemnations of his previous play, The Babylonians. The play begins with Dikaiopolis sitting all alone on the Pnyx (the hill where the Athenian Assembly or ecclesia ...
The Acharnians is the third play - and the earliest of the eleven surviving plays - by the Athenian playwright Aristophanes. It was produced in 425 BCE on behalf of the young dramatist by an associate, Callistratus. The play is notable for its absurd humour, its imaginative appeal for an end to the Peloponnesian War and for the author's spirited response to condemnations of his previous play, The Babylonians. The play begins with Dikaiopolis sitting all alone on the Pnyx (the hill where the Athenian Assembly or ecclesia regularly meets to discuss matters of state). He is middle-aged, he looks bored and frustrated and soon he begins to vent his thoughts and feelings to the audience. He reveals his weariness with the Peloponnesian War, his longing to go home to his village, his impatience with the ecclesia for its failure to start on time and his resolve to heckle speakers who won't debate an end to the war. Soon some citizens do arrive, all pushing and shoving to get the best seats, and then the day's business begins. A series of important speakers addresses the assembly but the subject is not peace and, true to his earlier promise, Dikaiopolis comments loudly on their appearance and probable motives. First of all there is the ambassador who has returned from the Persian court after many years, complaining of the lavish hospitality he has had to endure from his Persian hosts; then there is the Persian grandee, The Eye of the Great King, Pseudartabas, sporting a gigantic eye and mumbling gibberish, accompanied by some eunuchs who turn out to be a disreputable pair of effete Athenians in disguise; next is the ambassador recently returned from Thrace, blaming the icy conditions in the north for his long stay there at the public's expense; and lastly there is the rabble of Odomantians who are presented as elite mercenaries willing to fight for Athens but who hungrily steal the protagonist's lunch. Peace is not discussed. It is in the ecclesia however that Dikaiopolis meets Amphitheus, a man who claims to be the immortal great-great-grandson of Triptolemus and Demeter and who claims moreover that he can obtain peace with the Spartans privately. Dikaiopolis accepts his claims and he pays him eight drachmas to bring him a private peace, which in fact Amphitheus manages to do. Dikaiopolis celebrates his private peace with a private celebration of the Rural Dionysia, beginning with a small parade outside his own house. He and his household however are immediately set upon by a mob of aged farmers and charcoal burners from Acharnae - tough veterans of past wars who hate the Spartans for destroying their farms and who hate anyone who talks peace. They are not amenable to rational argument so Dikaiopolis grabs a hostage and a sword and demands the old men leave him alone. The hostage is a basket of Acharnian charcoal but the old men have a sentimental spot for anything from Acharnia (or maybe they are simply caught up in the drama of the moment) and they agree to leave Dikaiopolis in peace if only he will spare the charcoal. The importance of the charcoal, and the tool which Dikaiopolis holds hostage is that one of the primary sources of revenue for that region was the manufacturing and selling of charcoal. This is further justification for the dissenters' exaggerated response. He surrenders the hostage but he now wants more than just to be left alone in peace - he desperately wants the old men to believe in the justice of his cause. He even says he is willing to speak with his head on a chopping block, if only they will hear him out, and yet he knows how unpredictable his fellow citizens can be: he says he hasn't forgotten how Cleon dragged him into court over 'last year's play'.
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