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Aristophanes: Rescuing Peace

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

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Aristophanes
From Peace
Unknown translator

HERMES
Ah! ah! you are a long way yet from reaching the gods, for they moved yesterday.

TRYGAEUS
To what part of the earth?

HERMES
Eh! of the earth, did you say?

TRYGAEUS
In short, where are they then?

HERMES
Very far, very far, right at the furthest end of the dome of heaven.

TRYGAEUS
But why have they left you all alone here?

HERMES
I am watching what remains of the furniture, the little pots and pans, the bits of chairs and tables, and odd wine-jars.

TRYGAEUS
And why have the gods moved away?

HERMES
Because of their wrath against the Greeks. They have located War in the house they occupied themselves and have given him full power to do with you exactly as he pleases; then they went as high up as ever they could, so as to see no more of your fights and to hear no more of your prayers.

TRYGAEUS
What reason have they for treating us so?

HERMES
Because they have afforded you an opportunity for peace more than once, but you have always preferred war. If the Laconians got the very slightest advantage, they would exclaim, “By the Twin Brethren! the Athenians shall smart for this.” If, on the contrary, the latter triumphed and the Laconians came with peace proposals, you would say, “By Demeter, they want to deceive us. No, by Zeus, we will not hear a word; they will always be coming as long as we hold Pylos.”

TRYGAEUS
Yes, that is quite the style our folk do talk in.

HERMES
So that I don’t know whether you will ever see Peace again.

TRYGAEUS
Why, where has she gone to then?

HERMES
War has cast her into a deep pit.

TRYGAEUS
Where?

HERMES
Down there, at the very bottom. And you see what heaps of stones he has piled over the top, so that you should never pull her out again.

TRYGAEUS
Tell me, what is War preparing against us?

HERMES
All I know is that last evening he brought along a huge mortar.

TRYGAEUS
And what is he going to do with his mortar?

HERMES
He wants to pound up all the cities of Greece in it…But I must say good-bye, for I think he is coming out; what an uproar he is making!
He departs in haste.

TRYGAEUS
Ah! great gods let us seek safety; I think I already hear the noise of this fearful war mortar.
He hides.

WAR enters, carrying a huge mortar
Oh! mortals, mortals, wretched mortals, how your jaws will snap!

TRYGAEUS
Oh! divine Apollo! what a prodigious big mortar! Oh, what misery the very sight of War causes me! This then is the foe from whom I fly, who is so cruel, so formidable, so stalwart, so solid on his legs!

WAR
Oh! Prasiae! thrice wretched, five times, aye, a thousand times wretched! for thou shalt be destroyed this day.
He throws some leeks into the mortar.

TRYGAEUS to the audience
This, gentlemen, does not concern us over much; it’s only so much the worse for the Laconians.

WAR
Oh! Megara! Megara! utterly are you going to be ground up! what fine mincemeat are you to be made into!
He throws in some garlic.

TRYGAEUS aside
Alas! alas! what bitter tears there will be among the Megarians!

WAR throwing in some cheese
Oh, Sicily! you too must perish! Your wretched towns shall be grated like this cheese. Now let us pour some Attic honey into the mortar.
He does so.

*****

TRYGAES
Yes, certainly. So therefore, Hermes, my friend, help us with your whole heart to find and deliver the captive and we will celebrate the great Panathenaea in your honour as well as all the festivals of the other gods; for Hermes shall be the Mysteries. the Dipolia, the Adonia; everywhere the towns, freed from their miseries, will sacrifice to Hermes the Liberator; you will be loaded with benefits of every kind, and to start with, I offer you this cup for libations as your first present.

HERMES
Ah! how golden cups do influence me! Come, friends. get to work. To the pit quickly, pick in hand, and drag away the stones.

LEADER OF THE CHORUS
We go, but you, cleverest of all the gods, supervise our labours; tell us, good workman as you are, what we must do; we shall obey your orders with alacrity.
They begin to lift the stones.

TRYGAEUS
Quick, reach me your cup, and let us preface our work by addressing prayers to the gods.

HERMES
Libation! Libation! Silence! Let us offer our libations and our prayers, so that this day may begin an era of unalloyed happiness for Greece and that he who has bravely pulled at the rope with us may never resume his buckler.

TRYGAEUS
Aye, may we pass our lives in peace, caressing our mistresses and poking the fire.

HERMES
May he who would prefer the war, oh Dionysus…

TRYGAEUS
Be ever drawing barbed arrows out of his elbows.

HERMES
If there be a citizen, greedy for military rank and honours, who refuses, oh, divine Peace! to restore you to daylight…

TRYGAEUS
May he behave as cowardly as Cleonymus on the battlefield.

HERMES
If a lance-maker or a dealer in shields desires war for the sake of better trade…

TRYGAEUS
May he be taken by pirates and eat nothing but barley.

HERMES
If some ambitious man does not help us, because he wants to become a General, or if a slave is plotting to pass over to the enemy…

TRYGAEUS
Let his limbs be broken on the wheel, may he be beaten to death with rods!

*****

PEACE is drawn out of the pit. With her come OPORA and THEORIA.

TRYGAEUS
Oh! venerated goddess, who givest us our grapes, where am I to find the ten-thousand-gallon words wherewith to greet thee? I have none such at home. Oh! hail to thee, Opora, and thee, Theoria! How beautiful is thy face! How sweet thy breath! What gentle fragrance comes from thy bosom, gentle as freedom from military duty, as the most dainty perfumes!

TRYGAEUS
Oh! hateful soldier! your hideous satchel makes me sick! it stinks like the belching of onions, whereas this lovable deity has the odour of sweet fruits, of festivals, of the Dionysia, of the harmony of flutes, of the tragic poets, of the verses of Sophocles, of the phrases of Euripides…

TRYGAEUS
Listen, good folk! Let the husbandmen take their farming tools and return to their fields as quickly as possible, but without either sword, spear or javelin. All is as quiet as if Peace had been reigning for a century. Come, let everyone go and till the earth, singing the Paean.

LEADER OF THE CHORUS to PEACE
Oh, thou, whom men of standing desired and who art good to husbandmen, I have gazed upon thee with delight; and now I go to greet my vines, to caress after so long an absence the fig trees I planted in my youth.

TRYGAEUS
See, how their iron spades glitter and how beautifully their three-pronged mattocks glisten in the sun! How regularly they align the plants! I also burn to go into the country and to turn over the earth I have so long neglected. Friends, do you remember the happy life that Peace afforded us formerly; can you recall the splendid baskets of figs, both fresh and dried, the myrtles, the sweet wine, the violets blooming near the spring, and the olives, for which we have wept so much? Worship, adore the goddess for restoring you so many blessings.

CHORUS singing
Hail! hail! thou beloved divinity! thy return overwhelms us with joy. When far from thee, my ardent wish to see my fields again made me pine with regret. From thee came all blessings. Oh! much desired Peace! thou art the sole support of those who spend their lives tilling the earth. Under thy rule we had a thousand delicious enjoyments at our beck; thou wert the husbandman’s wheaten cake and his safeguard. So that our vineyards, our young fig-tree woods and all our plantations hail thee with delight and smile at thy coming.

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