The Acharnians Summary

Aristophanes

The Acharnians

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The Acharnians Summary

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The Acharnians, a play by the Ancient Greek comedic writer and poet Aristophanes, follows a pragmatic farmer and Athenian citizen, Dicaeopolis, seeking “peace at any cost.” The satire was first produced in 425 BCE and includes much phallic humor. Its more serious intent was to convince the public to end the very costly current war with Sparta, known later as the Peloponnesian War (431 – 404 BCE).

The Acharnians was Aristophanes’s first play and established him as a major playwright. Throughout his life, Aristophanes would incur the ire of several leading politicians, some of whom attempted to take him to court over slander charges. The play’s themes include the necessity of enjoying life, curbing abuses of power through laughter, and the social, economic, and psychic costs of war.

The Acharnians opens to the protagonist, Dicaeopolis (pronounced “dih-kee-AH-poh-liss”), alone on stage, complaining about his life. He likes living in Athens but since the war his farm’s prosperity has declined. He also talks about eagerly waiting for the plays of other writers. His name literally means “honest citizen” and Aristophanes uses him to relay all of the author’s thoughts on politics and art. Meanwhile, people are gathering for an update on the war with Sparta. Dicaeopolis watches one man, his friend, Amphitheus, dragged away by police because he’s a peace advocate and admits that he’s hungry. There is severe food rationing throughout Athens to support the war. The police take him away even after he claims to be a god.

Dicaeopolis watches a string of prominent politicians and citizens praise the war effort. He makes funny asides throughout, showing the various “ambassadors” to be liars. During the presentation, the ambassadors bring out “soldiers” who they claim will turn the tide of war in their favor; the men turn out to be emaciated and dressed in rags. Dicaeopolis decides he’s had enough of this show and claims to have felt a rain drop. The politicians of Athens are so fickle they’re ready to adjourn their assembly at the barest hint of an obstacle, such as rain.

Later, Dicaeopolis encounters General Lamachus, who happens to be his next door neighbor. Lamachus is a warmonger who thinks patriotism demands that Athens continues to fight Sparta to the bitter end. Ironically, he has never experienced a single physical blow from the war, as he has always commanded the army from a distance. In fact, the only battle wound Lamachus has ever suffered occurred because he fell into a pit near a road. The Acharnians also mocks the Greek classical dramatist, Euripides, and his predictable form of drama. Euripides is seen to be too lazy to get up off of his chair and meet Dicaeopolis face-to-face. With these scenes, Aristophanes then criticizes the great playwright of being politically indifferent.

After listening to all of the leaders of Athens, Dicaeopolis decides to strike out on his own and declare his own personal peace with Sparta. He sends his friend Amphitheus out for some wine. Amphitheus steals the wine from the Acharnians, an ethnic tribe that owns a nearby vineyard. They pursue him to Dicaeopolis’s house. However, he’s no longer at the residence as Dicaeopolis has sent Amphitheus to Sparta to argue for peace. Dicaeopolis is in the middle of thanking Bacchus, the Greek god of wine and parties, for the future peace when the Acharnians arrive at his doorstep. Furious he has their stolen wine, they begin hurtling stones at Dicaeopolis. To stop them, he grabs a basket of coals (they can’t see it’s a basket of coals) and pretends that this is one of their children, who he is holding as a hostage until they all agree to join his peace movement. They comply.

To grow his separate peace, Dicaeopolis also establishes a trading center around his lands where all those who are neutral to Athens’s victories (or flat out enemies) can trade and make money. This includes the Acharnians. After several stirring speeches advocating for peace, the citizens of Athens elect to not stone Dicaeopolis. Having seen the results of peace—laughter, drinking, and love—they are increasingly open to it. Dicaeopolis spreads his message of hedonism. He hires two prostitutes and he, along with dozens of friends, drink themselves silly. This is all part of what Dicaeopolis has called the “Feast of the Cups.” Meanwhile, Lamachus must leave the city because of a surprise attack on a remote camp.

On stage, there is a montage comparing the two viewpoints. On one side, Lamachus and his followers prepare for war. On the other side, Dicaeopolis and his believers prepare for the Feast of the Cups. When the montage concludes, Lamachus can no longer walk and has a major head injury. Dicaepolis, in contrast, is drunk and happy. The comedy concludes with a marriage. All characters on stage gorge themselves on food and wine while celebrating “Peace” and “Plenty.” A herald says whoever drinks their beverages the fastest will receive another “win-skin as round and plump as Ctesiphon’s belly.” Meanwhile, Dicaeopolis goes into a house to join his family, perfectly content.