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Ecclesiazusae

390 BC
THE ECCLESIAZUSAE
by Aristophanes
anonymous translator
CHARACTERS IN THE PLAY

PRAXAGORA
BLEPYRUS, husband of Praxagora
WOMEN
A MAN
CHREMES
A CITIZEN
HERALD
A GIRL
A YOUNG MAN
THREE OLD WOMEN
A SERVANT MAID to PRAXAGORA
CHORUS OF WOMEN
ECCLESIAZUSAE
(SCENE:-The Orchestra represents a public square in Athens; in the
background are two houses with an alley between them.)

PRAXAGORA
(swinging the lantern, which is to be a signal for the other
women; in high tragic style)
Oh! Thou shining light of my earthenware lamp, from this high spot
shalt thou look abroad. Oh! lamp, I will tell thee thine origin and
thy future; 'tis the rapid whirl of the potter's wheel that has lent
thee thy shape, and thy wick counterfeits the glory of the sun;
mayst thou send the agreed signal flashing afar! In thee alone do we
confide, and thou art worthy, for thou art near us when we practise
the various postures in which Aphrodite delights upon our couches, and
none dreams even in the midst of her sports of seeking to avoid
thine eye that watches us. Thou alone shinest into the secret recesses
of our thighs and dost singe the hair that groweth there, and with thy
flame dost light the actions of our loves. If we open some cellar
stored with fruits and wine, thou art our companion, and never dost
thou betray or reveal to a neighbour the secrets thou hast learned
about us. Therefore thou shalt know likewise the whole of the plot
that I have planned with my friends, the women, at the festival of the
Scirophoria.
(She pauses and looks about her.)
I see none of those I was expecting, though dawn approaches; the
Assembly is about to gather and we must take our seats in spite of
Phyromachus, who forsooth would say, "It is meet the women sit apart
and hidden from the eyes of the men." Why, have they not been able
then to procure the false beards that they must wear, or to steal
their husbands' cloaks? Ah! I see a light approaching; let us draw
somewhat aside, for fear it should be a man.
(She hides in the alley. From the right a woman enters, followed
almost immediately by others. All are carrying staffs, men's
sandals, and cloaks over their arms.)
FIRST WOMAN
Let us start, it is high time; as we left our dwellings, the
cock was crowing for the second time.
PRAXAGORA (to herself)
And I have spent the whole night waiting for you. (She emerges
from the alley.) But come, let us call our neighbour by scratching
at her door; and gently too, so that her husband may hear nothing.
SECOND WOMAN
(coming out of her house; she is dressed like a man, with a staff
in her hand)
I was putting on my shoes, when I heard you scratching, for I
was not asleep, so there! Oh! my dear, my husband (he is a Salaminian)
never left me an instant's peace, but was at me, for ever at me, all
night long, so that it was only just now that I was able to filch
his cloak.
PRAXAGORA
I see Clinarete coming too, along with Sostrate and their
next-door neighbour Philaenete. (To the women that are just
arriving; in a loud voice) Hurry yourselves then, for Glyce has
sworn that the last comer shall forfeit three measures of wine and a
choenix of pease.
SECOND WOMAN
Don't you see Melistice, the wife of Smicythion, hurrying hither
in her big shoes? I think she is the only one of us all who has had no
trouble in getting rid of her husband.
FIRST WOMAN
And can't you see Geusistrate, the tavern-keeper's wife, with a
lamp in her hand?
PRAXAGORA
And the wives of Philodoretus and Chaeretades, and a great many
others; all the useful people in the city, in fact.
THIRD WOMAN
Oh! my dear, I have had such trouble in getting away! My husband
ate such a surfeit of sprats last evening that he was coughing and
choking the whole night long.
PRAXAGORA
Take your seats, and, since you are all gathered here at last, let
us see if what we decided on at the feast of the Scirophoria has
been duly done.
FIRST WOMAN
Yes. Firstly, as agreed, I have let the hair under my armpits grow
thicker than a bush; furthermore, whilst my husband was at the
Assembly, I rubbed myself from head to foot with oil and then stood
the whole day long in the sun.
SECOND WOMAN
So did I. I began by throwing away my razor, so that I might get
quite hairy, and no longer resemble a woman.
PRAXAGORA
Have you the beards that we had all to get ourselves for the
Assembly?
FIRST WOMAN
Yea, by Hecate! Is this not a fine one?
SECOND WOMAN
Aye, much finer even than the one Epicrates has.
PRAXAGORA (to the other women)
And you?
FIRST WOMAN
Yes, yes; look, they all nod assent.
PRAXAGORA
I see that you have got all the rest too, Spartan shoes, staffs
and men's cloaks, as it was arranged.
FIRST WOMAN
I have brought Lamias' club, which I stole from him while he
slept.
PRAXAGORA
What, the club that makes him fart with its weight?
SECOND WOMAN
By Zeus the Deliverer, if he had the skin of Argus, he would
know better than any other how to shepherd the popular herd.
PRAXAGORA
But come, let us finish what has yet to be done, while the stars
are still shining; the Assembly, at which we mean to be present,
will open at dawn.
FIRST WOMAN
Good; you must take up your place at the foot of the platform
and facing the Prytanes.
SECOND WOMAN
I have brought this with me to card during the Assembly.
(She shows some wool.)
PRAXAGORA
During the Assembly, wretched woman?
SECOND WOMAN
Surely, by Artemis! shall I hear any less well if I am doing a bit
of carding? My little ones are all but naked.
PRAXAGORA
Think of her wanting to card! whereas we must not let anyone see
the smallest part of our bodies. 'Twould be a fine thing if one of us,
in the midst of the discussion, rushed on to the speaker's platform
and, flinging her cloak aside, showed her Phormisius. If, on the other
hand, we are the first to take our seats closely muffled in our
cloaks, none will know us. Let us fix these beards on our chins, so
that they spread all over our bosoms. How can we fail then to be
mistaken for men? Agyrrhius has deceived everyone, thanks to the beard
of Pronomus; yet he was no better than a woman, and you see how he now
holds the first position in the city. Thus, I adjure you by this day
that is about to dawn, let us dare to copy him and let us be clever
enough to possess ourselves of the management of affairs. Let us
save the ship of state, which just at present none seems able either
to sail or row.
FIRST WOMAN (in a tragic style)
But where shall we find orators in an Assembly of women?
PRAXAGORA
Nothing simpler. Is it not said that the cleverest speakers are
those who get made love to most often? Well, thanks to the gods, we
are that by nature.
FIRST WOMAN
There's no doubt of that; but the worst of it is our inexperience.
PRAXAGORA
That's the very reason we are gathered here, in order to prepare
the speech we must make in the Assembly. Hasten, therefore, all you
who know aught of speaking, to fix on your beards.
SECOND WOMAN
Oh you stupid thing! is there ever a one among us cannot use her
tongue?
PRAXAGORA
Come, look sharp, on with your beard and become a man. As for
me, I will do the same in case I should have a fancy for getting on to
the platform. Here are the chaplets.
(They all put on their beards.)
SECOND WOMAN
Oh! great gods! my dear Praxagora, do look here! Is it not
laughable?
PRAXAGORA
How laughable?
SECOND WOMAN
Our beards look like broiled cuttle-fishes.
PRAXAGORA (pretending to be the herald)
Priest, bring in the cat. Step forward, please Silence,
Ariphrades! Come and take your seat. Now, who wishes to speak?
SECOND WOMAN
I do.
PRAXAGORA
Then put on this chaplet and success be with you.
SECOND WOMAN
There!
PRAXAGORA
Well then I begin.
SECOND WOMAN
Before drinking?
PRAXAGORA
Hah! she wants to drink!
SECOND WOMAN
Why, what else is the meaning of this chaplet?
PRAXAGORA
Get you hence! you would probably have played us this trick also
before the people.
SECOND WOMAN
Well! don't the men drink then in the Assembly?
PRAXAGORA
Now she's telling us the men drink!
SECOND WOMAN
Yes, by Artemis, and neat wine too. That's why their decrees
breathe of drunkenness and madness. And why libations, why so many
ceremonies, if wine plays no part in them? Besides, they abuse each
other like drunken men, and you can see the archers dragging more than
one uproarious drunkard out of the market-place.
PRAXAGORA
Go back to your seat, you are wandering.
SECOND WOMAN (returning to her seat)
Ah! I should have done better not to have muffled myself in this
beard; my throat's afire and I feel I shall die of thirst.
PRAXAGORA
Who else wishes to speak?
FIRST WOMAN (rising)
I do.
PRAXAGORA
Quick then, take the chaplet; the time's running short. Try to
speak worthily, let your language be truly manly, and lean on your
staff with dignity.
FIRST WOMAN
I had rather have seen one of your regular orators giving you wise
advice; but, as that is not to be, it behoves me to break silence; I
cannot, for my part indeed, allow the tavern-keepers to fill up
their wine-pits with water. No, by the two goddesses...
PRAXAGORA
What? by the two goddesses! Wretched woman, where are your senses?
FIRST WOMAN
Eh! what?... I have not asked you for a drink.
PRAXAGORA
No, but you want to pass for a man, and you swear by the two
goddesses. Otherwise you did very well.
FIRST WOMAN
Well then. By Apollo...
PRAXAGORA
Stop! All these details of language must be adjusted; else it is
quite useless to go to the Assembly.
FIRST WOMAN
Give me back the chaplet; I wish to speak again, for I think I
have got hold of something good. You women who are listening to me...
PRAXAGORA
Women again; why, you wretched creature, it's men that you are
addressing.
FIRST WOMAN
That's the fault of Epigonus; I caught sight of him way over
there, and I thought I was speaking to women.
PRAXAGORA
Come, withdraw and remain seated in the future. I am going to take
this chaplet myself and speak in your name. May the gods grant success
to my plans! My country is as dear to me as it is to you, and I groan,
I am grieved at all that is happening in it. Scarcely one in ten of
those who rule it is honest, and all the others are bad. If you
appoint fresh chiefs, they will do still worse. It is hard to
correct your peevish humour; you fear those who love you and throw
yourselves at the feet of those who betray you. There was a time
when we had no assemblies, and then we all thought Agyrrhius a
dishonest man; now they are established, he who gets money thinks
everything is as it should be, and he who does not, declares all who
sell their votes to be worthy of death.
SECOND WOMAN
By Aphrodite, that is well spoken.
PRAXAGORA
Why, wretched woman, you have actually called upon Aphrodite.
Oh! what a fine thing it would have been if you had said that in the
Assembly!
SECOND WOMAN
But I would not have done it then.
PRAXAGORA
Well, mind you don't fall into the habit. (Resuming the oratorical
manner) When we were discussing the alliance, it seemed as though it
were all over with Athens if it fell through. No sooner was it made
than we were vexed and angry, and the orator who had caused its
adoption was compelled to seek safety in flight. Is there talk of
equipping a fleet? The poor man says, yes, but the rich citizen and
the countryman say, no. You were angered against the Corinthians and
they with you; now they are well disposed towards you, be so towards
them. As a rule the Argives are dull, but the Argive Hieronymus is a
distinguished chief. Herein lies a spark of hope; but Thrasybulus is
far from Athens and you do not recall him.
SECOND WOMAN
Oh! what a brilliant man!
PRAXAGORA (to her)
That's better! that's fitting applause. (Continuing her speech)
Citizens, you are the ones who are the cause of all this trouble.
You vote yourselves salaries out of the public funds and care only for
your own personal interests; hence the state limps along like Aesimus.
But if you hearken to me, you will be saved. I assert that the
direction of affairs must be handed over to the women, for they are
the ones who have charge and look after our households.
ALL THE WOMEN
Very good, very good, that's perfect! Go on, go on.
PRAXAGORA (ignoring this interruption)
They are worth more than you are, as I shall prove. First of all
they wash all their wool in warm water, according to the ancient
practice; you will never see them changing their method. Ah! if Athens
only acted thus, if it did not take delight in ceaseless
innovations, would not its happiness be assured? Then the women sit
down to cook, just as they always did; they carry things on their head
just as they always did; they keep the Thesmophoria, just as they
always did; they knead their cakes just as they always did; they
make their husbands angry just as they always did; they receive
their lovers in their houses just as they always did; they buy
dainties just as they always did; they love unmixed wine just as
they always did; they delight in being loved just as they always
did. Let us therefore hand Athens over to them without endless
discussions, without bothering ourselves about what they will do;
let us simply hand them over the power, remembering that they are
mothers and will therefore spare the blood of our soldiers; besides,
who will know better than a mother how to forward provisions to the
front? Woman is adept at getting money for herself and will not easily
let herself be deceived; she understands deceit too well herself. I
omit a thousand other advantages. Take my advice and you will live
in perfect happiness.
FIRST WOMAN
How beautiful this is, my dearest Praxagora, how clever! But
where, pray, did you learn all these pretty things?
PRAXAGORA
When the countryfolk were seeking refuge in the city, I lived on
the Pnyx with my husband, and there I learnt to speak through
listening to the orators.
FIRST WOMAN
Then, dear, it's not astonishing that you are so eloquent and
clever, henceforward you shall be our leader, so put your great
ideas into execution. But if Cephalus belches forth insults against
you, what answer will you give him in the Assembly?
PRAXAGORA
I shall say that he is drivelling.
FIRST WOMAN
But all the world knows that.
PRAXAGORA
I shall furthermore say that he is a raving madman.
FIRST WOMAN
There's nobody who does not know that.
PRAXAGORA
That he, as excellent a statesman as he is, is a clumsy potter.
FIRST WOMAN
And if the blear-eyed Neoclides comes to insult you?
PRAXAGORA
To him I shall say, "Go and look at a dog's arse."
FIRST WOMAN
And if they fly at you?
PRAXAGORA
Oh! I shall shake them off as best I can; never fear, I know how
to use this too!
FIRST WOMAN
But there is one thing we don't think of. If the Scythians drag
you away, what will you do?
PRAXAGORA
With my arms akimbo like this, I will never, never let myself be
taken round the middle.
FIRST WOMAN
If they seize you, we will bid them let you go.
SECOND WOMAN
That's the best way. But how are we going to remember to lift
our arms in the Assembly when it's our legs we are used to lifting?
PRAXAGORA
It's difficult; yet it must be done, and the arm shown naked to
the shoulder in order to vote. Quick now, put on these tunics and
these Laconian shoes, as you see the men do each time they go to the
Assembly or for a walk. When this is done, fix on your beards, and
when they are arranged in the best way possible, dress yourselves in
the cloaks you have stolen from your husbands; finally start off,
leaning on your staffs and singing some old man's song as the
villagers do.
FIRST WOMAN
Well spoken; and let us hurry to get to the Pnyx before the
women from the country, for they will no doubt not fail to come there.
PRAXAGORA
Quick, quick, for it's the custom that those who are not at the
Pnyx early in the morning return home empty-handed.
(PRAXAGORA and the FIRST and SECOND WOMEN depart; those who are
left behind form the CHORUS.)
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
Move forward, citizens, move forward; let us not forget to give
ourselves this name and may that of woman never slip out of our
mouths; woe to us, if it were discovered that we had laid such a
plot in the darkness of night.
CHORUS (singing)
Let us go to the Assembly then, fellow-citizens; for the
Thesmothetes have declared that only those who arrive at daybreak with
haggard eye and covered with dust, without having snatched time to eat
anything but a snack of garlic-pickle, shall alone receive the
triobolus. Walk up smartly, Charitimides, Smicythus and Draces, and do
not fail in any point of your part; let us first demand our fee and
then vote for all that may perchance be useful for our partisans....
Ah! what am I saying? I meant to say, for our fellow-citizens. Let
us drive away these men of the city who used to stay at home and
chatter round the table in the days when only an obolus was paid,
whereas now one is stifled by the crowds at the Pnyx. No! during the
archonship of generous Myronides, none would have dared to let himself
be paid for the trouble he spent over public business; each one
brought his own meal of bread, a couple of onions, three olives and
some wine in a little wine-skin. But nowadays we run here to earn
the three obols, for the citizen has become as mercenary as the
stonemason.
(The CHORUS marches away. BLEPYRUS appears in the doorway of his
house, wearing PRAXAGORA's Persian sandals and saffron robe.)
BLEPYRUS
What does this mean? My wife has vanished! it is nearly daybreak
and she does not return! I had to take a crap! I woke up and hunted in
the darkness for my shoes and my cloak; but grope where I would, I
couldn't find them. Meanwhile Mr. O'Shit was already knocking on the
door and I had only just time to seize my wife's little mantle and her
Persian slippers. But where shall I find a place where I can take a
crap? Bah! One place is as good as another at night-time; no one
will see me. Ah! what a damned fool I was to take a wife at my age,
and how I could thrash myself for having acted so stupidly! It's
certainty she's not gone out for any honest purpose. But the thing
to do now is to take a crap.
(He squats.)
A MAN (looking out of the window of the house next door)
Who's that? Is that not my neighbour Blepyrus? Why, yes, it's no
other. Tell me, what's all that yellow about you? Can it be Cinesias
who has befouled you so?
BLEPYRUS
No, no, I only slipped on my wife's tunic to come out in.
MAN
And where is your cloak?
BLEPYRUS
I cannot tell you; I hunted for it vainly on the bed.
MAN
And why did you not ask your wife for it?
BLEPYRUS
Ah! why indeed! because she is not in the house; she has run away,
and I greatly fear that she may be doing me an ill turn.
MAN
But, by Posidon, it's the same with myself. My wife has
disappeared with my cloak, and what is still worse, with my shoes as
well; I cannot find them anywhere.
BLEPYRUS
Nor can I my Laconian ones; but as I urgently needed to crap, I
popped my feet into these slippers, so as not to soil my blanket,
which is brand new.
MAN
What does it mean? Can some friend have invited her to a feast?
BLEPYRUS
I expect so, for she does not generally misconduct herself, as far
as I know.
MAN
What are you doing, making well-ropes? Are you never going to be
done? As for myself, I would like to go to the Assembly, and it is
time to start, but I've got to find my cloak; I have only one.
BLEPYRUS
I am going to have a look too, when I have finished crapping;
but I really think there must be a wild pear obstructing my rectum.
MAN
Is it the one which Thrasybulus spoke about to the Lacedaemonians?
BLEPYRUS
Oh! oh! oh! stopped up I am! Whatever am I to do? It's not
merely for the present that I am frightened; but when I have eaten,
where is my crap to find an outlet now? This damned McPear fellow
has bolted the door. Call a doctor; but who is the cleverest in this
branch of the science? Amynon? Perhaps he would not come. Ah!
Antisthenes! Let him be brought to me, cost what it will. To judge
by his noisy sighs, that man knows what an arse wants, when it needs
to crap. Oh! venerated Ilithyia! I shall burst unless the door gives
way. Have pity! pity! Let me not become a thunder-mug for the comic
poets.
(Enter CHREMES, returning from the Assembly.)
CHREMES
Hi! friend, what are you doing there? You're not crapping, are
you?
BLEPYRUS (finding relief at last)
Oh! there! it is over and I can get up again.
CHREMES
What's this? You have your wife's tunic on.
BLEPYRUS
It was the first thing that came to my hand in the darkness. But
where are you coming from?
CHREMES
From the Assembly.
BLEPYRUS
Is it already over then?
CHREMES
Certainly.
BLEPYRUS
Why, it is scarcely daylight.
CHREMES
I did laugh, ye gods, at the vermilion rope-marks that were to
be seen all about the Assembly.
BLEPYRUS
Did you get the triobolus?
CHREMES
Would it had so pleased the gods! but I arrived just too late, and
am quite ashamed of it; I bring back nothing but this empty wallet.
BLEPYRUS
But why is that?
CHREMES
There was a crowd, such as has never been seen at the Pnyx, and
the folk looked pale and wan, like so many shoemakers, so white were
they in hue; both I and many another had to go without the triobolus.
BLEPYRUS
Then if I went now, I should get nothing.
CHREMES
No, certainly not, nor even had you gone at the second cock-crow.
BLEPYRUS
Oh! what a misfortune! "Oh, Antilochus! no triobolus! Even death
would be better! I am undone!" But what can have attracted such a
crowd at that early hour?
CHREMES
The Prytanes started the discussion of measures closely concerning
the safety of the state; immediately, that blear-eyed fellow, the
son of Neoclides, was the first to mount the platform. Then the folk
shouted with their loudest voice, "What! he dares to speak, and
that, too, when the safety of the state is concerned, and he a man who
has not known how to save even his own eyebrows!" He, however, shouted
louder than all of them, and looking at them asked, "Why, what ought I
to have done?"
BLEPYRUS
Pound together garlic and laserpitium juice, add to this mixture
some Laconian spurge, and rub it well into the eyelids at night.
That's what I should have answered, had I been there.
CHREMES
After him that clever rascal Evaeon began to speak; he was
naked, so far as we all could see, but he declared he had a cloak;
he propounded the most popular, the most democratic, doctrines. "You
see," he said, "I have the greatest need of sixteen drachmae, the cost
of a new cloak, my health demands it; nevertheless I wish first to
care for that of my fellow-citizens and of my country. If the
fullers were to supply tunics to the indigent at the approach of
winter, none would be exposed to pleurisy. Let him who has neither
beds nor coverlets go to sleep at the tanners' after taking a bath;
and if they shut the door in winter, let them be condemned to give him
three goat-skins."
BLEPYRUS
By Dionysus, a fine, a very fine notion! Not a soul will vote
against his proposal, especially if he adds that the flour-sellers
must supply the poor with three measures of corn, or else suffer the
severest penalties of the law; this is the only way Nausicydes can
be of any use to us.
CHREMES
Then we saw a handsome young man rush into the tribune, be was all
pink and white like young Nicias, and he began to say that the
direction of matters should be entrusted to the women; this the
crowd of shoemakers began applauding with all their might, while the
country-folk assailed him with groans.
BLEPYRUS
And, indeed, they did well.
CHREMES
But they were outnumbered, and the orator shouted louder than
they, saying much good of the women and much ill of you.
BLEPYRUS (eagerly)
And what did he say?
CHREMES
First he said you were a rogue...
BLEPYRUS
And you?
CHREMES
Wait a minute!...and a thief...
BLEPYRUS
I alone?
CHREMES
And an informer.
BLEPYRUS
I alone?
CHREMES
Why, no, by the gods! this whole crowd here.
(He points to the audience.)
BLEPYRUS
And who avers the contrary?
CHREMES
He maintained that women were both clever and thrifty, that they
never divulged the Mysteries of Demeter, while you and I go about
babbling incessantly about whatever happens at the Senate.
BLEPYRUS
By Hermes, he was not lying!
CHREMES
Then he added that the women lend each other clothes, trinkets
of gold and silver, drinking-cups, and not before witnesses too, but
all by themselves, and that they return everything with exactitude
without ever cheating each other; whereas, according to him, we are
ever ready to deny the loans we have effected.
BLEPYRUS
Yes, by Posidon, and in spite of witnesses.
CHREMES
Again, he said that women were not informers, nor did they bring
lawsuits, nor hatch conspiracies; in short, he praised the women in
every possible manner.
BLEPYRUS
And what was decided?
CHREMES
To confide the direction of affairs to them; it's the one and only
innovation that has not yet been tried at Athens.
BLEPYRUS
And it was voted?
CHREMES
Yes.
BLEPYRUS
And everything that used to be the men's concern has been given
over to the women?
CHREMES
You express it exactly.
BLEPYRUS
Thus it will be my wife who will go to the courts now in my stead?
CHREMES
And it will be she who will keep your children in your place.
BLEPYRUS
I shall no longer have to tire myself out with work from
daybreak onwards?
CHREMES
No, 'twill be the women's business, and you can stay at home and
amuse yourself with farting the whole day through.
BLEPYRUS
Well, what I fear for us fellows now is, that, holding the reins
of government, they will forcibly compel us...
CHREMES
To do what?
BLEPYRUS
...to lay them.
CHREMES
And if we are not able?
BLEPYRUS
They will give us no dinner.
CHREMES
Well then, do your duty; dinner and love-making form a double
enjoyment.
BLEPYRUS
Ah! but I hate compulsion.
CHREMES
But if it is for the public good, let us resign ourselves. It's an
old saying that our absurdest and maddest decrees always somehow
turn out for our good. May it be so in this case, oh gods, oh
venerable Pallas! But I must be off; so, good-bye to you!
(Exit.)
BLEPYRUS
Good-bye, Chremes.
(He goes back into his house.)
CHORUS (returning from the Assembly, still dressed like men;
singing)
March along, go forward. Is there some man following us? Turn
round, examine everywhere and keep a good look-out; be on your guard
against every trick, for they might spy on us from behind. Let us make
as much noise as possible as we tramp. It would be a disgrace for
all of us if we allowed ourselves to be caught in this deed by the
men. Come, wrap yourselves up well, and search both right and left, so
that no mischance may happen to us. Let us hasten our steps; here we
are close to the meeting-place whence we started for the Assembly, and
here is the house of our leader, the author of this bold scheme, which
is now decreed by all the citizens. Let us not lose a moment in taking
off our false beards, for we might be recognized and denounced. Let us
stand under the shadow of this wall; let us glance round sharply
with our eye to beware of surprises, while we quickly resume our
ordinary dress. Ah! here is our leader, returning from the Assembly.
Hasten to relieve your chins of these flowing manes. Look at your
comrades yonder; they have already made themselves women again some
while ago.
(They remove the beards as PRAXAGORA and the other women enter
from the right through the Orchestra.)
PRAXAGORA
Friends, success has crowned our plans. But off with these
cloaks and these boots quick, before any man sees you; unbuckle the
Laconian straps and get rid of your staffs; (to the LEADER) and you
help them with their toilet. As for myself, I am going to slip quietly
into the house and replace my husband's cloak and other gear where I
took them from, before he can suspect anything.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
There! it's done according to your bidding. Now tell us how we can
be of service to you, so that we may show you our obedience, for we
have never seen a cleverer woman than you.
PRAXAGORA
Wait! I only wish to use the power given me in accordance with
your wishes; for, in the market-place, in the midst of the shouts
and danger, I appreciated your indomitable courage.
(Just as she is about to enter the house BLEPYRUS appears in the
doorway.)
BLEPYRUS
Eh, Praxagora! where are you coming from?
PRAXAGORA
How does that concern you, dear?
BLEPYRUS
Why, greatly! what a silly question!
PRAXAGORA
You don't think I have come from a lover's?
BLEPYRUS
No, perhaps not from only one.
PRAXAGORA
You can make yourself sure of that.
BLEPYRUS
And how?
PRAXAGORA
You can see whether my hair smells of perfume.
BLEPYRUS
What? cannot a woman possibly be laid without perfume, eh!
PRAXAGORA
The gods forfend, as far as I am concerned.
BLEPYRUS
Why did you go off at early dawn with my cloak?
PRAXAGORA
Acompanion, a friend who was in labour, had sent to fetch me.
BLEPYRUS
Could you not have told me?
PRAXAGORA
Oh, my dear, would you have me caring nothing for a poor woman
in that plight?
BLEPYRUS
A word would have been enough. There's something behind all this.
PRAXAGORA
No, I call the goddesses to witness! I went running off; the
poor woman who summoned me begged me to come, whatever might betide.
BLEPYRUS
And why did you not take your mantle? Instead of that, you carry
of mine, you throw your dress upon the bed and you leave me as the
dead are left, bar the chaplets and perfumes.
PRAXAGORA
It was cold, and I am frail and delicate; I took your cloak for
greater warmth, leaving you thoroughly warm yourself beneath your
coverlets.
BLEPYRUS
And my shoes and staff, those too went off with you?
PRAXAGORA
I was afraid they might rob me of the cloak, and so, to look
like a man, I put on your shoes and walked with a heavy tread and
struck the stones with your staff.
BLEPYRUS
D'you know you have made us lose a sextary of wheat, which I
should have bought with the triobolus of the Assembly?
PRAXAGORA
Be comforted, for she had a boy.
BLEPYRUS
Who? the Assembly?
PRAXAGORA
No, no, the woman I helped. But has the Assembly taken place then?
BLEPYRUS
Did I not tell you of it yesterday?
PRAXAGORA
True; I remember now.
BLEPYRUS
And don't you know the decrees that have been voted?
PRAXAGORA
No indeed.
BLEPYRUS
Go to! you can live on lobster from now on, for they say the
government is handed over to you.
PRAXAGORA
To do what-to spin?
BLEPYRUS
No, that you may rule...
PRAXAGORA
What?
BLEPYRUS
...over all public business.
PRAXAGORA (as she exclaims this CHREMES reappears)
Oh! by Aphrodite how happy Athens will be!
BLEPYRUS
Why so?
PRAXAGORA
For a thousand reasons. None will dare now to do shameless
deeds, give false testimony or lay informations.
BLEPYRUS
Stop! in the name of the gods! Do you want me to die of hunger?
CHREMES
Good sir, let your wife speak.
PRAXAGORA
There will be no more thieves, nor envious people, no more rags
nor misery, no more abuse and no more prosecutions and law-suits.
CHREMES
By Posidon! that's grand, if it's true!
PRAXAGORA
I shall prove it and you shall be my witness and even he (pointing
to Blepyrus) will have no objections to raise.
CHORUS (singing)
You have served your friends, but now it behoves you to apply your
ability and your care to the welfare of the people. Devote the
fecundity of your mind to the public weal; adorn the citizens' lives
with a thousand enjoyments and teach them to seize every favourable
opportunity. Devise some ingenious method to secure the much-needed
salvation of Athens; but let neither your acts nor your words recall
anything of the past, for 'tis only innovations that please.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
But do not fail to put your plans into execution immediately; it's
quick action that pleases the audience.
PRAXAGORA
I believe my ideas are good, but what I fear is that the public
will cling to the old customs and refuse to accept my reforms.
CHREMES
Have no fear about that. Love of novelty and disdain for
traditions, these are the dominating principles among us.
PRAXAGORA (to the audience)
Let none contradict nor interrupt me until I have explained my
plan. I want all to have a share of everything and all property to
be in common; there will no longer be either rich or poor; no longer
shall we see one man harvesting vast tracts of land, while another has
not ground enough to be buried in, nor one man surround himself with a
whole army of slaves, while another has not a single attendant; I
intend that there shan only be one and the same condition of life
for all.
BLEPYRUS
But how do you mean for all?
PRAXAGORA (impatiently)
You'll eat dung before I do!
BLEPYRUS
Won't the dung be common too?
PRAXAGORA
No, no, but you interrupted me too soon. This is what I was
going to say; I shall begin by making land, money, everything that
is private property, common to all. Then we shall live on this
common wealth, which we shall take care to administer with wise
thrift.
BLEPYRUS
And how about the man who has no land, but only gold and silver
coins, that cannot be seen?
PRAXAGORA
He must bring them to the common stock, and if he fails he will be
a perjured man.
BLEPYRUS
That won't worry him much, for has he not gained them by perjury?
PRAXAGORA
But his riches will no longer be of any use to him.
BLEPYRUS
Why?
PRAXAGORA
The poor will no longer be obliged to work; each will have all
that he needs, bread, salt fish, cakes, tunics, wine, chaplets and
chick-pease; of what advantage will it be to him not to contribute his
share to the common wealth? What do you think of it?
BLEPYRUS
But is it not the biggest robbers that have all these things?
CHREMES
Yes, formerly, under the old order of things; but now that all
goods are in common, what will he gain by not bringing his wealth into
the general stock?
BLEPYRUS
If someone saw a pretty wench and wished to lay her, he would take
some of his reserve store to make her a present and stay the night
with her; this would not prevent him claiming his share of the
common property.
PRAXAGORA
But he can sleep with her for nothing; I intend that women shall
belong to all men in common, and each shall beget children by any
man that wishes to have her.
BLEPYRUS
But all will go to the prettiest woman and try to lay her.
PRAXAGORA
The ugliest and the most flat-nosed will be side by side with
the most charming, and to win the latter's favours, a man will first
have to get into the former.
BLEPYRUS
But what about us oldsters? If we have to lay the old women first,
how can we keep our tools from failing before we get into the Promised
Land?
PRAXAGORA
They will make no resistance. Never fear; they will make no
resistance.
BLEPYRUS
Resistance to what?
PRAXAGORA
To the pleasure of the thing. This is the way that matters will be
ordered for you.
BLEPYRUS
It's very well conceived for you women, for every wench's hole
will be filled; but what about the men? The women will run away from
the ugly ones and chase the good-looking.
PRAXAGORA
The ugly will follow the handsomest into the public places after
supper and see to it that the law, which forbids the women to sleep
with the big, handsome men before having satisfied the ugly shrimps,
is complied with.
BLEPYRUS
Thus ugly Lysicrates' nose will be as proud as the handsomest
face?
PRAXAGORA
Yes, by Apollo! this is a truly popular decree, and what a
set-back it will be for one of those elegants with their fingers
loaded with rings, when a man with heavy shoes says to him, "Give
way to me and wait till I have done; you will pass in after me."
BLEPYRUS
But if we live in this fashion, how will each one know his
children?
PRAXAGORA
The youngest will look upon the oldest as their fathers.
BLEPYRUS
Ah! how heartily they will strangle all the old men, since even
now, when each one knows his father, they make no bones about
strangling him! then, my word! won't they just scorn and crap upon the
old folks!
PRAXAGORA
But those around will prevent it. Hitherto, when anyone saw an old
man beaten, he would not meddle, because it did not concern him;
buff now each will fear the sufferer may be his own father and such
violence will be stopped.
BLEPYRUS
What you say is not so silly after all; but it would be highly
unpleasant were Epicurus and Leucolophas to come up and call me
father.
CHREMES
But it would be far worse, were...
BLEPYRUS
Were what?
CHREMES
...Aristyllus to embrace you and style you his father.
BLEPYRUS
He'll regret it if he does!
CHREMES
For you would smell vilely of mint if he kissed you. But he was
born before the decree was carried, so that you have not to fear his
kiss.
BLEPYRUS
It would be awful. But who will till the soil?
PRAXAGORA
The slaves. Your only cares will be to scent yourself, and to go
and dine, when the shadow of the gnomon is ten feet long on the dial.
BLEPYRUS
But how shall we obtain clothing? Tell me that!
PRAXAGORA
You will first wear out those you have, and then we women will
weave you others.
BLEPYRUS
Now another point: if the magistrates condemn a citizen to the
payment of a fine, how is he going to do it? Out of the public
funds? That would not be right surely.
PRAXAGORA
But there will be no more lawsuits.
BLEPYRUS
This rule will ruin you.
CHREMES
I think so too.
PRAXAGORA
Besides, my dear, why should there be lawsuits?
BLEPYRUS
Oh! for a thousand reasons, on my faith! Firstly, because a debtor
denies his obligation.
PRAXAGORA
But where will the lender get the money to lend, if all is in
common? unless he steals it out of the treasury? and he could not hide
that!
CHREMES
Well thought out, by Demeter!
BLEPYRUS
But tell me this: here are some men who are returning from a feast
and are drunk and they strike some passer-by; how are they going to
pay the fine? Ah! you are puzzled now!
PRAXAGORA
They will have to take it out of their pittance; and being thus
punished through their belly, they will not care to begin again.
BLEPYRUS
There will be no more thieves then, eh?
PRAXAGORA
Why steal, if you have a share of everything?
BLEPYRUS
People will not be robbed any more at night?
CHREMES
Not if you sleep at home.
PRAXAGORA
Even if you sleep outdoors there will be no more danger, for all
will have the means of living. Besides, if anyone wanted to steal your
cloak, you would give it to him yourself. Why not? You will only
have to go to the common store and be given a better one.
BLEPYRUS
There will be no more playing at dice?
PRAXAGORA
What object will there be in playing?
BLEPYRUS
But what kind of life is it you propose to set up?
PRAXAGORA
The life in common. Athens will become nothing more than a
single house, in which everything will belong to everyone; so that
everybody will be able to go from one house to the other at pleasure.
BLEPYRUS
And where will the meals be served?
PRAXAGORA
The law-courts and the porticoes will be turned into dining-halls.
BLEPYRUS
And what will the speaker's platform be used for?
PRAXAGORA
I shall place the bowls and the ewers there; and young children
will sing the glory of the brave from there, also the infamy of
cowards, who out of very shame will no longer dare to come to the
public meals.
BLEPYRUS
Well thought out, by Apollo! And what will you do with the urns?
PRAXAGORA
I shall have them taken to the market-place, and standing close to
the statue of Harmodius, I shall draw a lot for each citizen, which by
its letter will show the place where he must go to dine. Thus, those
for whom I have drawn an R will go to the royal portico; if it's a
T, they will go to the portico of Theseus; if it's an F, to that of
the flour-market.
BLEPYRUS
To cram himself there like a capon?
PRAXAGORA
No, to dine there.
BLEPYRUS
And the citizen whom the lot has not given a letter showing
where he is to dine will be driven off by everyone?
PRAXAGORA (with great solemnity)
But that will not occur. Each man will have plenty; he will not
leave the feast until he is well drunk, and then with a chaplet on his
head and a torch in his hand; and then the women running to meet you
in the crossroads will say, "This way, come to our house, you will
find a beautiful young girl there."-"And I," another will call from
her balcony, "have one so pretty and as white as milk; but before
touching her, you must sleep with me." And the ugly men, watching
closely after the handsome fellows, will say, "Hi! friend, where are
you running to? Go in, but you must do nothing; it's the ugly and
the flat-nosed to whom the law gives the right to make love first;
amuse yourself on the porch while you wait, in handling your
fig-leaves and playing with yourself." Well, tell me, does that
picture suit you?
BLEPYRUS AND CHREMES
Marvellously well.
PRAXAGORA
I must now go to the market-place to receive the property that
is going to be placed in common and to choose a woman with a loud
voice as my herald. I have all the cares of state on my shoulders,
since the power has been entrusted to me. I must likewise go to busy
myself about establishing the common meals, and you will attend your
first banquet to-day.
BLEPYRUS
Are we going to banquet?
PRAXAGORA
Why, undoubtedly! Furthermore, I propose abolishing the whores.
BLEPYRUS
And what for?
PRAXAGORA
It's clear enough why; so that, instead of them, we may have the
first-fruits of the young men. It is not meet that tricked-out
slaves should rob free-born women of their pleasures. Let the
courtesans be free to sleep with the slaves.
BLEPYRUS
I will march at your side, so that I may be seen and that everyone
may say, "Look at the Dictator's husband!"
(He follows PRAXAGORA into their house.)
CHREMES
As for me, I shall arrange my belongings and take inventory of
them, in order that I may take them to the market-place.
(He departs.)
(There is an interlude of dancing by the CHORUS, after which
CHREMES returns with his belongings and arranges them in a long
line.)
CHREMES
Come hither, my beautiful sieve, I have nothing more precious than
you, come, all clotted with the flour of which I have poured so many
sacks through you; you shall act the part of Canephorus in the
procession of my chattels. Where is the sunshade carrier? Ah! this
stew-pot shall take his place. Great gods, how black it is! it could
not be more so if Lysicrates had boiled the drugs in it with which
be dyes his hair. Hither, my beautiful mirror. And you, my tripod,
bear this urn for me; you shall be the water-bearer; and you, cock,
whose morning song has so often roused me in the middle of the night
to send me hurrying to the Assembly, you shall be my flute-girl.
Scaphephorus, do you take the large basin, place in it the
honeycombs and twine the olive-branches over them, bring the tripods
and the phial of perfume; as for the humble crowd of little pots, I
will just leave them behind.
CITIZEN (watching CHREMES from a distance)
What folly to carry one's goods to the common store; I have a
little more sense than that. No, no, by Posidon, I want first to
ponder and calculate over the thing at leisure. I shall not be fool
enough to strip myself of the fruits of my toil and thrift, if it is
not for a very good reason; let us see first which way things turn.
(He walks over to CHREMES) Hi! friend, what means this display of
goods? Are you moving or are you going to pawn your stuff?
CHREMES
Neither.
CITIZEN
Why then are you setting all these things out in line? Is it a
procession that you are starting off to Hiero, the public crier?
CHREMES
No, but in accordance with the new law that has been decreed, I am
going to carry all these things to the market-place to make a gift
of them to the state.
CITIZEN
Oh! bah! you don't mean that.
CHREMES
Certainly.
CITIZEN
Oh! Zeus the Deliverer! you unfortunate man!
CHREMES
Why?
CITIZEN
Why? It's as clear as noonday.
CHREMES
Must the laws not be obeyed then?
CITIZEN
What laws, you poor fellow?
CHREMES
Those that have been decreed.
CITIZEN
Decreed! Are you mad, I ask you?
CHREMES
Am I mad?
CITIZEN
Oh! this is the height of folly!
CHREMES
Because I obey the law?
CITIZEN
Is that the duty of a smart man?
CHREMES
Absolutely.
CITIZEN
Say rather of a ninny.
CHREMES
Don't you propose taking what belongs to you to the common stock?
CITIZEN
I'll take good care I don't until I see what the majority are
doing.
CHREMES
There's but one opinion, namely, to contribute every single thing one
has.
CITIZEN
I am waiting to see it, before I believe that.
CHREMES
At least, so they say in every street.
CITIZEN (sardonically)
And they will go on saying so.
CHREMES
Everyone talks of contributing all he has.
CITIZEN (in the same tone)
And will go on talking of it.
CHREMES
You weary me with your doubts and dubitations.
CITIZEN (in the same tone)
Everybody else will doubt it.
CHREMES
The pest seize you!
CITIZEN (in the same tone)
It will take you. (Then seriously) What? give up your goods! Is
there a man of sense who will do such a thing? Giving is not one of
our customs. Receiving is another matter; it's the way of the gods
themselves. Look at the position of their hands on their statues; when
we ask a favour, they present their hands turned palm up so as not
to give, but to receive.
CHREMES
Wretch, let me do what is right. Come, I'll make a bundle of all
these things. Where is my strap?
CITIZEN
Are you really going to carry them in?
CHREMES
Undoubtedly, and there are my two tripods strung together already.
CITIZEN
What folly! Not to wait to see what the others do, and then...
CHREMES
Well, and then what?
CITIZEN
...wait and put it off again.
CHREMES
What for?
CITIZEN
That an earthquake may come or an ill-omened flash of lightning,
that a black cat may run across the street and no one carry in
anything more, you fool!
CHREMES
It would be a fine thing if I were to find no room left for
placing all this.
CITIZEN
You are much more likely to lose your stuff. As for placing it,
you can be at ease, for there will be room enough as long as a month
hence.
CHREMES
Why?
CITIZEN
I know these people; a decree is readily passed, but it is not
so easily attended to.
CHREMES
All will contribute their property, my friend.
CITIZEN
But what if they don't?
CHREMES
But there is no doubt that they will.
CITIZEN (insistently)
But anyhow, what if they don't?
CHREMES
Do not worry; they will.
CITIZEN
And what if they oppose it?
CHREMES
We shall compel them to do so.
CITIZEN
And what if they prove the stronger?
CHREMES
I shall leave my goods and go off.
CITIZEN
And what if they sell them for you?
CHREMES
The plague take you!
CITIZEN
And if it does?
CHREMES
It will be a good riddance.
CITIZEN (in an incredulous tone)
You are really bent on contributing, then?
CHREMES
'Pon my soul, yes! Look, there are all my neighbours carrying in
all they have.
CITIZEN (sarcastically)
Oh yes, it's Antisthenes; he's the type that would contribute!
He would just as soon spend the next month sitting on the can.
CHREMES
The pest seize you!
CITIZEN
Will Callimachus, the chorus-master, contribute anything?
CHREMES
Why, more than Callias!
CITIZEN
The man must want to spend all his money!
CHREMES
How you weary me!
CITIZEN
Ah! I weary you? But, wretch, see what comes of decrees of this
kind. Don't you remember the one reducing the price of salt?
CHREMES
Why, certainly I do.
CITIZEN
And do you remember that about the copper coinage?
CHREMES
Ah! that cursed money did me enough harm. I had sold my grapes and
had my mouth stuffed with pieces of copper; indeed I was going to
the market to buy flour, and was in the act of holding out my bag wide
open, when the herald started shouting, "Let none in future accept
pieces of copper; those of silver are alone current."
CITIZEN
And quite lately, were we not all swearing that the impost of
one-fortieth, which Euripides had conceived, would bring five
hundred talents to the state, and everyone was vaunting Euripides to
the skies? But when the thing was looked at closely, it was seen
that this fine decree was mere moonshine and would produce nothing,
and you would have willingly burnt this very same Euripides alive.
CHREMES
The cases are quite different, my good fellow. We were the
rulers then, but now it's the women.
CITIZEN
Whom, by Posidon, I will never allow to piss on my nose.
CHREMES
I don't know what the devil you're chattering about. Slave, pick
up that bundle.
HERALD (a woman)
Let all citizens come, let them hasten at our leader's bidding! It
is the new law. The lot will teach each citizen where he is to dine;
the tables are already laid and loaded with the most exquisite dishes;
the couches are covered with the softest of cushions; the wine and
water are already being mixed in the ewers; the slaves are standing in
a row and waiting to pour scent over the guests; the fish is being
grilled, the hares are on the spit and the cakes are being kneaded,
chaplets are being plaited and the fritters are frying; the youngest
women are watching the pea-soup in the saucepans, and in the midst
of them all stands Smoeus, dressed as a knight, washing the
crockery. And Geron has come, dressed in a grand tunic and finely
shod; he is joking with another young fellow and has already
divested himself of his heavy shoes and his cloak. The pantry man is
waiting, so come and use your jaws.
(Exit)
CITIZEN
All right, I'll go. Why should I delay, since the state commands
me?
CHREMES
And where are you going to, since you have not deposited your
belongings?
CITIZEN
To the feast.
CHREMES
If the women have any wits, they will first insist on your
depositing your goods.
CITIZEN
But I am going to deposit them.
CHREMES
When?
CITIZEN
I am not the man to make delays.
CHREMES
How do you mean?
CITIZEN
There will be many less eager than I.
CHREMES
In the meantime you are going to dine.
CITIZEN
What else should I do? Every sensible man must give his help to
the state.
CHREMES
But if admission is forbidden you?
CITIZEN
I shall duck my head and slip in.
CHREMES
And if the women have you beaten?
CITIZEN
I shall summon them.
CHREMES
And if they laugh in your face?
CITIZEN
I shall stand near the door...
CHREMES
And then?
CITIZEN
...and seize upon the dishes as they pass.
CHREMES
Then go there, but after me. Sicon and Parmeno, pick up all this
baggage.
CITIZEN
Come, I will help you carry it.
CHREMES (pushing him away)
No, no, I should be afraid of your pretending to the leader that
what I am depositing belonged to you.
(Exit with his belongings.)
CITIZEN
Let me see! let me think of some good trick by which I can keep my
goods and yet take my share of the common feast. (He reflects for a
moment.) Ha! that's a fine idea! Quick! I'll go and dine, ha! ha!
(Exit laughing.)
(Interlude of dancing by the CHORUS.)
(The scene shifts to a different section of Athens and the two
houses are now to be thought of as those of two prostitutes.)
FIRST OLD WOMAN (leaning out of the window of one house)
How is this? no men are coming? And yet it must be fully time!
Then it is for naught that I have painted myself with white lead,
dressed myself in my beautiful yellow robe, and that I am here,
frolicking and humming between my teeth to attract some passer-by! Oh,
Muses, alight upon my lips, inspire me with some soft Ionian
love-song!
YOUNG GIRL (in the window of the other house)
You putrid old thing, you have placed yourself at the window
before me. You were expecting to strip my vines during my absence
and to trap some man in your snares with your songs. If you sing, I
shall follow suit; all this singing will weary the spectators, but
is nevertheless very pleasant and very diverting.
FIRST OLD WOMAN (thumbing her nose at the YOUNG GIRL)
Ha! here is an old man; take him and lead him away. (To the
flute-player) As for you, you young flute-player, let us hear some
airs that are worthy of you and me.
(She sings)
Let him who wishes to taste pleasure come to my side. These
young things know nothing about it; it's only the women of ripe age
who understand the art of love, and no one could know how to fondle
the lover who possessed me so well as myself; the young girls are
all flightiness.
YOUNG GIRL (singing in her turn)
Don't be jealous of the young girls; voluptuousness resides in the
pure outline of their beautiful limbs and blossoms on their rounded
breasts; but you, old woman, you who are tricked out and perfumed as
if for your own funeral, are an object of love only for grim Death
himself.
FIRST OLD WOMAN (singing again)
May your tongue be stopped; may you be unable to find your couch
when you want to be loved. And on your couch, when your lips seek a
lover, may you embrace only a viper!
YOUNG GIRL (singing again)
Alas! alas! what is to become of me? There is no lover! I am
left here alone; my mother has gone out. (Interrupting her song)
There's no need to mention the rest. (Then singing again) Oh! my
dear nurse, I adjure you to call Orthagoras, and may heaven bless you.
Ah! poor child, desire is consuming you like an Ionian woman;
(interrupting again) and yet you are no stranger to the wanton arts of
the Lesbian women. (Resuming her song) But you shall not rob me of
my pleasures; you will not be able to reduce or filch the time that
first belongs to me.
FIRST OLD WOMAN
Sing as much as you please, peep out like a cat lying in wait, but
none shall pass through your door without first having been to see me.
YOUNG GIRL
If anyone enter your house, it will be to carry out your corpse.
And that will be something new for you, you rotten old thing!
FIRST OLD WOMAN
Can anything be new to an old woman? My old age will not harm you.
YOUNG GIRL
Ah! shame on your painted cheeks!
FIRST OLD WOMAN
Why do you speak to me at all?
YOUNG GIRL
And why do you place yourself at the window?
FIRST OLD WOMAN
I am singing to myself about my lover, Epigenes.
YOUNG GIRL
Can you have any other lover than that old fop Geres?
FIRST OLD WOMAN
Epigenes will show you that himself, for he is coming to me.
See, here he is.
YOUNG GIRL
He's not thinking of you in the least.
FIRST OLD WOMAN
Aye, but he is.
YOUNG GIRL
Old starveling! Let's see what he will do. I will leave my window.
FIRST OLD WOMAN
And I likewise. You will see I am much wiser than you.
A YOUNG MAN (sings)
Ah! could I but sleep with the young girl without first making
love to the old flat-nose! It is intolerable for a free-born man.
FIRST OLD WOMAN (singing to the same tune)
Willy nilly, you must first gratify my desire. There shall be no
nonsense about that, for my authority is the law and the law must be
obeyed in a democracy.
(Speaking) But come, let me hide, to see what he's going to do.
(She retires.)
YOUNG MAN
Ah! ye gods, if I were to find the sweet child alone! the wine has
fired my lust.
YOUNG GIRL (reappearing in her window)
I have tricked that cursed old wretch; she has left her window,
thinking I would stay at home. Ah! here is the lover we were talking
of.
(She sings)
This way, my love, this way, come here and haste to rest the whole
night in my arms. I worship your lovely curly hair; I am consumed with
ardent desire. Oh! Eros, in thy mercy, compel him to my bed.
YOUNG MAN (standing beneath the YOUNG GIRL'S window and singing)
Come down and haste to open the door unless you want to see me
fall dead with desire. Dearest treasure, I am burning to yield
myself to voluptuous sport, lying on your bosom, to let my hands
play with your bottom. Aphrodite, why dost thou fire me with such
delight in her? Oh! Eros, I beseech thee, have mercy and make her
share my couch. Words cannot express the tortures I am suffering.
Oh! my adored one, I adjure you, open your door for me and press me to
your heart; 'tis for you that I am suffering. Oh! my jewel, my idol,
you child of Aphrodite, the confidante of the Muses, the sister of the
Graces, you living picture of voluptuousness, oh! open for me, press
me to your heart, 'tis for you that I am suffering.
(He knocks.)
FIRST OLD WOMAN (reappearing suddenly)
What are you knocking for? Are you looking for me?
YOUNG MAN
What an idea!
FIRST OLD WOMAN
But you were tapping at the door.
YOUNG MAN
Death would be sweeter.
FIRST OLD WOMAN
Why do you come with that torch in your hand?
YOUNG MAN
I am looking for a man from Anaphlystia.
FIRST OLD WOMAN
What's his name?
YOUNG MAN
Oh! it's not Sebinus, whom no doubt you are expecting.
FIRST OLD WOMAN (taking him by the arm)
By Aphrodite, you must, whether you like it or not.
YOUNG MAN (shaking her off
We are not now concerned with cases dated sixty years back; they
are remanded for a later day; we are dealing only with those of less
than twenty.
FIRST OLD WOMAN
That was under the old order of things, sweetheart, but now you
must first busy yourself with us.
YOUNG MAN
Aye, if I want to, according to the rules of draughts, where we
may either take or leave.
FIRST OLD WOMAN
But it's not according to the rules of draughts that you take your
seat at the banquet.
YOUNG MAN
I don't know what you mean; it's at this door I want to knock.
FIRST OLD WOMAN (standing in his way)
Not before knocking at mine first.
YOUNG MAN (haughtily)
For the moment I really have no need for old leather.
FIRST OLD WOMAN
I know that you love me; perhaps you are surprised to find me at
the door. But come, let me kiss you.
YOUNG MAN (pulling back; sarcastically)
No, no, my dear, I am afraid of your lover.
FIRST OLD WOMAN
Of whom?
YOUNG MAN
The most gifted of painters.
FIRST OLD WOMAN
And who is he?
YOUNG MAN
The artist who paints the little bottles on coffins. But get you
indoors, lest he should find you at the door.
FIRST OLD WOMAN
I know what you want.
YOUNG MAN
I can say as much of you.
FIRST OLD WOMAN (hanging on to him)
By Aphrodite, who has granted me this good chance, I won't let you
go.
YOUNG MAN
You are drivelling, you little old hag.
FIRST OLD WOMAN
Rubbish! I am going to lead you to my couch.
YOUNG MAN
What need for buying hooks? I will let her down to the bottom of
the well and pull up the buckets with her old carcase, for she's
crooked enough for that.
FIRST OLD WOMAN
A truce to your jeering, poor boy, and follow me.
YOUNG MAN
Nothing compels me to do so, unless you have paid the levy of five
hundredths for me.
FIRST OLD WOMAN
Look, by Aphrodite, there is nothing that delights me as much as
sleeping with a lad of your years.
YOUNG MAN
And I abhor such as you, and I will never, never consent.
FIRST OLD WOMAN
But, by Zeus, here is something will force you to it.
(She shows him a document.)
YOUNG MAN
What's that?
FIRST OLD WOMAN
A decree, which orders you to enter my house.
YOUNG MAN
Read it out then, and let's hear.
FIRST OLD WOMAN
Listen. "The women have decreed that if a young man desires a
young girl, he can only lay her after having satisfied an old woman;
and if he refuses and goes to seek the maiden, the old women are
authorized to seize him and drag him in."
YOUNG MAN
Alas! I shall become a Procrustes.
FIRST OLD WOMAN
Obey the law.
YOUNG MAN
But if a fellow-citizen, a friend, came to pay my ransom?
FIRST OLD WOMAN
No man may dispose of anything above a medimnus.
YOUNG MAN
But may I not enter an excuse?
FIRST OLD WOMAN
There's no evasion.
YOUNG MAN
I shall declare myself a merchant and so escape service.
FIRST OLD WOMAN
Beware what you do!
YOUNG MAN
Well! what is to be done?
FIRST OLD WOMAN
Follow me.
YOUNG MAN
Is it absolutely necessary?
FIRST OLD WOMAN
Yes, as surely as if Diomedes had commanded it.
YOUNG MAN
Well then, first spread out a layer of origanum upon four pieces
of wood; bind fillets round your head, bring phials of scent and place
a bowl filled with lustral water before your door.
FIRST OLD WOMAN
Will you buy a chaplet for me too?
YOUNG MAN
Yes, if you outlast the tapers; for I expect to see you fall
down dead as you go in.
YOUNG GIRL (running out of her house)
Where are you dragging this unfortunate man to?
FIRST OLD WOMAN
To my own bed.
YOUNG GIRL
That's not right. A young fellow like him is not of the age to
suit you. You ought to be his mother rather than his wife. With
these laws in force, the earth will be filled with Oedipuses.
(She takes him away with her.)
FIRST OLD WOMAN
Oh! you cursed pest! it's envy that makes you say this; but I will
be revenged.
(She goes back into her house.)
YOUNG MAN
By Zeus the Deliverer, what a service you have done me, by freeing
me of this old wretch! with what ardour I will show you my gratitude
in a substantial form!
(Just as he begins to go in with the YOUNG GIRL an even older and
uglier woman enters.)
SECOND OLD WOMAN
Hi! you there! where are you taking that young man to, in defiance
of the law? The decree ordains that he must first sleep with me.
YOUNG MAN
Oh! what a misfortune! Where does this hag come from? She's a more
frightful monster than the other even.
SECOND OLD WOMAN
Come here.
(She takes him by the arm.)
YOUNG MAN (to the YOUNG GIRL)
Oh! I beg you, don't let me be led off by her!
SECOND OLD WOMAN
It's not I but the law that leads you off.
YOUNG MAN
No, it's not the law, but an Empusa with a body covered with
blemishes and blotches.
SECOND OLD WOMAN
Follow me, my handsome little friend, come along quickly without
any more ado.
YOUNG MAN
Oh! let me go to the can first, so that I may gather my wits
somewhat. Else I should be so terrified that you would see me
letting out something yellow.
SECOND OLD WOMAN
Never mind! you can crap, if you want, in my house.
YOUNG MAN
More than I want to, I'm afraid; but I offer you two good
securities.
SECOND OLD WOMAN
I don't require them.
(A THIRD OLD WOMAN, the ugliest yet, now appears.)
THIRD OLD WOMAN
Hi! friend, where are you off to with that woman?
YOUNG MAN
I am not going with her, but am being dragged by force. Oh!
whoever you are, may heaven bless you for having had pity on me in
my dire misfortune. (Turns round and sees the THIRD OLD WOMAN.) Oh
Heracles! oh Pan! oh Corybantes! oh Dioscuri! Why, she is still more
awful! Oh! what a monster! great gods! Are you an ape plastered with
white lead, or the ghost of some old hag returned from the dark
borderlands of death?
THIRD OLD WOMAN (taking his other arm)
No jesting! Follow me.
SECOND OLD WOMAN
No, come this way.
THIRD OLD WOMAN
I will never let you go.
SECOND OLD WOMAN
Nor will I.
YOUNG MAN
But you will rend me asunder, you cursed wretches.
SECOND OLD WOMAN
I'm the one he must go with according to the law.
THIRD OLD WOMAN
Not if an uglier old woman than yourself appears.
YOUNG MAN
But if you kill me at the outset, how shall I afterwards go to
find this beautiful girl of mine?
THIRD OLD WOMAN
That's your problem. But begin by obeying.
YOUNG MAN
Of which one must I rid myself first?
THIRD OLD WOMAN
Don't you know? Come here.
YOUNG MAN
Then let the other one release me.
SECOND OLD WOMAN
Come to my house.
YOUNG MAN
If this dame will let me go.
THIRD OLD WOMAN
No, by all the gods, I'll not let you go.
SECOND OLD WOMAN
Nor will I.
YOUNG MAN
You would make very bad boatwomen.
SECOND OLD WOMAN
Why?
YOUNG MAN
Because you would tear your passengers to pieces in dragging
them on board.
THIRD OLD WOMAN
Then come along, do, and hold your tongue.
SECOND OLD WOMAN
No, by Zeus, come with me.
YOUNG MAN
It's clearly a case for the decree of Cannonus; I must cut
myself in two in order to lay you both. But how am I to work two
oars at once?
THIRD OLD WOMAN
Easily enough; you have only to eat a full pot of onions.
YOUNG MAN
Oh! great gods! here I am close to the door and being dragged in!
SECOND OLD WOMAN (to THIRD OLD WOMAN)
You will gain nothing by this, for I shall rush into your house
with you.
YOUNG MAN
Oh, no! no! to suffer a single misfortune than two.
THIRD OLD WOMAN
Ah! by Hecate, whether you wish it or not.
YOUNG MAN
What a fate is mine, that I must make love to such a stinking
harridan the whole night through and all day; then, when I am rid of
her, I have still to tackle a brick-coloured hag! Am I not truly
unfortunate? Ah! by Zeus the Deliverer; under what fatal star must I
have been born, that I must sail in company with such monsters! But if
my bark sinks in the sewer of these strumpets, may I be buried at
the very threshold of the door; let this hag be stood upright on my
grave, let her be coated alive with pitch and her legs covered with
molten lead up to the ankles, and let her be set alight as a funeral
lamp.
(The YOUNG MAN is dragged off by the two OLD WOMEN, one on each
arm.)
(Interlude of dancing by the CHORUS.)
A SERVANT-MAID To PRAXAGORA (she comes from the banquet)
What happiness is the people's! what joy is mine, and above all
that of my mistress! Happy are ye, who form choruses before our house!
Happy are ye, both neighbours and fellow-citizens! Happy am I
myself! I am but a servant, and yet I have poured on my hair the
most exquisite essences. Let thanks be rendered to thee, Oh, Zeus! But
a still more delicious aroma is that of the wine of Thasos; its
sweet bouquet delights the drinker for a long time, whereas the others
lose their bloom and vanish quickly. Therefore, long life to the
wine-jars of Thasos! Pour yourselves out unmixed wine, it will cheer
you the whole night through, if you choose the liquor that possesses
most fragrance. (To the CHORUS) But tell me, friends, where is my
mistress's husband?
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
Wait for him here; he will no doubt pass this way.
MAID-SERVANT
Ah! there he is just going to dinner. Oh! master! what joy! what
blessedness is yours!
BLEPYRUS
Mine?
MAID-SERVANT
None can compare his happiness to yours; you have reached its
utmost height, you who, alone out of thirty thousand citizens have not
yet dined.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
Aye, here is undoubtedly a truly happy man.
MAID-SERVANT
Where are you off to?
BLEPYRUS
I am going to dine.
MAID-SERVANT
By Aphrodite, you will be the last of all, far and away the
last. Yet my mistress has bidden me take you and take with you these
young girls. Some Chian wine is left and lots of other good things.
Therefore hurry, and invite likewise all the spectators whom we have
pleased, and such of the judges as are not against us, to follow us;
we will offer them everything they can desire.
BLEPYRUS
Generously invite everyone and omit no one, old or young. Dinner
is ready for all; they need only go home. As for me, I shall go to the
banquet with the customary torch in my hand.
MAID-SERVANT
But why do you tarry, Blepyrus? Take these young girls with you
and, while you are away a while, I will whet my appetite with some
dining-song.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
I have but a few words to say: let the wise judge me because of
what, ever is wise in this piece, and those who like a laugh by
whatever has made them laugh. In this way I address pretty well
everyone. If the lot has assigned my comedy to be played first of all,
don't let that be a disadvantage to me; engrave in your memory all
that shall have pleased you in it and judge the competitors
equitably as you have bound yourselves by oath to do. Don't act like
vile courtesans, who never remember any but their last lover.
MAID-SERVANT
It is time, friends, high time to go to the banquet, if we want to
have our share of it. Open your ranks and let the Cretan rhythms
regulate your dances.
BLEPYRUS
That's what I am doing.
MAID-SERVANT
And you others, let your light steps too keep time. Very soon we'll
be eating lepadotema choselackogaleokrani
oleipsanodrimypotrimmatosil phiotyromelitokatake
chymenokicklepikossyphopkat toperisteralektryonoptokeph
aliokinklopeleiolagoiosiral obaphetragalopter ygdn. Come, quickly,
seize hold of a plate, snatch up a cup, and let's run to secure a
place at table. The rest will have their jaws at work by this time.
CHORUS (as they depart, dancing, with BLEPYRUS leading them)
Dance gaily! Iai! Iai! We shall dine! Euoi! Euai! Euai! As for a
triumph! Euoi! Euoi Euai! Euai!


THE END
.
 

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