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The Wasps

The purpose of this play was to satirize the love of litigation common to the Athenians, whose delight it was to spend their time in the law-courts.
420 BC
by Aristophanes
anonymous translator

SOSIAS, Slave of Philocleon
XANTHIAS, Slave of Philocleon
(SCENE:-In the background is the house of PHILOCLEON, surrounded
by a huge net. Two slaves are on guard, one of them asleep. On the
roof is BDELYCLEON.)

Why, Xanthias! what are you doing, wretched man?
I am teaching myself how to rest; I have been awake and on watch
the whole night.
So you want to earn trouble for your ribs, eh? Don't you know what
sort of animal we are guarding here?
Aye indeed! but I want to put my cares to sleep for a while.
(He falls asleep again.)
Beware what you do. I too feel soft sleep spreading over my eyes,
Are you crazy, like a Corybant?
No! It's Bacchus who lulls me off.
Then you serve the same god as myself. just now a heavy slumber
settled on my eyelids like a hostile Mede; I nodded and, faith! I
had a wondrous dream.
Indeed! and so had I. A dream such as I never had before. But
first tell me yours.
I saw an eagle, a gigantic bird, descend upon the market-place; it
seized a brazen buckler with its talons and bore it away into the
highest heavens; then I saw it was Cleonymus had thrown it away.
This Cleonymus is a riddle worth propounding among guests. How can
one and the same animal have cast away his buckler both on land, in
the sky and at sea?
Alas! what ill does such a dream portend for me?
Rest undisturbed! Please the gods, no evil will befall you.
Nevertheless, it's a fatal omen when a man throws away his
weapons. But what was your dream? Let me hear.
Oh! it is a dream of high import. It has reference to the hull
of the State; to nothing less.
Tell it to me quickly; show me its very keel.
In my first slumber I thought I saw sheep, wearing cloaks and
carrying staves, met in assembly on the Pnyx; a rapacious whale was
haranguing them and screaming like a pig that is being grilled.
Faugh! faugh!
What's the matter?
Enough, enough, spare me. Your dream stinks vilely of old leather.
Then this scoundrelly whale seized a balance and set to weighing
Alas! it's our poor Athenian people, whom this accursed beast
wishes to cut up and despoil of their fat.
Seated on the ground close to it, I saw Theorus, who had the
head of crow. Then Alcibiades said to me in his lisping way, "Do you
thee? Theoruth hath a crow'th head."
Ah! that's very well lisped indeed!
Isn't this mighty strange? Theorus turning into a crow!
No, it is glorious.
Why? He was a man and now he has suddenly become a crow; does it
not foretoken that he will take his flight from here and go to the
Interpreting dreams so aptly certainly is worth two obols.
XANTHIAS (turning to the audience)
Come, I must explain the matter to the spectators. But first a few
words of preamble: expect nothing very high-flown from us, nor any
jests stolen from Megara; we have no slaves, who throw baskets of nuts
to the spectators, nor any Heracles to be robbed of his dinner, nor
does Euripides get loaded with contumely; and despite the happy chance
that gave Cleon his fame we shall not go out of our way to belabour
him again, Our little subject is not wanting in sense; it is well
within your capacity and at the same time cleverer than many vulgar
comedies.-We have a master of great renown, who is now sleeping up
there on the other story. He has bidden us keep guard over his father,
whom he has locked in, so. that he may not go out. This father has a
curious complaint; not one of you could hit upon or guess it, if I did
not tell you.-Well then, try! I hear Amynias, the son of Pronapus,
over there, saying, "He is addicted to gambling." He's wrong! He is
imputing his own malady to others. Yet love is indeed the principal
part of his disease. Ah! here Sosias is telling Dercylus, "He loves
drinking." Wrong again! the love of wine is a good man's failing.
"Well then," says Nicostratus of the Scambonian deme, "he either loves
sacrifices or else strangers." God no! he is not fond of strangers,
Nicostratus, for he who says "Philoxenus" means a pederast, It's
mere waste of time, you will not find it out. If you want to know
it, keep silence! I will tell your our master's complaint; of all men,
it is he who is fondest of the Heliaea. Thus, to be judging is his
hobby, and he groans if he is not sitting on the first seat. He does
not close an eye at night, and if he dozes off for an instant his mind
flies instantly to the clepsydra. He is so accustomed to hold the
balloting pebble, that he awakes with his three fingers pinched
together as if he were offering incense to the new moon. If he sees
scribbled on some doorway, "How charming is Demos, the son of
Pyrilampes!" he will write beneath it, "How charming is Cemos!" His
cock crowed one evening; said he, "He has had money from the accused
to awaken me too late. As soon as he rises from supper he bawls for
his shoes and away he rushes down there before dawn to sleep
beforehand, glued fast to the column like an oyster. He is a merciless
judge, never failing to draw the convicting line and return home
with his nails full of wax like a bumble-bee. Fearing he might run
short of pebbles he keeps enough at home to cover a sea-beach, so that
he may have the means of recording his sentence. Such is his
madness, and all advice is useless; he only judges the more each
day. So we keep him under lock and key, to prevent his going out;
for his son is broken-hearted over this mania. At first he tried him
with gentleness, wanted to persuade him to wear the cloak no longer,
to go out no more; unable to convince him, he had him bathed and
purified according to the ritual without any greater success, and then
handed him over to the Corybantes; but the old man escaped them, and
carrying off the kettledrum, rushed right into the midst of the
Heliasts. As Cybele could do nothing with her rites, his son took
him to Aegina and forcibly made him lie one night in the temple of
Asclepius, the God of Healing, but before daylight there he was to
be seen at the gate of the tribunal. Since then we let him go out no
more, but he escaped us by the drains or by the skylight, so we
stuffed up every opening with old rags and made all secure; then he
drove short sticks into the wall and sprang from rung to rung like a
magpie. Now we have stretched-nets all around the court and we keep
watch and ward. The old man's name is Philocleon, it's the best name
he could have, and the son is called Edelycleon, for he is a man
very fit to cure an insolent fellow of his boasting.
BDELYCLEON (from the roof)
Xanthias! Sosias! Are you asleep?
What is the matter?
Why, Bdelycleon is getting up.
Will neither of you come here? My father has got into the
stove-chamber and is ferreting about like a rat in his hole. Take care
he does not escape through the bath drain. You there, put all your
weight against the door.
Yes, master.
By Zeus! what is that noise in the chimney? Hullo! who are you?
PHILOCLEON (poking his head out of the chimney)
I am the smoke going up.
Smoke? smoke of what wood?
Of fig-wood.
Ah! that's the most acrid of all. But you shall not get out. Where
is the chimney cover? Come down again. Now, up with another cross-bar.
Now look out for some fresh dodge. But am I not the most unfortunate
of men? Henceforward I shall only be called the son of Capnius.
He is pushing the door.
Throw your weight upon it, come, put heart into the work. I will
come and help you. Watch both lock and bolt. Take care he does not
gnaw through the peg.
PHILOCLEON (from within)
What are you doing, you wretches? Let me go out; it is
imperative that I go and judge, or Dracontides will be acquitted.
Would you mind that?
Once at Delphi, the god, whom I was consulting, foretold, that
if an accused man escaped me, I should die of consumption.
Apollo the Saviour, what a prophecy!
Ah! I beseech you, if you do not want my death, let me go.
No, Philocleon, no never, by Posidon!
Well then, I shall gnaw through the net with my teeth.
But you have no teeth.
Oh! you rascal, how can I kill you? How? Give me a sword, quick,
or a conviction tablet.
Our friend is planning some great crime.
No, by Zeus! but I want to go and sell my ass and its panniers,
for it's the first of the month.
Could I not sell it just as well?
Not as well as I could.
No, but better.
Bring out the ass anyway.
What a clever excuse he has found now! What cunning to get you
to let him go out!
Yes, but I have not swallowed the hook; I scented the trick. I
will go in and fetch the ass, so that the old man may not point his
weapons that way again. (He goes in, returning immediately with the
ass.) Stupid old ass, are you weeping because you are going to be
sold? Come, go a bit quicker. Why, what are you moaning and groaning
for? You might be carrying another Odysseus.
Why, certainly, so he is! someone has crept beneath his belly.
Who, who? Let's see. Why it's he! What does this mean? Who are
you? Come, speak!
I am Noman.
Noman? Of what country?
Of Ithaca, son of Apodrasippides.
Ha! Mister Noman, you will not laugh presently. Pull him out
quick. Ah! the wretch, where has he crept to? Does he not resemble a
she-ass to the life?
If you do not leave me in peace, I shall sue.
And what will the suit be about?
The shade of an ass.
You are a poor man of very little wit, but thoroughly brazen.
A poor man! Ah! by Zeus! you know not now what I am worth; but you
will know when you disembowel the old Heliast's money-bag.
Come, get back indoors, both you and your ass.
Oh! my brethren of the tribunal! oh! Cleon! to the rescue!
Go and bawl in there under lock and key. And you there, pile
plenty of stones against the door, thrust the bolt home into the
staple, and to keep this beam in its place roll that great mortar
against it. Quick's the word.
Oh! my god! whence did this brick fall on me?
Perhaps a rat loosened it.
A rat? it's surely our gutter-judge, who has crept beneath the
tiles of the roof.
Ah! woe to us! there he is, he has turned into a sparrow; he
will be flying off. Where is the net? where? Shoo! shoo! get back! Ah!
by Zeus! I would rather have to guard Scione than such a father.
And now that we have driven him in thoroughly and he can no longer
escape without our knowledge, can we not have a few winks of sleep, no
matter how few?
Why, wretch! the other jurymen will be here almost directly to
summon my father!
Why, it's scarcely dawn yet!
Ah, they must have risen late to-day. Generally it is the middle
of the night when they come to fetch him. They arrive here, carrying
lanterns in their hands and singing the charming old verses of
Phrynichus' Sidonian Women; it's their way of calling him.
Well, if need be, we will chase them off with stones.
What! you dare to speak so? Why, this class of old men, if
irritated, becomes as terrible as a swarm of wasps. They carry below
their loins the sharpest of stings, with which to prick their foes;
they shout and leap and their stings burn like so many sparks.
Have no fear! If I can find stones to throw into this nest of
jurymen-wasps, I shall soon have them cleared off.
(Enter the CHORUS, composed of old men costumed as wasps.)
March on, advance boldly and bravely! Comias, your feet are
dragging; once you were as tough as a dog-skin strap and now even
Charinades walks better than you. Ha! Strymodorus of Conthyle, you
best of mates, where is Euergides and where is Chabes of Phlya? Ha,
ha, bravo! there you are, the last of the lads with whom we mounted
guard together at Byzantium. Do you remember how, one night,
prowling round, we noiselessly stole the kneading-trough of a
baker's wife; we split it in two and cooked our green-stuff with
it.-But let us hasten, for the case of Laches comes on to-day, and
they all say he has embezzled a pot of money. Hence Cleon, our
protector, advised us yesterday to come early and with a three days'
stock of fiery rage so as to chastise him for his crimes. Let us
hurry, comrades, before it is light; come, let us search every nook
with our lanterns to see whether those who wish us ill have not set us
some trap.
Father, father, watch out for the mud.
Pick up a blade of straw and trim your lamp.
No. I can trim it quite well with my finger.
Why do you pull out the wick, you little dolt? Oil is scarce,
and it's not you who suffer when it has to be paid for. (Strikes him.)
If you teach us again with your fists, we shall put out the
lamps and go home; then you will have no light and will squatter about
in the mud like ducks in the dark.
I know how to punish offenders bigger than you. But I think I am
treading in some mud. Oh! it's certain it will rain in torrents for
four days at least; look at the snuff in our lamps; that is always a
sign of heavy rain; but the rain and the north wind will be good for
the crops that are still standing. Why, what can have happened to
our mate, who lives here? Why does he not come to join our party?
There used to be no need to haul him in our wake, for he would march
at our head singing the verses of Phrynichus; he was a lover of
singing. Should we not, friends, make a halt here and sing to call him
out? The charm of my voice will fetch him out, if he hears it.
CHORUS (singing)
Why does the old man not show himself before the door? Why does he
not answer? Has he lost his shoes? has he stubbed his toe in the
dark and thus got a swollen ankle? Perhaps he has a tumour in his
groin. He was the hardest of us all; he alone never allowed himself to
be moved. If anyone tried to move him, he would lower his head,
saying, "You might just as well try to boil a stone." But I bethink
me, an accused man escaped us yesterday through his false pretence
that he loved Athens and had been the first to unfold the Samian plot.
Perhaps his acquittal has so distressed Philocleon that he is abed
with fever-he is quite capable of such a thing.-Friend, arise, do
not thus vex your heart, but forget your wrath. To-day we have to
judge a man made wealthy by-treason, one of those who set Thrace free;
we have to prepare him a funeral march on, my boy, get
(Here a duet begins between the BOY and the CHORUS.)
Father, would you give me something if I asked for it?
Assuredly, my child, but tell me what nice thing do you want me to
buy you? A set of knuckle-bones, I suppose.
No, father, I prefer figs; they are better.
No, by Zeus! even if you were to hang yourself with vexation.
Well then, I will lead you no farther.
With my small pay, I am obliged to buy bread, wood, and stew;
and now you ask me for figs!
But, father, if the Archon should not form a court to-day, how are
we to buy our dinner? Have you some good hope to offer us or only
"Helle's sacred waves"?
Alas! alas! I have not a notion how we shall dine.
Oh! my poor mother! why did you let me see this day?
So that you might give me troubles to feed on.
Little wallet, you seem like to be a mere useless ornament!
It is our destiny to groan.
PHILOCLEON (appearing at an upper window; singing)
My friends, I have long been pining away while listening to you
from my window, but I absolutely know not what to do. I am detained
here, because I have long wanted to go with you to the law-court and
do all the harm I can. Oh! Zeus! cause the peals of thy thunder to
roll, change me quickly into smoke or make me into a Proxenides, a
tissue of falsehoods, like the son of Sellus. Oh, King of Heaven!
hesitate not to grant me this favour, pity my misfortune or else may
thy dazzling lightning instantly reduce me to ashes; then carry me
hence, and may thy breath hurl me into some strong, hot marinade or
turn me into one of the stones on which the votes are counted.
CHORUS (singing)
Who is it detains you and shuts you in? Speak, for you are talking
to friends.
PHILOCLEON (singing)
My son. But no bawling, he is there in front asleep; lower your
CHORUS (singing)
But, poor fellow, what is his aim? what is his object?
PHILOCLEON (singing)
My friends, he will not have me judge nor do anyone any ill, but
he wants me to stay at home and enjoy myself, and I will not. And does
this wretch, this Demologocleon dare to say such odious things, just
because you tell the truth about our navy? He would not have dared,
had he not been a conspirator.
But meanwhile, you must devise some new dodge, so that you can
come down here without his knowledge.
But what? Try to find some way. For myself, I am ready for
anything, so much do I burn to run along the tiers of the tribunal
with my voting-pebble in my hand.
There is surely some hole through which you could manage to
squeeze from within, and escape dressed in rags, like the crafty
Everything is sealed fast; not so much as a gnat could get
through. Think of some other plan; there is no possible hole of
Do you recall how, when you were with the army at the taking of
Naxos, you descended so readily from the top of the wall by means of
the spits you had stolen?
I remember that well enough, but what connection is there with
present circumstances? I was young, clever at thieving, I had all my
strength, none watched over me, and I could run off without fear.
But to-day men-at-arms are placed at every outlet to watch me, and two
of them are lying in wait for me at this very door armed with spits,
just as folks lie in wait for a cat that has stolen a piece of meat.
CHORUS (singing)
Come, discover some way as quick as possible. Here is the dawn
come, my dear little friend.
PHILOCLEON (singing)
The best way is to gnaw through the net. Oh! goddess who
watchest over the nets, forgive me for making a hole in this one.
CHORUS (singing)
It's acting like a man eager for his safety. Get your jaws to
PHILOCLEON (singing)
There! it's gnawed through! But no shouting! let Bdelycleon notice
CHORUS (singing)
Have no fear, have no fear! if he breathes a syllable, it will
be to bruise his own knuckles; he will have to fight to defend his own
head. We shall teach him not to insult the mysteries of the goddesses.
But fasten a rope to the window, tie it around your body and let
yourself down to the ground, with your heart bursting with the fury of
But if these notice it and want to fish me up and drag me back
into the house, what will you do? Tell me that.
We shall call up the full strength of our oak-tough courage to
your aid. That is what we will do.
I trust myself to you and risk the danger. If misfortune overtakes
me, take away my body, bathe it with your tears and bury it beneath
the bar of the tribunal.
Nothing will happen to you, rest assured. Come, friend, have
courage and let yourself slide down while you invoke your country's
Oh! mighty Lycus! noble hero and my neighbour, thou, like
myself, takest pleasure in the tears and the groans of the accused. If
thou art come to live near the tribunal, 'tis with the express
design of hearing them incessantly; thou alone of all the heroes
hast wished to remain among those who weep. Have pity on me and save
him, who lives close to thee; I swear I will never make water,
never, nor ever let a fart, against the railing of thy statue.
(He slides down as quietly as possible; nevertheless BDELYCLEON
wakes up.)
Ho, there! ho! get up!
XANTHIAS (waking up)
What's the matter?
I thought I heard talking close to me. Is the old man at it again,
escaping through some loophole?
No, by Zeus! no, but he is letting himself down by a rope.
Ha, rascal! what are you doing there? You shall not descend. (To
XANTHIAS) Mount quick to the other window, strike him with the
boughs that hang over the entrance; perhaps he will turn back when
he feels himself being thrashed.
PHILOCLEON (to the audience)
To the rescue! all you, who are going to have lawsuits this
year-Smicythion, Tisiades, Chremon and Pheredipnus. It's now or never,
before they force me to return, that you must help.
Why do we delay to let loose that fury, that is so terrible,
when our nests are attacked?
CHORUS (singing)
I feel my angry sting is stiffening, that sharp sting, with
which we punish our enemies. Come, children, cast your cloaks to the
winds, run, shout, tell Cleon what is happening, that he may march
against this foe of our city, who deserves death, since he proposes to
prevent the trial of lawsuits.
(The Boys run off, taking the CHORUS' mantles with them.)
BDELYCLEON (rushing out of the house with the two slaves and seizing
his father) Friends, listen to the truth, instead of bawling.
By Zeus! we will shout to heaven.
And I shall not let him go.
Why, this is intolerable, 'tis manifest tyranny.
CHORUS (singing)
Oh! citizens, oh! Theorus, the enemy of the gods! and all you
flatterers, who rule us! come to our aid.
By Heracles! they have stings. Do you see them, master?
It was with these weapons that they killed Philippus the son of
Gorgias when he was put on trial.
And you too shall die. Turn yourselves this way, all, with your
stings out for attack and throw yourselves upon him in good and
serried order, and swelled up with wrath and rage. Let him learn to
know the sort of foes he has dared to irritate.
The fight will be fast and furious, by great Zeus! I tremble at
the sight of their stings.
CHORUS (singing)
Let this man go, unless you want to envy the tortoise his hard
Come, my dear companions, wasps with relentless hearts, fly
against him, animated with your fury. Sting him in the arse, eyes, and
(opening the door and trying to shove his struggling father in)
Midas, Phryx, Masyntias, here! Come and help. Seize this man and
hand him over to no one, otherwise you shall starve to death in
chains. Fear nothing, I have often heard the crackling of fig-leaves
in the fire.
If you won't let him go, I shall bury this sting in your body.
Oh, Cecrops, mighty hero with the tail of a dragon! Seest thou how
these barbarians ill-use me-me, who have many a time made them weep
a full bushel of tears?
Is not old age filled with cruel ills? What violence these two
slaves offer to their old master! they have forgotten all bygones, the
fur-coats and the jackets and the caps he bought for them; in winter
he watched that their feet should not get frozen. And only see them
now; there is no gentleness in their look nor any recollection of
the slippers of other days.
Will you let me go, you accursed animal? Don't you remember the
day when I surprised you stealing the grapes; I tied you to an
olive-tree and I cut open your bottom with such vigorous lashes that
folks thought you had been raped. Get away, you are ungrateful. But
let go of me, and you too, before my son comes up.
You shall repay us for all this, and that soon. Tremble at our
ferocious glance; you shall taste our just anger.
Strike! strike! Xanthias! Drive these wasps away from the house.
That's just what I am doing.
Blind them with smoke too!
You will not go? The plague seize you! Will you not clear off?
Hit them with your stick Xanthias, and you Sosias, to smoke them
out better, throw Aeschines, the son of Sellartius, on the fire.
XANTHIAS (as the CHORUS retires from the unequal conquest)
There, we were bound to drive you off sooner or later!
Eh! by Zeus! you would not have put them to flight so easily if
they had fed on the verses of Philocles.
CHORUS (singing)
It is clear to all the poor that tyranny has attacked us sorely.
Proud emulator of Amynias, you, who only take pleasure in doing ill,
see how you are preventing us from obeying the laws of the city; you
do not even seek a pretext or any plausible excuse, but claim to
rule alone.
Hold! A truce to all blows and brawling! Had we not better
confer together and come to some understanding?
Confer with you, the people's foe! with you, a royalist....
CHORUS (singing)
....and accomplice of Brasidas, you with your woollen-fringed coat
and your long beard?
Ah! it would be better to separate altogether from my father
than to steer my boat daily through such stormy seas!
Oh! you have but reached the parsley and the rue, to use the
common saying. What you are suffering is nothing! but welcome the hour
when the advocate shall adduce all these same arguments against you
and shall summon your accomplices to give witness.
In the name of the gods! withdraw or we shall fight you the
whole day long.
CHORUS (singing)
No, not as long as I retain an atom of breath. Ha! your desire
is to tyrannize over us!
Everything is now tyranny with us, no matter what is concerned,
whether it be large or small. Tyranny! I have not heard the word
mentioned once in fifty years, and now it is more common than
salt-fish, the word is even current on the market. If you are buying
gurnards and don't want anchovies, the huckster next door, who is
selling the latter, at once exclaims, "That is a man whose kitchen
savours of tyranny!" If you ask for onions to season your fish, the
green-stuff woman winks one eye and asks, "Ha, you ask for onions! are
you seeking to tyrannize, or do you think that Athens must pay you
your seasonings as a tribute?"
Yesterday I went to see a whore about noon and told her to get
on top; she flew into a rage, pretending I wanted to restore the
tyranny of Hippias.
That's the talk that pleases the people! As for myself, I want
my father to lead a joyous life like Morychus instead of going away
before dawn basely to calumniate and condemn; and for this I am
accused of conspiracy and tyrannical practice!
And quite right too, by Zeus! The most exquisite dishes do not
make up to me for the life of which you deprive me. I scorn your red
mullet and your eels, and would far rather eat a nice little
lawsuitlet cooked in the pot.
That's because you have got used to seeking your pleasure in it;
but if you will agree to keep silence and hear me, I think I could
persuade you that you deceive yourself altogether.
I deceive myself, when I am judging?
You do not see that you are the laughing-stock of these men,
whom you are ready to worship. You are their slave and do not know it.
I a slave, I, who lord it over all?
Not at all, you think you are ruling when you are only obeying.
Tell me, father, what do you get out of the tribute paid by so many
Greek towns.
Much, and I appoint my colleagues jurymen.
And I also. (To the slaves) Release him.
And bring me a sword; If I am worsted in this debate, I shall fall
on the blade.
Tell me whether you will accept the verdict of the Court.
May I never drink my Heliast's pay in honour of the Good Genius,
it if I do not.
CHORUS (singing)
Now it is necessary for you, who are of our school, to say
something novel, that you may not seem...
BDELYCLEON (interrupting)
And I must note down everything he says, so as to remember it;
someone bring me a tablet, quick.
CHORUS (singing) side with this youth in his opinions. You see how serious
the question has become; if he should prevail, which the gods forfend,
it will be all over for us.
But what will you say of it, if he should triumph in the debate?
CHORUS (singing)
That old men are no longer good for anything; we shall be
perpetually laughed at in the streets, shall be called thallophores,
mere brief-bags.
You are to be the champion of all our rights and sovereignty.
Come, take courage! Bring into action all the resources of your wit.
At the outset I will prove to you that there exists no king
whose might is greater than ours. Is there a pleasure, a blessing
comparable with that of a juryman? Is there a being who lives more
in the midst of delights, who is more feared, aged though he be?
From the moment I leave my bed, men of power, the most illustrious
in the city, await me at the bar of the tribunal; the moment I am seen
from the greatest distance, they come forward to offer me a gentle
handy-that has pilfered the public funds; they entreat me, bowing
right low and with a piteous voice, "Oh, father," they say, "pity
me, I adjure you by the profit you were able to make in the public
service or in the army, when dealing with the victuals." Why, the
man who speaks thus would not know of my existence, had I not let
him off on some former occasion.
Let us note this first point, the supplicants.
These entreaties have appeased my wrath, and I enter-firmly
resolved to do nothing that I have promised. Nevertheless I listen
to the accused. Oh! what tricks to secure acquittal! Ah! there is no
form of flattery that is not addressed to the Heliast! Some groan over
their poverty and exaggerate it. Others tell us anecdotes or some
comic story from Aesop. Others, again, cut jokes; they fancy I shall
be appeased if I won If we are not even then won over, why, then
they drag forward their young children by the hand, both boys and
girls, who prostrate themselves and whine with one accord, and then
the father, trembling as if before a god, beseeches me not to
condemn him out of pity for them, "If you love the voice of the
lamb, have pity on my sons"; and because I am fond of little sows, I
must yield to his daughter's prayers. Then we relax the heat of our
wrath a little for him. Is not this great power indeed, which allows
even wealth to be disdained?
A second point to note, the disdain of wealth. And now recall to
me what are the advantages you enjoy, you, who pretend to rule over
We are entrusted with the inspection of the young men, and thus we
have a right to examine their tools. If Oeagrus is accused, he is
not acquitted before he has recited a passage from 'Niobe' and he
chooses the finest. If a flute-player gains his case, he adjusts his
mouth-strap in return and plays us the final air while we are leaving.
A father on his death-bed names some husband for his daughter, who
is his sole heir; but we care little for his will or for the shell
so solemnly placed over the seal; we give the young maiden to him
who has best known how to secure our wavour. Name me another duty that
is so important and so irresponsible.
Aye, it's a fine privilege, and the only one on which I can
congratulate you; but surely to violate the will is to act badly
towards the heiress.
And if the Senate and the people have trouble in deciding some
important case, it is decreed to send the culprits before the
Heliasts; then Euathlus and the illustrious Colaconymus, who cast away
his shield, swear not to betray us and to fight for the people. Did
ever an orator carry the day with his opinion if he had not first
declared that the jury should be dismissed for the day as soon as they
had given their first verdict? We are the only ones whom Cleon, the
great bawler, does not badger. On the contrary, he protects and
caresses us; he keeps off the flies, which is what you have never done
for your father. Theorus, who is a man not less illustrious than
Euphemius, takes the sponge out of the pot and blacks our shoes. See
then what good things you deprive and despoil me of. Pray, is this
obeying or being a slave, as you pretended to be able to prove?
Talk away to your heart's content; you must come to a stop at last
and then you shall see that this grand power only resembles an anus;
no matter how much you wash it, you can never get it clean.
But I am forgetting the most pleasing thing of all. When I
return home with my pay, everyone runs to greet me because of my
money. First my daughter bathes me, anoints my feet, stoops to kiss me
and, while she is calling me "her dearest father," fishes out my
triobolus with her tongue; then my little wife comes to wheedle me and
brings a nice light cake; she sits beside me and entreats me in a
thousand ways, "Do take this now; do have some more." All this
delights me hugely, and I have no need to turn towards you or the
steward to know when it shall please him to serve my dinner, all the
while cursing and grumbling. But if he does not quickly knead my cake,
I have something which is my defence, my shield against all ills. If
you do not pour me out drink, I have brought this long-eared jar
full of wine. How it brays, when I bend back and bury its neck in my
mouth! It farts like a whole army, and how I laugh at your wine-skins.
(With increasing excitement) As to power, am I not equal to the king
of the gods? If our assembly is noisy, all say as they pass, "Great
gods! the tribunal is rolling out its thunder!" If I let loose the
lightning, the richest, aye, the noblest are half dead with terror and
crap for fright. You yourself are afraid of me, yea, by Demeter! you
are afraid. But may I die if you frighten me.
CHORUS (singing)
Never have I heard speech so elegant or so sensible.
Ah! he thought he had only to turn me round his finger; he should,
however have known the vigour of my eloquence.
CHORUS (singing)
He has said everything without omission. I felt myself grow taller
while I listened to him. Methought myself meting out justice in the
Islands of the Blest, so much was I taken with the charm of his words.
How overjoyed they are! What extravagant delight! Ah! ah! you
are going to get a thrashing to-day.
CHORUS (singing)
Come, plot everything you can to beat him; 'tis not easy to soften
me if you do no talk on my side.
If you have nothing but nonsense to spout, it's time to buy a good
millstone, freshly cut withal, to crush my anger.
The cure of a disease, so inveterate and so widespread in
Athens, is a difficult task and of too great importance for the
scope of comedy. Nevertheless, my old father....
Cease to call me by that name, for, if you do not prove me a slave
and that quickly too, you must die by my hand, even if I must be
deprived of my share in the sacred feasts.
Listen to me, dear little father, unruffle that frowning brow
and reckon, you can do so without trouble, not with pebbles, but on
your fingers, what is the sum-total of the tribute paid by the
allied towns; besides this we have the direct imposts, a mass of
percentage dues, the fees of the courts of justice, the produce from
the mines, the markets, the harbours, tile public lands and the
confiscations. All these together amount to nearly two thousand
talents. Take from this sum the annual pay of the dicasts; they number
six thousand, and there have never been more in this town; so
therefore it is one hundred and fifty talents that come to you.
What! our pay is not even a tithe of the state revenue?
Why no, certainly not.
And where does the rest go then?
To those who say: "I shall never betray the interests of the
masses; I shall always fight for the people." And it is you, father,
who let yourself be caught with their fine talk, who give them all
power over yourself. They are the men who extort fifty talents at a
time by threat and intimidation from the allies. "Pay tribute to
me," they say, "or I shall loose the lightning on you-town and destroy
it." And you, you are content to gnaw the crumbs of your own might.
What do the allies do? They see that the Athenian mob lives on the
tribunal in niggard and miserable fashion, and they count you for
nothing, for not more than the vote of Connus; it is on those wretches
that they lavish everything, dishes of salt fish, wine, tapestries,
cheese, honey, chaplets, necklets, drinking-cups, all that yields
pleasure and health. And you, their master, to you as a reward for all
your toil both on land and sea, nothing is given, not even a clove
of garlic to eat with your little fish.
No, undoubtedly not; I have had to send and buy some from
Eucharides. But you told me I was a slave. Prove it then, for I am
dying with impatience.
Is it not the worst of all slaveries to see all these wretches and
their flatterers, whom they gorge with gold, at the head of affairs?
As for you, you are content with the three obols which they give you
and which you have so painfully earned in the galleys, in battles
and sieges. But what I stomach least is that you go to sit on the
tribunal by order. Some young fairy, the son of Chaereas, to wit,
enters your house wiggling his arse, foul with debauchery, on his
straddling legs and charges you to come and judge at daybreak, and
precisely to the minute. "He who presents himself after the opening of
the Court," says he, "will not get the triobolus." But he himself,
though he arrives late, will nevertheless get his drachma as a
public advocate. If an accused man makes him some present, he shares
it with a colleague and the pair agree to arrange the matter like
two sawyers, one of whom pulls and the other pushes. As for you, you
have only eyes for the public pay-clerk, and you see nothing.
Can it be I am treated thus? Oh! what is it you are saying? You
stir me to the bottom of my heart! I am all ears! I cannot express
what I feel.
Consider then; you might be rich, both you and all the others; I
know not why you let yourself be fooled by these folk who call
themselves the people's friends. A myriad of towns obey you, from
the Euxine to Sardis. What do you gain thereby? Nothing but this
miserable pay, and even that is like the oil with which the flock of
wool is impregnated and is doled to you drop by drop, just enough to
keep you from dying of hunger. They want you to be poor, and I will
tell you why. It is so that you may know only those who nourish you,
and so that, if it pleases them to loose you against one of their
foes, you shall leap upon him with fury. If they wished to assure
the well-being of the people, nothing would be easier for them. We
have now a thousand towns that pay us tribute; let them comand each of
these to feed twenty Athenians; then twenty thousand of our citizens
would be eating nothing but hare, would drink nothing but the purest
of milk, and always crowned with garlands, would be enjoying the
delights to which the great name of their country and the trophies

of Marathon give them the right; whereas to-day you are like the hired
labourers who gather the olives; you follow him who pays you.
Alas! my hand is benumbed; I can no longer draw my sword. What has
become of my strength?
When they are afraid, they promise to divide Euboea among you
and to give each fifty bushels of wheat, but what have they given you?
Nothing excepting, quite recently, five bushels of barley, and even
these you have only obtained with great difficulty, on proving you
were not aliens, and then choenix by choenix. (With increasing
excitement) That is why I always kept you shut in; I wanted you to
be fed by me and no longer at the beck of these blustering
braggarts. Even now I am ready to let you have all you want,
provided you no longer let yourself be suckled by the payclerk.
He was right who said, "Decide nothing till you have heard both
sides," for now it seems to me that you are the one who gains the
complete victory. My wrath is appeased and I throw away my sticks. (To
PHILOCLEON) But, you, our comrade and contemporary....
FIRST SEMI-CHORUS (taking this up in song)
.... let yourself be won over by his words; come, be not too
obstinate or too perverse. Would that I had a relative or kinsman to
correct me thus! Clearly some god is at hand and is now protecting you
and loading you with benefits. Accept them.
I will feed him, I will give him everything that is suitable for
an old man; oatmeal gruel, a cloak, soft furs, and a wench to rub
his tool and his loins. But he keeps silent and will not utter a
sound; that's a bad sign.
He has thought the thing over and has recognized his folly; he
is reproaching himself for not having followed your advice always. But
there he is, converted by your words, and wiser now, so that he will
no doubt alter his ways in the future and always believe in none but
Alas! alas!
Now why this lamentation?
PHILOCLEON (in tragic style)
A truce to your promises! What I love is down there, down there
I want to be, there, where the herald cries, "Who has not yet voted?
Let him rise!" I want to be the last of all to leave the urn. Oh, my
soul, my soul! where art thou? come! oh! dark shadows, make way for
me! By Heracles, may I reach the court in time to convict Cleon of
Come, father, in the name of the gods, believe me!
Believe you! Ask me anything, anything, except one.
What is it? Let us hear.
Not to judge any more! Before I consent, I shall have appeared
before Pluto.
Very well then, since you find so much pleasure in it, go down
there no more, but stay here and deal out justice to your slaves.
But what is there to judge? Are you mad?
Everything as in a tribunal. If a servant opens a door secretly,
you inflict upon him a simple fine; that's what you have repeatedly
done down there. Everything can be arranged to suit you. If it is warm
in the morning, you can judge in the sunlight; if it is snowing,
then seated at your fire; if it rains, you go indoors; and if you
don't rise till noon, there will be no Thesmothetes to exclude you
from the precincts.
The notion pleases me.
Moreover, if a pleader is long-winded, you will not be hungering
and chafing and seeking vengeance on the accused.
But could I judge as well with my mouth full?
Much better. Is it not said, that the dicasts, when deceived by
lying witnesses, have need to ruminate well in order to arrive at
the truth?
Well said, but you have not told me yet who will pay my salary.
I will.
So much the better; in this way I shall be paid by myself. Because
that damned jester, Lysistratus, played me an infamous trick the other
day. He received a drachma for the two of us and went on the
fish-market to get it changed and then brought me back three mullet
scales. I took them for obols and crammed them into my mouth; but
the smell choked me and I quickly spat them out. So I dragged him
before the court.
And what did he say to that?
Well, he pretended I had the stomach of a cock. "You have soon
digested the money," he said with a laugh.
You see, that is yet another advantage.
And no small one either. Come, do as you will.
Wait! I will bring everything here.
(He goes into the house.)
PHILOCLEON (to himself)
You see, the oracles are coming true; I have heard it foretold,
that one day the Athenians would dispense justice in their own houses,
that each citizen. would have himself a little tribunal constructed in
his porch similar to the altars of Hecate, and that there would be
such before every door.
BDELYCLEON (returning with slaves who are carrying various objects)
There, what do you think of that? I have brought you everything
needful and much more into the bargain. See, here is a thunder-mug in
case you have to pee; I shall hang it up beside you.
Good idea! Right useful at my age. You have found the true
alleviation of bladder troubles.
Here is a fire, and near to it are lentils, should you want to
have a bite to eat.
That's admirably arranged. In this way, even when feverish, I
shall nevertheless receive my pay; and besides, I could eat my lentils
without quitting my seat. But why this cock?
So that, should you doze during some pleading, he may awaken you
by crowing up there.
I want only for one thing more; all the rest is as good as can be.
What is that?
If only they could bring me an image of the hero Lycus.
Here it is! Why, you might think it was the god himself!
Oh! hero, my master I how repulsive you are to look at I
He looks just like Cleonymus.
That is why, hero though he be, he has no weapon.
The sooner you take your seat, the sooner I shall call a case.
Call it, for I have been seated ever so long.
Let us see. What case shall we bring up first? Is there a slave
who has done something wrong? Ah! you Thracian there, you burnt the
stew-pot the other day.
Wait, wait! This is a fine state of affairs! You almost made me
judge without a bar, and that is the most sacred thing of all for us.
There isn't any, by Zeus.
I'll run indoors and get one myself. (Exit)
What does it matter? Terrible thing, the force of habit.
XANTHIAS (coming out of the house)
Damn that animal! How can anyone keep such a dog?
Hullo! what's the matter?
Oh, it's Labes, who has just rushed into the kitchen and seized
a whole Sicilian cheese and gobbled it up.
Good! this will be the first offence I shall make my father try.
(To XANTHIAS) Come along and lay your accusation. XANTHIAS No, not
I; the other dog vows he will be accuser, if the matter is brought
up for trial.
Well then, bring them both along.
That's what we'll have to do.
(He goes hack into the house. A moment later PHILOCLEON comes
What is this?
The pig-trough of the swine dedicated to Hestia.
Did you steal it from a shrine?
No, no, by addressing Hestia first, I might, thanks to her,
crush an adversary. But put an end to delay by calling up the case. My
verdict is already settled.
Wait! I still have to bring out the tablets and the scrolls.
(He goes into the house.)
Oh! I am boiling, I am dying with impatience at your delays. I
could have traced the sentence in the dust.
BDELYCLEON (coming out with tablets and scrolls)
There you are.
Then call the case.
Right. Who is first on the docket?
My god! This is unbearable! I have forgotten the urns.
Now where are you going?
To look for the urns.
Don't bother, I have these pots.
Very well, then we have all we need, except the clepsydra.
BDELYCLEON (pointing to the thunder-mug)
What is this if it is not a clepsydra?
You know how to supply everything.
Let fire be brought quickly from the house with myrtle boughs
and incense, and let us invoke the gods before opening the sitting.
Offer them libations and your vows and we will thank them that a
noble agreement has put an end to your bickerings and strife. And
first let there be a sacred silence.
CHORUS (singing)
Oh! god of Delphi! oh! Phoebus Apollo! convert into the greatest
blessing for us all what is now happening before this house, and
cure us of our error, oh, Paean, our helper!
BDELYCLEON (solemnly)
Oh, Powerful god, Apollo Aguieus, who watchest at the door of my
entrance hall, accept this fresh sacrifice; I offer it that you may
deign to soften my father's excessive severity; he is as hard as iron,
his heart is like sour wine; do thou pour into it a little honey.
Let him become gentle toward other men, let him take more interest
in the accused than in the accusers, may he allow himself to be
softened by entreaties; calm his acrid humour and deprive his
irritable mind of all sting.
CHORUS (singing)
We unite our vows and chants to those of this new magistrate.
His words have won our favour and we are convinced that he loves the
people more than any of the young men of the present day.
(XANTHIAS brings in two persons costumed as dogs, but with masks
that suggest Laches and Cleon.)
If there be any judge near at hand, let him enter; once the
proceedings have opened, we shall admit him no more.
Who is the defendant?
This one.
He does not stand a chance.
Listen to the indictment. A dog of Cydathenaea doth hereby
charge Labes of Aexonia with having devoured a Sicilian cheese by
himself without accomplices. Penalty demanded, a collar of fig-tree
Nay, a dog's death, if convicted.
This is Labes, the defendant.
Oh! what a wretched brute! how entirely he looks the rogue! He
thinks to deceive me by keeping his jaws closed. Where is the
plaintiff, the dog of Cydathenaea?
Bow wow! bow wow!
Here he is.
Why, he's another Labes, a great barker and a licker of dishes.
BDELYCLEON (as Herald)
Silence! Keep your seats! (To the Cydathenaean dog.) And you, up
on your feet and accuse him.
Go on, and I will help myself and eat these lentils.
Gentlemen of the jury, listen to this indictment I have drawn
up. He has committed the blackest of crimes, against both me and the
seamen. He sought refuge in a dark corner to glutton on a big Sicilian
cheese, with which he sated his hunger.
Why, the crime is clear; the filthy brute this very moment belched
forth a horrible odour of cheese right under my nose.
And he refused to share with me. And yet can anyone style
himself your benefactor, when he does not cast a morsel to your poor
He has not shared anything, not even with his comrade. His madness
is as hot as my lentils.
In the name of the gods, father! No hurried verdict without
hearing the other side!
But the evidence is plain; the fact speaks for itself.
Then beware of acquitting the most selfish of canine gluttons, who
has devoured the whole cheese, rind and all, prowling round the
There is not even enough left for me to fill up the chinks in my
Besides, you must punish him, because the same house cannot keep
two thieves. Let me not have barked in vain, else I shall never bark
Oh! the black deeds he has just denounced! What a shameless thief!
Say, cock, is not that your opinion too? Ha, ha! He thinks as I do.
Here, Thesmothetes! where are you? Hand me the thunder-mug.
Get it yourself. I go to call the witnesses; these are a plate,
a pestle, a cheese knife, a brazier, a stew-pot and other half-burnt
utensils. (To PHILOCLEON) But you have not finished? you are
piddling away still! Have done and be seated.
Ha, ha! I reckon I know somebody who will crap for fright to-day.
Will you never cease showing yourself hard and intractable, and
especially to the accused? You tear them to pieces tooth and nail. (To
LABES) Come forward and defend yourself. What means this silence?
No doubt he has nothing to say.
Not at all, I think he has got what happened once to Thucydides in
court; his jaws suddenly set fast. Get away! I will undertake your
defence.-Gentlemen of the jury, it is a difficult thing to speak for a
dog who has been calumniated, but nevertheless I will try. He is a
good dog, and he chases wolves finely.
He is a thief and a conspirator.
No, he is the best of all our dogs; he is capable of guarding a
whole flock.
And what good is that, if he eats the cheese?
What? he fights for you, he guards your door; he is an excellent
dog in every respect. Forgive him his larceny! he is wretchedly
ignorant, he cannot play the lyre.
I wish he did not know how to write either; then the rascal
would not have drawn up his pleadings.
Witnesses, I pray you, listen. Come forward, grating-knife, and
speak up; answer me clearly. You were paymaster at the time. Did you
grate out to the soldiers what was given you?-He says he did so.
But, by Zeus! he lies.
Oh! have patience. Take pity on the unfortunate. Labes feeds
only on fish-bones and fishes' heads and has not an instant of
peace. The other is good only to guard the house; he never moves
from here, but demands his share of all that is brought in and bites
those who refuse.
Oh! Heaven! have I fallen ill? I feel my anger cooling! Woe to me!
I am softening!
Have pity, father, pity, I adjure you; you would not have him
dead. Where are his puppies? (A group of children costumed as
puppies comes out.) Come, poor little beasties, yap, up on your
haunches, beg and whine!
Descend, descend, descend, descend!
I will descend, although that word, "descend," has too often
raised false hope. None the less, I will descend.
Plague seize it! Have I then done wrong to eat! What! I, crying!
Ah! I certainly should not be weeping, if I were not stuffed with
Then he is acquitted?
It is difficult to tell.
Ah! my dear father, be good! be humane! Take this voting pebble
and rush with your eyes closed to that second urn and, father,
acquit him.
No, I know no more how to acquit than to play the lyre.
Come quickly, I will show you the way.
(He takes his father by the hand and leads him to the second urn.)
Is this the first urn?
PHILOCLEON (dropping in his vote)
Then I have voted.
I have fooled him and he has acquitted in spite of himself. (To
PHILOCLEON) Come, I will turn out the urns.
What is the result?
We shall see. (He examines both urns.) Labes, you stand acquitted.
(PHILOCLEON faints) Eh! father, what's the matter, what is it? (To
slaves) Water! water! (To PHILOCLEON) Pull yourself together, sir!
Tell me! Is he really acquitted?
Yes, certainly.
PHILOCLEON (falling back)
Then it's all over with me!
Courage, dear father, don't let this afflict you so terribly.
PHILOCLEON (dolefully)
And so I have charged my conscience with the acquittal of an
accused being! What will become of me? Sacred gods! forgive me. I
did it despite myself; it is not in my character.
Do not vex yourself, father; I will feed you well, will take you
everywhere to eat and drink with me; you shall go to every feast;
henceforth your life shall be nothing but pleasure, and Hyperbolus
shall no longer have you for a tool. But come, let us go in.
PHILOCLEON (resignedly)
So be it; if you will, let us go in.
(They all go into the house.)
Go where it pleases you and may your happiness be great. (The
CHORUS turns and faces the audience.) You meanwhile, oh! countless
myriads, listen to the sound counsels I am going to give you and
take care they are not lost upon you. That would be the fate of vulgar
spectators, not that of such an audience. Hence, people, lend me
your ear, if you love frank speaking.
The poet has a reproach to make against his audience; he says
you have ill-treated him in return for the many services he has
rendered you. At first he kept himself in the background and lent help
secretly to other poets, and like the prophetic Genius, who hid
himself in the belly of Eurycles, slipped within the spirit of another
and whispered to him many a comic hit. Later he ran the risks of the
theatre on his own account, with his face uncovered, and dared to
guide his Muse unaided. Though overladen with success and honours more
than any of your poets, indeed despite all his glory, he does not
yet believe he has attained his goal; his heart is not swollen with
pride and he does not seek to seduce the young folk in the wrestling
school. If any lover runs up to him to complain because he is
furious at seeing the object of his passion derided on the stage, he
takes no heed of such reproaches, for he is inspired only with
honest motives and his Muse is no pander. From the very outset of
his dramatic career he has disdained to assail those who were men, but
with a courage worthy of Heracles himself he attacked the most
formidable monsters, and at the beginning went straight for that beast
with the sharp teeth, with the terrible eyes that flashed lambent fire
like those of Cynna, surrounded by a hundred lewd flatterers who
spittle-licked him to his heart's content; he had a voice like a
roaring torrent, the stench of a seal, the unwashed balls of a
Lamia, and the arse of a camel. Our poet did not tremble at the
sight of this horrible monster, nor did he dream of gaining him
over; and again this very day he is fighting for your good. Last
year besides, he attacked those pale, shivering and feverish beings
who strangled your fathers in the dark, throttled your grandfathers,
and who, lying in the beds of the most inoffensive, piled up against
them lawsuits, summonses and witnesses to such an extent, that many of
them flew in terror to the Polemarch for refuge. Such is the
champion you have found to purify your country of all its evil, and
last year you betrayed him, when he sowed the most novel ideas, which,
however, did not strike root, because you did not understand their
value; notwithstanding this, he swears by Bacchus, the while
offering him libations, that none ever heard better comic verses. It
is a disgrace to you not to have caught their drift at once; as for
the poet, he is none the less appreciated by the enlightened judges.
He shivered his oars in rushing boldly forward to board his foe. (With
increasing excitement) But in future, my dear fellow-citizens, love
and honour more those of your poets who seek to imagine and express
some new thought. Make their ideas your own, keep them in your caskets
like sweet-scented fruit. If you do, your clothing will emit an
odour of wisdom the whole year through.
Ah, once long ago we were brave in the dance, brave too in battle,
and on this account alone the most courageous of men! That was
formerly, was formerly; all that is gone now and these hairs of ours
are whiter than the swan. But from what is left we must rekindle a
youthful ardour; really we prefer our old age to the curly hair and
the fine clothes and the effeminacy of many of the young.
Should any among you spectators look upon me with wonder,
because of this wasp waist, or not know the meaning of this sting, I
will soon dispel his ignorance. We, who wear this appendage, are the
true Attic men, who alone are noble and native to the soil, the
bravest of all people. We are the ones who, weapon in hand, did so
much for the country, when the barbarian shed torrents of fire and
smoke over our city in his relentless desire to seize our nests by
force. At once we ran up, armed with lance and buckler, and, drunk
with the bitter wine of anger, we gave them battle, man standing to
man and rage distorting our lips. A hail of arrows hid the sky.
However, by the help of the gods, we drove off the foe to, wards
evening. Before the battle an owl had flown over our army. Then we
pursued them with our lance-point in their loins as one hunts the
tunny-fish; they fled and we stung them in the jaw and in the eyes, so
that even now the barbarians tell each other that there is nothing
in the world more to be feared than the Attic wasp.
Oh! at that time I was terrible, I feared nothing; forth on my
galleys I went in search of my foe and subjected him. Then we never
thought of rounding fine phrases, we never dreamt of calumny; it was
who should prove the strongest rower. And thus we took many a town
from the Medes, and 'tis to us that Athens owes the tributes that
our young men thieve to-day.
Look well at us, and you will see that we have all the character
and habits of the wasp. Firstly, if roused, no beings are more
irascible, more relentless than we are. In all other things, too, we
act like wasps. We collect in swarms, in a kind of nests, and some
go judging with the Archon, some with the Eleven, others at the Odeon;
there are yet others, who hardly move at all, like the grubs in the
cells, but remain glued to the walls, and bent double to the ground.
We also pay full attention to the discovery of all sorts of means of
existing and sting the first who comes, so as to live at his
expense. Finally, we have among us drones, who have no sting and
who, without giving themselves the least trouble, seize on our
revenues as they flow past them and devour them. It's this that
grieves us most of all, to see men who have never served or held
either lance or oar in defence of their country, enriching
themselves at our expense without ever raising a blister on their
hands. In short, I give it as my deliberate opinion that in future
every citizen not possessed of a sting shall not receive the
(PRILOCLEON comes out of the house, followed by his son and a
slave. The CHORUS turns to face them.)
As long as I live, I will never give up this cloak; it's the one I
wore in that battle when Boreas delivered us from such fierce attacks.
You do not know what is good for you.
Ah! I do not know how to use fine clothing! The other day, when
cramming myself with fried fish, I dropped so many grease spots that I
had to pay three obols to the cleaner.
At least have a try, since you have once for all handed the care
for your well-being over to me.
Very well then! what must I do?
Take off your cloak, and put on this tunic in its stead.
Was it worth while to beget and bring up children, so that this
one should now wish to choke me?
Come, take this tunic and put it on without so much talk.
Great gods! what sort of a cursed garment is this?
Some call it a pelisse, others a Persian cloak.
Ah! I thought it was a wraprascal like those made at Thymaetis.
No wonder. It's only at Sardis you could have seen them, and you
have never been there.
Of course not, but it seems to me exactly like the mantle Morychus
Not at all; I tell you they are woven at Ecbatana.
What! are there woollen ox-guts then at Ecbatana?
Whatever are you talking about? These are woven by the
barbarians at great cost. I am certain this pelisse has consumed
more than a talent of wool.
It should be called wool-waster then instead of pelisse.
Come, father, just hold still for a moment and put it on.
Oh! horrors! what a waft of heat the hussy sends up my nose!
Will you have done with this fooling?
No by Zeus.
But good sir....
If need be, I prefer you should put me in the oven.
Come, I will put it round you. There!
At all events, bring out a crook.
Why, whatever for?
To drag me out of it before I am quite melted.
Now take off those wretched clogs and put on these nice Laconian
I put on odious slippers made by our foes! Never
Come! put your foot in and push hard. Quick!
You're doing wrong here. You want me to put my foot on Laconian
Now the other.
Ah! no, not that foot; one of its toes holds the Laconians in
Positively you must.
Alas! alas! Then I shall have no chilblains in my old age.
Now, hurry up and get them on; and now imitate the easy effeminate
gait of the rich. See, like this.
(He takes a few steps.)
PHILOCLEON (trying to do likewise)
There!.... Look at my get-up and tell me which rich man I most
resemble in my walk.
Why, you look like a garlic plaster on a boil.
Ah! I am longing to swagger and sway my arse about.
Now, will you know how to talk gravely with well-informed men of
good class?
What will you say to them?
Oh, lots of things. First of all I shall say, that Lamia, seeing
herself caught, let flee a fart; then, that Cardopion and his
Come, no fabulous tales, pray! talk of realities, of domestic
facts, as is usually done.
Ah! I know something that is indeed most domestic. Once upon a
time there was a rat and a cat....
"Oh, you ignorant fool," as Theagenes said to the dung-gatherer in
a rage. Are you going to talk of cats and rats among high-class
Then what should I talk about?
Tell some dignified story. Relate how you were sent on a solemn
mission with Androcles and Clisthenes.
On a mission! never in my life, except once to Paros, a job
which brought me in two obols a day.
At least say, that you have just seen Ephudion doing well in the
pancratium with Ascondas and, that despite his age and his white hair,
he is still robust in loin and arm and flank and that his chest is a
very breast-plate.
Stop! stop! what nonsense! Who ever contested at the pancratium
with a breast-plate on?
That is how well-behaved folk like to talk. But another thing.
When at wine, it would be fitting to relate some good story of your
youthful days. What is your most brilliant feat?
My best feat? Ah! when I stole Ergasion's vine-props.
You and your vine-props! you'll be the death of me! Tell of one of
your boar-hunts or of when you coursed the hare. Talk about some
torch-race you were in; tell of some deed of daring.
Ah! my most daring dee, was when, quite a young man still, I
prosecuted Phayllus, the runner, for defamation, and he was
condemded by majority of two votes.
Enough of that! Now recline there, and practise the bearing that
is fitting at table in society.
How must I recline? Tell me quick!
In an elegant style.
PHILOCLEON (lying on the ground)
Like this?
Not at all.
How then?
Spread your knees on the tapestries and give your body the most
easy curves, like those taught in the gymnasium. Then praise some
bronze vase, survey the ceiling, admire the awning stretched over
the court. Water is poured over our hands; the tables are spread; we
sup and, after ablution, we now offer libations to the gods.
But, by Zeus! this supper is but a dream, it appears!
The flute-player has finished the prelude. The guests are Theorus,
Aeschines, Phanus, Cleon, Acestor; and beside this last, I don't
know who else. You are with them. Shall you know exactly how to take
up the songs that are started?
Quite well.
Better than any born mountaineer of Attica.
That we shall see. Suppose me to be Cleon. I am the first to begin
the song of Harmodius, and you take it up: "There never yet was seen
in Athens....
....such a rogue or such a thief."
Why, you wretched man, it will be the end of you if you sing that.
He will vow your ruin, your destruction, to chase you out of the
Well! then I shall answer his threats with another song: "With
your madness for supreme power, you will end by overthrowing the city,
which even now totters towards ruin."
And when Theorus, prone at Cleon's feet, takes his hand and sings,
"Like Admetus, love those who are brave," what reply will you make
I shall sing, "I know not how to play the fox, nor call myself the
friend of both parties."
Then comes the turn of Aeschines, the son of Sellus, and a
well-trained and clever musician, who will sing, "Good things and
riches for Clitagora and me and eke for the Thessalians!"
"The two of us have squandered a great deal between us."
At this game you seem at home. But come, we will go and dine
with Philoctemon.-Slave! slave! place our dinner in a basket; we are
going out for a good long drinking bout.
By no means, it is too dangerous; for after drinking, one breaks
in doors, one comes to blows, one batters everything. Anon, when the
wine is slept off, one is forced to pay.
Not if you are with decent people. Either they undertake to
appease the offended person or, better still, you say something witty,
you tell some comic story, perhaps one of those you have yourself
heard at table, either in Aesop's style or in that of Sybaris;
everyone laughs and the trouble is ended.
Faith! it's worth while learning many stories then, if you are
thus not punished for the ill you do. But come, no more delay!
(They go out.)
CHORUS (singing)
More than once have I given proof of cunning and never of
stupidity, but how much more clever is Amynias, the son of Sellus
and of the race of forelock-wearers; him we saw one day coming to dine
with Leogaras, bringing as his share one apple and a pomegranate,
and bear in mind he was as hungry as Antiphon. He went on an embassy
to Pharsalus, and there he lived solely among the Thessalian
mercenaries; indeed, is he not the vilest of mercenaries himself?
Oh! blessed, oh! fortunate Automenes, how enviable is your
fortune! You have three sons, the most industrious in the world; one
is the friend of all, a very able man, the first among the
lyre-players, the favourite of the Graces. The second is an actor, and
his talent is beyond all praise. As for Ariphrades, he is by far the
most gifted; his father would swear to me, that without any master
whatever and solely through the spontaneous effort of his happy
nature, he taught himself to exercise his tongue in the whorehouses,
where he spends the whole of his time.
Some have said that I and Cleon were reconciled. This is the truth
of the matter: Cleon was harassing me, persecuting and belabouring
me in every way; and, when I was being fleeced, the public laughed
at seeing me uttering such loud cries; not that they cared about me,
but simply curious to know whether, when trodden down by my enemy, I
would not hurl at him some taunt. Noticing this, I have played the
wheedler a bit; but now, look! the prop is deceiving the vine!
(XANTHIAS enters, weeping and wailing and rubbing his sides.)
Oh! tortoises! happy to have so hard a skin! Oh! creatures full of
sense! what a happy thought to cover your bodies with this shell,
which shields it from blows! As for me, I can no longer move; the
stick has so belaboured my body.
Why, what's the matter, my child? for, old as he may be, one has
the right to call anyone a child who has let himself be beaten.
Alas! my master is really the worst of all plagues. He was the
most drunk of all the guests, and yet among them were Hippyllus,
Antiphon, Lycon, Lysistratus, Theophrastus and Phrynichus. But he
was hundred times more insolent than any. As soon as he had stuffed
himself with a host of good dishes, he began to leap and spring, to
laugh and to fart like a little ass well stuffed with barley. Then
he set to beating me with all his heart, shouting, "Slave! slave!"
Lysistratus, as soon as he saw him, let fly this comparison at him.
"Old fellow," said he, "you resemble one of the scum assuming the airs
of a rich man or a stupid ass that has broken loose from its
stable." "As for you," bawled the other at the top of his voice,
"you are like a grasshopper, whose cloak is worn to the thread, or
like Sthenelus after his clothes had been sold." All applauded
excepting Theophrastus, who made a grimace as behoved a well-bred
man like him. The old man called to him, "Hi! tell me then what you
have to be proud of? Not so much mouthing, you, who so well know how
to play the buffoon and to lick-spittle the rich!" In this way he
insulted each in turn with the grossest of jests, and he reeled off
a thousand of the most absurd and ridiculous speeches. At last, when
he was thoroughly drunk, he started towards here, striking everyone he
met. Wait, here he comes reeling along. I will be off for fear of
his blows.
(PHILOCLEON enters, inebriated and hilarious, carrying a torch;
his other hand is occupied with a wholly nude flute-girl; he is
followed by a group of angry victims of his exuberance.)
PHILOCLEON (singing)
Halt! and let everyone begone, or I shall do an evil turn to
some of those who insist on following me. Clear off, rascals, or I
shall roast you with this torch!
We shall all make you smart to-morrow for your youthful pranks. We
shall come in a body to summon you to justice.
PHILOCLEON (singing)
Ho! ho! summon me? what old women's babble! Know that I can no
longer bear to hear even the name of suits. Ha! ha! ha! this is what
pleases me, "Down with the urns!" Get out of here! Down with the
dicasts! away with them, away with them!
(Dropping into speech; to the flute-girl)
Mount up there, my little gilded cock-chafer; take hold of this
rope's end in your hand. Hold it tight, but have a care; the rope's
a bit old and worn. But even though it's worn, it still has its
virtues. Do you see how opportunely I got you away from the
solicitations of those fellators, who wanted you to make love to
them in their own odd way? You therefore owe me this return to gratify
me. But will you pay the debt? Oh! I know well you will not even
try; you will play with me, you will laugh heartily at me as you
have done at many another man. And yet, if you would not be a
naughty girl, I would redeem you, when my son is dead, and you
should be my concubine, my little one. At present I am not my own
master; I am very young and am watched very closely. My dear son never
lets me out of his sight; he's an unbearable creature, who would
quarter a thread and skin a flint; he is afraid I should get lost, for
I am his only father. But here he comes running towards us. But be
quick, don't stir, hold these torches. I am going to play him a
young man's trick, the same as he played me before I was initiated
into the mysteries.
Oh! oh! you debauched old dotard! you are amorous, it seems, of
pretty baggages; but, by Apollo, it shall not be with impunity!
Ah! you would be very glad to eat a lawsuit in vinegar, you would.
Only a rascal would steal the flute-girl away from the other
What flute-girl? Are you distraught, as if you had just returned
from Pluto?
By Zeus! But here is the Dardanian wench in person.
Nonsense. This is a torch that I have lit in the public square
in honour of the gods.
Is this a torch?
A torch? Certainly. Do you not see it is of several different
And what is that black part in the middle?
That's the pitch running out while it burns.
And there, on the other side, surely that is a girl's bottom?
No. That's just a small bit of the torch, that projects.
What do you mean? what bit? Hi! you woman! come here!
Oh! What do you want to do?
To take her away from you and lead her off. You are too much
worn out and can do nothing.
(He takes the girl into the house.)
Listen to me! One day, at Olympia, I saw Euphudion boxing
bravely against Ascondas; he was already aged, and yet with a blow
from his fist he knocked down his young opponent. So watch out that
I don't blacken your eves.
BDELYCLEON (who has returned)
By Zeus! you have Olympia at your finger-ends!
(A BAKER'S WIFE enters with an empty basket; she brings CHAEREPHON
with her as witness.)
Come to my help, I beg you, in the name of the gods! This cursed
man, when striking out right and left with his torch, knocked over ten
loaves worth an obolus apiece, and then, to cap the deal, four others.
Do you see what lawsuits you are drawing upon yourself with your
drunkenness? You will have to plead.
Oh, no, no! a little pretty talk and pleasant tales will soon
settle the matter and reconcile her with me. Not so, by the
goddesses twain! It shall not be said that you have with impunity
spoilt the wares of Myrtia, the daughter of Ancylion and Sostrate.
Listen, woman, I wish to tell you a lovely anecdote.
By Zeus, no anecdotes for me, thank you.
One night Aesop was going out to supper. A drunken bitch had the
impudence to bark near him. Aesop said to her, "Oh, bitch, bitch!
you would do well to sell your wicked tongue and buy some wheat."
You make a mock of me! Very well! I don't care who you are, I
shall summons you before the market inspectors for damage done to my
business. Chaerephon here shall be my witness.
But just listen, here's another will perhaps please you better.
Lasus and Simonides were contesting against each other for the singing
prize. Lasus said, "Damned if I care."
Ah! really, did he now!
As for you, Chaerephon, can you be witness to this woman, who
looks as pale and tragic as Ino when she throws herself from her the feet of Euripides?
Here, I suppose, comes another to summons you; he has his
witness too. Ah! unhappy indeed we are!
(A badly bruised man enters.)
I summons you, old man, for outrage.
For outrage? Oh! in the name of the gods, do not summons him! I
will be answerable for him; name the price and I will be more more
grateful still.
I ask for nothing better than to be reconciled with him; for I
admit I struck him and threw stones at him. So, first come here.
Will you leave it in my hands to name the indemnity I must pay, if I
promise you my friendship as well, or will you fix it yourself?
Fix it; I like neither lawsuits nor disputes.
A man of Sybaris fell from his chariot and wounded his head most
severely; he was a very poor driver. One of his friends came up to him
and said, "Every man to his trade." Well then, go you to Pittalus to
get mended.
You are incorrigible.
ACCUSER (to his witness)
At all events, make a note of his reply. (They start to leave.)
Listen, instead of going off so abruptly. A woman at Sybaris broke
a box.
ACCUSER (to his witness)
I again ask you to witness this.
The box therefore had the fact attested, but the woman said,
"Never worry about witnessing the matter, but hurry off to buy a
cord to tie it together with; that will be the more sensible course."
Oh! go on with your ribaldry until the Archon calls the case.
(He and his witness depart.)
By Demeter! you'll stay here no longer! I am going to take you and
carry you off.
And what for?
What for? I am going to carry you into the house, so that the
accusers will not run out of witnesses.
One day at Delphi, Aesop....
I don't care a fig for that.
....was accused of having stolen a sacred vase. But he replied,
that the horn-beetle....
Oh, dear, dear! You'll drive me crazy with your horn-beetle.
(PHILOCLEON goes on with his fable while BDELYCLEON is carrying him
off the scene by main force.)
CHORUS (singing)
I envy you your happiness, old man. What a contrast to his
former frugal habits and his very hard life! Taught now in quite
another school, he will know nothing but the pleasures of ease.
Perhaps he will jibe at it, for indeed it is difficult to renounce
what has become one's second nature. However, many have done it, and
adopting the ideas of others, have changed their use and wont. As
for Philocleon's son, I, like all wise and judicious men, cannot
sufficiently praise his filial tenderness and his tact. Never have I
met a more amiable nature, and I have conceived the greatest
fondness for him. How he triumphed on every point in his discussion
with his father, when he wanted to bring him back to more worthy and
honourable tastes!
XANTHIAS (coming out of the house)
By Bacchus! Some Evil Genius has brought this unbearable
disorder into our house. The old man, full up with wine and excited by
the sound of the flute, is so delighted, so enraptured, that he is
spending the night executing the old dances that Thespis first
produced on the stage, and just now he offered to prove to the
modern tragedians, by disputing with them for the dancing prize,
that they are nothing but a lot of old dotards.
(BDELYCLEON comes out of the house with his father who is costumed
as POLYPHEMUS in Euripides' Cyclops.)
"Who loiters at the door of the vestibule?"
Here comes our pest, our plague!
Let down the barriers. The dance is now to begin.
(He begins to dance in a manner grotesquely parodying that of
Or rather the madness.
Impetuous movement already twists and racks my sides. How my
nostrils wheeze! how my back cracks!
Go and fill yourself with hellebore.
Phrynichus is as bold as a cock and terrifies his rivals.
He'll be stoned.
His leg kicks out sky-high....
....and his arse gapes open.
Mind your own business. Look how easily my leg-joints move.
Isn't that good?
God, no, it's merely insane!
And now I summon and challenge my rivals. It there be a tragic
poet who pretends to be a skilful dancer, let him come and contest the
matter with me. Is there one? Is there not one?
Here comes one, and one only.
(A very small dancer, costumed as a crab, enters.)
Who is the wretch?
The younger son of Carcinus.
I will crush him to nothing; in point of keeping time, I will
knock him out, for he knows nothing of rhythm.
Ah! ah! here comes his brother too, another tragedian, and another
son of Carcinus.
(Another dancer, hardly larger than the first, and similarly
costumed, enters.)
Him I will devour for my dinner.
Oh! ye gods! I see nothing but crabs. Here is yet another son of
(A third dancer enters, likewise resembling a crab, but smaller
than either of the others.)
What's this? A shrimp or a spider?
It's a crab,-a hermit-crab, the smallest of its kind; it writes
Oh! Carcinus, how proud you should be of your brood! What a
crowd of kinglets have come swooping down here! But we shall have to
measure ourselves against them. Have marinade prepared for seasoning
them, in case I prove the victor.
Let us stand out of the way a little, so that they may twirl at
their ease.
(It divides in two and accompanies with its song the wild
dancing of PHILOCLEON and the sons of CARCINUS in the centre of the
Orchestra.) Come, illustrious children of this inhabitant of the
brine, brothers of the shrimps, skip on the sand and the shore of
the barren sea; show us the lightning whirls and twirls of your nimble
limbs. Glorious offspring of Phrynichus, let fly your kicks, so that
the spectators may be overjoyed at seeing your legs so high in air.
Twist, twirl, tap your bellies, kick your legs to the sky. Here
comes your famous father, the ruler of the sea, delighted to see his
three lecherous kinglets. Go on with your dancing, if it pleases
you, but as for us, we shall not join you. Lead us promptly off the
stage, for never a comedy yet was seen where the Chorus finished off
with a dance.


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