First performed in 421 BC, just two weeks before the Peace of Nikias was concluded. It won second prize.
[If you are using IE, the answers to the questions should appear miraculously when you move your mouse over them. The page numbers refer to the Penguin translation by Alan Sommerstein]
Section 1 (98 - 100) The Slaves and the Dung Beetle
- What are the audience supposed to think the slaves are doing (at first)?
- How is the audience’s curiosity aroused?
- What impression do we get of the “thing” behind the screen?
- Explain the joke about “clever dicks who think it’s an allegory”
- Explain about Cleon
- What’s the purpose of the beetle? How else had Trygaeus tried to achieve it?
Section 2 (100-104) The Flight of the Dung Beetle
- The “machine” (Greek mechane) - what was it, and what was it usually used for?
- Why does Trygaeus want to reach Zeus? (How much does he reveal at this stage?)
- What is scatological humour? Give examples.
- Explain why the Daughter speaks the way she does (her diction as much as the content).
- In what way is Euripides’ lost play Bellerophon important in understanding this scene?
- What’s meant by “breaking the dramatic illusion” ? Give an example from this scene.
Section 3 (104-106) Hermes
- Why have the gods left Hermes in charge?
- Hermes is god of luck and thieves. How are these attributes explored during the play?
- Explain why Trygaeus is at pains to say he’s not an informer (Greek sycophant). What is his profession?
- Explain the joke about the gods leaving home (absurd?)
- Explain the reference to Pylos
- Note how Peace and War can easily become characters in drama. Any other examples of allegorical characters?
Section 4 (106-107) War
- What’s the joke about the mortar and the various ingredients?
- Why does Trygaeus react as he does to the different items?
- Explain the references to the Athenian and Spartan pestles. (Clue: both had died in 422 BC)
Section 5 (108-110) Arrival of the Chorus (parodos)
- Why does Trygaeus react the way he does to their celebration? What makes this part of the scene funny?
- Explain the reference to “old Cerberus”.
Section 6 (110-113) Preparing to pull Peace from the pit
- Winning over Hermes: how is it done (Trygaeus used meat on p104-5 - what bribes are offered this time?)
- The prayer and the libation. Solemn or comic?
Section 7 (113-116) Pulling Peace
- Who are told off and why? (Explain refs to Lamachus, Argives, Spartans - and the prisoners, Megarians, Athenians)
- Who does all the work? Explain why.
Section 8 (116-118) Peace Returns
- How would this scene be impressive in production?
- Explain the references to Sophocles and Euripides
- How do the audience react (allegedly!)
- Note Trygaeus’ song (p117) - it is poetic and sincere, as are the Chorus’ songs. Not everything in a comedy is funny!
Section 9 (p118-119) Hermes’ lecture on the causes of the war.
- Explain the references to Pericles, Pheidias and the Megarian Decree.
- Who (according to Hermes) was responsible for the war? Who didn’t want it? Why did it happen?
- Explain references to Cleon
Section 10 (120-122) Hermes and Peace
- What is “leather on the brain”?
- Explain the references to Pylos; Cleonymus (where else is he referred to in the play?); the Pnyx; Hyperbolus (the lamp-maker joke); Sophocles; Cratinus.
- Explain the allegorical significance of the two (probably naked) girls who came up with Peace.
- Explain the joke about Ganymede and the beetle.
Section 11(122-125) The PARABASIS: a traditional part of Old Comedy, where the Chorus took off their masks and put down their props - and could confront the audience out of character (if desired) with any personal reflections of the writer, and topical political comment.
- How true is Aristophanes’ defence of his “great art”? Investigate
- Poking fun at rags
- Poking fun at gods
- Whipping scenes
- Attacks on individuals
- How true is the reference to his courage? (attacking Cleon)
- Explain the reference to baldness.
- Who were Carcinus, Melanthius and Morsimus. What does Aristophanes have against them?
Section 1 (126 - 134) Trygaeus returns home with Peace
- What's the joke about the long walk home?
- What is the slave's reaction to Harvest and Festival?
- What is Trygaeus intending to do with them?
- From the text (p128 -9) what "festivals" is Festival meant to represent?
- Note the sexual inuendoes (p 128 - 9).
- What does the Chorus feel about feel about Trygaeus' achievement?
- Explain the reference to deme, Hyperbolus (129)
- The sacrifice (130 -133). Explain how this is made entertaining.
- In Trygaeus' prayer (132) explain the references to Megarians and Boeotians (compare Acharnians)
Section 2 (134 - 137) Hierocles arrives and is dealt with
- Who is Hierocles - what is his pretext for coming, and why has he really come?
- How is he made to look foolish? (What does he say? What does he do? What happens to him?)
- What is the evidence that Hireocles is a professional scrounger?
Section 3 (137 - 140) The Second PARABASIS.
- An optional feature. This time the Chorus remain in character. List the benefits of peace that they mention. They all depend on going back to their homes in a countryside at peace.
- Why is it dramatically necessary to have a parabasis at this point in the play?
Section 4 (140 - 142) The arrival of various types: those who've lost out and those who have benefited from peace
- Which professions are mentioned? How many "extras" are needed?
- How does Trygaeus wind up the arms salesmen?
Section 5 (142 - 144) The boys
- How is the first boy made fun of? Whose son is he?
- How does the second boy resemble his father?
Section 6 (144 - 146) The finale - wedding and party
- What two things is Trygaeus looking forward to?
- Explain the references to torches, Hymen, figs