The Acharnians by Aristophanes: Summary & Characters

Instructor: Joseph Altnether

Joe has taught college English courses for several years, has a Bachelor's degree in Russian Studies and a Master's degree in English literature.

In the play 'The Acharnians,' Aristophanes makes a plea for an end to the Peloponnesian war. The main character, Dikaiopolis, makes a separate peace treaty with Sparta and suffers some backlash. His difficulties turn to revelry, and contrasts against the backdrop of the casualties of war.

Dikaiopolis

Aristophanes takes an interesting approach to presenting the effects of the Peloponnesian War, a war between Athens and Sparta. The city of Archae lies not far from Athens, and was a target of the Spartans. In order to draw out the Athenians into battle, the Spartans targeted Archae. Aristophanes' play describes some of the effects of this war. Believing that the Athenian assembly should seek peace, Aristophanes instead shows that they are more concerned with financial gain than lives of their citizens. As The Acharnians begins, the main character, Dikaiopolis, sits and awaits the beginning of the assembly.

The first to speak is a man named Amphitheus. He claims to be a demi-god, an offspring from one of the immortal gods. He asks for peace with Sparta. To speak against the war is heresy among the assembly members, and Amphitheus is arrested. Dikaiopolis becomes incensed and shouts that ''this arrest. . . was an insult to the Assembly! He only wanted to give us back peace.'' Then the ambassadors take their turn.

The words of the ambassadors just give Dikaiopolis more reason to criticize them. One ambassador mentions how, because of the poor weather, he is forced to stay here in Athens ''at public's expense.'' The ambassadors aren't concerned with putting an end to the war. The Assembly has no desire to seek peace since they live comfortably and profit from the war. Already, Aristophanes' message seems clear.

An Argument for Peace

Amphitheus later returns unnoticed to the Assembly. He meets Dikaiopolis, who gives Amphitheus eight drachmas to buy peace from Sparta for him and his family. Dikaiopolis is at home in his yard when Amphitheus returns from Sparta with three wine skins, signifying three different types of peace. One holds wine that is five years old, another ten. Both are deemed terrible by Dikaiopolis. The wine that is 30 years old, the length of peace Diakaiopolis has bought from the Spartans, is declared a ''taste of nectar and ambrosia.'' Dikaiopolis agrees to the 30-year peace.

He decides to celebrate this peace, but is confronted by a crowd of Acharnians, who had been chasing Amphitheus. They are displeased with Dikaioplis for making peace with the Spartans, considering the Spartans had destroyed their land. The Acharnians want revenge and see Dikaiopolis as a good target for their anger.

Dikaiopolis proposes a battle of wits for his life. He borrows some clothes from his neighbor, Euripedes, a well-renowned Greek playwright, in order to be more appealing to his audience. His plea does not go well, at least not until his neighbor, Lamachus, shows up. Dikaiopolis turns on his neighbor, a general in the army, and points out how Lamachus ''gets paid well during war, yet sees no action.'' This proves to the Acharnians that war is all about profit, and nothing more.

A Private Market Place

The second act begins with Dikaiopolis setting up a private market stand for selling and trading with those who have are not friendly toward Athens. Dikaiopolis even notes that ''No informers will be admitted.'' Since he displays his peace treaty, he will only deal with those who share his beliefs. Along comes a man from Megaria, another land ruined by this war, along with three daughters, all of whom are starving.

The Megarian dresses his three daughters as piglets in order to sell them, and have money to eat. As the Megarian explains to Dikaiopolis, ''the government was doing its best tae see we (Megaria) achieved a speedy and complete catastrophe.'' After some discussion, Dikaiopolis agrees to buy the three daughters, now dressed as piglets, for salt and garlic, two items that were a staple product of Megaria. This bit of irony is not lost on Aristophanes' audience.

Before the transaction is complete, an informer comes along and tries to confiscate the girls/piglets. Dikaiopolis has him thrown out. Another seller approaches and wants to sell an eel. Dikaiopolis cannot come to an agreement with the man. When a servant comes to Dikaiopolis to buy some goods for Lamachus, Dikaiopolis refuses because of Lacmachus' desire for war rather than peace.

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