Eirene / Ploutos (Peace and Wealth): Roman copy of a work by Cephisodotus the Elder (c. 370 BC) that once stood on the Areopagus.
The Dramatis Personae in ancient comedy depends on interpretation of textual evidence.[1] This list is developed from A. Sommerstein's translation.[2]
Written byAristophanes
2.auxiliary chorus of citizens from various Greek states
  • Trygaeus
  • two slaves of Trygaeus
  • daughter of Trygaeus
  • Hermes caretaker of heaven
  • War
  • Havoc servant to War
  • Hierocles an oracle monger
  • sickle-maker
  • arms salesman
  • son of Lamachus
  • son of Cleonymus

Silent roles

  • children of Trygaeus
  • Harvest a companion of Peace
  • Festival a companion of Peace
  • jar-maker
  • spear-polisher
  • helmet-maker
  • slaves, citizens etc.
Settingoutside a house in Athens and later in the heavens

Peace (Greek: Εἰρήνη Eirḗnē) is an Athenian Old Comedy written and produced by the Greek playwright Aristophanes. It won second prize at the City Dionysia where it was staged just a few days before the Peace of Nicias was validated (421 BC), which promised to end the ten-year-old Peloponnesian War. The play is notable for its joyous anticipation of peace and for its celebration of a return to an idyllic life in the countryside. However, it also sounds a note of caution, there is bitterness in the memory of lost opportunities and the ending is not happy for everyone. As in all of Aristophanes' plays, the jokes are numerous, the action is wildly absurd and the satire is savage. Cleon, the pro-war populist leader of Athens, is once again a target for the author's wit, even though he had died in battle just a few months earlier.


Short summary: Trygaeus, a middle-aged Athenian, miraculously brings about a peaceful end to the Peloponnesian War, thereby earning the gratitude of farmers while bankrupting various tradesmen who had profited from the hostilities. He celebrates his triumph by marrying Harvest, a companion of Festival and Peace, all of whom he has liberated from a celestial prison.

Detailed summary: Two slaves are frantically working outside an ordinary house in Athens, kneading unusually large lumps of dough and carrying them one by one into the stable. We soon learn from their banter that it is not dough but excrement gathered from various sources—they are feeding a giant dung beetle that their crazy master has brought home from the Mount Etna region and on which he intends flying to a private audience with the gods. This startling revelation is confirmed moments later by the sudden appearance of Trygaeus on the back of the dung beetle, rising above the house and hovering in an alarmingly unsteady manner. His two slaves, his neighbours and his children take fright and they plead with him to come back down to earth. He steadies the spirited beetle, he shouts comforting words to his children and he appeals to the audience not to distract his mount by farting or shitting any time in the next three days. His mission, he declares, is to reason with the gods about the war or, if they will not listen, he will prosecute the gods for treason against Greece. Then he soars across the stage heavenwards.

Arriving outside the house of the gods, Trygaeus discovers that only Hermes is home. Hermes informs him that the others have packed up and departed for some remote refuge where they hope never to be troubled again by the war or the prayers of humankind. He has stayed back, he says, only to make some final arrangements and meanwhile the new occupant of the house has already moved in – War. War, he says, has imprisoned Peace in a cave nearby. Just then, as chance would have it, War comes grumbling and growling outdoors, carrying a gigantic mortar in which he intends grinding the Greeks to paste. Trygaeus discovers by eavesdropping that War no longer has a pestle to use with his gigantic mortar – the pestles he had hoped to use on the Greeks are both dead, for one was Cleon and the other was Brasidas, the leaders of the pro-war factions in Athens and Sparta respectively, both of whom have recently perished in battle. War goes back indoors to get himself a new one and Trygaeus boldly takes this opportunity to summon Greeks everywhere to come and help him set Peace free while there is still time. A Chorus of excited Greeks from various city-states arrives as prompted but they are so excited they cannot stop dancing at first. Eventually they get to work, pulling boulders from the cave's mouth under supervision by Trygaeus and Hermes. Some of the Greeks are more of a hindrance than a help and real progress is only made by the farmers. At last Peace and her companions, Festival and Harvest, are brought to light, appearing as visions of ineffable beauty. Hermes then tells the gathering why Peace had left them many years earlier – she had been driven away by politicians who were profiting from the war. In fact she had tried to come back several times, he says, but each time the Athenians had voted against her in their Assembly. Trygaeus apologizes to Peace on behalf of his countrymen, he updates her on the latest theatre gossip (Sophocles is now as venal as Simonides and Cratinus died in a drunken apoplexy) and then he leaves her to enjoy her freedom while he sets off again for Athens, taking Harvest and Festival back with him – Harvest because she is now his betrothed, Festival because she is to be female entertainment for the Boule or Council. The Chorus then steps forward to address the audience in a conventional parabasis.

The Chorus praises the author for his originality as a dramatist, for his courageous opposition to monsters like Cleon and for his genial disposition. It recommends him especially to bald men. It quotes songs of the 7th century BC poet Stesichorus[3] and it condemns contemporary dramatists like Carcinus, Melanthius and Morsimus. The Chorus resumes its place and Trygaeus returns to the stage. He declares that the audience looked like a bunch of rascals when seen from the heavens and they look even worse when seen up close. He sends Harvest indoors to prepare for their wedding and he delivers Festival to the archon sitting in the front row. He then prepares for a religious service in honour of Peace. A lamb is sacrificed indoors, prayers are offered and Trygaeus starts barbecuing the meat. The fragrance of roast lamb soon attracts an oracle monger who proceeds to hover about the scene in quest of a free meal, as is the custom among oracle-mongers. He is driven off with a good thrashing. Trygaeus goes indoors to prepare for his wedding and the Chorus steps forward again for another parabasis.

The Chorus sings lovingly of winter afternoons spent with friends in front of a kitchen fire in the countryside in times of peace when rain soaks into the newly sown fields and there is nothing to do but enjoy the good life. The tone soon changes however as the Chorus recalls the regimental drill and the organizational stuff-ups that have been the bane of the ordinary civilian soldier's life until now and it contemplates in bitterness the officers who have been lions at home and mere foxes in the field. The tone brightens again as Trygaeus returns to the stage, dressed for the festivities of a wedding. Tradesmen and merchants begin to arrive singly and in pairs – a sickle-maker and a jar-maker whose businesses are flourishing again now that peace has returned, and others whose businesses are failing. The sickle-maker and jar-maker present Trygaeus with wedding presents and Trygaeus offers suggestions to the others about what they can do with their merchandise: helmet crests can be used as dusters, spears as vine props, breastplates as chamber pots, trumpets as scales for weighing figs, and helmets could serve as mixing bowls for Egyptians in need of emetics or enemas. The sons of wedding guests practise their songs outdoors and one of the boys begins rehearsing Homer's epic song of war. Trygaeus sends him back indoors as he cannot stomach any mention of war. Another boy sings a famous song by Archilochus celebrating an act of cowardice and this does not impress Trygaeus either. He announces the commencement of the wedding feast and he opens up the house for celebrations: Hymen Hymenai'O! Hymen Hymenai'O!

Historical background

All the early plays of Aristophanes were written and acted against a background of war.[4] The war between Athens and Sparta had commenced with the Megarian decree in 431 BC and, under the cautious leadership of Archidamus II in Sparta and Pericles in Athens, it developed into a war of slow attrition in which Athens was unchallenged at sea and Sparta was undisputed master of the Greek mainland. Every year, the Spartans and their allies invaded Attica and wreaked havoc on Athenian farms. As soon as they retreated, the Athenians marched out from their city walls to avenge themselves on the farms of their neighbours, the Megarians and Boeotians, allies of Sparta. Till then, most Athenians had lived in rural settlements but now they congregated within the safety of the city walls. In 430 a plague decimated the over-crowded population and it also claimed the life of Pericles, leaving Athens in the control of a more radical leadership, epitomized by Cleon. Cleon was determined to gain absolute victory in the war with Sparta and his aggressive policies seemed to be vindicated in 425 in the Battle of Sphacteria, resulting in the capture of Spartan hostages and the establishment of a permanent garrison at Pylos, from where the Athenians and their allies could harass Spartan territory. The Spartans in response to this setback made repeated appeals for peace but these were dismissed by the Athenian Assembly under guidance by Cleon who wished instead to broaden the war with ambitious campaigns against Megara and Boeotia. The Athenians subsequently suffered a major defeat in Boeotia at the Battle of Delion and this was followed by an armistice in 423. By this time, however, the Spartans were increasingly coming under the influence of the pro-war leader Brasidas, a daring general who encouraged and supported revolts among Athenian client states despite the armistice. Athens' client states in Chalcidice were especially vulnerable to his intrigues. When the armistice ended, Cleon led a force of Athenians to Chalcidice to repress the revolts. It was there, while manoeuvering outside the city of Amphipolis, that he and his men were surprised and defeated by a force led by the Spartan general. Both Cleon and Brasidas died in the battle and their removal opened the way for new peace talks during the winter of 422–21. The Peace of Nicias was ratified soon after in the City Dionysia, where Peace was performed, early in the spring of 421 BC.

Places and people mentioned

According to a character in Plutarch's Dinner-table Discussion,[5] (written some 500 years after Peace was produced), Old Comedy needs commentators to explain its abstruse references in the same way that a banquet needs wine-waiters. Here is the wine list for Peace as supplied by modern scholars.[6][7]

Athenian politicians and generals
Athenian personalities
Poets and other artists
The Erechtheion: work on this iconic building began in 420 BC during the Peace of Nicias, not long after the performance of Peace at the City Dionysia.
The Erechtheion: work on this iconic building began in 420 BC during the Peace of Nicias, not long after the performance of Peace at the City Dionysia.
Religious and cultural identities


Aristophanes' plays reveal a tender love of rural life and a nostalgia for simpler times[57] and they develop a vision of peace involving a return to the country and its routines.[58] The association of peace with rural revival is expressed in this play in terms of religious imagery: Peace, imprisoned in a cave guarded by a Cerberus figure (lines 313–15), resembles a chthonic fertility goddess in captivity in the underworld, a motif especially familiar to Athenians in the cult of Demeter and her daughter Kore in the Eleusinian mysteries. The action of the play however also borrows from ancient folklore – the rescue of a maiden or a treasure from the inaccessible stronghold of a giant or monster was already familiar to Athenians in the story of Perseus and Andromeda and it is still familiar to modern audiences as 'Jack and the Beanstalk' (Trygaeus like Jack magically ascends to the remote stronghold of a giant and plunders its treasure).[59] In spite of these mythical and religious contexts, political action emerges in this play as the decisive factor in human affairs – the gods are shown to be distant figures and mortals must therefore rely on their own initiative, as represented by the Chorus of Greeks working together to release Peace from captivity.[60]

The god Hermes delivers a speech blaming the Peloponnesian War on Pericles and Cleon (lines 603–48) and this was an argument that Aristophanes had already promoted in earlier plays (e.g. The Acharnians 514–40 and The Knights 792–809). The Chorus's joyful celebration of peace is edged with bitter reflections on the mistakes of past leaders (e.g. 1172–90) and Trygaeus expresses anxious fears for the future of the peace (e.g. 313–38) since events are still subject to bad leadership (as symbolized by the new pestle that War goes indoors to fetch).. The bankrupted tradesmen at the end of the play are a reminder that there is still support for war. Moreover, the militaristic verses borrowed from Homer by the son of Lamachus are a dramatic indication that war is deeply rooted in culture and that it still commands the imagination of a new generation. Peace in such circumstances requires not only a miracle (such as Trygaeus' flight) but also a combination of good luck and good will on the part of a significant group within the community (such as farmers) – a sober assessment by the poet of Dionysus.

Old Comedy

Peace is structured according to the conventions of Old Comedy. Variations from those conventions may be due to an historical trend towards New Comedy, corruption of the text and/or a unique dramatic effect that the poet intended. Noteworthy variations in this play are found in the following elements:

ἑκατὸν δὲ κύκλῳ κεφαλαὶ κολάκων οἰμωξομένων ἑλιχμῶντο :περὶ τὴν κεφαλήν

(Wasps 1033–4, Peace 756–7):
"a hundred heads of doomed stooges circled and licked around his head"
The sound of something revolting is captured in the original Greek by the repetition of the harsh k sound, including a repetition of the word for 'head'.

Standard edition

The standard critical edition of the Greek text (with commentary) is: S. Douglas Olson (ed.), Aristophanes Peace (Oxford University Press, 1998)


See also


  1. ^ Aristophanes:Lysistrata, The Acharnians, The Clouds, Alan Sommerstein, Penguin Classics 1973, page 37
  2. ^ Aristophanes:The Birds and Other Plays D. Barrett and A. Sommerstein, Penguin Classics 1978
  3. ^ Aristophanes:The Birds and Other Plays D. Barrett and A. Sommerstein, Penguin Classics page 325 note 53
  4. ^ For an overview see for example the introduction to Aristophanes:Peace S. Douglas Olson, Oxford University Press 2003, pages XXV-XXXI
  5. ^ Dinner-table Discussion Book VII No.8, quoted in Aristophanes:The Birds and Other Plays D. Barrett and A. Sommerstein (translators), Penguin Classics 1978, pages 14-15
  6. ^ Aristophanes:The Birds and Other Plays D. Barrett and A Sommerstein, Penguin Classics 1978, Notes
  7. ^ Aristophanis Comoediae Tomus II F. Hall and W.Geldart, Oxford University Press 1907, Index Nominum
  8. ^ Thesmophoriazusae line 841; Frogs 1039
  9. ^ Knights 562; Lysistrata 804
  10. ^ Birds line 1556; Lysistrata 490
  11. ^ Knights 283, Clouds 213
  12. ^ Acharnians 530; Clouds 859
  13. ^ Acharnians 846; Knights 1304, 1363; Clouds 551, 557, 623, 876, 1065; Wasps 1007; Thesmophoriazusae 840; Frogs 570
  14. ^ Wasps line 1183; Birds 822, 1127, 1295; Lysistrata 63
  15. ^ Acharnians lines 88, 844; Knights 958, 1294, 1372; Clouds 353, 400, 673-5, 680; Wasps 19, 20, 822; Birds 289, 290, 1475; Thesmophoriazusae 605
  16. ^ Knights line 765; Wasps 1032
  17. ^ Aristophanes:Wasps D.MacDowell, Oxford University Press 1971, pages 297-8 notes 1278-1280
  18. ^ Knights line 1281; Wasps 1280; Ecclesiazusae 129
  19. ^ Acharnians 887; Wasps 506, 1142
  20. ^ The Birds 168, 1025
  21. ^ Thesmophoriazusae 1033
  22. ^ Wasps lines 566, 1401, 1446; Birds 471, 651
  23. ^ The Birds line 100; Frogs 76, 79, 787, 1516
  24. ^ The Clouds line 1356, 1362; Birds 919
  25. ^ Acharnians lines 849, 1173; Knights 400, 526; Frogs 357
  26. ^ Clouds 1261; Wasps 1501-12; Thesmophoriazusae 441
  27. ^ Knights 401; Frogs 151
  28. ^ Birds 151
  29. ^ Acharnians 16; Birds 857
  30. ^ Iliad IX 63-4
  31. ^ Clouds line 1056; Birds 575, 910, 914; Frogs 1034
  32. ^ Acharnians 120; Frogs 764
  33. ^ Birds 926
  34. ^ Wasps line 355
  35. ^ Knights line815, 855
  36. ^ Wasps line 838, 897; Lysistrata 392
  37. ^ Acharnians lines 136, 138, 602; Wasps 288; Birds 1369; Lysistrata 103
  38. ^ Knights 42, 165, 749, 751; Wasps 31; Thesmophoriazusae 658; Ecclesiazusae 243, 281, 283
  39. ^ Lysistrata line 645
  40. ^ The Acharnians lines 880, 883, 962
  41. ^ Acharnians line 112; Wasps 1139
  42. ^ Knights lines 478, 606 781; Wasps 12, 1097; Birds 277; Lysistrata 653, 1253; Thesmophoriazusae 337, 365; Frogs 938
  43. ^ Birds 879; Frogs 970; Ecclesiazusae 1139
  44. ^ Wasps line 57; Lysistrata 1170;
  45. ^ Wasps line 475
  46. ^ Knights line 479; Lysistrata 35, 40, 72, 86, 702
  47. ^ Knights 465-6, 813; Thesmophoriazusae 1101; Frogs 1208; Wealth II 601
  48. ^ Acharnians line 273; Wasps 828
  49. ^ Herodotus II.77
  50. ^ Birds lines 504, 1133; Frogs 1206, 1406; Thesmophoriazusae 856, 878; Wealth II 178;
  51. ^ Clouds lines 386, 988; Frogs 1090
  52. ^ Clouds line 984
  53. ^ Lysistrata 393, 389
  54. ^ Knights lines 123, 124, 1003 etc.
  55. ^ Birds lines 962, 970
  56. ^ Knights line 61
  57. ^ Ancient Greece:A Political, Social and Cultural History S.B.Pomeroy, S.M.Burstein and W.Donlan, Oxford University Press US 1998, page 301
  58. ^ A Short History of Greek Literature Jacqueline de Romilly, University of Chicage Press 1985, page 88
  59. ^ Aristophanes:Peace S. Douglas Olson, Oxford University Press 2003, Introduction pages XXXV-VIII
  60. ^ Aristophanes:Peace S. Douglas Olson, Oxford University Press 2003, Introduction pages XL-XLI
  61. ^ Aristophanes:Wasps Douglas MacDowell, Oxford University Press 1971, note 1030-7 page 265