The Acharnians | Study Guide

Aristophanes

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The Acharnians | Themes

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War's Hypocrisy

Aristophanes's play uses the idea of absurdity in war as a running theme in The Acharnians. The entire view of the war around 425 BCE is that it was costly, had no end in sight, and was pointless. Aristophanes believed that because the war had no true reason, it was pointlessly wasting lives. It was putting soldiers into battle for no reason, and regular Athenians were dying of starvation and disease as a result of the war.

The hypocrisy of war is satirized in the play by the actions of Dikaiopolis himself. Satire is the use of humor, comedy, irony or exaggeration to expose and criticize people's stupidity. He is opposed to the war and has very strong arguments as to why the war itself makes no sense to continue fighting. His entire play is based on wanting peace because putting the state at risk for no discernible reason makes no sense. Dikaiopolis decides to make a personal peace with Sparta which he has to know will put himself in danger. While he argues that making peace with Sparta is the only thing that makes sense, he is doing something that makes no sense.

Aristophanes extends his treatment of the hypocrisy of war when Dikaiopolis sets up the black-market trading with Sparta. The customers Dikaiopolis trades with are not very trustworthy people. This puts him at risk among those who are from the place in which he has a personal treaty. He becomes aware of informants among the people he is trading with. He has even more danger coming from the Athenian side. Dikaiopolis is gaining nothing at all. He isn't making money or improving lives. He is senselessly putting himself at risk for no apparent reason which contradicts his feelings and arguments for ending the war.

The Comedian's Mouthpiece

It was not common during Aristophanes's time for citizens to openly mock and criticize prominent figures. This was especially true when it came to their personal lives. Playwrights would use the main characters of their plays to act as their mouthpiece to express to the people their political and philosophical opinions. If a person had directly spoken out in the way the characters in the book did, they would have been punished severely through the court system. They might even have faced personal safety issues for their views. By creating a play with characters, the playwright could easily hide behind the character and claim that the play was intended for entertainment purposes. The argument easily gave the playwright the freedom to express their views but be able to shield themselves from direct scrutiny. The views and feelings of Aristophanes can be seen in the main character Dikaiopolis. Dikaiopolis's view on the war mirrors Aristophanes's. Dikaiopolis even mocks the famous Euripides in the play during a scene where Dikaiopolis visits his home to get a costume. Euripides was a Greek dramatist and playwright who was famous when Aristophanes was young. It was well known at the time that Aristophanes did not like Euripides or his popular plays.

Greed

Aristophanes strongly opposes the greed that permeates his society of Athens. He believes that the war is still going on because some of the high-class members of society benefit financially from the war with Sparta while the poor commoners feel the burden. This is illustrated in the play by his portrayal of the Acharnians being so upset and instantly willing to negotiate because they fear that Dikaiopolis will destroy a basket of coal. Aristophanes underscores the greed by having the Acharnians originally believe that the basket contains a child. The Acharnians are less upset and unwilling to lay down their stones when it is thought that the basket is a child than when it is revealed that the basket contains coal.

The Acharnians took place nearly 2,500 years ago, but the theme of greed can be applied to today's world in much the same way. Some sociologists suggest that large corporations and wealthy individuals do very well financially during times of war. Aristophanes's works also suggest that he might have believed that the poor workers of Athens and the working-class citizens are the ones who feel the financial burden.

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