The Acharnians Analysis

Places Discussed (Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*Athens

*Athens. Greek democratic city-state at the height of its power when Aristophanes wrote in the late fifth century b.c.e. and the setting for most of his plays. The play’s action begins at the Pnyx, an open hillside overlooking the city center where the Assembly of Citizens meets to vote on state business. Its focus then shifts to a street in front of three houses that belong to the hero, the historical early fifth century b.c.e. tragedian Euripides, and the warrior Lamachos in a fictional juxtaposition of actual Athenian places convenient for the drama. At the hero’s insistence, Euripides’ house opens to reveal him in his cluttered study. The realities of peace and war contrast when weaponry is brought from Lamachos’s house and festival gear from the hero’s. The hero’s wife observes festival preparations from the roof of the house; outside it, the hero establishes a free-trade zone, in which he negotiates illicit exchanges under his private peace treaty.

Clownish caricatures of nearby peoples at war with Athens visit the illegal market, for example, a starving bumpkin from Megara to the west and an aristocratic fop from Boiotian Thebes to the north. Athenian officials who attempt to enforce the realities of real-life war restrictions upon the hero’s private market space are repelled. Other characters represent contending regional interests in the war. For example, these include a chorus of belligerent charcoal burners from the rural Athenian township of Acharnai seven miles north of Athens; the outlandish envoy from the wealthy Persian Empire, cultivated by the government in the hope of financial support; and the boorish and gluttonous Odomanian allies from Thrace to the north. An enigmatic choral reference implies that Aristophanes, himself an Athenian citizen, has family connections to Aegina, a real island subjugated by Athens and visible from her harbor.

The Acharnians Bibliography (Great Characters in Literature)

Aristophanes. Acharnians. Edited and translated by Alan H. Sommerstein. 2d ed. Warminster, Wiltshire, England: Aris & Phillips, 1984. Provides scholarly introduction, bibliography, Greek text, facing English translation, and commentary keyed to the translation. Sommerstein’s translation supersedes most earlier versions.

Dover, K. J. Aristophanic Comedy. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972. Useful and authoritative study of the plays of Aristophanes. Chapter 6 provides a synopsis of the play, a scholarly discussion of problems of its theatrical production, and an examination of the themes of peace and war. An essential starting point for study of the play.

Harriott, Rosemary M. Aristophanes: Poet and Dramatist. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986. A recent study of Aristophanes. The plays are discussed not in individual chapters but as each illustrates the central themes and techniques of Aristophanes’ work.

Spartz, Lois. Aristophanes. Boston: Twayne, 1978. A reliable introduction to the comedy of Aristophanes for the general reader. Chapter 2 summarizes the problems of the play and discusses the central themes of peace and prosperity.

Whitman, Cedric. Aristophanes and the Comic Hero. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1964. A standard work on the characterization of the Aristophanic protagonist. Chapter 3, “City and Individual,” offers a valuable study of Dicaeopolis and of the motifs and imagery in this play.