Dicaeopolis, waiting for the assembly to convene, sits musing, making figures in the dust, pulling out his loose hairs, and longing for peace. He is fully prepared to harass and abuse the speakers if they talk of anything but peace with Sparta. Immediately after the citizens gather, his friend Amphitheus begins to complain of hunger because of the wartime diet. He is saved from arrest only by the intervention of Dicaeopolis.
The assembly then listens to a series of fantastic claims made by the pompous ambassadors to Athens’s allies, each speech punctuated by a scoffing aside from Dicaeopolis, who knows full well that the entire alliance is wasting away from the effects of the Peloponnesian War. The high point of absurdity is reached when the last of the ambassadors ushers in a few scraggly, miserably dressed troops, introducing them as a Thracian host sent to assist in the war. Dicaeopolis, knowing of the assembly’s willingness to adjourn upon the slightest provocation, then brings about the end of the session by claiming to have felt a drop of rain.
Finding himself unable to bring about the end of the war, Dicaeopolis determines to effect a personal, separate peace. Amphitheus, his own ambassador, returns from the enemy with three bottles of wine—the first five years old, the second ten years old, and the third thirty years old. The first two taste vile, but the last is rich with a bouquet of nectar and ambrosia. Drinking it down, Dicaeopolis personally accepts and ratifies a thirty-year peace. The Acharnians, whose vineyards were ravaged by the enemy, having got wind of this traitorous act, arrive in pursuit of Amphitheus just as Dicaeopolis is leaving his house to offer up a ritual prayer to Bacchus in thanks for the peace that allows him to resume once more a normal existence with his wife. Upon hearing his prayer, the Acharnians begin to stone him as he tries in vain to persuade them that peace is good. Threatened with further violence, Dicaeopolis seizes a covered basket of coals and announces that it is an Acharnian child, a hostage, which he will disembowel if he is not permitted to plead his cause. When the Acharnians agree, he asks further to be allowed to dress properly for the occasion.
Dicaeopolis then goes to the house of Euripides to borrow the costume of Telephus, the most unfortunate and pathetic of all the heroes of Euripides’ tragedies. The great playwright, in the midst of composing a new tragedy, is hardly in the mood to be disturbed, but Dicaeopolis cannot resist the opportunity to tease him about his wretched heroes and about the fact that his mother sold vegetables. Finally the irate Euripides gives him the miserable costume and turns him out.
The eloquent plea for peace that Dicaeopolis delivers to the Acharnians is so moving that the chorus is divided on the issue. At that moment Lamachus, a general dressed in full armor, arrives on the scene. He declares that nothing can dissuade him from eternal war on the Spartans and their allies. Dicaeopolis counters with a proclamation that his markets are henceforth open to all the enemies of Athens, but not to Lamachus.
Shortly thereafter a starving Megarian appears in Dicaeopolis’s marketplace with his two daughters, who agreed with their father that it would be better to be sold than to die of hunger. After disguising them as pigs by fitting them with hooves and snouts, the Megarian stuffs them into a sack and offers them to Dicaeopolis as the finest sows he could possibly offer to Aphrodite. Dicaeopolis, aware of...
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the deception, nevertheless accepts them in exchange for a supply of garlic and salt. The next trader is a fat, thriving Boeotian with a tremendous supply of game birds, animals, and fish. All he asks in exchange is some item of Athenian produce not available in Boeotia. Careful bargaining reveals, however, that the only such item is an informer—a vessel useful for holding all foul things, a mortar for grinding out lawsuits, a light for looking into other people’s accounts. At last the bargain is made, and the next meddling informer to enter the marketplace and threaten Dicaeopolis with exposure to the authorities is seized, bound, and carefully packed in hay for the Boeotian to carry home.
Suddenly, General Lamachus is ordered to take his battalions to guard the borders against invasion during the forthcoming Feast of the Cups. At the same time the priest of Bacchus orders Dicaeopolis to prepare for joyous participation in the feast. The chorus wishes them both joy as Lamachus dons his heavy armor and Dicaeopolis dresses in festival clothes, as Lamachus unhooks his spear and Dicaeopolis unhooks a sausage. After the feast Lamachus is carried in, hurt in a fall in a ditch before encountering the enemy, and Dicaeopolis enters, hilariously drunk and supported by two voluptuous courtesans. The blessings of peace are emphasized by the fact that, in the end, Lamachus the militarist is carried off to the surgeon while Dicaeopolis is conducted before the judges to be awarded the wineskin of victory.