After a decade of fighting, Sparta and Athens were ready to make some kind of peace, and the peace of Nicias was nearly complete. In this play Aristophanes joyfully looks forward to a successful conclusion of the negotiations, although it was not to be achieved as quickly as he expected. In the play he anticipates some of the difficulties to be overcome within the various Greek states, and he shows that the farmers of the country will be most instrumental in bringing about the peace.
Peace is distinct from many of the plays of Aristophanes in representing not a bitter or frustrated complaint about contemporary politics but a kind of celebration in advance of an actual peace treaty, which was signed only ten days after the play was performed. Produced in 421 b.c.e., Peace was written with every expectation that the Peace of Nicias, which temporarily halted the conflict between Athens and Sparta, would soon become official and permanently put an end to the Peloponnesian War. Another cause for hope was that the Athenian general Cleon, one of the great obstacles to peace (at least in Aristophanes’ opinion), had fallen during the previous summer in the same battle in which the leading Spartan general, Brasidas, had also been killed. Aristophanes’ comic fantasy expresses an impatient longing for an end to the war, and one of its most remarkable features is an elaborate anticipatory celebration of the conclusion of actual negotiations.
The character Trygaeus reflects the play’s topicality. Like many protagonists in the plays of Aristophanes, he is stubborn and self-assertive in achieving his goal. He flies up to heaven and finds out directly from Zeus himself what is preventing Peace, who is personified as a beautiful goddess, from returning as soon as possible to the earth. Trygaeus undertakes his fantastic mission not merely for himself or for the Athenians, but on behalf of all the Greeks. The play acknowledges that all of the Greeks are probably weary of the conflict, whatever private disputes they still may have. Although the identity of the chorus seems to change in the course of the play, at one point the play’s Panhellenic aspect is emphasized by an indication that the chorus is composed of elements from all cities and all classes of Greece. Trygaeus’s...
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