Last Updated September 5, 2023.
The Wasps is a political comedy from Ancient Greece, written in 423 BCE by Aristophanes, that satirises the leadership of the populist Athenian general Cleon and particularly through what Aristophanes saw as his corruption of the judicial system. As such many of the play's most important quote relate to political matters.
To put it into context, it is said that Cleon helped to create a court system that consisted only of jurors. These jurors were paid by the state, leaving them open to manipulation by politicians.
At the beginning of the play, Xanthias playfully tells the audience that the main character Philocleon (which in Greek means lover of Cleon) has a "curious complaint": he is addicted to jury service.
I hear Amynias, the son of Pronapus, over there, saying, "He is addicted to gambling." He's wrong! He is imputing his own malady to others. Yet love is indeed the principal part of his disease. Ah! here Sosias is telling Dercylus, "He loves drinking." Wrong again! the love of wine is a good man's failing . . . I will tell your our master's complaint; of all men, it is he who is fondest of the Heliaea. Thus, to be judging is his hobby, and he groans if he is not sitting on the first seat. He does not close an eye at night, and if he dozes off for an instant his mind flies instantly to the clepsydra.
His son Bdelycleon (which in Greek means hater of Cleon) has put a net over the house and assigned guards to him to stop his father from going to court.
Will neither of you come here? My father has got into the stove-chamber and is ferreting about like a rat in his hole. Take care he does not escape through the bath drain. You there, put all your weight against the door.
In his opinion
Everything is now tyranny with us, no matter what is concerned, whether it be large or small. Tyranny! I have not heard the word mentioned once in fifty years, and now it is more common than salt-fish, the word is even current on the market.
Furthermore, his father is the
the laughing-stock of these men, whom you are ready to worship. You are their slave and do not know it.
His father disagrees, stating that
I a slave, I, who lord it over all?... I will prove to you that there exists no king whose might is greater than ours.
The chorus, consisting of the other jurors, who Aristophanes calls wasps, are constantly complimenting Philocleon and reinforcing his point of view.
He has said everything without omission. I felt myself grow taller while I listened to him. Methought myself meting out justice in the Islands of the Blest, so much was I taken with the charm of his words.
In the end Bdelycleon makes his father and the chorus see the error of their ways.
And so I have charged my conscience with the acquittal of an accused being! What will become of me? Sacred gods! forgive me. I did it despite myself; it is not in my character.