The Acharnians Background

The Acharnians Background

The Acharnians is the oldest surviving play of Aristophanes and is considered the first part of his trilogy of “peace plays,” which also includes Peace and the far more famous Lysistrata. The satirical comedy was first presented at the Lenaea festival in 425 B.C. where it earned the playwright first place at the competition even though he was barely out of his teens.

The lingering quality of death meted out by the sixth year of the seemingly never-ending Peloponnesian War informs the thematic breath of The Acharnians, which takes up as its underlying subject the utter folly of relentless saber-rattling and jingoistic hawkishness. The titular characters are the constituents of Acharnae who are reaping the economic benefits of the extended war. Less pleased with the ravages of battle is a farmer named Dikaiopolis, who sets himself the task of negotiating a separate peace with Sparta.

Another theme at work in The Acharnians concerns defining the comedy writer’s role within the larger community of society. Aristophanes makes his case that that role is one of adviser and critic by incorporating noted Greek tragedian Euripides into his narrative as a character. Perhaps contributing to the prize-winning success of that first performance of The Acharnians was a staging decision by the Aristophanes himself. He brought his comedy to a climax by celebrating a three-decade-long ceasefire, as highlighted by a dancing prostitute for each of those thirty years.

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