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BLEPYRUS, husband of Praxagora
A YOUNG MAN
THREE OLD WOMEN
A SERVANT MAID to PRAXAGORA
CHORUS OF WOMEN
The Orchestra represents a public square in Athens; in the background
are two houses with an alley between them.
PRAXAGORA (swinging the lantern, which is to be a signal for the
other women; in high tragic style) Oh! Thou shining light of my earthenware
lamp, from this high spot shalt thou look abroad. Oh! lamp, I will
tell thee thine origin and thy future; 'tis the rapid whirl of the
potter's wheel that has lent thee thy shape, and thy wick counterfeits
the glory of the sun; mayst thou send the agreed signal flashing afar!
In thee alone do we confide, and thou art worthy, for thou art near
us when we practise the various postures in which Aphrodite delights
upon our couches, and none dreams even in the midst of her sports
of seeking to avoid thine eye that watches us. Thou alone shinest
into the secret recesses of our thighs and dost singe the hair that
groweth there, and with thy flame dost light the actions of our loves.
If we open some cellar stored with fruits and wine, thou art our companion,
and never dost thou betray or reveal to a neighbour the secrets thou
hast learned about us. Therefore thou shalt know likewise the whole
of the plot that I have planned with my friends, the women, at the
festival of the Scirophoria. (She pauses and looks about her.) I
see none of those I was expecting, though dawn approaches; the Assembly
is about to gather and we must take our seats in spite of Phyromachus,
who forsooth would say, "It is meet the women sit apart and hidden
from the eyes of the men." Why, have they not been able then to procure
the false beards that they must wear, or to steal their husbands'
cloaks? Ah! I see a light approaching; let us draw somewhat aside,
for fear it should be a man. (She hides in the alley. From the right
a woman enters, followed almost immediately by others. All are carrying
staffs, men's sandals, and cloaks over their arms.)
FIRST WOMAN Let us start, it is high time; as we left our dwellings,
the cock was crowing for the second time.
PRAXAGORA (to herself) And I have spent the whole night waiting
for you. (She emerges from the alley.) But come, let us call our
neighbour by scratching at her door; and gently too, so that her husband
may hear nothing.
SECOND WOMAN (coming out of her house; she is dressed like a man,
with a staff in her hand) I was putting on my shoes, when I heard
you scratching, for I was not asleep, so there! Oh! my dear, my husband
(he is a Salaminian) never left me an instant's peace, but was at
me, for ever at me, all night long, so that it was only just now that
I was able to filch his cloak.
PRAXAGORA I see Clinarete coming too, along with Sostrate and their
next-door neighbour Philaenete. (To the women that are just arriving;
in a loud voice) Hurry yourselves then, for Glyce has sworn that
the last comer shall forfeit three measures of wine and a choenix
SECOND WOMAN Don't you see Melistice, the wife of Smicythion, hurrying
hither in her big shoes? I think she is the only one of us all who
has had no trouble in getting rid of her husband.
FIRST WOMAN And can't you see Geusistrate, the tavern-keeper's wife,
with a lamp in her hand?
PRAXAGORA And the wives of Philodoretus and Chaeretades, and a great
many others; all the useful people in the city, in fact.
THIRD WOMAN Oh! my dear, I have had such trouble in getting away!
My husband ate such a surfeit of sprats last evening that he was coughing
and choking the whole night long.
PRAXAGORA Take your seats, and, since you are all gathered here at
last, let us see if what we decided on at the feast of the Scirophoria
has been duly done.
FIRST WOMAN Yes. Firstly, as agreed, I have let the hair under my
armpits grow thicker than a bush; furthermore, whilst my husband was
at the Assembly, I rubbed myself from head to foot with oil and then
stood the whole day long in the sun.
SECOND WOMAN So did I. I began by throwing away my razor, so that
I might get quite hairy, and no longer resemble a woman.
PRAXAGORA Have you the beards that we had all to get ourselves for
FIRST WOMAN Yea, by Hecate! Is this not a fine one?
SECOND WOMAN Aye, much finer even than the one Epicrates has.
PRAXAGORA (to the other women) And you?
FIRST WOMAN Yes, yes; look, they all nod assent.
PRAXAGORA I see that you have got all the rest too, Spartan shoes,
staffs and men's cloaks, as it was arranged.
FIRST WOMAN I have brought Lamias' club, which I stole from him while
PRAXAGORA What, the club that makes him fart with its weight?
SECOND WOMAN By Zeus the Deliverer, if he had the skin of Argus,
he would know better than any other how to shepherd the popular herd.
PRAXAGORA But come, let us finish what has yet to be done, while
the stars are still shining; the Assembly, at which we mean to be
present, will open at dawn.
FIRST WOMAN Good; you must take up your place at the foot of the
platform and facing the Prytanes.
SECOND WOMAN I have brought this with me to card during the Assembly.
(She shows some wool.)
PRAXAGORA During the Assembly, wretched woman?
SECOND WOMAN Surely, by Artemis! shall I hear any less well if I
am doing a bit of carding? My little ones are all but naked.
PRAXAGORA Think of her wanting to card! whereas we must not let anyone
see the smallest part of our bodies. 'Twould be a fine thing if one
of us, in the midst of the discussion, rushed on to the speaker's
platform and, flinging her cloak aside, showed her Phormisius. If,
on the other hand, we are the first to take our seats closely muffled
in our cloaks, none will know us. Let us fix these beards on our chins,
so that they spread all over our bosoms. How can we fail then to be
mistaken for men? Agyrrhius has deceived everyone, thanks to the beard
of Pronomus; yet he was no better than a woman, and you see how he
now holds the first position in the city. Thus, I adjure you by this
day that is about to dawn, let us dare to copy him and let us be clever
enough to possess ourselves of the management of affairs. Let us save
the ship of state, which just at present none seems able either to
sail or row.
FIRST WOMAN (in a tragic style) But where shall we find orators
in an Assembly of women?
PRAXAGORA Nothing simpler. Is it not said that the cleverest speakers
are those who get made love to most often? Well, thanks to the gods,
we are that by nature.
FIRST WOMAN There's no doubt of that; but the worst of it is our
PRAXAGORA That's the very reason we are gathered here, in order to
prepare the speech we must make in the Assembly. Hasten, therefore,
all you who know aught of speaking, to fix on your beards.
SECOND WOMAN Oh you stupid thing! is there ever a one among us cannot
use her tongue?
PRAXAGORA Come, look sharp, on with your beard and become a man.
As for me, I will do the same in case I should have a fancy for getting
on to the platform. Here are the chaplets. (They all put on their
SECOND WOMAN Oh! great gods! my dear Praxagora, do look here! Is
it not laughable?
PRAXAGORA How laughable?
SECOND WOMAN Our beards look like broiled cuttle-fishes.
PRAXAGORA (pretending to be the herald) Priest, bring in the cat.
Step forward, please Silence, Ariphrades! Come and take your seat.
Now, who wishes to speak?
SECOND WOMAN I do.
PRAXAGORA Then put on this chaplet and success be with you.
SECOND WOMAN There!
PRAXAGORA Well then I begin.
SECOND WOMAN Before drinking?
PRAXAGORA Hah! she wants to drink!
SECOND WOMAN Why, what else is the meaning of this chaplet?
PRAXAGORA Get you hence! you would probably have played us this trick
also before the people.
SECOND WOMAN Well! don't the men drink then in the Assembly?
PRAXAGORA Now she's telling us the men drink!
SECOND WOMAN Yes, by Artemis, and neat wine too. That's why their
decrees breathe of drunkenness and madness. And why libations, why
so many ceremonies, if wine plays no part in them? Besides, they abuse
each other like drunken men, and you can see the archers dragging
more than one uproarious drunkard out of the market-place.
PRAXAGORA Go back to your seat, you are wandering.
SECOND WOMAN (returning to her seat) Ah! I should have done better
not to have muffled myself in this beard; my throat's afire and I
feel I shall die of thirst.
PRAXAGORA Who else wishes to speak?
FIRST WOMAN (rising) I do.
PRAXAGORA Quick then, take the chaplet; the time's running short.
Try to speak worthily, let your language be truly manly, and lean
on your staff with dignity.
FIRST WOMAN I had rather have seen one of your regular orators giving
you wise advice; but, as that is not to be, it behoves me to break
silence; I cannot, for my part indeed, allow the tavern-keepers to
fill up their wine-pits with water. No, by the two goddesses...
PRAXAGORA What? by the two goddesses! Wretched woman, where are your
FIRST WOMAN Eh! what?... I have not asked you for a drink.
PRAXAGORA No, but you want to pass for a man, and you swear by the
two goddesses. Otherwise you did very well.
FIRST WOMAN Well then. By Apollo...
PRAXAGORA Stop! All these details of language must be adjusted; else
it is quite useless to go to the Assembly.
FIRST WOMAN Give me back the chaplet; I wish to speak again, for
I think I have got hold of something good. You women who are listening
PRAXAGORA Women again; why, you wretched creature, it's men that
you are addressing.
FIRST WOMAN That's the fault of Epigonus; I caught sight of him way
over there, and I thought I was speaking to women.
PRAXAGORA Come, withdraw and remain seated in the future. I am going
to take this chaplet myself and speak in your name. May the gods grant
success to my plans! My country is as dear to me as it is to you,
and I groan, I am grieved at all that is happening in it. Scarcely
one in ten of those who rule it is honest, and all the others are
bad. If you appoint fresh chiefs, they will do still worse. It is
hard to correct your peevish humour; you fear those who love you and
throw yourselves at the feet of those who betray you. There was a
time when we had no assemblies, and then we all thought Agyrrhius
a dishonest man; now they are established, he who gets money thinks
everything is as it should be, and he who does not, declares all who
sell their votes to be worthy of death.
SECOND WOMAN By Aphrodite, that is well spoken.
PRAXAGORA Why, wretched woman, you have actually called upon Aphrodite.
Oh! what a fine thing it would have been if you had said that in the
SECOND WOMAN But I would not have done it then.
PRAXAGORA Well, mind you don't fall into the habit. (Resuming the
oratorical manner) When we were discussing the alliance, it seemed
as though it were all over with Athens if it fell through. No sooner
was it made than we were vexed and angry, and the orator who had caused
its adoption was compelled to seek safety in flight. Is there talk
of equipping a fleet? The poor man says, yes, but the rich citizen
and the countryman say, no. You were angered against the Corinthians
and they with you; now they are well disposed towards you, be so towards
them. As a rule the Argives are dull, but the Argive Hieronymus is
a distinguished chief. Herein lies a spark of hope; but Thrasybulus
is far from Athens and you do not recall him.
SECOND WOMAN Oh! what a brilliant man!
PRAXAGORA (to her) That's better! that's fitting applause. (Continuing
her speech) Citizens, you are the ones who are the cause of all this
trouble. You vote yourselves salaries out of the public funds and
care only for your own personal interests; hence the state limps along
like Aesimus. But if you hearken to me, you will be saved. I assert
that the direction of affairs must be handed over to the women, for
they are the ones who have charge and look after our households.
ALL THE WOMEN Very good, very good, that's perfect! Go on, go on.
PRAXAGORA (ignoring this interruption) They are worth more than
you are, as I shall prove. First of all they wash all their wool in
warm water, according to the ancient practice; you will never see
them changing their method. Ah! if Athens only acted thus, if it did
not take delight in ceaseless innovations, would not its happiness
be assured? Then the women sit down to cook, just as they always did;
they carry things on their head just as they always did; they keep
the Thesmophoria, just as they always did; they knead their cakes
just as they always did; they make their husbands angry just as they
always did; they receive their lovers in their houses just as they
always did; they buy dainties just as they always did; they love unmixed
wine just as they always did; they delight in being loved just as
they always did. Let us therefore hand Athens over to them without
endless discussions, without bothering ourselves about what they will
do; let us simply hand them over the power, remembering that they
are mothers and will therefore spare the blood of our soldiers; besides,
who will know better than a mother how to forward provisions to the
front? Woman is adept at getting money for herself and will not easily
let herself be deceived; she understands deceit too well herself.
I omit a thousand other advantages. Take my advice and you will live
in perfect happiness.
FIRST WOMAN How beautiful this is, my dearest Praxagora, how clever!
But where, pray, did you learn all these pretty things?
PRAXAGORA When the countryfolk were seeking refuge in the city, I
lived on the Pnyx with my husband, and there I learnt to speak through
listening to the orators.
FIRST WOMAN Then, dear, it's not astonishing that you are so eloquent
and clever, henceforward you shall be our leader, so put your great
ideas into execution. But if Cephalus belches forth insults against
you, what answer will you give him in the Assembly?
PRAXAGORA I shall say that he is drivelling.
FIRST WOMAN But all the world knows that.
PRAXAGORA I shall furthermore say that he is a raving madman.
FIRST WOMAN There's nobody who does not know that.
PRAXAGORA That he, as excellent a statesman as he is, is a clumsy
FIRST WOMAN And if the blear-eyed Neoclides comes to insult you?
PRAXAGORA To him I shall say, "Go and look at a dog's arse."
FIRST WOMAN And if they fly at you?
PRAXAGORA Oh! I shall shake them off as best I can; never fear, I
know how to use this too!
FIRST WOMAN But there is one thing we don't think of. If the Scythians
drag you away, what will you do?
PRAXAGORA With my arms akimbo like this, I will never, never let
myself be taken round the middle.
FIRST WOMAN If they seize you, we will bid them let you go.
SECOND WOMAN That's the best way. But how are we going to remember
to lift our arms in the Assembly when it's our legs we are used to
PRAXAGORA It's difficult; yet it must be done, and the arm shown
naked to the shoulder in order to vote. Quick now, put on these tunics
and these Laconian shoes, as you see the men do each time they go
to the Assembly or for a walk. When this is done, fix on your beards,
and when they are arranged in the best way possible, dress yourselves
in the cloaks you have stolen from your husbands; finally start off,
leaning on your staffs and singing some old man's song as the villagers
FIRST WOMAN Well spoken; and let us hurry to get to the Pnyx before
the women from the country, for they will no doubt not fail to come
PRAXAGORA Quick, quick, for it's the custom that those who are not
at the Pnyx early in the morning return home empty-handed. (PRAXAGORA
and the FIRST and SECOND WOMEN depart; those who are left behind form
LEADER OF THE CHORUS Move forward, citizens, move forward; let us
not forget to give ourselves this name and may that of woman never
slip out of our mouths; woe to us, if it were discovered that we had
laid such a plot in the darkness of night.
CHORUS (singing) Let us go to the Assembly then, fellow-citizens;
for the Thesmothetes have declared that only those who arrive at daybreak
with haggard eye and covered with dust, without having snatched time
to eat anything but a snack of garlic-pickle, shall alone receive
the triobolus. Walk up smartly, Charitimides, Smicythus and Draces,
and do not fail in any point of your part; let us first demand our
fee and then vote for all that may perchance be useful for our partisans....
Ah! what am I saying? I meant to say, for our fellow-citizens. Let
us drive away these men of the city who used to stay at home and chatter
round the table in the days when only an obolus was paid, whereas
now one is stifled by the crowds at the Pnyx. No! during the archonship
of generous Myronides, none would have dared to let himself be paid
for the trouble he spent over public business; each one brought his
own meal of bread, a couple of onions, three olives and some wine
in a little wine-skin. But nowadays we run here to earn the three
obols, for the citizen has become as mercenary as the stonemason.
(The CHORUS marches away. BLEPYRUS appears in the doorway of his
house, wearing PRAXAGORA's Persian sandals and saffron robe.)
BLEPYRUS What does this mean? My wife has vanished! it is nearly
daybreak and she does not return! I had to take a crap! I woke up
and hunted in the darkness for my shoes and my cloak; but grope where
I would, I couldn't find them. Meanwhile Mr. O'Shit was already knocking
on the door and I had only just time to seize my wife's little mantle
and her Persian slippers. But where shall I find a place where I can
take a crap? Bah! One place is as good as another at night-time; no
one will see me. Ah! what a damned fool I was to take a wife at my
age, and how I could thrash myself for having acted so stupidly! It's
certainty she's not gone out for any honest purpose. But the thing
to do now is to take a crap. (He squats.)
A MAN (looking out of the window of the house next door) Who's that?
Is that not my neighbour Blepyrus? Why, yes, it's no other. Tell me,
what's all that yellow about you? Can it be Cinesias who has befouled
BLEPYRUS No, no, I only slipped on my wife's tunic to come out in.
MAN And where is your cloak?
BLEPYRUS I cannot tell you; I hunted for it vainly on the bed.
MAN And why did you not ask your wife for it?
BLEPYRUS Ah! why indeed! because she is not in the house; she has
run away, and I greatly fear that she may be doing me an ill turn.
MAN But, by Posidon, it's the same with myself. My wife has disappeared
with my cloak, and what is still worse, with my shoes as well; I cannot
find them anywhere.
BLEPYRUS Nor can I my Laconian ones; but as I urgently needed to
crap, I popped my feet into these slippers, so as not to soil my blanket,
which is brand new.
MAN What does it mean? Can some friend have invited her to a feast?
BLEPYRUS I expect so, for she does not generally misconduct herself,
as far as I know.
MAN What are you doing, making well-ropes? Are you never going to
be done? As for myself, I would like to go to the Assembly, and it
is time to start, but I've got to find my cloak; I have only one.
BLEPYRUS I am going to have a look too, when I have finished crapping;
but I really think there must be a wild pear obstructing my rectum.
MAN Is it the one which Thrasybulus spoke about to the Lacedaemonians?
BLEPYRUS Oh! oh! oh! stopped up I am! Whatever am I to do? It's not
merely for the present that I am frightened; but when I have eaten,
where is my crap to find an outlet now? This damned McPear fellow
has bolted the door. Call a doctor; but who is the cleverest in this
branch of the science? Amynon? Perhaps he would not come. Ah! Antisthenes!
Let him be brought to me, cost what it will. To judge by his noisy
sighs, that man knows what an arse wants, when it needs to crap. Oh!
venerated Ilithyia! I shall burst unless the door gives way. Have
pity! pity! Let me not become a thunder-mug for the comic poets.
(Enter CHREMES, returning from the Assembly.)
CHREMES Hi! friend, what are you doing there? You're not crapping,
BLEPYRUS (finding relief at last) Oh! there! it is over and I can
get up again.
CHREMES What's this? You have your wife's tunic on.
BLEPYRUS It was the first thing that came to my hand in the darkness.
But where are you coming from?
CHREMES From the Assembly.
BLEPYRUS Is it already over then?
BLEPYRUS Why, it is scarcely daylight.
CHREMES I did laugh, ye gods, at the vermilion rope-marks that were
to be seen all about the Assembly.
BLEPYRUS Did you get the triobolus?
CHREMES Would it had so pleased the gods! but I arrived just too
late, and am quite ashamed of it; I bring back nothing but this empty
BLEPYRUS But why is that?
CHREMES There was a crowd, such as has never been seen at the Pnyx,
and the folk looked pale and wan, like so many shoemakers, so white
were they in hue; both I and many another had to go without the triobolus.
BLEPYRUS Then if I went now, I should get nothing.
CHREMES No, certainly not, nor even had you gone at the second cock-crow.
BLEPYRUS Oh! what a misfortune! "Oh, Antilochus! no triobolus! Even
death would be better! I am undone!" But what can have attracted such
a crowd at that early hour?
CHREMES The Prytanes started the discussion of measures closely concerning
the safety of the state; immediately, that blear-eyed fellow, the
son of Neoclides, was the first to mount the platform. Then the folk
shouted with their loudest voice, "What! he dares to speak, and that,
too, when the safety of the state is concerned, and he a man who has
not known how to save even his own eyebrows!" He, however, shouted
louder than all of them, and looking at them asked, "Why, what ought
I to have done?"
BLEPYRUS Pound together garlic and laserpitium juice, add to this
mixture some Laconian spurge, and rub it well into the eyelids at
night. That's what I should have answered, had I been there.
CHREMES After him that clever rascal Evaeon began to speak; he was
naked, so far as we all could see, but he declared he had a cloak;
he propounded the most popular, the most democratic, doctrines. "You
see," he said, "I have the greatest need of sixteen drachmae, the
cost of a new cloak, my health demands it; nevertheless I wish first
to care for that of my fellow-citizens and of my country. If the fullers
were to supply tunics to the indigent at the approach of winter, none
would be exposed to pleurisy. Let him who has neither beds nor coverlets
go to sleep at the tanners' after taking a bath; and if they shut
the door in winter, let them be condemned to give him three goat-skins."
BLEPYRUS By Dionysus, a fine, a very fine notion! Not a soul will
vote against his proposal, especially if he adds that the flour-sellers
must supply the poor with three measures of corn, or else suffer the
severest penalties of the law; this is the only way Nausicydes can
be of any use to us.
CHREMES Then we saw a handsome young man rush into the tribune, be
was all pink and white like young Nicias, and he began to say that
the direction of matters should be entrusted to the women; this the
crowd of shoemakers began applauding with all their might, while the
country-folk assailed him with groans.
BLEPYRUS And, indeed, they did well.
CHREMES But they were outnumbered, and the orator shouted louder
than they, saying much good of the women and much ill of you.
BLEPYRUS (eagerly) And what did he say?
CHREMES First he said you were a rogue...
BLEPYRUS And you?
CHREMES Wait a minute!...and a thief...
BLEPYRUS I alone?
CHREMES And an informer.
BLEPYRUS I alone?
CHREMES Why, no, by the gods! this whole crowd here. (He points
to the audience.)
BLEPYRUS And who avers the contrary?
CHREMES He maintained that women were both clever and thrifty, that
they never divulged the Mysteries of Demeter, while you and I go about
babbling incessantly about whatever happens at the Senate.
BLEPYRUS By Hermes, he was not lying!
CHREMES Then he added that the women lend each other clothes, trinkets
of gold and silver, drinking-cups, and not before witnesses too, but
all by themselves, and that they return everything with exactitude
without ever cheating each other; whereas, according to him, we are
ever ready to deny the loans we have effected.
BLEPYRUS Yes, by Posidon, and in spite of witnesses.
CHREMES Again, he said that women were not informers, nor did they
bring lawsuits, nor hatch conspiracies; in short, he praised the women
in every possible manner.
BLEPYRUS And what was decided?
CHREMES To confide the direction of affairs to them; it's the one
and only innovation that has not yet been tried at Athens.
BLEPYRUS And it was voted?
BLEPYRUS And everything that used to be the men's concern has been
given over to the women?
CHREMES You express it exactly.
BLEPYRUS Thus it will be my wife who will go to the courts now in
CHREMES And it will be she who will keep your children in your place.
BLEPYRUS I shall no longer have to tire myself out with work from
CHREMES No, 'twill be the women's business, and you can stay at home
and amuse yourself with farting the whole day through.
BLEPYRUS Well, what I fear for us fellows now is, that, holding the
reins of government, they will forcibly compel us...
CHREMES To do what?
BLEPYRUS ...to lay them.
CHREMES And if we are not able?
BLEPYRUS They will give us no dinner.
CHREMES Well then, do your duty; dinner and love-making form a double
BLEPYRUS Ah! but I hate compulsion.
CHREMES But if it is for the public good, let us resign ourselves.
It's an old saying that our absurdest and maddest decrees always somehow
turn out for our good. May it be so in this case, oh gods, oh venerable
Pallas! But I must be off; so, good-bye to you! (Exit.)
BLEPYRUS Good-bye, Chremes. (He goes back into his house.)
CHORUS (returning from the Assembly, still dressed like men; singing)
March along, go forward. Is there some man following us? Turn round,
examine everywhere and keep a good look-out; be on your guard against
every trick, for they might spy on us from behind. Let us make as
much noise as possible as we tramp. It would be a disgrace for all
of us if we allowed ourselves to be caught in this deed by the men.
Come, wrap yourselves up well, and search both right and left, so
that no mischance may happen to us. Let us hasten our steps; here
we are close to the meeting-place whence we started for the Assembly,
and here is the house of our leader, the author of this bold scheme,
which is now decreed by all the citizens. Let us not lose a moment
in taking off our false beards, for we might be recognized and denounced.
Let us stand under the shadow of this wall; let us glance round sharply
with our eye to beware of surprises, while we quickly resume our ordinary
dress. Ah! here is our leader, returning from the Assembly. Hasten
to relieve your chins of these flowing manes. Look at your comrades
yonder; they have already made themselves women again some while ago.
(They remove the beards as PRAXAGORA and the other women enter from
the right through the Orchestra.)
PRAXAGORA Friends, success has crowned our plans. But off with these
cloaks and these boots quick, before any man sees you; unbuckle the
Laconian straps and get rid of your staffs; (to the LEADER) and
you help them with their toilet. As for myself, I am going to slip
quietly into the house and replace my husband's cloak and other gear
where I took them from, before he can suspect anything.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS There! it's done according to your bidding.
Now tell us how we can be of service to you, so that we may show you
our obedience, for we have never seen a cleverer woman than you.
PRAXAGORA Wait! I only wish to use the power given me in accordance
with your wishes; for, in the market-place, in the midst of the shouts
and danger, I appreciated your indomitable courage. (Just as she
is about to enter the house BLEPYRUS appears in the doorway.)
BLEPYRUS Eh, Praxagora! where are you coming from?
PRAXAGORA How does that concern you, dear?
BLEPYRUS Why, greatly! what a silly question!
PRAXAGORA You don't think I have come from a lover's?
BLEPYRUS No, perhaps not from only one.
PRAXAGORA You can make yourself sure of that.
BLEPYRUS And how?
PRAXAGORA You can see whether my hair smells of perfume.
BLEPYRUS What? cannot a woman possibly be laid without perfume, eh!
PRAXAGORA The gods forfend, as far as I am concerned.
BLEPYRUS Why did you go off at early dawn with my cloak?
PRAXAGORA Acompanion, a friend who was in labour, had sent to fetch
BLEPYRUS Could you not have told me?
PRAXAGORA Oh, my dear, would you have me caring nothing for a poor
woman in that plight?
BLEPYRUS A word would have been enough. There's something behind
PRAXAGORA No, I call the goddesses to witness! I went running off;
the poor woman who summoned me begged me to come, whatever might betide.
BLEPYRUS And why did you not take your mantle? Instead of that, you
carry of mine, you throw your dress upon the bed and you leave me
as the dead are left, bar the chaplets and perfumes.
PRAXAGORA It was cold, and I am frail and delicate; I took your cloak
for greater warmth, leaving you thoroughly warm yourself beneath your
BLEPYRUS And my shoes and staff, those too went off with you?
PRAXAGORA I was afraid they might rob me of the cloak, and so, to
look like a man, I put on your shoes and walked with a heavy tread
and struck the stones with your staff.
BLEPYRUS D'you know you have made us lose a sextary of wheat, which
I should have bought with the triobolus of the Assembly?
PRAXAGORA Be comforted, for she had a boy.
BLEPYRUS Who? the Assembly?
PRAXAGORA No, no, the woman I helped. But has the Assembly taken
BLEPYRUS Did I not tell you of it yesterday?
PRAXAGORA True; I remember now.
BLEPYRUS And don't you know the decrees that have been voted?
PRAXAGORA No indeed.
BLEPYRUS Go to! you can live on lobster from now on, for they say
the government is handed over to you.
PRAXAGORA To do what-to spin?
BLEPYRUS No, that you may rule...
BLEPYRUS ...over all public business.
PRAXAGORA (as she exclaims this CHREMES reappears) Oh! by Aphrodite
how happy Athens will be!
BLEPYRUS Why so?
PRAXAGORA For a thousand reasons. None will dare now to do shameless
deeds, give false testimony or lay informations.
BLEPYRUS Stop! in the name of the gods! Do you want me to die of
CHREMES Good sir, let your wife speak.
PRAXAGORA There will be no more thieves, nor envious people, no more
rags nor misery, no more abuse and no more prosecutions and law-suits.
CHREMES By Posidon! that's grand, if it's true!
PRAXAGORA I shall prove it and you shall be my witness and even he
(pointing to Blepyrus) will have no objections to raise.
CHORUS (singing) You have served your friends, but now it behoves
you to apply your ability and your care to the welfare of the people.
Devote the fecundity of your mind to the public weal; adorn the citizens'
lives with a thousand enjoyments and teach them to seize every favourable
opportunity. Devise some ingenious method to secure the much-needed
salvation of Athens; but let neither your acts nor your words recall
anything of the past, for 'tis only innovations that please.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS But do not fail to put your plans into execution
immediately; it's quick action that pleases the audience.
PRAXAGORA I believe my ideas are good, but what I fear is that the
public will cling to the old customs and refuse to accept my reforms.
CHREMES Have no fear about that. Love of novelty and disdain for
traditions, these are the dominating principles among us.
PRAXAGORA (to the audience) Let none contradict nor interrupt me
until I have explained my plan. I want all to have a share of everything
and all property to be in common; there will no longer be either rich
or poor; no longer shall we see one man harvesting vast tracts of
land, while another has not ground enough to be buried in, nor one
man surround himself with a whole army of slaves, while another has
not a single attendant; I intend that there shan only be one and the
same condition of life for all.
BLEPYRUS But how do you mean for all?
PRAXAGORA (impatiently) You'll eat dung before I do!
BLEPYRUS Won't the dung be common too?
PRAXAGORA No, no, but you interrupted me too soon. This is what I
was going to say; I shall begin by making land, money, everything
that is private property, common to all. Then we shall live on this
common wealth, which we shall take care to administer with wise thrift.
BLEPYRUS And how about the man who has no land, but only gold and
silver coins, that cannot be seen?
PRAXAGORA He must bring them to the common stock, and if he fails
he will be a perjured man.
BLEPYRUS That won't worry him much, for has he not gained them by
PRAXAGORA But his riches will no longer be of any use to him.
PRAXAGORA The poor will no longer be obliged to work; each will have
all that he needs, bread, salt fish, cakes, tunics, wine, chaplets
and chick-pease; of what advantage will it be to him not to contribute
his share to the common wealth? What do you think of it?
BLEPYRUS But is it not the biggest robbers that have all these things?
CHREMES Yes, formerly, under the old order of things; but now that
all goods are in common, what will he gain by not bringing his wealth
into the general stock?
BLEPYRUS If someone saw a pretty wench and wished to lay her, he
would take some of his reserve store to make her a present and stay
the night with her; this would not prevent him claiming his share
of the common property.
PRAXAGORA But he can sleep with her for nothing; I intend that women
shall belong to all men in common, and each shall beget children by
any man that wishes to have her.
BLEPYRUS But all will go to the prettiest woman and try to lay her.
PRAXAGORA The ugliest and the most flat-nosed will be side by side
with the most charming, and to win the latter's favours, a man will
first have to get into the former.
BLEPYRUS But what about us oldsters? If we have to lay the old women
first, how can we keep our tools from failing before we get into the
PRAXAGORA They will make no resistance. Never fear; they will make
BLEPYRUS Resistance to what?
PRAXAGORA To the pleasure of the thing. This is the way that matters
will be ordered for you.
BLEPYRUS It's very well conceived for you women, for every wench's
hole will be filled; but what about the men? The women will run away
from the ugly ones and chase the good-looking.
PRAXAGORA The ugly will follow the handsomest into the public places
after supper and see to it that the law, which forbids the women to
sleep with the big, handsome men before having satisfied the ugly
shrimps, is complied with.
BLEPYRUS Thus ugly Lysicrates' nose will be as proud as the handsomest
PRAXAGORA Yes, by Apollo! this is a truly popular decree, and what
a set-back it will be for one of those elegants with their fingers
loaded with rings, when a man with heavy shoes says to him, "Give
way to me and wait till I have done; you will pass in after me."
BLEPYRUS But if we live in this fashion, how will each one know his
PRAXAGORA The youngest will look upon the oldest as their fathers.
BLEPYRUS Ah! how heartily they will strangle all the old men, since
even now, when each one knows his father, they make no bones about
strangling him! then, my word! won't they just scorn and crap upon
the old folks!
PRAXAGORA But those around will prevent it. Hitherto, when anyone
saw an old man beaten, he would not meddle, because it did not concern
him; buff now each will fear the sufferer may be his own father and
such violence will be stopped.
BLEPYRUS What you say is not so silly after all; but it would be
highly unpleasant were Epicurus and Leucolophas to come up and call
CHREMES But it would be far worse, were...
BLEPYRUS Were what?
CHREMES ...Aristyllus to embrace you and style you his father.
BLEPYRUS He'll regret it if he does!
CHREMES For you would smell vilely of mint if he kissed you. But
he was born before the decree was carried, so that you have not to
fear his kiss.
BLEPYRUS It would be awful. But who will till the soil?
PRAXAGORA The slaves. Your only cares will be to scent yourself,
and to go and dine, when the shadow of the gnomon is ten feet long
on the dial.
BLEPYRUS But how shall we obtain clothing? Tell me that!
PRAXAGORA You will first wear out those you have, and then we women
will weave you others.
BLEPYRUS Now another point: if the magistrates condemn a citizen
to the payment of a fine, how is he going to do it? Out of the public
funds? That would not be right surely.
PRAXAGORA But there will be no more lawsuits.
BLEPYRUS This rule will ruin you.
CHREMES I think so too.
PRAXAGORA Besides, my dear, why should there be lawsuits?
BLEPYRUS Oh! for a thousand reasons, on my faith! Firstly, because
a debtor denies his obligation.
PRAXAGORA But where will the lender get the money to lend, if all
is in common? unless he steals it out of the treasury? and he could
not hide that!
CHREMES Well thought out, by Demeter!
BLEPYRUS But tell me this: here are some men who are returning from
a feast and are drunk and they strike some passer-by; how are they
going to pay the fine? Ah! you are puzzled now!
PRAXAGORA They will have to take it out of their pittance; and being
thus punished through their belly, they will not care to begin again.
BLEPYRUS There will be no more thieves then, eh?
PRAXAGORA Why steal, if you have a share of everything?
BLEPYRUS People will not be robbed any more at night?
CHREMES Not if you sleep at home.
PRAXAGORA Even if you sleep outdoors there will be no more danger,
for all will have the means of living. Besides, if anyone wanted to
steal your cloak, you would give it to him yourself. Why not? You
will only have to go to the common store and be given a better one.
BLEPYRUS There will be no more playing at dice?
PRAXAGORA What object will there be in playing?
BLEPYRUS But what kind of life is it you propose to set up?
PRAXAGORA The life in common. Athens will become nothing more than
a single house, in which everything will belong to everyone; so that
everybody will be able to go from one house to the other at pleasure.
BLEPYRUS And where will the meals be served?
PRAXAGORA The law-courts and the porticoes will be turned into dining-halls.
BLEPYRUS And what will the speaker's platform be used for?
PRAXAGORA I shall place the bowls and the ewers there; and young
children will sing the glory of the brave from there, also the infamy
of cowards, who out of very shame will no longer dare to come to the
BLEPYRUS Well thought out, by Apollo! And what will you do with the
PRAXAGORA I shall have them taken to the market-place, and standing
close to the statue of Harmodius, I shall draw a lot for each citizen,
which by its letter will show the place where he must go to dine.
Thus, those for whom I have drawn an R will go to the royal portico;
if it's a T, they will go to the portico of Theseus; if it's an F,
to that of the flour-market.
BLEPYRUS To cram himself there like a capon?
PRAXAGORA No, to dine there.
BLEPYRUS And the citizen whom the lot has not given a letter showing
where he is to dine will be driven off by everyone?
PRAXAGORA (with great solemnity) But that will not occur. Each man
will have plenty; he will not leave the feast until he is well drunk,
and then with a chaplet on his head and a torch in his hand; and then
the women running to meet you in the crossroads will say, "This way,
come to our house, you will find a beautiful young girl there."-"And
I," another will call from her balcony, "have one so pretty and as
white as milk; but before touching her, you must sleep with me." And
the ugly men, watching closely after the handsome fellows, will say,
"Hi! friend, where are you running to? Go in, but you must do nothing;
it's the ugly and the flat-nosed to whom the law gives the right to
make love first; amuse yourself on the porch while you wait, in handling
your fig-leaves and playing with yourself." Well, tell me, does that
picture suit you?
BLEPYRUS AND CHREMES Marvellously well.
PRAXAGORA I must now go to the market-place to receive the property
that is going to be placed in common and to choose a woman with a
loud voice as my herald. I have all the cares of state on my shoulders,
since the power has been entrusted to me. I must likewise go to busy
myself about establishing the common meals, and you will attend your
first banquet to-day.
BLEPYRUS Are we going to banquet?
PRAXAGORA Why, undoubtedly! Furthermore, I propose abolishing the
BLEPYRUS And what for?
PRAXAGORA It's clear enough why; so that, instead of them, we may
have the first-fruits of the young men. It is not meet that tricked-out
slaves should rob free-born women of their pleasures. Let the courtesans
be free to sleep with the slaves.
BLEPYRUS I will march at your side, so that I may be seen and that
everyone may say, "Look at the Dictator's husband!" (He follows PRAXAGORA
into their house.)
CHREMES As for me, I shall arrange my belongings and take inventory
of them, in order that I may take them to the market-place. (He departs., There is an interlude of dancing by the CHORUS, after which CHREMES
returns with his belongings and arranges them in a long line.)
CHREMES Come hither, my beautiful sieve, I have nothing more precious
than you, come, all clotted with the flour of which I have poured
so many sacks through you; you shall act the part of Canephorus in
the procession of my chattels. Where is the sunshade carrier? Ah!
this stew-pot shall take his place. Great gods, how black it is! it
could not be more so if Lysicrates had boiled the drugs in it with
which be dyes his hair. Hither, my beautiful mirror. And you, my tripod,
bear this urn for me; you shall be the water-bearer; and you, cock,
whose morning song has so often roused me in the middle of the night
to send me hurrying to the Assembly, you shall be my flute-girl. Scaphephorus,
do you take the large basin, place in it the honeycombs and twine
the olive-branches over them, bring the tripods and the phial of perfume;
as for the humble crowd of little pots, I will just leave them behind.
CITIZEN (watching CHREMES from a distance) What folly to carry one's
goods to the common store; I have a little more sense than that. No,
no, by Posidon, I want first to ponder and calculate over the thing
at leisure. I shall not be fool enough to strip myself of the fruits
of my toil and thrift, if it is not for a very good reason; let us
see first which way things turn. (He walks over to CHREMES) Hi!
friend, what means this display of goods? Are you moving or are you
going to pawn your stuff?
CITIZEN Why then are you setting all these things out in line? Is
it a procession that you are starting off to Hiero, the public crier?
CHREMES No, but in accordance with the new law that has been decreed,
I am going to carry all these things to the market-place to make a
gift of them to the state.
CITIZEN Oh! bah! you don't mean that.
CITIZEN Oh! Zeus the Deliverer! you unfortunate man!
CITIZEN Why? It's as clear as noonday.
CHREMES Must the laws not be obeyed then?
CITIZEN What laws, you poor fellow?
CHREMES Those that have been decreed.
CITIZEN Decreed! Are you mad, I ask you?
CHREMES Am I mad?
CITIZEN Oh! this is the height of folly!
CHREMES Because I obey the law?
CITIZEN Is that the duty of a smart man?
CITIZEN Say rather of a ninny.
CHREMES Don't you propose taking what belongs to you to the common
CITIZEN I'll take good care I don't until I see what the majority
CHREMES There's but one opinion, namely, to contribute every single
thing one has.
CITIZEN I am waiting to see it, before I believe that.
CHREMES At least, so they say in every street.
CITIZEN (sardonically) And they will go on saying so.
CHREMES Everyone talks of contributing all he has.
CITIZEN (in the same tone) And will go on talking of it.
CHREMES You weary me with your doubts and dubitations.
CITIZEN (in the same tone) Everybody else will doubt it.
CHREMES The pest seize you!
CITIZEN (in the same tone) It will take you. (Then seriously)
What? give up your goods! Is there a man of sense who will do such
a thing? Giving is not one of our customs. Receiving is another matter;
it's the way of the gods themselves. Look at the position of their
hands on their statues; when we ask a favour, they present their hands
turned palm up so as not to give, but to receive.
CHREMES Wretch, let me do what is right. Come, I'll make a bundle
of all these things. Where is my strap?
CITIZEN Are you really going to carry them in?
CHREMES Undoubtedly, and there are my two tripods strung together
CITIZEN What folly! Not to wait to see what the others do, and then...
CHREMES Well, and then what?
CITIZEN ...wait and put it off again.
CHREMES What for?
CITIZEN That an earthquake may come or an ill-omened flash of lightning,
that a black cat may run across the street and no one carry in anything
more, you fool!
CHREMES It would be a fine thing if I were to find no room left for
placing all this.
CITIZEN You are much more likely to lose your stuff. As for placing
it, you can be at ease, for there will be room enough as long as a
CITIZEN I know these people; a decree is readily passed, but it is
not so easily attended to.
CHREMES All will contribute their property, my friend.
CITIZEN But what if they don't?
CHREMES But there is no doubt that they will.
CITIZEN (insistently) But anyhow, what if they don't?
CHREMES Do not worry; they will.
CITIZEN And what if they oppose it?
CHREMES We shall compel them to do so.
CITIZEN And what if they prove the stronger?
CHREMES I shall leave my goods and go off.
CITIZEN And what if they sell them for you?
CHREMES The plague take you!
CITIZEN And if it does?
CHREMES It will be a good riddance.
CITIZEN (in an incredulous tone) You are really bent on contributing,
CHREMES 'Pon my soul, yes! Look, there are all my neighbours carrying
in all they have.
CITIZEN (sarcastically) Oh yes, it's Antisthenes; he's the type
that would contribute! He would just as soon spend the next month
sitting on the can.
CHREMES The pest seize you!
CITIZEN Will Callimachus, the chorus-master, contribute anything?
CHREMES Why, more than Callias!
CITIZEN The man must want to spend all his money!
CHREMES How you weary me!
CITIZEN Ah! I weary you? But, wretch, see what comes of decrees of
this kind. Don't you remember the one reducing the price of salt?
CHREMES Why, certainly I do.
CITIZEN And do you remember that about the copper coinage?
CHREMES Ah! that cursed money did me enough harm. I had sold my grapes
and had my mouth stuffed with pieces of copper; indeed I was going
to the market to buy flour, and was in the act of holding out my bag
wide open, when the herald started shouting, "Let none in future accept
pieces of copper; those of silver are alone current."
CITIZEN And quite lately, were we not all swearing that the impost
of one-fortieth, which Euripides had conceived, would bring five hundred
talents to the state, and everyone was vaunting Euripides to the skies?
But when the thing was looked at closely, it was seen that this fine
decree was mere moonshine and would produce nothing, and you would
have willingly burnt this very same Euripides alive.
CHREMES The cases are quite different, my good fellow. We were the
rulers then, but now it's the women.
CITIZEN Whom, by Posidon, I will never allow to piss on my nose.
CHREMES I don't know what the devil you're chattering about. Slave,
pick up that bundle.
HERALD (a woman) Let all citizens come, let them hasten at our leader's
bidding! It is the new law. The lot will teach each citizen where
he is to dine; the tables are already laid and loaded with the most
exquisite dishes; the couches are covered with the softest of cushions;
the wine and water are already being mixed in the ewers; the slaves
are standing in a row and waiting to pour scent over the guests; the
fish is being grilled, the hares are on the spit and the cakes are
being kneaded, chaplets are being plaited and the fritters are frying;
the youngest women are watching the pea-soup in the saucepans, and
in the midst of them all stands Smoeus, dressed as a knight, washing
the crockery. And Geron has come, dressed in a grand tunic and finely
shod; he is joking with another young fellow and has already divested
himself of his heavy shoes and his cloak. The pantry man is waiting,
so come and use your jaws. (Exit)
CITIZEN All right, I'll go. Why should I delay, since the state commands
CHREMES And where are you going to, since you have not deposited
CITIZEN To the feast.
CHREMES If the women have any wits, they will first insist on your
depositing your goods.
CITIZEN But I am going to deposit them.
CITIZEN I am not the man to make delays.
CHREMES How do you mean?
CITIZEN There will be many less eager than I.
CHREMES In the meantime you are going to dine.
CITIZEN What else should I do? Every sensible man must give his help
to the state.
CHREMES But if admission is forbidden you?
CITIZEN I shall duck my head and slip in.
CHREMES And if the women have you beaten?
CITIZEN I shall summon them.
CHREMES And if they laugh in your face?
CITIZEN I shall stand near the door...
CHREMES And then?
CITIZEN ...and seize upon the dishes as they pass.
CHREMES Then go there, but after me. Sicon and Parmeno, pick up all
CITIZEN Come, I will help you carry it.
CHREMES (pushing him away) No, no, I should be afraid of your pretending
to the leader that what I am depositing belonged to you. (Exit with
CITIZEN Let me see! let me think of some good trick by which I can
keep my goods and yet take my share of the common feast. (He reflects
for a moment.) Ha! that's a fine idea! Quick! I'll go and dine, ha!
ha! (Exit laughing., Interlude of dancing by the CHORUS., The
scene shifts to a different section of Athens and the two houses are
now to be thought of as those of two prostitutes.)
FIRST OLD WOMAN (leaning out of the window of one house) How is
this? no men are coming? And yet it must be fully time! Then it is
for naught that I have painted myself with white lead, dressed myself
in my beautiful yellow robe, and that I am here, frolicking and humming
between my teeth to attract some passer-by! Oh, Muses, alight upon
my lips, inspire me with some soft Ionian love-song!
YOUNG GIRL (in the window of the other house) You putrid old thing,
you have placed yourself at the window before me. You were expecting
to strip my vines during my absence and to trap some man in your snares
with your songs. If you sing, I shall follow suit; all this singing
will weary the spectators, but is nevertheless very pleasant and very
FIRST OLD WOMAN (thumbing her nose at the YOUNG GIRL) Ha! here is
an old man; take him and lead him away. (To the flute-player) As
for you, you young flute-player, let us hear some airs that are worthy
of you and me. (She sings) Let him who wishes to taste pleasure
come to my side. These young things know nothing about it; it's only
the women of ripe age who understand the art of love, and no one could
know how to fondle the lover who possessed me so well as myself; the
young girls are all flightiness.
YOUNG GIRL (singing in her turn) Don't be jealous of the young girls;
voluptuousness resides in the pure outline of their beautiful limbs
and blossoms on their rounded breasts; but you, old woman, you who
are tricked out and perfumed as if for your own funeral, are an object
of love only for grim Death himself.
FIRST OLD WOMAN (singing again) May your tongue be stopped; may
you be unable to find your couch when you want to be loved. And on
your couch, when your lips seek a lover, may you embrace only a viper!
YOUNG GIRL (singing again) Alas! alas! what is to become of me?
There is no lover! I am left here alone; my mother has gone out.
(Interrupting her song) There's no need to mention the rest. (Then
singing again) Oh! my dear nurse, I adjure you to call Orthagoras,
and may heaven bless you. Ah! poor child, desire is consuming you
like an Ionian woman; (interrupting again) and yet you are no stranger
to the wanton arts of the Lesbian women. (Resuming her song) But
you shall not rob me of my pleasures; you will not be able to reduce
or filch the time that first belongs to me.
FIRST OLD WOMAN Sing as much as you please, peep out like a cat lying
in wait, but none shall pass through your door without first having
been to see me.
YOUNG GIRL If anyone enter your house, it will be to carry out your
corpse. And that will be something new for you, you rotten old thing!
FIRST OLD WOMAN Can anything be new to an old woman? My old age will
not harm you.
YOUNG GIRL Ah! shame on your painted cheeks!
FIRST OLD WOMAN Why do you speak to me at all?
YOUNG GIRL And why do you place yourself at the window?
FIRST OLD WOMAN I am singing to myself about my lover, Epigenes.
YOUNG GIRL Can you have any other lover than that old fop Geres?
FIRST OLD WOMAN Epigenes will show you that himself, for he is coming
to me. See, here he is.
YOUNG GIRL He's not thinking of you in the least.
FIRST OLD WOMAN Aye, but he is.
YOUNG GIRL Old starveling! Let's see what he will do. I will leave
FIRST OLD WOMAN And I likewise. You will see I am much wiser than
A YOUNG MAN (sings) Ah! could I but sleep with the young girl without
first making love to the old flat-nose! It is intolerable for a free-born
FIRST OLD WOMAN (singing to the same tune) Willy nilly, you must
first gratify my desire. There shall be no nonsense about that, for
my authority is the law and the law must be obeyed in a democracy.
(Speaking) But come, let me hide, to see what he's going to do.
YOUNG MAN Ah! ye gods, if I were to find the sweet child alone! the
wine has fired my lust.
YOUNG GIRL (reappearing in her window) I have tricked that cursed
old wretch; she has left her window, thinking I would stay at home.
Ah! here is the lover we were talking of. (She sings) This way,
my love, this way, come here and haste to rest the whole night in
my arms. I worship your lovely curly hair; I am consumed with ardent
desire. Oh! Eros, in thy mercy, compel him to my bed.
YOUNG MAN (standing beneath the YOUNG GIRL'S window and singing)
Come down and haste to open the door unless you want to see me fall
dead with desire. Dearest treasure, I am burning to yield myself to
voluptuous sport, lying on your bosom, to let my hands play with your
bottom. Aphrodite, why dost thou fire me with such delight in her?
Oh! Eros, I beseech thee, have mercy and make her share my couch.
Words cannot express the tortures I am suffering. Oh! my adored one,
I adjure you, open your door for me and press me to your heart; 'tis
for you that I am suffering. Oh! my jewel, my idol, you child of Aphrodite,
the confidante of the Muses, the sister of the Graces, you living
picture of voluptuousness, oh! open for me, press me to your heart,
'tis for you that I am suffering. (He knocks.)
FIRST OLD WOMAN (reappearing suddenly) What are you knocking for?
Are you looking for me?
YOUNG MAN What an idea!
FIRST OLD WOMAN But you were tapping at the door.
YOUNG MAN Death would be sweeter.
FIRST OLD WOMAN Why do you come with that torch in your hand?
YOUNG MAN I am looking for a man from Anaphlystia.
FIRST OLD WOMAN What's his name?
YOUNG MAN Oh! it's not Sebinus, whom no doubt you are expecting.
FIRST OLD WOMAN (taking him by the arm) By Aphrodite, you must,
whether you like it or not.
YOUNG MAN (shaking her off) We are not now concerned with cases
dated sixty years back; they are remanded for a later day; we are
dealing only with those of less than twenty.
FIRST OLD WOMAN That was under the old order of things, sweetheart,
but now you must first busy yourself with us.
YOUNG MAN Aye, if I want to, according to the rules of draughts,
where we may either take or leave.
FIRST OLD WOMAN But it's not according to the rules of draughts that
you take your seat at the banquet.
YOUNG MAN I don't know what you mean; it's at this door I want to
FIRST OLD WOMAN (standing in his way) Not before knocking at mine
YOUNG MAN (haughtily) For the moment I really have no need for old
FIRST OLD WOMAN I know that you love me; perhaps you are surprised
to find me at the door. But come, let me kiss you.
YOUNG MAN (pulling back; sarcastically) No, no, my dear, I am afraid
of your lover.
FIRST OLD WOMAN Of whom?
YOUNG MAN The most gifted of painters.
FIRST OLD WOMAN And who is he?
YOUNG MAN The artist who paints the little bottles on coffins. But
get you indoors, lest he should find you at the door.
FIRST OLD WOMAN I know what you want.
YOUNG MAN I can say as much of you.
FIRST OLD WOMAN (hanging on to him) By Aphrodite, who has granted
me this good chance, I won't let you go.
YOUNG MAN You are drivelling, you little old hag.
FIRST OLD WOMAN Rubbish! I am going to lead you to my couch.
YOUNG MAN What need for buying hooks? I will let her down to the
bottom of the well and pull up the buckets with her old carcase, for
she's crooked enough for that.
FIRST OLD WOMAN A truce to your jeering, poor boy, and follow me.
YOUNG MAN Nothing compels me to do so, unless you have paid the levy
of five hundredths for me.
FIRST OLD WOMAN Look, by Aphrodite, there is nothing that delights
me as much as sleeping with a lad of your years.
YOUNG MAN And I abhor such as you, and I will never, never consent.
FIRST OLD WOMAN But, by Zeus, here is something will force you to
it. (She shows him a document.)
YOUNG MAN What's that?
FIRST OLD WOMAN A decree, which orders you to enter my house.
YOUNG MAN Read it out then, and let's hear.
FIRST OLD WOMAN Listen. "The women have decreed that if a young man
desires a young girl, he can only lay her after having satisfied an
old woman; and if he refuses and goes to seek the maiden, the old
women are authorized to seize him and drag him in."
YOUNG MAN Alas! I shall become a Procrustes.
FIRST OLD WOMAN Obey the law.
YOUNG MAN But if a fellow-citizen, a friend, came to pay my ransom?
FIRST OLD WOMAN No man may dispose of anything above a medimnus.
YOUNG MAN But may I not enter an excuse?
FIRST OLD WOMAN There's no evasion.
YOUNG MAN I shall declare myself a merchant and so escape service.
FIRST OLD WOMAN Beware what you do!
YOUNG MAN Well! what is to be done?
FIRST OLD WOMAN Follow me.
YOUNG MAN Is it absolutely necessary?
FIRST OLD WOMAN Yes, as surely as if Diomedes had commanded it.
YOUNG MAN Well then, first spread out a layer of origanum upon four
pieces of wood; bind fillets round your head, bring phials of scent
and place a bowl filled with lustral water before your door.
FIRST OLD WOMAN Will you buy a chaplet for me too?
YOUNG MAN Yes, if you outlast the tapers; for I expect to see you
fall down dead as you go in.
YOUNG GIRL (running out of her house) Where are you dragging this
unfortunate man to?
FIRST OLD WOMAN To my own bed.
YOUNG GIRL That's not right. A young fellow like him is not of the
age to suit you. You ought to be his mother rather than his wife.
With these laws in force, the earth will be filled with Oedipuses.
(She takes him away with her.)
FIRST OLD WOMAN Oh! you cursed pest! it's envy that makes you say
this; but I will be revenged. (She goes back into her house.)
YOUNG MAN By Zeus the Deliverer, what a service you have done me,
by freeing me of this old wretch! with what ardour I will show you
my gratitude in a substantial form! (Just as he begins to go in with
the YOUNG GIRL an even older and uglier woman enters.)
SECOND OLD WOMAN Hi! you there! where are you taking that young man
to, in defiance of the law? The decree ordains that he must first
sleep with me.
YOUNG MAN Oh! what a misfortune! Where does this hag come from? She's
a more frightful monster than the other even.
SECOND OLD WOMAN Come here. (She takes him by the arm.)
YOUNG MAN (to the YOUNG GIRL) Oh! I beg you, don't let me be led
off by her!
SECOND OLD WOMAN It's not I but the law that leads you off.
YOUNG MAN No, it's not the law, but an Empusa with a body covered
with blemishes and blotches.
SECOND OLD WOMAN Follow me, my handsome little friend, come along
quickly without any more ado.
YOUNG MAN Oh! let me go to the can first, so that I may gather my
wits somewhat. Else I should be so terrified that you would see me
letting out something yellow.
SECOND OLD WOMAN Never mind! you can crap, if you want, in my house.
YOUNG MAN More than I want to, I'm afraid; but I offer you two good
SECOND OLD WOMAN I don't require them. (A THIRD OLD WOMAN, the ugliest
yet, now appears.)
THIRD OLD WOMAN Hi! friend, where are you off to with that woman?
YOUNG MAN I am not going with her, but am being dragged by force.
Oh! whoever you are, may heaven bless you for having had pity on me
in my dire misfortune. (Turns round and sees the THIRD OLD WOMAN.)
Oh Heracles! oh Pan! oh Corybantes! oh Dioscuri! Why, she is still
more awful! Oh! what a monster! great gods! Are you an ape plastered
with white lead, or the ghost of some old hag returned from the dark
borderlands of death?
THIRD OLD WOMAN (taking his other arm) No jesting! Follow me.
SECOND OLD WOMAN No, come this way.
THIRD OLD WOMAN I will never let you go.
SECOND OLD WOMAN Nor will I.
YOUNG MAN But you will rend me asunder, you cursed wretches.
SECOND OLD WOMAN I'm the one he must go with according to the law.
THIRD OLD WOMAN Not if an uglier old woman than yourself appears.
YOUNG MAN But if you kill me at the outset, how shall I afterwards
go to find this beautiful girl of mine?
THIRD OLD WOMAN That's your problem. But begin by obeying.
YOUNG MAN Of which one must I rid myself first?
THIRD OLD WOMAN Don't you know? Come here.
YOUNG MAN Then let the other one release me.
SECOND OLD WOMAN Come to my house.
YOUNG MAN If this dame will let me go.
THIRD OLD WOMAN No, by all the gods, I'll not let you go.
SECOND OLD WOMAN Nor will I.
YOUNG MAN You would make very bad boatwomen.
SECOND OLD WOMAN Why?
YOUNG MAN Because you would tear your passengers to pieces in dragging
them on board.
THIRD OLD WOMAN Then come along, do, and hold your tongue.
SECOND OLD WOMAN No, by Zeus, come with me.
YOUNG MAN It's clearly a case for the decree of Cannonus; I must
cut myself in two in order to lay you both. But how am I to work two
oars at once?
THIRD OLD WOMAN Easily enough; you have only to eat a full pot of
YOUNG MAN Oh! great gods! here I am close to the door and being dragged
SECOND OLD WOMAN (to THIRD OLD WOMAN) You will gain nothing by this,
for I shall rush into your house with you.
YOUNG MAN Oh, no! no! to suffer a single misfortune than two.
THIRD OLD WOMAN Ah! by Hecate, whether you wish it or not.
YOUNG MAN What a fate is mine, that I must make love to such a stinking
harridan the whole night through and all day; then, when I am rid
of her, I have still to tackle a brick-coloured hag! Am I not truly
unfortunate? Ah! by Zeus the Deliverer; under what fatal star must
I have been born, that I must sail in company with such monsters!
But if my bark sinks in the sewer of these strumpets, may I be buried
at the very threshold of the door; let this hag be stood upright on
my grave, let her be coated alive with pitch and her legs covered
with molten lead up to the ankles, and let her be set alight as a
funeral lamp. (The YOUNG MAN is dragged off by the two OLD WOMEN,
one on each arm., Interlude of dancing by the CHORUS.)
A SERVANT-MAID TO PRAXAGORA (she comes from the banquet) What happiness
is the people's! what joy is mine, and above all that of my mistress!
Happy are ye, who form choruses before our house! Happy are ye, both
neighbours and fellow-citizens! Happy am I myself! I am but a servant,
and yet I have poured on my hair the most exquisite essences. Let
thanks be rendered to thee, Oh, Zeus! But a still more delicious aroma
is that of the wine of Thasos; its sweet bouquet delights the drinker
for a long time, whereas the others lose their bloom and vanish quickly.
Therefore, long life to the wine-jars of Thasos! Pour yourselves out
unmixed wine, it will cheer you the whole night through, if you choose
the liquor that possesses most fragrance. (To the CHORUS) But tell
me, friends, where is my mistress's husband?
LEADER OF THE CHORUS Wait for him here; he will no doubt pass this
MAID-SERVANT Ah! there he is just going to dinner. Oh! master! what
joy! what blessedness is yours!
MAID-SERVANT None can compare his happiness to yours; you have reached
its utmost height, you who, alone out of thirty thousand citizens
have not yet dined.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS Aye, here is undoubtedly a truly happy man.
MAID-SERVANT Where are you off to?
BLEPYRUS I am going to dine.
MAID-SERVANT By Aphrodite, you will be the last of all, far and away
the last. Yet my mistress has bidden me take you and take with you
these young girls. Some Chian wine is left and lots of other good
things. Therefore hurry, and invite likewise all the spectators whom
we have pleased, and such of the judges as are not against us, to
follow us; we will offer them everything they can desire.
BLEPYRUS Generously invite everyone and omit no one, old or young.
Dinner is ready for all; they need only go home. As for me, I shall
go to the banquet with the customary torch in my hand.
MAID-SERVANT But why do you tarry, Blepyrus? Take these young girls
with you and, while you are away a while, I will whet my appetite
with some dining-song.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS I have but a few words to say: let the wise
judge me because of what, ever is wise in this piece, and those who
like a laugh by whatever has made them laugh. In this way I address
pretty well everyone. If the lot has assigned my comedy to be played
first of all, don't let that be a disadvantage to me; engrave in your
memory all that shall have pleased you in it and judge the competitors
equitably as you have bound yourselves by oath to do. Don't act like
vile courtesans, who never remember any but their last lover.
MAID-SERVANT It is time, friends, high time to go to the banquet,
if we want to have our share of it. Open your ranks and let the Cretan
rhythms regulate your dances.
BLEPYRUS That's what I am doing.
MAID-SERVANT And you others, let your light steps too keep time.
Very soon we'll be eating lepadotema choselackogaleokrani oleipsanodrimypotrimmatosil
phiotyromelitokatake chymenokicklepikossyphopkat toperisteralektryonoptokeph
aliokinklopeleiolagoiosiral obaphetragalopter ygdn. Come, quickly,
seize hold of a plate, snatch up a cup, and let's run to secure a
place at table. The rest will have their jaws at work by this time.
CHORUS (as they depart, dancing, with BLEPYRUS leading them) Dance
gaily! Iai! Iai! We shall dine! Euoi! Euai! Euai! As for a triumph!
Euoi! Euoi Euai! Euai!
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Translation of "The Deeds of the Divine Augustus" by Augustus is
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