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Aristophanes on the Megarian Decree
Corinthian helmet (British Museum)
|In his comedy
the Acharnians, written in the winter of 426/425, when the Archidamian
War had already lasted almost six years, the playwright Aristophanes
tells the story of a peasant named Dicaeopolis, who concludes a private
peace with the Spartans. In an aside to the audience, the hero reminds
the Athenians of the events that led, in his view, to war. Unlike the historian
who seeks the deepest cause of the Peloponnesian
War in human fear for someone else's power, Aristophanes/Dicaeopolis
offers a more mundane explanation: Pericles's
embargo against Megarian merchants, which was meant as a punishment for
a sacrilege committed by the Megarians.
Of course, Aristophanes is writing comedy, and he gives the Megarian Decree a farcical twist. We are supposed to believe that the embargo was caused by drunken boys who carried of a prostitute from Megara: a parody on the first chapters of the Histories by Herodotus of Halicarnassus, which in turn was based on the great epics about the Trojan War.
The translator of Acharnians 515-538 is unknown.
Aristophanes (Musei Capitolini, Roma)
|Some men (I do not say the city,
note particularly that I do not say the city),
some wretches, lost in vices, bereft of honor,
who were not even citizens of good stamp, but strangers,
have accused the Megarians
of introducing their produce fraudulently,
and not a cucumber, a leveret,
a suckling pig, a clove of garlic, a lump of salt was seen
without its being said,
"Halloa! these come from Megara,"
and their being instantly confiscated.
Thus far the evil was not serious
and we were the only sufferers.
But now some young drunkards go to Megara
aflame with ire on his Olympian height,
Meanwhile the Megarians, who were beginning to die of hunger,