When it comes to War, very little has changed

The Acharnians - Aristophanes

I sort of wonder about the date that this play has been set because it seems that they have dated this play to the early part of the Peloponesian War indicating that it had only been raging for about five years up to this point, however some of the internal evidence in the play does seem to point to an earlier rather than a later setting for this play. What I can notice is some of the things that the play does not mention: namely Pericles and the plague that swept Athens in the early years of the war. However was it does indicate is the idea that it was the farmers that suffered the brunt of the war, particularly in the early years.

I won't go into too many details with the beginning of the war with the exception that it had a lot to do with an alliance system that had developed in Greece after the defeat of the Persians. In a way this is quite reflective of the alliance system that had developed on the eve of World War I. Europe had effectively split into two camps, one headed by Britain and the other headed by Germany. Here we have a similar situation in that there was one group, the Delian league, headed up by Athens, and then a second, sort of non-aligned league, headed up by Sparta. In a sense it involved treaties that indicated that if one member of the alliance is attacked, then all of the members are attacked.

What we need to remember about the war is that it was Greek against Greek. Mind you there was still a lot of snobbery among the Greek states, and the Athenians were hardly the enlightened despots that we seem to think they are. Instead they are one of two superpowers, and if you allied with them you were expected to follow their rules. This was no pact of mutual co-operation and amity, but rather it was pretty much signing your sovereignty over to the superpower, and if you did things that the superpower did not like then you would be punished. In many ways nothing has changed in the last 2500 years, with the exception of the names. Some suggest that elections in the United States have no effect upon us in Australia, but the truth is that not only does it affect us, but it affects the rest of the world as well.

The war itself lasted about thirty years, and during much of that time it was a stalemate. Sparta was a land power and Athens was a sea power, and while Sparta pretty much dominated the Greek mainland, siege equipment was non-existent, and the Athenians were able to barricade themselves behind the Long Walls, and thumb their noses at the Spartans on the outside. However the people who were affected were the farmers whose livelihood existed outside of the walls of Athens. When the Spartans invaded Attica, they laid waste to the countryside and forced all of the farmers to take shelter in the city. Over time this led to overcrowding and in turn disease, which pretty much decimated the population (and as mentioned there is no mention of the disease in this play).

Understandably this play is about a farmer who has suffered more due to the war than have many of the city people, who seem to have the loudest voices in the assembly. The farmers have basically lost out, and since many of them were poor to begin with, only being able to survive on what they were able to grow as well as the excess that they are were to sell, while many of the city dwellers were able to sit back and relax and live off of their investments. Nothing has really changed in the nature of war, with the lower classes being the ones who fight the war while the upper classes are the ones who dictate the progress of the war from their mansions. However, this farmer decides that he has had enough, so he goes out and makes his own peace with the Spartans. Obviously he is fed up with all of this politicking because he knows that in the end he gets nothing out of it.

It is also interesting to see how nothing has really changed in relation to crudeness in the plays. We see base jokes here, we see base jokes in Shakespeare, and we see base jokes coming out of many of the movies that we watch these days. The interesting thing that I do note here, and in some of Aristophanes plays, is the issue of heterosexuality. I will probably say a bit more when I get to the Lysistrata, but it is interesting that many of us who know about the Ancient Athenian culture being orientated towards homosexual coupling see many heterosexual jokes in these plays, and in fact see mostly heterosexual jokes. In fact, it seems, that the Athenians did appreciate and enjoy heterosexual sex, though I also get the impression (and if you read between the lines with regards to the Megarian you will be horrified) that women are little more than pleasure machines with no voice whatsoever.

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/451538413