Last Friday my wife and I went to a performance of Aristophanes’ Peace at the Herod Atticus theater on the slopes of the Acropolis. The play is one of the last in this year’s Athens-Epidaurus festival series.
Peace was first performed at the City Dionysia in Athens in 422/21, some ten years into the interminable Peloponnesian war between Athens and Sparta and just before the Peace of Nikias. The plot takes its cues from these circumstances. The main character, Trygaeus, has grown tired of war and decides he’s going to go to Mt. Olympus and talk to Zeus about ending it. So he does what any self-respecting man might in this situation: he cultivates a giant dung beetle that eventually flies him to Olympus. Once there he finds the gods absent, except for Hermes, who explains that the place has been given over to War, who’s been crushing Greece in a giant mortar with various pestles for some time. Trygaeus is told he must free Peace in order to end the war, and he manages to do so. Subsequently, he returns to Athens, gets married to Harvest (one of Peace’s companions), and must confront those whose businesses he’s ruined by bringing peace.
Of course, some modern revisions were thrown in here and there (including some top 20 summer hits and a paradosiako tango). I’d like to talk about just one of these here, at the point in the play involving War. Friday’s version featured a different character in this role: Adolf Hitler. He was brought onto the stage in a chariot wearing a general’s/colonel’s uniform, which he quickly shed in favor of an oversized diaper. Next, he threw all the regions of Greece into a cauldron, cursed them and wished for their destruction in a mix of German-inflected Greek and actual German. All the while poor Trygaeus watched from the sidelines, repeatedly saying, “The Germans are our friends, the Germans are our friends….”
Anyway, a fifth-century BCE play performed in a (partially restored) second-century CE theater with some topical political overtones seems as good a place as any to start a blog about Greece diachronically.