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THE WASPS by Aristophanes, Part 14

Go where it pleases you and may your happiness be great. (The
CHORUS turns and faces the audience.) You meanwhile, oh! countless
myriads, listen to the sound counsels I am going to give you and
take care they are not lost upon you. That would be the fate of vulgar
spectators, not that of such an audience. Hence, people, lend me
your ear, if you love frank speaking.
The poet has a reproach to make against his audience; he says
you have ill-treated him in return for the many services he has
rendered you. At first he kept himself in the background and lent help
secretly to other poets, and like the prophetic Genius, who hid
himself in the belly of Eurycles, slipped within the spirit of another
and whispered to him many a comic hit. Later he ran the risks of the
theatre on his own account, with his face uncovered, and dared to
guide his Muse unaided. Though overladen with success and honours more
than any of your poets, indeed despite all his glory, he does not
yet believe he has attained his goal; his heart is not swollen with
pride and he does not seek to seduce the young folk in the wrestling
school. If any lover runs up to him to complain because he is
furious at seeing the object of his passion derided on the stage, he
takes no heed of such reproaches, for he is inspired only with
honest motives and his Muse is no pander. From the very outset of
his dramatic career he has disdained to assail those who were men, but
with a courage worthy of Heracles himself he attacked the most
formidable monsters, and at the beginning went straight for that beast
with the sharp teeth, with the terrible eyes that flashed lambent fire
like those of Cynna, surrounded by a hundred lewd flatterers who
spittle-licked him to his heart's content; he had a voice like a
roaring torrent, the stench of a seal, the unwashed balls of a
Lamia, and the arse of a camel. Our poet did not tremble at the
sight of this horrible monster, nor did he dream of gaining him
over; and again this very day he is fighting for your good. Last
year besides, he attacked those pale, shivering and feverish beings
who strangled your fathers in the dark, throttled your grandfathers,
and who, lying in the beds of the most inoffensive, piled up against
them lawsuits, summonses and witnesses to such an extent, that many of
them flew in terror to the Polemarch for refuge. Such is the
champion you have found to purify your country of all its evil, and
last year you betrayed him, when he sowed the most novel ideas, which,
however, did not strike root, because you did not understand their
value; notwithstanding this, he swears by Bacchus, the while
offering him libations, that none ever heard better comic verses. It
is a disgrace to you not to have caught their drift at once; as for
the poet, he is none the less appreciated by the enlightened judges.
He shivered his oars in rushing boldly forward to board his foe. (With
increasing excitement) But in future, my dear fellow-citizens, love
and honour more those of your poets who seek to imagine and express
some new thought. Make their ideas your own, keep them in your caskets
like sweet-scented fruit. If you do, your clothing will emit an
odour of wisdom the whole year through.
Ah, once long ago we were brave in the dance, brave too in battle,
and on this account alone the most courageous of men! That was
formerly, was formerly; all that is gone now and these hairs of ours
are whiter than the swan. But from what is left we must rekindle a
youthful ardour; really we prefer our old age to the curly hair and
the fine clothes and the effeminacy of many of the young.
Should any among you spectators look upon me with wonder,
because of this wasp waist, or not know the meaning of this sting, I
will soon dispel his ignorance. We, who wear this appendage, are the
true Attic men, who alone are noble and native to the soil, the
bravest of all people. We are the ones who, weapon in hand, did so
much for the country, when the barbarian shed torrents of fire and
smoke over our city in his relentless desire to seize our nests by
force. At once we ran up, armed with lance and buckler, and, drunk
with the bitter wine of anger, we gave them battle, man standing to
man and rage distorting our lips. A hail of arrows hid the sky.
However, by the help of the gods, we drove off the foe to, wards
evening. Before the battle an owl had flown over our army. Then we
pursued them with our lance-point in their loins as one hunts the
tunny-fish; they fled and we stung them in the jaw and in the eyes, so
that even now the barbarians tell each other that there is nothing
in the world more to be feared than the Attic wasp.
Oh! at that time I was terrible, I feared nothing; forth on my
galleys I went in search of my foe and subjected him. Then we never
thought of rounding fine phrases, we never dreamt of calumny; it was
who should prove the strongest rower. And thus we took many a town
from the Medes, and 'tis to us that Athens owes the tributes that
our young men thieve to-day.
Look well at us, and you will see that we have all the character
and habits of the wasp. Firstly, if roused, no beings are more
irascible, more relentless than we are. In all other things, too, we
act like wasps. We collect in swarms, in a kind of nests, and some
go judging with the Archon, some with the Eleven, others at the Odeon;
there are yet others, who hardly move at all, like the grubs in the
cells, but remain glued to the walls, and bent double to the ground.
We also pay full attention to the discovery of all sorts of means of
existing and sting the first who comes, so as to live at his
expense. Finally, we have among us drones, who have no sting and
who, without giving themselves the least trouble, seize on our
revenues as they flow past them and devour them. It's this that
grieves us most of all, to see men who have never served or held
either lance or oar in defence of their country, enriching
themselves at our expense without ever raising a blister on their
hands. In short, I give it as my deliberate opinion that in future
every citizen not possessed of a sting shall not receive the
(PRILOCLEON comes out of the house, followed by his son and a
slave. The CHORUS turns to face them.)
As long as I live, I will never give up this cloak; it's the one I
wore in that battle when Boreas delivered us from such fierce attacks.


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