Ancient Athenian Drama
Aristophanes: The Acharnians
5th century BC, Ancient Greek.
'They would have been masks. The Megarian girls would now be wearing pig masks.'
'Disguise again,' said Quintin. 'Put on these trotters – the man tells his two daughters – and let this old Attic farmer believe that you sucked from a good old sow. Put on these snouts as well.'
'They would have been masks,' said Miranda. 'The Megarian girls would now be wearing pig masks. The same masks that would be used to portray real pigs.'
'And itís not the first bit of disguise that this play has thrown at us, either,' said Quintin. 'The plot is this. Dikaiopolis...'
'Dick-iopolis!' echoed Miranda, with delight.
'This geezer from the Athenian countryside,' insisted Quintin, 'has determined to make his own peace with Sparta, because he is so tired of the war that is raging.'
'The Peloponnesian War.'
'So he makes a private peace with Sparta and sets up his own market without any prohibition or excise duties; hence the arrival of the Megarian with the pigs to sell.'
'Who are really his daughters, he is so poor.'
'But the elders of the town of Acharnae have been so incensed at this capitulation as they see it, that they agree to give Dikaiopolis a fair hearing and permission to set up his market only if he will argue his case while his head is over a block. Aware of his predicament, Dikaiopolis runs over to the house of the tragic poet Euripides to dress himself in the costume of one of Euripides characters, in order to try to give as good a performance as possible.'
'To clothe himself in the character of someone else? But isnít that all an actor is ever doing,' asked Miranda, thoughtfully. 'Playing a part. Adopting a disguise? In all of these ancient Athenian plays, tragedies and comedies alike, there were ten or twelve or sixteen characters but only three or four actors to play them all. This was a strict rule for these Dionysian plays. It is why only a small number of characters can be visible on the floor of the theatre at any one time, with the exception of the chorus. The audience knew this. Lots of different masks had the same man behind them. Had to have. Lots of different characters were the same person. And it was the rule that it had to be like this.'
Story fragment retold from: Sommerstein, Alan H, 1973, revised 2002. Aristophanes: Lysistrata and Other Plays – The Acharnians, The Clouds, Lysistrata (Penguin Classics). Translated from Ancient Greek with an introduction. Penguin Books Limited. The Acharnians, pp 10–62.