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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Mutatis Mutandis

Because we can all use some historical perspective - Aristophanes' Clouds

Dramatis Personae

STREPSIADES: a middle-aged Athenian
PHEIDIPPIDES: a young Athenian, son of Strepsiades
XANTHIAS: a slave serving Strepsiades
STUDENT: one of Socrates’ pupils in the Thinkery
SOCRATES: chief teacher in the Thinkery
PASIAS: one of Strepsiades’ creditors
WITNESS: a friend of Pasias
AMYNIAS: one of Strepsiades’ creditors

[Scene: In the centre of the stage area is a house with a door to Socrates’ educational establishment, the Thinkery.* On one side of the stage is Strepsiades' house, in front of which are two beds. Outside the Thinkery there is a small clay statue of a round goblet, and outside Strepsiades’ house there is a small clay statue of Hermes. It is just before dawn. Strepsiades and Pheidippides are lying asleep in the two beds. Strepsiades tosses and turns restlessly. Pheidippides lets a very loud fart in his sleep. Strepsiades sits up wide awake]

STREPSIADES: Damn! Lord Zeus, how this night drags on and on!
It’s endless. Won’t daylight ever come?
I heard a cock crowing a while ago,
but my slaves kept snoring. In the old days,
they wouldn’t have dared. Oh, damn and blast this war—
so many problems. Now I’m not allowed
to punish my own slaves.* And then there’s him—
this fine young man, who never once wakes up,
but farts the night away, all snug in bed,
wrapped up in five wool coverlets. Ah well, 10 [10]
I guess I should snuggle down and snore away.

[Strepsiades lies down again and tries to sleep. Pheidippides farts again. Strepsiades finally gives up trying to sleep]

STREPSIADES: I can’t sleep. I’m just too miserable,
what with being eaten up by all this debt—
thanks to this son of mine, his expenses,
his racing stables. He keeps his hair long
and rides his horses—he’s obsessed with it—
his chariot and pair. He dreams of horses.*
And I’m dead when I see the month go by—
with the moon’s cycle now at twenty days,
as interest payments keep on piling up.* 20

[Calling to a slave]

Hey, boy! Light the lamp. Bring me my accounts.

[Enter the slave Xanthias with light and tablets]

Let me take these and check my creditors.
How many are there? And then the interest— [20]
I’ll have to work that out. Let me see now . . .
What do I owe? “Twelve minai to Pasias?”
Twelve minai to Pasias! What’s that for?
Oh yes, I know—that’s when I bought that horse,
the pedigree nag. What a fool I am!
I’d sooner have a stone knock out my eye.*

PHEIDIPPIDES: [talking in his sleep]
Philon, that’s unfair! Drive your chariot straight. 30

STREPSIADES: That there’s my problem—that’s what’s killing me.
Even fast asleep he dreams of horses!

PHEIDIPPIDES: [in his sleep] In this war-chariot race how many times
do we drive round the track?

STREPSIADES: You’re driving me,
your father, too far round the bend. Let’s see,
after Pasias, what’s the next debt I owe? [30]
“Three minai to Amynias.” For what?
A small chariot board and pair of wheels?

PHEIDIPPIDES: [in his sleep] Let the horse have a roll. Then take him home.

STREPSIADES: You, my lad, have been rolling in my cash. 40
Now I’ve lost in court, and other creditors
are going to take out liens on all my stuff
to get their interest.

PHEIDIPPIDES: [waking up] What’s the matter, dad?
You’ve been grumbling and tossing around there
all night long.

STREPSIADES: I keep getting bitten—
some bum bailiff in the bedding.

PHEIDIPPIDES: Ease off, dad.
Let me get some sleep.

STREPSIADES: All right, keep sleeping.
Just bear in mind that one fine day these debts [40]
will all be your concern.

[Pheidippides rolls over and goes back to sleep]

Damn it, anyway.
I wish that matchmaker had died in pain— 50
the one who hooked me and your mother up.
I’d had a lovely time up to that point,
a crude, uncomplicated, country life,
lying around just as I pleased, with honey bees,
and sheep and olives, too. Then I married—
the niece of Megacles—who was the son
of Megacles. I was a country man,
and she came from the town—a real snob,
extravagant, just like Coesyra.*
When I married her and we both went to bed, 60
I stunk of fresh wine, drying figs, sheep’s wool— [50]
an abundance of good things. As for her,
she smelled of perfume, saffron, long kisses,
greed, extravagance, lots and lots of sex.*
Now, I’m not saying she was a lazy bones.
She used to weave, but used up too much wool.
To make a point I’d show this cloak to her
and say, “Woman, your weaving’s far too thick.”*

--- Follow the link to find what happens!

PS: Did you read this in school? Was it assigned or suggested? If not, what years were you in high school? My guess is that no one reads this in college, because after all, Aristophanes is the ultimate dead white male.

" I stunk of fresh wine, drying figs, sheep’s wool— [50]
an abundance of good things. As for her,
she smelled of perfume, saffron, long kisses,
greed, extravagance, lots and lots of sex.*"

My how things have changed.

It looks like the Interest Rate in 423 BC was 12%. It's not clear how that was compounded.

And I don't know if they could do a MEW either.
They had a pretty modern banking system, seems to me.

I always liked the potshard voting system - see - clay ballots!!! No hanging chads!
Funny how people get the money thing right(mostly, meaning markets are pretty efficent).

That's why communism doesn't work.
Yeah - it's incredibly inefficient. I was just thinking about that.
Probably because most Socialisms end up with overcentralization and heavy bureaucratic overhead.

Communism is an extreme form of Socialism, so it ends up with the most extreme overcentralization and bureaucracy. Add to that the fact that control-freak types gravitate to positions of power (like you get in such a bureaucracy) and your Utopian Paradise easily slides into a North Korea.

(Somebody I used to know called Communism "Fascism of the Left", with "Fascism" defined as "rule by control freaks".)

The Headless Unicorn Guy
FWIW, I read Aristophenes in honors world history in High School. We followed the U of M curriculum, but that was, eh, 20 years ago. Fun class.
The bathroom humor alone is destined to change a reader's perception of the ancient Greeks forever.
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