Saturday, 20 September 2014


“Where ignorance is our master, there is no possibility of real peace.” - Dalai Lama

Each year the International Day of Peace is observed around the world on September 21. The United Nations General Assembly has declared this as a day devoted to strengthening the ideals of peace, both within and among all nations and peoples. To live in peace is a universal need and the right of all people, a responsibility for world leaders. All people the world over want it desperately, but it is ever-elusive universally, and only attainable for short periods of time in history and in limited geographic areas.

Aristophanes (born ca. 450 BC; died ca. 388 BC) is the greatest representative of ancient Greek comedy and the one whose works have been preserved in greatest number. His plays are a mixture of chorus, mime, outrageous satire, lewd humour, with a good peppering of political criticism. Aristophanes’ reputation has stood the test of time; his plays have been frequently produced on the contemporary world stages in numerous translations, which manage with varying degrees of success to convey the flavour of Aristophanes’ puns, witticisms, and topical allusions. But it is not so easy to say why his comedies still appeal to an audience almost 2,500 years after they were written, although there is a universality and timelessness in the topics he deals with.

In the matter of plot construction Aristophanes’ comedies are often loosely put together, and are full of strangely inconsequential episodes. Many of them often degenerate at their end into a series of disconnected and boisterous romps. Aristophanes’ greatness lies in the wittiness of his dialogue; in his generally good-humoured (though occasionally catty satire); in the brilliance of his parody, especially when he mocks the controversial tragedian Euripides. Aristophanes has ingenuity, inventiveness and brilliant absurdity, in his comic scenes, which are created with the most imaginative fantasy. Some of his choric songs are amazingly lyrical word pictures whose freshness can still be conveyed in languages other than Greek. As far as modern audiences of our permissive age are concerned, he is also popular because of the licentious frankness of many scenes and of the scatological allusions in his comedies.

“Peace” (Εἰρήνη - Eiréne - 421 BC) is a play that was first staged seven months or so after both Cleon and Brasidas, the two main champions of the war policy on the Athenian and Spartan sides respectively, had been killed in battle. This occurred only a few weeks before the ratification of the Peace of Nicias (around March 421 BC), which suspended hostilities between Athens and Sparta for six uneasy years. In Aristophanes’ “Peace” the war-weary farmer Trygaeus (“Vintager”) flies to heaven on a monstrous dung beetle to find the lost goddess Peace, only to discover that Ares, the God of War has buried Peace in a pit. With the help of a chorus of farmers Trygaeus rescues her, and the play ends with a joyful celebration of marriage and fertility.

The play although boisterous and full of wit and humour is a wry observation on the times of Aristophanes when the Greek city states were forever fighting amongst themselves for supremacy. The choice of Trygaeus and his farmer friends as the rescuers of peace is a pointed allusion to the people that need peace the most and who are instrumental in the peaceful pursuits of working the land. This strikes a remarkably sensitive chord in today’s troubled times and perhaps points the way to where our hopes for earthly peace lie: With the ordinary people, the toilers, the tillers of the earth, the people aware of their environment and their fellow human beings.

The illustration today is a collage of two images: An ancient Greek bas relief from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, “The girl and the doves” and one of the pictures I took last time I was in Ioannina in Greece, proving that two points in distant time across the centuries can be bridged quite spontaneously because of the unchanging humanity of though and experience. If you live in peace, be grateful and appreciative of it, for there are many who are steeped in conflict and warfare.