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(448 BC - 380 BC / Athens)

The Origin Of The Peloponnesian War


Be not surprised, most excellent spectators,
If I that am a beggar have presumed
To claim an audience upon public matters,
Even in a comedy; for comedy
Is conversant in all the rules of justice,
And can distinguish betwixt right and wrong.

The words I speak are bold, but just and true.
Cleon at least cannot accuse me now,
That I defame the city before strangers,
For this is the Lenaean festival,
And here we meet, all by ourselves alone;
No deputies are arrived as yet with tribute,
No strangers or allies: but here we sit
A chosen sample, clean as sifted corn,
With our own denizens as a kind of chaff.

First, I detest the Spartans most extremely;
And wish that Neptune, the Taenarian deity,
Would bury them in their houses with his earthquakes.
For I've had losses--losses, let me tell ye,
Like other people; vines cut down and injured.
But among friends (for only friends are here),
Why should we blame the Spartans for all this?
For people of ours, some people of our own,--
Some people from among us here, I mean:
But not the People (pray, remember that);
I never said the People, but a pack
Of paltry people, mere pretended citizens,
Base counterfeits,--went laying informations,
And making a confiscation of the jerkins
Imported here from Megara; pigs, moreover,
Pumpkins, and pecks of salt, and ropes of onions,
Were voted to be merchandise from Megara,
Denounced, and seized, and sold upon the spot.

Well, these might pass, as petty local matters.
But now, behold, some doughty drunken youths
Kidnap, and carry away from Megara,
The courtesan, Simaetha. Those of Megara,
In hot retaliation, seize a brace
Of equal strumpets, hurried forth perforce
From Dame Aspasia's house of recreation.
So this was the beginning of the war,
All over Greece, owing to these three strumpets.
For Pericles, like an Olympian Jove,
With all his thunder and his thunderbolts,
Began to storm and lighten dreadfully,
Alarming all the neighborhood of Greece;
And made decrees, drawn up like drinking songs,
In which it was enacted and concluded
That the Megarians should remain excluded
From every place where commerce was transacted,
With all their ware--like 'old Care' in the ballad:
And this decree, by land and sea, was valid.

Then the Megarians, being all half starved,
Desired the Spartans to desire of us
Just to repeal those laws: the laws I mentioned,
Occasioned by the stealing of those strumpets.
And so they begged and prayed us several times;
And we refused: and so they went to war.

Submitted: Wednesday, April 21, 2010

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