Eupolis: The Demes

Eupolis was an Athenian writer of Old Comedy, a contemporary of Aristophanes, and "The Demes" was his most famous play. Part of the play was discovered in the early 20th century on some fragments of papyrus. The translation is by D.L.Page, in "Select Papyri III: Literary Papyri" (1941).

Translator's Introduction

This famous play was divided (by the parabasis) into two different but essentially connected halves.
(1) In all that part which preceded the parabasis, the scene was set in the underworld. The Chorus consisted of the old Demes, the principal actors were the great old heroes of Athens - Solon, Pisistratus, Miltiades, Aristides, Pericles and others. The plot was the dokimasia, or examination, of these heroes : the present state of Athens - her distress in the dark days which followed the end of the Sicilian expedition - has been reported by the last of the great generals, Myronides, who had recently died : it is determined that an embassy shall be sent from the underworld to Athens, and the action concerns the choice of the ambassadors. Arguments were brought forward for and against many of the great men of old. Aristides gave evidence against Themistocles, Miltiades spoke in favour of Pericles. In the end, five - the normal number of an Athenian embassy - were chosen : Solon, Miltiades, Aristides, Pericles and Myronides.
(2) In all that part which followed the parabasis, the scene was set in the agora at Athens. The Chorus consisted of the present-day demes, the principal actors were the five ambassadors who have now risen from Hades. The plot was probably unfolded in a succession of scenes such as we read in vv.62-100. The famous old heroes of Athens deal after their own manner with living offenders, their degenerate counterparts in the city today. Aristides makes short work of a sycophant ; no doubt Solon dealt with a moral offender, Miltiades with an inefficient general, Pericles with a corrupt politician.

In our fragments :

vv.1-32 are from the parabasis of the play. The Chorus gives "a little list | of persons in society who never would be missed." The general ground for inflicting on them whatever form of maltreatment is denoted by διαστρέφειν, is apparently the fact that they have plenty to eat, while the Chorus is starving. The dwellers in the city and the Long Walls have apparently the first pick at such supplies as come in, and the countryfolk receive only what they can glean, ὀλίγον τε φίλον τε. Special animosity is shown towards the Long Wall residents, who are ex-countryfolk.

vv.21-35. In the epirrhema, some politician is attacked. His identity is beyond conjecture. He appears to be some sort of alien (22) ; the Attic dialect does not come naturally to him (23) ; he keeps low company ; he is a critic of the High Command, and seems to have been in some measure responsible for the expedition against Mantinea, persuading the city to take part in that enterprise although the omens were bad and the High Command adverse.

vv.33-60. After the parabasis, Athenian statesmen of former days emerge from the Underworld. They are met by a proboulos, one of the Ten Supreme Commissioners of Athens. Aristides' first request is for a meal : the proboulos is obliging, but warns the Old Statesmen that things are not what they were, and they must not expect much to eat (again this central theme - the starvation of Athens). The Statesmen sit down, all but Myronides, whom proboulos and Chorus address in terms of warm friendliness and respect.

vv.61-100. A sycophant comes to Aristides for justice. His story is : He saw an Epidaurian in the street with barley-crumbs sticking to his beard. That suggested that he had been sacrilegiously drinking the Sacred Soup of the Eleusinian Mysteries. The sycophant blackmailed him for a large sum. What happened next is obscure. But it seems clear enough that the sycophant subsequently suffered some ill treatment at the hands of the Epidaurian, and appealed to Aristides for justice. But Aristides declined to take his part. Indeed he dealt with him severely; and warned the city that Justice was their most important virtue.


Fr. I (recto)

[1]   CHORUS:   Yes, and Peisander,{ *1 } the rumour goes, went through the mill at breakfast yesterday ; some poor foreigner was there half-starved, but he refused to give him a crumb.

And Pauson { *2 } put Theogenes { *3 } through the mill, once for all. He was dining to his heart's content (?) when Pauson came up to him and stole one of his traders. As for Theogenes, he lay there all night and broke his wind.

They all ought to go through it, - first Callias,{ *4 } together with the Long Wall residents { *5 } for having more to eat for breakfast than we have ; then Niceratus { *6 } of Acharnae, who gives each man two or more choenixes to eat. . . . For the rest of his goods and chattels, I wouldn't give a hair for them.

{ Traces of two more lines }

Fr. I (verso)

[22]   . . . thinks himself fit to speak in public. A day or two ago he couldn't find a phratry { *7 } among us. He wouldn't even have copied our accent, only he was ashamed before his friends - certain non-political pansies, - not the superior kind : why, you only had to nod your head, and away you must go to the knocking-shop. . . .{ *8 } Sly attacks on the High Command. . . . Don't you remember how, when Heaven thundered and forbade you to assail Mantinea,{ *9 } he said he would take the generals perforce and tie them in the stocks ? Whosoever chooses men like that to govern him, may earth never breed him cattle nor bear him harvest.

{ Aristides, appearing from the underworld in the company of other famous Athenian statesmen, greets his city. }

ARISTIDES:   Greetings to my native land ! Of all cities the most dreadful yet most dear, that is your proper name.

PROBOULOS:   { *10 } What's happening here ? . . .

ARISTIDES:   And greetings too . . .

{ Traces of two more lines }

Fr. II (recto)

[37]   ARISTIDES:   Boil the kettle, tell someone to bake the cakes, we want to come to grips with the lungs and liver.

PROBOULOS:   I will look to it : it shall be done. But you will see at once how much worse off in every way the demes are now, than in the good old days when you and Solon ruled that spirit of youth, that noble mind and heart.

{ The ends of eleven more lines are preserved ; in v.15 occurs the name [P]yronides. }

Fr. II (verso)

[45]   CHORUS:   . . . , like the men, whom finding we bask in such felicity.{ *11 }

PROBOULOS:   Now since I see them sitting here, if I can trust my eyes, these gentlemen whom rumour avers to be come from the dead, here and now will I represent my friends. Since Pyronides { *12 } alone is standing up, let us ask him what he wants.

CHORUS:   Tell me, happy friend, are you really come from the dead, in answer to your city's prayer ? Speak, what . . .

PYRONIDES:   It is I indeed, the very man you summoned : who (governed) Athens many years . . . and men that are not men . . .

CHORUS:   I know it well : six years among us . . .

Fr. III (recto)

[61]   SYCOPHANT:   . . . I wait . . . now at once : my heart is pure : I am a righteous man.

ARISTIDES:   Say what you have to say.

SYCOPHANT:   . . . came into the square. He had been drinking the Sacred Soup.{ *13 } His beard was full of ritual barley-crumbs. I happened to notice it, and hurried to his home, and went straight up to the stranger, and asked what he had been up to, the dirty cheat. I told him to hand over 100 staters of gold. (He had plenty of money.) So then he urged me to say that it was ordinary gruel that he had been drinking when he came out. So I said it, and got the cash. I don't care what a man does when he pays up.

ARISTIDES:   Your standards of justice are very high.

SYCOPHANT:   . . . the Epidaurian thought it beneath his attention, and showed me the door.

ARISTIDES:   So you lodged in the agora, after your crushing defeat ?

SYCOPHANT:   I don't say I didn't get money.

ARISTIDES:   That is something for the dead to be grateful for . . . if one should truly die . . .

{ Traces of one more line }

Fr. III (verso)

{ Traces of one line }

[83]   ARISTIDES:   Grudge not the dead their death { *14 } -

SYCOPHANT:   Give me witnesses ! A trial ! First you ask me to come, then you tie me up : there's no justice !

ARISTIDES:   It wasn't I who tied you up ; it was the foreigner, the man who drank the Sacred Soup.

SYCOPHANT:   Is it then right that I should suffer thus ?

ARISTIDES:   Go and ask the priest of Zeus.

SYCOPHANT:   That's right, insult me ! I'll pay you out one day !

ARISTIDES:   You're not in a very strong position to talk of paying out.

SYCOPHANT:   I'll make a corpse of you, and then you'll be sorry !

ARISTIDES:   A feeble falsehood : you'll never pay that debt either. Take him away, and hand him over to Oeneus { *15 } at once : he is the proper master for such slaves as this. I would have liked to catch Diognetus { *16 } too, the policeman turned temple-robber, much the toughest of the new generation of gangsters, when his health permits. Now I advise the whole city to practise justice. The just man . . ,

{ Traces of one more line }

POxy. 862

[101]   The demes . . . elysian . . . had it not pleased the gods below, once dead I would never of my own will have come to life again ... of this city by far the most . . .

. . . Peisanders and Parises { *17 } together, your present government . . . are now corrupting you . . .

{ Fragments of three more lines }

Translator's Notes

^ Lines 1-21

1   The statesman who was prominent in the following year (411 : "The Demes" was produced in 412 B.C.) in the change of constitution at Athens : Thuc_8.49, 68 ; Arist:AthPol_32. Often attacked by comedians for his cowardice, venality and appetite: Aristophanes, Babylonians fr. 81 K.; Athen_10.415'd.

2   The beggar of Ar:Ach_854, Thesm_949, Plut_602.

3   Played a role in the Peace of Nicias, 421 B.C.; the butt of Aristophanes in Vesp_1183, Pax_928, etc. Theogenes was a poor man who pretended to be wealthy. The scholiast says that he was called "Smoke" because he boasted much and performed nothing.

4   The wealthy son of Hipponicus.

5   The Long Walls were inhabited by immigrants from rural Attica: (a) after the first Spartan invasions at the beginning of the Archidamian War ( Thuc_2.17'3 ). These returned to the land after the Spartan disaster at Pylus, or at the latest after the Peace of Nicias. (b) After the Spartan occupation of Deceleia, which began in the spring of 413 B.C. ( Thuc_8.19 ). Eupolis is referring to this second occasion.

6   Not known from other sources.

^ Lines 22-36

7   Cf. Ar:Ran_422. The phratries were no longer of much importance in politics : but it was still hardly respectable to belong to none at all.

8   This is the best sense that, with Beazley's assistance, I have been able to attribute to these difficult lines (24-25): it is less open to objections than certain other obvious possibilities. Verse 26 may have meant: "From the company of such people he picks himself his friends" (? ἐκκ[ρίνεται ).

9   This is our first information about bad omens before the famous battle, and about the deference of the generals to demagogic politicians. N.B. in 418-417, three members of the Peace Party were made strategoi - Nicias (who would be distressed by adverse portents), Nicostratus and Laches.

10   One of the ten Commissioners who directed Athenian politics after the disaster in Sicily, Thuc_8.1'3, Arist:AthPol_29 : cf. the part played by the proboulos in Aristophanes' Lysistrata.

^ Lines 45-60

11   The word κιχόντες (s.v.l. : the papyrus has κ[....]τες) and the form τοία (not elsewhere in Comedy except Ar:Ran_470, after Euripides, Theseus fr. 383 N.) show that this part was a parody of the Tragic style.

12   i.e. Myronides, who led the Athenian old men and boys to victory over the Corinthians in 458 B.C.; commanded the Athenians in victory over the Boeotians at Oenophyta in 457 ; and led an expedition to Thessaly in 454. Thuc_1.105, Ar:Eccl_303, Diod_11.79.

^ Lines 61-82

13   Barleycorn was among the ingredients of this dish, a thick soup consumed at the Eleusinian Mysteries. Clearly an echo of the recent excitement concerning the profanation of the Mysteries : barleycorns on the beard was an obvious trace of complicity ; hence the opportunity for blackmail. A remarkable passage, for Old Comedy carefully avoids this theme as a rule.

^ Lines 83-100

14   Euripides, Melanippe fr. 507 N.

15   i.e. to the eponymous hero of the Oineis tribe, in which district was the barathron or execution-pit.

16   Diognetus may be the zētētēs in the inquiry into the profanation of the Mysteries ( Andoc_1'15 ): identified by Blass with the brother of Nicias. But there are other candidates.

^ Lines 101-107

17   i.e. μοιχοί {adulterers}; AnthPal_11.278, Chariton 5.2'8.

Attalus' home page   |   07.06.23   |   Any comments?