Ancient and modern

Can ancient Greek comedians tell us how to leave the EU?

6 April 2019

9:00 AM

6 April 2019

9:00 AM

Since comedians these days seem to be the authorities on all matters spiritual and temporal (puts on funny voice, knife-crime ends), who better than the comic playwright Aristophanes to show us how, despite our feckless MPs, we can leave the EU?

In 425 bc Athens had for six years been locked in a grinding war against Sparta. Because Pericles had persuaded the assembly not to take on Sparta by land, the people of Attica (Athens’s territory) had abandoned their farms and crops to the enemy and withdrawn inside Athens’s long walls, where a dreadful plague had killed about a quarter of them (including Pericles).

In the comic festival of that year, Aristophanes began his Men from Akharnai (an area in the front line of Spartan crop devastation) with a farmer, Dikaiopolis (‘Honest Citizen’), waiting for the assembly to begin, and lamenting the fact that no one seemed the slightest bit interested in making peace. ‘I’m always here first. I sit about yawning, farting, gazing out over the countryside, yearning for peace, hating the town, longing for my village. So I’m going to interrupt, bawl and revile the speakers, if anyone talks about anything other than peace.’

Naturally he gets nowhere: the assembly even dismisses an envoy arriving from Sparta with peace treaties. So Dikaiopolis asks him to bring back a private peace treaty for himself alone, which the envoy does — and a 30-year one at that! Dikaiopolis, now back on his farm and able to trade with anyone, celebrates a country festival and mocks an interfering general. Many locals want to do deals with him; some he welcomes, others he rejects, such as the inspector telling him he is selling enemy goods on Attic soil. Time passes. Dikaiopolis is now celebrating another festival and the general reappears, wounded and limping. The playwright contrasts Dikaiopolis, drunk and with a girl on either arm, with the general (‘Help! I’m feeling dizzy, a stone has struck my head!’ ‘Me, I’m feeling randy, tooled up and primed for bed!’), and the play ends.

Conclusion: all leavers should promptly follow suit and self-declare that they have left the EU without a deal. What else but a comic response is appropriate for a parliament of fools?

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