May 13, 2009
Stanford Classics in Theater debuts with Aristophanes' anti-war comedy
By the time Aristophanes' The Acharnians was produced in 425 B.C., the Peloponnesian War with Sparta was in its sixth year. While much of the Athenian population thirsted for vengeance and victory, who could blame a middle-aged farmer who hungered for a separate peace?
This week's production of The Acharnians, the world's oldest surviving comedy, marks the debut of a new student group, Stanford Classics in Theater (SCIT). Performances begin at 8:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, May 14-16, at the Black Community Services Center at 418 Santa Teresa St. Admission is free.
This production of The Acharnians is the capstone of a yearlong effort for SCIT, which has hosted two colloquia on the project. Moreover, SCIT is using its own original and collaborative translation from the ancient Greek.
The theater group was formed in response to the Vice Provost for Graduate Education office's Student Projects for Intellectual Community Enhancement initiative "to develop innovative activities to expand the intellectual community of their department or program."
The translation of The Acharnians is a modernized one—not surprising, since the play lends itself so easily to today's newspaper headlines. Dicaeopolis, who argues for peace, says that the war is perpetuated by profiteering and lying. He is willing to speak with his head on a chopping block if only his opponents will hear him out and appears to be the playwright's alter ego—Aristophanes may have even been the actor behind the character's mask. Dicaeopolis refers to the trouble he got into with Athens' pro-war populist leader Cleon over "last year's play."
Cleon had charged Aristophanes with slandering the Athenian polis in his previous play, The Babylonians—a play now lost to us, but which was awarded first prize by the Dionysia. The Acharnians also won first prize at the Festival of Lenaea, where it was performed.
Photos available on request.