Peace by Aristophanes (commentary)

 

As a 21st century reader who isn’t that much educated about world history, I find this comedy only a little bit perplexing because of some puns and jokes that refer to some ancient Greek figures or happenings. And I think this is only the second time that I have read a classic comedy. The most amusing things for me were how the gods were portrayed, Trygaeus’ arguments with some men like Hermes and Hierocles, and the sexual jokes about women. This isn’t really the time to defend women even though they were subjects of objectifying jokes by the ancient Greeks because this is just for fun anyway, and I guess I will only limit my comments to how the gods were portrayed in the play.

Reading this play, I have noticed that the ancient Greeks may not always take their gods so seriously even though they worship them in their temples. Somewhere in the first part of the play, when Trygaeus asked Hermes the reason why the gods have moved away from their usual dwelling place, Hermes replied, “Because of their wrath against the Greeks. They have located War in the house they occupied themselves and have given him full power to do with you as exactly as he pleases; then they went as high up as they could, so as to see no more of your fights and to hear no more of your prayers.” Somehow Aristophanes may be explaining the reason why the Greeks suffer in war and their prayers are not heard, which is that the gods have “evacuated,” and it is, of course, silly. But when Trygaeus asked further, “What reason have they for treating us so?” Hermes replied, “Because they have afforded you an opportunity for peace more than once, but you have always preferred war.” It is a good way to justify that not everything bad that goes on in our lives are the result of the whims of some mischievous deity. Most of the time, it’s our own fault. We really do love combating with each other, and yet we hate suffering the consequences afterwards. The human mind is sometimes hard to understand.

Yet, it seems like a comedy is sometimes just a comedy – because another instance of the portrayal of the gods defies any reasonable explanation. The poor and the rural laborers who flocked to the city to seek help, according to Hermes, “nevertheless drove away the Goddess, each time she reappeared to answer to the wish of the country, with their loud shrieks that were sharp as pitchforks.” Now it’s just a fun imagery, and not a realistic one, since a flawed representation of a goddess like that can downgrade her from being a deity to being a mere mortal. But I guess comedies really do need idiotic or unreasonable people in order to make the audience laugh, because these kinds of personalities are not really taken seriously in real life. Serious and upright characters are more likely to be put in tragedies because people take them seriously too. Now I realize that one secret in comedies is to have idiotic, and sometimes helpless, characters – just like Nobita in the Japanese cartoon series “Doraemon,” who is so lazy and always bullied and yet loves to appear cool in front of girls. We just can’t help but be fond of people or characters who show their flaws.

If I had to pick one favorite character in the play, it would be Hermes. He is such a blabbermouth that I’d like him to be my guardian angel. His inability to keep secrets is shown in this part of the play:

Trygaeus: I adjure you in the name of the gods, master, don’t denounce us!
Hermes: I may not, I cannot keep silent.                                        
Trygaeus: In the name of the meats which I brought you so good-naturedly.
Hermes: Why, wretched man, Zeus will annihilate me, if I do not shout at the top of my voice, to inform him what you are plotting.

I study astrology in my free time, and Mercury is the ruler of my natal chart since I am a Virgo rising. Gemini is my midheaven, and Mercury is also the ruler of that. In how he was portrayed in the play, I saw both his Gemini (lighthearted and blabbermouth) and Virgo (strict and critical) traits. Hermes, as a friend, would be beneficial if you want to be updated with all the current news about the people around you – yet he is not to be trusted because asides from being a thief and a liar sometimes, Hermes may also drop your secrets like it’s hot. He cannot shut his mouth. If only every course or division in our college worships a particular god, I think the Division of Humanities would worship both Hermes and Aphrodite since we gather and scatter information, play with words, write creatively, and appreciate beauty in the world of literature.

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