hero, referring to his own denunciation by Cleon for “slandering the city in the presence of foreigners” at the previous year’s Dionysia (in Babylonians) and for being of non-Athenian birth. 3 In the parabasis the poet stresses the themes of freedom of speech and the value of listening even to unpopular views by boasting of his own courage in telling the Athenians unpleasant but important truths: for this he deserves not abuse but rich rewards (628 ff.). 4
Dicaeopolis’ confrontation with the Acharnians (lines 204–625) is modelled on Euripides’ lost tragedy Telephus (produced in 438). Its hero, the son of Heracles and Auge, had become king of Mysia in the Troad and son-in-law of Priam. When the Greek expedition against Troy mistakenly attacked Mysia, Telephus was wounded by Achilles and then informed by an oracle that his wound could be healed only by its inflictor. So much Telephus probably explained in a prologue speech. As the action begins, Telephus is on his way to Argos, disguised as a Mysian beggar, to look for Achilles. In a speech he defends himself and the Mysians by arguing that the Greeks would have acted the same way had they suffered an unprovoked attack. He probably also questioned the Greeks’ motive for the war against Troy (Paris’ abduction of Helen) and urged them to consider matters from the Trojan/Mysian perspective.
- 3Whether we should understand “the poet” as indicating the producer Callistratus or the author Aristophanes has long been debated, but the details of Aristophanes’ references to Cleon in this and subsequent plays suggest that it was the author whom Cleon had prosecuted for Babylonians (though Cleon may have attacked Callistratus too).
- 4Compare the attitude of Plato’s Socrates (Apology 35a–37a).
The Greeks’ reaction to Telephus’ speech is hostile, though perhaps not unanimously so, for in several fragments Agamemnon and Menelaus argue about continuing the war. When Telephus’ disguise is exposed and he is threatened with death, he takes refuge at an altar, with the baby Orestes as hostage, and convinces the Greeks that he too is in fact a Greek. Achilles arrives and agrees to cure Telephus’ wound. In response to another oracle, which says that the Greeks can take Troy only if a Greek leads them, Telephus agrees to guide the Greeks to Troy.
Like Telephus, Dicaeopolis disguises himself in rags, pleads his cause before a hostile audience, and takes a hostage; and his argument against the Athenians’ continuing the war against Sparta resembles Telephus’ argument against the Greeks’ continuing the war against the Mysians. Moreover, behind the comic hero Dicaeopolis-Telephus we are invited to see Aristophanes himself, who had been accused of treason and foreign birth by Cleon, defending his standing as an authentic and loyal Athenian (cf. esp. 366–82, 497–556, 628–64). 5
Through this extensive usurpation of Telephus Aristophanes borrows the authority of tragedy, creates a play within a play, and constructs a complex layering of disguises that work on several levels simultaneously (Telephus vs. Greeks ~ Dicaeopolis vs. Acharnians ~ Aristophanes vs. Athenians). He also calls attention to what he is up to as a playwright, thus educating the spectators about the nature of theatrical illusion and persuasion generally. Further, by using the spectators themselves to represent