MERCHANT SHIPS (424-421 B.C.): ANCIENT GREEK COMEDY

Ancient Greek Merchant Ship

Ancient Greek Merchant Ship

Balladeer’s Blog presents another examination of an ancient Greek political satire. In this case it is one of those works of Aristophanes which have survived only in very fragmentary condition.

MERCHANT SHIPS  

Merchant Ships was written and publicly staged in approximately 424 B.C. to 421 B.C. according to the available data. It was another of Aristophanes’ comedies protesting the pointlessness of the Greek city-states warring among themselves instead of uniting against the encroachments of the Persian Empire.

I can’t help but view this particular comedy in light of my own country’s current plight of having the rival criminal gangs called the Democratic and Republican Parties pointlessly rob the country blind and run it into the ground while virtually ignoring external threats.

In this comedy the captains of two separate merchant ships – one from Athens and one from their foe Sparta – have grown weary of the pointless conflict and make a separate peace with each other. They and their crew members get to spend the play enjoying the food and drink from their cargoes and living out a metaphorical return to the prosperous days before the Peloponnesian War when peace reigned among the various Greek city-states.  

Franchises aka Merchant Ships

Franchises aka Merchant Ships

For a modern-day adaptation (as opposed to a straight translation) the situation could be depicted by having a Chick Fil-A restaurant right next to a Starbucks coffee shop. The managers and employees of these stereotypically Republican (Chick Fil-A) and stereotypically Democratic (Starbucks) establishments could grow tired of the political feuding, especially since both political parties often call for boycotts of the opposing business.  

The managers and employees of the two franchises (in fact Franchises would be an ideal title) would make a truce separate from their home offices. The characters would all thrive and recognize each others’ shared humanity and turn against the two corrupt and self-serving political parties that had them at each others’ throats. They would recognize that they have more in common with each other than they do with the Democratic and Republican party leaders who exploit their voters while feathering their own nests.  

Here is a quote from an ancient commentary about the comedy Merchant Ships, followed by me paraphrasing it to apply it to America’s current political situation.

” Everywhere he (Aristophanes) pleaded his case, ridiculing Cleon the demagogue, who opposed peace, and constantly attacking Lamachus the war lover.”

PARAPHRASE: Everywhere he pleaded his case, ridiculing Obama the demagogue, who treated the rival political party worse than he treated hostile nations like Iran and Russia, and constantly attacking Pelosi the bloated rich pig who pretended to fight for the poor.  

The ending of Merchant Ships has not survived so unfortunately we do not know how the situation was resolved.     

INDIVIDUAL LINES AMONG THE FRAGMENTS

* The Athenian ship captain commiserates with the other by saying”By Mount Olympus, Spartan, how foul and cumbersome our mutual problems have become.”  

* A “Wayland Smithers”-type toady for one of the captains is described as someone who “scratches his dandruff for him and is forever plucking out the gray hairs from his beard.”

There is a joke about the “professional accusers” in the Athenian political circles of the day. ( These accusers would bring public accusations against the political adversaries of their secret patrons, blackening the reputations of the accused and often forcing them to face legal fees. To use Liberal and Conservative examples from recent years, when Anita Hill came forward against Clarence Thomas she would have been suspected of being a “professional accuser”. When the Swiftboat Veterans came forward against John Kerry they would have been suspected of the same. ) 

 * THERE ARE FRAGMENTS AND THEN THERE ARE FRAGMENTS *

Merchant Ships provides a nice opportunity to make clear how truly fragmented the scarce remains of these ancient Greek comedies can be. This is all that can be made out on some of the fragments of this particular play:  

* “When I got to the place I was going to for wood …”

* “Spearheads are being fitted and the whetted shaft …”

* “Ah, Sparta, what then shalt thou suffer today?”

* “The other day, when I was hosting  the dining club, I made soup”

* “I’ll run a careful finger over it”

* “… having drunk brine …”

* “jars of wine”

* ” … a drachma’s worth …”

* “partridge cage” (My personal favorite.)

And many other such disjointed phrases.

FOR MORE ANCIENT GREEK COMEDIES CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/ancient-greek-comedies/

© Edward Wozniak and Balladeer’s Blog, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Edward Wozniak and Balladeer’s Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

4 Comments

Filed under Ancient Greek Comedy

4 responses to “MERCHANT SHIPS (424-421 B.C.): ANCIENT GREEK COMEDY

  1. Awesome! That idea about Starucks and Chick Filet standing in for the ships was genius.

  2. Very interesting way to update this play, as Franchises! It works!

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