This play was exhibited at the Lenśan festival in 405 b.c. Its main purpose may be described as critical, i.e. it is intended to satirize the dramatic art, the style, and the morality of Euripides. This poet, as well as his great rival Sophocles, had died in the preceding year; and Bacchus, finding Athens without any tolerable tragedian at all,—Aristophanes is willing to concede that there might be worse poets even than Euripides,—proposes to make a journey to the regions of the dead to bring him back.
Once upon a time two travellers, a master and his slave, might have been seen making their way across the market-place of Thebes. The master was attired in the saffron-coloured robe commonly worn at the festivals of Bacchus, and had on his legs the buskins used by the actors in tragedy to give them additional height; but these garments contrasted oddly enough with the lion's skin which was wrapped round his shoulders and the heavy club which he carried in his hand. This was, in fact, Bacchus. We shall soon learn why he had thus disguised himself, and what he had come for. Behind him came his slave Xanthias, riding on a donkey, and carrying on his shoulders a heavy knapsack, which contained his master's luggage. This burden seemed to distress the poor fellow very much, and he grumbled greatly at its weight, not being much consoled by his master's assurance that it was really the donkey that carried both him and it. "All the same, I feel it on my shoulders," said the man.—"Well," replied the master, "if you say the donkey is no use to you, why don't you get down and take a turn at carrying the donkey?"
They had reached by this time the house for which they were bound. It was that in which Hercules lived; and Bacchus, who assumed a certain swagger, as being suitable to his equipment, kicked loudly at the door. "Who's that?" cried Hercules from with-in. "It might have been a centaur kicking."—"You see how afraid of me he is," said Bacchus in an aside to his slave.—"Afraid!" replied Xanthias; "he was only afraid you were mad." And indeed Hercules did seem to think that his visitor was out of his mind. So queer was his appearance that he could not help laughing. "What do you want?" he said; "what do you mean by your buskins and your club?"
Bacchus. "Now, brother, don't laugh at me; I am really suffering a great deal. I do want Euripides so. He is dead, you know, and I have made up my mind to go and look for him."
Hercules. "What? down to Hades?"
Bac. "Yes, and further too, if need be."
Her. "What do you want?"
Bac. "A good poet. The good poets are dead, and those who are alive are not good."
Her. "But you have got Iophon."
Bac. "Yes; he's the only one, and I don't feel certain about him."
Her. "If you must bring back a poet, why not Sophocles, who is much to be preferred to Euripides?"
Bac. "Ah! but, you see, I want to get Iophon by himself, and see what he can do without his father. And then, Euripides is just the rascal who would be ready to run away. As for Sophocles, he is sure to be contented there, as he was here."
Her. "How about Agathon?"
Bac. "He has gone. An excellent poet he was, and his friends miss him very much."
Her. "But where has he gone?"
Bac. "Oh! to a better country."
Her. "But surely you have ten thousand and more young fellows that write tragedies, who could give Euripides more than a furlong in chattering and beat him."
Bac. "O yes, I know them! the last leavings of
the vintage, the poorest chatterboxes in the world. They try one play, and then we see no more of then. But I know no one who dares venture on a really fine thing."
Her. "What do you mean?"
Bac. "Well, something of this kind:—
Her. "And you like that sort of thing?"
Bac. "I am simply crazy for it."
Her. "I call it abominable rubbish."
Bac. "Indeed; now if you were to give us your opinion about dining it might be worth having. However, I will explain why I have come dressed up in this fashion like you. I want you to tell me what friends you stayed with when you went down after Cerberus, and all about the provision shops, and the harbours, and the roads, and the springs, and the inns where there were fewest fleas."
Her. "Are you really thinking of going?"
Bac. "Yes; on that point I want to hear nothing more. But tell me the shortest way down. Mind, it must not be too hot or too cold."
Her. "Well, let me think. Which is the best? There is a good road by the Rope and Noose. You hang yourself, you know."
Bac. "Too choky by far."
Her. "Then there is a very short cut by the Pestle and Mortar."
Bac. "Do you mean the hemlock road?"
Bac. "Too cold and wintry for me. One's hands and feet get so numb."
Her. "Come, shall I tell you the quickest and most direct of all?"
Bac. "Yes, yes; I am but a poor traveller."
Her. "Stroll down, then, to the Potter's Quarter; climb to the top of the tower, and watch till the torch race begins, and when the people say, 'They're off!' off with you."
Bac. "Off where?"
Her. "Why, down to the bottom."
Bac. "Yes, and lose two platefuls of brain? Not that way for me, thank you."
Her. "How do you intend to go, then?"
Bac. "By the way that you went, to be sure."
Her. "But that's a long journey. First, you will come to a very big lake without any bottom."
Bac. "How am I to get over?"
Her. "Oh! there's an old sailor with a tiny boat, just so big (spans a length of five or six feet), will ferry you over for a groat."
Bac. "Ah! a groat means something everywhere."
Her. " After this, you will find a great slough of mire and filth in which lie all sorts of villains, men who have robbed their friends, or boxed their father's ears, or perjured themselves, or copied out one of Morsimus's speeches. This once passed, your ears will be greeted with the soft breathing of flutes, and you will see a very lovely light, and happy troops of men and women, who will tell you all you want to know; and now good by, brother."
Bac. "Good by. Xanthias, take up the baggage."
Xanthias. "Take it up! I have never put it down."
Bac. "No nonsense! Take it up at once."
Xan. "But won't you hire one of the dead people who are going this way to carry it?"
Bac. "A good idea! Ho! you dead man there, will you carry some baggage to Hades?"
Dead Man. "How much is there?"
Bac. "What you see there."
D. M. "Down with a couple of shillings, if we are to have a deal."
Bac. "Won't you take eighteen pence?"
D. M. "I'd sooner come to life again."
Xan. "What airs the fellow puts on! I'll go."
Bac. "You are a really good fellow. Come along."
In course of time they came to the lake of which Hercules had spoken. The old sailor was there, calling out, "Any one for Happy Despatch, or the Pig-shearers, or Cerberus Reach, or the Isle of Dogs?" Bacchus stepped on board with many entreaties to the boatman to be careful; but Xanthias was not allowed to follow. "I take no slaves," said the old man, "except they are volunteers." Accordingly he had to run round and wait for his master on the other side. "In with you," said Charon to his passenger. "Anybody else for the further side? Now to your oar."
Every one was expected to work his passage.
"What are you after there?" cried the ferryman; for the passenger was sitting on the oar, not at it.
"Wasn't this what you told me to do?" replied the god.
"Sit on the bench there, Corpulence, and forward with your hands."
Bacchus stretched his hands out, but without the oar.
"No more nonsense," cried Charon; "but set to, and row with a will."
Bac. "How can I, when I have never been to sea in my life?"
Charon. "You will do it easily enough. Just dip your oar in, and you'll hear the sweetest singing you ever heard in your life."
And, indeed, the next moment the frogs in the lake began a strain:—
In due course the boat reached the further shore. Bacchus paid his fare, and, stepping out, began calling for his slave. Xanthias appeared, and congratulated his master on his safe arrival.
Bac. "What is that before us?"
Xan. "The darkness and mire that Hercules told us of."
Bac. "Have you seen any of the parricides and murderers?"
Xan. "Have not you?"
Bac. "Certainly I have, and do at this moment; and not very far off, either."
Xan. "Well, master, I think that we had better be going on, for this is the place where he said the dreadful monsters were."
Bac. "Oh, that's all nonsense! The fact is, Hercules was jealous of me. He knew what a plucky fellow I was, and wanted to frighten me. I do really wish to have some little adventure that might make it worth while for me to have come so far."
Xan. "O master! I hear a noise."
Bac. "Where, where?"
Xan. "Just behind us."
Bac. "Get behind then, can't you?"
Xan. "Oh! now I seem to hear it just in front."
Bac. "Get in front."
Xan. "Dear me, I see a monster."
Bac. "What is it like?"
Xan. "All sorts of things. Now it's an ox, and now it's a mule, and now it's a woman, and now it's a dog."
Bac. "It must be the Vampyre."
Xan. "Its face is all ablaze with fire."
Bac. "Has it one leg of brass?"
Xan. "Yes; and the other of cow-dung. Oh! we are lost, King Hercules."
Bac. "For heaven's sake, don't call me that!"
Xan. "Bacchus, then."
Bac. "Oh! that's still worse. Dear me, what shall I do?"
Xan. "Courage, master; all's well; the Vampyre's gone."
The two travellers now proceeded on their way till they found themselves in front of a building which they were assured was the palace of Pluto. "How shall I knock?" Bacchus inquired. "How do people knock in these parts?"—"Knock away, master," the slave replied, "just as Hercules would."—"Who is there?" called out ∆acus the porter from within.—"The mighty Hercules," was the reply. The result was unexpected. The door was flung open, and the porter overwhelmed the visitor with a torrent of abuse.
Bac. "Oh, what a terrible noise! Xanthias, weren't you frightened?"
Xan. "Not a bit; never gave a thought to them."
Bac. "Well, you are a brave fellow. Come now, you shall be me. Take the lion's skin and the club, and I'll carry the baggage."
Xan. "Now mark the Xanthias-Hercules, and see if he shows the white feather."
The transformation had hardly been effected when a maid-servant from Proserpine's palace appeared upon the scene, with a warm invitation for Hercules. "As soon as she knew of your coming," said the girl, "her Majesty set to work making fresh loaves, boiled two or three pots of porridge, roasted an ox whole, and cooked a quantity of cheese-cakes. Come in, if you please."
Xan. "Thank your mistress very much, but—"
Servant. "Oh, we can't excuse you—we have boiled fowl, and sweetmeats, and the best wine that can be got."
Xan. "Well, as you are so pressing. Come after me, my man, with the bundles."
Bac. "Oh, nonsense, man! You did not think I was in earnest about this changing clothes? Come, you'll carry the baggage again."
Xan. "Surely you are not going to take away the lion's skin and the club?"
Bac. "Oh, but I am! down with them this moment."
Xan. "I make appeal to the high gods in heaven."
Bac. "Gods indeed! How could you fancy that you could pass for the son of Alcmena, a mere man, a mere slave?"
Xan. "Very well, take the things, but you may want me after all."
Two women who kept eating-houses in those regions now appeared.
"Plathanť, Plathanť," cried one to the other, "here's that villain come again who ate those sixteen loaves!"
Second Woman. "Yes, by Zeus! it is the very man."
Xan. "Some one is in a scrape."
First Woman. "Aye, and he ate besides twenty cutlets at threepence each."
Xan. "Some one is in for it."
First W. "And a whole lot of garlic."
Bac. "Nonsense, woman! I don't know what you are talking about."
First W. "Ah! you thought I should not know you because you had buskins on. And I haven't mentioned the salt fish."
Second W. "No; nor the green cheese which the fellow ate up, baskets and all, and when I asked him for the money he looked so fierce, and bellowed so."
Xan. "Just like him. That's his way everywhere."
Second W. "And he out with his sword, just like a madman, but I scrambled up into the loft. And what did he do but go off with our mattresses."
Xan. "Another trick of his."
First W. "Tell Cleon to come. He's my counsel."
Second W. "Mine is Hyperbolus, if you should see him."
First W. "Ah! you villain, how I should like to knock out those greedy teeth with which you ate up a poor woman's living, aye, and rip up your throat!"
Bac. "Curse me, if I am not very fond of Xanthias!"
Xan. "I know what you want. It is of no use your saying. I cannot possibly be Hercules."
Bac. "Don't say so, my dear fellow."
Xan. "But how could I be the son of Alcmena, 'a mere man, a mere slave'?"
Bac. "I know that you are angry, and I don't blame you. If you were to strike me, I could not object. But do take the things once more; and if I take them again, may I perish, I and my wife and my children and all that I have."
Xan. "I accept on these terms."
At this point ∆acus reappeared with some attendants, and attempted to arrest the false Hercules for having stolen Cerberus. Xanthias, however, succeeded in beating them off, while Bacchus protested that it was monstrous that the culprit should add an assault to his former misdeeds.
Xan. "I protest that I have never been near the place in my life, much less stolen a farthing's worth of property belonging to it. But I'll tell you what I'll do, and it's really a generous offer. You may take my slave there and examine him by torture. If you can find out from him anything against me, then you can do what you like."
∆acus. "What torture will you allow?"
Xan. "Oh, any that you like. You may tie him to the triangles, or flog him with a cat-o'-nine-tails, or pour vinegar into his nostrils, or press him; in fact, do as you please."
∆. "Very good; and if I happen to injure the fellow, of course I shall be liable to you for the money."
Xan. "Never mind about the money; take him away, and set to work."
∆. "No, no; we'll have it here in your presence. Now then, my man, put down the baggage, and see that you tell no lies."
Bac. "I warn you not to touch me. I'm a god. After that, if you get into trouble, blame yourself."
∆. "What do you say?"
Bac. "I say that I am an immortal god, Bacchus, son of Zeus. The slave is that fellow there."
∆. (to Xanthias). "Do you hear this?"
Xan. "Yes; all the more reason for beating him, I say. If he is an immortal god, he won't be able to feel."
Bac. "Why shouldn't you be beaten, too, for you're an immortal god, you say?"
Xan. "That's only fair. Whichever of us shows any sign of being hurt, you will conclude that he is not the god."
∆. (to Xanthias). "You really are a very fair-minded fellow. Strip, both of you."
Xan. "How will you manage to test us fairly?"
∆. "Oh! easily enough; blow and blow about."
The first blow was dealt to Xanthias, and received without a sign.
"I have struck you," said ∆acus.—"No; did you, really?" replied the man.
The next came to Bacchus. "When are you going to begin?" said the god, after the stroke had been administered. So it went on. The lashes extorted, indeed, an exclamation or other sign of pain, but the sufferers always contrived to account for them. If Bacchus, for instance, was seen to have tears in his eyes after a sharp stroke, "It was the smell of onions," he said. After another, he cried, "Apollo!" but the next moment went on as if he were repeating a favourite passage:—
At last ∆acus gave it up. "I can't find out," he cried, "which of you is the real god. You must go into the palace. My master and Persephone will know, for they are gods themselves."
"Quite right," said Bacchus, "but I wish you had thought of it a little sooner."
Pluto and his queen were found to possess the necessary power of distinguishing the god from the slave. As they also satisfied themselves that it was not the real Hercules that had come down to Hades, the proceedings about the carrying off of Cerberus were dropped, and Bacchus was hospitably entertained, while Xanthias was handed over to the care of ∆acus.
"That's a real gentleman, that master of yours," said the porter to his guest.
"I believe you," replied the slave, "he does not know how to do anything but drink and amuse himself."
∆. "To think of his not hitting you when you faced him out, pretending that you were the master, when you were only the slave."
Xan. "He would have been sorry for it if he had."
∆. "You're the right sort, I see. That's just the sort of thing that I like to say."
Xan. "You like it, do you?"
∆. "Yes; but the best of all is to curse my master when I am alone."
Xan. "And what do you think of muttering when you have been well beaten and are going out of the door?"
∆. "That's pleasant, too."
Xan. "What of making mischief?"
∆. "Better than anything."
Xan. "And listening at the door when they're talking secrets?"
∆. "I'm simply mad on it."
Xan. "And gossiping out-of-doors about what you hear?"
∆. "I can't contain myself for joy."
Xan. "Give me your hand, my dear fellow, and kiss me; you are my own brother. But tell me, what is all that noise and shouting and abuse about outside?"
∆. "Oh! that's only ∆schylus and Euripides."
∆. "There has been a tremendous disturbance and dispute among the dead people lately."
Xan. "What about?"
∆. "There is a rule down here that the best man in any art—I mean arts of the nobler sort—should have free entertainment in Government-house and a seat next to Pluto's own."
Xan. " I understand."
∆. "But he has this only till some better man than he arrives. When that happens, he must give way. Well, ∆schylus occupied the seat of honour among tragedians."
Xan. "And who occupies it now?"
∆. "When Euripides came down, he showed off to the robbers, and pick-pockets, and murderers, and burglars,—and we have a multitude of these gentry in Hades,—and they, when they heard his equivocations, and evasions, and turns, and twists, were beside themselves with delight, and declared that he was the best man that there was in his art. Thereupon he was so puffed up that he actually claimed ∆schylus's seat."
Xan. "And was pelted, of course, for his pains."
∆. "Not so; the mob cried out that there must be a trial to decide which was the better man."
Xan. "You mean the mob of scoundrels."
∆. "Yes; and an awful noise they made."
Xan. "But ∆schylus had his friends, too, I suppose."
∆. "O yes! but good people are scarce down here, as they are up above."
Xan. "Well, what does Pluto mean to do?"
∆. "He means to have a trial which will show who is the better man."
Xan. "How about Sophocles? Did he claim the seat?"
∆. "Not he: as soon as he came down he kissed ∆schylus, and ∆schylus made room for him on his seat. And now he means, if ∆schylus should get the better in the trial, to stay where he is; but if Euripides, then to challenge him for the first place."
Xan. "And what sort of a trial are they going to have?"
∆. "A rare one, you may be sure. You'll see poetry measured by the pound weight, and rules, and compasses, and wedges. Euripides says he is going to take the plays to pieces."
Xan. "∆schylus takes it hard, I reckon."
∆. "Yes indeed, he's like a bull going to charge."
Xan. "But who is to be the judge?"
∆. "Ah! that was the difficulty. Good judges are scarce. You know that ∆schylus did not get on altogether well, even with the Athenians. However, they handed over the matter to your master. It was in his line, they thought. But we had better go in, or we shall catch it."
The two rival poets now appeared.
"I am not going to give up my claim to the seat," said Euripides, "so you may spare your advice."
Bac. "You hear what he says, ∆schylus? Why don't you speak?"
Eur. "Oh! that's his solemn way that we used to have in his tragedies."
Bac. "Come, come, Euripides, be moderate."
Bac. "A black lamb this moment, my man; there's a hurricane coming. But I do beg you, my honoured ∆schylus, to restrain yourself; and you, you unlucky Euripides, I advise you to get into shelter from the hail; a big stone might hit you on the head, and spill one of your precious tragedies. To both of you I would say that two poets ought not to abuse each other like a couple of bread-sellers."
Eur. "Well, I'm ready; I am not going to shrink from any test you like. Test my music, my language, my characters, anything that you please."
Bac. "And what say you, ∆schylus?"
∆sch. "I had rather not be put to the trial down here. My poetry did not die with me; but this fellow's did. There he has the advantage. However, let it be as you will."
Bac. "Bring some incense and a red-hot coal. I should like to pray before they begin, that I may have the wit and taste to decide this matter aright. And each of you should say a prayer before you commence."
Bac. "Now, Euripides, it is your turn."
Eur. "It is well; I pray to quite another kind of god."
Bac. "I understand; gods of your own, a new coinage, as it were."
Eur. "Just so."
Bac. "Pray away, then, to these particular gods of yours."
These preliminaries ended, the trial began. Euripides opened the attack. "Of my own poetry," he said, "I will speak afterwards. My first task will be to show what a braggart and cheat this fellow was. He found a silly audience used to the old-fashioned poets, and befooled it. First he put on the stage a figure muffled up and silent, that looked very tragical, but did not utter a syllable. Meanwhile the chorus sang an ode of immeasurable length; but from the hero not a word."
Bac. "And it seemed to me very fine, much finer than the chatter that I hear now."
Eur. "That was because you were an ignoramus."
Bac. "Perhaps you are right. But why did what's-his-name do it?"
Eur. "Out of sheer impudence. The spectator was to sit waiting till Niobe, or whoever it was, should say something. And so the play would get on.
Bac. "Oh, what a rascal! How he took me in!" (To ∆schylus) "What is the matter with you, twisting about in that fashion?"
Eur. "It's because I'm finding him out. Then, after all this rubbish, when the play was about half-way through, our silent friend would mouth out some dozen words, each as big as an ox, and ugly as a bug-bear, that none of the audience could understand."
Bac.(to ∆schylus, who had groaned). "Be quiet there."
Eur. "A plain, intelligible word he never used."
Bac. (to ∆schylus). "Don't grind your teeth."
Eur. "It was all about 'Scamander streams' and 'embattled trenches,' and 'shields embossed with vulture-eagles wrought in bronze,' and such neck-breaking words."
Bac. " 'And I through weary hours of darkness lay,' thinking what sort of a bird a 'tawny cock-horse' could possibly be."
∆sch. "It was the device on a ship, to be sure, you ignoramus." (To Euripides) "And pray, what were your inventions?"
Eur. "Not cock-horses, nor goat-stags, you may be sure, the sort of creatures you see on Persian hangings. No, I found my art swollen out with these heavy, pompous words, and I fined her down with verselets, and administered decoctions of chatter. Then I did not confuse my characters. My heroes began by giving their pedigree."
∆sch. "A better pedigree than your own, I should hope."
Eur. "Then from the very beginning there was no time wasted: wife, slave, master, maiden, old woman,—all spoke in the same style."
∆sch. "That was a mortal sin."
Eur. "Not at all; a true democratic idea I call it. Then I introduced subtle rules of style, and fine finishing of verses, and twists and turns, and contrivances and suspicions."
∆sch. "Exactly what I say."
Eur. "And all this in matters of every-day life, things of daily use and wont, things which the audience know all about, and in which they are competent to judge my art. I did not try to drive them out of their sober senses with Cycnuses and Memnons, and battle steeds and clattering shields!
∆sch. "It makes me angry, it vexes me to the heart, to have to reply to such a fellow as this; still I will do it, lest he should say that he had got the better of me in the debate. Tell me now—What is most admirable in a poet?"
Eur. "Righteousness and true counsel; the power of making our fellow-citizens better."
∆sch. "Then, if this is exactly what you have not done, if, instead, you found them honest men and left them villains, what do you deserve?"
Bac. "Death, of course; don't ask him."
∆sch. "Remember what our citizens were when they first came into your hands, fine tall fellows, who shirked no public duty, not cheats and scoundrels as now, but breathing spears and javelins and white crested helmets and breasts of seven fold hide."
Bac. "But, ∆schylus, how did you do it?"
∆sch. "By dramas that were full of war."
Bac. "Which, for instance?"
∆sch. "The Seven against Thebes; no man could see that and not long to be a warrior."
Bac. "That's all very well; but you made the Thebans dangerously good soldiers."
∆sch. "Well, you might have made yourselves the same, but you chose other things. Then I exhibited The Persians, and I made them ever eager to conquer their foes. Yes, this is the function of the poet. And see how in all ages the really noble poets have discharged it. Orpheus taught us to worship the gods, and to keep our hands from blood; Musśus instructed us in medicine, and told us of the future; Hesiod sang of husbandry and the seasons; and for what is Homer famous, but that he sang of battle array, and noble deeds, and heroes arming for the fight? Then were trained such men as the hero Lamachus, and many another like him. But to think of the creatures that you have brought upon the stage, the foolish women, for instance! whereas I don't know that I ever introduced a woman in love."
Eur. "No, you did not know how."
∆sch. "No, and I don't want to know."
Eur. "But were they not true to life?"
∆sch. "I dare say; but that was no reason why you should put them on the stage. The poet should hide what is bad, not bring it forward. What the teacher is to the child, that is the poet to the youth."
Eur. "But what virtue was there in your huge-sounding phrases? Should you not use the common speech of men?"
∆sch. "Wretch, don't you know that noble ideas must be clothed in noble words? Demigods surely should use a loftier speech than ours, and wear a more splendid vesture. All this I set forth, and you departed from it most villainously."
Eur. "But how?"
∆sch. "You clothed your kings in rags, to move the pity of men."
Eur. "What harm did this do?"
∆sch. "It taught the rich men to shirk their duties. They dress in rags, and whine about their poverty. Then you taught men sophistry and lying. You emptied the gymnasia. You made the young effeminate and base. You taught the seamen to answer their officers, whereas in my time they knew no more than to call for their porridge, and to cry, 'Pull away!'
So much, then, was said about matter and morals. From this the competition passed on to style. "Repeat one of your prologues," said Euripides.
Eur. "See, the wise ∆schylus has said the same thing twice. 'Come' and 'returned'mean the same."
Bac. "Yes, yes; just as if a woman were to say to her neighbour, 'Use the kneading trough, and, if you choose, the trough for kneading.' "
∆sch. "They are not the same; the thing is quite rightly expressed."
Bac. "How? Explain what you mean."
∆sch. "Don't you see? A man that has been exiled not only comes to his own country, but returns, for he has been there before."
Bac. "Very good! What do you say to that, Euripides?"
Eur. "I say that Orestes did not return to his country; for he came secretly against the wish of the rulers."
Bac. "And that is good also; but I don't know in the least what he means."
Eur. "Now give us another."
∆schylus went on:—
"Listen to him," cried Euripides, " 'to hear and hearken'; there's a repetition for you!"
Bac. "Repetition! Of course there is. Is he not speaking to the dead, to whom we call three times, and even then they do not hear us?"
∆sch. "And now let me see what I can make of his prologues. I'll spoil them all with a single flask of oil."
Eur. "What! a flask of oil?"
∆sch. "Yes; one little flask. For you, Euripides, compose them in such a way that one can always fit in 'a little fleece,' or 'a little flask,' or 'a little wallet.' "
Bac. "Try another one."
Bac. "Dear me! the flask has caught us again."
Eur. "I don't care. Now listen: here is a prologue, to which he won't be able to fit in his flask:—
Bac. "Try another, and do keep clear of the flask."
Bac. "My good man, buy his flask, or it will assuredly ruin your prologues."
Eur. "I buy it! Certainly not. Listen again:—
Bac. "No, no; you can't get rid of the flask. It sticks to your verses just like a sty on a man's eyelid. We will go to something else."
∆sch. "I am for the balance and weights. Let that decide between us."
Bac. "Well, if you will have it so, though it seems odd to deal with the work of a couple of poets as a cheesemonger with his cheeses. Boy, bring out a pair of scales. Now, then, stand each of you by one of the scales, take a verse, but don't drop it till I say 'cuckoo.' "
∆sch. and Eur. "We are ready."
Bac. "Now, then!"
Bac. "Now, then, 'cuckoo'! See, ∆schylus's scale is much lower."
Eur. "What is the reason of that?"
Bac. "Why, he did what the wool-sellers do with their wool: he damped his verse with a whole river, while yours was a very airy affair."
Eur. "Let us have another trial."
Bac. "Very good. Are you ready?"
∆sch. and Eur. "Yes."
Bac. "Go on, then."
Bac. "There it is; down again."
Eur. "I am sure that what I said about Persuasion was very fine."
Bac. "But Persuasion is a light thing, while Death is the heaviest of all evils. Well, you shall have one more trial, and this must be the last. Think, Euripides, of something solid to weigh him down."
Eur. "I have it:—
Bac. "There, he has done you again!"
Bac. "Why, by bringing in a couple of chariots and two corpses, more than a hundred Egyptians could lift."
∆sch. "Come, no more single lines. Let him put himself and his wife and his children and all his books and his ghost to boot into the scale, and I will weigh them all down with a couple of verses."
Bac. "Well, I don't think I can decide. One I think very wise, and the other I like; and I should not wish to be on bad terms with either."
Pluto. "And are you not going to do what you came for?"
Bac. "Well, if I do decide, what then?"
Plu. "You will take the one you choose and go. So you won't have come for nothing."
Bac. "Bless you for a good fellow. Then I'll try. I came down for a poet."
Eur. "With what object?"
Bac. "This: I want to have a prosperous Athens exhibiting tragedies as they should be exhibited; and so I mean to take back with me the man who can give the country a good piece of advice. What do you think about Alcibiades? Athens is having a hard time of it with him."
Eur. "And what does she feel about him?"
Bac. "I am puzzled still. Try again. How would you save your country?"
Bac. "Now, ∆schylus, what have you got to say?
∆sch. "Tell me first, to whom does Athens go? To honest men?"
Bac. "No; she hates them like poison."
∆sch. "Then she likes the rogues?"
Bac. "Not she; but she is forced to employ them."
Bac. "Do think of something good,—that is, if you want to go back."
Plu. "Now you must decide."
Bac. "My tongue has sworn—yet ∆schylus I choose."
Eur. "Villain, what have you done?"
Bac. "Done? Chosen ∆schylus, to be sure. Why not?"
Eur. "And you are going to leave me here down among the dead?"
Bac. "It may be; death is life, and life is death."