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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

From ‘The Arbitrants’

By Menander (c. 342–c. 292 B.C.)

  • Translation of Francis Greenleaf Allinson
  • SCENE:A deme of Attica, probably Acharnæ.The highway stretches off, nearly south, to the Acharnian Gate of Athens.In the background, to the north, lies Mt. Parnes.
  • SCENE:Syriscus, Davus.(Later Smicrines comes out of the house.)Enter from the direction of Mt. Parnes Syriscus, a charcoal burner, and his wife who carries a baby in her arms.Davus meets them.Davus had previously found an infant exposed in the undergrowth below Mt. Parnes, together with certain birth-tokens.At the request of Syriscus, whose wife had recently lost a child, he gave them the infant to adopt.The birth-tokens, however, he retained and concealed.Syriscus was later informed of this by another shepherd and in this scene he has just demanded them of Davus as belonging of right with the child.We find them in the midst of their altercation when the papyrus, as preserved, begins.

  • SYRISCUS—You’d dodge what’s fair.
    Davus—And you, unchancy, blackmail me.

    Syriscus—You have no right to what’s not yours. Let’s leave the case

    To some third person.
    Davus—I agree. Let’s arbitrate.

    Syriscus—Who shall it be?
    Davus—For my part anyone will suit.


    It serves me right, for why did I go shares with you?

    [Enter Smicrines from the house of Charisius.]

    SCENE:Syriscus, Davus, Smicrines.

    Syriscus—Will you take him as judge?
    Davus—Luck help me, yes!
    Syriscus[to Smicrines]—Good sir,

    Now, by the gods, could you give us a moment’s time?

    Smicrines—Give you? And wherefore?
    Syriscus—We’ve a question in dispute.

    Smicrines—What’s that to me, pray?
    Syriscus—Some impartial judge for this

    We’re seeking now, and so, if nothing hinders you,

    Adjust our quarrel.
    Smicrines—Rascals marked for misery!

    Dressed in your goat-skins, do you walk and talk of law?

    Syriscus—But none the less the matter’s short and easily

    Decided. Grant the favor, father. By the gods,

    Do not despise us, for at all times it behooves

    That justice gain the upper hand, yes, everywhere,

    And every one that comes along should take his part

    In looking out for this. It is the common lot

    We all must share.
    Davus[aside]—I’ve grappled no mean orator,

    Why did I give him part in this?
    Smicrines—Will you abide

    By my decision? Say.
    Syricus and Davus[together]—Of course.
    Smicrines—I’ll hear. For what’s

    To hinder?[To Davus.]
    You! you close-mouthed fellow there! Speak first.

    Davus—I’ll start a little further back, not simply tell

    His part, that I may make the matter plain to you.

    Within this bushy thicket here, hard by this place

    My flock I was a-herding, now, perhaps, good sir,

    Some thirty days gone by, and I was all alone,

    When I came on a little infant child exposed

    With necklace and with some such other ornaments.

    Syriscus[interrupting]—Of these, just these, we’re talking.
    Davus—He won’t let me speak!

    Smicrines[to Syriscus]—If you put in your chatter, with this stick of mine

    I’ll fetch you one.
    Davus—And serve him right.
    Smicrines[to Davus]—Speak on.
    Davus—I will.

    I took him up and with him went off to my house,

    I had in mind to rear him—’twas my notion then—

    But overnight came counsel, as it does to all,

    And with myself I reasoned: “What have I to do

    With rearing children and the trouble? Where shall I

    Find so much money? What anxiety for me!”

    Thus minded was I. Back unto my flock again

    At daybreak. Came this fellow—he’s a charcoal man—

    Unto this selfsame place to saw out tree-stumps there.

    Now he had had acquaintance with me heretofore,

    And so we fell to talking. Noticing my gloom

    Says he: “Why’s Davus anxious?” “Now why not?” says I,

    “For I’m a meddler.” And I tell him of the facts:

    How I had found, how owned the child. And straightway then

    Ere I could tell him everything, he begged and begged:

    “So, Davus, blessed be your lot!” at every word

    Exclaiming: “Give to me the baby! So, good luck

    Be yours! So, be you free. For I’ve a wife,” he says,

    “And she gave birth unto a baby and it died”—

    (Meaning this woman here that holds the baby now)—

    Smicrines[to Syriscus]—You begged?
    Davus[to Syriscus, who at first fails to answer]—Syriscus!
    Syriscus—Yes, I did.
    Davus—The live-long day

    He pestered me, and when he urged, entreated me

    I promised him; I gave the child and off he went

    Calling down countless blessings, seized my hands and kissed

    And kissed them.
    Smicrines[to Syriscus]—You did this?
    Syriscus—I did.
    Davus—Well, off he went.

    Just now he meets me with his wife, and suddenly

    Lays claim to all the things then with the child exposed—

    (Now these were small and worthless, merely nothing)—claims

    That he should have them; says he’s treated scurvily

    Because I will not give them, claim them for myself.

    But I declare he’d better feel some gratitude

    For what he did get by his begging. If I fail

    To give him all, no need to bring me to account.

    If even walking with me he had found these things,

    And ’twere a “Share-all Windfall,” he had taken this,

    I that. But when I made the find alone, do you,

    [To Syriscus.]

    Although you were not by, do you, I say, expect

    To have it all yourself, and not one thing for me?

    In fine, I gave you of my own, with free-will gave:

    If this still pleases you, then keep it even now,

    But if it doesn’t suit and if you’ve changed your mind

    Why, then return it. Don’t commit nor suffer wrong.

    But, part by my consent and part by forcing me,

    That you get all—that were not fair. I’ve said my say.

    Syriscus—Has said his say?
    Smicrines—You’re deaf?
    Syriscus—He’s said his say. All right

    Then I come after. All alone this fellow here

    The baby found and all of this he’s telling now

    He tells correctly, father, and it happened so.

    I do not contradict. I did entreat and beg

    And I received it from him. Yes, he tells the truth.

    A certain shepherd, fellow laborer of his

    With whom he had been talking, now brings word to me

    That with the baby he had found some ornaments.

    On this account, see, father, he is here himself!

    Give me the baby, wife.[Takes the child from his wife’s arms.]
    Now, Davus, here from you

    He’s asking back the necklace and the souvenirs,

    For he declares that these were placed upon himself

    For his adorning, not for piecing out your keep.

    I too join in, and ask for them, as guardian—

    You made me that by giving him. And now, good sir,

    [To Smicrines.]

    Methinks ’t is yours to settle whether it be right

    These golden trinkets and whatever else there be

    As given by his mother, whosoe’er she was,

    Be put by for the baby till he come of age

    Or this sneak-thief who stripped him is to have these things,

    Belonging unto others, if he found them first!

    “Why didn’t I,” you’ll say, “when first I took the child,

    Demand them then of you?” It was not then as yet

    Within my power to speak thus in the child’s behalf;

    And even now I’m here demanding no one thing

    That’s mine, mine only. “Windfall! Share-all!” None of that!

    No “finding” when ’tis question of a person wronged.

    That is not “finding,” simple confiscation that!

    And look at this too, father. Maybe this boy here

    Was born above our station. Reared ’mongst working-folk

    He will despise our doings, his own level seek

    And venture on some action suiting noble birth:

    Will go a-lion-hunting; carry arms; or run

    A race at games. You’ve seen tragedians, I know,

    And all of this you understand. Those heroes once,

    Pelias, Neleus, by an aged man were found,

    A goat-herd in his goat-skin dressed as I am now,

    And, when he noticed they were better born than he,

    He tells the matter, how he found, how took them up.

    He gave them back their wallet, with birth-tokens filled.

    And thus they found out clearly all their history,

    And they, the one-time goat-herds, afterwards were kings.

    But had a Davus found those things and sold them off,

    That he might profit by twelve drachmas for himself,

    Through all the coming ages they had been unknown

    Who were such great ones and of such a pedigree.

    And so it is not fitting, father, that I here

    Should rear his body and that Davus seize meanwhile

    His life’s hope for the future, make it disappear.

    A youth about to wed his sister once was stopped

    By just such tokens. One a mother found and saved.

    This one a brother. Since, O father, all men’s lives

    Are liable to dangers, we must watch, look out,

    By long ahead providing what is possible.

    “Well, if you are not suited, give him back,” says he.

    This is his stronghold in the matter, as he thinks.

    But that’s no justice. Must you give up what is his,

    Then in addition would you claim to have the child

    That more securely you may play the rogue again

    If some of his belongings Fortune has preserved?

    I’ve said my say.

    [To Smicrines.]
    Give verdict as you hold is just.

    Smicrines—Well, this decision’s easy: “All that was exposed

    Together with the child goes with him,” I decide.

    Davus—All right. But now, the baby?
    Smicrines—Zeus, I won’t decide

    He’s yours who’d wrong him, but he’s his who came to aid,

    This man’s who stood against you, you who’d injure him.

    Syriscus—Now yours be many blessings!
    Davus—Nay, a verdict rank!

    By Zeus the saviour! I, the sole discoverer,

    Am stripped of all and he who did not find receives!

    Am I to hand these over?
    Davus—A verdict rank

    Else may no blessing ever light on me!
    Syriscus—Come. Quick!

    Davus—Good Heracles, how I am treated!
    Syriscus—Loose your sack

    And show us, for it’s there you carry them.

    [To Smicrines, about to leave.]
    Nay, stop.

    I beg, a little, till he gives them up.
    Davus[aside]—Why did

    I let him judge our case?
    Smicrines—Come, give, you quarry-slave!

    Davus[handing over the tokens]—What shameful treatment!
    Smicrines[to Syriscus]—Have you all?
    Syriscus—I think so, yes.

    Smicrines—You have, unless he swallowed something down while I

    Gave verdict of conviction.
    Syriscus—I’d not believe he could.

    [To Smicrines who turns to leave.]

    Nay, then, good sir, may Luck attend you. Sooner far

    I’d have the judges all like you.

    [Exit Smicrines to city.]
    Davus—But how unjust,

    O Heracles! This verdict, was it not too rank?

    Syriscus—You were a rascal, rascal you!
    Davus—Look out yourself,

    Yes, you now, that you keep these trinkets safe for him.

    Aye, mark you well, I’ll ever have an eye on you.

    [Exit Davus towards Mt. Parnes.]

    Syriscus[calling after him]—Go hang! Go gang your gait! But you, my wife, take these

    And carry them in here to our young master’s house.

    For meanwhile here we will await Chærestratus

    And in the morning we’ll start off to work again

    When we have made our payments. Stop! Let’s count them first,

    Count over, one by one. Have you a basket there?

    Here, loose your dress, and drop them in.

    [While Syriscus examines the tokens and his wife holds out the fold of her dress Onesimus comes out of the house of Chærestratus.]

    SCENE:Syriscus, Onesimus.

    Onesimus[to himself]—A slower chef

    Nobody ever saw. Why, this time yesterday

    Long since they had their wine.
    Syriscus[talks to his wife of the trinkets without noticing Onesimus]—Now this one seems to be

    A sort of rooster and a tough one too! Take that.

    And here is something set with stones. This one’s an axe.

    Onesimus[becoming aware of Syriscus and his occupation]—What’s this?
    Syriscus[still failing to notice Onesimus]—This one’s a ring of plated gold. Inside

    It’s iron. On the seal is carved—a bull?—or goat?

    I can’t tell which, and one Cleostratus is he

    That made it—so the letters say.
    Onesimus[interrupting]—I say, show me!

    Syriscus[startled into handing him the ring]—Well, there! But who are you?
    Onesimus—The very one!
    Syriscus—Who is?

    Onesimus—The ring.
    Syriscus—What ring d’ye mean? I don’t know what you mean.

    Onesimus—Charisius’s ring, my master’s ring!
    Syriscus—You’re cracked!

    Onesimus—The one he lost.
    Syriscus—Put down that ring, you wretched man!

    Onesimus—Our ring? “Put down” for you? Where did you get it from?

    Syriscus—Apollo and the gods! What awful strait it is,

    To bring off safe an orphan baby’s property!

    The first to come forthwith has plunder in his eyes,

    Put down that ring, I say.
    Onesimus—You’d jest with me, you would?

    It’s master’s ring. By your Apollo and the gods!

    Syriscus—I’d have my throat cut sooner than give in at all

    To him, I vow. That’s settled. I will have the law

    On each and all by turns. The boy’s they are, not mine.

    [Returns to enumerating the tokens.]

    This one’s a collar. Take it, you.[To his wife.]A chiton’s flap

    Of purple, this. Go, take them in.

    [His wife with the child and tokens, except the ring, goes in.]
    [To Onesimus.]
    Now tell me, you.

    What’s this you’re saying to me?
    Onesimus—I? This ring is his,

    Charisius’s. Once when drunk, or so he said,

    He lost it.
    Syriscus—I’m Chærestratus’s tenant slave.

    So either save it carefully or give to me

    That I may keep and safe deliver.
    Onesimus—I prefer

    Myself as guard.
    Syriscus—To me that matters not one whit,

    For both of us are going, as it seems, in here.

    Into the selfsame place.
    Onesimus—Just now it’s no good time

    Perhaps, when guests are coming in, to tell him this

    Our story, but to-morrow—
    Syriscus—I will wait till then.

    To-morrow, in a word, I’m ready to submit

    This case to anyone you like.

    [Exit Onesimus into the house of Chærestratus.]
    Now this time, too,

    I’ve come off not so badly, but it seems as though

    A man must give up all besides and practice law.

    By this means, nowadays, is everything kept straight.

    [Exit Syriscus into the house.]
    [Enter a group of revellers, probably from the city.]

    [END OF ACT.]