Home  »  library  »  poem  »  The Appeal of the Chorus

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

The Appeal of the Chorus

By Aristophanes (c. 448–c. 388 B.C.)

From ‘The Knights’: Translation of John Hookham Frere

IF a veteran author had wished to engage

Our assistance to-day, for a speech from the stage,

We scarce should have granted so bold a request:

But this author of ours, as the bravest and best,

Deserves an indulgence denied to the rest,

For the courage and vigor, the scorn and the hate,

With which he encounters the pests of the State;

A thoroughbred seaman, intrepid and warm,

Steering outright, in the face of the storm.

But now for the gentle reproaches he bore

On the part of his friends, for refraining before

To embrace the profession, embarking for life

In theatrical storms and poetical strife.

He begs us to state that for reasons of weight

He has lingered so long and determined so late.

For he deemed the achievements of comedy hard,

The boldest attempt of a desperate bard!

The Muse he perceived was capricious and coy;

Though many were courting her, few could enjoy.

And he saw without reason, from season to season,

Your humor would shift, and turn poets adrift,

Requiting old friends with unkindness and treason,

Discarded in scorn as exhausted and worn.

Seeing Magnes’s fate, who was reckoned of late

For the conduct of comedy captain and head;

That so oft on the stage, in the flower of his age,

Had defeated the Chorus his rivals had led;

With his sounds of all sort, that were uttered in sport,

With whims and vagaries unheard of before,

With feathers and wings, and a thousand gay things,

That in frolicsome fancies his Choruses wore—

When his humor was spent, did your temper relent,

To requite the delight that he gave you before?

We beheld him displaced, and expelled and disgraced,

When his hair and his wit were grown aged and hoar.

Then he saw, for a sample, the dismal example

Of noble Cratinus so splendid and ample,

Full of spirit and blood, and enlarged like a flood;

Whose copious current tore down with its torrent,

Oaks, ashes, and yew, with the ground where they grew,

And his rivals to boot, wrenched up by the root;

And his personal foes, who presumed to oppose,

All drowned and abolished, dispersed and demolished,

And drifted headlong, with a deluge of song.

And his airs and his tunes, and his songs and lampoons,

Were recited and sung by the old and the young:

At our feasts and carousals, what poet but he?

And “The fair Amphibribe” and “The Sycophant Tree,”

“Masters and masons and builders of verse!”

Those were the tunes that all tongues could rehearse;

But since in decay you have cast him away,

Stript of his stops and his musical strings,

Battered and shattered, a broken old instrument,

Shoved out of sight among rubbishy things.

His garlands are faded, and what he deems worst,

His tongue and his palate are parching with thirst.

And now you may meet him alone in the street,

Wearied and worn, tattered and torn,

All decayed and forlorn, in his person and dress,

Whom his former success should exempt from distress,

With subsistence at large at the general charge,

And a seat with the great at the table of State,

There to feast every day and preside at the play

In splendid apparel, triumphant and gay.

Seeing Crates, the next, always teased and perplexed,

With your tyrannous temper tormented and vexed;

That with taste and good sense, without waste or expense,

From his snug little hoard, provided your board

With a delicate treat, economic and neat.

Thus hitting or missing, with crowns or with hissing,

Year after year he pursued his career,

For better or worse, till he finished his course.

These precedents held him in long hesitation;

He replied to his friends, with a just observation,

“That a seaman in regular order is bred

To the oar, to the helm, and to look out ahead;

With diligent practice has fixed in his mind

The signs of the weather, and changes of wind.

And when every point of the service is known,

Undertakes the command of a ship of his own.”

For reasons like these,

If your judgment agrees

That he did not embark

Like an ignorant spark,

Or a troublesome lout,

To puzzle and bother, and blunder about,

Give him a shout,

At his first setting out!

And all pull away

With a hearty huzza

For success to the play!

Send him away,

Smiling and gay,

Shining and florid,

With his bald forehead!