Home  »  library  »  poem  »  The Poet’s Apology

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

The Poet’s Apology

By Aristophanes (c. 448–c. 388 B.C.)

From ‘The Acharnians’: Translation of John Hookham Frere

OUR poet has never as yet

Esteemed it proper or fit

To detain you with a long

Encomiastic song

On his own superior wit;

But being abused and accused,

And attacked of late

As a foe of the State,

He makes an appeal in his proper defense,

To your voluble humor and temper and sense,

With the following plea:

Namely, that he

Never attempted or ever meant

To scandalize

In any wise

Your mighty imperial government.

Moreover he says,

That in various ways

He presumes to have merited honor and praise;

Exhorting you still to stick to your rights,

And no more to be fooled with rhetorical flights;

Such as of late each envoy tries

On the behalf of your allies,

That come to plead their cause before ye,

With fulsome phrase, and a foolish story

Of “violet crowns” and “Athenian glory,”

With “sumptuous Athens” at every word:

“Sumptuous Athens” is always heard;

“Sumptuous” ever, a suitable phrase

For a dish of meat or a beast at graze.

He therefore affirms

In confident terms,

That his active courage and earnest zeal

Have usefully served your common weal:

He has openly shown

The style and tone

Of your democracy ruling abroad,

He has placed its practices on record;

The tyrannical arts, the knavish tricks,

That poison all your politics.

Therefore shall we see, this year,

The allies with tribute arriving here,

Eager and anxious all to behold

Their steady protector, the bard so bold;

The bard, they say, that has dared to speak,

To attack the strong, to defend the weak.

His fame in foreign climes is heard,

And a singular instance lately occurred.

It occurred in the case of the Persian king,

Sifting and cross-examining

The Spartan envoys. He demanded

Which of the rival States commanded

The Grecian seas? He asked them next

(Wishing to see them more perplexed)

Which of the two contending powers

Was chiefly abused by this bard of ours?

For he said, “Such a bold, so profound an adviser

By dint of abuse would render them wiser,

More active and able; and briefly that they

Must finally prosper and carry the day.”

Now mark the Lacedæmonian guile!

Demanding an insignificant isle!

“Ægina,” they say, “for a pledge of peace,

As a means to make all jealousy cease.”

Meanwhile their privy design and plan

Is solely to gain this marvelous man—

Knowing his influence on your fate—

By obtaining a hold on his estate

Situate in the isle aforesaid.

Therefore there needs to be no more said.

You know their intention, and know that you know it:

You’ll keep to your island, and stick to the poet.

And he for his part

Will practice his art

With a patriot heart,

With the honest views

That he now pursues,

And fair buffoonery and abuse:

Not rashly bespattering, or basely beflattering,

Not pimping, or puffing, or acting the ruffian;

Not sneaking or fawning;

But openly scorning

All menace and warning,

All bribes and suborning:

He will do his endeavor on your behalf;

He will teach you to think, he will teach you to laugh.

So Cleon again and again may try;

I value him not, nor fear him, I!

His rage and rhetoric I defy.

His impudence, his politics,

His dirty designs, his rascally tricks,

No stain of abuse on me shall fix.

Justice and right, in his despite,

Shall aid and attend me, and do me right:

With these to friend, I ne’er will bend,

Nor descend

To a humble tone

(Like his own),

As a sneaking loon,

A knavish, slavish, poor poltroon.