21 Pages

War and Peace

WithVictor Ehrenberg

The period of Old Comedy coincides with a period of Athenian history the variety of which seems more obvious than its unity. 1 We realize that there was a unity, and that it was brought about by the fact that the leading actors of the drama were Athens and her empire, with Sparta and Corinth taking important but secondary parts. Seen, however, under the aspects of peace and war, our period has no unity at all, but can be divided into two periods, 460–432 and 431-c. 380. Either of these periods can easily be sub-divided into two parts: 460–446 were years of dangerous tension and some fighting, 445–432 was essentially a time of real peace; again 431–404 was a time of war, 403–380 were years of a very unstable peace. Kratinos and Krates lived in the earlier period, but they lived on to see the first years of the Peloponnesian War. 2 All the other important poets of Old Comedy belong to the second period. It is impossible to understand thoroughly either the social conditions of the age or their reflection in comedy without taking these facts into account. For war and peace do not form the background, against which the facts of normal everyday life stand out — they themselves shape these facts and all the consequent details. Our evidence, however, hardly enables us to describe fully such things as the difference between the economic life of war and of peace, though some details can be recovered, and we have referred to these in earlier chapters. We must, however, try to discover the effects of war and peace on social psychology, and so complete in its essentials our picture of Athenian society.