chapter
22 Pages

The Farmers

WithVictor Ehrenberg

On innumerable occasions we find the comic poets describing peasants and farmers, praising, or slightly ridiculing, their life and work, and emphasizing their importance to people and State. In consequence, the reader receives a general impression, the truth of which must be discussed. No doubt, Aristophanes was, so to speak, in love with those modest and industrious small farmers and vine-dressers who formed a large part of the Attic population. The question is whether that liking was more than personal, more than a view based chiefly on a private, primarily ethical, bias. It is true that many of the phrases in which the hard-working peasants are contrasted with the idlers, sycophants and snobs of the town are the expression of such a personal opinion; but to recognize this fact is not enough. Who were the peasants who play such a large part in comedy? To find an answer in comedy, an answer which is neither tendentious nor distorted, it will not suffice to regard figures such as Dikaiopolis or Trygaios as typical representatives of their fellow peasants as a whole. The importance of these ‘heroes’ of the comedies is, at any rate, exceptional. Whether they are typical in other respects, is a question which can only be answered after considering the arguments which will form the subject of this chapter.