I've been reading the plays of Aristophanes for quite some time now, my first play was The Frogs, which I read in February 2015, and here I am now in August 2016 reading my final play, Wealth. The last play I read by Aristophanes was Peace of 421 B.C., and now I zip forward 33 years to 388 B.C. for Wealth (Πλοῦτος, known also as Plutus or Ploutos). Before I get into Wealth I want to say how much I've enjoyed reading Aristophanes' plays, I've absolutely loved them. But, and it's a sad thing, I'm ending on a low note: I really hated Wealth. This is the second time I've read it: the first time, in spring, I ended up skimming it, and the second time around I did concentrate more but all the same I suffered it.
The gist (which is all I'm able to provide!) is this: Chremylos and his slave Cario have returned to Athens having consulted the Oracle to ask how Chremylos should instruct his son to improve his wealth:
Cʜʀᴇᴍʏʟᴏs: I've always been a virtuous and religious man
Yet always poor and luckless.
Cᴀʀɪᴏ: So you have.
Cʜʀᴇᴍʏʟᴏs: While Temple breakers, orators, informers,
And knaves grow rich and prosper.
Cᴀʀɪᴏ: So they do.
Cʜʀᴇᴍʏʟᴏs: So then I went to question of the god -
Not for myself, the quiver of my life
Is well-nigh emptied of its arrows now, -
But for my son, my only son, to ask
If, changing all his habits, he should turn
A rogue, dishonest, rotten to the core.
For such as they, methinks, succeed the best.
Apollo's advice -
Cʜʀᴇᴍʏʟᴏs: He told me plainly that with whomsoe'er
I first forgathered as I left the shrine,
Of him I never should leave go again,
But win him back, in friendship, to my home.
This rather reminded me of Euripides' Ion (414 - 412 B.C.) in which Xuthus is told by the Oracle that the first child he meets outside the temple is in fact his son, but I digress. The first man Chremylos meets is a blind beggar who in fact turns out to be Plutus, the son of Demeter and Iasion and the god of wealth and money, blinded by Zeus so that he is unable to distinguish between the just and the unjust. Chremylus takes him to his home, believing that if he is able to cure Plutus' blindness wealth will be distributed more fairly. There they see the goddess Poverty who argues that without poverty there would be no slaves, no riches, and no fine things. Nevertheless Chremylos persists in his plans and takes Plutus to be cured by Asclepius. The cure works and Plutus' sight is restored: he goes on, as Chremylus hoped, to redistribute wealth to the good and the virtuous, however this turns social order on its head. Hermes attempts to intervene and tells them the gods are unhappy and are no receiving their due respect, all attentions are now focused on Plutus. But it is to no avail: Plutus eventually replaces Zeus as the king of the gods.
It's an interesting discuss on the distribution of wealth, and in Wealth we see, like, for example, in The Birds (414 B.C.) a sort of utopia though there is anger, bitterness, and resentment from the sinful rich who gained their money unjustly. It's the sort of play I should have liked but didn't. Even so my love of Aristophanes stands firm. He is one of (if not the) most creative and original of the 5th Century B.C. playwrights I believe, however much I adore Sophocles, Aeschylus, and Euripides. He is great fun, very funny, and remarkably insightful: one can learn a lot from comedy, after all. His best plays, I still believe, as the 'middle' plays - The Clouds to The Frogs. I do wish more had have survived.
The Plays of Aristophanes