Saturday, March 30, 2013

Review: Wealth by Aristophanes

Title: Wealth / Πλοῦτος
Author: Aristophanes
Genre: Plays / Classics
First performed: 408 B.C.

Rating: 6 out of 10

I have a single-volume collection of Aristophanes' best known plays, and this was the only one I hadn't read yet.

A man named Chremylus, disheartened at all the evil he has found in the world, goes to the temple to ask the god Apollo if it wouldn't be better to just throw his hands up and raise his son as a criminal. The god tells him to walk out of the temple and follow the very first person he sees. That person happens to be Plutus, the god of wealth. However, Chremylus finds the deity as anything but wealthy. The god has been reduced to a beggarly, blind old man. Zeus took away his sight so that he could not tell between good people (who are deserving of riches) and bad people (who aren't).
Chremylus, along with his servant Cario, vows to heal Plutus of his blindness, and sets out on a journey to a divine temple of healing. Along the way, the hag-goddess Poverty interrupts and warns them against returning the god's vision.

I liked this play, and it was typical Aristophanes - fun and quickly paced, with interesting, thought provoking themes underneath.

I liked Poverty's speech against wealth, which touches into economics. She reasons that if there is too much money, rather than make everyone wealthy, it will reduce the value of their riches instead, leaving them just the same. Or, worse, it will deliver an even harder life upon them than they live now. If everyone is rich, who would want to be Chremylus' servant, bringing him wine and running his home? Who would want to learn a difficult, time consuming trade? And without tradesman, where would he ever be able to purchase clothing, tools, ornaments...
She has quite a point. Of course, her logic doesn't go through to Chremylus, who only sees a walking dollar sign with Plutus in his company.

After Plutus' sight is returned to him, there is an immediate influx of money being showered upon everyone in sight. Most are rejoicing of course, but none everyone is so thrilled at the new change of the tides. There was a comical scene with a rich old woman complaining. Her handsome young boyfriend, who had been living off her generosity as long as he continued to call her beautiful, has now left her since he has his own money.
Zeus himself also comes thundering up to the door, shouting that now, no one is giving him any sacrifices at the temple (it is stated beforehand that the only reason anyone really sacrifices to Zeus anyways is to request money).

I liked that the gods seem so integrated with the lives of ordinary people. I love that about Greek literature.
Even though Zeus never actually makes an appearance (just his shouting at the door), no one seems surprised in the least that a powerful divinity is on their doorstep. When Chremylus mentions that it was Apollo who told him to follow Plutus, the money-god exclaims "What, he's involved in this too?"
It just gives you the sense that all the gods know each other, and all the people know all the gods. For some reason, it's appealing to me, as a way of knitting a relatively diverse culture and kingdom together.

I liked this play and will have to seek out some of the last works by Aristophanes that I still haven't read. It always makes me sad to read references to his 'lost plays' in footnotes, that we will never get the chance to read.