Oh! great gods!
And who are you? Oh! what a ghastly pallor!
But she has no torch.
Let’s knock her down!
Who do you think I am?
I am Poverty, who have lived with you for so many years.
Oh! great Apollo! oh, ye gods! whither shall I fly?
Stop then! Are two men to run away from one woman?
Stay where you are, I beg of you.
No no! a thousand times, no!
Be at ease. Plutus will readily triumph over her threats unaided.
Is this doing you harm, that we shower blessings on all men?
And what do you think will ensure their happiness?
Ah! first of all we shall drive you out of Greece.
Drive me out? Could you do mankind a greater harm?
Yes-if I gave up my intention to deliver them from you.
How dare you talk like this, you impudent hussy?
Oh! cudgel and rope’s end, come to my help!
Why such wrath and these shouts, before you hear my arguments?
But who could listen to such words without exclaiming?
Any man of sense.
Choose what you will.
That’s all right.
You shall suffer the same if you are beaten!
Do you think twenty deaths a sufficiently large stake?
Good enough for her, but for us two would suffice.
It is right that the good should be happy, that the wicked and the impious, on the other hand, should be miserable; that is a truth, I believe, which no one will gainsay. To realize this condition of things is a proposal as great as it is noble and useful in every respect, and we have found a means of attaining the object of our wishes. If Plutus recovers his sight and ceases from wandering about unseeing and at random, he will go to seek the just men and never leave them again; he will shun the perverse and ungodly; so, thanks to him, all men will become honest, rich and pious. Can anything better be conceived for the public weal?
Does it not seem that everything is extravagance in the world, or rather madness, when you watch the way things go? A crowd of rogues enjoy blessings they have won by sheer injustice, while more honest folks are miserable, die of hunger, and spend their whole lives with you. Now, if Plutus became clear-sighted again and drove out Poverty, it would be the greatest blessing possible for the human race.
Here are two old men, whose brains are easy to confuse, who assist each other to talk rubbish and drivel to their hearts’ content. But if your wishes were realized, your profit would be great! Let Plutus recover his sight and divide his favours out equally to all, and none will ply either trade or art any longer; all toil would be done away with. Who would wish to hammer iron, build ships, sew, turn, cut up leather, bake bricks, bleach linen, tan hides, or break up the soil of the earth with the plough and garner the gifts of Demeter, if he could live in idleness and free from all this work?
Your slaves! And by what means will these slaves be got?
We will buy them.
But first say, who will sell them, if everyone is rich?
But if your system is applied, there won’t be a single slave-dealer left. What rich man would risk his life to devote himself to this traffic? You will have to toil, to dig and submit yourself to all kinds of hard labour; so that your life would be more wretched even than it is now.
May this prediction fall upon yourself!
You will not be able to sleep in a bed, for no more will ever be manufactured; nor on carpets, for who would weave them, if he had gold? When you bring a young bride to your dwelling, you will have no essences wherewith to perfume her, nor rich embroidered cloaks dyed with dazzling colours in which to clothe her. And yet what is the use of being rich, if you are to be deprived of all these enjoyments? On the other hand, you have all that you need in abundance, thanks to me; to the artisan I am like a severe mistress, who forces him by need and poverty to seek the means of earning his livelihood.
And what good thing can you give us, unless it be burns in the bath, and swarms of brats and old women who cry with hunger, and clouds uncountable of lice, gnats and flies, which hover about the wretch’s head, trouble him, awake him and say, “You will be hungry, but get up!” Besides, to possess a rag in place of a mantle, a pallet of rushes swarming with bugs, that do not let you close your eyes, for a bed; a rotten piece of matting for a coverlet; a big stone for a pillow, on which to lay your head; to eat mallow roots instead of bread, and leaves of withered radish instead of cake; to have nothing but the cover of a broken jug for a stool, the stave of a cask, and broken at that, for a kneading-trough, that is the life you make for us! Are these the mighty benefits with which you pretend to load mankind?
Is Beggary not Poverty’s sister?
Thrasybulus and Dionysius are one and the same according to you. No, my life is not like that and never will be. The beggar, whom you have depicted to us, never possesses anything. The poor man lives thriftily and attentive to his work: he has not got too much, but he does not lack what he really needs.
That’s it! jest, jeer, and never talk seriously! But what you don’t know is this, that men with me are worth more, both in mind and body, than with Plutus. With him they are gouty, big-bellied, heavy of limb and scandalously stout; with me they are thin, wasp-waisted, and terrible to the foe.
Oh the sweet modesty of stealing and burglary.
Look at the orators in our republics; as long as they are poor, both state and people can only praise their uprightness; but once they are fattened on the public funds, they conceive a hatred for justice, plan intrigues against the people and attack the democracy.
That is absolutely true, although your tongue is very vile. But it matters not, so don’t put on those triumphant airs; you shall not be punished any the less for having tried to persuade me that poverty is worth more than wealth.
Then tell me this, why does all mankind flee from you?
…and banishes Poverty to the earth.
Ah me! how purblind you are, you old fellows of the days of Cronus! Why, Zeus is poor, and I will clearly prove it to you. In the Olympic games, which he founded, and to which he convokes the whole of Greece every four years, why does he only crown the victorious athletes with wild olive? If he were rich he would give them gold.
May Zeus destroy you, both you and your chaplet of wild olive!
Ask Hecate whether it is better to be rich or starving; she will tell you that the rich send her a meal every month and that the poor make it disappear before it is even served. But go and hang yourself and don’t breathe another syllable. I will not be convinced against my will.
“Oh! citizens of Argos! do you hear what he says?”
Invoke Pauson, your boon companion, rather.
Alas! what is to become of me?
Get you gone, be off quick and a pleasant journey to you.
But where shall I go?
To gaol; but hurry up, let us put an end to this.
(from Plutus by Aristophanes, 408 BC)