Nonfiction > Upton Sinclair, ed. > The Cry for Justice

Upton Sinclair, ed. (1878–1968).
The Cry for Justice: An Anthology of the Literature of Social Protest.  1915.

By Aristophanes

(Greek comedy writer and satirist; c.448 B.C.–c.388 B.C. There is probably not a Socialist in the world who has not been asked the question: “Who will do the dirty work?” It is interesting to see this difficulty set forth in a comedy which was staged in Athens in the year 408 B.C. Chremylus and Blepsidemus, two citizens, have taken in charge Plutus, the god of wealth, who is blind. They have undertaken to cure him of his blindness; but an old hag by the name of Poverty appears, and offers to convince them that their success would mean a calamity to the human race)
CHREMYLUS:—As matters now stand (who will dare contradict it?) the life of us men is compos’d
  Of a system where folly, absurdity, madness, ay, raving downright is disclosed;
  Since, how many a knave we see revel in wealth—the rich heap of his ill-gotten store—
  And how many a good man, by fortune unblest, with thee begging bread at the door! (Turns to Poverty.)
  I say, then, there is but one thing to be done, and if we succeed, what a prize        5
  Will we bring to mankind! That thing it will be—to give Plutus the use of his eyes.
POVERTY:—A pest on your prate, and palavering stuff! back! begone with ye, blockheads, to school!
  You pair of old dotards, you drivelling comrades in trifling and playing the fool!
  If the plan ye propose be accomplish’d at last nothing worse could mankind e’er befall,
  Than that Plutus should have the full use of his eyes, and bestow himself equal on all!        10
  See you not, that at once, to all arts there would be, to each craft that you reckon, an end?
  If these were exploded (so much to your joy), say who then should there be, who would lend
  To the forge, to the hammer, the adze or the loom—to the rule or the mallet—his hand?
  Not a soul! The mechanic, the carpenter, shipwright—would all be expelled from the land.
  Where would tailor, or cobbler, or dyer of leather, or bricklay’r, or tanner be found?        15
  Who would e’er condescend in this golden vacation, to till, for his bread’s sake, the ground?
BLEPSIDEMUS:—Hold, hold, jade! Whatever essentials of life in your catalogue’s column you string,
  Our servants, of course, shall provide us.
POVERTY:—Your servants? and whence do you think they shall spring?
BLEPSIDEMUS:—We shall buy them with cash—        20
POVERTY:—But with cash all the world as well as yourself is supplied!
  Who will care about selling?
BLEPSIDEMUS:—Some dealer, no doubt, coming down from the Thessaly side,
  (A rare kidnapping nest) who may wish to secure a good bargain to profit the trade.
POVERTY (impatiently):—You will not understand! In the lots of mankind when this grand revolution is made        25
  ’Twill at once put an end to all wants—and of course then, the kidnapper’s business will cease:
  For who will court danger, and hazard his life, when, grown rich, he may live at his ease?
  Thus each for himself will be forced to turn plowman, to dig and to delve and to sweat;
  Wearing out an existence more grievous by far than he ever experienced yet.
CHREMYLUS:—Curses on you!        30
POVERTY:—You’ll not have a bed to lie down on—no goods of the sort will be seen!
  Not a carpet to tread on—for who, pray, will weave one, when well stock’d his coffers have been?
  Farewell to your essences, perfumes, pastilles! When you lead to the altar your bride
  Farewell to your roseate veil’s drooping folds, the bright hues of its glittering pride!
  Yet forsooth “to be rich”—say what is it, without all these gew-gaws to swell the detail?        35
  Now with me, every item that wish can suggest springs abundant and never can fail;
  For who, but myself, urges on to his toil, like a mistress, and drives the mechanic?
  If he flags, I but show him my face at the door, and he hies to his work in a panic!
CHREMYLUS:—Pshaw! What good can you bring but sores, blisters and blains, on the wretch as he shivering goes
  From the baths’ genial clime driv’n forth to the cold, at the certain expense of his toes?        40
  What, but poor little urchins, whose stomachs are craving, and little old beldames in shoals;
  And lice by the thousand, mosquitoes and flies? (I can’t count you the cloud as it rolls!)
  Which keep humming and buzzing about one, a language denying the respite of sleep,
  In a strain thus consoling—“Poor starveling, awake, tho to hunger!”—yet up you must leap!
  Add to this, that you treat us with rags to our backs and a bundle of straw for a bed        45
  (Woe betide the poor wretch on whose carcass the bugs of that ravenous pallet have fed!)
  For a carpet, a rotten old mat—for a pillow, a great stone picked out of the street—
  And for porridge, or bread, a mere leaf of radish, or stem of a mallow, to eat.
  The head that remains of some wreck of a pitcher, by way of a seat you provide;
  For the trough we make use of in kneading, we’re driven to shift with a wine barrel’s side,—        50
  And this, too, all broken and split:—in a word, your magnificent gifts to conclude,
  (Ironically)  To mankind you indeed are a blessed dispenser of mighty and manifold good!…
  On my word, dame, your fav’rites are happily off, after striving and toiling to save,
  If at last they are able to levy enough to procure them a cheque to the grave!

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