The Loeb Classical Library features the original Greek texts that remain for both of these comedies by Aristophanes and is obviously of great benefit to those who actually read Greek and are interested in playing with the translation in the hopes of arriving at a better understanding of these plays, their author and the time in which they were performed. The "Acharnians" is one of the earliest extant plays of Aristophanes, the winner of first prize at the festival when it was produced in 425 B.C. Dicaeopolis, a farmer tired of a war he considers to be stupid, decides to make an individual peace with the Spartans. However, before he can celebrate his private treaty, which allows him to trade for goods lacked by those in Athens, he is attacked by a chorus of Acharnian charcoal burners who support the war. The centerpiece of the comedy is Dicaeopolis's speech arguing the causes of the war are pretty stupid. This seriocomic speech, which is a parody of "Telephus" by Euripides, wins over half the chorus. Of course the other half immediately attacks them in a violent agon. The general Lamachus is called in to help, but Dicaeopolis destroys him with cutting arguments as well, and the chorus is united at the end to delivery Aristophanes's parabasis. Meanwhile, Discaeopolis has a drinking contest to attend, while Lamachus is sent back to the war. Pacificism and the folly of war are two recurring themes in the comedies of Aristophanes and both are explicit in the "Acharnians." It is also a good example of the standard format of a Greek comedy, at least as represented by the works of Aristophanes, including the giant party at the end.
The Knights," produced in 424 B.C., is clearly an all-out attack on Cleon, the leader of Athens after the death of Pericles. As related by Thucydides, earlier that year Cleon had induced the Spartans to propose peace. Consequently, Aristophanes opens the comedy with two slaves of the crotchety old Demos ("the people of Athens") dressed up to resemble the generals Demosthenes and Nicias. The two slaves complain about how everyone is picking on Paphlagon, a leather seller who is the favorite of Demos and clearly intended to be Cleon. The oracles tell that Paphlagon is going to be replaced by a sausage seller named Agoracritus. "The Knights" is a second-tier comedy by Aristophanes because it is devoted entirely to making fun of Cleon. Consequently, Aristophanes makes his point early on and by the time Agoracritus the sausage seller beats Cleon at this own game, the comic dramatist is beating a dead horse all the way into the ground. This comedy always struck me as being like a SNL skit that lasts the entire show. In the end Demos, rejuvenated by being stewed in a plot by Agoracritus, takes control and declares he will abolish all innovations and restore the old traditions.