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Full Access As If We Were Codgers: Flattery, Parrhēsia and Old Man Demos in Aristophanes’ Knights

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As If We Were Codgers: Flattery, Parrhēsia and Old Man Demos in Aristophanes’ Knights

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image of Polis: The Journal for Ancient Greek Political Thought

In Knights, Aristophanes represents the dangers of parrhēsia run amuck with the near-destruction of an elderly man’s (Demos) Athenian household by Paphlagon (a stand-in for the Athenian politician Cleon). In this setting, Paphlagon’s invocations of his own parrhēsia and goodwill become a destructive form of flattery, causing chaos in the household and threatening its viability. This article begins with a discussion of the problem of parrhēsia in democratic Athens and the ways in which Cleon exemplified those problems. Moving to an examination of Aristophanes’ Knights, the author tracks the playwright’s exploration and response. Aristophanes uses the figure of the elderly Demos as a metaphor for the decline of the city, allowing him to both critique the demos and to align himself with it (as he presents his own anxieties about old age). Moreover, even as he must win the audience over in order to achieve the theatrical success he craves, Aristophanes removes himself from the perverse logic of dēmophilia-turned-pandering by claiming to be motivated not by goodwill for the audience, but by his hatred of Cleon, an enemy shared by both the playwright and the city.


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