Outline of the Knights 256
Demosthenes , a slave, bursts out of the house of ThePeople, having been beaten by his master as a result of information given against him by Paphlagon, Thepeople's steward . Nikias, another slave, follows him out and commiserates with him. (In reality, they were both generals who commanded armies in the Peloponnesian War). They try to cheer themselves up by humming an old tune. Demosth. thinks they should do something about the situation. All Nik. can think of is running away: this is too dangerous, says D. - they could be flayed for it. He also pays no attention to N. 's other suggestion: to pray (N. was well-known for his piety!).
D. then explainns the situation to the audience: ThePeople, their master, had not long ago bought a new slave Paphlagon (Cleon) who wormed his way into Thep. 's favour in a slimy way, exploiting the achieved efforts of his fellow-slaves (the victory at Pylos, really Demosthenes' achievement). Monopolising Thep. 's attention he demands protection money from his fellow-slaves and gets it.
Their only recourses appear to be escape or suicide; Demosth. recommends a few drinks to lubricate their wits; with the help of their master's stolen wine D. gets N. to steal Paph's. oracles from him from which they learn that P. will only lose his position to a Sausage-seller.
Just then a Sausage-seller arrives on stage; they call him over and inform him of his destiny: he is hard to convince, finding it difficult to grasp that his success as politician depends on his lack of any redeeming feature or previous training. But the oracle says he will overcome Cleon with the support of the Knights. It is mentioned that P. does not have a Cleon-style mask.
P. comes out and instantly accuses D. and N. of conspiracy with the enemy on the basis of drinking from a foreign cup. Frightened, the SS tries to run away.
Ihe Choros of Knights - upper-class cavalrymen - charge in and are about to charge against P. He appeals for help to dikasts in the audience, then attempts to bribe the Choros with a promise of a monument in their honour.
A Slanging Match between P. and SS .
SS. and B. denounce each other as swindlers. Both Demosth. and the Choros are anti-Cleon. As ss. accuses P.,P. answers with similar accusations, averring that ss. will be just as corrupt. The threats get wilder and wilder; P. is confident in his popular support but Demosth. joins in against him.
First Agon – Second Part : Competition in Shamelessness
ss. boasts of what he has got away with in the past; among the accusations thrown about are those of bribery, avoiding military service, being one of the Alcmaeonidae and supporting tyrants.
They come to blows for which ss. is congratulated by the Choros; P. recovers and they accuse each other of conspiring with the enemies of Athens - Spartans and Persians.
P. goes off to the Boule to report SS. for treason. SS. has to go after him to forestall him. Before he goes Demosth. like an athletics coach gives him liniment and special food (garlic) to make sure he's in shape for the contest; the Choros wish him good luck.
Parabasis First Part :
Leader of Choros, in character of Aristophanes explains why the poet did not previously have the self-confidence to put out plays under his own name. He criticises the Athenian audience for fickleness to past hit playwrights (Magnes, Kratinus) who should have been awarded drinking rights in the Prytanaeum - as Cleon was awarded eating rights for the Pylos victory.
The Chros sing a hymn to Poseidon, god of horsemen, and compare modern generals unfavourably with their fathers. They and their fathers fought unpaid and did not expect free meals for life.
A hymn to Athena and Victory follows, then lines in praise of their horses, ( the Choros may/may not be mounted on wooden horses).
SS. comes back victorious: he had arrived after P. who had been well into his lying tales against him, but SS. changed the atmosphere by announcing a drop in the price of sardines. P. countered by suggesting a thanksgiving sacrifice to the gods (free meal all round), which S.S. then suggested should be doubled in number. In the middle of all this there was a peace offer from 5parta, dismissed by the council, because they wanted to go and buy sardines. S.S. managed to curry more favour with them by rushing out for condiments to accompany sardines which he gave them to reinforce their gratitude. The Choros congratulate him on his ascendency over P.
P. comes back for another Agon. It is mentioned that his rewards for the Pylos victory also included front seat at the theatre.
This Agon is to be held before Thepeople whom P. is confident he has in the palm of his hand.
As usual, the two contestants threaten each other. They call Theopeople out of the house, addressing him with blandishments. He comes out, very grumpily accusing the rivals of ruining his harvest wreath; but he is genial with P.
P. complains of bad treatment from S.S. and the Choros. S.S. claims to love Thep. violently: there is a ridiculous scene sending up grown male lovers competing for a beautiful boy
funny to the extent that Thep. is not an obvious sex object, being old and dim and unlovely.
S.S.. accuses Thep. of giving Preferential treatment to tradespeople (like Hyperbolus and Cleon). The two suitors put forward opening arguments why their advances should be accepted, P. harping on Pylos which S.S. says he nicked from Demosthenes, by telling how he stole someone else's packed lunch.
P. suggests that this Agon should be held on the Pnyx before an Assembly. S.S. dislikes this because Thepeople behaves like an idiot on the Pnyx. But it appeals to the Athenian desire to have public contests and is P.'s home ground.
AGON OF BRIBE AND COUNTERBRIBE Choros tells S.S. to do his best.
P. prays to Athena getting in reference to Pylos. In this section P. speaks in the more elevated style: thus the fact that P. loses shows that the lower type of candidate wins this sort of thing.
S.S. claims P. is a gold-digger with no real consideration for Theopeople like S.S. who has brought Thep. a nice soft cushion for his rowing-sore bum. This goes down well; Thep. thinks S.S.. may be one of the Tyrannicide family (as Cleon was by marriage) obviously born a democrat. P. is irritated and waspish; S.S. also blames P. for Thep. having to put up with crowded and cramped living conditions since the Spartan invasion forced Atticans to move into the city.
Also S.S. points out how P. rejected good peace terms with Sparta and opposed all talk of peace.
P.'s bribe is an inflated dream of imperialistic glory (and loot) for Athens, with a hint at increased jury pay. S.S. is sure that such ambitions are only P.'s personal ambition to line his pockets and offers instead the attractions of peace and plenty.
Here P. claims to have done more for Athens than Themistocles who was a successful leader in the great struggle against the Persians. S.S. finds this claim fantastic and points out that P.'s activities are socially divisive while Themistocles united the Athenian people. Thep. seems to agree with S.S. at this point.
Losing his temper, P.'s threats against S.S. get wilder as S.S. goes on about his taking bribes from the islands (Delian league). After one more mention of Pylos by P. S.S. accuses P. of having the captured shields ready for use in a coup to put himself in power. Thep. is also indignant about this but P. claims to have foreseen and forestalled other people's coups which is, says S.S. because P. knows he thrives on disturbances in the state. More importantly he points out that P. never gives his own property away, like the shoes he makes. S.S. 's second gift to Thepeople is a pair of shoes. There is an indecency here: politicians were said to 'use the people like shoes' ie to fuck them. This is probably why S.S. admits to some prostitution experience also. P.'s counterclaim is to have got rid of 'Hooknose' (Grypus) from the Assembly for being a male prostitute; Yes, says, S.S., because P. was afraid of competition. Then he gives Thep. his third gift, a tunic. This almost forces P. to part with something so he presses his cloak onto Thep. but this of leather stinks to high heaven and S.S. claims P. is trying to gas Thep. as he did to the dikasts by giving them silphium cheaply so they could fart each other to death.
As this has failed P. suggests that Thep. should in future be paid for doing nothing. But S.S. knows that Thep. likes his bribes in the hand, not as promises, and, in baby talk, offers him soothing ointment for sores and then a soft hare’s tail to wipe his eyes with. Against this P.'s offer to rejuvenate Thep. cuts no ice, so he has to add an offer for Thep. to wipe his hands on P.'s hair after blowing his nose on his hand. P. also threatens to give S.S. command of a moth-eaten warship which will cost the earth to put in shape, and also to put S.S. into the surtax bracket. S.S. has an elaborate curse/prayer for P. which amounts to wanting him to choke to death in his eagerness to take a bribe.
At this point Thep. decides S.S. has won this Agon and asks P. for his ring - the ring which P. uses as his steward: he is going to give it to S.S. When P. gives it up it is the wrong ring: instead of showing a beef dripping sandwich it shows a greedy bird: Cleon's greed has displaced Thepeople's interest. Thep. gives S.S. the right ring but P. tries to put off the bestowal by citing oracles: this starts the
ORACLE AGON .
The two contestants swap oracles verbally but each wants to go and get his full supply; they rush into the house to get them.
While they are off the Choros sing of the downfall of Cleon ( only in this song is Cleon's name given).
P. claims his oracles are from Bakhis; S.S. says his are from Glanis (Catfish), B.'s elder brother. Thep. likes oracles because they are so often complimentary to him. He demands an oracle recital.
In spite of being attributed to Bakhis/Glanis, most of the oracles purport to be from Apollo. The main thing is that they are not easy to understand so P. and S.S. can interpret them to suit their own side. The opponents sometimes reinterpret each other's oracles not so favourably, using puns etc. Needless to say Pylos crops up in P.'s oracles whereas one of S.S.'s makes the point again that Demosthenes had already pretty well achieved the victory before K.'s arrival. S.S. also says that when K. promised to overcome the Spartans in 20 days everybody laughed because they regarded him as drunk. When S.S. mentions the navy in an oracle Thep. asks him how the sailors are to be paid: S.S.. promises to pay the sailors within 3 days an extravagant promise. P. begins to promise in oracles that Athens will gain a great empire; S.S. answers this by making it empire over the Persians. At last P. is reduced to quoting a favourable dream; S.S. goes one better and makes it an immortality conferring shower of ambrosia.
P. is still trying to hold off his loss of office so he desperately promises free grain handouts, but these have proved disappointing in the past so S.S. comes out better with real cakes already baked. They run out of provision and go inside to stock up again.
The Choros tick Thep. off for wanting to be buttered up all the time, but Thep. claims he does it to keep the upper hand and will know who to squeeze dry in the end. This suggestion shows Aristophanes preparing the audience for a transformation of Thep. at the end.
FETCHING AND CARRYING RACE:
The two contestants are set to show which of them serves Thepeople most assiduously fetching and carrying for him from the house. (The comic effect here must be like Goldoni's 'A Servant of Two Masters' where one servant is working twice as hard to serve two meals at once: there are nearly dropped items and nearly spilled dishes. All the food is Provided by Athena, with some references to the Panathenaia and puns (as on 'Peplos' -Athena's robe, and the skin of a sausage). At a moment when SS. runs out of dishes to serve he uses the old distraction trick and appropriates P. 's dish.
Once again Thepeople is to decide who has won: he would like reasons for giving his favour to one rather than the other: SS. suggests that Thep. examine their baggage. When P's turns out to be full of goodies while SS.'s is empty this shows that P. is taking the lion's share for himself and that settles it.
Before it is over P. wants to know who has beaten him - to see if it fits the oracles prescription (the oracle whereby Demosth. and Nikias picked the Sausage-Seller in the first place): of course, when he catechizes SS. it turns out exactly as expected: this is his supplanter!
The last answer placed SS. at the City Gates. P. mourning in parodies of Euripides gives up the garland. The SS.'s name turns out to be Agoracritus: disputant in the market place: SS. takes the ring; Demosth. claiming to be owed it requests the position of SS's prosecuting lawyer. Thepeople gives SS. power to dispose of P. SS. and Thep. go off while The Choros sing.
After a song influenced by Pindar the Choros defends the abuse of people who deserve it and goes on to attack Ariphrades, one of three brothers also mentioned in 'The Wasps' who was very Probably a rival poet to Aristophanes. Then Cleonymus is attacked for gourmandizing. Then the Choros Leader speaks in the character of one of the city's warships getting worried about a proposal of Hyperbolus to take an expeditionary force to Carthage. (After Cleon's death Hyperbolus replaced Cleon in Aristoph's bad books). It is mentioned that Hyperbolus is a lampseller.
Declaration of Feast and ritual Paean
SS. comes out and declares a religious holiday with a paean and sacrifices because he has rejuvenated Thepeople by boiling him.
Thepeople comes out looking like an Athenian of the days of Marathon, but ready to make peace, in old-fashioned clothes but very dressed up. He is no longer an old dikast. He is greeted by a HYMN from SS. and The Choros. Thepeople is grateful to SS. for the rejuvenation and amazed to hear what he was like before - gullible, addicted to flattery and always greedy for short-term goodies. SS. cheers him by blaming those who manipulated him: self-seeking politicians. But he tests Thep. by asking him which policy he will prefer between one with immediate gain and another long-term good, also a threat to stop jury pay: Thep. gives the right answers, and orders that young men should keep away from the Agora and other places of gossip. Phaeax is here mentioned: he was known as the man who could best sway the Assembly when Cleon was away. (He was ostracized, then assassinated).
SS. gives Thep. a folding campstool with a boy to carry it a good looking boy: Thep. is now young enough to be sexy.PEACE TREATIES
SS. calls on to the stage some girls, who are Peace Treaties, gifts to Thep. Thep. wants to have a go at them: thirty year peace -(pun)pierce three times with a pole in quick succession. These girls had been hidden by Cleon to keep Thepeople from enjoying them. (Peace is once again equated with plenty of sex). Thep. will now be able to take them home to the country to enjoy them.
THE DISPOSAL OF PAPHLAGONO. Lahr
SS. decides to give P. his sausage-selling pitch at the city Gates where he can live a low life that suits him, while SS. and Thepeople go and eat in the Prytaneum where C. had been given a seat for life. P. is referred to as the 'pharmakos': scapegoat: who was ritually loaded with the city's sins and then cast out at the city Gate so that the City is purified of all its ills by this rite. Generally a condemned criminal was used and then put to death. The scapegoat is to be displayed to the foreigners he wronged: SS. is to wear bright green festive robes (green symbolizes new life, fertility/vitality). Although no song is supplied the Choros exit singing, with Peace-Treaties, hired dancing girls as many as the backer can afford, possibly 30 for the hoped for 30 years peace treaty.