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Encyclopedia > The Knights

Aristophanes' play The Knights is an unbridled criticism of Cleon, one of the most powerful men in ancient Athens. Cleon had once brought Aristophanes up on charges of "embarrassing the city in front of foreigners" in response to one of his comedies being performed at the Dionysia festival at which foreigners were present. Aristophanes never forgave him, and wrote The Knights as a response to him.


The basic premise of the play is that there is a man named Demos (Greek for "The citizen-body") who is not very bright. His slaves, Nicias and Demosthenes (two of the most prominent Athenian generals in the Peloponnesian War), are displeased with the way Demos' steward, the Paphlogonian (aka Cleon) has been treating both Demos and the other slaves. They discover that the way to remove the Paphlogonian from power is for him to be replaced by a Sausage-Seller.


The two slaves find the Sausage-Seller, and explain their predicament to him. He is more than willing to help.


The play then degrades into the Sausage-Seller claiming he will do all the terrible things that the Paphlogonian did for Demos, and more. The two trade insults, and try to out-do one another in their absurdity and crudeness. In the end, Demos decides that he will take the Sausage-Seller as his new steward. The Sausage-Seller turns out not to be a cruel tyrant, and had only said such things so that he would be chosen.


This play is also notable for its unflattering view of the people as dumb, easily fooled, and fickle.


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