There’s no way this boy won’t someday govern the people

From Aristophanes’ Knights, two commentaries on the qualities it takes to become a politician. The first (lines 211-220) is the milder sort of shot that could be found anywhere, the second (lines 427-428) is Old Comedy at full-mast.

Sausage Seller
The prophecies are flattering, but it’s an amazing idea, me being fit to supervise the people.

First Slave
Nothing’s easier. Just keep doing what you’re doing: make a hash of all their affairs and turn it into baloney, and always keep the people on your side by sweetening them with gourmet bons mots. You’ve got everything else a demagogue needs: a repulsive voice, low birth, marketplace morals—you’ve got all the ingredients for a political career. Plus, the oracles and Delphic Apollo agree. (extending the cup and garland) So put on this garland, pour a libation to the god Dimwit, and see that you settle our enemy’s hash.

τὰ μὲν λόγι᾿ αἰκάλλει με· θαυμάζω δ᾿ ὅπως
τὸν δῆμον οἷός τ᾿ ἐπιτροπεύειν εἴμ᾿ ἐγώ.

φαυλότατον ἔργον· ταῦθ᾿ ἅπερ ποιεῖς ποίει·
τάραττε καὶ χόρδευ᾿ ὁμοῦ τὰ πράγματα
ἅπαντα, καὶ τὸν δῆμον ἀεὶ προσποιοῦ
ὑπογλυκαίνων ῥηματίοις μαγειρικοῖς.
τὰ δ᾿ ἄλλα σοι πρόσεστι δημαγωγικά,
φωνὴ μιαρά, γέγονας κακῶς, ἀγοραῖος εἶ·
ἔχεις ἅπαντα πρὸς πολιτείαν ἃ δεῖ·
χρησμοί τε συμβαίνουσι καὶ τὸ Πυθικόν.
ἀλλὰ στεφανοῦ καὶ σπένδε τῷ Κοαλέμῳ·
χὤπως ἀμυνεῖ τὸν ἄνδρα.

And a bit later:

Sausage Seller
I swear, when I was I boy I had a lot more monkey tricks. I used to fool the butchers by saying things like, “Look, boys, don’t you see? Spring is here, there’s a swallow!” And just when they were looking up, I swiped some meat.

First Slave
A most meaty machination; smart planning! You got your booty, like eating nettles before the swallows come.

Sausage Seller
And I never got caught in the act, because if any of them spotted me, I’d stash it up my crotch and swear to god I’m innocent. So when one of the politicians saw me doing that he said, “There’s no way this boy won’t someday govern the people.”

First Slave
That was a good guess! But it’s obvious how he figured it out: you perjured yourself about a robbery and took meat up your arse.

καὶ νὴ Δί᾿ ἄλλα γ᾿ ἐστί μου κόβαλα παιδὸς ὄντος·
ἐξηπάτων γὰρ τοὺς μαγείρους ἂν λέγων τοιαυτί·
“σκέψασθε, παῖδες· οὐχ ὁρᾶθ᾿; ὥρα νέα, χελιδών.”
οἱ δ᾿ ἔβλεπον, κἀγὼ ᾿ν τοσούτῳ τῶν κρεῶν ἔκλεπ τον.

ὦ δεξιώτατον κρέας, σοφῶς γε προὐνοήσω·
ὥσπερ ἀκαλήφας ἐσθίων πρὸ χελιδόνων ἔκλεπτες.

καὶ ταῦτα δρῶν ἐλάνθανόν <γ᾿.> εἰ δ᾿ οὖν ἴδοι τις αὐτῶν,
ἀποκρυπτόμενος εἰς τὼ κοχώνα τοὺς θεοὺς ἀπώμνυν·
ὥστ᾿ εἶπ᾿ ἀνὴρ τῶν ῥητόρων ἰδών με τοῦτο δρῶντα·
“οὐκ ἔσθ᾿ ὅπως ὁ παῖς ὅδ᾿ οὐ τὸν δῆμον ἐπιτροπεύσει.”

εὖ γε ξυνέβαλεν αὔτ᾿· ἀτὰρ δῆλόν γ᾿ ἀφ᾿ οὗ ξυνέγνω·
ὁτιὴ ᾿πιώρκεις θ᾿ ἡρπακὼς καὶ κρέας ὁ πρωκτὸς

It’s been a few years since I read any Aristophanes and I found myself wondering – in a purely neutral way – with this second passage whether some of his humor has become too risky to play in a campus setting now – at least without warning via contextualizing commentary. I’ve always thought of Aristophanes as the easiest sell to non-Classics people so it would be a shame to lose him, especially since it’s only ~50 years he’s had uncensored. But then it’s probably worse for someone encountering this remark to carry away an impression that rounds all Greek culture into homophobia. Another reason the library is a simpler place to live than the classroom.

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