Aristophanes happens to be my favorite of the great Greek playwrights.  His clever plays present us one of the few glimpses into the popular humor of ancient Greece, and his work takes on controversial topics of his day, like the realities of war.  This particular piece is from The Wasps, and has the character Philocleon discussing how people view him.  Quite well, as it appears.

PHILOCLEON: At the outset I will prove to you that there exists no king whose might is greater than ours. Is there a pleasure, a blessing comparable with that of a juryman? Is there a being who lives more in the midst of delights, who is more feared, aged though he be? From the moment I leave my bed, men of power, the most illustrious in the city, await me at the bar of the tribunal; the moment I am seen from the greatest distance, they come forward to offer me a gentle hand–that has pilfered the public funds; they entreat me, bowing right low and with a piteous voice, “Oh, father,” they say, “pity me, I beseech you!” Why, the man who thus speaks would not know of my existence, had I not let him off on some former occasion. These entreaties have appeased my wrath, and I enter the courts–firmly resolved to do nothing that I have promised. Nevertheless I listen to the accused. Oh! what tricks to secure acquittal! Ah! there is no form of flattery that is not addressed to the court! Some groan over their property and they exaggerate the truth in order to make their troubles equal to my own. Others tell us anecdotes or some comic story from Æsop. Others, again, cut jokes; they fancy I shall be appeased if I laugh. If we are not even then won over, why, then they drag forward their young children by the hand, both boys and girls, who prostrate themselves and whine with one accord, and then the father, trembling as if before a god, begs me not to condemn him out of pity for them, “If you love the voice of the lamb, have pity on my son,” and because I am fond of little sows, I must yield to his daughter’s prayers. Then we relax the heat of our wrath a little for him. Is not this great power indeed? A father on his death-bed names some husband for his daughter, who is his sole heir; but we care little for his will or for the shell so solemnly placed over the seal; we give the young maiden to him who has best known how to secure our favour. Name me another duty that is so important? But I am forgetting the most pleasing thing of all. When I return home with my pay, everyone runs to greet me because of my money. First my daughter bathes me, anoints my feet, stoops to kiss me and, while she is calling me “her dearest father,” fishes out my triobolus with her tongue. Then my little wife comes to wheedle me and brings a nice little cake; she sits beside me and entreats me in a thousand ways, “Do take this now; do have some more.” All this delights me hugely. Am I not equal to the king of the gods? If our assembly is noisy, all say as they pass, “Great gods! the tribunal is rolling out its thunder!” If I let loose the lightning, the richest, aye, the noblest are half dead with fright and crap themselves with terror. You yourself are afraid of me, yea, by Demeter! you are afraid.

This translator is anonymous.  A solid argument about the concept of power and how it affects people.  That Philocheon can make anyone suck up to him, fear him, or respect him – at the drop of a hat, Philocheon can radically alter the way people will react to his presence.  Something to think about.

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