The campaign which followed the production of the Acharnians greatly encouraged the war party, and dashed the hopes of the advocates of peace. The most important victory of the year is referred to in the story about to be told, and must be briefly described. As the result of a series of operations, which it is needless to relate in detail, a body of four hundred and twenty Spartan soldiers were blockaded in Sphacteria, an island close to Pylos on the western coast of the Peloponnesus (near the modern Navarino). For some time the siege dragged on, the Athenian generals seeming unable to bring it to a successful issue. The demagogue, Cleon, censured their incompetency in the Assembly at Athens, and declared that were he in command, he would bring the Spartans to Athens within a few days. He was taken at his word, almost compelled to go, and, strange to say, whether from trick, skill, or the audacity of ignorance, accomplished his task. Such a disaster had never before happened to Sparta. The men whose lives were in danger were a considerable part of the fighting power of the state. The Spartan authorities at once asked for an armistice, and to secure it consented to hand over their fleet to the Athenian admiral in command on the spot. This done, they sent an embassy to Athens and opened negotiations for peace, offering most favourable terms, all, in fact, that could reasonably have been expected. These, however, were rejected, and the war went on. Aristophanes exhibited the play of the Knights (so called from the chorus, which was supposed to consist of the "Gentlemen" of Athens, a class next to the wealthiest). We are told that Cleon was at this time so powerful and so much dreaded that the people who manufactured masks for the theatre refused to make one that would represent the demagogue's features. Aristophanes, who acted the character himself, possibly because he could not find an actor willing to undertake it, had to "make up" for the part by smearing his face with the lees of wine.
It is only fair to say that a view of Cleon's character and policy very different from that which we get from Aristophanes, and, it may be added, from Thucydides, may be found in some modern writers, notably In Mr. Grote and Sir George Cox. ("Greek Statesmen," second Series.)
It should be explained that, there are five characters in the story:
1. Demos (people), who is represented as a selfish old man, of a very uncertain and fickle temper, very hard on old servants who have done well for him for years, and taking up with new favourites who humour his caprices and minister to his appetites. The original of this is the Athenian people.
2 and 3. Two old servants whom I call Victor and Hearty. They are now out of favour with their master, thanks to the interference of a new-comer, Bluster (or the Tanner), and look about for some means of getting rid of their oppressor. The originals are two well-known Athenian soldiers and statesmen, Nicias (nikÚ—victory) and Demosthenes (sthenos—strength, and demos—the people). These names nowhere occur in the play, but the characters were doubtless recognized at once by the resemblance of their masks to the features of the originals.
4. Bluster (or the Tanner) = Cleon.
5. The Sausage-seller, destined to be Demos's new favourite.
A body of "Knights" or "Gentlemen" is present, and takes the part of Bluster's enemies.
"What a scandal and a shame it is!" cried Hearty, coming out of Demos's house, followed by Victor; "ever since Master brought home that scoundrel Bluster, not a day passes without his thrashing us unmercifully; confound him, I say!"
"And I say so, too," cried Victor, rubbing his arms and shoulders.
Hearty. "Well, it is no good cursing and crying. We must do something. What do you propose?"
Victor. "Can't you propose something yourself?"
H. "No, no! I look to you."
V. "Well, I have thought of something. Say 'run.' "
H. "Very good. I say it: 'run.' "
V. "Now say 'away.' "
H. "Quite so: 'away.' "
V. "Now both together very quick: first 'run,' then 'away.' "
H. "Here you have it: 'run away.' "
V. "Well, doesn't that sound sweet?"
H. "I don't know. I seem to hear the crack of a whip somewhere about."
V. "Then we must think of something else."
H. "Shall I tell the state of things to our friends here?" pointing to a little crowd of people that had gathered round.
V. "You could not do better."
H. "Listen, then, my good friends. We have a master at home here, a rough, passionate old gentleman, and just a little deaf. The first of last month he bought a new slave, Bluster by name, who had worked in a tanner's yard. A more wicked, lying fellow there never was. Well, he got to know our master's ways, and flattered and wheedled him with this kind of thing—'You'll take a bath, sir; you've done business enough for one day, and here's a little trifle of money that has just come in for you,' and, 'Can I serve you with anything, sir?' And as sure as any one of us got something nice ready for the old gentleman, he would lay hands on it and give it to him. Why, this very morning I had made some Spartan pudding, and he comes in the most rascally way and carries it off, and serves it up as his own. Yes, the pudding that I had made. He won't let one of us go near the old gentleman, but stands behind him with a great flap of his own leather, and keeps us all off like so many flies. Then he tells lies about us and we get flogged. Or he goes round among us and blackmails us. 'You know,' he says, 'what a beating Barker got the other day. It was all through me; and if you don't make it worth my while you'll catch it ten times worse.' If we say no, then old Demos knocks us down and tramples on us till we haven't any breath left in us. That's about the state of things—isn't it?" he went on, turning to Victor. "The question is—what are we to do?"
V. "I see nothing so good as the runaway trick."
H. "Run away! It is impossible. The fellow has his eyes everywhere."
V. "Then there is nothing left for it but to die. Only we must die like men."
H. "Well, what is your idea?"
V. "I think that we should drink bull's blood. We can't do better than follow Themistocles."
H. "Bull's blood indeed! the blood of the grape, I say! Then we might have some happy inspiration."
V. "What? Do you think getting tipsy will help us?"
H. "Yes, I do, you poor water-pitcher. Do you mean to doubt the inspiration of wine? Where can you find anything more potent? Is there anything that men can't do when they are drunk? Wealth, prosperity, good luck, helping their friends, every-thing is easy to them. Bring me a pitcher of wine. I'll moisten my understanding till the inspiration comes."
V. "You'll ruin us with your drink."
H. "Ruin you! Nothing of the kind. Off with you and bring the wine."
Victor ran off and in a few minutes reappeared carrying a pitcher of wine. "Well!" he said, "it was lucky that I got it without any one seeing."
H. "Tell me, what was Bluster doing?"
V. "He had gorged himself with half-digested confiscations, and was lying fast asleep and snoring on a heap of his own hides."
Hearty went on drinking and thinking. At last he started up, crying:—
V. "What is it?"
H. "That you go and steal the prophecies that Bluster keeps indoors."
This was not really to Victor's liking. However, he went, and came back with them. One he knew to be especially precious. Bluster, he explained, had been so fast asleep that he knew nothing of what was being done. Hearty took the writing and looked at it and asked for another cup of wine. "Well," said his companion after a pause, "what says the prophecy?"
H. "Another cup."
V. "Does it say 'another cup '?"
H. "O Bacis!"
V. "What is it?"
H. "Quick with the cup!"
V. "Bacis seems to have been very fond of cups."
H. "O scoundrel of a Bluster! I don't wonder you kept this prophecy so close, for it shows how your fall will be brought about."
V. "Quick, tell me—what does it say?"
H. "It says that it is ordained that first of all a hemp-jobber shall rule the city."
V. "That's jobber number one. Go on."
H. "After him a calves-jobber."
V. "Jobber number two. But what is to happen to him?"
H. "He is to prosper till a greater scoundrel than he shall come, a daring, thieving rascal, a tanner by trade, and Bluster by name."
V. "And what of him? Is there another jobber to come? "
H. "Yes; one with a noble business."
V. "What is it?"
H. "Must I tell you?"
H. "Then listen. A sausage-seller shall drive out the man of hides."
V. "A sausage-seller! Good heavens! what a trade! where are we to find him?"
H. "We must look for him. And, as I am alive, there he comes just in the nick of time.
The sausage-seller, greatly astonished at this address, wanted to know what was meant, and was told to put down his tray and then kiss the earth, and make a reverence to the gods. Again he asked what they wanted, and was again addressed with profound respect:—
Sausage-seller. "Come, come, don't make game of me; let me wash my paunches and sell my sausages."
H. "Paunches indeed, and sausages! Look here. Do you see these crowds of people?"
S.-s. "Yes, I see 'em."
H. "Well, you'll be their lord and master. Everything—Assembly, Senate, admirals, generals—will be under your heel."
S.-s. "What? my heel?"
H. "Yes; and that is not all. Get up on this stall and look at the islands."
The sausage-seller climbed on to the stall, which was supposed to command a view of the islands in the Ăgean Sea, tributary to Athens, as members of the Delian Confederacy. "Yes, I see them," he said.
H. "You see their ports and their merchant vessels?"
H. "And are you not a lucky man? Now look a little further; look at Asia with your right eye, and Carthage with your left."
S.-s. "I don't see much happiness in squinting."
H. "All this is yours to buy and sell. So the prophecy says."
S.-s. "What! mine, and I a sausage-seller?"
H. "That's the very thing that makes your title, because you are a low-bred, vulgar, impudent fellow."
S.-s. "I don't see how I am fit for such a big thing."
H. "Not fit! What do you mean? I am afraid that you have something good on your conscience. Are you by any chance a gentleman by birth?"
S.-s. "A gentleman? Bless me, no. I am come of as poor a lot as any in the town."
H. "What luck! You could not have started better."
S.-s. "But I've got no education; just a little writing, and that very bad."
H. "Well, that's against you, that you can write at all. Greatness here, you must understand, is not for educated, respectable people. Dunces and blackguards get it. So don't you let the chance slip. Now listen to the prophecy:—
Do you understand all this? No? Well, listen: the leathern eagle is Bluster. His claws are his way of pouncing on people's money. The snake, of course, is a black pudding. Snakes are long and black, so are black puddings; snakes are full of blood, so are black puddings. There's a prophecy for you!"
S.-s. "Yes, it sounds fine. But how shall I be able to manage the people?"
H. "Manage the people? The easiest thing in the world. Do just as you have been doing. Mangle and mash everything. Flavour and spice to suit the people's taste. You have got every qualification for a demagogue. You have a vile voice, you are low-born, you are ill-bred. Absolutely nothing is wanting, and here are the prophecies fitting in. So make your prayer to the god of Boobydom, and tackle the fellow."
S.-s. "Yes; but who will be on my side? The rich are afraid of him, and as for the poor, they shake in their shoes."
H. "Who will be on your side? Why, a thousand gentlemen of Athens who scorn and detest him, aye, and every honest man in the city."
At this point there was a terrified cry from behind, "He's coming! he's coming!" and Bluster rushed out of the house, vowing vengeance against everybody. The sausage-seller was about to take to his heels, when Hearty entreated him to stand firm, as his friends were at hand. The next moment the promised host of gentlemen appeared on the scene, and gaining confidence by their support, the sausage-seller came forward and confronted his adversary. A fierce contest followed, in which each combatant sought to overpower his adversary with abuse and threats.
Bluster. "I charge this man with treason. He sells sausages to the Peloponnesian fleet."
S.-s. "I charge this man with worse than that. He runs into the Town Hall with his belly empty, and runs out with it full."
Bluster was still unconvinced that he had found his match and more; and the sausage-seller related for the encouragement of his backers incidents in his bringing up which fully justified their hopes. "It is not for nothing," he said, "that ever since I was a child I have been cuffed and beaten, that I have been fed on scraps, and yet grown to the big creature that I am. Oh! I used to play rare tricks. I would say to a cook, 'See, there's a swallow, the spring is coming,' and when he looked away I stole a bit of his meat. Mostly I got clear off; but in case any one saw me, I swore that I had never taken it. I remember a great politician in those days, who saw me do it, saying, 'This child will be a great man with the people some day.' "
After another fierce encounter of words, the two fell to blows, Bluster getting the worst of it, especially when they closed, and the sausage-seller tripped him by a specially nasty trick. Enraged at being thus worsted, he rushed off to the Senate, threatening informations, charges of treason, and other dreadful things.
"He's gone to the Senate," said the sausage-seller's backers to him. "Now's your time to show your mettle, if you are the mighty thief and liar that you pretend to be."
"I'm after him," said the fellow, and off he went, having been duly rubbed with grease to make him slippery, and primed with garlic, like a fighting-cock, to give him courage. Before very long he was back, and told his backers, who had been getting a little anxious about him, the story of how he had fared.
"I followed him," he said, "close upon his heels to the Senate House. There he was storming and roaring, bellowing out words like thunderbolts, raving against the aristocrats, calling them traitors and what not, and the Senate sat listening, looking sharp as mustard. And when I saw they took in all his lies, and how he was cheating them, I muttered a prayer, 'Hear me, Powers of Fraud, and Boobydom, and ye Spirits of the Market and the Street, the places where I was bred, and thou, great Impudence, hear me, and help, giving me courage, and a ready tongue, and a shameless voice.' And when I had ended my prayer, I took courage, for I knew that the Great Spirits had heard me, and cried aloud, 'O Senators, I have come with good news, for I was resolved that none should hear them before you. Never since the war broke upon us, no, never have I seen anchovies cheaper.' Their faces changed in a moment; it was like a calm after a storm. Then I moved that they should lay hands on all the bowls in the town, and go to buy the anchovies before the price went up. At that they shouted and clapped their hands. Then Bluster, seeing what a hit I had made, and knowing of old how to deal with them, said, 'I propose, gentlemen, that in consideration of the happy event that has been reported to the Senate, we have a good-news sacrifice to the goddess of a hundred oxen.' That took the Senate, you may be sure. Well, I wasn't going to be outdone with his oxen; so I bid over him. 'I propose,' I said, 'that the sacrifice be of two hundred oxen! And furthermore, that we sacrifice a thousand goats to Artemis, if sprats should be fifty a penny.' That brought the Senate round to me again. And when he saw it he lost his head, and began to stammer out some nonsense, till the archers dragged him away. And what did he, when the Senators were just off after their anchovies, but try to keep them. 'Stop a moment, gentlemen,' he said, 'to hear what the herald from Sparta has got to say; he has come about peace.' 'Peace!' they all cried with one voice (that's because they knew that anchovies were cheap), 'we don't want peace; let the war go on.' Then they bellowed to the magistrate to dismiss the Senate, and leapt over the railings. But meanwhile I got down to the market and bought up all the fennel, and gave it to them for sauce, when they were at their wits' end where to find any. How much they made of me, to be sure! I bought the whole Senate, you may believe me, for three ha'porth of fennel!"
His backers, delighted at the story, greeted him with a song of triumph:—
And, indeed, the man had need of all his courage; for the next moment Bluster arrived, furious at his defeat, and swelling, as his adversaries said, like a wave of the sea. "Ah!" he cried, "you contrived to get the better of me in the Senate; but come along to the Assembly, and you shall see.—Pray come out, my dear Demos," he went on, for they were just in front of Demos's house; "pray come out for a moment." The sausage-seller joined in, "Yes, father, come out by all means."—"Come, dearest Demos," said Bluster, "come and see how they are insulting me."
The old man bounced out in a rage. "What is all this noise about? Get away with you! See what a disturbance you have made. Well, Bluster, who has been hurting you?"
B. "This fellow, with his young bloods, has been beating me."
D. "And why?"
B. "Only because I love you."
D. (turning to the sausage-seller). "And who are you, sir?"
S.-s. "One who loves you far better than this fellow. Aye, that I do, and so do other good men and true; only, unhappily, you won't have anything to do with them, but give yourself up to lamp-sellers, and cobblers, and tanners, and such low folk."
B. "But I have done Demos good service."
S.-s. "How, pray?"
B. "Did I not sail to Pylos, and come back bringing my Spartan prisoners?"
S.-s. "Yes; and I, on my walks the other day, saw a dish of meat that somebody else had cooked, and filched it."
B. "Well, Demos, call an assembly, and settle which is your best friend."
S.-s. "Settle it by all means, but not in the Pnyx."
D. "I can't sit anywhere else."
S.-s. "Then I am a lost man. The old gentleman is sensible enough at home; but once let him settle himself on those stone seats, and he takes leave of his senses."
However, his friends encouraged him; he plucked up spirit, and, when Demos had taken his seat in the Pnyx, boldly confronted his rival. "Demos," began Bluster, "now listen to me:—
The sausage-seller was not behindhand. "Listen to me," he said:—
B. "Demos, had you ever a better friend than I have been? Haven't I piled up heaps of money in your treasury, torturing and squeezing and threatening, caring nothing for any man, as long as I could do you a good turn?"
S.-s. "There is nothing wonderful about that. I can do all that for you. I can filch another man's loaves and serve them up at your table. But I have something better for you than that. Is it not a fact that you, who fought the Persians at Marathon and conquered them so gloriously, have been sitting here ever since with nothing between you and the hard stone? Look at this cushion that I have stitched together for you. Get up, my dear sir; and now will you sit down again? Never again will you have to rub what you made so sore at Salamis."
D. "My dear sir, who are you? One of the family of Harmodius, I fancy. I never saw a more truly patriotic thing."
B. "Well, that is a trumpery little thing to make so much of."
S.-s. "I dare say; but you have trapped him with baits five times smaller."
B. "Now, I'll wager my life that there never was a man who loved Demos more than I."
S.-s. "You love him! and you have let him live now for eight years in tubs and crannies and turrets on the wall! Ah! you have shut him in, like bees in a hive, and taken his honey, too. And when the ambassadors brought proposals for peace,—and a very good peace, too,—you kicked them out."
B. "And quite right, too. It has all been done to make him lord of Greece; for what do the prophecies say? Listen:
S.-s. Arcadia indeed! Much you thought about Arcadia! What you are thinking about is how to make a purse for yourself out of the tribute, while Demos—thanks to the dust that you kick up—can see nothing of what is going on. But let him once get back to his farm, and get up his courage with a dish of porridge, and tackle an olive cake, and he will make you pay for all your villainies."
B. "O my dear Demos! don't believe him. You have never had a better friend, or a more watchful. Haven't I kept you up? Haven't I watched night and day, and discovered treasons, plots, and conspiracies without end?"
S.-s. "Oh, yes; we all know what you mean by your treasons and plots. You are just like the fellows that fish for eels. When the water is clear, they catch nothing; when they stir up the mud, then they have excellent sport. You confound everything with your talk about treason, and, when nobody is looking, pocket your fees and your bribes. But come; answer me this: you with all your leather, have you ever given him a single skin to mend his old boots with?"
D. "That he hasn't, I swear."
S.-s. "Does not that show what sort of a fellow he is? Now, look here at this nice pair of shoes; I bought them on purpose for you to wear."
D. "This is the very best patriot I ever saw."
S.-s. "Look again. It's winter now, and this fellow knew that you were getting on in years, and yet he has never given you a tunic. Now, see this nice one with two sleeves that I have bought you."
D. "Why, this is a better thing than even Themistocles ever thought of; not that the PeirŠus wasn't a good idea, but it wasn't so good as this warm tunic."
B. (offering a leather cloak). "Take this, my dear sir; it will keep you admirably warm."
D. (turning up his nose). "Take it away; it smells most abominably of hides."
S.-s. "Of course it does; this is part of a regular plan to choke you."
Demos had sat awhile, buried in thought, and weighing against each other the claims and services of the two rival candidates for his favour. At last he roused himself from his reverie and spoke.
"I have come to the conclusion that the sausage-seller is the best friend that the workingman has ever had. You, Bluster, have made great pretences, and done me nothing but mischief. Hand me over my ring. You shall not be my steward any longer."
B. "Take it; take it; if you will not let me be your steward, you will find a far worse."
Demos took the ring and examined it. "Why," he said, "this is not my ring. The device is not the same, or I have lost my eyesight."
S.-s. "What was the device?"
D. "A steak of beef ready cooked."
S.-s. "That is certainly not here."
D. "Not the steak? What is it, then?"
S.-s. "Why, a cormorant standing on a rock with his mouth wide open."
Demos was on the point of giving the sausage-seller another ring as the sign of his appointment, when Bluster entreated him to wait awhile, at least till he had heard the prophecies that he (Bluster) had got at home referring to him. There was a whole chestful, he declared, and they were full of the most delightful things that were to happen hereafter.
The sausage-seller was not to be outdone. He had prophecies, too, at home; a whole attic and two flats were full of them. Bluster boasted that his were by the famous prophet Bacis. "Mine," retorted the sausage-seller, "are by Bacis's elder brother, Glanis." Both of them went to fetch these precious documents, and both returned staggering under a load. "Now," said Demos to Bluster, "hand me that one that I like so much, of how I shall become an eagle in the clouds."
D. "What is all this about? What is meant by Erectheus and the dog and the jay?"
B. "I am the dog; I bark for you, and Apollo says that you are to take care of me."
S.-s. "It is nothing of the kind. I have got the true oracle about the dog. Listen to this:
D. "That sounds much better, Glanis."
B. "Listen again to this:—
I am the lion; Apollo commands you to take care of me."
D. "You the lion? Why, a moment ago you were a dog."
S.-s. "Ah! sir, but he hides the true sense of the prophecy of the lion and the wooden wall in which Apollo says you are to keep him."
D. "What is it?"
S.-s. "Of course it is the stocks; you are to keep him in the stocks."
D. "Good! That is a prophecy that seems very likely to be fulfilled. But I have not heard about the eagle yet."
B. "Listen then:
S.-s. "And now hear mine:—
D. "I think Glanis is a better prophet than Bacis. But now listen, you two. Have done with your promises and prophecies. The man that serves me up the best dinner I shall make manager-in-chief. Away with you, and see what you can get for me."
The two competitors ran off in furious haste, and the gentlemen who had been backing the sausage-seller took the opportunity of reproaching the old man with his easy surrender to unworthy favourites.
Demos makes reply:—
At this point the two competitors returned and began their final struggle. Bluster put a chair for his master, but the sausage-seller outdid him by putting a table.
B. (handing a dish). "See, here's a pudding which I made at Pylos."
S.-s. (handing another). "Here are some cheese-cakes which the goddess has made with her own ivory hand."
D. "Mighty goddess, what a big hand you have!"
B. "Here's some pease-pudding."
S.-s. "Here's a fine mess of porridge."
B. "Here's a batter pudding, also from the goddess."
S.-s. "And here's a savoury stew with sippets that she sends you."
B. "Taste this pancake."
S.-s. "Try these fritters and this cup of wine."
D. "The wine is excellent."
S.-s. "So it should be, for she mixed it herself."
B. "Here, I have got a slice of cake for you."
S.-s. "And here, I have got a whole cake."
B. (aside to the S.-s.) "Here is hare pie. When will you get hare pie?"
S.-s. (to himself) "How shall I get hare pie. O my soul, invent some knavish trick!"
B. "Do you see the hare pie, you poor devil?"
S.-s. "Never mind (pretending to look away). They are coming to me."
B. "Who? Who?"
S.-s. "Some envoys with bags of silver."
B. (looking eagerly round) "Where? Where?"
S.-s. "Can't you let the strangers alone? (Snatches at the hare pie while Bluster is looking about him, and offers it to Demos.) See, my dear Demos, the hare pie I have got for you."
B. "Why, the villain has taken my dish."
S.-s. "Just what you did at Pylos, my friend."
D. "Tell me, how did you think of stealing it?"
S.-s. (piously) "The thought was born of heaven, the theft was mine."
B. "I took all the trouble."
S.-s. "But I served it up."
D. "Who hands it gets the thanks."
S.-s. "Come now, can't you decide, my dear sir, who treats you best?"
D. "How am I to judge?"
S.-s. "I will tell you. Look at my basket and see what is in it, and then look at his. That will decide."
This Demos did. The sausage-seller's was found to be practically empty. Bluster's had all kinds of good things in it, especially the rest of the cake, of which he had only served up a small slice to his master. This roused Demos's wrath to the utmost. "O villain!" he cried, "and this is the way you have been cheating me."
B. "I stole for my country's good."
D. "For your country's good indeed! Take away his crown."
Bluster, seeing that it was all over with him, took it off with a pathetic farewell:—
S.-s. "O Zeus of Hellas, thine the victory!"
And now it turned out that Demos had indeed made a most fortunate choice in his new favourite. The sausage-seller retired with his master, and after a short interval appeared again, crying, "Silence! Have done with your litigation; close the courts; I bring good news."
And so indeed it was. The old man came forward, changed to a handsome youth, and wearing in his hair the old-fashioned ornament of the grasshopper, symbol of the antiquity of the Athenian race. Not a little ashamed was he when his new adviser reminded him of the follies of the past; how he would listen to any unprincipled politician that proclaimed himself his friend; how he would spend the public money, not in equipping fleets, but in feeing the jurymen. But he is resolved to be wiser in the future. Orators who appeal to his selfish fears shall be tossed headlong into the pit. The seamen shall have all their pay the very moment of their return to port. No one whose name stands on the roll for military service shall be permitted to evade the obligation.
"And now," said the new minister, when he had heard all these good resolutions, "see what I have got for you!"
And he led out the lovely figure of Peace.
"Where did you find her?" cried Demos.
"Bluster hid her away in his house," replied the minister, "that you might not catch sight of her. Take her; she is yours; and live henceforth in the country home where you are always so happy."