Dēmos · Classical Athenian Democracy · a Stoa Publication
→ Against Aristogeiton.
Matthew R. Christ, edition of March 26, 2003
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Plot on a Map
Litigants in the courts likewise cast the sycophant as an execrable outsider, a common enemy who should be run out of the city. The most colorful attack on an alleged sycophant comes in Demosthenes’ prosecution of the politician Aristogeiton (
“Before Aristogeiton left jail, a man of Tanagra was thrown in until he could find bail. With him he brought a document. Aristogeiton approached him and, while chatting on some topic or other, stole this document; but when the man blamed him for the theft and made a fuss about it, saying that no one else could have taken it, Aristogeiton was so shameless that he tried to strike the fellow. But the Tanagran, a fresh-caught fish, was getting the better of the defendant, who was thoroughly pickled since he had been in jail a long time. So when it came to this, Aristogeiton bit off the other man’s nose. At this point, the victim in his distress abandoned the search for the [stolen] document. The other prisoners, however, later found it in a chest of which the defendant possessed the key. After that, the inmates of the jail voted not to share fire or light, drink or food with him, not to receive anything from him, not to give him anything. To prove the truth of my statements, please call the man whose nose this monster bit off and swallowed.” (25.60-62)
Demosthenes then poses a rhetorical question to his audience: “Is Aristogeiton not impious, savage, and unclean? Is he not a sycophant?” (25.63). If Athens’ inmate population will have nothing to do with this consummate sycophant, Demosthenes suggests, surely Athenians at large should do the same. Near the end of his speech, Demosthenes drives this point home with more striking imagery: “Just as physicians, when they detect a cancer or an ulcer or some other incurable evil, cauterize it or cut it away, so you must all unite in sending this monster beyond the frontier, in casting him out of the city, in destroying him” (25.95).
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