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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Rise of Cleon
By George Grote (1794–1871)
 
From the ‘History of Greece’

UNDER the great increase of trade and population in Athens and Peiræus during the last forty years, a new class of politicians seem to have grown up, men engaged in various descriptions of trade and manufacture, who began to rival more or less in importance the ancient families of Attic proprietors. This change was substantially analogous to that which took place in the cities of mediæval Europe, when the merchants and traders of the various guilds gradually came to compete with, and ultimately supplanted, the patrician families in whom the supremacy had originally resided. In Athens, persons of ancient family and station enjoyed at this time no political privilege; and since the reforms of Ephialtês and Periklês, the political constitution had become thoroughly democratical. But they still continued to form the two highest classes in the Solonian census founded on property,—the pentakosiomedimni, and the hippeis or knights…. An individual Athenian of this class, though without any legal title to preference, yet when he stood forward as candidate for political influence, continued to be decidedly preferred and welcomed by the social sentiment at Athens, which preserved in its spontaneous sympathies distinctions effaced from the political code. Besides this place ready prepared for him in the public sympathy, especially advantageous at the outset of political life, he found himself further borne up by the family connections, associations, and political clubs, etc., which exercised very great influence both on the politics and the judicature of Athens, and of which he became a member as a matter of course. Such advantages were doubtless only auxiliary, carrying a man up to a certain point of influence, but leaving him to achieve the rest by his own personal qualities and capacity. But their effect was nevertheless very real, and those who, without possessing them, met and buffeted him in the public assembly, contended against great disadvantages. A person of such low or middling station obtained no favorable presumptions or indulgence on the part of the public to meet him half-way; nor had he established connections to encourage first successes, or help him out of early scrapes. He found others already in possession of ascendency, and well disposed to keep down new competitors; so that he had to win his own way unaided, from the first step to the last, by qualities personal to himself: by assiduity of attendance, by acquaintance with business, by powers of striking speech, and withal by unflinching audacity, indispensable to enable him to bear up against that opposition and enmity which he would incur from the high-born politicians and organized party clubs, as soon as he appeared to be rising up into ascendency.  1
  The free march of political and judicial affairs raised up several such men, during the years beginning and immediately preceding the Peloponnesian War. Even during the lifetime of Periklês they appear to have arisen in greater or less numbers: but the personal ascendency of that great man—who combined an aristocratical position with a strong and genuine democratical sentiment, and an enlarged intellect rarely found attached to either—impressed a peculiar character on Athenian politics. The Athenian world was divided into his partisans and his opponents, among each of whom there were individuals high-born and low-born—though the aristocratical party properly so called, the majority of wealthy and high-born Athenians, either opposed or disliked him. It is about two years after his death that we begin to hear of a new class of politicians…. Among them all, the most distinguished was Kleon, son of Kleænetus.  2
  Kleon acquired his first importance among the speakers against Periklês, so that he would thus obtain for himself, during his early political career, the countenance of the numerous and aristocratical anti-Perikleans. He is described by Thucydidês in general terms as a person of the most violent temper and character in Athens,—as being dishonest in his calumnies and virulent in his invective and accusation. Aristophanês in his comedy of ‘The Knights’ reproduces these features, with others new and distinct, as well as with exaggerated details, comic, satirical, and contemptuous. His comedy depicts Kleon in the point of view in which he would appear to the knights of Athens: a leather-dresser, smelling of the tan-yard; a low-born brawler, terrifying opponents by the violence of his criminations, the loudness of his voice, the impudence of his gestures,—moreover, as venal in his politics, threatening men with accusations and then receiving money to withdraw them; a robber of the public treasury, persecuting merit as well as rank, and courting the favor of the assembly by the basest and most guilty cajolery. The general attributes set forth by Thucydidês (apart from Aristophanês, who does not profess to write history), we may well accept: the powerful and violent invective of Kleon, often dishonest, together with his self-confidence and audacity in the public assembly. Men of the middling class, like Kleon and Hyperbolus, who persevered in addressing the public assembly and trying to take a leading part in it against persons of greater family pretension than themselves, were pretty sure to be men of more than usual audacity. Had they not possessed this quality, they would never have surmounted the opposition made to them; we may well believe that they had it to a displeasing excess—and even if they had not, the same measure of self-assumption which in Alkibiadês would be tolerated from his rank and station, would in them pass for insupportable impudence. Unhappily, we have no specimens to enable us to appreciate the invective of Kleon. We cannot determine whether it was more virulent than that of Demosthenês and Æschinês, seventy years afterwards,—each of those eminent orators imputing to the other the grossest impudence, calumny, perjury, corruption, loud voice, and revolting audacity of manner, in language which Kleon can hardly have surpassed in intensity of vituperation, though he doubtless fell immeasurably short of it in classical finish. Nor can we even tell in what degree Kleon’s denunciations of the veteran Periklês were fiercer than those memorable invectives against the old age of Sir Robert Walpole, with which Lord Chatham’s political career opened….  3
  His personal hold on the public assembly … had grown into a sort of ascendency which Thucydidês describes by saying that Kleon was “at that time by far the most persuasive speaker in the eyes of the people.” The fact of Kleon’s great power of speech, and his capacity of handling public business in a popular manner, is better attested than anything else respecting him, because it depends upon two witnesses both hostile to him,—Thucydidês and Aristophanês. The assembly and the dikastery were Kleon’s theatre and holding-ground: for the Athenian people taken collectively in their place of meeting, and the Athenian people taken individually, were not always the same person and had not the same mode of judgment; Demos sitting in the Pnyx was a different man from Demos at home. The lofty combination of qualities possessed by Periklês exercised ascendency over both one and the other; but the qualities of Kleon swayed considerably the former without standing high in the esteem of the latter.  4
 
 
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