Doddering Dotards: Flattery, Parrhesia, and Old Man Demos in Aristophanes' Knights
25 Pages Posted: 19 Jul 2010 Last revised: 4 Sep 2010
Date Written: 2010
There has been a great deal of recent interest in the ancient Athenian concept of parrhesia, or free speech. After an initial interest in the idea as a possible salve to democratic problems, theorists have also begun to probe the limits and complications of parrhesia. Especially interesting is the relationship between flattery and parrhesia in comedy. As John Zumbrunnen notes, “speaking frankly to the audience, after all, was not the poet’s only goal.” How can a comedian speak with parrhesia since he also wants to win first prize and is therefore tempted to flatter? Moreover, how does he get an audience looking for entertainment to seriously consider his claims and, quite possibly, his indictments of that same audience? In this essay, I explore these questions, probing Aristophanes’ critique of flattery (kolakeia), his own use of it, and his presentation of the figure of old man (γερον-) Demos as a way to both deliver and temper his skewering of Athenian rhetorical practices.
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