Apostolakis, Costas. 2023. “Aristophanes’ Knights and Fifth-Century Political Rhetoric.” In “Γέρα: Studies in honor of Professor Menelaos Christopoulos,” ed. Athina Papachrysostomou, Andreas P. Antonopoulos, Alexandros-Fotios Mitsis, Fay Papadimitriou, and Panagiota Taktikou, special issue, Classics@ 25. https://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HLNC.ESSAY:103900188.
1. The rhetoric of demagoguery and invective
In this passage it is possible to trace segments of the original fifth-century warlike rhetoric, mixed with the typical invective, concerning the assertion that Cleophon was once in chains, apparently an exaggeration of the common slander in comedy about the foreign origin of certain demagogues.  Besides, the historical Cleon’s imperialist rhetoric might be echoed in 74–79, where Paphlagon is said to keep an eye on everything (ἐφορᾷ γὰρ οὗτος πάντ’), and have one foot in Pylos and the other in the Assembly.  Moreover, he plans to enable the Athenian demos to rule over all Greeks (Knights 797 ἵνα γ’ Ἑλλήνων ἄρξῃ πάντων), and even dreams of a day when the Demos shall draw five obols to hear cases in Arcadia (Knights 798 ὡς τοῦτον δεῖ ποτ’ ἐν Ἀρκαδίᾳ πεντωβόλου ἠλιάσασθαι). It is indeed difficult to know whether this position was really taken by the historical Cleon, or is a comic exaggeration.  But it may be indicative that in Thucydides’ report of the Mytilenean debate Cleon claims that the Athenian empire is a tyranny, exercised over unwilling and scheming subjects (3.37.2 τυραννίδα ἔχετε τὴν ἀρχὴν καὶ πρὸς ἐπιβουλεύοντας αὐτοὺς καὶ ἄκοντας ἀρχομένους). Such imperialist rhetoric is also attested in the debate for the Sicilian Expedition, where Alcibiades argues that “if the people there come over to our side, we shall have a good chance of mastering the whole of Greece” (Thucydides 6.18.4 καὶ ἅμα ἢ τῆς Ἑλλάδος, τῶν ἐκεῖ προσγενομένων, πάσης τῷ εἰκότι ἄρξωμεν …).  And, more importantly, the equally straightforward κρατεῖν is attested in the inscriptions of that period. 
τερατευόμενος ἤρειδε κατὰ τῶν ἱππέων,
κρημνοὺς ἐρείπων καὶ ξυνωμότας λέγων
Besides, there is much personal comic invective in the epirrhematic agon in the Knights. The chorus’ comment (384–385) that the speeches between Paphlagon and the Sausage-Seller were the most brazen ever heard in the city (λόγων ἐν πόλει τῶν ἀναιδῶν ἀναιδέστεροι) clearly suggests that invective was an established practice in the Assembly, and in fact the comic invective is compared by the chorus to the rhetorical invective of the time. In Aristophanic comedy Cleon is described as a κεκραξιδάμας “he who conquers all in bawling” and is made to threaten his opponents.  As has often been remarked, Aristophanes’ Paphlagon is a very recognizable caricature of the Cleon whom we find in Thucydides. Αnd though the comedian exaggerates when describing Cleon’s rhetorical tactics, it is plausible that there is a core of truth in it, otherwise the parody would not work. 
2. The rhetoric of conspiracy and sycophancy
ὁτιὴ ᾿πὶ τῷ δήμῳ ξυνόμνυτον πάλαι.
τουτὶ τί δρᾷ τὸ Χαλκιδικὸν ποτήριον;
οὐκ ἔσθ᾿ ὅπως οὐ Χαλκιδέας ἀφίστατον.
By the Twelve Gods, you two won’t get away
with your unending plots against the people!
What’s that Chalcidian cup doing here?
It can only mean you’re inciting the Chalcidians to revolt!
This passage is one of our earliest pieces of evidence for the rhetoric of political conspiracy in fifth-century Athens. Here Aristophanes ascribes to Paphlagon the verbs ξυνόμνυμι “conspire” and ἀφίστημι “defect,” interpreting secret discussions with enemies as bribe-taking and anti-democratic activities. This vocabulary clearly recalls the subversive activities of the oligarchic clubs (ἑταιρεῖαι) of the time.  Besides, this was a period when the Athenians were greatly concerned about Euboea, an area which was crucial for corn supplies. The establishment of the Spartan colony of Heraclea-in-Trachis in 426 BCE (cf. Thucydides 3.92–93) encouraged a possible invasion of the island.  It is interesting that a marble stele from the Acropolis mentions Athenian relations with Chalcis, with reference to defection (Meiggs-Lewis 52.21–25):
[ῳ τ]ῷ Ἀθηναίων οὔτε τέ[χνῃ οὔτε μηχανῇ οὐδ]-
[ε]μ̣ιᾷ οὐδ’ ἔπει οὐδὲ [ἔργῳ οὐδὲ τῷ ἀφισταμ]-
[έν]ῳ πείσομαι, καὶ ἐὰ̣[ν ἀφιστῇ τις κατερῶ]
I will not defect from the Athenian demos
neither by means of a ploy nor of a scheme,
neither in act nor in word; besides,
I will never be persuaded by anyone defecting,
and, if somebody defects, I will denounce him to the Athenians.
In fact, Aristophanes Knights 236–238 has been interpreted as an indication that in early 424 BCE the Chalcidians were preparing to revolt, and an Athenian intervention followed in 424/3, resulting in the decree cited above. This view, suggested in the 19th century, seems to find some support in Philochorus (FGH 328F 130), and is defended by Mattingly,  who, however, does not mention the Aristophanic passage. On the other hand, Lambert rejects this explanation, on the grounds that Thucydides does not mention such a revolt, and argues that the situation suggested in the decrees better fits the facts mentioned by Thucydides in 446.  I think that, although determining the precise date of the inscription is a difficult task, the mention of the Chalcidians conspiring to revolt in Aristophanes’ Knights would be almost meaningless if it referred to facts that had taken place some twenty years earlier. Moreover, it is worth noting that the historical Cleon is reported by Thucydides as describing the Athenian empire as a tyranny, and the allies, the Mytileneans in particular, as conspirators (3.37.2; cf. 3.39.1–2). It seems, therefore, quite possible that Paphlagon’s reference to Chalcis in this passage echoes the current rhetoric of conspiracy and defection of allies on the podium of the Athenian Assembly.
ὑμῶν ἁπάντων τὰς ξυνωμοσίας ἐρῶ,
καὶ τὰς ξυνόδους τὰς νυκτερινὰς ἐν τῇ πόλει,
καὶ πάνθ’ ἃ Μήδοις καὶ βασιλεῖ ξυνόμνυτε,
καὶ τἀκ Βοιωτῶν ταῦτα συντυρούμενα.
I’m off to the Council this very minute
to inform on all of you for your conspiracies,
your nocturnal meetings within the city,
all your plots with the Medes and their King,
and that cheesy business with the Boeotians.
The comic poet aptly employs the metaphor for the Boeotians, who produced a famous type of cheese. Indeed, we learn from Thucydides (4.76.1–3) that in 424 BCE Demosthenes the general, along with Hippocrates, was in communication with some men in the Boeotian cities, in order to change the existing regime and turn it to democracy. The instigator was an exile from Thespiae called Ptoiodorus. Such connections may have been interpreted by Demosthenes’ opponents as conspiracy and treasonable behaviour.  Strangely enough, another Ptoiodorus is associated with a conspiracy in the second half of the fourth century. More specifically, in Demosthenes’ speech On the False Embassy (343 BCE) the notorious Megarian traitor Ptoiodorus, in collaboration with Perilas, is said to be concocting a plot against his city, in order to facilitate Philip’s intervention (Demosthenes 19.295). Demosthenes also describes Ptoiodorus’ conspiratorial activity with the striking metaphor ἐτύρευε “was making cheese.” The cheese metaphor is therefore used in two distant episodes of conspiracy, both involving a Ptoiodorus. Should we suppose that the Megarian Ptoiodorus, bearing a typical Boeotian name (derived from Apollo Ptoios), was considered by Demosthenes the orator an apt person to be associated with cheesemaking, as Aristophanes described in the Knights the negotiations of the Athenians with the Boeotians as “cheesy business”? In any case, this metaphor might well have invaded political rhetoric from everyday language at some point, and we should not exclude the possibility that this had already happened in Aristophanes’ time.
3. Figurative rhetoric: Polis tyrannos and political erotics
4. Speakers and audience
θωπευόμενός τε χαί-
πρὸς τόν τε λέγοντ’ ἀεὶ
κέχηνας· ὁ νοῦς δέ σου
But you’re easily led astray:
you enjoy being flattered
and thoroughly deceived,
and every speechmaker has you gaping.
You’ve got a mind, but it’s out to lunch.
The naivety of the Athenian demos is strikingly expressed in Knights 1262 by the phrase Κεχηναίων πόλις “the city of Open-Mouthenians,”  in a passage which ironically alludes both to flattery and to the Athenians as simple-minded.