18 Pages

The Upper Classes

WithVictor Ehrenberg

Aristophanes twice made an attack on Kleon the main theme of a comedy — in the Babylonians, the play which resulted in his prosecution by the statesman, and in the Knights, the chorus of which is formed by noble youths from whose ranks the Athenian cavalry, the ‘thousand brave men’, was recruited. 1 These knights were primarily a military body; but they were more. In so far as their name of hippeis covered the second Solonian class, it was more or less obsolete; but they certainly formed part of the upper classes, who liked to be called the ‘fine and brave men’, the kaloikagathoi. Aristophanes occasionally makes a distinction between the two names. 2 This shows that not all the kaloikagathoi were hippeis, but it is quite certain that all the hippeis were kaloikagathoi. 3 It was rather a bold action on the part of the poet — for which, indeed, he apologizes 4 — to introduce them as a chorus. We have seen before, and we can confirm it by a curious indication in the Acharnians, 5 that the situation can be adequately explained by the f.xt that the knights, like the poet, were violently hostile to Kleon and to the poneroi, the ‘bad men’, the members of the commercial middle-classes who had gained power chiefly through and with the rise of Kleon. 6 Kratinos is supposed to have called the poneroi ‘hares’, and the reason given for this is that the ‘urban hare’ as contrasted with the ‘rural hare’ is not only a coward but also poisonous. 7 Unless we assume that the 96Greeks had a completely fantastic view of the nature of the innocent rabbit, we must conclude that the poisonous hares were, in fact, the urban middle and lower classes. In the opinion of their enemies, they have come ‘from the market’ and have been brought up there, or even worse, they have come from ‘near the gates of the town’. 1 The sausage-seller prides himself on his being a ‘bad man’, and on being able to prove his origin from ‘bad men’, and so did others in real life. 2