classical greeceDEMOS-TYNDAREUS (410 BC) – Written by Polyzelus.

The Tyndareus part of this political comedy’s title refers to the mythical figure who came back from the dead like Lazarus in Christian beliefs. The Demos part is the embodiment of “the people” and comes from the same root word that “democracy” does. In this satire Demos represents the Athenian people just like he did in Aristophanes’ The Knights and in other comedies. Think of a figure like Uncle Sam representing Americans or John Bull representing the British or a person on their knees with their hands raised in surrender representing the French (rimshot). 

The title is referring to the resurrected democracy of Athens following the fall of the government imposed by the oligarchic coup of 411 BC – 410 BC. This restoration would later be followed by ANOTHER oligarchic coup six years later and another restoration of democracy, but of course none of this was known when Demos- Tyndareus was first performed. The scattered fragments reveal that the comedy dealt with an unknown figure orienting the resurrected Demos to the political climate of the newly- restored democracy.

The Athenian statesman Theramenes was leading the prosecution and punishment of the overthrown oligarchs and their fellow conspirators as well as those Athenians suspected of collaborating with “the new bosses in town” while they were briefly in power. Polyzelus’ comedy targeted what he and some others felt was the excessive zeal with which those prosecutions were being pursued. Think of the witchhunts for collaborators in France when the Nazis fell. 

For American examples some slight comparisons could be made with the way conservatives looked for the proverbial “communists under every bed” in the McCarthy era or the way in which liberals constantly look for “racists under every bed” to this very day. Suspicion even fell on Athenians filling the freshly reopened political positions that all citizens once again had access to with the fall of the oligarchs. 

Some jokes centered on Demos’ unknown guide advising him on how to avoid saying anything that could be construed as betraying “oligarchic sympathies”. Once again we can think of McCarthy- era paranoia about “communist leanings” on the part of figures in the government or in higher education.

We can also think of the way the modern day liberal Political Correctness Police refuse to hire, promote or grant tenure to anyone they suspect of having conservative opinions. Further proof that American liberals are just fine with blacklisting as long as THEY’RE the ones compiling lists of people who shouldn’t be hired or promoted because of their political beliefs.

Another joke centered on “the three alternatives of Theramenes”, the grim term the Athenians were using for the three types of punishments being imposed on the fallen oligarchs and anyone found guilty of complicity with them. The mildest punishment was confinement in stocks for a designated period  and the other two punishments were exile from Athens or death either by hemlock or by being thrown into a deep pit. 

Another surviving joke was about the perils of drinking homemade wine prepared by hosts with no aptitude for preparing such potables. Still another joke was a sarcastic shot at the demagogue Hyperbolus, who had been killed in 411 BCE.

A scatological joke involved the strained living conditions in parts of Athens, what with the chaos of the overthrow and restoration of democracy and the continuing war with Sparta. The joke centered around the poorer Athenians being reduced to just one basin per household – a basin they had to use for cooking, washing themselves,  laundering and dying clothes in and, of course, for urinating, defecating and vomiting in. 

The only other surviving fragment is not a joke but is just a statement by and to unknown characters with one telling the other to meet them at Nine Fountains, the scenic springs on the River Ilissus in Athens. 

As always I admire the ancient Athenians for the way in which their respect for free speech allowed for a scathing and critical comedy like this to be performed in such dangerous times. 

For background info on ancient Greek comedy plus my previous reviews click here: 

© Edward Wozniak and Balladeer’s Blog 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Edward Wozniak and Balladeer’s Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


Filed under Ancient Greek Comedy


  1. Pingback: Ancient Greek poetess Sappho, new book | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  2. I like what you said about free speech.

  3. Julia

    I really like the way you make thse mean something today.

  4. Vernetta

    Good for you for not being afraid to emphasize the Greeks’ respect for free speech with our founding forefathers.

  5. Reba

    This was fun and informative! I like learning about these old comedies.

  6. Aw, this was an extremely good post. Finding the time and actual effort to create a superb article… but what can I say… I put things off a whole lot and never seem to get nearly anything done.

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