Thursday, July 21, 2016


For all its reputation for noble philosophical minds, ancient Athens has to have been tops at political dirty tricks.

Dredging up past misdemeanours of opponents and getting the word round, or even making them up in rumours difficult to deny.

Charging opponents with embezzlement or defaming the gods or of taking bribes and then hauling them into court – again, it didn’t have to be true as long as it stuck.

Speeches in the Assembly were a good method, but ran the risk of being accused yourself of misleading the people (which was a crime), but graffiti was anonymous, so were dirty jokes and satirical songs.

Movie version of the Trojan horse
Mind you, it had a long history with the Greeks. One of their great heroes, Odysseus, was noted for trickery and respected for it.

The Trojan Horse was his idea and here he is tricking the Cyclops by hiding under a sheep.

They even had a god of cunning. That was Hermes, who was also patron of thieves,oratory, poetry, sports, invention and trade, boundaries and travellers.

He was also messenger of the gods and played his own first trick when he was a baby.

Odysseus tricks Cyclops
Hermes, god of cunning

All Athenian houses had a bust of him at the front door which featured in the dirty trick that destroyed General Alcibiades when he was accused of having vandalized scores of them when drunk – almost certainly organised by rival politicians.

Top political trickster has to be Themistokles, who features in my novel "Death Comes by Amphora".

His most successful trick was getting a false message to the invading Persian Great King Xerxes that fooled him into sending his fleet into the worst possible place for a naval battle where the Greek navy, led by Themistokles, slaughtered them.

Then, years later, when the Athenians chucked him out, Themistokles somehow persuaded the next Great King to give him a princedom, though we don’t know what false promises he may have made to get it.

Whatever they were (like offering to lead a new Persian invasion), it seems the only way he could get out of keeping them was to commit suicide.

That's the story anyway.

In my novel, there are more cunning stunts that smack of Themistokles’ way of operating.

It looks as though Perikles learnt a lot from his example.

My novel "Death Comes by Amphora" is available on Amazon Kindle.

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