(Feingold’s article appeared on Theatermania, 1/20.)
When today’s world gets especially stressful — as it definitely is just now — my mind wanders back to older and happier times. So during these recent agonizing months, I’ve naturally been thinking about ancient Greece. And particularly about the time of Cleon.
You may or may not remember Cleon. He essentially controlled Athenian politics after the death of Pericles, from around 429 B.C. until his own death in 422. Some modern scholars have tried to make a case for Cleon, but he generally seems not to have been, by anybody’s standards, an honest guy. Under his sway, Athens got more and more deeply embroiled in a messy and endlessly prolonged war with Sparta in the Peloponnesus. Meanwhile the city’s economy went downhill along with its political principles and its ethical values. By the end of Cleon’s time, Athens was heading to the bedraggled finale of its great cultural era. Its fame as the cradle of democracy, the glorious home of poets and thinkers, was starting to fade. The military quagmire into which Cleon and his supporters had helped to drag it would, by the end of the fourth century, leave it easy prey for conquest.