Ancient and modern

Meet the Donald Trump of ancient Athens (he won)

2 April 2016

9:00 AM

2 April 2016

9:00 AM

Why does the Republican party loathe Donald Trump? Because Trump is the ultimate loose cannon, beholden to no one. And even worse, he is popular. What trumpery! Ancient Athenians would have loved him.

With no known political or military experience behind him, Cleon surged into the gap left by the death of Pericles in 429 BC, when Athens was locked in a difficult war against Sparta. The son of a rich tanner — certainly not ‘one of us’ — he presented himself as the warmongering, go-get-’em alternative to the cautious Pericles. Full of extravagant promises (including state handouts), he increased the tribute from Athens’ imperial possessions and worked up a strong following by his heated speeches in the rough and tumble of the democratic Assembly. It was this ‘brutal and insolent’ speaker, said the historian Plutarch, who introduced shouting and abuse and excessive gesturing, encouraging other speakers to behave equally irresponsibly. A contemporary of Cleon’s, the historian Thucydides, called him ‘violent’ but ‘very persuasive’.


All for punishing enemies to the limit, he once advocated slaughtering every male in Mytilene after it revolted from Athens in 428 BC. At first persuaded, the Assembly had second thoughts, and the slaughter was just averted. In 425 BC, when Athens had trapped some top Spartans on an island but could not get them off, Cleon boasted that he would, and in 20 days. When the Assembly told him to get on with it, he tried to back off, but the elected general Nicias invited the Assembly to appoint Cleon in his place: which it did, leaving Cleon no get-out and occasioning much laughter. Thucydides commented: ‘The more sensible Athenians welcomed this, since it would mean either the end of Cleon or the capture of the Spartans.’ And Cleon did it — in 20 days.

All this is pure Trump. No wonder the Republican inner ring are terrified of him. Good heavens, he might even be a success! That would never do.

Subscribe to The Spectator Australia today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Subscribe – Try a month free


Show comments
  • Ingmar Blessing

    Wonderful article – purely Spectator.. Thanks a lot!

  • Isaiah

    A world in which style trumps over substance on paper only for the bubble to burst once more, those who favour this kind of rationale may get rich or die trying, they will however also get another thing, they will get what they deserve.

    • King Zog

      Well, every nation gets the government it deserves.

  • Tickertapeguy

    Trump is far more real than Hillary, Cruz, Sanders of Kasich. He is the only Candidate who can save America. Great Article.

  • maic

    Whatever his flaws Donald Trump is a breath of fresh air on the American political scene. His message is getting through to many hundreds of thousands of American voters in spite of efforts by some media and political establishments to write him off. It could well be that a sufficient number of voters, completely disillusioned with their current crop of politicians, will give him sufficient support to attain the Republican nomination and then the Presidency.
    Cries of alarm from some quarters especially from some patronising individuals and groups who feel they have the duty to tell us how to think. It’s some comfort to know that they have few if any votes on the matter although some political sabotage against Donald Trump may be expected. However this guy will fight back and give just as good as he gets.
    I should add that as a well wisher I hope he steers clear of any further comments on the families of other candidates.
    He’s better than that and it’s his general policies to improve the country that surely give him a good chance of winning.

  • mailbiter

    Trump is not a career politician. He is not the political elite. He is not the ruling Establishment.

    In other words, he expects us to put our trust in the most inexperienced of amateurs.

    • #toryscum

      Because the professionals are doing such a fabulous job?

      • mailbiter

        You don’t swap out an incompetent professional for an incompetent amateur.

  • King Zog

    Donald J. Trump: hair of Bowie, face of Beethoven.

  • Copyright101

    Yes, doesn’t Trump realise the purpose of the Republican party is to deliver tax cuts for the rich, mass low grade immigration and wars for Israel?

    • sonofseawolf

      Hi copyright 101

      Police state incarceration nation also.

      Gotta protect the rich bit©hs.

      Boycott marvel comics

      #Tay4potus

      Protect yourself at all times 14 5

    • Anna Bananahammok

      What’s the purpose of the Democratic party?
      Putting terrorists like the MB in charge of countries, who then slaughter Copts?
      Inviting tens of thousands of Muslim Brotherhood members into government jobs, while ignoring the people who voted for you?
      CREATING ISIS, due to spineless early removal of troops?
      Financing terror groups such as Al Nusra, Taliban, MB, Hamas, Hezbollah, Boko Haram, etc, and giving Iran NUKES?
      Letting your ambassadors get their throats cut without batting an eye?
      Racially dividing and destroying a country that has worked so hard into integrating minorities, so hard in fact, that they elected a black potus, twice?
      Answers on a postcard.

  • JohnnyNorfolk

    The establishment have done for him.

  • Duke Duked

    Trump will benefit America in the long run (regardless of policy) due to the implication, because if he’s elected the entire US political system will change for the better.

  • congreve

    Athens lost its independence in 438BC and did not regain it for over two thousand years and only then thanks in part to the efforts of our own Lord Byron and of course Lord Elgin to whom the Athenians lost their marbles, aka The Parthenon Frieze, which had been clearly operating as some Periclean bad luck voodoo for all those centuries in the wilderness. The decline of Great Britain dates from around the time the marbles were reconstituted in Bloomsbury and I think we should draw the obvious conclusion.

    Then (digressing to politics) came Tsipras. Tell me again about that wonderful Athenian democracy.

Close