And the wonder muses!
We're back! This time, we have a tale of strife and despair; Tyrants are invading Athens! Without further ado, let's begin!
Historical Background After the Peloponnesian war in 404 BCE, the Thirty were nominated by the Spartans to govern Athens, reigning for thirteen months by an oligarchy. Infamous for their tyrannical acts, they drove many good Athenian citizens to exile, destroying them even. Critias, the leader of the Thirty, resorted to violent measures to replace the democratic state with oligarchy. Though their power only lasted for a short while, thirteen months to be exact, it was truly a tormenting period for the Athenians. Hence, the origin of their name “The Thirty Tyrants”.
Synopsis With the Thirty reigning power after the Peloponnesian war, Critias, the well-known notorious leader of the Thirty sets out to establish oligarchy in Athens. To build their regime, they used violence in which the Athenians suffered under the power of the tyrants for an agonizing thirteen months until Thrasybulus, a democratic leader, overthrown the Thirty Tyrants.
Importance to History As proven by the Thirty, modifying Athens from a democratic to an oligarchic state was not doing the Athenians any good. Instead, they suffered under their unscrupulous means. This incident reinforces the importance of having a democratic government to look after the state.
Setting 404 BCE, after the Peloponnesian War, in Athens.
Now that you've atleast got an idea about the tyrants, let's see what happenend whilst they in power, shall we? (Make sure to enable the captions and stay tuned till the end for some extra laughs!)
But if you're not a video person, you can read our narrator's script of the play below!
Act 0, Scene 1 - The Introduction
N1: Hello Mortals. Its us’ the Muses of Thesmophoria.
N2: Surprise, we’re back!
N1: Thank you for joining us today. We promise not to waste to your precious minutes. But before you watch the video please make sure that you have read the background information prior to this video or the upcoming scenes wouldn’t make any sense.
N3: Happy watching!
Act 1, Scene 1 - The Plan
N2: It was a hot and dry summer in ancient Athens but that didn’t bother our characters who were in a serious discussion while seated in the Theatre of Munychia. SSShhhh here they come now.
N1: This is Critias, he is the mean and tough leader of the thirty tyrants. But don’t let that fool you, he can be pompous and rather dumb at times. (Critias shows displeasure by looking at narrator) Alright alright, enough of that, let’s hear what the meeting is all about.
N2 (Critias): This is getting on my nerves. Now that we’ve finally overthrown the democrats, we’re faced with bankruptcy after the war. “1 Our resources are running low. What do we do if the citizens fight against us?” exclaimed Critias in frustration.
N1(Theognis): Fret not, I have an idea. Why don’t we capture some metics “2 and accuse them of treason?” Theognis suggested.
N2(Peison): Peison readily agreed. “That’s right! Those filthy foreigners aren’t even Athenians to begin with. Very soon, we’ll be rich and powerful!”
(Crowd cheers) N1: Wondering who those 2 guys are? They are Critias’ most trusted henchmen, Theognis and Peison. They follow all of Critias’ orders to a T. Let’s hear what else they are scheming!
N2 (Critias):“Fantastic! Why didn’t I think of that” Critias said. “But just the thirty of us wouldn’t be strong enough. We need an army… An army so powerful that no one will dare stand up against us. Spartan garrisons! 3 Hurry! Send some men to Lysander! 4 We need his help.”
N1: Eager to please their leader, 2 of the Spartan garrisons quickly left to call upon Lysander, the general of the Spartan army.
N1 (Theognis) : Meanwhile, Theognis offered his two cents to improve their current plan. “Callibius will soon arrive here at Athens. We can recruit him as the harmost 5 ! He will be pleased to be in command of such a massive troop” he said.
N2: PS; Callibius is the harmost (middlemen) of Spartan who will agree to aid the Thirty throughout their ruling.
N2 (Critias) :Critias was pleased. “Now that we have a plan, let’s execute it!” he said, laughing in the way an evil villain does. (Critias glares at narrator)
N1: Oops sorry! Anyway, on to the next scene. Let’s see if their plan did indeed work!
Act 1, Scene 2 - Implementation
N2: Members of the thirty barged their way into Lysias’ and polemarchus’ homes. As nobles, who supported the democracy, Lysias and Polemarchus were busy entertaining some of their guests.
N1: But watch out, here come the the brutes!
N2 (Peison): “ You are under arrest, metic!” Peison bellowed. “Seize all his properties and bring him to the gallows” he ordered his men.
N1 (Lysias): “No please my Lord, hush, listen! Let me go and you shall be handsomely rewarded!” Lysias begged to his captors.
N2 (Peison): “Interesting. Do go on.” Peison stalled.
N1 (Lysias): Lysias scrambled to think what he could possibly offer and finally decided upon a silver talent.“A silver talent 6,sir. It will be all yours if you set me free.” offered Lysias.
N2 (Peison): “Hmm alright, hand it over.” Peison demanded with a smug smile.
N1: Poor Lysias. He fell into the trap Peison laid for him. For the cunning fellow had other tricks up his sleeve and immediately went back on his words.
N2 (Peison): “Men! Seize that chest!” ordered Peison at once.
N1 (Lysias) : “NO! Please my Lord!” Lysias pleaded. “ I beg you to leave me some money so I can make my way out safely, Please!” he continued. Sadly, his pleas fell on deaf ears and the tyrants continued their thievery.
N2: Lyias is apprehended by Theognis and Damnippus, who is another follower of Critias. While the 2 oppressors are occupied with capturing other metics, Lysias reaches into his underpants and pulls out something long and throws it on the ground.
N1 (Lysias) : In a last attempt to escape, he tries to distract his captors by speaking out. “Look! One of the metics dropped that!”
N2 (Damnippus) : Remember when I said that Critias can be dumb at times? Well, here is Damnippus proving he isn’t all that bright either. “Peison! It really is money!” blurted Damnippus.
N1: Equally enthralled at the sight of money that they oh so desperately need, Peison and Damnippus both rush to claim the roll of money. In their rush to claim the money, they left the captured Lysias and other metic unguarded. Lysias, who was far more wise than those 2 idiots, got up and fled!
N2: By the time Peison and Damnippus realized what they had done, Lysias was nowhere to be seen. His brother, Polemarchus , however wasn’t that lucky…
N1 (Theognis): “Now, where do you think your going, yarr old fart?! Seize him!” commanded Theognis after catching sight of the terrified Polemarchus.
N2 (Polemarchus): “You will never get away with this, you imbecile!” cried Polemarchus. “Get your filthy hands off my chaste body!!! Your mother will rot to death thinking of how she failed to bring you up as a decent human being!” he continued as he vented his anger against his captors.
N1 (Eratosthenes): “How dare you insult his mother! Useless fart! DIE!!! Give me the hemlock 7now!"
N2: Eratosthenes proceeds to force the hemlock down Polemarchus’ throat despite continued struggles from Polemarchus.
N1: After a few gurgling noises, it all becomes silent as Polemarchus succumbs to his death.
N1 (Critias): “Phew that took a lot out of me.” sighed Critias. “We still need to address other matters brothers, I think we have a traitor amongst our brethren” asserted Critias.
N2 (Peison): “Who amongst us would have that audacity? Pray, tell, General!” Peison demanded.
N1:Critias’ gaze shifts towards Theramenes’ direction. Instantly, all the other thirty members present follow his action and gazed upon Theramenes.
N1(Critias): “I think the rat is trying to hurry to his hole” remarked Critias.
Act 1, Scene 3 - Greed
N1: Critias and his lackeys convene back in the theatre to boast about the success of their latest plan. A conceited bunch I must say. (All 4 turn to narrator with displeasure) Yes yes, i’ll keep my comments to myself.
N2 (Critias): “Your plan worked perfectly, brothers. The gurgling noises of that traitor’s (Polemarchus) 8 last moments still entertains me” praised Critias.
N1 (Peison): “I am pleased to be of your service, General” said Peison, certainly flattered by his master’s praises. “If only we had captured Lysias as well.” he continued, “Alas, his fortunes will keep our backs warm and our bellies full for a long time!”.
N1: All the men erupt into laughter as they found the situation highly amusing.
N2(Theognis): “We have eliminated all of our objectors, 9 made sure that the people’s court has lost all of its power 10 and have the assembly and council under our feets. 11 Even the execution of the sycophants 12 has worked in our favour. Those foolish Athenians truly believe that righteousness has been restored!” boasted Theognis. “ But what shall we do next?” he asked, concerned about their next course of plan.
N1(Peison): “Well said brother.” Peison said in agreement. “We may have lysander leading the spartan army to protect us, but do not underestimate the influence of the aristocrats of Athens. We must weed them out in order for us to be fully in power”. Peison was certain that in order for the tyrants to be in power, Athens had to be rid of any remaining objectors.
N2(Theognis): “And thankfully, we do not have that pest, Theramenes to worry about anymore” remarked Theognis. “He has gotten what he deserved for having believed he could be a ‘moderate’ leader! All that nonsense he spewed about being moral and accepting of commoners only led to his demise. 13 Hah!” guffawed Theognis.
N1: It seemed like all present in the theatre harboured similar feelings as nods of agreement were observed everywhere.
N1(Peison): “That was great execution on our part!” added Peison. “In fact, that spineless Theramenes dug his own grave. Being an oligarch and then turning his back on us, lent him no favours with the people. 14 It’s no wonder, we were easily able to take him down at the trial!” said Peison, obviously disgusted. That did not mean they couldn’t celebrate however, as they manage to get rid of theramenes after all. “Hurrah to us! The mighty thirty!” shouted Peison.
N2: All the men started to chug their wine after a toast in evident glee.
N2(Critias): “Now now brothers, we still have to focus on attaining all the wealth remaining from the rest of the metics” said Critias, ever the voice of reason. “Do not fret over fair trials for them though. Those imprudent people won’t dare take a step against us, 15 but we must ensure that our reserves are full to warrant the Spartans’ support” he said.
N1(Theognis): “Yes, it will also send out a message to any remaining conspirators to not stand against us. Whoever dares to oppose us will meet the same fate as those buried deep undergrounds!” agreed Theognis, his master must be right after all.
N2: Cheers hailing the reign of the thirty tyrants reverberates through the entire room as the tyrants were oblivious to the impending doom.
Act 1, Scene 4 - Realisation
N1: Within the confinements of a secret refuge position in Eleusius, we find the frazzled members of the Thirty. PS; they were in hiding because they had overestimated their power and were instead trapped in a territory that hated them.
N2 (Critias) : “Where are my troops who were sworn to protect me? Where have they all vanished to when I need them most now!?” bellowed critias in anger.
N1: No one dares make eye contact with the General for they were fearful of his wrath.
N2 (Critias): “Thrasybulus has managed to take control of the fort of Phyle. We are holed up in this place when that revolting worm parades his troops in front of my face! How embarrassing!” he lashed out. “Melobius!” he ordered.
N1(Melobius): “Yes, General” replied Melobius stiffly.
N2(Critias): “Order my army to round up all of the capable men in this town at once! Make sure they are taken care of silently!” 16
N1(Melobius): “Where shall I escort them, General?” queried Melobius.
N2(Critias): “To the execution chamber, you imbecile! See that they are removed of, or you can join them as well!” he instructed in continued rage.
N1: Melobius finally got the message as he scurries of to do as his General ordered. A sombre silence fills the room but a meek voice speaks out softly.
N1(Peison): “What of the Assembly, General? How will we convince them?” asked Peison, in a soft voice so as to not anger his Master even further,
N2(Critias): “Focus on the important matters at hand Peison! Those old crooks should be honoured that they are in their positions as it is!” 17 Critias directed as he waved his hands dismissively. “If it is a war Thrasybulus wants, a war is what he gets.”
N1: Phew! The atmosphere certainly took a turn for the worse as the characters are amidst a battle that is waiting to happen. Let’s see if they will emerge victorious.
Act 1, Scene 5 - Downfall of the Thirty
N2: Thrasybulus, who was the leader of the uprising in Eleusis, and his troops were in ready position for attack in Athens.
N1(Thrasybulus): “Let us charge forward cavalrymen! These are the notorious tyrants who drove our loved ones to be in exile! Let us end them once and for all. Restore justice for the ones we lost!” commanded Thrasybulus in a loud and clear voice.
N1: All 700 members of the Troops position cannons and get ready to attack the army of Athens. Meanwhile, there is a ruckus going on near the Hill of Mounychia where the thirty have seeked refuge.
N2(Critias): “How dare he (Thrasybulus) refuse my proposal of joining our ranks?!" 18 Critias fumed. “Guards! Do your duty well and see to it that none of our enemies heads stays attached to their bodies.” instructed Critias to his own troops.
N1: Critias remains oblivious to the real situation outside, where his troops have been outnumbered and are almost depleted. He still harboured the belief that somehow or someway he will be triumphant.
N1(Thrasybulus): “A final stretch fellowmen! Let us reinstitute a fair rule for our people who deserve it the most” encouraged Thrasybulus. “CHARGE!” he yelled.
N2: The final barrier between the Thirty and Thrasybulus’ troops is overcome with ease as the troops were heavily outnumbered.
N1: The inevitable finally occurs as Critias dies from his injuries after Thrasybulus manages to break into the theatre of Munychia. The first step towards the restoration of democracy in the Athens is in motion at last.
N2: All the Athenians cheered as they were finally rid of their terrible and dirty tyrant rulers.
Act 0, Scene 2 - The Conclusion
N2: Well, as you can see, the dirty thirty’s oligarchic reign did the athenians no good.
N3: They suffered terribly and so did our mistress for not having the women cheer her up.
N1: We now see the importance of democracy now don’t we?
N1: I certainly hope at least some of you learnt how valuable democracy is through this play. If you didn’t, what were you doing all this while?! Just kidding. We still love you. Thank you for watching and…
N2: This is the three muses signing out...CUT!
- The Peloponnesian War was a battle between Athens and the Peloponnesian League in 431-404 BCE. Humans...why do they enjoy killing each other so much? ↩
- Metics are immigrants with no citizen rights. They were important sources of skilled labor and contributed to the Athen’s labor pool, holding jobs such as merchants and/or slaves. ↩
- Spartan garrison here refers to a particular area guarded by the Spartan army, using it as a home base. ↩
- Lysander was a Spartan general who led the Peloponnesian navy during the war. Another small time villian. ↩
- Harmost refers to a Spartan military general. ↩
- Silver talent here doesn’t refer to older workers (). It is a unit measure for money in ancient civilisations. A talent weighs approximately 26kg. Now that is a lot of silver! ↩
- Hemlock is a highly poisonous flowering plant. Its extracts are used to execute criminals in ancient Greece. Perfect for killing off dumb men! ↩
- Critias deemed Polemarchus a traitor as he believed that Polemarchus and his brother, Lysias, are 2 of the most wealthy and powerful of the metics who could oppose the oligarchic rule of the Thirty. Strategic, I dare say! ↩
- The Thirty were ruthless in their quest of eradicating Athens of any inhabitants who may have voiced out against the Oligarchy or still harboured support for a democratic rule. This included arrests and executions without trials and looting of possessions from the metics. ↩
- During their reign, the Thirty dismissed the existing members of the People’s court and replaced them with 3000 people who would do their bidding. Quite sneaky I must say! ↩
- Unlike the People’s court, the Thirty either transferred judicial powers to themselves or abolished the Council and Assembly completely. ↩
- Sycophants were professionals who only knew how to accuse others of crimes, although the other party may have been innocent. By executing them, the thirty were able to portray how ruthless they can be and the citizens didn’t dare oppose as they themselves hated the sycophants anyway. Looks like they got what they deserved. ↩
- Critias and the rest of the Thirty utterly despised Theramenes. Although Theramenes was a supporter of the Oligarchic rule initially, he was a moderate ruler compared to Critias. Theramenes was against the atrocities towards the metics and wanted to establish a ruling that encompassed both Democracy and Oligarchy. A farfetched-fantasy. ↩
- Here’s the deal: Did the Thirty like Theramenes? No. Did the people support Theramenes? No. This is because although Theramenes modified his beliefs with time, the people had a misconception about him based on his past. They did not trust Theramenes, as due to his role as peace negotiator between Athens and neighbouring cities, he was fairly absent from the people’s view. So what did the people remember him as? A traitor who sided with Oligarchic ruling. Poor thing. ↩
- Being stripped of their seats in the Assembly and people’s court, the people had no say in any matters unlike during democratic rule. All the people could do was to accept the fate bestowed upon them by the tyrants. ↩
- Critias wished to fight dirty here. He was essentially plotting to execute all the strong and capable men of Eleusis, who may have aided Thrasybulus later in his battle. Such underhanded tactics! ↩
- Critias was a charming speaker and he could convince the members of the Assembly to support any of his decisions. If they did object, there was always the threat of execution. Simple. ↩
- As a last resort to save his ruling, Critias offered Thrasybulus to join him as one of the Thirty. Thrasybulus recognized this as a weakening of Critias’ rule and flat out rejected him. Take that! ↩
PS; If you wanna check out our original play version of The Dirty Thirty, here's the link :)
Carawan, E. (2006). Amnesty and accounting for the thirty. The Classical Quarterly, 56(1), 57.
Cary, M. (1949). Theramenes. The Classical Review, 63(1), 30-31. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/706142
Danzig, G. (2014). The use and abuse of Critias: Conflicting portraits in Plato and Xenophon. Classical Quarterly, 64(2), 507-524. doi:10.1017/S0009838814000093
Ivan, J. (2008). Critias and democracy. Balcanica, 2008(39), 33-46. doi:10.2298/BALC0839033J
Lewis, S. (2006). Ancient tyranny (1st ed.). Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. doi:10.3366/j.ctt1r294d
Lucas D. L. (2013). Tyranny and terror: the failure of Athenian democracy and the reign of the Thirty Tyrants. Eastern Washington University
Moysey, R. (1981). The Thirty and the Pnyx. American Journal of Archaeology, 85(1), 31-37. doi:10.2307/504963
Stem, R. (2003). The Thirty at Athens in the Summer of 404. Phoenix, 57(1/2), 18-34. doi:10.2307/3648486
Stern, P. (1999). Tyranny and Self-Knowledge: Critias and Socrates in Plato's Charmides. The American Political Science Review, 93(2), 399-412.
Perrin, B. (1904). The Rehabilitation of Theramenes. Oxford Journals,9(4), 649-669.
Usher, S. (1968). Xenophon, Critias and Theramenes. The Journal of Hellenic Studies, 88, 128-135. doi:10.2307/628676