Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 682
Demus, a selfish and irritable old man, a tyrant to his slaves, purchases a tanner, nicknamed the Paphlagonian. This slave, a fawning, foxy fellow, quickly ingratiates himself with his new master, to the dismay of all the other slaves in Demus’s household, Demosthenes and Nicias in particular. As a result of the Paphlagonian’s lies, Demosthenes and Nicias receive many floggings. The two at one time consider running away but decide against this course because of the terrible punishment they will receive if caught and returned to their owner. They also consider suicide, but in the end they decide to forget their troubles by tippling. Going for the wine, Nicias finds the Paphlagonian asleep in a drunken stupor.
While the drunken man sleeps, Nicias steals the writings of the sacred oracle that the Paphlagonian guards carefully. In the prophecies of the oracle, Demosthenes and Nicias read that an oakum seller should first manage the state’s affairs; he should be followed by a sheep seller, and he in turn should be followed by a tanner. At last the tanner would be overthrown by a sausage seller.
As they are about to set out in search of a sausage seller, a slave of that butcher’s trade comes to the house of Demus to sell his wares. Nicias and Demosthenes soon win him over to their cause, flattering him out of all reason and assuring him that his stupidity and ignorance fit him admirably for public life. When the Paphlagonian awakens, he loudly demands the return of the oracle’s writings. The sausage seller, however, is able to fight him with success. Spectators become involved. Some of the citizens protest against the Paphlagonian’s unjust accusations of the sausage seller. Others claim that the state is falling into ruin while this shameless name-calling continues. Others accuse the Paphlagonian of deafening all Athens with his din. The sausage seller accuses the Paphlagonian of cheating everybody. A few citizens gloat that someone even more arrogant and dishonest than the Paphlagonian is found in the person of the sausage seller. Others fear that this new demagogue will destroy all hope of defending Athens from her enemies.
While the citizens clamor, the sausage seller and the Paphlagonian continue to out-boast, out-shout, and out-orate each other. The sausage seller says that he will make meatballs out of the Paphlagonian. Demus’s pampered slave threatens to twitch the lashes off both the sausage seller’s eyes. Demosthenes breaks in to suggest that the sausage seller inspect the Paphlagonian as he would a hog before butchering it.
At last both began to call for Demus, asking him to come out of his house and decide the merits of their claims. When he answers their calls, both boast of a greater love to do him service. Convinced by the assurances of the sausage seller, Demus decides to dismiss the Paphlagonian and demands that his former favorite return his seal of office. The two continue their efforts to bribe Demus for his favor. At last the rivals run to consult the oracles, to prove to Demus the right of their contentions.
Each brings back a load of prophetic writings and insists upon reading them aloud to Demus. In their prophecies they continue to insult one another, at the same time flattering Demus. The sausage seller relates a dream in which Athena comes down from Olympus to pour ambrosia upon Demus and the sourest of pickles upon the Paphlagonian.
Demus sends them off on another foolish errand, laughing meanwhile because he duped both of them into serving him. At last the sausage seller convinces the Paphlagonian that he has the right of stewardship by the word of an ancient oracle in whom both believe. Having won his victory, the sausage seller, now calling himself Agoracritus, begins to browbeat his new master and to accuse him of stupidity and avarice. He boasts that he will now grow wealthy on bribes the Paphlagonian formerly pocketed. To show his power, he orders Cleon the Paphlagonian to turn sausage seller and peddle tripe in the streets.