Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient and Modern: Aristophanes on the Fake Sheikh

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient and Modern: Aristophanes on the Fake Sheikh

Article excerpt

Undercover journalist Mazher Mahmood, otherwise known as the Fake Sheikh, has been accused of dodgy dealing in luring the innocent to commit 'crimes' which he has then exposed to the press. The Athenians knew all about his sort.

They called such people sukophantai (pl.), our 'sycophants', though the derivation of the word remains obscure, and it is not clear how it came to mean 'toady' in English. The sukophantês came into being as a result of legislation by the Athenian statesman Solon (c. 640-560 BC). Since there was no such thing as the police or a Crown Prosecution Service in the ancient world, it was important to find some way of bringing to book those who had harmed individual citizens. So Solon, arguing that 'the best governed state was one in which those who were not wronged were as diligent in prosecuting criminals as those who had personally suffered', ruled that for certain types of offence, 'anyone who wanted to' could bring a case to court. …

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