Cleon, an Athenian politician, died in 422 B. C. He was the son of Clesenetus, and a tanner by trade. Endowed with eloquence, he turned his attention to politics, and soon became one of the popular leaders. After the death of Pericles, and for a period of six years, Cleon was the most influential man in Athens. In 427 he persuaded the Athenians to doom the adult males of Mytilene, their revolted ally, to death, and the women and children to slavery; but the vote was rescinded before the edict could be executed. In the "Babylonians" of Aristophanes, represented the next year, Cleon supposed himself assailed, and he retorted by commencing a suit either against the poet or the performer of the caricature; but Cleon himself was brought to trial, and forced to give up a sum of money which he had unfairly obtained from some of the subjects of Athens. These attacks, however, did not shake his power, and he successfully opposed the attempt to grant peace to Sparta, which state was anxiously desirous of bringing the Peloponnesian war to a close when a number of her citizens were shut up in the island of Sphacteria. By the jeers of Nicias and the rest of the peace party, he was induced to take command of the forces at Sphacteria, promising to capture or slay the Spartans within 20 days.
His enemies consoled themselves with the belief that he would fail, and that failure would ruin him. But complete success crowned his labors, and the Spartans were forced to surrender. Although the merit of the military exploit is principally due to Demosthenes, the Athenian general, it is undeniable that Cleon's arrival on the scene of operations infused new spirit into the assailants, whose numbers were overwhelming. His political character was nevertheless bit-terly assailed by Aristophanes in his comedies, "The Knights " and "The Wasps." The close of Cleon's career was marked by his mismanagement of an expedition into Macedonia, to operate against the Spartan Brasidas. The Athenians were totally defeated at Amphipo-lis, Cleon being slain and Brasidas mortally wounded. Cleon is represented by Thucydi-des and Aristophanes as a mere demagogue; but Grote and others have zealously endeavored to effect a reversal of the unfavorable judgment pronounced against him by his enemies, and by the writers of the aristocratic faction, of which he was the leading opponent.