Popular Tyranny: Sovereignty and Its Discontents in Ancient Greece

Popular Tyranny: Sovereignty and Its Discontents in Ancient Greece

Popular Tyranny: Sovereignty and Its Discontents in Ancient Greece

Popular Tyranny: Sovereignty and Its Discontents in Ancient Greece

Synopsis

The nature of authority and rulership was a central concern in ancient Greece, where the figure of the king or tyrant and the sovereignty associated with him remained a powerful focus of political and philosophical debate even as Classical Athens developed the world's first democracy. This collection of essays examines the extraordinary role that the concept of tyranny played in the cultural and political imagination of Archaic and Classical Greece through the interdisciplinary perspectives provided by internationally known archaeologists, literary critics, and historians. The book ranges historically from the Bronze and early Iron Age to the political theorists and commentators of the middle of the fourth century B.C. and generically across tragedy, comedy, historiography, and philosophy. While offering individual and sometimes differing perspectives, the essays tackle several common themes: the construction of authority and of constitutional models, the importance of religion and ritual, the crucial role of wealth, and the autonomy of the individual. Moreover, the essays with an Athenian focus shed new light on the vexed question of whether it was possible for Athenians to think of themselves as tyrannical in any way. As a whole, the collection presents a nuanced survey of how competing ideologies and desires, operating through the complex associations of the image of tyranny, struggled for predominance in ancient cities and their citizens.

Excerpt

Kathryn A. Morgan

The essays collected together here originated as a series of talks presented at the conference “Popular Tyranny: Sovereignty and Its Discontents in Classical Athens.” This volume, therefore, possesses both the strengths and the weaknesses of collected conference papers. the strength is the vigorous debate occasioned by bringing together a group of historians, archaeologists, and literary critics to discuss a topic that exerts a lively fascination for audiences both ancient and modern. a potential weakness is unevenness of coverage. This volume does not, for example, contain a detailed treatment of the theme of tyranny in Attic oratory or provide even coverage of the Thucydidean material. Nevertheless, I made the decision not to try to extend the coverage of the volume by inviting extra contributions (with the exception of the concluding essay by Robin Osborne). the reasons for this decision were twofold. First, I am doubtful whether complete coverage is possible in a single volume, even given the focus of the majority of essays on the world of Athens. Second, I was anxious to retain the lively interaction of the original participants without dilution. the reader is left to judge the success of this decision.

The collection, for the most part, focuses on the conceptual force of tyranny rather than on historical instances of it. Although much interesting work on Archaic and Classical tyrants continues to be done, the ambition of the ucla conference was to examine tyranny as a foundational ideological force. While not every essay focuses on Athens (indeed, one of our most important conclusions is that an overly Athenocentric approach impoverishes), all encompass themes that are crucial in our evaluation of Classical Athenian—and Greek—culture. the nature of authority and rule is a persistent worry in the construction of ancient ideology. the figure of the king or tyrant and the sovereignty associated with him provide a powerful source for political speculation and historical analysis. If tyrants had not existed, we and . . .

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