Academic journal article Journalism History

News and Society in the Greek Polis

Academic journal article Journalism History

News and Society in the Greek Polis

Article excerpt

Lewis, Sian. News and Society in the Creek Polis. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996. 206 PP. $16.95.

The story of Phidippides racing from Marathon to Athens with news of victory over Persia, collapsing as he reaches the council chamber and uttering "rejoice, we conquer" as he dies, represents the classic myth about the dissemination of news in ancient Greece. Yes, the story is true, but Sian Lewis argues in an intriguing book, News and Society in the Greek Polis, that it is a myth that the Marathon story represented standard practices of newsgathering or dissemination in and among Greek city-states in the period between 600 B.C. and 300 B.C. According to Lewis, the Greek poleis had no permanent system for gathering news. Moreover, there are no documented cases in which a herald was sent from one city to another to spread news purely for the sake of information. As for Phidippides' run, it is likely, she opines, that reports of the Athenian victory at Marathon had arrived by other, informal means prior to him.

A study of the processes by which information was disseminated in ancient Greece might seem outside the pale for mainstream journalists, journalism historians, and journalism students. Sure, several years ago Mitchell Stephens excoriated Michael Schudson for suggesting that news was somehow "invented" in the 1830s and not a fixed category in human experience. But for most people in the field, the news is today; yesterday is already ancient history.

Nevertheless, for those interested in the relationship of the distribution of information to society and social interaction, Lewis offers several stimulating and provocative insights. Her study is divided into six sections. She looks at the ways news was distributed within and among poleis; the contrasts between official and unofficial news; and the particular roles the assembly and writing played in the dissemination in news. …

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