Democracy and Demagogues
Election, Voting, and Qualifications for Citizenship
But I consider it right as a citizen to set the welfare of the state above the popularity of an orator. Indeed, I am given to understand—and so perhaps are you—that the orators of past generations, always praised but not always imitated by those who address you, adopted this very standard and principle of statesmanship. I refer to the famous Aristides, to Nicias, to my own namesake, and to Pericles. But ever since this breed of orators appeared who ply you with such questions as "What would you like? What shall I propose? How can I oblige you?" the interests of the state have been frittered away for a momentary popularity. The natural consequences follow, and the orators profit by your disgrace. Demosthenes 3.21-22, trans. J.H. Vince
We must realize that it is very hard to save a civilization when its hour has come to fall beneath the power of demagogues. For the demagogue has been the great strangler of civilization. Both Greek and Roman civilizations fell at the hands of this loathsome creature who brought from Macaulay the remark that "in every century the vilest examples of human nature have been among the demagogues." But a man is not a demagogue simply because he stands up and shouts at the crowd. There are times when this can be a hallowed office. The real demagogy of the demagogue is in his mind and is rooted in his irresponsibility towards the ideas that he handles—ideas not of his own creation, but which he has only taken over from their true creators. Demagogy is a form of intellectual degeneration.
José Ortega y Gasset, History as a System,
trans. Helene Weyl
"The will of the nation" is one of the phrases most generally abused by intriguers and despots of every age.
Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America,
trans. George Lawrence
In this chapter, I seek to test the modern democratic faith in election, voting, and low qualifications for citizenship.1
Analysis of the Athenians' practices in these areas will demonstrate the negative impact of their reduction of property qualifications for full citizenship and of their use of the vote to determine policy, while outlining the positive effects of continued noneconomic qualifications for citizenship. An examination of Pericles' career will illustrate the benefits and dangers of charismatic leadership in an environment of popular rule. I hope to suggest that the vote—especially in an environment with few social restraints or civic responsibilities—represents a threat to, as much as an instrument of, justice.2
The vote has not always served as the defining feature of democracy. As strange as it may seem to moderns, Aristotle considered election to be an oligarchic or aristocratic element in government.3
As Aristotle noticed, even in regimes with no property qualifications for citizenship or office, wealthier citizens tend to dominate elected positions. The philosopher thus identified democracy not with the act of voting but rather with popular control of the courts, the absence of a property qualification for citizenship, the use of the lottery to fill public offices, and the rule of the poor in their own interests.4
Nor was Aristotle's view completely idiosyncratic. Since even nondemocratic classical Greek poleis used votes by the citizen body to select at least some important officials or to determine policy, the Greeks understandably did not see voting itself as a defining quality of demokratia.
Nevertheless, most moderns consider the casting of ballots in free elections the defining element of democratic government, and the Athenians did make policy and choose fellow citizens for particular state offices through votes in an assembly open to all citizens. Analysis of their electoral practices thus offers us a potential analogue for modern regimes.
Perhaps most important, the Athenians elected ten men annually to hold the office of strategos.
were Athens's highest military officials, acting as generals on land and admirals at sea and wielding significant political power in the city during the fifth century. Of course, successful military leaders have always had the opportunity to exert political influence, regardless of the type of government they have served. But in Athens, the close connection between Athens's empire and its democracy's funding, as well as the people's direct role in managing the empire, offered great scope for the elected strategoi.
The political aspect of the generalship was emphasized and developed by statesmen like Pericles, who held the office for fifteen consecutive years.5
By Athenian reckoning, Pericles held not only the official position of strategos,
but also the informal place of rhetor
(political orator), making proposals in the council and assembly and thus acting as what the Athenians would later call a demagogos
), literally a "leader of the demos.
" The Athenians initially seem to have used the term demagogos
without pejorative intent, and it has been well said that the so-called demagogues served a necessary function in the Athenian regime.6
Such men served not merely as the voices of various political interests but also as remarkably free critics of the very populace they sought to influence. That is, the best demagogoi
attempted to change
popular opinion and thus, as Thucydides puts it in his praise of Pericles, to lead the people "rather than to be led by them" (2.65). Indeed, since the term demagogos
explicitly denotes someone who leads or shepherds the demos, the eventual use of this word as the primary epithet for a political panderer represents a virtual reversal of its original meaning.7
The word demagogos
in fact implies that the people need someone to lead them and that political power, at least in part, is exercised appropriately through this leadership.
As early as Pericles' day, some Athenians apparently expressed or implied reservations about allowing a citizen body including even those without property to choose Athens's leaders and make policy via votes in the assembly.8
Although justifiable as a way of permitting all citizens to participate in their government, such a practice obviously enabled the poorer citizens to empower leaders who had improperly ingratiated themselves with them, placing the interests of a faction above those of the polis as a whole.9
The latent dangers in allowing greater participation to those without property began to emerge after Pericles proposed that Athens begin to pay citizens for jury duty.10
These payments led to others: if jurors deserved daily payment, why not members of the Council of 500 or those holding other magistracies?11
After the mid fifth century, payment for public service served as a fundamental and defining characteristic of Athenian democracy.12
In the years following Pericles' innovation, it undoubtedly became increasingly difficult for a leader opposed to this use of public money to win out over Pericles and his supporters. Although many Athenians were willing to consider ending payment for public service beyond the military (at least temporarily) as late as 411,13
after the Peloponnesian War and the discredited oligarchic regimes of 411 and 404 (which had curtailed state pay), only proposals to increase public payments seem to have had political viability in Athens.
That these conditions encouraged the rise of what we call "demagogues" is entirely comprehensible. In an environment where a public figure can help secure his own election to office or the success of his legislation by proposing the distribution of more public money to a large enough portion of the electorate, and where there is no strong feeling among the populace that such a distribution is shameful or morally wrong, leaders proposing increased payments possess a tremendous advantage over their opponents.14
Nevertheless, Athenian government did not collapse immediately after the institution of public payments, nor did the Athenians immediately vote themselves into public bankruptcy. Indeed, not until the 420s do we begin to see evidence of the potentially harmful effects of these practices.
Several factors in Athenian society and government apparently slowed the debilitation of the people's morale through political pandering. Since we know of no laws restricting the Athenians' actions in this area, informal social constraints (deriving from the Athenians' ideas about the propriety of distributing public money) apparently limited both the extent to which the people would support leaders seeking to ingratiate themselves by distributing public funds and the number of leaders attempting such ingratiation. In addition, the fact that the office of strategos
was a burdensome and life-threatening position probably helped diminish the rate at which mainly self-interested individuals became powerful political voices in Athens: strategoi
gained political power or glory while literally risking life and status, both of which could be lost at the hands of the enemy (in battle) or the Athenian demos (in court or through ostracism). Finally, the system of selection by lottery for members of the Council of 500 and other officials (like the treasurers of the sacred funds), provided a potentially significant check on the dangers of demagoguery. That is, many important Athenian offices simply were not filled by election, but instead relied on individuals chosen by lot serving their fellow citizens for short periods of time.15
Despite these checks, our sources indicate that "leaders of the demos" after Pericles increasingly pandered to the electorate and (unlike Pericles and some others) often told the people only what they wanted to hear.16
The election of leaders represents only one of the important votes cast by members of the Athenian assembly. As we have noted, the citizen assembly also acted as a court, policy-making body, and sovereign legislature, limited in authority (until the late fifth century) only by itself and deciding the most important issues of the state, including issues of war and peace. Under this system, to vote was to rule one's neighbor in a very direct and public fashion. By raising his hand in the assembly, a citizen openly demonstrated his own desire to make war or peace, to tax other men's property, to impose rules on his fellow citizens, or to elect a corrupt person to office. But again, most Greek city-states had citizen assemblies or councils in which members of the citizen body voted on at least some important matters. What made Athens's system odd was its payments for public service and its low property requirements for full citizenship, both of which encouraged greater participation by the common people in political decision-making and administration. Qualifications for Citizenship
Most Greek poleis in the classical period seem to have had property qualifications for full citizenship. These qualifications apparently tended to coincide roughly with the amount of property necessary to enable someone to provide his own weapons and thus serve in the citizen militia of hoplites. Similar property qualifications were also common in the United States, even after the Revolution and the ratification of the Constitution.17
Thus economic limitations on full participation in the political life of a regime are not inconsistent either with the ancient Greek ideals of eleutheria
("liberty" and "equality of the law") or with the principles embodied in the American Constitution.
Nevertheless, by the 450s the Athenians had removed all but the most nominal economic restrictions on free Athenian males for full (or almost full) participation in political life. Athenians of the lowest property class, the thetes,
could vote in the assembly and (probably) serve on the Council of 500. And although the property qualification for the office of archon remained at the approximate level of the hoplite-farmers (the zeugitai
) after 457, Aristotle suggests that in the fourth century this restriction was not enforced.18
Thus by the mid fifth century even the poorest free Athenian males could vote, and by the end of the century they could hold most of the major public offices in the polis.19
The Athenians' removal of property qualifications for citizenship might encourage us to analogize citizenship in democratic Athens and citizenship in modern democratic regimes, in which property qualifications long ago passed out of use. But this analogy is very misleading, first, because moderns tend to associate citizenship primarily with the rights and privileges this status guarantees rather than with the qualifications it requires or the duties it implies. Moreover, many of these protections for citizens (e.g., the right to own property and the protection of one's person or free speech) are thought to be virtually universal "human rights" that do not—or, rather, should not—depend on a particular form of regime or on a distinction between citizens and resident aliens. (Neither, of course, do they sanction a class of slaves living alongside citizens, as in ancient Athens.) Thus many Americans value their citizenship because it ostensibly ensures rights they believe are due to everyone, and not because the duties they perform as citizens entitle them to privileges that distinguish them from other persons. The analogy between ancient and modern democratic citizenship also fails because, despite the lack of a property qualification in classical Athens, Athenian citizenship—unlike its modern American counterpart—did entail very real obligations and requirements.20
First, after Pericles' citizenship law of 451/0, all Athenian citizens were required to be sons of free Athenian parents; neither parent could be a foreigner or a slave.21
Young men were presented to their fellow deme members for enrollment on the citizen list at the age of eighteen. The demesmen voted under oath, confirming both that the prospective citizen had reached the legal age and that he had been born "in accordance with the laws," apparently a reference to the parents' citizenship.22
The Athenians obviously took these hereditary requirements for citizenship very seriously, since the attempt to pass off an ineligible individual as a citizen seems to have resulted in the city selling the impostor into slavery.23
Having been enrolled as a citizen on his deme's register, the eighteen-year-old Athenian entered a two-year period of state service known as the ephebeia.
The young "ephebes" received military training and acted as a kind of home guard for the polis. During this period they received a stipend from the city and were immune from prosecution, "so that there might be no reason to leave their duties."24
Scholars are uncertain when the formal system of ephebeia
began in Athens, although very young and very old citizens had acted as a home guard since at least the mid fifth century (see, e.g., Thuc. 2.13).25
In any case, the formal system existed by the mid fourth century, and it followed a long-standing tradition of mandatory military service by young citizens. However, we should note that scholars disagree about whether the members of the lowest property class in Athens (the thetes
) were required or allowed to participate in the ephebeia,
which consisted largely of training for the (traditionally middle-class) hoplite infantry.26
All the ephebes swore an oath, which has come down to us in various ancient sources:
I shall not disgrace the sacred weapons (that I bear) nor shall I desert the comrade at my side, wherever I stand in the line. And I shall fight in defense of things sacred and non-sacred and I shall not hand down (to my descendants) a lessened fatherland, but one that is increased in size and strength both as far as [it] lies within me [to do this] and with the assistance of all, and I shall be obedient to those who on any occasion are governing prudently and to the laws that are established and any that in the future may be established prudently. If anyone tries to destroy (them), I shall resist both as far as [it] lies within me [to do this] and with the assistance of all, and I shall honor the sacred rites that are ancestral. The witnesses (are) the gods, Aglauros, Hestia, Enyo, Enyalios, Ares and Athena Areia, Zeus, Thallo, Auxo, Hegemone, Herakles, (and) the boundaries of my fatherland, the wheat, the barley, the vines, the olives, the figs.27
Along with the citizen's sworn duty to protect the laws, the military and religious aspects of the oath are striking, in particular the promise to pass on to one's descendants a fatherland "increased in size and strength." The oath also nicely demonstrates the way social, military, and religious issues came together in the lives of Athenian citizens, who were expected to perform duties in each of these areas throughout their lives.28
The Athenian citizen's liability for military service did not end after his two-year stint as an ephebe. All citizens could be called up for service until about the age of sixty.29
The citizens' continuing duties in this area (and others) are emphasized in the questions asked of prospective candidates for the Athenian office of archon, a position filled by lot after 487:
When [the members of the Council of 500] are checking qualifications [for archonship], they ask first: "Who is your father, and what is your deme? Who was your father's father, and who was your mother, and her father and his deme?" Then they ask whether the candidate is enrolled in a cult of Apollo Patroos and Zeus Herkeios, and where the shrines are; whether he has family tombs and where they are; whether he treats his parents well, pays his taxes, and has gone on military campaign when required. When these questions have been asked, the candidate is required to call witnesses to his answers.30
All prospective Athenian officials, whether chosen by election or by lot, faced the same or similar questions before either the Council of 500 or a regular Athenian court. This vetting process (dokimasia)
served to test the candidate's formal qualifications and personal conduct, not his supposed technical competence for a particular office.31
Any citizen could make accusations against a candidate during the dokimasia,
and such accusations could result in the candidate's rejection (by vote) before the examining body. Rejections may have been rare; we know of only a few cases from the classical period.32
But even if candidates rarely failed to pass their examinations, the questions put to hundreds of Athenians each year by their fellow citizens made a strong public statement about the values of the demos and the duties expected of each Athenian.
Every Athenian citizen faced obligations that included military service, participation in the religious life of the polis, and taking care of his parents. But beyond these positive duties, citizens also risked the imposition of fines, loss of citizen privileges (a penalty called atimia
), banishment, and even death if they violated certain formal or informal standards of conduct set by the polis. In the political arena, fifth-century Athenian political leaders who fell afoul of the demos for any reason could be ostracized, and many of the best-known Athenian statesmen endured this punishment.33
In the fourth century, fines, atimia,
and the death penalty seemingly increased in frequency and replaced ostracism as the punishment for failed or unpopular political or military leaders.34
Citizens were also expected to meet certain standards of private conduct. In particular, "an Athenian who prostituted himself or caused another to prostitute himself was punished with death or atimia.
The seduction of a free woman could result in severe penalties including the seducer's summary execution by the woman's relative (if the man was caught in the act), physical torture, or a fine. Seduced women themselves had to be divorced by their husbands and were excluded from civic religious functions.36
Failure to care for aged parents, to give them appropriate funerals, or to maintain the cult at their graves after death also incurred the penalty of atimia.
A citizen who squandered his inheritance was liable for the same penalty.37
Any citizen, moreover, that committed an act of overweening arrogance (hybris)
against another individual—a provision that included but was not limited to dishonoring him in some way—became liable for prosecution.38
By these means, citizen status at Athens was tied directly and closely to very real hereditary requirements, as well as to a set of public and private obligations imposed by other citizens. In return for fulfilling these obligations, the Athenian citizens enjoyed the opportunity not only to vote in the assembly, but also to serve in office as magistrates, other officials, or members of the Council of 500, and to earn pay as public officials or as jurors on the large Athenian courts. In the fourth century, they could also receive pay for attending the assembly and (eventually) even a subsidy for the cost of their theater admission. By that time, disabled citizens were also eligible to receive a small pension, while the orphaned sons of those who died in battle had been brought up at public expense since the fifth century. Citizens obviously could own property in Attica, although foreigners could not (unless they received special dispensation from the polis). Certain crimes received harsher punishments if committed against citizens than if they were committed against metics or slaves. Citizens could not be beaten or tortured, although slaves could be flogged and both metics and slaves were subject to torture. In fact, a slave's testimony had to be obtained under torture before it became admissible in an Athenian court.39
In contrast to citizen rights in modern America, the privileges of citizenship in ancient Athens carried with them serious responsibilities and duties. Before the mid fourth century, these duties meant that most Athenian men at least occasionally risked their lives in military service. Athenians also expected their fellow citizens to maintain standards of personal conduct in order to retain their privileged status, and they could withhold privileges (such as office-holding) or impose punishments for failure to meet these expectations. Obviously, therefore, Athens's removal of property qualifications for citizenship does not indicate that the Athenians set no standards for participation in the sociopolitical life of the polis. The citizens of Athens continued to perform public and private duties and meet standards of personal conduct in exchange for their citizenship throughout classical Athenian history. Did the Demos Rule Well?
Although the Athenians continued to insist on personal qualifications for citizenship, they did remove most economic restrictions on participation in the polis's government. Those without property could participate in the Athenian assembly and sit on Athenian juries.
Many Athenians apparently had confidence in the poorer citizens' ability to rule wisely through voting. Pericles claimed that the common members of Athens's electorate—the whole demos—were "not insufficiently knowledgeable" in public affairs and that all Athenians were "either able to originate or, at least, to judge policies astutely" (Thuc. 2.40).40
Indeed, the principle that all men received justice (dike)
in equal shares from the gods and thus could act as "capable judges" in public matters (including trials) seems to have been one of the ideas used to justify democratic government.41
But does an evaluation of classical Athenian history bear out this proposition? Did the Athenian citizens in assembly tend to make just or wise decisions about ruling themselves and others? Surely any honest critique of democracy must confront this basic question: do the people rule well?
The major events of Athenian history are rarely examined as expressions of the Athenians' electoral justice, wisdom, or skill. Perhaps this stems from the fact that, if one treats Athens's actions as the results of ballots cast by a free people in assembly, Athenian history makes a poor argument for popular rule. Athens's history under demokratia
shows the Athenian people voting repeatedly to make war on their former friends and allies (as well as enemies), to conclude alliances with their recent enemies or with Greeks that had collaborated with Persia, to execute or exile their own leaders, to extort monetary payments from allied states that wished to be free of Athenian hegemony, to use this extorted money to fund Athenian projects (including the extortion of more money), to impose their own form of government on formerly autonomous states by force, to execute and enslave thousands of non-Athenian Greeks, to invade foreign states with massive force in order to expand Athenian power, to usurp or undercut taxes formerly paid by foreign citizens to their own states, to require religious oaths of loyalty from their allies, to refuse requests for assistance from allied states or to send only token or mercenary forces to these allies, to continue and even increase state payments to themselves in the face of pressing need elsewhere, to refuse to help other Greek states resist Macedonian hegemony, and to grant honors to the very dynasts who imperiled their form of government. All this, again, resulted from majority votes in the Athenian assembly.
Of course, we may attempt to balance these expressions of the popular will by juxtaposing them with the Athenian votes to send aid to the Ionian Greeks during their revolt from Persia (499), to stand against the Persians at Marathon and Salamis (490, 480), to crush the Persian forces in southern Asia Minor at the Eurymedon (ca. 466), to assist their Spartan allies during a helot revolt (462/1), to reestablish demokratia
(in 410), to stand (at last) against Philip of Macedon (in 339/8), and to honor citizens, foreigners, or other states that had done good services for Athens. But it would certainly be difficult to construct a list of praiseworthy or wise Athenian votes in the classical period that could rival in number those ballots that to many moderns (and at least some ancient Greeks) have seemed unjust, belligerent, or simply foolish. Moreover, most of the Athenian assembly's more admirable decisions appear very early in the period of demokratia,
before the radicalization of the regime in the late 460s. After that time, very few votes of the demos reflect anything but a rather narrow view of Athens's (or rather, individual Athenians') self-interest.42
In fact, after the vote in 462/1 to assist Sparta during the helot revolt, we rarely see the Athenians voting to support policies that could not be painted as profitable for the citizens or the city.
Let us remind ourselves once again of certain specific decisions taken by the Athenians in assembly in the early years of demokratia.
Shortly after Cleisthenes' reforms, the Athenians rejected an alliance with Persia.43
Athens remained independent of Persian control thereafter, the citizens voting to send aid to Ionian Greeks revolting from Persia in 499 and then electing to resist Persian invasions of mainland Greece in 490 and 480-479.44
With the creation of the Delian League in 478/7, the Athenians entered a new period, in which their assembly was called upon repeatedly to make decisions about their empire and the fate of non-Athenian Greeks and others encountering Athens's power. Scholars differ on the extent to which the Athenian assembly governed the alliance in its early years. Thucydides reports that the league had its own congresses (1.96), and thus the allies presumably had some say in league affairs in the years just after 478/7.
However, by the mid 460s, the Athenians were voting to use force to prevent their former allies from withdrawing from the league. This continued even after their victory over the Persians at the Eurymedon in Asia Minor ca. 466, when the Persians ceased to be a real threat in the Aegean. As a tangible sign of this, in the year 462/1, the Athenians "released their alliance [with Sparta] against the Persians" and elected to make treaties with the friends of Persia and enemies of Sparta (Argos and Thessaly).45
This year 462/1 was epochal in several ways, for it also marked one of the last times the Athenians voted to send a major force to assist an ally without any real expectations of increased Athenian power or profit. The Spartans had endured a damaging earthquake several years before this and had been attempting to put down a helot revolt ever since. The Athenian general Cimon persuaded the assembly to send a large hoplite force to assist the Spartans. But (apparently) after Cimon and his infantrymen had left the city, his political enemy Ephialtes passed revolutionary measures in the assembly that, among other things, restricted the powers of the conservative Areopagus Council. Learning of this revolution and (probably) of Athenian negotiations with the Argives, the Spartans dismissed their friend Cimon.46
The general returned to Athens, where the Athenians now voted to ostracize him. Whatever Ephialtes had done (combined with Cimon's abortive mission to Sparta) had created sufficient support for the new regime to produce the exile of Athens's greatest leader after the Persian Wars.47
With Athens now exerting force to retain its current allies and rejecting its previous alliance with Sparta in favor of the medizing Argives and Thessalians, the members of the Delian League by the late 460s undoubtedly recognized that this "alliance" had become a tool of Athenian power rather than a weapon against the Persians. As if to underscore this fact, in 454/3, the Athenians voted to transfer the league treasury from the island of Delos to Athens, and they subsequently voted to use this money for Athenian projects like the building program on the acropolis.48
At least one prominent Athenian, Cimon's relative Thucydides son of Melesias, seems to have opposed Pericles' program of spending the allies' money in this way. But the Athenian demos voted to ostracize him too (ca. 444/3) and continued to support expenditures for buildings for Athens and payments for themselves as jurors.49
Around the same time that the Athenians instituted jury payments—probably in the late 450s50
—Pericles also persuaded them (in 451/0) to vote to limit Athenian citizenship to those whose mothers and fathers were both Athenian.51
The increasing benefits of citizenship were thereby restricted to "native" Athenians, and aristocrats were forced to seek marriages inside the city rather than making inter-polis alliances of the kind that were common among their class.52
Once we come to the 440s, we reach the period of Pericles' clear dominance of the Athenian political scene.53
Although we know of only a few particular decrees proposed by the statesman after the citizenship law of 451/0, his name or influence are associated with many of Athens's most famous or infamous acts in this period.54
We also know the names of some of the other Athenian leaders who made significant proposals before the people in this period, because they are included as part of the prescript of the Athenian inscriptions that record the assembly's decrees. Virtually all these documents begin with the same basic formula.
Resolved by the Council [of 500] and the demos [in assembly]: X was the tribe in prytany, X was the secretary [of the Council of 500], X presided [over the assembly], and X made the motion [here recorded].55
Although the dates of many of these inscriptions remain controversial, there is general agreement that at least some of them go back to the 440s (and earlier), and that they thus reflect the period of Periclean leadership in Athens.56
Given the popular association of Pericles and Athens with the ideals of humanism and democracy, these documents would seem particularly troubling. For in them we have recorded on stone not the dictates of an emperor or tyrant to his subjects but rather the decrees of a free people in assembly, an assembly including (if not dominated by) the poorest members of Athenian society.
It is rarely emphasized that each inscription records an actual vote of the Athenian people: that is, each directly reflects the Athenian popular will (or rather the will of the majority present at a given meeting of the assembly). Each of these documents thus presents a snapshot of the Athenian electorate, and the image preserved is often less than flattering. From one of the earliest examples of Athenian rule (and several that follow), we see that the Athenians voted to impose their own form of government on other Greek states, to install garrisons in other cities, and to require particular religious sacrifices of their subjects.57
The Athenian demos also voted to create colonies on foreign soil and to send out Athenian settlers to occupy lands formerly owned by others.58
In their assembly, the Athenians voted to reduce their revolted allies and to force them to swear oaths of loyalty to the Athenian demos,
and sometimes even to swear "to love the demos of the Athenians."59
A majority of the Athenians decided that certain legal disputes involving Athenians and their subjects should be heard in Athens by Athenian jurors, rather than locally, where non-Athenians would make decisions.60
The demos threatened and imposed fines and other punishments on foreign allies and on Athenian officials who failed to fulfill their duties.61
Indeed, it would seem that the Athenian demos voted to threaten and punish their fellow citizens (with fines, exile, execution) as frequently as their foreign subjects.
Athenian hegemony and imperialism—whatever we think of them—flourished in the environment created by democratic government. At the same time that the Athenians were voting to impose their form of government on and exact tribute payments from formerly autonomous regimes, they were voting to pay themselves from public funds and erect fabulous new buildings.62
Of course, the people who cast their votes are only one side of this equation. The options that they have are partially restricted by the leaders they support, and thus an examination of the most famous and admired of Athens's democratic leaders would seem in order. Leaders versus Demagogues: The Case of Pericles
Pericles casts a long shadow. Undoubtedly the most important figure in the history of Athenian democracy, he nonetheless suffers from mythologization similar to that which has colored modern Americans' opinions about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. The legends surrounding these men arguably shroud adequate popular appreciation of them as real human beings and political figures. The disaster of George Washington's reputation is demonstrated almost every year when I ask my students, "What did George Washington do?" The answer is immediate and disturbing: "He chopped down a cherry tree." Even the moral of the children's story ("I cannot tell a lie. . . . ") has been obscured by the humorous image of young George wielding his trusty hatchet, presumably making an early start on the construction of his wooden teeth.
In reality, Washington was a complex and fascinating figure. Although he was perhaps the single man most responsible for America's victory in the Revolutionary War, Washington nevertheless rejected the pseudo-royal titles and perquisites offered by some of his contemporaries. Since he set the precedent for future presidents, Washington arguably acted as the founder of actual American government
(as opposed to political theory). He presided over the Constitution's creation without intervening until the last day of the Congress, when his one suggestion was accepted without further debate by the previously contentious delegates. A superb horseman and charming dancer with an impressive physique, even in middle age he could throw an iron bar further than younger challengers without so much as removing his coat. Washington's real talents and achievements explode the hollow myth surviving in the popular mind and on our one-dollar bills.63
Like Washington, Pericles has become both larger (and smaller) than life. To moderns, he often seems a kind of disembodied or dehumanized spokesman for democratic values, transmitted to us through less than careful readings, summaries, or decontextualized quotations from Thucydides' account of Pericles' Funeral Oration. Many people know that Pericles in that address called Athens the "school of Hellas," and that he praised Athenian government and society in contrast to the Spartans' regime. Yet few authorities have emphasized the primary thrust of the speech, which is thoroughly militaristic, collectivist, and unstintingly nationalistic.64
Behind Pericles' image in the popular mind, and at times clouding the very picture of him, are the famous buildings on the acropolis of Athens, built as part of the "Periclean" program of construction. In fact, the Parthenon and (a very small part of) Pericles' speech stand together as the most concrete modern images of ancient democracy and classical Athens.65
This is a strange situation. For, like Pericles' career, the Parthenon is not a testament to Athenian democracy, humanism, or liberalism, although some scholars still hold versions of this view.66
A temple to Athens's patron deity, Athena, the building was financed in part by money the Athenians had exacted from other Greek states.67
Its frieze depicted the Athenian festival known as the Panathenaea (i.e., sacred rites that were "All Athena" or "All Athenian").68
Inside the impressive structure, a colossal gold and ivory statue of Athena held the image of "Victory" (Nike) in her hand, while her sandals rested on images of the myth of Pandora, who had released troubles innumerable to man.69
The Parthenon is first and foremost a monument to Athenian power, glory, and victory over both barbarians (like the Persians) and, by implication if not direct representation, other Greeks. The building was a dedication to and housed a representation of the goddess that presided over and ensured Athenian superiority. The temple proclaims "Athena and Athens!" without so much as a hint of Panhellenism or "democratic" values. As one eminent scholar recently concluded, "To say that the Athenians built the Parthenon to worship themselves would be an exaggeration, but not a great one."70
Many fifth-century Greeks would have expected nothing else. After all, what would have been more bizarre than if the Athenians had actually chosen to build a temple showing Athens as merely one part (or even the leading part) of a larger Greek confederation, or making Athena merely one god within the Hellenic pantheon? Instead, Pericles and the Athenians sang their own praises and those of their goddess.71
Some other Greeks undoubtedly did not approve of the Athenians' dominant position in the Aegean, but all understood it, and many of those who visited Athens must have admired the beauty and magnificence of Athenian art and architecture, no matter how they had been funded.
A close examination of Pericles' Funeral Oration in Thucydides reveals a monument perhaps an even more "nationalistic"—as opposed to "democratic"—than the Parthenon. After briefly dilating on Athens's open society and implicitly contrasting this with the control of individual lives putatively found in Sparta, Pericles passes quickly to the issue of Athens's power and the need for Athenian citizens, literally, to become "lovers" of the city or its power.72
Even Pericles' famous proclamation that Athens was a school, or "education" for Greece, rests on a military foundation.
In short, I say that as a city we are an education for Hellas, and I doubt if the world can produce a man, who where he has only himself to depend upon, is equal to so many emergencies, and graced by so happy a versatility as the Athenian. And that this is no mere boast thrown out for the occasion, but plain matter of fact, the power of the state acquired by these habits proves.
For Athens alone of her contemporaries is found when tested to be greater than her reputation, and alone gives no occasion to her assailants to blush at the antagonist by whom they have been worsted, or to her subjects to question her title by merit to rule. Rather, the admiration of the present and succeeding ages will be ours, because we have not left our power without witness, but have shown it by mighty proofs;
and because far from needing a Homer for our panegyrist, or other of his craft whose verses might charm for the moment only for the impression which they gave to melt at the touch of fact, we have forced every sea and land to be the highway of our daring, and everywhere, whether for evil or for good, have left imperishable monuments behind us.
Such is the Athens for which these men, in the assertion of their determination not to part with her, nobly fought and died; and well may every one of their survivors be ready to suffer in her cause. (2.41; trans. Crawley, adapted, with emphasis added)
Such ideas are echoed later in the last speech of Pericles presented in Thucydides' work.
Remember, too, that if your country has the greatest name in all the world, it is because she never bent before disaster, and because she has expended more life and effort in war than any other city, and has won for herself a power greater than any hitherto known,
the memory of which will descend to the latest posterity; even if now, in obedience to the general law of decay, we should ever be forced to yield, still it will be remembered that we held rule over more Greeks than any other Greek state, that we sustained the greatest wars against their united or separate powers, and inhabited a city unrivaled by any other in resources and magnitude.
These glories may incur the censure of the slow and unambitious; but in the breast of energy they will awake emulation, and in those who must remain without them an envious regret. Hatred and unpopularity at the moment have fallen to the lot of all who have aspired to rule others; but where odium must be incurred, true wisdom incurs it for the highest objects.
Hatred also is short-lived; but that which makes the splendor of the present and glory of the future remains forever unforgotten. Decide, therefore, for glory then and honor now, and attain both objects by instant and zealous effort: send no heralds to Lacedaemon, and do not betray any sign of being oppressed by your present sufferings, since they whose minds are least sensitive to calamity, and whose hands are most quick to meet it, are the greatest men and the greatest communities. (2.64; trans. Crawley, adapted, with emphasis added)
Modern sensibilities recoil (or rather should
recoil) from the naked nationalism of Pericles' orations, a nationalism that one cannot dismiss as merely empty or patriotic rhetoric. The Parthenon's symbolism and Athens's consistent drive to Aegean hegemony after the 470s confirm this aggressive sense of national superiority as a guiding principle of Athenian interaction with other states and a fundament of the Athenians' self-image.73
In contrast, one might speculate that in introducing "democratic values" into the Funeral Oration, Pericles was making a significant innovation, asking the Athenians to conceptualize themselves in a new or unusual way.74
But even Pericles does not allow his image of Athens as a unique or superior state to rest primarily on its democratic form of government. For Pericles, Athens's superiority to other states stemmed from its power
and from its citizens' character—a character that had facilitated the acquisition of that power.75
Pericles' speeches and career thus provide important evidence of the Athenians' martial self-image and of their early efforts to conceptualize their polis—but only in part—as a state with an unusual and superior government/society (politeia)
. Nevertheless, and despite his crucial role in the radicalization of Athenian democracy, Pericles himself has attracted relatively little scholarly attention in the past few decades. One suspects that this stems in part from his semi-mythologized character, which makes a "book about Pericles" appear to be a less than completely scholarly enterprise.76
In fact, grappling with the problems of Pericles' biography, his political career, and his long-term influence must be central to any study of Athenian history in the second half of the fifth century.
From the work that has been attempted, Pericles has emerged as both a man of his time and a kind of aberration. Pericles' family background certainly made him unusual. His mother came from one of the most famous (and infamous) aristocratic families in Athens. This clan (the Alcmeonids) had produced the founder of Athenian demokratia
(Cleisthenes). But it also suffered from the stigma of an apparently state-sanctioned curse incurred sometime in the late seventh century b.c., when an Alcmeonid official executed would-be revolutionaries after they had sought protection of the gods as suppliants at a sacred altar. These actions resulted in the family's expulsion from Athens and the subsequent purification of the city by a Cretan soothsayer.77
After this event the Athenian populace and the Alcmeonid family had a tumultuous relationship. Having secured their return from exile by the early sixth century, the family sought power by aligning themselves through marriage with the Athenian tyrant Peisistratus in the mid 500s. At the time, this must have been seen as a "popular" and anti-aristocratic move, since the Peisistratid tyrants apparently sought power as champions of the people against some of the aristocrats that dominated Athens. This tactic clearly worked, because the tyrants' subsequent fall in 511/10 resulted from hostilities between the Peisistratids and certain aristocratic families and from the Spartan policy of overthrowing tyrannies, and not from any hostility toward the tyrants within the Athenian demos at large. A few years later, it was the Alcmeonid Cleisthenes—Peisistratus's former brother-in-law and the grandson of another tyrant—who managed to pass the reforms in Athens that ultimately resulted in demokratia
(ca. 507). Obviously a connection with tyrannical government or families in no way disqualified a leader from popular support in late sixth-century Athens.78
But Pericles' great-uncle Cleisthenes seems to have fallen from power shortly after the reform that created demokratia,
perhaps because his government sought Persian protection in the face of possible Spartan interference in Athenian internal affairs. (The Spartans, having removed the Peisistratid tyrants, had returned to Athens and attempted to overthrow the regime instituted by the Peisistratids' relation Cleisthenes. The Athenian people successfully resisted their attempt, but then rejected an alliance with Persia apparently supported by Cleisthenes.)79
Later, Pericles' Alcmeonid relatives found themselves under suspicion of pro-Persian sympathies. After the battle of Marathon they were accused of collaboration with the Persian invaders, and Alcmeonids and those close to them were ostracized by vote of the Athenian demos.80
Included in this banished group were Pericles' father, Xanthippus (who was married to an Alcmeonid), and his Alcmeonid uncle Megacles. Pericles thus spent important adolescent or early adult years during the mid to late 480s as the son of an exile, probably returning to Athens with his father only after those ostracized had been recalled in 481/0.
It has been reasonably suggested that all this left an indelible mark on Pericles' later political persona. Tainted by the religious curse on his mother's family, Pericles seemingly sought out the company of the growing number of rationalist philosophers present in Athens—men who were unlikely to treat such a stigma with anything but disdain.81
The Spartans' role in the attack on Cleisthenes and Pericles' own dubious relations with philo-Spartan political forces in Athens (represented by Cimon and his allies) must have contributed to Pericles' virulently anti-Spartan foreign policy. His family's apparent inability to consolidate its power (or, rather, achieve supremacy) through typical aristocratic means (especially through land and cults) and their subsequent need to seek popular support—first through connections with the tyrants and then through demokratia
—laid the groundwork for Pericles' own radicalization of the democratic regime and the demos's subsequent empowerment.82
About Pericles' early political career we know very few specifics. It appears likely that he entered politics somewhat late in life, perhaps fearing ostracism, given his father's experience, the curse on his mother's family, and their connections with the Peisistratids.83
He certainly served in Athens's military in the 470s, and we know he acted as the producer (choregos)
of Aeschylus's Persians
in 473/2. After his restrained prosecution of Cimon in 463,84
Pericles most probably attached himself to the faction supporting Cimon's political enemy Ephialtes. When Ephialtes seized the opportunity presented by Cimon's expedition to the Peloponnese to put through his reforms (462/1), Pericles almost certainly supported him. After Ephialtes' subsequent murder, Pericles apparently emerged as the leader of the progressive faction.85
Unfortunately, we confront a virtual vacuum in the sources for Pericles' career between 463 and 451/0. Aeschylus's Eumenides
may suggest that Pericles was seen as a major force among the reformers by 459/8, the year of the play's production,86
but there is no direct evidence of his political activities in this period. We may infer from his later policies that Pericles favored the rejection of the Athenian alliance with Sparta against Persia (Thuc. 1.102) and supported the subsequent First Peloponnesian War, which pitted Athens against Sparta and its allies (especially Corinth) ca. 460-446. It is difficult to say the same about Athens's ultimately disastrous expedition to Egypt (459-454), apparently launched to assist Egypt's attempt to break free of Persian control and (surely) also in the hope of establishing Athenian influence in the rich lands of northeastern Africa.87
Pericles' later actions and Plutarch's testimony suggest that the statesman probably would have preferred to focus Athens's attentions on projects closer to home, foregoing the war against Persia in favor of extending Athens's Hellenic empire in the Aegean and on the Greek mainland.88
Pericles' desire to expand Athens's Greek holdings may also help explain the events surrounding the so-called Peace of Callias, an apparent agreement (formal or informal) between Athens and the Persian Great King Artaxerxes ca. 449 that ended Atheno-Persian hostilities in the Aegean. Pericles undoubtedly supported this agreement, which had been brought about by a renewal of active war with Persia after Cimon returned to Athens from ostracism ca. 451. In Cyprus, Cimon's forces won a major victory, which apparently brought Artaxerxes to the bargaining table, while Cimon's death allowed his political rivals like Pericles to take advantage of the situation.89
The Cyprus campaign suggests that Cimon briefly dominated Athenian foreign policy after his return in the late 450s; Pericles at that time apparently focused on domestic questions.90
In 454/3, the treasury of the Delian League had been transferred to Athens, and increased expenditures on Athenian projects followed in short order.91
As we have seen, Pericles' proposal to begin the payment of jurors from public funds probably occurred during this period, and the statesman's legislation to restrict Athenian citizenship to those with two Athenian parents in 451/0 suggests a reasonable historical context for the measure. When the benefits of Athenian citizenship were on the rise, it might seem both economically and politically expedient (from Pericles' standpoint) to limit this citizenship to those of strictly Athenian descent.92
Since the law also effectively ended the Athenian aristocrats' practice of marrying into aristocratic non-Athenian families, it would tend to diminish any inter-polis aristocratic ties and/or feelings of "Panhellenism." We may assume that Pericles intended and welcomed both results.93
The peace with Persia ca. 449 allowed Pericles and the Athenians to turn their attentions fully to Greece itself. Unfortunately for Athens, the peace also confirmed the allies' fears that tribute payment to Athens and Athenian domination of the Aegean were ultimately unrelated to any continuing war against Persia. Apparently, some states demonstrated resistance or revolted, and the Athenians resorted to force to keep the "alliance" together.94
Meanwhile, Athenian gains in central Greece were challenged by renewed hostilities with Sparta and a Boeotian coalition led by Thebes (448/7-447/6). When cities on the great island of Euboea also revolted, Pericles led a force there to reduce the poleis, only to learn that Megara had now revolted and murdered its Athenian garrison, opening the isthmus to a Peloponnesian invasion of Attica.95
According to one tradition, Pericles solved the Spartan problem by bribing the advisers of the Spartan king Pleistoanax, who then failed to attack Athens and was himself forced to leave Sparta.96
Nevertheless, the Athenians' loss to the Boeotians at Coronea in 447/6 signaled the end of Athens's land empire in central Greece, and, combined with the troubles in Euboea and elsewhere in the empire, led to a peace treaty with Sparta in 446/5 that was intended to last for thirty years.97
Despite the limited success of his presumed foreign policy initiatives in the early to mid 440s, Pericles enjoyed increasing influence in Athenian domestic affairs. Work on the Parthenon began in 447/6, and the Periclean building program as a whole poured large sums of money into Athenian pockets and Athens's economy.98
Pericles' opponents apparently raised objections to the use of the funds paid by the members of the Delian League for such expenditures, but the program was obviously lucrative for the Athenian portion of the builders, artists, and workers involved, and thus popular. After the demos finally ostracized Pericles' chief political rival and opponent of the program, Thucydides son of Melesias,99
Pericles began his impressive run of fifteen consecutive years (444/3-429/8) as one of Athens's elected strategoi.100
Pericles supported, participated in, and probably proposed Athens's intervention in the conflict between its allies Samos and Miletus in 441.101
Having taken the Milesians' side, the Athenians ultimately voted to impose a democracy and a garrison on Samos and took Samian hostages. When the Samians' balked, and some of their anti-Athenian exiles sought the assistance of a Persian satrap, the Athenians besieged the city for nine months before reducing it and then executing many Samian opponents of Athens's actions (440-439).102
A faction in Athens clearly resented the brutal Athenian treatment of an ancient and powerful ally like Samos, and Pericles seems to have endured some criticism over his policy.103
However, the statesman's enemies only succeeded in slandering Pericles' consort Aspasia and possibly indicting, exiling, or ostracizing one or more of his associates.104
Meanwhile, contemporary jibes at Pericles and his associates may have been responsible for the decree the Athenians apparently passed in 440/39 prohibiting the comic abuse of individuals.105
This measure, repealed in 437/6, and numerous fragments of lost comedies suggest that Pericles and his associates served as frequent butts of the comedians' jokes. (A favorite topic was the size and shape of Pericles' head, which was said to resemble a sea-onion, and which one poet claimed was large enough to hold "eleven couches.")106
If comic poets' attacks on Pericles precipitated the measure, the decree nonetheless shows that Pericles could still muster real support in the assembly.107
And the fact that the Samian War did not do any lasting harm to Pericles' overall popularity with the demos may be suggested by the fact that he was chosen to deliver a funeral oration for the Athenians who died in the war.108
Pericles' arguably greatest political success occurred in the late 430s, when he persuaded the Athenian populace to refuse all concessions to the Peloponnesians (thus bringing on the Peloponnesian War in 431) and then persuaded the hoplite-farmers of Attica to move inside the city walls and allow their lands to be ravaged by Spartan invaders.109
Even after the war continued into its second year and the Athenians were suffering from a devastating plague, Pericles continued to support the conflict and the Athenian dominance that he seemingly believed it would ensure, albeit in the face of great popular opposition. Although the demos fined Pericles and apparently removed him from office in this year (430/29), the Athenians subsequently reelected him. Pericles once more was serving as strategos
when he died (probably from the plague) in 429/8.110
Pericles' political convictions and even the particular program he pursued as a result of those convictions—including peace (or at least détente) with Persia, imperial expansion into mainland Greece and tightened controls on the allies (all actions that risked hostilities with Sparta and its allies), and payments made to poorer Athenians in return for their participation in public service—seem comprehensible, if not predictable, given his family background and personal history. But it is less easy to explain the kind of abstraction that appears in Pericles' thoughts about Athens in the speeches Thucydides attributes to him. That Thucydides has colored these addresses with his own language and thought cannot be doubted, but the historian—who expresses his admiration of Pericles' political character in glowing terms—is unlikely to have invented the basic thoughts contained in these orations.111
While many have studied or cited limited sections of these speeches as examples of "democratic" values, the orations as a whole have rarely been examined carefully as documents of Pericles' thought (in part because of the question of Thucydides' involvement in their composition). But at worst they represent what Thucydides thought people would believe Pericles had said or might have said, and they are therefore, even on the minimalist view, the reflection of an acute contemporary observer's opinions about Pericles' ideas.
What these orations show, beyond a rhetorical brilliance that surely stems from Pericles at least as much as Thucydides,112
is a fervent nationalism based on an intense belief in Athenian superiority—or rather, the belief that Athens could be superior given the right actions. The Athenians, in Pericles' view, needed to accept his belief in both the superiority of the state to the individual and in the related moral value of public service and its ability literally to act "as a cloak to cover a man's other imperfections."113
Such ideas stood in stark contrast both to the older aristocratic ideal of individual arete
—manly excellence exhibited to assert individual superiority and to gain the honor and rewards (time)
such superiority produced—and to the newer Socratic conception of excellence, which emphasized individual ethics.114
Of course, the ideal of civic responsibility and public service was hardly unknown to fifth-century Athenians. Indeed, I have suggested that it permeated every aspect of Athenian society. But Pericles seemingly had taken this concept—ultimately based on utility, community of religious and other sentiments, and natural patriotism—and developed it into a fervent nationalism designed to underpin Athenian power and superiority and ensure Athens's place in history. That is, Pericles' abstract ideal looks toward Athens's future reputation even more than to its present situation or its inherited past. It is, therefore, explicitly not
a utilitarian or moral view of duty and service. As Pericles states in Thucydides, "even if now, in obedience to the general law of decay, we should ever be forced to yield, still it will be remembered that we held rule over more Greeks than any other Greek state" (2.64). These views, perhaps less than remarkable in modern societies, which are focused on the future and thus obsessed with "progress" and creating a better world "for our children," made Pericles a very unusual thinker for fifth-century Greece.115
In short, Pericles apparently believed that individual Athenians' contemplation of their state's future reputation (as opposed to their own personal safety or honor) actually should comfort citizens suffering from the loss of their children and bolster their morale in the face of a war now aggravated by the outbreak of a deadly plague. Yet the statesman perhaps somewhat overestimated the Athenians' willingness to sacrifice themselves for the sake of history, since the people eventually fined him. Nevertheless, taken as a whole, Pericles' career demonstrates his ability to sell his conception of Athens to the demos. As Thucydides put it, Pericles was able to lead the people, and thus to persuade them to take unpopular actions.
Pericles indeed, by his rank, ability, and known integrity, was enabled to exercise an independent control over the multitude—in short, to lead them instead of being led by them; for as he never sought power by improper means, he was never compelled to flatter them, but, on the contrary, enjoyed so high an estimation that he could afford to anger them by contradiction. Whenever he saw them unseasonably and insolently elated, he would with a word reduce them to alarm; on the other hand, if they fell victims to a panic, he could at once restore them to confidence. In short, what was nominally a democracy became in his hands government by the first citizen. With his successors it was different. More on a level with one another, and each grasping at supremacy, they ended by committing even the conduct of state affairs to the whims of the multitude. This, as might have been expected in a great and sovereign state, produced a host of blunders. (2.65; trans. Crawley)116
In Thucydides' opinion, Pericles' accomplishments, skill, and integrity separated the statesman from the demagogues who followed him—men who pandered to the demos by inciting their baser passions or by simply telling them what they wished to hear. Pericles, on the other hand, turned the populace toward policies he
deemed appropriate, policies he honestly believed were best for Athens's present power and, especially, for the city's future reputation.
The events of Pericles' career offer manifold positive and negative lessons about political leadership in a democratic environment. His success demonstrates unequivocally that a voting populace can be led into difficult, treacherous, or simply unpopular political territory by an individual with sufficient persuasive powers and personal character—an individual who is willing to risk removal from office or the loss of power by contradicting majority opinion. But Pericles' career also shows the political advantages that can accrue to democratic leaders that promise the electorate profits, glory, and power.117
It is surely no coincidence that Pericles' more "popular" acts—including the building program and the creation of jury pay—came in his early or middle career, while he was still establishing himself. Subsequently, Pericles became a leader able to push the citizenry into a deadly and far from universally popular war with Sparta.
Pericles' leadership should also give us pause because both his popular and his unpopular policies seem to have rested on ominous theories of the Athenian people's special destiny, theories suffused with intense nationalism and a belief in the supremacy of collective over individual morality that in turn served this nationalism. If such ideas resonated and then took hold in Athens, this may have been in part because Pericles' political actions had resulted in real economic gains for many segments of the Athenian electorate. Payment for public service and the massive building program helped earn him the basic support of the poorer members of the demos, whose service in the Athenian navy (in turn) took some military pressure off the hoplite-farmers who made up the infantry. This last group, like the sailors and even many aristocrats, also enjoyed the benefits Athens's empire brought to the city, including the markets it opened for their surplus produce and the lands it provided for their occupation.118
Pericles' support of imperial policies like the planting of Athenian colonies around the Aegean and the collection and use of tribute from "allied" Greek states never seems to have wavered.119
The idea that the Athenians were thereby ensuring a place in history for their city, as well as material advantages for themselves, undoubtedly encouraged the natural view that their polis was special and perhaps helped allay any fears that their empire was unjust.
If one extrapolates from the reports about Pericles' lack of sociability and his apparent unwillingness to express much basic human sympathy for the parents of Athens's dead soldiers in the Funeral Oration, at least one potential motivation for Pericles' political actions in favor of the demos disappears.120
No evidence suggests that Pericles loved the common members of the demos (any more than he loved his fellow aristocrats) or that he sought to improve their conditions out of humanitarian concerns. Rather, in the landless mass of citizens Pericles saw an untapped source of Athenian power and the crucial support for Athenian dominance. In short, Pericles seems to have believed that it was necessary to raise the demos (even at the expense of the aristocrats) so that his policies might succeed and so that Athens might thus triumph (both then and in history).
This essentially nonpolitical goal of ensuring Athens's place in history and Pericles' own personal integrity separate him from the demagogues who came after him. Where they looked for success in the assembly or on the battlefield in order to gain power in the present, Pericles sought to make Athens powerful in order to ensure the city's future reputation. And Pericles' ideals, his integrity, and his personal charisma, combined with his ability to abstract himself and other individual Athenians from their real political environment in order to focus on Athens's position in history, made Pericles both the greatest and the most dangerous leader Athens ever produced.
If unmitigated praise for Pericles is therefore unjustified, we may pause to focus on one of his admirable qualities that stands out most starkly in the modern democratic world. Even if Pericles' proposals sometimes stemmed in part from a plan to ingratiate him with the demos at large (as a means to achieve his greater goal), the evidence we have demonstrates clearly that he occasionally spoke harshly and critically to the Athenian people. Confident in his own powers of persuasion and loyal to his own ideals, Pericles felt no compunction about telling the Athenian demos that they were wrong. "If you are angry with me," he states early in his last speech in Thucydides, when the Athenians were enduring a plague that increased the suffering caused by the Peloponnesian War, "you are angry with a man who is, as I think, second to no man either in knowledge of the proper policy or in the ability to expound it, and who is moreover not only a patriot but an honest one" (2.60; trans. Crawley, adapted). In the same speech, Pericles reminds his audience that they
had voted for the very war for which they now wished to blame him. One is hard pressed to imagine a modern elected leader in the midst of an unpopular war or economic recession (much less a plague!) proclaiming to the electorate (in essence), "I am smart and honest; if you are angry with me, it is because you are neither smart nor honest with yourselves, since you have become fickle, while I have remained the same." Let us remember that by speaking in this way and by proposing and then supervising politically dangerous policies (like war with Sparta), Pericles risked immediate removal from office, fines, ostracism, and even execution
by the populace he addressed. The timid modern statesman, afraid even to suggest that "the American people" might be misguided, only runs the risk of losing his bid for reelection and thus being forced to return to a lucrative position in the private sector.
Contrary to what Thucydides suggests in his summary of his career (2.65), Pericles was not the last elected Athenian leader willing to risk criticizing the populace. His successor Cleon, often seen as the prototypical demagogue (in the modern sense), apparently also upbraided the Athenian people. In a speech presented in Thucydides, Cleon abuses the citizens for their inability to rule an empire effectively and their obsession with political debates, which Cleon maintains they treat like sporting events rather than serious considerations of policy (modern journalists and pundits, who treat politics as entertaining fodder for the nightly cable television programs, should take note).
The persons to blame [for the difficulties Athens faces in ruling her empire] are you [members of the Athenian assembly] who are so foolish as to institute these contests, who go to see an oration as you would to see a sight, take your facts on hearsay, judge of the practicality of a project by the wit of its advocates, and trust for the truth as to past events not to the fact which you saw more than to the clever strictures which you heard; the easy victims of new-fangled arguments, you are unwilling to follow received conclusions, slaves to every new paradox, despisers of the commonplace; the first wish of every man among you is that he could speak himself, the next to rival those who can speak by seeming to be quite up with their ideas by applauding every hit almost before it is made, and by being as quick in catching an argument as you are slow in foreseeing its consequences; you ask, if I may say so, for something different from the conditions under which we live, and yet you comprehend inadequately those very conditions; you are very slaves to the pleasure of the ear, and more like the audience of a professional public speaker than the council of a city. (Thuc. 3.38; trans. Crawley, adapted)
Like Pericles, Cleon here sought not to align himself with perceived popular opinion but rather to teach the people that their actions and beliefs were unwise. This attempt highlights a clear line of distinction between real political leaders and the worst kind of demagogues. And although later Athenian politicians also sometimes criticized the people, by the fourth century this criticism had become not only formulaic and hollow, but also seemingly ineffective.121
Of course, a populace that has been empowered politically through the vote or public payments will probably begin to have an increasingly high opinion of itself. This, we may speculate, can lead ultimately to the confirmation or even encouragement of this high opinion by politicians (who wish to gain the people's approval). This inflated self-image can also lead to unwillingness on the part of the people to hear itself criticized by those to whom it grants authority, especially if elected officials repeatedly tell the people that they (their leaders) are mere conduits for the popular will. Thus, for example, American politicians find it impossible to lead
the people when they are constantly claiming that they seek to reflect or implement what "the American people" want.122
One may justifiably doubt whether a thoroughly democratized populace will frequently elect those who stand in opposition to the electorate's view of itself. This doubt points to one of the inherent dangers facing modern democratic regimes, which define and defend themselves primarily through the existence of free elections. The vote allows individuals in effect to rule their neighbors and thus makes them think of themselves as rulers. Eventually this self-image may tend to supplant other considerations when the people evaluate candidates. Those candidates who seem to assert any superiority to the people (intellectual, moral, or otherwise) become less acceptable than those who confirm what the people already think of themselves.123
The observation that a democratically empowered populace may begin to think too highly of itself underlines the need for a people to elect those individuals—like Pericles—who can be respected by the electors themselves. Only leaders of integrity and/or those who have accomplished significant feats in their own (nonpolitical) lives are likely to influence the populace through criticism, through telling the people that their
views are incorrect or unjust. In short, Pericles' career and Thucydides' analysis suggest that democratic societies benefit from leaders who can command the people's personal respect and who possess the character required to risk the populace's disapproval.
The Athenians' fifth-century tendency to look to their elected military commanders for political leadership may have provided a check on the speed with which the vote could corrupt the electorate's morale. The Athenians' respect for their generals at the least reflects their implicit belief in the important connection between an individual's accomplishments, experience, and character and his ability to advise the people. In the fourth century, Athenians turned increasingly to those outside the board of generals for political leadership. Thus orators like Demosthenes, Eubulus, and Aeschines replaced generals like Themistocles, Cimon, and Pericles as the chief advisors to the Athenian demos.124
Besides other social, political, and military factors that led to this situation, it is possible that an Athenian populace that itself became less directly involved in waging its own wars (i.e., relying more and more on mercenary troops) also became less willing to listen to those who actually participated in the often nasty business of rule. Moreover, there may be a tendency for a democratic people, again, once they have been empowered politically, to seek out not only leaders to whom they feel no collective inferiority but even leaders to whom a significant part of the people can feel superior (morally or otherwise). As the collective morale of a democratic society declines, the people may decide to sacrifice real leadership in favor of their own psychological comfort, and while it cannot be proved that this occurred in fourth-century Athens, modern experience suggests that it is a real possibility.
At the very least, Athenian history demonstrates the need for democratic politicians to be able to criticize the electorate. This necessitates that those willing to risk political defeat and those of perceived character and accomplishment hold office. As the Athenians showed, one way to help achieve this goal is to connect political leadership with onerous and dangerous duties like those required of an Athenian general. Based on the Athenians' experience, Americans may justifiably ask whether there is not a need for qualifications for political leadership beyond the age of the candidate.
Although a formal requirement of military service, volunteer work, or some other nonelectoral public service for certain elected officials might go part of the way toward addressing this issue, such a formal solution cannot instill in the electorate a desire to choose leaders of character who are willing to criticize and thus lead the people. Any such formal requirements would therefore only solve one side of the problem. Ultimately, the populace also must come to value the qualities that define real leaders. For without electing individuals it can respect and then listening to them, an electorate is likely to get precisely the caliber of leadership it deserves. Modern Confusion about Election
The common Athenians' ability to cast ballots in assembly did not lead to a particularly just or peaceful regime. In fact, it would be much easier to argue the opposite—that Athens's use of the common citizens' votes to determine policy aggravated martial and nationalistic tendencies and eventually empowered individuals more interested in their own advancement than in the good of Athens or its citizens.
To the extent that moderns have seized on voting as the defining act of democracy, we have enshrined an aspect of the Athenian regime that is potentially dangerous and that the ancients themselves did not even consider particularly democratic. Because voting demands little of us, and allows us by extension to rule our neighbor, tax his property, or limit his smoking—all from the anonymity of the voting booth (as opposed to the public, open-air ballots by show of hands in the Athenian assembly)—it provides both a cheap salve to our civic conscience ("I am a dutiful citizen since I vote") and a philosophical and moral justification for any current regime ("the people voted for it"). Meanwhile, modern voters themselves remain free from more onerous duties of citizenship (like military service) and avoid the difficult decisions and risk that a real choice about the form of government would entail. Since election also intensifies the tendency for citizens of a modern regime to shift the blame for any action onto "the government" or elected officials, the vote serves conveniently to shield the electorate from both criticism and responsibility.
As we have noted, the Athenians did not use the secret ballot in their assembly. Jurors in Athenian courts, however, could disguise their votes for or against conviction even from their fellow jurymen.125
Is it not strange that modern America has chosen almost the very opposite arrangement? We tend to hide our personal preferences regarding our leaders, voting in tiny, private booths and often considering the question "Whom did you vote for?" somewhat rude. Meanwhile, our jurors discuss their views openly among themselves (since they often seek unanimity) and, more than infrequently in major cases, eventually appear in interviews for newspapers or television programs, explaining why they voted for guilt or innocence. But surely the question of a citizen's preference in an election should be a more public affair than a juror's determination about the guilt or innocence, and thus even life and death, of another individual. The fact that asking another citizen about his preference in a national election could be considered impolite in fact demonstrates the extent to which the modern idealization of politics has distorted our conception of the appropriately public and the private aspects of our lives. Since a citizen's vote has the potential to affect the lives of all other citizens in a very real and concrete way, only not answering
questions about one's vote should be considered offensive.
Strangely, many Americans ostensibly put more emphasis on the act of voting than on the issue of whom one supports. But since the purpose of voting presumably is to elect particular individuals, who will then carry out particular policies or represent particular ideas, this reverence for the very act of voting itself seems perverse. Many Americans have apparently come to believe that the democratic "process" is more important than the "product." 126
(And is this not an idea one actually hears in numerous contexts today, where discourse and consensus are so often praised over particular decisions?) The idea that voting and free elections are the principal condition necessary for the existence of good government has become a modern dogma. A means of reaching a definable end ("voting" in order to empower individuals who are just and will do specific things) has become an end itself.
To rectify this situation, we must first ask ourselves what goal we actually seek by allowing individual citizens to vote. If, in fact, our only goal is simply voting itself, we might as well admit that the American political system has little purpose other than to ensure its own moral justification.127
In such a situation, any immoral or unwise act—whether it is executing a great philosopher or killing civilians while making undeclared war on Serbia or Iraq—can be defended on the grounds that it reflects the results of the democratic process. Ironically, in America—because of our representative constitutional government—this may be true whether a majority of the electorate actually favors a policy or not. That is, American policies may be defended on "democratic" grounds even if they do not in truth represent the people's will.
I fully recognize that many people are not sincere when they say that "participation in the democratic process" is the most important product of elections. Such individuals almost always desire a particular end, and simply believe that the participation of a greater number of voters will ensure the victory of their camp.128
However, one only rarely hears politicians or other interested parties say that because they believe their view represents a minority position, they actually hope fewer people will vote.
That is, the established public faith in the process of voting compels even those who know they hold a minority view to pretend that they would like to see a high voter turnout. This fact demonstrates that participation in the act of voting irrespective of the result it might produce has become one of the fundamental professed tenets of the modern faith in democracy.129
Finally, those who do vote sometimes seem to consider themselves morally superior to those who do not. But it surely reflects the sad state of modern America's concept of civic duty when one is hard pressed to produce any other aspect of participation in public life beyond voting that can be equated with a moral responsibility. Even jury service, the democratic action par excellence to Aristotle, is frequently treated by Americans as an onerous imposition on one's time, to be avoided at all costs by anyone "with a life."
The modern emphasis on voting as the fundamental act of modern democracy betrays a significant difference between our conception of democratic citizens' duties and that of the Athenians. To recover the Athenian conception would require that the vote be made simply one part of a larger set of public and private duties citizens would be expected to perform. Without the controls on voting and election that Athens enjoyed—including the influence of officials chosen by lot instead of by ballot, serious and weighty requirements for citizenship, and the responsibilities and risks attaching to political leadership—modern representative democracies continually face the dangers posed by leaders who primarily seek to empower themselves by pleasing the people.
Voting obviously permits the exercise of actual political authority over one's fellow citizens and is therefore a public act of enormous consequences. It also provides unscrupulous politicians with an opportunity and means to ingratiate themselves with the electorate and thus cannot be seen as an unmitigated good for any society. Only elections resulting in officials willing to risk removal from office by criticizing the populace that elected them—in short, that result in real leaders—should be considered beneficial. To the extent that voters elect only those who will in turn hold them up to no standard of conduct, the practice of election should be seen as potentially harmful.
Modern representative governments looking to ancient Athens for lessons or examples must face up both to the need to change the electorate's opinion about the significance and effects of the act of voting and to the need to limit its deleterious effects on government and society. The ancient Athenians addressed this problem by limiting the ability to vote and the ability to lead to those members of the populace who met the collective populace's high standards for citizenship. It would thus seem obvious, if we wish to treat the Athenians' experience seriously, that we should not casually jettison such standards or warmly endorse a system that allows persons not meeting them to serve in office or to cast a ballot. Nevertheless, a better system by itself seems unlikely to solve all the problems voting presents; for whatever the historical situation, popular election would seem to tend to result in leaders who reflect the character of the functional majority of the electorate. It is, therefore, the character of that electorate, and not the particular form of government, that will always be the central "political" issue facing any people that relies on the vote.130 Chapter Two Notes: Democracy and Demagogues
1. Chapter epigraphs: José Ortega y Gasset, History as a System,
trans. Helene Weyl (New York: Norton, 1961; original edition, 1941), p. 76, quoting Macaulay, History of England from the Accession of James II,
vol. 1 (New York: Harper & Bros., 1850), p. 547. Macaulay's original text reads: "In every age the vilest specimens of human nature are to be found among demagogues." (One may appreciate Ortega's characterization of the intellectual degeneracy demagoguery represents while questioning his attribution of the "fall" of Greek and Roman civilization to demagogues.) Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America,
trans. G. Lawrence (1966), reprint, ed. J.P. Mayer (New York: Doubleday, 1969), p. 58.
2. I leave aside the admittedly relevant issue of the Athenian law courts, which operated on similar principles to the assembly, with citizens of all classes voting en masse (see chapter 1, pp. 29-31). A brief perusal of the legal oratory of the fourth century will not encourage anyone to overestimate the extent to which evidence and logic dictated the outcome of trials in Athenian courts. On Athenian courts in general, see M.H. Hansen, Eisangelia: The Sovereignty of the People's Court in Athens in the Fourth Century b.c. and the Impeachment of Generals and Politicians
(Odense, Denmark, 1975), esp. pp. 58-65 (on impeachment [eisangelia]
"as a political process"); id., Athenian Democracy,
pp. 178-224; and MacDowell, Law,
3. Arist. Pol.
1294a, IV.9.4-5; 1273b, II.12.2; cf. 1273a, II.11.8-9.
4. On the courts, see Arist. Pol.
1273b, II.12.2-1274a, II.12.4; cf. Ath. Pol.
9.1; no (or low) property qualification: Pol.
1294b, IV.9.3-4; use of the lottery: Rhet.
1365b, I.8.4; the poorer classes ruling in their own interests: Pol.
1279b, III.7.5-1280a, III.8.8; 1290b, IV.4.6. Aristotle also associated democracy with the sovereignty of the demos (Pol.
1278b, III.6.2), although he believed that law (and not popular decrees) should ultimately be sovereign even in a democracy: Pol.
5. On the fifth-century generals as political leaders, see Hansen, Athenian Democracy,
pp. 233-34, 269-70.
6. See Finley, Democracy Ancient and Modern,
pp. 38-75. Some fourth-century critics of demokratia
used the term demagogos
in the pejorative modern sense of "demagogue": Xen. Hell.
2.3.27; Isoc. 8.129; Arist. Pol.
1274a, II.9.3, 1292a, IV.4.4, with Hansen, Athenian Democracy,
7. The word demagogos
may have emerged rather late in the fifth century, perhaps as a description of Cleon and others like him (as P.J. Rhodes has suggested to me) and thus may never have been applied to Pericles by his contemporaries (see Rhodes, Commentary,
pp. 323-24). Nevertheless, it is clear that Pericles eventually came to represent (at least to many) the practices and policies associated with the term.
8. See Pseudo-Xenophon ("The Old Oligarch") Constitution of the Athenians,
and, from the period just after Pericles' death., Aristophanes Knights.
9. Cf. Aristotle's view that demokratia
implies the rule of the poor in their own interests (n. 4 above) and cf. Plato Gorgias
10. See Ath. Pol.
27; Arist. Pol.
11. Members of the Council of 500 were receiving pay by at least 411 (Thuc. 8.69-70; see also Ath. Pol.
62.2, with Rhodes, Athenian Boule,
pp. 13-14), and at least some state officials were receiving stipends by 437/6 (Ar. Ach.
65-67; see also Ps.-Xen. 1.3, IG
82.17-21). J.P. Sickinger has suggested to me that the council may well have received pay first, before magistrates and jurors. Given the importance of the council and the need for members to remain in Athens continually for part of the year, this would seem possible. The sources, however, imply that jurors were the first to receive payments.
12. Cf. Arist. Pol.
1317b, VI.2.6-7. On the Athenians' desire for public payments, see also chapter 3.
13. See chapter 3, pp. 91-94.
14. Obviously proposals for decreased taxation could lead to a similar advantage, but only in a state where a significant enough proportion of the electorate actually pays taxes. The percentage of the population making a net payment of taxes vs. the percentage receiving a net payment from public money is therefore a critical factor in democratic politics.
15. For the principle of serving one's fellow citizens in turn, see Arist. Pol.
1279a, III.6.9-10. On the Athenians' use of the lottery in general, see Hansen, Athenian Democracy,
pp. 230-33, 235-37.
16. See also chapter 3.
17. See chapter 1, n. 14.
18. Ath. Pol.
7.4, with Rhodes, Commentary,
pp. 145-46. Rough equivalency between zeugitai
(or higher) status and regular eligibility for service as a hoplite is implied by Thuc. 6.43. We may perhaps justifiably infer that inquiries into a citizen's economic status—at the zeugitai/thetes
level—effectively stopped around the time of the restoration of demokratia
after the failed oligarchic revolutions in the fifth century's final years. Since the distinction between those above and below hoplite status figured so prominently in the oligarchic rhetoric supporting the revolution (see chapter 3, pp. 91-94), popular political leaders after this probably avoided anything that smacked of this now invidious distinction.
19. There is some reason to think that the property qualifications for some offices (like the treasurers of Athena's sacred wealth, officials who were supposed to come from the highest class, the pentakosiomedimnoi
) remained technically in force even in the fourth century (Ath. Pol.
47.1). Since these offices came to be seen as something of a burden, the demos and its leaders perhaps saw no reason to insist on the formal admission of lower classes to such positions.
20. In this discussion of citizen duties I have left aside leitourgiai,
"works done for the people," such as paying for a dramatic chorus or providing the upkeep of an Athenian warship, since only Athens's wealthier citizens were required to perform these duties: see Hansen, Athenian Democracy,
21. The description of this law in Ath. Pol.
26.4 usually has been interpreted as a requirement that citizens (politai)
have citizen parents (called astoi,
literally, "those from the astu
[city]," in Ath. Pol.
): see, e.g., Rhodes, Commentary,
pp. 331-34, and MacDowell, Law,
pp. 67-68, 87 (the latter also believes this measure made marriages to non-Athenians illegal, as we know they were by the mid fourth century: Dem. 59.16, with Rhodes, CAH
, p. 566 n. 5). Cohen, Athenian Nation,
pp. 48-63, challenges the orthodox view, arguing that the term astoi
in Ath. Pol.
means, essentially, "locals," as opposed to "citizens," and that the law therefore allowed the children of some resident non-Athenians (metics) to become citizens upon their enrollment in a deme. Cohen shows that in some contexts astos
can be opposed to xenos:
i.e., local or "insider," as opposed to "foreigner" (pp. 50-53), but this does not prove that astos
cannot also act as a synonym for polites
("citizen"). The ancient Greeks loved antithetical formulations: of another term, Cohen writes, "[a]s with many other ancient Greek terms, the clearest definition of autokhthôn
arises from its interplay with its antithesis, epêlys
or 'incomer,' 'immigrant'" (p. 93). In fact, the opposite would be closer to the truth (as a statement of principle): such antithetical formulations do not in fact provide a clear definition for Greek terms. Rather, they obscure the range of meanings/connotations possible for a term (like astos
), since it is the antithesis itself (in such a context) that delimits the term. For example, compare the Greek hiera
and hosia; hosia
is often taken to mean "profane" through its contrast with hiera
("sacred"). In fact, hosia
expresses a range of "sacredness" limited, in contexts where hiera
occurs, by the presence of the other term. Cohen's own research suggests that the Athenians often conducted massive revisions of the citizen rolls and frequently denied significant numbers of "locals" citizenship at the deme level. Thus, even if he were right about Ath. Pol.
26.4, one might reasonably conclude that the Athenians' standards for citizenship were more capricious (if less ethnically flavored) than the orthodox view maintains. (For the view that metics were not astoi
, see also D. Whitehead, The Ideology of the Athenian Metic
[Cambridge, 1977], pp. 60-61.)
22. Some have thought this provision looked to the legitimacy of the candidate, that is, whether his parents were legally married. Rhodes disagrees (Commentary,
pp. 499-500), but notes that this passage in Ath. Pol.
does not prove that such a requirement of legitimacy did not exist.
23. Ath. Pol.
42.1, with 26.4, and Rhodes, Commentary,
pp. 499, 501-2. Aristotle's words here have led to a great deal of debate, centering on just who could be sold into slavery by the city. Some scholars argue that only the sons of slaves could be sold, but this view rests largely on the belief that the sale of others would have been particularly unjust. Rhodes (loc. cit.) shows that the ancient evidence casts doubt on this optimistic interpretation. In fact, ancient Greeks lived in a world where free individuals were frequently sold into slavery (especially after their capture in war). However we interpret Aristotle's words, the law shows that the Athenians considered an attempt to gain citizenship without the requisite qualifications by birth to be a heinous crime.
24. Ath. Pol.
25. Cf. Rhodes, Commentary,
pp. 494-95 (a late date—330s—for the formal institution, with "something of the kind" existing earlier); Hansen, Athenian Democracy,
pp. 89, 108-9, who places the creation of the institution in the late fifth or early fourth century (370s at the latest); and Kurt A. Raaflaub, "Equalities and Inequalities in Athenian Democracy," in Ober and Hedrick, eds., Dêmokratia,
pp. 157, with 172-73 n. 149, who supports an earlier creation (fifth century) and discusses the evidence.
26. Rhodes, Commentary,
pp. 503, 778, thinks that the thetes
did not participate; cf. Hansen, Athenian Democracy,
pp. 108-9, who argues based on demographic figures that the thetes
must have been included by at least 336/5.
27. Tod 204 = Harding 109A (trans. Harding, adapted). Cf. Lycurgus 1.77, Pollux 8.105-6 ( = Harding 109B); Hansen, Athenian Democracy,
p. 100. See Mikalson, Athenian Popular Religion,
esp. pp. 31-38, on the importance Athenians attached to oaths.
28. On this aspect of Athenian society, see chapter 7.
29. See also chapter 7, n. 21. Noncitizen residents of Athens (metics) were also liable for military service and subject to certain taxes levied on Athenians and to special taxes levied only on metics: MacDowell, Law,
pp. 75-78; Hansen, Athenian Democracy,
pp. 116-20; and Whitehead, The Ideology of the Athenian Metic
30. Ath. Pol.
55.3 (trans. Moore, adapted).
31. On the dokimasia,
see MacDowell, Law,
pp. 167-69, and chapter 1, n. 30.
32. Hansen, Athenian Democracy,
33. On ostracism, see chapter 1, p. 32.
34. On fifth-century atimia
and partial atimia,
which could be incurred merely for owing a debt to the state or evading military service, see Andoc. 1.73-80, discussed by A.L. Boegehold, "Andokides and the Decree of Patrokleides," Historia
39 (1990): 149-62. On the increased use of the legal system to punish failed military leaders in fourth-century Athens, see chapter 6, pp. 145-47.
35. Hansen, Athenian Democracy,
p. 100; see also MacDowell, Law,
p. 126. The death penalty seems to have been applied to those who violated their atimia.
It is important to note that female prostitution (but not by citizen women) was legal in Athens (MacDowell, Law,
p. 125). Cohen, Athenian Nation,
pp. 155-91, argues that citizen prostitution was legal, although it carried the disability of potentially debarring the practitioner from holding positions of political leadership. In my opinion, he perhaps overemphasizes the attested cases of prostitution, which may only show that the convention or statute against the act was sometimes violated. Nevertheless, Cohen's revisionist treatment of supposed political structures governing Athenian sexual relations merits careful attention.
36. MacDowell, Law,
pp. 124-25, and Mikalson, Athenian Popular Religion,
37. Hansen, Athenian Democracy,
pp. 100-101, and Mikalson, Athenian Popular Religion,
pp. 99-100 (on caring for parents).
38. MacDowell, Law,
pp. 129-32, with Dem. 21.45-47; Arist. Rhet.
1374a, I.13.10, 1378b, II.2.5-6. Cohen, Athenian Nation,
pp. 160-65, emphasizes that this provision apparently offered protection from hybris
citizen and noncitizen, adult and child, man and woman—and that Athenian citizens were therefore not free to act as a sexually predatory and dominant class (as they are sometimes depicted in modern scholarship): "at Athens, social structures and communal values (especially commitment to philanthrôpia
) encouraged effective protection against sexual abuse of children, slaves, and women" (p. 165).
39. On the particular privileges of citizens, see Hansen, Athenian Democracy,
pp. 97-99. On slaves, see also MacDowell, Law,
pp. 79-83. The frequency with which slaves actually underwent torture and the precise role played by testimony gained through such means remain disputed issues: cf. M. Gagarin, "The Torture of Slaves in Athenian Law," CP
91 (1996): 1-18; D.C. Mirhady, "Torture and Rhetoric in Athens," JHS
116 (1996): 119-31; and G. Thür, "Reply to D.C. Mirhady: Torture and Rhetoric in Athens," JHS
116 (1996): 132-34.
40. On this difficult passage, see A.W. Gomme, et al., A Historical Commentary on Thucydides
(Oxford, 1945-81), 2:122-23, and Simon Hornblower, A Commentary on Thucydides
(Oxford, 1991-96), 1:305-6.
41. I do not wish to imply that this belief led to the creation of demokratia,
only that it eventually came to serve as a justification for the regime. For justice given equally to human beings, see Plato Protagoras,
42. It might be argued that our historical sources from the fourth century or later periods betray an anti-Athenian bias and that our record of Athenian votes is therefore seriously distorted. But much of this material concerns decisions about foreign policy, which are difficult to misrepresent (i.e., the Athenians either voted to make a certain alliance or they did not). Moreover, the Athenians' own inscriptional records confirm many of these events and provide examples of similar actions.
43. Hdt. 5.73, with Fornara and Samons, Athens from Cleisthenes to Pericles,
44. The Greek alliance against Persia in 480 consisted of a small number of poleis, although it admittedly included a significant percentage of the larger states in southern Hellas (including Athens, Sparta, Corinth, Aegina, Megara, Chalcis and Eretria). For a list, see Fornara 59 = ML 27, with Meiggs and Lewis's commentary, pp. 59-60. Important regions that ultimately remained outside the alliance or joined the Persians include Thessaly, Phocis (including Delphi), much of Boeotia (including Thebes), and Argos (on which see Htd. 9.12).
45. On Naxos's attempt to leave the alliance (in the early 460s), see Thuc. 1.98-99. On the reversed alliances of 462/1, see Thuc. 1.102.
46. Or, perhaps, acceded to his request to return to Athens immediately.
47. On this nexus of events, see Thuc. 1.102; Ath. Pol.
25-26; Plut. Cim.
11, 16-17; Fornara and Samons, Athens from Cleisthenes to Pericles,
pp. 58-61, 127-29; and Rhodes, CAH
, pp. 68-69. The order of events is controversial, but no serious doubt exists about Cimon's support of the expedition to assist Sparta and Ephialtes' use of the expedition or its result as an opportunity to push through his reform proposals, which ultimately resulted in Cimon's ostracism.
48. For the transfer in 454/3 and the building program, see Samons, Empire of the Owl,
pp. 41-50. 92-163. Some scholars have attempted to paint the building program as a "league" matter, thus rightly paid for by the alliance's common funds. The Athenians may have made the same claim, but such propaganda cannot alter the fact that the program enhanced Athens and its demos, not the members of the league.
49. On this Thucydides (not the historian), see Plut. Per.
11-14, with Fornara and Samons, Athens from Cleisthenes to Pericles,
pp. 29-34; cf. F. Frost, Historia
13 (1964): 385-99, and Wade-Gery, Essays in Greek History,
50. Ath. Pol.
27; Plut. Per.
9, 12, with Fornara and Samons, Athens from Cleisthenes to Pericles,
51. Ath. Pol.
26; Plut. Per.
37, with Patterson, Pericles' Citizenship Law.
52. On Athenian ideas of ethnic superiority, see L.J. Samons II, "Democracy, Empire and the Search for the Athenian Character," Arion
8.3 (2001): 147-48, and chapter 3, pp. 92-93 ; cf. Hall, Ethnic Identity in Greek Antiquity.
For the related idea of Athenian autochthony, cf. Nicole Loraux, Born of the Earth: Myth and Politics in Athens,
trans. Selina Stewart (Ithaca, N.Y., 2000).
53. See Plut. Per.
15-16, and Thuc. 2.65, with Fornara and Samons, Athens from Cleisthenes to Pericles,
54. Plutarch associates the initial decree against Samos with Pericles (Per.
25: see chapter 4, pp. 114-15). He also connected Pericles with the decree ordering a herald to be sent to Megara to complain of the Megarians' use of the sacred land at Eleusis. The alleged murder of this herald by the Megarians led to the famous decree barring them from the Athenian marketplace and harbors of the empire (Plut. Per.
30, with chapter 5, pp. 125-27). At Plut. Per.
10, Pericles proposes a decree to recall Cimon from ostracism.
55. E.g., IG
34 = ML 46 = Fornara 98 (Cleinias's proposal on tribute collection, ca. 448/7 or ca. 425), IG
40 = ML 52 = Fornara 103 (Diognetos's decree issuing regulations for Chalcis, ca. 446/5 or ca. 424/3, which omits the name of the secretary); after the year 421, the name of the eponymous archon was sometimes included in the prescript, although the practice was not regular until about 410: cf. Mattingly, Athenian Empire Restored,
pp. 325-27, Rhodes, Athenian Boule,
pp. 226-27, and A.S. Henry, "Archon-Dating in Fifth-Century Attic Decrees: The 421 Rule," Chiron
9 (1979): 23-30.
56. On the controversy, see esp. Meiggs and Lewis, Selection of Greek Historical Inscriptions
(e.g., pp. 114-17, 120-21); Mattingly, Athenian Empire Restored;
Fornara and Samons, Athens from Cleisthenes to Pericles,
pp. 182-87; and chapter 1, n. 83.
57. See the regulations for Erythrae, IG
14 = ML 40 = Fornara 71 (460s or 450s).
58. Colophon (IG
37 = ML 47 = Fornara 99: 440s or 420s), Brea (IG
46 = ML 49 = Fornara 100; 440s, 430s, or 420s).
59. Oaths of loyalty: IG
39, 40 = Fornara 102, 103; oath "to love" the demos: IG
37 = ML 47 = Fornara 99.
60. See the Phaselis decree (IG
10 = ML 31 = Fornara 68), with Thuc. 1.77, and Hornblower, Commentary,
61. E.g., IG
71 = ML 69 = Fornara 136; see Samons, Empire of the Owl,
62. Chapter 6 extends the analysis into the fourth century, demonstrating how the demos voted repeatedly to avoid serving in or funding the military operations necessary to ensure Athenian interests and security.
63. See Richard Brookhiser, Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington
(New York, 1996), esp. pp. 107-19, on Washington's personal traits, and pp. 55-69, on the Constitutional Convention.
64. For a notable exception, see Rahe, Republics Ancient and Modern,
65. The covers of textbooks on Western civilization and Greek history have often reproduced and strengthened this connection; see, for the acropolis: Stockton, Classical Athenian Democracy
. It was therefore somewhat ironic (if not entirely unexpected) when the designers of this volume's cover chose a photograph of a modern reconstruction of the Parthenon—in Nashville, TN—as an appropriate image for a book on ancient and modern democracy.
66. See, e.g., J.J. Pollitt, Art and Experience in Classical Greece
(Cambridge, 1972), pp. 71-97 and, especially, Manville and Ober, A Company of Citizens,
pp. 3-5; cf. Russell Meiggs, "The Political Implications of the Parthenon," Greece and Rome
10 (1963), suppl., pp. 36-45, esp. pp. 43-45, and, for a corrective, Kallet, "Accounting for Culture in Fifth-Century Athens," in Deborah Boedeker and Kurt A. Raaflaub, eds., Democracy, Empire, and the Arts in Fifth-Century Athens
(Cambridge, Mass., 1998), pp. 48-52, 58.
67. This has been denied; but see Samons, Empire of the Owl,
pp. 41-50 and n. 48 above.
68. See Parker, Athenian Religion,
p. 91. On the Panathenaea in general, see Neils, ed., Worshipping Athena;
on the name, cf. N. Robertson, "Athena's Shrines and Festivals," in Neils, p. 56: "Panathenaia presumably means 'Rites of all Athenians.'"
69. On Pandora's presence here, see Pollitt, Art and Experience,
70. D.M. Lewis, CAH
, p. 139. On the subject in general, cf. David Castriota, Myth, Ethos and Actuality: Official Art in Fifth-Century b.c. Athens
(Madison, Wis., 1992). For a more optimistic interpretation of the Parthenon and its sculpture, see Pollitt, Art and Experience,
71. Compare the Athenians' claim that such self-aggrandizement was only natural to men and gods (Thuc. 1.105, with chapter 5, pp. 133-34).
72. The Greek is ambiguous: see conclusion, p. 189.
73. On the Athenians' self-image, see Samons, "Democracy, Empire and the Search for the Athenian Character," and chapter 3, pp. 92-93.
74. On the Athenian funeral orations (epitaphioi)
in general, see Nicole Loraux, The Invention of Athens: The Funeral Oration in the Classical City,
trans. Alan Sheridan (Cambridge, Mass., 1986), who overemphasizes the importance of democracy in these speeches (p. 64), especially as relative to Athens's military virtues and history. See, e.g., Lysias 2, where democracy figures only in sections 18, 56, 61-66, and Plato's Menexenus,
in which a funeral oration attributed to Pericles' consort Aspasia is "repeated" by Socrates. In that mock address, praise of Athens's politeia
occupies only a small portion of the speech (238c-239a), and Athens's regime is called "an aristocracy with the approval of the multitude" (238c-d; trans. S. Collins and D. Stauffer). Athenian military victories, on the other hand, receive at least ten times as much space in the speech (239b-246a). Hyperides' funeral oration, delivered in 322, concentrates on protecting or gaining freedom (eleutheria)
rather than praising Athens's particular regime (6.11, 16, 19, 34, 37). The epitaphios
attributed to Demosthenes, and ostensibly delivered in 338, devotes only 2 of its 37 sections to Athens's form of government (60.25-26), and these sections praise demokratia
for its ability to inspire shame (aischune)
. Interestingly, Cicero (Orator
151) relates that it was the funeral oration in the Menexenus
that the Athenians arranged to be read publicly every year.
75. Long after Pericles' death, Athenians continued to identify the special qualities of Athens primarily in military rather than political terms. And while it is true that, by the fourth century, Athenian orators treated the democratic part of Athens's reputation and character as a standard subject or topos, Athens's power and glorious earlier military history continued to overshadow her political culture and specific constitution as defining characteristics: see, e.g., Isocrates Panegyricus,
76. For recent attempts to treat Pericles, see Donald Kagan, Pericles of Athens and the Birth of Democracy
(New York, 1991); Fornara and Samons, Athens from Cleisthenes to Pericles,
esp. pp. 23-36; Charlotte Schubert, Perikles
(Darmstadt, 1994); and A.J. Podlecki, Perikles and his Circle
77. See Ath. Pol.
1; Plut. Solon
12; and Diog. Laert. 1.110, with Fornara and Samons, Athens from Cleisthenes to Pericles,
78. See Samons, "Mass, Elite and Hoplite-Farmer in Greek History," 110-15, with the additional material in id., "Revolution or Compromise?" in E.W. Robinson, ed, Ancient Greek Democracy: Readings and Sources
(Oxford, 2004), pp. 113-22, and Fornara and Samons, Athens from Cleisthenes to Pericles,
pp. 13-23, 37-58.
79. Hdt. 5.70-73, with Fornara and Samons, Athens from Cleisthenes to Pericles,
pp. 19-23, and Samons, "Mass, Elite and Hoplite-Farmer in Greek History," 110-15.
80. See Hdt. 6.115, 121-24; Ath. Pol.
81. See Fornara and Samons, Athens from Cleisthenes to Pericles,
pp. 24-36; Plut. Per.
82. Fornara and Samons, Athens from Cleisthenes to Pericles,
83. Ibid., pp. 23-29. On Pericles' early career, cf. L.J. Samons II, "Aeschylus, the Alkmeonids, and the Reform of the Areopagos," CJ
94 (1998/99): 221-33, Podlecki, Perikles and His Circle,
pp. 11-16, 35-54, and Kagan, Pericles,
pp. 26-45, who notes that Pericles entered politics rather late (pp. 26-27), but attributes this to Pericles' calculation of the opportune moment to enter politics rather than to supposed popular suspicion of him. Later in his career, Pericles and his supporters were called by some the "New Peisistratids," and Pericles was said to resemble the tyrant Peisistratus, especially in his voice (Plut. Per.
7, 16). Pericles' enemies almost certainly used such devices to remind the Athenians of the connection between his family and the tyrants and their associates.
84. See chapter 4, pp. 110-11.
85. See Ath. Pol.
25-27; Plut. Per.
7-10. For the view that Pericles' role in Ephialtes' reforms has been exaggerated, see Fornara and Samons, Athens from Cleisthenes to Pericles,
pp. 24-28, with the additional evidence in Samons, "Aeschylus, the Alkmeonids, and the Reform of the Areopagos."
86. Samons, "Aeschylus, the Alkmeonids, and the Reform of the Areopagos."
87. Thuc. 1. 104, 109-10. Plut. Per.
20 explicitly reports that Pericles opposed an expedition to Egypt, but the temporal context is unclear and the report could simply reflect a logical inference by Plutarch or his source based on Pericles' later policy of avoiding conflict with Persia.
88. Plut. Per.
20-23 describes Pericles' interest in a mainland Greek empire, although the biographer cites this as an example of Periclean moderation, since he attempted to restrain the demos from foreign adventures beyond Greece.
89. See chapter 4, p. 113.
90. Plut. Per.
10 (cf. Cim.
17) reports a secret agreement between Pericles and Cimon by which Pericles would propose Cimon's recall from ostracism and the two would then divide their power into domestic (Pericles) and foreign (Cimon) spheres. Again, this may be no more than an inference from later events.
91. Pericles was a member of the board of generals in 454/3, and his later use of the allied money justifies the inference that he supported the transfer: see Samons, Empire of the Owl,
92. Citizenship law: Ath. Pol.
26.4, with pp. 34-35, 52 above; Patterson, Pericles' Citizenship Law;
, pp. 76-77; and Plut. Per.
37, which reports that the Athenians convicted nearly five thousand individuals (a number considered implausible by Rhodes) of posing as citizens and sold them into slavery shortly after this law was passed. As we have already seen, the Athenians conceived of themselves as a unique people in part because of their alleged autochthony (i.e., nonimmigrant status in their native land), and the idea of Athenian "purity" does appear in the sources: see Plato Menex.
245c-d. For the Athenians' belief in their superiority even to their Ionian relations, see Fornara and Samons, Athens from Cleisthenes to Pericles,
pp. 106-10, and Samons, "Democracy, Empire and the Search for the Athenian Character," 147-48.
93. For the shallow nature of any Panhellenic feelings in Athens after the mid fifth century, see Samons, "Democracy, Empire and the Search for the Athenian Character," pp. 149-50.
94. For the resistance and revolts in the late 450s-mid 440s, see Meiggs, Athenian Empire,
pp. 109-28, 152-74, with Rhodes, CAH
, pp. 54-61, and Lewis, CAH
, pp. 127-38.
95. Thuc. 1.112-15; Plut. Per.
96. Plut. Per.
22-23; Ar. Clouds
858-59, with schol.
( = Fornara 104).
97. Thuc. 1. 113, 115; Plut. Per.
24; Lewis, CAH
, pp. 133-38.
98. Parthenon work: IG
436; Pericles as superintendent of acropolis building program and public payments from the work: Plut Per.
99. Plut. Per.
12, 14; for the building program debate, analysis of Plutarch's report, and references to other literature, see Samons, Empire of the Owl,
100. Plut. Per.
101. See n. 54 above.
102. Thuc. 1.115-17, Plut. Per. 24-28, with Fornara, "On the Chronology of the Samian War," JHS
99 (1979): 9-17, and Lewis, CAH
, pp. 143-45.
103. Plut. Per.
104. Plut. Per.
24, 31-32, with Fornara and Samons, Athens from Cleisthenes to Pericles,
pp. 34-35, and chapter 4, pp. 114-15.
105. Schol. Ar. Ach.
67 = Fornara 111. Other explanations of the measure are, of course, possible. Jeffrey Henderson, "Attic Old Comedy, Frank Speech, and Democracy," in Boedeker and Raaflaub, eds., Democracy, Empire, and the Arts in Fifth-Century Athens
, pp. 255-73, suggests that the measure was intended "to prevent the inflammation of partisan violence" during the Samian War (p. 262).
106. For fragments of the lost comedians ridiculing Pericles, see Plut. Per.
3-4, 13, 16, 24, 33.
107. One reason for Pericles' popularity in the assembly while serving as a regular object of the comic poets' abuse may have been that assembly meetings and the dramatic festivals at which comedies were performed attracted somewhat different audiences. We may speculate that the audience for Athenian comedies represented a truer cross-section of the Athenian populace, including many hoplite-farmers from outlying regions of Attica, who came to the city-center only rarely. Meanwhile, the average assembly meeting probably had a higher percentage of urban poor and residents of Athens, both of whom were more likely to benefit directly from Periclean policies like jury pay and the building program than were the farmers.
108. Plut. Per.
28, with Arist. Rhet.
1365a, I.7.31-33; on the procedure of selecting the orator for the funeral ceremony, see Pl. Menex.
109. Thuc. book 1, esp. 1.140-46; Plut. Per.
32-34. For this view of the war's outbreak, see chapter 5.
110. See Thuc. 2.60-65, with Hornblower, Commentary
, 1: 341; Plut. Per.
111. Thuc. 2.65 with 1.22. For this view of the speeches, see also conclusion, p. 187, with n. 1.
112. Many sources beyond Thucydides testify to Pericles' skills as an orator: see Plut. Per.
7, 8, 15; Plato Menex.
269e-270a; schol. Ar. Ach.
530; and Fornara 74. As an example of the rhetorical strategies he employed, note the differences in the attitude expressed toward farmers and sailors between Pericles' first speech in Thucydides (1.140-44, made with relatively few farmers present) and the last two (2.35-46, 60-64, made after the farmers had been forced to move within the walls of the city).
113. Thuc. 2.42 (trans. Crawley); on this passage, see also conclusion, pp. 187-91.
114. Achilles had famously cursed his fellow Achaeans and withdrawn from the war with Troy after Agamemnon had diminished his honor or time
bk. 1). Such actions demonstrate a conception of human excellence based on an individual's performance of great deeds (Achilles was "the best of the Achaeans" because of his military prowess). This conception carried little or no ethical content beyond the duty to one's own honor, over which the group exercised no claim. (But compare Hector's part in the epic: his concerns for the city and its reaction to his actions may reflect the influence of early polis values.) Although Socrates would compare himself to Achilles (Apol.
28b-d), in fact he had a view of arete
that contrasted starkly with that of the Achaean hero: "Are you not ashamed," Socrates claimed to ask the Athenians, "of your eagerness to possess as much wealth, reputation, and honors as possible, while you do not care for nor give thought to wisdom or truth, or the best possible state of your soul?" (Apol.
29d-e; trans. Grube). (Achilles, we may speculate, would have responded, "No, not in the least am I ashamed. But are you not ashamed of having gained no great honor and rewards for yourself by demonstrating your excellence on the field of battle?") While Socrates' ideas had perhaps been less than successful in implanting themselves in many Athenian hearts, the older Homeric ideals of arete
were very much alive in fifth-century Greece, as the careers of Alcibiades, Lysander, Conon, and others demonstrate. (To some extent, the egalitarianism of the polis and the concept of citizenship stood in direct conflict with this aristocratic ideal. The tension these conflicting ideals created within classical city-states surely may be counted as one source of their tremendous vigor and volatility.)
115. For the more typical Greek emphasis on not falling short of one's ancestors, see chapter 6, p. 157.
116. Plutarch, Per.
15, expands on Thucydides' opinion, but draws a line between an early demagogic portion of Pericles' career (before the ostracism of Thucydides son of Melesias) and the later, statesmanlike period: see Fornara and Samons, Athens from Cleisthenes to Pericles,
117. Fortunately for Pericles, these promises came at a time when the Athenian empire and martial Athenian character made their fulfillment possible.
118. Obviously only those sons of hoplite-farmers who did not inherit sufficient property to maintain their position and those below this status would be likely to participate in Athenian colonies and cleruchies established in the empire. But we must conclude that this offered a major safety valve for social forces that, in other poleis, would have been likely to cause unrest. For Athens's surplus population in the Periclean period (perhaps as many as 60,000 citizens ca. 450), see Hansen, Athenian Democracy,
pp. 52-54. For the regular hoplite-farmers of Athens benefiting economically from democracy and the empire, see esp. V. Hanson, in Dêmokratia,
ed. Ober and Hedrick, pp. 289-312, esp. 298-303.
119. For Pericles' support of colonies and cleruchies (Athenian settlements within other states), see esp. Plut. Per.
11, 19-20; see also Podlecki, Perikles and His Circle,
pp. 62-64, and Meiggs, Athenian Empire,
120. Pericles' lack of sociability: Plut. Per.
5, 7. For his words to the dead men's parents, see Thuc. 2.44-45 and conclusion, pp. 197-98; cf. Plato Menex.
247c-248d, containing a "funeral oration" that is significantly more personal in its words for the parents of the dead, and Arist. Rhet.
1365a, I.7.34, which attributes a compassionate phrase lamenting the loss of Athens's young men to a (perhaps different) funeral oration of Pericles.
121. See chapters 3 and 6.
122. Compare the complaints of Demosthenes and Tocqueville that serve as epigraphs to this chapter.
123. Compare Tocqueville's views on democracy's resistance to rule by superiors (Democracy in America,
ed. Mayer , pp. 197-99) and its tendency to attribute a politician's success to his vices rather than virtues or talents.
124. See Hansen, Athenian Democracy,
pp. 268-71, with chapter 3, n. 93. In the fifth century, even Cleon served as a strategos.
Yet his generalship apparently began late in his career (425), suggesting that the trend may already have begun by that time (as Kurt Raaflaub has suggested to me).
125. Ath. Pol.
68, with Rhodes, Commentary,
126. Cf. Euben, Wallach, and Ober, eds., Athenian Political Thought
, p. 14, quoted in introduction, n. 17.
127. On the appropriate goal or end of a state or "constitution," cf. Arist. Pol.
1280a-1281a, III.9.5-15 (state should exist to promote goodness and good actions), with Madison, Federalist
51 (government should seek justice by protecting the rights of individuals).
128. Nevertheless, it does seem that some individuals sincerely believe that the process itself is the important thing about democratic election. (Perhaps most do not really believe
it; they simply have heard it said so many times that it has become a kind of slogan or mantra.)
129. For the others, see chapter 7.
130. Some of the framers and defenders of the American Constitution believed that they had overcome this problem, creating a document and a form of government that recognized and indeed relied on the acquisitive, self-interested, competing, and even vicious character of individuals within the society (see Wood, Creation of the American Republic,
esp. pp. 587-92, 606-15). In my opinion, they could not look at modern America and conclude that their attempt had been a complete success. Popular government and society will tend to reflect one another, even if the Constitution treats the two forces as distinct entities: see ibid., esp. pp. 567-92, 596-600, on the Founders' ultimate rejection of John Adams's and the ancients' conception of government as a direct expression of, if not the same as, the society. For an attempt to bring Adams into the mainstream of revolutionary and early American (i.e., Federalist) thought, see Thompson, John Adams and the Spirit of Liberty,
esp. pp. 258-66.