Bryn Mawr Classical Review 94.09.06b


Alan L. Boegehold and Adele Scafuro (edd.), Athenian Identity and Civic Ideology. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994. Pp. 239. $35.00. ISBN 0-8018-4578-5.


Reviewed by David Rosenbloom, Victoria University of Wellington.

This meticulously edited and proof-read volume is a collection of nine conference papers and selected comments delivered at Brown University in April 1990. Each paper has its own endnotes and bibliography appended to it. The book has no index. The levels of scholarship, writing, and argumentation it contains are consistently high, and those interested in Athenian social, political, and legal history will want to consult Athenian Identity. The volume presents a sampling of the "cutting edge" of American work on Athenian social and political identity, and makes an excellent introduction to the questions that drive analysis of the topic. The usefulness of "social" and "political" as categories of analysis, how civic identity was fashioned, the functions of ideology: these topics receive important treatments in many of the papers assembled in the volume.

The conference was not designed to promote any set of methodological preferences, and the volume contains a wide range of viewpoints. In her succinct introduction, Adele Scafuro sets out the terms she considers fruitful for the study of the Athenian polites and politeia, using as signposts (among others) the work of Josiah Ober (on civic ideology), David Cohen (on the social matrix of law), and Sally Humphreys (on the relation between social and political). Seeking a wider perspective on the identity of the polites and on the network of relations and spheres of activity constituting the politeia, S. rejects the categories used by "constitutionalists." They privilege legal criteria and institutions in their definition of the citizen and of citizenship, and they abstract "the political" from all other forms of interaction, employing a paratactic model for the elements of politeia, and hypotactic models of society which subordinate all its elements to politics. S. seeks to understand the interactions and interpenetrations between society and the polis, private and public, and oikos and polis; she also actively seeks to question the rigidity and exclusionary power of the boundaries between them. Rather than detach the political from all spheres of activity (e.g. Meier, Hansen), she prefers to see them embedded in one another, and so to forge a middle position between the poles of Weber's isolation of the political and Durkheim's fusion of it with all forms of social interaction.

P. B. Manville's highly self-conscious manifesto, "Toward a New Paradigm of Athenian Citizenship," takes up similar themes. Enumerating the propositions that characterize the rapidly outmoded "constitutionalist" model for understanding Athenian law, politics, and society, he outlines and applies the "new paradigm" to Solon's introduction of the tele, Kleisthenes' reforms, and Perikles' citizenship law of 451/0; he concludes by speculating about origins of the "new paradigm" in our post-modern condition. M. rejects the old paradigm's definition of Athenian citizenship as (1) "a legal status defined by a fixed set of juridical criteria," since this creates a misleading set of assumptions and questions, and produces illusory certainties about the identity of the citizen; and (2) as an "identity representing privileges and protection in opposition to an impersonal entity, the 'state.'" For M. and others, this proposition derives from anachronistic Marxist and "traditional liberal" assumptions about the relationship of individuals to the state. In the new paradigm, politai = polis; there is no state, and hence, no power over and above the corporation of citizens. (3) M. rejects the "old paradigm's" tendency to understand the citizen, "primarily ... through institutional contexts" because this privileges narrowly political factors (access to Ekklesia, Boule, etc.) over social factors in "representing the polis". (4) He also rejects citizenship as "a value free concept." Law and morality are not separate categories; the state and citizens are not antagonistic. Such duties as jury and military service are also forms of self and communal benefit. In general, the old paradigm understands the polis as an inorganic, rational, legalistic, and amoral abstraction; the new paradigm is an organic model, tolerant of contradiction and duplication, which prefers to see all spheres of society as interactive and mutually defining, operating toward a self-defined goal, the good of the community.

M. reads the crucial moments of Athenian history as phases in a socio-political evolution toward communal self-definition, providing a model for telling the story of Athens which rejects the cynical tales of individual ambition and the convoluted machinations of clan power politics characteristic of both ancient and modern explanations. In explaining Solon's introduction of the tele, he focuses on the self-defining character of the Hippeis and Zeugitai, who (possibly) chose one another not on the basis of how many liquid or dry measures they could produce, but "according to their patriotism" (26). The point here is that abstract accounting did not interfere with a group's ability to select (and exclude) its own members according to a standard different from those mandated. Kleisthenes' reforms are not pro-Alkmaionid gerrymandering, nor a victory for isonomia in the march toward democracy, but a socio-political evolution responsive to change in the communal spirit, "that better provided for the definition and participation of a community marked by demographic or spiritual change over the preceding generations" (26). Perikles' citizenship law is neither a leader's ploy to derail the political careers of rivals born of foreign mothers, nor the demos's attempt to horde imperial prerogatives, but signifies "the consciousness and behavior of the general community that accepted him as their leader" (26). According to M., the size of polis was the primary issue as the AP claims, but this, "is read to represent several interconnected motives reflective of the subsurface attitudes and beliefs of polis ideology" (27). The people felt that the polis was growing too large to be organic and self-defining; the law therefore preserves the very idea of the polis by closing it off and making it self-defining by "selves" who are homogeneous by birth.

M.'s paradigm opens exciting new horizons. But I am concerned that the model incorporates polis ideology into itself so completely that it actually duplicates it, when the task of the historian in some cases may be to isolate it in contradistinction to the actual conditions of Athenian life, to recover what it suppresses, elides, and imagines, and to integrate this also into a picture of the polis. By identifying the telos of Athenian political life as self-definition, the new paradigm simplifies the relationship between the ideologically constructed "self" and the "self" in its actual setting, and imposes a single narrative pattern on Athenian history. The anti-Marxist proposition (2 above, politai = polis) in particular is open to objection: it actually transplants a Marxist notion of the "withering away of the state" into historical Athens. Granted, the Athenians did not have a "state" in the modern sense of an impersonal monster, a Leviathan, set over and above the freedom of the individual, the consciousness that strife defines the relation between authorized power and individual is endemic to Greek culture, and Athenian ideology is so incongruous in its cultural setting, that it may well mask significant distortion. Achilles' quarrel with Agamemnon, who wields the scepter from Zeus; Solon's adoption of alien identity to motivate the Athenians to fight for Salamis despite the assembly's decree that it was illegal and punishable by death; Antigone's burial of Polyneikes; Teukros's resistance to the Atreidai in the Aias: these are part of a continuous tradition that recognizes the conflict of authorized power and the individual as endemic to communal life. Power always has a face, to be sure, and that face in Athens may be a composite of the demos; but as Ober points out in his piece, the ideology polis = politai, even if realized in Athens, is built upon a potentially dangerous synecdoche; and this trope may mark a turning away from actual relations. That law and morality are indistinguishable (4) troubled me for the same reason. There is no question that this was the Athenian ideology; but to what degree does ideology distort reality? With regard to (3), the rejection of institutional access as a defining feature of the citizen because it deprivileges social factors in "representing the polis," one may want to ask, as I did, how does the social represent the political, and to what degree does it accurately and informatively represent it? I learned much from M.'s piece; but I missed an awareness of how representations of the polis differ from its reality. The "new paradigm" is helpful because it focuses on the question of representation; yet it may need to construct a more solid semiotic foundation for its new readings of old phenomena.

Adele Scafuro's paper, "Witnessing and False Witnessing: Proving Citizenship and Kin Identity in Fourth-Century Athens," is a detailed and energetic study of how citizen status was proved at inheritance trials. Those interested in the topic will need to consult it both for its thoroughness and honesty. The paper presents three major arguments: (1) the combination of strict citizenship requirements and lack of a functional central archive gave rise to the need for witnesses at trials where a person's citizenship was called into question. Witness gathering was a part of every citizen's life. (2) The repertory of episodes from an individual's life used to prove citizenship was more or less fixed and these events were constitutive of citizen identity (i.e. amphidromia, dekate, introduction to gennetai, ceremonials of the phratry, enrollment in the deme, scrutiny for public office). (3) The dike pseudomarturion is a frequent sequel to cases in which witnesses testified for or against a person's citizen status, or identified kin, and therefore is an index to the importance of the act of bearing witness in these particular cases. S. also offers a developmental model of testimony to kinship and status: the lack of archives produced the live witness as a remedy, but this cure was itself a disease since witnesses lied; the dike pseudomarturion was a remedy for lying witnesses but itself "protracted the disease," because, for instance, if a defendant lost a trial for xenia, he could try the plaintiff's witness on a dike pseudomarturion and, if successful, get a retrial on the xenia charge. The original virus, however, is the lack of a functional archive to which the Athenians might appeal in such cases. This generates the entire system and its development.

I found myself questioning claims (1) and (2). S.'s appeal to the lack of a functional archive to explain genesis of the witness system was especially disappointing. It is remarkable that the Athenians had deme registers, as S. points out, but did not use them as proof of citizenship status in court. Yet to argue that the failure to use them coupled with the desire to keep tight reins on citizenship caused the Athenian witness system to develop seems tantamount to arguing that failure to use compound bows, horses, and chariots (all of which were available to the Greeks) coupled with the desire to rout their enemies created the hoplite form of war. The failure to apply available technologies to a particular system cannot explain the genesis of the system. A central archive for the purpose of proving citizenship was inconceivable to the Athenians and anachronistic for their culture. I am aware, however, that intuitive explanations such as the performative basis of speech and identity in Hellas, the profound cultural skepticism accorded paternity, claims about origins, and the truth of writing, and the democracy's need to dramatize frequently and concretely acts of inclusion in and exclusion from the polis (cf. Connor 41 in the volume) may not take us much further.

My skepticism of (2) involves the move S. makes from the catalogue of elements that signify civic identity in these (mainly inheritance) cases, and those things that constitute civic identity. Again, we encounter the problem of how the social represents the polis. The paper persuaded me that the elements of the catalogue functioned as metonyms for civic identity, not exactly constitutive of that identity, but rather a conventional and contextual code for it specific to the occasion of the trial. It is theoretically interesting to contemplate moments when the aspects of citizenship we think of as "extent" and "content" are no longer operative, as S. does in this essay. But how much information can such moments yield about what constitutes civic identity? How can arguments that seek to prove legal inclusion in the citizen body transcend legal criteria? Indeed, the essay made me contemplate the possibility of an inverse relationship between the content and extent of citizenship: in discourses that fictionalize or assume criteria of extent as given, or on occasions of performance that include outsiders -- Panhellenic festivals, theatrical spectacles, burial ceremonies, symbouleutic and private speeches -- the code representing the content of Athenian citizenship seems to me to yield more information about what constituted "being Athenian." True, such trials include more information than the birth certificate that proves my American citizenship, since they deal with a wider range of witnessed, ritualized events, require more than a raised seal as a sign of authenticity, and involve a significant degree of ambiguity. Nonetheless, the Gettysburg Address, a fourth of July celebration, or the Inauguration of a President will yield more information about "being American" than my birth certificate.

Cynthia Patterson's elegant and concise paper, "The Case against Neaira and the Public Ideology of the Athenian Family," shares with Scafuro the sense that political identity blossoms from the root and branch of family and social identity, and that our confidence in exclusionary categories of Athenian politics and society is perhaps illusory. Starting from the axiom that the oikos is a molecular unit of society held together by the bond of marriage, and that the person is an anonymous atom outside of it, she infers that women had "significant and substantial" roles in the oikos and polis, symmetrical with that of men, based on an "involvement in, and commitment to, the public life of the polis" over and above that of producers of legitimate children. The facile analogies of female/male, inside/outside, oikos/polis, and their corollary that women were excluded from the "citizen's club" violate the more complex patterning of Athenian social and political life. P. derives support for her view from Herodotos's story of Lykides, who suggested to the Boule that they consider Mardonios's offer of surrender/alliance in the Spring 479, and was stoned to death for it. When the Athenian women heard this, they went to his house (unbidden) and stoned his wife and children to death (Hdt. 9.5). For Herodotos, the entire episode is a terrible act (*A)QHNAI=OI DE\ AU)TI/KA DEINO\N POIHSA/MENOI). Is it convincing to derive social and political norms from it? In less stressful times, perhaps, the males would be outraged, as when they consider female retribution against the sole survivor of a military expedition more terrible than the loss of the men (Hdt. 5.87.2-3). P. points out that citizen women were exploiters, and that they identified with the interests of the polis; but these are not decisive points, since all would agree that metics and some slaves exploited others and shared in the interests of the polis.

When it comes to the Kata Neairan, however, P. presents a strong reading of Apollodoros's rhetoric and its implication with civic ideology. The point is this: we cannot deny that it is Neaira who is on trial for xenia and we must understand this as a function of female citizenship in some sense. What is problematic and interesting about P.'s essay, however, is the way she interweaves rhetoric, ideology, and civic reality. She recognizes that Apollodoros targets Neaira to strike at Stephanos, and that by concentrating on Neaira-Phano, Apollodoros has license to conflate them, and to paint a composite picture of their corruption of Athenian ideals. Her reading of the speech illuminates Apollodoros's rhetorical choices in terms of Athenian civic ideology. I had some difficulties with her implied move from ideology to civic reality. To be sure, "To the Athenian audience, whether in the theater or the law court, marriage represented the first political bond of the polis and was a potent symbol of the political order" (211). But I was not convinced that the ideological symbol could be cashed in at its face value in the political realm. Though I was sympathetic to P.'s case, it still seemed to me that the excessive investment in such symbolic formations as Apollo's at A. Eu. 217-18 which P. cites approvingly, or Aphrodite's in the Danaids (A. fr.44) function to debar the female citizen from the political realm, and are deliberate and context-dependent manipulations of a code that mask the realities of Athenian political life. I questioned a one-to-one correspondence between social symbolism and the actual conditions of the polis.

The masking function of ideology is a topic W.R. Connor takes up in his brief but illuminating demonstration of the inadequacy of a legal definition of the citizen identity. In "The Problem of Athenian Civic Identity," he shows how the Athenian myth of autochthony suppresses the anomalous diversity of the Athenian community, allays an anxiety about the origins and purity of the Athenians, forgets moments in Athenian history when the community opened itself to foreigners and slaves (e.g. Solon's and Kleisthenes' reforms), and glosses over those pockets of Attika in which synoecism was imperfect. Legal definition is not problematic; ideological self-definition resists contradiction and uncertainty, producing a need for self-dramatization and imaginary solutions.

In "Premarital Sex, Illegitimacy, and Male Anxiety in Menander and Athens," David Konstan argues that Kharisios's rejection of Pamphile (who bore and exposed a nothos 5 months after their marriage) in Menander's Epitrepontes does not stem from anxiety that his wife had sex before their marriage (though it may have been a factor), and that his decision to take her back after he reflects on his own (supposed) fathering of a nothos by Habrotonon is unrelated to any empathetic awareness of the violence of rape. The basis of his decision is precisely the displacement of these considerations. The shared and symmetrical atuchemata of husband and wife involve no adikemata against persons; rather, they violate the integrity of the oikos. As K. claims, "... Kharisios seems to have internalized just the set of responses necessary to sustain and reproduce the social code that sought to guarantee the citizen line and its exclusive access to landed property" (225). Views of Kharisios's rejection of Pamphile based upon fear of female sexuality outside of marriage, and attempts to explain his decision to take her back on the grounds of a deeper understanding of the trauma of rape, K. argues, impose an alien viewpoint upon the language and ideology of the play. The Greeks and the Athenians did not make an anatomical distinction between virgin and non-virgin, did not see widows as "damaged goods," did not distinguish the roles of penetrated and penetrator along simple gender lines, and treated sexual desire pretty much as any other appetite, capable of being satisfied for a payment, and subject to over-indulgence. Also, because rape can be considered a less serious offense than seduction, the violation of the person is less significant than the violation of the oikos. K. admits that portions of this explanatory section are speculative and contingent upon some difficult source interpretation; but their relevance as explanations are difficult to deny.

K. employs a sense of ideology that seems to me implicit in Connor's paper, but differs from those of Manville, Scafuro, and Patterson: Althusser's Marxist-Lacanian view that, "All ideology represents in its necessarily imaginary distortion not the existing relations of production (and the other relations that derive from them), but above all the (imaginary) relationship of individuals to the relations of production and the relations that derive from them. What is represented in ideology is therefore not the system of real relations which govern the existence of individuals, but the imaginary relation of those individuals to the real relations in which they live" (citation on n.18 p.232). This is the crux of the matter: when do we read ideology as a representation of social and political reality, and when do we read it as imaginary distortion of it?

Josiah Ober's paper, "Civic Ideology and Counterhegemonic Discourse: Thucydides on the Sicilian Debate," draws in interesting ways from the work of Foucault, Austin, and Gramsci to construct a reading of Thucydides' depiction of the speeches in the debate before the Sicilian expedition. For O., Thucydides' Histories can be read as an act of resistance to the hegemonic ideology of democratic Athens; and in the Sicilian debate, his text dramatizes a moment when the blinding effects of that ideology were destined to destroy the polis. Self-consciously resistant ideologies, we might say, view their rivals as imaginary solutions to complex and intractable realities. Thucydides formulates a critique of what O. calls, "democratic knowledge," primarily the speech acts that comprise assembly meetings, but also the beliefs that pass for knowledge and fortify the democracy's self-definition and goals (e.g. Harmodios and Aristogeiton were tyrannicides; Segesta had funds for the expedition; Sicilian poleis were feeble and unorganized). O.'s reading demonstrates how, in Thucydides' critical vision, the agonistic setting of Athenian political decision-making combined with the ideology of homonoia which depends on the trope of synecdoche (the part of the citizenry that makes policy stands for the whole polis) create irresistible pressures on language which erode its power to represent the truth, and transform it into action. Thucydides exposes the mythical foundations of democratic knowledge in violations of the logos-ergon divide. The discourse that formulates and maintains democratic ideology represents a simplified, purblind version of reality and causes epithumia-eros to displace pronoia in the minds of its speakers and its audience, activating the fantasy of a unified body politic which silences all intelligent opposition. We can also see this effect as generic transgression: the ideology of the funeral oration imposes itself on the symbouleutic discourse of the Assembly. This is a powerful and careful analysis; and it allows us to see the Sicilian debate and Thucydides' representation of democratic ideology in a new light. O. does not deny that Thucydides' resistance extends to the truth regimes of other poleis and political forms, but I wondered whether the emphasis on Thucydides' resistance to Athenian democratic ideology could be read as a resistance to all truth regimes, irrespective of the form of the community, on the basis of historical knowledge. Constructing its own truth regime with its own claim to pronoia, Thucydides' text might be guilty of the same transgression as the democracy: transgressing the logos-ergon divide.

Ian Morris in "Everyman's Grave," shares with Ober the realization that ideologies are in competition with one another, and uses evidence from 5th century tombs in Athens and Hellas to challenge both the written record and modern historian's interpretations of it concerning the rise and peak of the egalitarian ethos in Athens. During the first three quarters of the fifth century expenditure on private tombs was minimized and the difference between "elite" and "non-elite" citizen was virtually imperceptible at the grave, but c. 430-425 periboloi become more common as a declaration of the "elite" status of the deceased. Areas of resistance to the Panhellenic egalitarian fashion in burial remained in Athens among the "international aristocracy," and are particularly evident in Thessaly, Boiotia, and the Cyclades. Intriguing (and ambiguous) evidence for Athenian resistance comes in the form of the white-ground lekythoi which depict a visit to a heroic tumulus-stele grave, or show a maiden preparing for such a visit. Common in Athens between 470 and 450, but on their way out by c.400, these lekythoi are not demotic (30% of the graves excavated in the Kerameikos and Syntagma contain them, especially graves that have 3 or more pots placed in them, with a slight preference for cremations over inhumations), but are more widespread than the narrow elite actually able to afford the large tombs and stelai represented on the pot. M. considers the imagery of these lekythoi as initially double sided -- an anti-egalitarian statement for some, and a testament for others to the power of democracy "to tame elitism." These images eventually vulgarized the reality of the elitist grave site, and elites sought a new set of symbols to represent themselves, appropriating the glorious imagery, not of the heroic era, but of the Athenian civic past as a new language of prestige. Aristocrats effect a kind of Hegelian synthesis: by adopting the symbols of civic burial of the war dead at the Kerameikos that eclipsed their heroic monuments, they proclaimed themselves both citizens and aristocrats. M. offers a compelling model for the development of the visual impact of such tombs: 500-425 private tombs evoked the athanaton kleos model of Homeric and archaic hero; during this same period the polis developed an alternate symbolism that diluted the representational power of private monument; by the 420's the aristocracy "muscled in" on polis symbolism, reappropriated the private glory of the fathers, but did so on a new level, not as heroes in the Homeric fashion, who brought "suffering to the people," but as patriots and aristocrat benefactors of the polis, prostatai demou. It was not a question of rivaling the polis in expenditure -- aristocrats realized this could not be done -- but of annexing the symbolism of the state funeral for self-presentation of elite status.

The boldest and most controversial part of M.'s paper is his application of this model to challenge the standard view of the development of egalitarian ideology in Athens, by claiming that it peaked not c. 433-400, but before 430, perhaps as early as the Kimonian era in Athens, when aristocratic mechanisms of government and policy harmonized perfectly with the ethos of the people. This is a possible story; but one assumption we might want to challenge is that ideological formations take place in a zero sum game: M. assumes that gains in aristocratic self expression necessarily entail a weakening of the democratic ethos. The period from 430 is a period of fervent cultural change that produced a host of non-aristocratic elites: in politics (Kleon, Kleophon, etc.); in culture (actors, scene-painters, musicians, choreographers, dancers, philosophers, sophists, rhetoricians); in the economy (manufacturers, traders, bankers), and so on. Self designation as an "elite" grew more complex, and included many more markers than the grave-site. An alternate story is possible: the democratic ethos was so confidently hegemonic, and the possibility for self-presentation as an elite so diffused throughout Athenian culture, that aristocrats asserted their ancestral birth right in the language of the democratic funeral without being perceived as inimical to the egalitarian ethos, which had now embraced a wide variety of elites. It may be that when ideology X reaches its zenith, counter-ideology Y responds in kind. On a different model of ideological formation, we might arrive at a different story. This is not to deny the plausibility and interest of M.'s story. M. recommends that, "We do better to follow the indications of the archaeological record rather than to rely on evolutionary assumptions." But his account contains assumptions about the evolution of competing ideologies and about the relative value importance of ideological markers. We cannot deny the importance of funerary symbolism, but we may ask whether its importance allows M. to make the kinds of inferences he makes apart from the cultural developments that transformed Athenian culture during the same period.

Space does not allow a more thorough treatment of the volume's remaining essays. In "Aspects of Early Athenian Citizenship," Frank Frost argues that Athenian citizenship has no recognizable content until the reforms of Kleisthenes. One may quarrel with the assumptions that content depends upon the attainment of a certain extent before it is an operative category, and that some universally valid benefit must be linked to citizenship. Alan Boegehold offers a fascinating short piece, "Perikles' Citizenship Law of 451/0 B.C.," which challenges us to imagine the origins of the Periklean law in the actual practices of the Heliastic courts. Brothers with the same father competed for inheritance: if one had an Athenian mother, and the other a foreign mother, the "pure" Athenian would argue that he was entitled to his father's kleros on this basis; and the popular jury was persuaded. What began as a sure-fire argument in the Heliaia ended up enshrined as law. In "Private Lives and Public Enemies: Freedom of Thought in Classical Athens," R.W. Wallace reviews cases in which foreigners and Athenians were tried on the basis of what they thought and said, in an effort to define the sphere of "intellectual freedom" in Athens. In a masterful work of source criticism, he reasserts and modifies K.J. Dover's skepticism about the trials of foreign hetairai, intellectuals and philosophers at Athens, but more importantly draws our attention to the often neglected case of the musical theorist, Damon of Oa, whose ostracism in the mid-440's is extraordinary. His conclusion, that "Individual behavior that directly harmed the polis was subject to legal control. Individual behavior that affected only the individual was not" (146), is judicious and sensitive to the extra-legal motives for litigation.