Bryn Mawr Classical Review 95.06.11

Robin Osborne and Simon Hornblower (edd.), Ritual, Finance, Politics. Athenian Democratic Accounts Presented to David Lewis. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994. Pp. 408; Figs. 29. $72.00. ISBN 0-19-814992-1.

Reviewed by Walbank, Michael B., Greek, Latin & Ancient History -- University of Calgary.

This book is a collection of 22 papers presented at a conference held in Oxford in July 1993 to celebrate the 65th birthday of David Lewis, Professor of Ancient History at the University of Oxford, and, at the same time, the 2,500th anniversary of the birth of "democracy". David Lewis contracted cancer soon after this conference and died on July 12, 1994. Thus, this volume becomes a memorial to a great scholar, although it was not planned to be such.

In the Introduction, R. Osborne, Ritual, Finance, Politics: An Account of Athenian Democracy (1-24), defines "ritual" in the broadest sense, as "practices differentiated typically by their formalized pattern and/or regularized periodicity" (1). [As such, then his definition covers both civic and religious activity and habits of thought and action. One might add that it underlies the formulae that make up so much of Athenian public documents, as do the formulaic expressions and phrases of Greek epic. I should say, indeed, that this reliance upon formulae and rituals is a basic feature of Greek, not merely Athenian life.] O. uses as his example the decree IG ii2 1165 in which the Erechtheid Antisthenes was honoured for his services to his phyle as an expounder and deviser of rituals, by which the economic and religious affairs of the phyle might be more efficiently governed (1-4). These rituals then became regular practices, taken for granted. In just the same way Athenian civic life, at all levels, was governed by such rituals. "By regular participation in all these ritual activities the social body became imperceptibly schooled in the pleasures of acting in accordance with schemes whose assumptions it might never consciously articulate" (5). "To break down democracy demanded the breaking down of its rituals" (9). To a greater or lesser extent, the remaining papers in this volume explore this theme: they are grouped, somewhat arbitrarily, under the headings Politics (25-200), Finance (201-268), and Ritual (269-384); in the second part of his Introduction, O. summarizes each paper and interleaves with them the contributions made throughout his career by David Lewis (10-24). I shall not repeat what O. says, but pick out and group under different categories than his what seem to me to be the most valuable papers and the most useful points made by their authors.

Several papers are concerned with the practice of Athenian democracy and modern perceptions of its nature. For instance, E. Ruschenbusch, Europe and Democracy (189-200), points out that most of the 750 or so Greek poleis were very small, and in these democracy "just failed to be put into practice under normal circumstances" (190). Athens was far larger, perhaps 60,000 male citizens in the fifth and 21,000 in the fourth century, ruled by what was, in effect, an "oligarchy" of those who lived in or close to the City. Thus, depopulation, coupled with the need to maintain quora in the courts and the Assembly, led to payment for attendance on juries and in the Assembly: this was not democratic but practical (191). This option, not feasible in most other Greek states, was made possible only by the revenues from the silver-mines. M.H. Hansen, The 2500th Anniversary of Cleisthenes' Reforms and the Tradition of Athenian Democracy (25-38), identifies the influence of Plutarch upon the traditions surrounding the birth of Athenian democracy. Had Plutarch written a "Life of Cleisthenes", he suggests, coupled, perhaps, with one of Servius Tullius, we might have a clearer view of Cleisthenes' role. These reforms included the introduction of voting-procedures, which N. Spivey, Psephological Heroes (39-52), suggests must be the real-life context for a group of Attic vases dated 490-470 that depict epic heroes engaging in some sort of voting procedure, probably the posthumous assignment of Achilles' armour. Another reform attributed to Cleisthenes was ostracism: P.J. Rhodes, The Ostracism of Hyperbolus (85-98), examines the last recorded example of this procedure and dates Hyperbolus' exile to 415 BC (91), which coincides with the first dated use of the graphe paranomon, which seems to become regarded as a more reliable means than ostracism of getting rid of problem politicians (96). Election and sortition applied not only to civic offices in democratic Athens, but also to religious offices. This theme is examined by S.B. Aleshire, The Demos and the Priests: The Selection of Sacred Officials at Athens from Cleisthenes to Augustus (325-338). She asks how priests and priestesses were selected, by sortition, by election, or by inheritance? She demonstrates that democratic priesthoods were never elective [something of an irony in a so-called "democracy"?], but that an earlier system of election for gentilician priesthoods, such as those of the Eumolpidai, Kerykes and Eteoboutadai, appears to have been replaced from the early 5th century by some kind of selective sortition. This system of sortition from a restricted field of candidates was replaced again ca 21 BC by direct election (325-335).

The laws that governed Athens are the theme of another group of papers: R. Thomas, Law and the Lawgiver in the Athenian Democracy (119-134), discusses the fourth-century feeling that "Solon's" laws were simple, few and effective; behind this view was "a sense of unease and nostalgia". There was, perhaps, at this time a reversion to the archaic legal system, exemplified in the creation of new laws after the rationalism of the later fifth century, which had led to questioning and interpreting of the system (133). [Compare this view and that of Osborne, above, on "ritual" law.] Constitutional law was a concern of the rhetores of the fourth century, an outstanding example of whom was Aeschines: his career is discussed by R. Lane Fox, Aeschines and Athenian Democracy (135-156), who describes him as a self-made man and upwardly mobile, from a family that was equally mobile socially and politically. "Manifestly, he was part of a central political group with its own view of Philip" (142). He was not a "vigilant constitutionalist, but a rhetor through-and-through" (154). In one respect, however, he was ahead of his time, in spotting the tendency to by-pass the Demos by means of "a private epistolary network" to deal with the King and his successors (155). By contrast, G. Herman looks at civil and criminal law, How Violent was Athenian Society? (99-118), showing that Athens, in fact, was a remarkably peaceful society (101), in which arms were not normally carried (105). The surviving forensic speeches, while motivated by the self-interest of the speakers, were based on what the jurors wanted to hear: their theme was non-violent response to violent provocation, where recourse was had to the law rather than to personal vendetta and revenge (108-109). [This cannot be emphasized too much.]

Literacy and numeracy engage the interest of several authors, who, however, differ in their perception of the extent to which Athenians could read, write and figure. For instance, C.W. Hedrick, Jr., Writing, Reading, and Democracy (157-174), claims that the formula of democratic disclosure (161) in Athenian public inscriptions does not necessarily imply a broad literacy (163). Why then, he asks, were there so many state inscriptions?

He implies (173) that all public texts were mnemonic devices, not meant to be read fluently, but kept in monumental form until the establishment of the Metroön archive. [If so, I wonder why so many decrees emphasise the fact of publication? Does this not mean that many others were not to be inscribed on stone or bronze?] Were many Athenians numerate and to what extent? L. Kallet-Marx, Money Talks: Rhetor, Demos, and the Resources of the Athenian Empire (227-252), asks how much did the average citizen know of public finance at Athens? (228). Few magistracies were financial, and these were filled only from the highest census-group (229); even minor magistracies were probably not open to the lowest group, the thetes (229). Bouleutai acquired a "good, general impression of the fiscal management of polis and empire" (229-230), but, even so, this knowledge didn't amount to much. Who read the inscriptions? The information given by them was limited (231); "the sheer abundance of publicly accessible information may have impeded knowledge and understanding about the city's finances" (232). It was thus the function of the rhetores to inform the Assembly (232), as experts and as teachers (233). Athenians were "conditioned" by the rhetores to think of the expenditure of money as the basis for Athens' strength and power (240), but this was a novel idea in the fifth century, when other states thought of men as the basis of power, and it needed to be taught (242). This process began with Themistocles (244). This theme similarly concerns J. Davies, Accounts and Accountability in Classical Athens (201-212), who also begins with a question: who decided what was to be recorded and why? To speak of "a system" is "probably a misnomer" (205): there was multiplication of offices and fragmentation of responsibilities (204), and primary records were kept in other media than stone, such as whitened boards (205-207). The activities of the poletai had little to do with public accountability, far more to do with affirming the principles on which the Athenian public administration was based (211): their inscriptions were archives that were not actually consulted (212). For instance, the confiscations of 414 and 402/1 were "symbolic" as much as practical (210).

Several authors are interested in the interplay of political and religious life. Three of these papers stand out: M.H. Jameson, The Ritual of the Athena Nike Parapet (307-324), analyzes the iconography of religion in democratic Athens. He looks at familiar material with new eyes, to ask what is really depicted in the Nike Parapet sculptures. The subject is not a sacrificial feast, but an entirely non-mortal occasion, each face of the composition "a sea of trophies and victories", the victim the central point, and, "on the most conspicuous west face", "the act of killing the victim" (313). The victims are cattle: one is lost, one indeterminate, but the third is certainly male; thus, they are not sacrifices for Athena, whose victims were always female (315-316). The answer lies on the west face, where a Victory slits the throat of the victim: this is the regular act of sacrifice that was "performed on the battlefield before any engagement could occur" (317). The presence on each panel of trophies indicates that time has been "compressed": "Victory is sought through sacrifice, and victory has been won". Thus, "the message is blunt, even brutal: Victory and Athena guarantee the success of the Athenian people, committed to battle" (318). J. suggests that the context is the outset of the Sicilian Expedition, and that the composition displays "the same reckless confidence and loss of a realistic sense of what they could achieve that lured the Athenians to Sicily and into refusing terms of peace when they held the advantage" (319).

Festivals, in particular the great national festivals of the Dionysia and the Panathenaia, provided the ritual framework that brought together every aspect of City life. But, in practice, how much were women, children, slaves and foreigners women involved? Perhaps not as much as has been thought: for instance, in a provocative discussion S. Goldhill, Representing Democracy: Women at the Great Dionysia (347-370), shows that the texts that bear upon women's presence in the Theatre during the Great Dionysia are all ambiguous and ultimately inconclusive (351). Why is there no direct attestation? The topography of the Acropolis and the Agora emphasized "the exercise of citizenship where both to act before an audience and to participate in an audience are defining characteristics of democratic obligations" (353). Despite the involvement of women in the Panathenaic frieze, there is no evidence that all Athenian women participated in the Panathenaia, at least not in all aspects of the festival (355-357); nor did women ever participate personally in the lawcourts, even as witnesses, except in the case of prostitutes. Similarly, the Assembly was all-male (357-360). Were the Dionysia more like the Assembly and courts or more like the Panathenaia in this respect? Both Panathenaia and Dionysia were multi-day festivals; thus, it is not necessary to assume that women, even if they were involved in one day's events, were involved every day (362); likewise, other Dionysiac festivals. "As opposed to the pompe, there is no evident ritual role for the women in the theatre" (363). There is no good evidence for women's presence in the theatre, whether in separate seating or in special capacity: theatre seating reflected political categories, and there was no place for women in politics (365-367); the theatre was "a civic space" and the Great Dionysia, as representative of democracy, needed "to be seen in comparison with the other great institutions and spaces for citizens in Athens" (369). The route, form and ritual of the City Dionysia are examined by C. Sourvinou-Inwood, Something to do with Athens: Tragedy and Ritual (269-290), in an admittedly highly speculative, but fascinating, paper. The festival involved preliminary transport of the statue of Dionysos from the Sanctuary of Dionysos Eleuthereus to the Academy, and thence back to the Theatre; then a procession to the Sanctuary, sacrifices, and dramatic contests (270-273); S.-I. sees the ceremonies, not as an "annexation ritual", but as re-enactment of the first introduction of the cult of Dionysos in Athens and the resistance that initially arose to this (274). She sees four stages to the development of this ritual, from earliest times to the Roman era (275-288, summarized, 287-288). In all, the central element remained the xenismos (the rite of entertainment of the "foreigner"), not the sacrifice or the performances (288). Early performances may have had as their subject matter the initial resistance to and subsequent welcoming of the God (289).

Finally there is the question of Athenian religious practices beyond the borders of Attica: R. Parker, Athenian Religion Abroad (339-346), shows that the differences between Athenian and other Greek colonies arise from "the peculiar nature of Athenian colonies", namely cleruchies. One aspect of religious life in these colonies is contact maintained with cults at Athens (341); another is the honour given to local Greek, but pre-Attic, cults (342-343). An apparent exception is the colony on Lemnos, where, by contrast with other Athenian colonies, the local, pre-Attic cults were also non-Greek ("Pelasgian"); nevertheless, these non-Greek cults were adopted by the colonists: "What Demeter and Kore were to the Athenians of Athens, that it seems the Great Gods were to the Athenians of Lemnos and Imbros" (344). Similarly, Lemnian Artemis, Imbrian Hermes, and the Imbrian god Orthanes and Lemnian Hephaestus were adopted by the colonists (345-346). There were other ways in which Athenian religion ventured beyond the borders of Attica, and not only after the time of Cleisthenes: A. Schachter, The Politics of Dedication: Two Athenian Dedications at the Sanctuary of Apollo Ptoieus in Boeotia (291-306), looks at two sixth-century Athenian dedications in Boetia that have hitherto been regarded as political, rather than religious; he describes the Ptoion Sanctuary as a "limitary" one, thus likely to have been treated as neutral territory, as Delphi was (295); noting that dedications of kouroi at Ptoion were at a high peak in the period 550-530, a pattern not repeated at other sanctuaries elsewhere in Boiotia, he suggests that the Ptoion Sanctuary may have substituted for the Apollo Sanctuary at Delphi during this time, when the second Temple of Apollo had just been destroyed; thus, Alcmeonides' dedication (IG i3 1469, ca 550-530) was probably not a political, but a religious, statement (299). By contrast, Hipparchus' dedication (IG i3 1470, placed by its script ca 520) was likely to have been politically motivated, occurring as it did at a time when Athenian relations with Thebes and the Boiotoi had not yet been soured by the defection of Plataea from the Boiotoi in 519 (303-304).

From these papers we see what sometimes has been wilfully overlooked in our modern enthusiasm for "Athenian democracy". We should note Ruschenbusch's comment that in Europe, from the birth of Christ to the 19th century, democracy, as it had been practiced in Athens, was generally not understood; what passed for democracy was, in fact, representative democracy (194), in whose development "the example of Greek democracy played no role whatsoever", except as a label (196); we should note, too, Hansen's observation that Cleisthenes and his democracy were actually the discovery of the 19th century historian George Grote (37). Athenian democracy was limited to male citizens, in practice, to those who lived in or close to the City, or who were wealthy enough to be able to live away from home; limited also to those who understood its workings, its rituals, and its finances; this type of democracy was extended abroad to Athenian colonies, whose citizens practiced the same rituals and maintained the same exclusions as their fellows in the City; its religious, legal, and civic practices tightly bound together. From the "cradle of democracy", in fact, were excluded all females, half its adult population, and all its minors, not to mention slaves and all but the most favoured foreigners. "Democracy" it decidedly was not.1


[1] The book ends with a comprehensive Index, compiled by S. Hornblower (385-408). I have not discussed the following papers: R.B. Rutherford (Learning from History: Categories and Case-Histories, 53-68); C. Carey (Comic Ridicule and Democracy, 69-84); A. Matthaiou (Two New Attic Inscriptions, 175-188); D. Harris (Freedom of Information and Accountability: The Inventory Lists of the Parthenon, 213-226); M. Langdon (Public Auctions in Ancient Athens, 253-268); and M. Golden (Children's Rights, Children's Speech, and the Agamemnon, 371-384).