BMCR 1994.09.14

1994.09.14, Lavelle, The Sorrow and the Pity

, The sorrow and the pity : a prolegomenon to a history of Athens under the Peisistratids, c. 560-510 B.C.. Historia. Einzelschriften ; Heft 80. Stuttgart: F. Steiner, 1993. 147 pages ; 24 cm.. ISBN 9783515063180

The title of this monograph is taken from Marcel Ophuls’ 1971 film Le chagrin et la pitie, which “created a national uproar in France by exploding the hallowed myth that France as a nation had resisted German occupation during the World War” (p. 16). In this study, which builds upon sixteen earlier articles on the Peisistratids and his 1983 University of British Columbia dissertation, Lavelle, now an associate professor of Classical Studies at Loyola University Chicago, argues that fifth-century Athenians also created a myth of resistance against the Peisistratid tyranny. The unraveling of this myth, he asserts (Chapter 1 “Introduction”), yields not only a more accurate history of sixth-century Athens under the Peisistratids but also a better understanding of fifth-century Athenian psychology.

In Chapter 2 (“Genesis of the Athenian Myth of Resistance”), L. infers from the election of Hipparchos son of Charmos as eponymous archon in 496 that the Peisistratids were still “politically viable” in the earliest years of the fifth century, but that the prosecution in 493/2 of the “Peisistratid cooperative” Miltiades for tyrannis shows that the political climate had changed dramatically in three years, and that Miltiades’ second conviction, for apate in 489, reflects increased hostility against the Peisistratids. One wonders, however, whether Hipparchos really could have been elected in 496 if he had seemed politically close to the expelled tyrants, and Herodotos (6.104.2, 136) speaks only of Miltiades’ own (allegedly) excessive behavior. L. is on more solid ground when he follows the communis opinio (as, e.g., in CAH IV2 338) that by 487 popular hostility against persons (arguably) associated with the Peisistratids and the Persians is clearly demonstrated by the ostracism of the same Hipparchos son of Charmos. Herodotos’ (6.123.2) and Thucydides’ (1.20.2, 6.54-59) accounts of the “tyrannicide” of 514 show that they were aware that popular tradition (embodied in the skolia [Page, PMG 893-896]) had transformed a politically ineffective act of personal vengeance into the decisive blow that ended the tyranny, but L. perceptively observes that even Thucydides must have been contaminated by this tradition, since otherwise he would not have reported that the original target had been Hippias, rather than Aristogeiton’s rival erastes Hipparchos.

In Chapter 3 (“The Myth Transcendent”), L. distills from the sources a “minimum record” of the Peisistratid period (“The Tyranny Without Adornment”) before turning to “Imprints of Deformation”. L. argues that early fifth-century Athenians (especially the Alkmeonidai) were embarrassed by their (and their ancestors’) collaboration with the Peisistratids, that they accordingly suppressed the record of this collaboration, and that this suppression (“‘silence’ from abridgment”) resulted in Herodotos’ scanty account of the Peisistratids. L. goes so far as to reconstruct an official damnatio memoriae in the 480s, but his evidence for this (including Livy 31.44.8: postremo inclusum, ut omnia quae aduersus Pisistratidas decreta quondam erant eadem in Philippo [V of Macedon] seruarentur) is offset by other evidence which he acknowledges, e.g., the dedicatory inscription of Peisistratos son of Hippias on the Altar of Apollo Pythios (whose letters, Meiggs&Lewis #11 report, “are still clear”) and the Altar of the Twelve Gods, which L. agrees (p. 77, n. 75) was overbuilt only in the third quarter of the fifth century. L. goes on to reconstruct the various kinds of “Apology” made by the Alkmeonidai and Antiphon for their ancestors’ collaboration: outright denial, selective admission and general confession, in each case with the implication that the demos as a whole had been even more implicated.

In Chapter 4 (“Components of Revision in the Tradition about the Tyranny”), L. discusses “genos-tradition” and “demos-tradition”: “it was demos-tradition that Harmodios and Aristogeiton slew the tyrant Hipparchos and freed Athens; genos-tradition (i.e., Alkmeonid) that they did not …. On the other hand, it is genos-tradition (again, Alkmeonid) that the Gephyraioi were not Athenians, but foreigners; demos-tradition, while not stated, is surely that the Gephyraioi were most assuredly Athenian.” The notion that Peisistratos’ rise was inevitable (e.g., the prodigy of Hippokrates’ pots boiling over at Olympia, Amphilytos’ prophecy before Pallene) excused the submission of all Athenians and thus could be the product of demos-tradition, but L. thinks that it was contrived by the Alkmeonids to obscure their own more specific collaboration, evidenced not only by the marriage alliance which resulted in Peisistratos’ second tyranny, but also by Peisistratos’ original rise to power, which L. argues could not have occurred without the political support of Megakles; this reconstruction has a certain appeal, but is it likely that the Alkmeonidai were responsible for the detail (Hdt. 1.61.1) that Peisistratos avoided “normal” intercourse with Megakles’ daughter because the Alkmeonidai were under a curse? Similarly, L. sees evidence for Alkmeonid “guilt” in Kleisthenes’ archonship of 525/4, his bribery at Delphi to encourage Spartan intervention in Athens, and his post-507 efforts for “subjection to Persia”; the first fact (like most archonships) is omitted by Herodotos, the second (L. argues) is cast in a light favorable to the Alkmeonidai, while the third probably is not even a fact (at p. 103, n. 53, L. concedes that he is not “persuaded that Kleisthenes was necessarily a member of the embassy to Sardis”, which Hdt. 5.73 says had been sent to make an alliance, not to give earth and water). As the prime example of demos-tradition, L. points to the alleged disarmament of the demos, either just after Hipparchos’ assassination in 514 (Thuc. 6.58) or after the Battle of Pallene in 546/5 (Ath. Pol. 15.3-4); both disarmaments (which are contradicted elsewhere by the demos’ domestic and foreign military service for the Peisistratids) tended to excuse the demos’ failure in 514 to support the “tyrannicides” and more generally to revolt at any time before 511/0. L. concludes with a catalogue of “Themes of Apology and Explanation”, attributes of the Peisistratids which excused collaboration with them: trickery, divine assistance/sanction, sexual misconduct, righteousness, “good” rule/”bad” rule and (with respect to the Peisistratid period) silence.

Following an “Epilogue”, which summarizes his conclusions, L. provides a very full Bibliography of recent work on the Peisistratids.

There are editorial slips (misspellings, missing words, non-syllabic word divisions, and errors in grammar and punctuation) on nearly every page, but they usually are not misleading. What is baffling on occasion is the English prose style and syntax, e.g., the second sentence of the book (p. 9): “A sharper focus on the period would advantage us in several ways, the obvious ones, of course, but, perhaps most importantly, in fathoming Athens after the tyranny, during the fifth century B.C.”

This is a provocative approach to the very limited evidence on the Peisistratids.