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Social Memory in Athenian Public Discourse

Uses and Meanings of the Past

Bernd Steinbock

Publication Year: 2012

Prompted by the abundant historical allusions in Athenian political and diplomatic discourse, Bernd Steinbock analyzes the uses and meanings of the past in fourth-century Athens, using Thebes’ role in Athenian memory as a case study. This examination is based upon the premise that Athenian social memory, that is, the shared and often idealized and distorted image of the past, should not be viewed as an unreliable counterpart of history but as an invaluable key to the Athenians’ mentality. Against the tendency to view the orators’ references to the past as empty rhetorical phrases or propagandistic cover-ups for Realpolitik, it argues that the past constituted important political capital in its own right. Drawing upon theories of social memory, it contextualizes the orators’ historical allusions within the complex net of remembrances and beliefs held by the audience and thus tries to gauge their ideological and emotive power. Integrating literary, epigraphic, and archaeological evidence with recent scholarship on memory, identity, rhetoric, and international relations, Social Memory in Athenian Public Discourse: Uses and Meanings of the Past enhances our understanding of both the function of memory in Athenian public discourse and the history of Athenian-Theban relations. It should be of interest not only to students of Greek history and oratory but to everybody interested in memory studies, Athenian democracy, and political decision making.

Published by: University of Michigan Press


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-5

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pp. v-viii

Prompted by the abundant historical allusions in Athenian political and diplomatic discourse, this book analyzes the uses and meanings of the past in fourth-century Athens, using Thebes’ role in Athenian memory as a case study. It explores how Athenians learned about their past and what this past meant to them. ...


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pp. ix-x


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pp. xi-xii

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Introduction: Objectives, Methods, Concepts

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pp. 1-47

Though separated by more than twenty-three hundred years, these statements have a lot in common. All three speakers recall the past in order to persuade their audiences to adopt a particular view of the present. By equating the troops’ service in Iraq to the achievements of the “Greatest Generation,” ...

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1. Carriers of Athenian Social Memory

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pp. 48-99

In the introduction, I established a methodological framework that will allow me to study both how individual Athenians made use of the past within the complex Athenian memorial framework and to what extent these shared images of the past might have influenced the decision-making process in the Athenian assembly and the law courts. ...

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2. Athens’ Counterimage: The Theban Medizers

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pp. 100-154

A survey of the Attic orators and the speeches in Xenophon’s Hellenica shows that fourth-century allusions to events in the history of Athenian-Theban relations cluster around four particular episodes, each discussed in a separate chapter in this book: Thebes’ collaboration with the Persians in 480–479 (this chapter), ...

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3. Mythical Precedent: Athenian Intervention for the Fallen Argives

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pp. 155-210

In chapter 2, we saw how the Athenians, as a result of their experience of the Persian Wars, came to see themselves as champions of Greek liberty and to see their Theban neighbors as archetypical traitors who eagerly collaborated with the Persians. Athenians referred to Thebes’ medizing in two particular contexts. ...

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4. A Precarious Memory: Theban Help for the Athenian Democrats

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pp. 211-279

Throughout the fifth and fourth centuries, Athenian-Theban relations were mostly hostile. Athens fought against the Theban-led Boeotian League at the end of the sixth century to protect Plataea’s independence. During Xerxes’ invasion (480–479), the Pentecontaetia (479–431), and the Peloponnesian War (431–404), ...

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5. Persistent Memories: The Proposed Eradication of Athens

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pp. 280-341

In chapter 2, I analyzed historical references to Theban medizing in Athenian public discourse. I argued that in the process of memorialization, owing to the continuous Athenian-Theban enmity in the fifth century, Thebes’ medism became an essential part of the Athenian memory of the Persian Wars. ...

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pp. 342-356

Twenty years ago, the history of classical Athenian institutions was dependent on the study of inscriptions and space. We were able then to discover, largely under the inspiration of Mogens Hansen, how many Athenians attended the ecclesia and how the law courts worked in relationship to the assembly. ...


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pp. 357-376

Index Locorum

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pp. 377-392

General Index

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pp. 393-411

E-ISBN-13: 9780472028412
E-ISBN-10: 0472028413
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472118328
Print-ISBN-10: 0472118323

Page Count: 464
Illustrations: 7 illustrations
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 859687080
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Social Memory in Athenian Public Discourse

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Athens (Greece) -- Relations -- Greece -- Thebes.
  • Thebes (Greece) -- Relations -- Greece -- Athens.
  • Thebes (Greece) -- Foreign public opinion.
  • Memory -- Social aspects -- Greece -- Athens -- History -- To 1500.
  • Collective memory -- Greece -- Athens -- History -- To 1500.
  • Historiography -- Social aspects -- Greece -- Athens -- History -- To 1500.
  • Discourse analysis -- Greece -- Athens -- History -- To 1500.
  • Athens (Greece) -- Politics and government.
  • Athens (Greece) -- Social life and customs.
  • Greece -- History -- To 146 B.C.
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