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Civic Rites

Democracy and Religion in Ancient Athens

Nancy Evans

Publication Year: 2010

Civic Rites explores the religious origins of Western democracy by examining the government of fifth-century BCE Athens in the larger context of ancient Greece and the eastern Mediterranean. Deftly combining history, politics, and religion to weave together stories of democracy’s first leaders and critics, Nancy Evans gives readers a contemporary’s perspective on Athenian society. She vividly depicts the physical environment and the ancestral rituals that nourished the people of the earliest democratic state, demonstrating how religious concerns were embedded in Athenian governmental processes. The book’s lucid portrayals of the best-known Athenian festivals—honoring Athena, Demeter, and Dionysus—offer a balanced view of Athenian ritual and illustrate the range of such customs in fifth-century Athens.

Published by: University of California Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-9


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pp. ix-x

List of Illustrations

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pp. xi-xii

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pp. xiii-xvi

The world is changing fast these days. During the time that I worked on the manuscript for this book, America faced two ongoing wars, crises in major financial and industrial institutions, and growing awareness of changes in the earth’s global climate. We also saw the election of the first African American president. ...


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pp. xvii-xx

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Introduction: The City of Pericles and Socrates

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pp. 1-11

Imagine the Greek Mediterranean, just over 2,400 years ago. A surprisingly strong spring sun warms the limestone buildings in the Athenian Agora, the commercial and communal center of the city. High above on the Acropolis marble monuments and a great bronze statue of the armed goddess Athena glint in the sunlight. ...

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One Cleisthenes: The Family Curse behind Athenian Democracy

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pp. 12-34

The Athenians who tried Socrates for impiety in 399 BCE and found him guilty were heirs to a set of democratic practices that had been in existence for a little over a century. The breakthrough to what we would recognize today as a democratic form of government had come around the year 507, ...

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Two Athena: Religion and the Democratic Polis

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pp. 35-62

On warm summer weekend eveings across suburban America, the smell of grilled meat wafts across neatly clipped lawns. While children snack on hot dogs and hamburgers and romp in the backyard, adults sit on the patio sipping drinks. Wisps of smoke rise in the evening dusk. ...

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Three Pericles: Empire and War in the City of Athena

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pp. 63-99

Cleisthenes briefly assumed a leading role in Athens in the late sixth century when he led the polis following the expulsion of the Pysistratid tyrants. The reforms he advanced drew on an inherited understanding among the Athenians that their government was charged with funding and maintaining the civic rites of its citizens: ...

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Four Demeter: Civic Worship, Women’s Rites, and the Eleusinian Mysteries

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pp. 100-130

Athens was sacred to Athena, goddess of the olive, of handcrafts, and of wisdom, but Athenians were of course polytheistic, and for many generations they had also worshipped Demeter, the goddess whose power was manifest in abundant sheaves of wheat. The plains of Attica could provide only a limited supply of wheat, barley, and rye— ...

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Five Alcibiades: Politics, Religion, and the Cult of Personality

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pp. 131-169

Thucydides’ last reported speech of Pericles in book 2 depicts the dynamic Athenian leader encouraging the people of Athens to be patient and maintain their naval empire. Above all Pericles warned against expanding the empire while at war. This plan might well have worked, had the Athenians stuck to it. ...

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Six Dionysus: Civic Rituals of Wine, Theater, and Transformation

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pp. 170-207

All things are in flux. Plato famously attributed this aphorism to the Ionian philosopher Heraclitus (Cratylus 402a). Alcibiades’ twists and turns, from Athens to Sparta to Persia to Athens, certainly illustrated the flux of power and personality, and Athenians who during one decade suffered two coups, two counterrevolutions, ...

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Seven Socrates: Impiety Trials in the Restored Democracy

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pp. 208-240

Athenians voted. They voted as judges in the law courts, and at Dionysian festivals. They voted in their demes, and in the Assembly on the Pnyx. In a law court a jury voted to convict Socrates. This final chapter will return to episodes presented in earlier chapters to reflect one last time on the historical evidence, ...

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Epilogue: The City after Socrates

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pp. 241-244

After the year 399 the Athenians experienced no more drama for a while, as Athenian democracy returned to its full function. The fourth century was a time of relative stability for the democratic institutions that had been put in place by Ephialtes and Pericles following the Persian Wars and then revived in 403. ...

Glossary of Terms

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pp. 245-250

Suggested Further Readings by Chapter

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pp. 251-256


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pp. 257-264


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pp. 265-272

E-ISBN-13: 9780520945487
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520262034

Page Count: 296
Publication Year: 2010