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Language and History in Ancient Greek Culture

By Martin Ostwald

Publication Year: 2009

Spanning forty years, this collection of essays represents the work of a renowned teacher and scholar of the ancient Greek world. Martin Ostwald's contribution is both philological and historical: the thread that runs through all of the essays is his precise explanation, for a modern audience, of some crucial terms by which the ancient Greeks saw and lived their lives—and influenced ours. Chosen and sequenced by Ostwald, the essays demonstrate his methodology and elucidate essential aspects of ancient Greek society.

The first section plumbs the social and political terms in which the Greeks understood their lives. It examines their notion of the relation of the citizen to his community; how they conceived different kinds of political structure; what role ideology played in public life; and how differently their most powerful thinkers viewed issues of war and peace. The second section is devoted to the problem, first articulated by the Greeks, of the extent to which human life is dominated by nature (physis) and human convention (nomos), a question that remains a central concern in modern societies, even if in different guises. The third section focuses on democracy in Athens. It confronts questions of the nature of democratic rule, of financing public enterprises, of the accountability of public officials, of the conflict raised by imperial control and democratic rule, of the coexistence of "conservative" and "liberal" trends in a democratic regime, and of the relation between rhetoric and power in a democracy. The final section is a sketch of the principles on which the two greatest Greek historians, Herodotus and Thucydides, constructed their outlooks on human affairs.

Ultimately, the collection intends to make selected key concepts in ancient Greek social and political culture accessible to a lay audience. It also shows how the differences—rather than the similarities—between the ancient Greeks and us can contribute to a deeper understanding of our own time.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Cover, Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi

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pp. 1-3

It is an honor to have been invited by the University of Pennsylvania Press to publish in book form a selection of my articles and essays. To make the selection was difficult, chiefly because the Press mandated that the book cohere thematically, that it not be (merely) a collection of my best essays. The variety of my publications makes it hard to determine what is “coherent” in what I have published. My interest...

A. Political Culture of the Polis

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pp. 5-89

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1. Shares and Rights: “Citizenship” Greek Style and American Style

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pp. 7-21

The celebration of the anniversaries of three revolutionary events that have shaped the social and political outlook of the world affords a welcome excuse to take a close look at some of the assumptions on which our social and political system is based. Two of these events mark the triumph over an...

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2. Isokratia as a Political Concept (Herodotus, 5.92α.1)

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pp. 22-38

Ἦ δὴ ὅ τε οὐρανὸς ἔνερθε ἔοται τῆς γῆς καὶ ἡ γῆ μετέωρος ὑπὲρ τοῦ...

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3. Oligarchy and Oligarchs in Ancient Greece

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pp. 39-51

It is one of the frustrations of the historian of ancient Greece that we know so little about the internal functioning of the Greek city-states in the classical period. We have, to be sure, plenty of information on the operation of the Athenian democracy; still, we know neither how typical the Athenian...

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4. Stasis and Autonomia in Samos: A Comment on an Ideological Fallacy

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pp. 52-68

The excellent discussion of the Samian Revolt and its aftermath by Graham Shipley contains little on the internal political developments in Samos and especially on the role played by autonomia in her relations with Athens.1 The relevance of this question to the role of ideology in Athenian control over her...

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5. Peace and War in Plato and Aristotle

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pp. 69-89

Among the few generalizations that one can safely make about the ancient Greeks as well as about us moderns is that none of us, with the exception of some certified lunatics, loves war for its own sake and prefers it to peace. But when it comes to the question of what war is and why human nature is...

B. Nomos in Greek History and Thought

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pp. 91-172

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6. Pindar, Nomos, and Heracles (Pindar, frg. 169 [Snell3] and POxy. No. 2450, frg. 1)

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pp. 93-124

Few fragments of Greek poetry have been cited in ancient literature as frequently as Pindar’s poem on νόμος βασιλεύς.1 From its earliest mention, perhaps still within Pindar’s own lifetime and certainly not long after his death, at the end of Herodotus’ story about Darius’ experiment with the Indians...

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7. Was There a Concept Agraphos Nomos in Classical Greece?

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pp. 125-157

Written legislation began in Athens, if we can trust Aristotle’s statement in his Constitution of Athens 41.2, with Draco, even though before Draco ϑέσμια of some kind were kept in writing by the ϑεσμοϑέται (ibid., 3.4). Draco and Solon, whose written code formed the basis of the Athenian legal system for...

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8. Nomos and Physis in Antiphon’s Περὶ Ἀληθείας

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pp. 158-172

The central importance of Antiphon, the author of the tract On Truth, for students of philosophy and history alike, needs no argument. Not only is he the earliest Athenian sophist intelligible to us, but he is also the most explicit exponent of the...

C. Constitutional and Political Institutions of Athens

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pp. 173-261

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9. Athenian Democracy—Reality or Illusion?

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pp. 175-190

Allow me to begin with a quotation: “The rule of the masses has, to start with, the fairest name of all, political equality, and further it does none of the things a monarch does: it appoints officials by lot, its rule is answerable, and it refers all political resolutions to the...

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10. Public Expense: Whose Obligation? Athens 600–454 b.c.e.

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pp. 191-204

To run a government costs, and as taxpayers we all know too well who foots the bill. The taxes we pay are meant to defray two kinds of expenses: expenses in goods and recompense for public service. In wartime not only does the military need arms, equipment, and food supplies but we must also...

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11. Diodotus, Son of Eucrates

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pp. 205-213

The title of this paper gives us one of the only two facts known about the man to whom Thucydides assigns one of the most profound and important speeches in his History. The other fact is that the speech reported by Thucydides was not Diodotus’ first on Cleon’s motion in the summer of 427 b.c., that all...

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12. Athens and Chalkis: A Study in Imperial Control

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pp. 214-229

Thucydides reports that a revolt of Euboea followed hard upon the heels of the Athenian withdrawal from Boeotia after their defeat at Coroneia in 447/6 b.c.e.1 The immediate cause of this revolt is not stated, but it can be inferred with some confidence from the context in which it took place...

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13. The Areopagus in the Athenaion Politeia

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pp. 230-244

Aristotle tells us at Athenaion Politeia 25.1—I shall persist in calling the work Aristotle’s more for the sake of convenience than out of conviction that I know who its author was—that “for approximately seventeen years after the Persian Wars the constitution lasted under the leadership of the Areopagites...

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14. The Sophists and Athenian Politics

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pp. 245-261

By the middle of the fifth century b.c.e. Athens had fully developed a democracy. Democracy thrives—or is supposed to thrive—on discussion, and of that there was plenty in fifth-century Athens. Persuasive speaking was needed in the Athenian democracy to get legislation through Council and Assembly...

D. Literature and History

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pp. 263-295

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15. Herodotus and Athens

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pp. 265-277

“Because of the greatness of our city there is an influx of all things from the entire world, with the result that the enjoyment of goods produced at home is no more familiar to us than the produce of other men” (Thuc. 2.38.2). Pericles’ words, as recorded in the Funeral Oration Thucydides attributes to...

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16. Thucydides

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pp. 278-295

In an age which assumes that the biography of an author is indispensable for an understanding of his work, it is refreshing to find Thucydides obliging the reader by supplying all the information on his own life that he considers relevant for this purpose. What he volunteers is, from our point...

Bibliography of Martin Ostwald

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pp. 297-299


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pp. 301-322


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pp. 323

E-ISBN-13: 9780812206098
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812241495

Page Count: 336
Publication Year: 2009