Mass and Elite in Democratic Athens: Rhetoric, Ideology, and the Power of the People

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Princeton University Press, Oct 1, 2009 - History - 408 pages
3 Reviews

This book asks an important question often ignored by ancient historians and political scientists alike: Why did Athenian democracy work as well and for as long as it did? Josiah Ober seeks the answer by analyzing the sociology of Athenian politics and the nature of communication between elite and nonelite citizens. After a preliminary survey of the development of the Athenian "constitution," he focuses on the role of political and legal rhetoric. As jurymen and Assemblymen, the citizen masses of Athens retained important powers, and elite Athenian politicians and litigants needed to address these large bodies of ordinary citizens in terms understandable and acceptable to the audience. This book probes the social strategies behind the rhetorical tactics employed by elite speakers.

A close reading of the speeches exposes both egalitarian and elitist elements in Athenian popular ideology. Ober demonstrates that the vocabulary of public speech constituted a democratic discourse that allowed the Athenians to resolve contradictions between the ideal of political equality and the reality of social inequality. His radical reevaluation of leadership and political power in classical Athens restores key elements of the social and ideological context of the first western democracy.


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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - herdingbats - LibraryThing

Ober is making a methodological argument just as much as a historical one here. First, the methodological: he argues that rhetorical texts preserve examples of how mass (juries or assemblies) and ... Read full review

Review: Mass and Elite in Democratic Athens: Rhetoric, Ideology, and the Power of the People

User Review  - Austyn Hine - Goodreads

Josiah Ober tries so hard to pretend hoplite social structure, or warfare at all, affected Athenian Democracy. And he is very, very wrong to do so. He is a weak writer, and at times I almost fell ... Read full review


I Problems and Method
A Diachronic Survey
III Public Speakers and Mass Audiences
The Power of Persuasion
Wealth Resentment and Gratitude
Noble Birth and Aristocratic Behavior
Dialectics and Discourse
Catalogue of Speeches and Citation Index
Select Bibliography

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About the author (2009)

Josiah Ober is Constantine Mitsotakis Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences at Stanford University, where he holds joint appointments in the departments of political science and classics. He is the author of several books on classical Athenian political and intellectual history, most recently Political Dissent in Democratic Athens. He is now working on a project about the relationship between democratic political culture and the social circulation of knowledge.

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