Snippets: brief quotes from sources.

Aeschylus, The Supplicants

Brief passage on a public meeting at 605: "For the air bristled with right hands held aloft as, in full vote, they ratified this resolution into law..."


Euripides, Supplaint Women, 403ff

Theban Herald: Who rules this land?
Who will receive the message I have from Creon, ruler of the land of Cadmus since the day when Polyneices had killed Eteocles, his brother, outside our seven gates?

Theseus: Hold it stranger!
You began your speech with the wrong word. There is no “ruler” here. This city is free of such men. It is ruled by the citizens themselves, rich and poor alike and it is they who hold the various offices of the State, in annual turns. Rich and poor are equal here.

Theban Herald: Your words – they’re like a lucky throw of the dice for me!
My city, the city that has sent me here, is ruled by one man and one man only, not by a whole herd of them. It is a city which allows no one to trick its people with sweet words, trick them into doing now one thing, now another – into doing things that suit his own purposes.  It doesn’t have men whose first speeches are received well but then they destroy everything. And then, what do they do, these men? They lie to hide all the damage they’ve caused and with those lies they escape justice!

How can a mindless herd rule a city properly?  It can’t!
Wisdom cannot be obtained by haste but by patience, by time.

Take a poor farmer for example. Even if he is wise, how is he going to be able to apply himself to the city’s affairs when he’s so burdened by the hard work on his farm?

And then, it’s a bitter thing to see, men of base birth enter a city, make some fine speeches to the people and then with those speeches become even more prominent than the nobles!

Theseus: ...There’s no heavier burden for a city to bear than a monarch.
To begin with, a city like that has no laws that are equal to all of its citizens. It can’t. It is a place where one man holds all the laws of the city in his own hands and dictates them as he wants. What then of equality?
Written laws, however, give this equal treatment to all, rich and poor.  If a poor man is insulted by a rich one, then that poor man has every right to use the same words against that rich man.

The poor can win against the rich if justice is on his side.
The essence of freedom is in these words: “He who has a good idea for the city let him bring it before its citizens.”

You see? This way, he who has a good idea for the city will gain praise. The others are free to stay silent.

Is there a greater exhibition of fairness than this?

No, where the people hold the power, they can watch with great enjoyment the youth of their city thrive.

[ more later ]

Texts: sources (or collections of sources) that extensively discuss the democracy

The Constitution of the Athenians (Athenanion Politeia)
Rediscovered, 1880. Difficult to date, ca. 350BCE.
Kenyon translation.
Trials from Classical Athens
Christopher Carey
(Routledge, 1997)
Speeches from trials and brief descriptions of them. Great insight into the issues in daily life and to those arguments that they thought would be effective.
Greek political oratory
A. N. W. Saunders, trans.
(Penguin, 1970)
Speeches by Isocrates, Demosthenes and others.
A History of my Times (Hellenica)
(Penguin, 1966)
A history covering 411 to 362. While not highly regarded as reliable history, Prof. Graff has pointed out to me just how many references to actions in the Assembly it has. As such it can give a flavor for how debates were conducted.
Last modified 12/14/10; posted 1/31/10. Original content © 2010 John P. Nordin