A compact but rich education in classics and democracy, from a leading expert who delights in his subject.
Cartledge (Emeritus, Greek Culture/Univ. of Cambridge; After Thermopylae: The Oath of Plataea and the End of the Graeco-Persian Wars, 2013, etc.) easily entertains while teaching us of the reforms of Solon and Ephialtes, the histories of Herodotus, Thucydides, and Polybius, and the philosophical writings of Aristotle. Understanding the Greek terminology is a large part of the growth of demokratia, and the author, who holds the Gold Cross of the Order of Honor from the president of Greece, makes sure we understand the subtleties. There was no single form of democracy; in fact, there were as many as 1,000 different political entities in ancient Greece. Sparta’s opposition to democracy played a large part in inhibiting its spread in the Aegean world. Plato, too, was anti-democratic, seeing the institution as mob tyranny. In Cartledge’s view, there was no kratos (power) exercised by any demos (citizen) until at least 500 B.C.E. Argos, Naxos, Corinth, and Syracuse had popular governments, but Athens led the way as a direct democracy. Athens’ system of self-government based national government on the local demes, where adult males had to be inscribed on the citizen register. The author stresses the difference between the direct and representative forms of government, noting how population numbers preclude direct participation in modern times. By 30 B.C.E., the Romans had engulfed the Hellenistic world, stamped out her democratic institutions, and set the tone for political life until the 18th century. Democracy was effectively shunted aside as the Catholic Church and feudalism dictated the divinely ordered power of kings and lords. Moving onward toward the Enlightenment, we find so many of the same arguments among Rousseau, Voltaire, Burke, and Thomas Paine, where men want equality, as long as some are more equal than others.
No library should be without this wonderful book, in which Cartledge has abundantly shared his love and knowledge of ancient Greece with us.