Tag Archive for ‘Athens’
After the defeat of the Persians in 480/479 Athens was united as never before. There was little division in the social classes, and leaders of the Alcmeonid party like Aristides cooperated with rivals like Themistocles and even with Cimon, of the enemy Philaid clan, in the continuing war against Persia. The lowest class, the day-laboring thetes , was doing better than ever as rowers in the fleet. Ostracism (votes to expell prominent leaders) continued to play a part in ensuring harmony. Normally, all magistrates had to undergo a scrutiny at the end of their year of office, but the process of ostracism was more rigorous. Every year the Assembly voted on whether or not to hold an ostrakophoria, and if it decided to go ahead, 6000 votes against a citizen was enough to exile him for ten years, though he did not lose his property, as he would have in the case of a real exile. On the other hand, an ostracized Athenian was forbidden to leave the region, lest he intrigue with enemies.
Aeschylus’ Oresteia is one of the greatest dramatic works ever written, but it is not an easy work to comprehend. There are many difficulties: The most obvious is the fact that it is written in a Greek style that is difficult, if not impossible to translate well. To make matters worse, much of the three plays is written in an elaborate lyric verse that has no parallel in modern languages. Finally, the mind-set of Aeschylus, which was shaped by his experiences in early Fifth Century Athens, is so different from the modern liberal assumptions that nearly everyone, including conservatives, take for granted that it is all too easy to fall into the progressive trap of seeing Aeschylus as an apostle of enlightenment and radical democracy. I do not say that mine interpretation is the only possible one, but I do think it is more consistent with the response that older members of his audience would have had.