Social Memory in Athenian Public Discourse

Social Memory in Athenian Public Discourse: Uses and Meanings of the Past

Bernd Steinbock
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 411
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    Social Memory in Athenian Public Discourse
    Book Description:

    Prompted by the abundant historical allusions in Athenian political and diplomatic discourse, Bernd Steinbock analyzes the uses and meanings of the past in fourth-century Athens, using Thebes' role in Athenian memory as a case study. This examination is based upon the premise that Athenian social memory, that is, the shared and often idealized and distorted image of the past, should not be viewed as an unreliable counterpart of history but as an invaluable key to the Athenians' mentality. Against the tendency to view the orators' references to the past as empty rhetorical phrases or propagandistic cover-ups forRealpolitik,it argues that the past constituted important political capital in its own right. Drawing upon theories of social memory, it contextualizes the orators' historical allusions within the complex net of remembrances and beliefs held by the audience and thus tries to gauge their ideological and emotive power.Integrating literary, epigraphic, and archaeological evidence with recent scholarship on memory, identity, rhetoric, and international relations,Social Memory in Athenian Public Discourse: Uses and Meanings of the Pastenhances our understanding of both the function of memory in Athenian public discourse and the history of Athenian-Theban relations. It should be of interest not only to students of Greek history and oratory but to everybody interested in memory studies, Athenian democracy, and political decision making.

    eISBN: 978-0-472-02841-2
    Subjects: History
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-iv)
  2. Preface (pp. v-viii)
  3. Table of Contents (pp. ix-x)
  4. Abbreviations (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction: Objectives, Methods, Concepts (pp. 1-47)

    Though separated by more than twenty-three hundred years, these statements have a lot in common. All three speakers recall the past in order to persuade their audiences to adopt a particular view of the present. By equating the troops’ service in Iraq to the achievements of the “Greatest Generation,” President George W. Bush conveys a sense of the importance and greatness of the current mission. President Barack Obama firmly grounds the soldiers’ present undertaking in Iraq and Afghanistan in the American tradition: they, like their predecessors at Normandy and Korea, preserve their country through their willingness to fight and die...

  6. CHAPTER 1 Carriers of Athenian Social Memory (pp. 48-99)

    In the introduction, I established a methodological framework that will allow me to study both how individual Athenians made use of the past within the complex Athenian memorial framework and to what extent these shared images of the past might have influenced the decision-making process in the Athenian assembly and the law courts. Following Rosalind Thomas, I have stressed that while many general characteristics of social memory can be observed across time and space, their manifestation, transmission, and negotiation depend on each society’s particular communicative framework.

    The following chapters focus on the collective memory of four particular events in the...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Athens’ Counterimage: The Theban Medizers (pp. 100-154)

    A survey of the Attic orators and the speeches in Xenophon’sHellenicashows that fourth-century allusions to events in the history of Athenian-Theban relations cluster around four particular episodes, each discussed in a separate chapter in this book: Thebes’ collaboration with the Persians in 480–479 (this chapter), the mythical story of the burial of the Seven against Thebes (chap. 3), the Theban help for the Athenian democrats in 404/3 (chap. 4), and the Theban proposal to eradicate Athens at the end of the Peloponnesian War (chap. 5). I begin my discussion with the memory of Thebes’ medism, since I...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Mythical Precedent: Athenian Intervention for the Fallen Argives (pp. 155-210)

    In chapter 2, we saw how the Athenians, as a result of their experience of the Persian Wars, came to see themselves as champions of Greek liberty and to see their Theban neighbors as archetypical traitors who eagerly collaborated with the Persians. Athenians referred to Thebes’ medizing in two particular contexts. The ongoing Theban-Plataean antagonism frequently prompted the antithesis of Theban medism versus Plataean patriotism. Similarly, the prospect of further barbarian invasions, be it by the Persians or by the equally hated Macedonians, could serve as a cue for the recollection of Thebes’ treason.

    In the eyes of fifth-and fourth-century...

  9. CHAPTER 4 A Precarious Memory: Theban Help for the Athenian Democrats (pp. 211-279)

    Throughout the fifth and fourth centuries, Athenian-Theban relations were mostly hostile. Athens fought against the Theban-led Boeotian League at the end of the sixth century to protect Plataea’s independence. During Xerxes’ invasion (480–479), the Pentecontaetia (479–431), and the Peloponnesian War (431–404), Thebes was a staunch ally of Athens’ enemies, first of the Persians and then of the Spartans. After its triumph over the Spartans at Leuctra (371), Thebes strove for hegemony in mainland Greece, and after the stalemate at Mantinea (362), it was allied with Philip II of Macedon in the Third Sacred War (356–346) against...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Persistent Memories: The Proposed Eradication of Athens (pp. 280-341)

    In chapter 2, I analyzed historical references to Theban medizing in Athenian public discourse. I argued that in the process of memorialization, owing to the continuous Athenian-Theban enmity in the fifth century, Thebes’ medism became an essential part of the Athenian memory of the Persian Wars. This heroic experience had tremendous consequences for the Athenians’ view of themselves. The victory over the barbarian invaders (and their Greek allies) became a symbol of the Athenian character. From this point forward, the Athenians saw themselves as champions of Greek liberty. Their Theban archenemies, by contrast, came to epitomize the traitors of Greece....

  11. Conclusion (pp. 342-356)

    Twenty years ago, the history of classical Athenian institutions was dependent on the study of inscriptions and space. We were able then to discover, largely under the inspiration of Mogens Hansen, how many Athenians attended theecclesiaand how the law courts worked in relationship to the assembly. Thanks to the detailed work of generations of archaeologists, we learned to walk the streets that the ancient Athenians had walked. But, for all of this splendid technical work, we still lacked a sense of what it was to be an Athenian. We had come to a much better understanding of the...

  12. Bibliography (pp. 357-376)
  13. Index Locorum (pp. 377-392)
  14. General Index (pp. 393-411)


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