Heroic Politics versus an Amateur Citizenry Character Formation

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It appears that moral conduct, especially of those in authority, and morally correct legislation continued to be thought to be the determinants of a successful polis. As we have seen, Perikles argued that the democratic constitution was organized for the many but he also noted how political leadership fell to those worthy of it in that they were individuals with arete, that is, the best, noblest and ablest. What kind of language is this? Scholars who have studied the heroic literature of ancient Greece have observed the evolution of an ideal character type from the eighth to fifth centuries bc, and they tell the following story as Greek society underwent alterations from being at first ruled by kings to later democratic rule.

In the eighth century bc when Homer is thought to have composed his epic poems

85 Sinclair, Democracy, p. 41.

the Iliad and the Odyssey, the aristocratic military ideal man of excellence (arete) was considered to have inherited certain qualities that were not wholly within his control.86 He was portrayed as competitive among equals in a disorderly, unstable world. He was aggressive and courageous as a warrior and leader of fighting men, a hero whose honour depended in large part upon the good opinion of others so that he acted to avoid being shamed and dishonoured. His notion of justice was indifferent to any intent behind an action; it was the act that mattered and the more spectacular the better. This hero is presented as chafing at the restrictiveness of mortality itself, which he attempts to override by performing a monumental, immortal deed to win him undying renown.87 His heroic ambition did not, however, bring him happiness. Rather, it brought him and his kin fame. Heroic pride and self-esteem often made this type of character prepared to run risks only on his own behalf and he was therefore an unreliable protector of those who were socially his inferiors.88 His behaviour rarely fostered co-operative relations. He was irresponsible from a political perspective. So too the gods, while not acting at random, are portrayed as prone to fickleness, also pursuing their own honour and success but, unlike the hero, without suffering sorrow. Yet Zeus, in particular, is presented as concerned for justice in human society where the hero, in contrast, expresses little. Zeus is said to have put one superior, one king, in command of the people so that with his army, the king is Zeus's punishment of unjust men (Homer). Kings are seen as divine instruments. But kingly political authority is also shown to defer to one of his companions' heroic ambition for honour (as in the case of Achilles).

The literature of the subsequent Archaic age (seventh to sixth centuries bc), however, reveals a deepened awareness of human insecurity and helplessness combined with the notion that the gods are hostile and actively resent a man's success and happiness. It is a view found in the works of Hesiod and it represents the attitudes of peasant culture rather than those of an aristocratic elite. An ordinary man is said to be responsible neither for his ruin nor his success. Hubris (an almost untranslatable Greek concept, meaning something like the proud and deliberate attack on the honour of another to inflict shame and public humiliation, and hence, destroying the social fabric) becomes the worst sin. To be happy is considered dangerous in an age dominated by economic crises and warfare.89 Zeus now becomes an active agent, avenging the poor against their oppressors, punishing the guilty and their heirs in this life or in the next. Justice is said to be Zeus's daughter and she tells him of the unjust minds of men until the people pay for the folly of their kings who do wrong with mischievous intent by giving 'crooked judgements'. Gradually, a man's behaviour comes to be seen as subject to his own personal responsibility. While on the one hand, his individual fortune attaches to him from birth and in part determines his individual destiny, on the other, he must purge and purify his blood guilt through ritual purification. This is because it is now said that he who brings evil on another does evil to himself. And so it comes to be thought that the insecurity of

86 In genera), see T. Irwin, A History of Western Philosophy, I: Classical Thought (Oxford, 1989), chs 1-2; E. R. Dodds, The Greeks and the Irrational (Berkeley, 1951); Campbell, 'Paradigms Lost', pp. 189-214 and Campbell, 'The Epic Hero as Politico', History of Political Thought 11 (1990), pp. 189-212; Nussbaum, The Fragility of Goodness; Bryant, Moral Codes, esp. chs 1-3.

87 Campbell, 'The Epic Hero as Politico', p. 189; J.-P. Vernant, Myth and Thought Among the Greeks, p. 331.

88 Irwin, Classical Thought, pp. 10—11.

89 Dodds, The Greeks and the Irrational, pp. 30—1.

a man's life can only be reversed to some extent by lawful institutions. But it is also recognized that a respect for law and justice will not be upheld in a world where there still exist admirers of the Homeric heroic ideals. Therefore, the heroic, aristocratic arete must be institutionally and legally restrained and then refocused. This is what the reforms of Solon and Kleisthenes are thought to have achieved.

Solon: I gave the demos power enough, neither subtracting nor adding too much honour. And those who had influence and were respected for their wealth I declared were not to be disadvantaged. I stood with my strong shield defending both sides and I did not allow to either an unjust victory. . . . [To the Athenians]: Eunomia shows everything well ordered and sound and often holds the unjust in bonds. She . . . checks extravagance, dims arrogance, . . . straightens crooked judgements and tames proud deeds. She ends civil strife and ends the anger of bitter dissension.9"

If earlier the king was said to be the divine Zeus's punishment of unjust men, with Solon we see justice 'naturalized'. Solon's poetry and his laws, although surviving today only in fragments, seem to indicate that he believed that political destiny is, at least in part, to be regarded as a legitimate sphere of human agency. Furthermore, he reminds his audience that he declined the opportunity to become a tyrant (frag. 32-7) and for this reason he will be remembered for having believed that the good for the Athenian polity was the responsibility of the disinterested ruling statesman, the man of excellence.91

This schematic summary of the evolution of the heroic character is meant to illustrate that the arete pertaining to the governing elite and the nature of political life itself were revised to restrict the previously unchecked power that had been in the hands of warring, dynastic, aristocratic groups. The hero was from now on to adapt himself to the civic setting. With the recognition that injustice and bad laws led to civil strife, the old heroic virtues which insisted on the advancement of the hero's interests and that of his supporters through aggressive and competitive behaviour at the expense of the community had to be constrained and neutralized. This gradually appears to have been achieved with Kleisthenes and subsequent reformers who co-opted the people and created democratic local government. Thereafter, the civic version of the epic hero became a dominant force in the consolidated polis; now he could see it as his task to construct a central polity as a monument to his own excellence.

Furthermore, the heroic view in which justice meant helping one's friends and harming one's enemies was known to lead to unending cycles of retribution down the generations. An appeal to the common interest had to override the allegiance to faction if a stable, collective life was to be established. By 458 bc this is the view that is expressed in the dramas of the playwright Aeschylus.92 But here, the overriding of faction and the establishment of the collective good required the decisive intervention of the goddess Athena.

90 Solon in M. L. West, ed., Iambi el elegi graeci, 2 vols (Oxford, 1971-2), 5; also quoted in Aristotle, AP 12, 1-2.

91 G. Vlastos, 'Soloman Justice', Classical Philology 41 (1946), pp. 65-83.

92 Aeschylus, The Oresteian Tragedy, trans. P. Vellacott (Harmondsworth, 1956j: The Eumenides: Athena's appeal, 11. 895-915. See H. Lloyd-Jones, The Justice of Zeus, 2nd edn (Berkeley, 1983), chs 4-6; O. Taplin, Greek Tragedy in Action (Berkeley, 1978).

Athene: Summon the city, herald, and proclaim the cause; / . . . And while the council-chamber fills, let citizens / And jurors all in silence recognize this court / Which I ordain today in perpetuity, / That now and always justice may be well discerned. (568-74)

Guard well and reverence that form of government / Which will eschew alike licence and slavery; / And from your polity do not wholly banish fear. / For what man living, freed from fear, will still be just? / Hold fast such upright fear of that law's sanctity, / And you will have a bulwark of your city's strength, / A rampart round your soil, such as no other race / Possesses between Scythia and the Peloponnese. / I here establish you a court inviolable, / Holy, and quick to anger, keeping faithful watch / That men may sleep in peace. (696-706)

Athene: Why should immortal rage / Infect the fields of mortal men with pestilence? / You call on Justice: I rely on Zeus. What need to reason further? ... let persuasion check / The fruit of foolish threats before it falls to spread / Plague and disaster. (823-30)

But if / Holy Persuasion bids your heart respect my words / And welcome soothing eloquence, then stay with us.

(Here, Athena addresses the Furies, goddesses of old traditions, who wish to punish Orestes for having killed his mother and who must make amends for this blood guilt. Athena pleads for his acquittal and the end of blood revenge. All the jurors cast their votes. The votes are equal, both for and against Orestes and Athena casts the final vote. Orestes is acquitted of blood guilt and the Furies are persuaded to remain in Athens where the principle of retribution will be modified by an appeal to the common interest).

Chorus: Let civil war, insatiate of ill / Never in Athens rage; / Let burning wrath, that murder must assuage, / Never take arms to spill, / In this my heritage, / The blood of man till dust has drunk its fill. / Let all together find / Joy in each other; / And each both love and hate with the same mind / As his blood-brother; / For this heals many hurts of humankind. (977-87)

Athene: Let your State / Hold justice as her chiefest prize; And land and city shall be great / And glorious in every part. (993-6)

In general, Greek tragedy's critical consideration of public values, most notably through its dramatic attempt to moralize the heroic ethic,93 was supplemented in the later fifth to fourth centuries bc by political philosophy doing much the same, but with a significant difference: where Aeschylus had insisted both on human responsibility and divine causation, now greater confidence was to be placed in men's reasoned debate and rational persuasion than in divine intervention and holy persuasion, if the common good was to be served in Athens.

Indeed, two of the pre-Socratic metaphysical innovators, Heraclitus and Parmenides, had helped to redraw the rigid boundaries between the human and divine. Before Socrates, these innovators were concerned with the question of how humans may attain knowledge and truth, and Parmenides in particular attacked an unthinking reliance on sense perception as a guide to reality. Knowing, on the one hand, and having an

93 See P. Euben, ed., Creek Tragedy and Political Theory (Berkeley, 1986); Nussbaum, The Fragility of Goodness, part I.

opinion, on the other, were said to come from different sources which enabled thinkers in the fifth century to contrast our ordinary sense perception of particular things in the external world with reasoned reflection of a more general kind. By emphasizing reasoned reflection they proposed that an intelligent human is already god-like. Knowledge that is revealed by reason is a kind of 'divine knowledge' and there is nothing better of the kind.94

And so it came to be said:

[The early Athenians] conducted the city's affairs in the spirit of free men, by law honouring the good and punishing the wicked, for they thought it the action of wild animals to prevail over one another by violence. Human beings should make law the touchstone of what is right, and reasoned speech the means of persuasion, then subject themselves in action to these two powers - law their king and reason their teacher.''5

During the fifth century when Socrates lived out his life in the democracy that had developed under the leadership of Perikles and his successors, aristocratic notions of an exclusive excellence continued to exist side by side with developing notions of citizen excellences. The excellences of citizens were seen to be a matter not of birth but of education and experience, enshrined in laws as universal expectations of the average man with subsidized leisure, who engaged not as a civic hero but as an amateur in politics. But the civically modified Homeric values still held sway for those with status and wealth. For them, the reconciliation of personal aims with the aims of the social order was circumscribed by an ideal of political leadership which was characterized by what was taken to be a good man's virtuous self-actualization, his arete, within the political arena. We can observe this in the fifth century when the rich were required to undertake certain 'public works' (liturgies), for instance, paying for and arranging a group of performers in a festival or paying for a ship in the navy. Liturgies were seen as opportunities for men of wealth and good birth to compete in public spiritedness and there is evidence that some men performed liturgies in more extravagant ways than were expected.96 Furthermore, it was said that one could recognize this character type, the man of arete, from afar by his indifference to ordinary self-interest in his pursuit of some grand public cause. And in his indifference to his own economic well-being and that of his household, he displayed a magnanimity to the less fortunate in wealth as in knowledge.

Cimon, the Athenian aristocrat who dominated the political scene at the end of the second quarter of the fifth century bc, was described by Theopompus, the fourth-century historian (frag. 89), in the following way, a topos of magnanimity and aristocratic virtue:

Cimon the Athenian stationed no guard over the produce in his fields or gardens so that any citizen who wished might go in and harvest and help himself if he needed anything on the estate. Furthermore, he threw his house open to all so that he regularly supplied an inexpensive meal to many men and the poor Athenians approached him and dined. And he

94 E. Hussey, 'The Beginnings of Epistemology: from Homer to Philolaus', in S. Everson, ed., Companions to Ancient Thought, 1: Epistemology (Cambridge, 1990), pp. 11-38.

95 Lysias, 2.18—1. See Nussbaum, Fragility of Goodness, pp. 94-5 on l eíble as the deliberate application of human intelligence to some part of the world, yielding some control over Tuche (chance, contingency, fortune).

96 Lysias, 21, on a charge of taking bribes; 5 , speaking of one of his clients.

tended to those who day by day asked something of him. And they say that he always took around with him two or three youths who had some small change and ordered them to make a contribution whenever someone approached and asked him. And they say that he helped out with burial expenses. Many times also he did this: whenever he saw one of the citizens ill-clothed he would order one of the youths who accompanied him to change clothes with him. From all these things he won his reputation and was first of the citizens.97

In 461, however, Cimon was ostracized by democrats who wished to limit the power of aristocratic patronage.

Thereafter, it came to be discussed whether or not a man was born with this kind of character which then could be perfected by an appropriate range of relatively exclusive experiences. This character type was then contrasted with another, that of a rich and leisured young man who used his wealth to try to buy arete from those who professed to teach anyone success in political life. These professors were said to make money out of their clients' discussions of their shifting opinions concerning what was right and wrong.

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