Scholia Reviews ns 15 (2006) 29.

Sara Forsdyke, Exile, Ostracism, and Democracy: The Politics of Expulsion in Ancient Greece. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2005. Pp. ix + 344. ISBN 0-691-11975-9. UKĀ£29.95.

Jo-Marie Claassen,
Stellenbosch, South Africa

Sara Forsdyke has reworked her Princeton PhD dissertation into this monograph. It covers the uses and abuses of exile as a political tool in the Greek world, from the eighth century to about the fourth, but with one chapter also devoted to exile in Greek myth. In all eras she makes detailed use of case studies to prove her point.

Exile is a political tool. It works to curb the power of the really or potentially powerful. Forsdyke has coined the term 'the politics of exile' to cover both exile as a form of political pre-emption or retribution, and the internal manoeuvring that was practised after their flight into a distant land by those members of the Greek elite who hoped ultimately to return for political vindication. In ancient Greek context, the unique phenomenon of ostracism obviously plays an important role.

Six chapters comprise the body of the work, with an introduction (pp. 1-14) and conclusion (pp. 278-80). Two pages of acknowledgements are followed by a five-line chronology, and two pages of abbreviations and conventions. Three appendices on the date of the Athenian law of ostracism, ostracism outside Athens, and exile in Spartan myth and history, follow the conclusion (pp. 281-99). A thorough bibliography of both standard works on ancient exile and works specific to all aspects of the linked topics of exile and the practice of ostracism in the Greek world (pp. 301-25) is an indicator of the author's wide reading and diligent scholarship.

Forsdyke argues throughout for the validity of her thesis that Greek exilic practices were the result of what she terms 'intra-elite conflict' (p. 2, and passim), and that the introduction of ostracism under Cleisthenes was not so much an instance of the irresponsibility and irrationality of unfettered democratic rule as an attempt by the demos, the larger citizen body, to take control over, and hence prevent, such intra-elite conflict. The sporadic enforcement of ostracism in the Classical period would then have worked as a 'symbolic institution' (p. 149), that would remind an aristocratic or affluent aspirant to power of the ability of the common people to circumvent his potential to abuse such power, as well as controlling his potential for violent conflict with another such aspirant.

Each chapter is divided into sub-sections. The first chapter, 'Setting the Stage' (pp. 15-29), covers intra-elite conflict in the early Greek polis. In Chapter Two, 'The Politics of Exile and the Crisis of the Archaic Polis' (pp. 30-78), four early city-states (Mytilene, Megara, Samos, and Corinth) are discussed, with reference to the type of conflict that occurred, and the measures taken by both winners and losers to maintain power. In much of her analyses Forsdyke stresses that exile of the elite was seldom the result of revolt by the non-elite, but rather of rivalry between powerful factions. She discounts literary traditions of mass expulsions, ascribing these to the normal type of mythical accretions that attach to stories of the past, rather than to fact. She shows in her analysis of the sources that the Cypselids of Corinth, for instance, ruled in a manner that was favourable to all parts of the citizenry, as did the oligarchies that preceded and followed them. In the case of Corinth, at least, she argues, intra-elite co-operation, rather than expulsion of rivals, was the norm.

The important third chapter, 'From Exile to Ostracism' (pp. 79-143), examines the change in the conceptualisation and practice of exile as a political tool in late archaic Athens, the era that saw the first adumbrations of ostracism as a means whereby the common people could control intra-elite conflict. Such a change she terms the 'end of the politics of exile', that is, of the kind of political exile enforced in the archaic period, with the taking of control over Athens by Cleisthenes, a phenomenon she is happy to term the Athenian 'democratic revolution' (p. 133). This discussion is preceded by three case studies (Cylon, Draco, and the trial of the Alcmeonidae, pp. 80-90), and a discussion of the changes introduced under Solon and Pisistrats and his sons (pp. 90-132).

Forsdyke is not afraid to give bold re-assessments of the reliability, even the veracity, of her ancient sources, particularly of their interpretation of the acts and circumstances of various leaders. She cites, for instance, W. R. Connor's theory that the often-cited assertion by Pisistratus that he was the recipient of divine protection, after he returned to the city accompanied by a woman dressed as Athena, did not, and was not meant to, delude the Athenians into thinking that he was actually accompanied by the goddess.[[1]] It was rather a case of ritual affirmation that would have been accepted by both Pisistratus and his audience as a visual representation of his newly-reassumed power. Similarly, Forsdyke reconstructs (pp. 137f.) the alliance of Cleisthenes with the people, as recorded by Herodotus and Aristotle, as resulting from an appeal based on his past performance, rather than on the promise of future democratic reform. Elsewhere (p. 52), Forsdyke rejects Aristotle's interpretation of the slaughter of sheep by the tyrant of Megara, Theagenes, as a public demonstration of animosity toward the rich, and argues for its stemming from Theagenes' conflict with rivals for power.

The central fourth chapter (pp. 144-204) rewords the title of the book as its heading: 'Ostracism and Exile in Democratic Athens'. Forsdyke first discusses the procedure of ostracism, indicating that notice was always given that such an exercise was planned. The voting itself took place in the equivalent of early March. This would have been a practical measure: men had to have to have time to get hold of a potsherd, and needed further time to inscribe the ostrakon, or to have it inscribed. That all did not write on the potsherd themselves is reflected in the famous story of the just Aristides who was asked by an illiterate farmer, who met him along the road, to inscribe the name 'Aristides' on a potsherd, because he was tired of hearing people talk about him as 'the Just'. Forsdyke rightly discounts the value of this story other than as an illustration of the fact that even illiterate citizens could have voted. Next she discusses ostracism as 'symbolic institution' or 'collective ritual' (Forsdyke's term, p. 159). Ostracism in fifth-century Athens was a 'site for the active determination of collective identity . . . and . . . for the negotiation of the norms of the political community' (p. 161). This meant that the basis of its application and its interpretation by ancient sources could change over time, as Athenian perceptions of self fluctuated.

Forsdyke next proceeds to examine some of the known cases of ostracism in Athens, which were much rarer than one might have thought, given the importance that it is given in ancient political discussion. She then considers some other forms of exile in fifth-century Athens, ending with a discussion of the practice of exile as a political tool under the oligarchies of 411 and 404. In all cases, Forsdyke argues, the Athenian democracy controlled potentially violent political strife by the moderate enforcement of ostracism or other forms of exile.

Chapter Five, 'Exile and Empire' (pp. 205-39), predictably next extends its examination to the practice of exile as political tool under the Athenian empire, and considers the extent of expulsions in inter-state politics. Forsdyke argues, again with recourse to case studies, that Athens actually sought to limit the use of exile as a political weapon in decrees imposing rules upon subject states, even after the city had in some cases resorted to mass expulsions of the citizens of such subject states. The sub-sections of this chapter are wide-ranging and include aspects such as the views of Thucydides and Isocrates about the legitimacy of Athenian power, in which the political terminology of exile was employed to represent Athenian rule over other states as 'just and legitimate'. The chapter ends with a discussion of literary examples of uses of two exilic myths. The myth of the return of the Heraclidae worked in oratory as a justification for the power Athens exercised over other states. The myth of autochthony was invoked by an author like Thucydides (1.2.5-6) to explain why Athens deserved its pre-eminence in the Greek world -- that is, because it had always been there. Athenians ware indigenous to Attica, and Athens was receptive of exiles from other states, who then became part of this 'autochthonous' state.

The sixth and last chapter, 'Exile in the Greek Mythical and Historical Imagination' (pp. 240-77), examines in some detail the representation of exile in some literary texts, ranging from historians like Herodotus, Thucydides, and Xenophon, to theorising by Plato and Aristotle about ostracism. Aristotle's view of the application of ostracism in democratic Athens implies that it was no different from the practice of the politics of exile under tyrants and oligarchs, tyranny now being exemplified by the actions of the demos. For Forsdyke, exile remained a key concept in the debate about ideal rule.

The conclusion (pp. 278-80) briefly restates the author's argument, which sought largely to show that ostracism was not the bizarre anomaly it is sometimes judged to be, but that, although it cannot be argued that it was either just or lenient, it did make sense as a means of political control that sought to ensure the smooth running of the state.

The work is commendably thorough, but is rather difficult to read, perhaps precisely because of its attempts to be reader-friendly. In all cases Forsdyke first states her intention with, and briefly summarises, a chapter, sometimes she also recapitulates in mid-chapter (for example, p. 186), and at the end she reviews what she has just written. The next chapter then starts with a short recapitulation of the argument of the previous chapter. Such frequent predictions and back-trackings become rather wearisome. Also, some infelicities of style occur. The authorial 'I' looms large. For example, 'I' or 'my' occurs ten times on a single page (p. 31). In discussion of concepts, the author allows herself the trite definition, '. . . all those who were not among the elite were non-elite' (p. 12). Two pages on we have 'exile events', apparently for 'occurrences of exile'. Typography and layout are generally good, but the first two paragraphs of the first page of the book, 'Acknowledgements' each have a typographical error. The last sentence of the conclusion ends on what sounds like gibberish: 'What I am suggesting is that . . . we can recapture (sic) some new perspectives on the practices and imaginary (sic) of the ancient Greeks'. Such solecisms mar an otherwise thorough monograph that deserves to become the definitive work on the topic of exile and ostracism in ancient Greece.


[[1]] W. R. Connor, 'Tribes, Festivals, and Processions: Civic Ceremonial and Political Manipulation in Ancient Greece', JHS 107 (1987) 40-50, esp. 45f.