Scholia Reviews ns 8 (1999) 33.

Robin Barrow, Athenian Democracy. London: Bristol Classical Press, 1973 (revised edition 1999). Pp. x + 78. ISBN 1-85399-576-2. UKú9.95.

Richard J. Evans
Department of Classics, University of South Africa

Two good reads in as many months.[[1]] This volume, in the series Inside the Ancient World originally published in 1973, has been brought up to date in this revised edition, to include even the fact, which some might construe as rather superfluous, that Tony Blair (is a comparison with Pericles to be inferred?) is, at the present time, the leader of Britain's Labour party and the Prime Minister (p. 57). Modernising a text or narrative, after twenty-five years, to make it contemporary is one thing, but this example was perhaps unwise since it will date the volume all too soon. And what are the readers outside the UK to make of it (the author is Canadian), especially with no mention of either a Bill Clinton or a Nelson Mandela? And should exempla of current notables or situations be included at all? Teachers of Classical Studies know only too well that they must contextualise or actualise the content of their subject, and better to leave this element to them. Barrow's attempt at guidance was misconceived. However, note also the timeless humour (p. 46) in the following: ' . . . certain people . . . and others who made a habit of speaking, would be more likely to have something to say than any Tom, Dicaiopolis or Harry.'

Thankfully, misconceptions are few and far between in this work, and there is much to applaud instead: the clarity of presentation, the soundness of the discussion, the abundant and helpful illustrations, maps and charts. An abbreviated index completes the volume (p. 78), but sadly no section of suggested further reading or directed studies. This book is announced as suitable for use in schools at a senior level, therefore, a bibliography would have proved useful, especially since there are copious references and extracts from Greek writers. An opportunity was missed in this respect.

Barrow has concentrated on enhancing his message through the direct employment of the literary source material, especially the plays of Aristophanes, since this playwright is so valuable a commentator on Athenian democracy. And the first passage of Aristophanes (pp. 4f.), from Acharnians, appears in the introduction (pp. 1-6), where Athenian democracy as a political concept is defined and differentiated from its modern derivative. However, recourse to a full spectrum of Greek literature is duly accomplished in Chapter 1, 'The Emergence of Democracy' (pp. 7-21), where the evidence of Homer, Hesiod, the Aristotelian Athenaion Politeia, Aristophanes' Knights, and Aeschylus' Persians, all contribute to an analysis of the development of this particular, even peculiar, system of mass participation in government from its origins under Solon, its careful nurturing through the reforms of Cleisthenes down to its triumphs against Persia. Departing from conventional titulature, Chapter 2 (pp. 23-59, the major part of this work) is named 'Radical Democracy', or that period in which Pericles played the dominant role in local and foreign affairs. Usually a radicalised Athenian democracy is identified to a time only after the death of Pericles in 429, or even after the democratic restoration in 403, following the expulsion of the Thirty Tyrants. Barrow could perhaps have defended and justified this innovation, particularly as his coverage of events ends in 404 with the defeat of Athens in the Peloponnesian War. Again, through the extended use of Aristophanes, but also noting the comments of Plutarch, 'The Old Oligarch', Euripides, Thucydides, Xenophon, Plato and Demosthenes, Barrow stresses the inclusive nature of the government of Athens through its many official bodies and officials. Finally, (pp. 56-59) Pericles and the special place he came to hold in Athenian society: ' . . . it looks, despite the attacks on him by his enemies, as if the majority of people looked to him in the Assembly for good advice and continued to feel that he was giving it. The result was that although he had no special power, . . . he came over the years to enjoy great respect and to be able to be fairly sure of persuading the people to do what he thought best.' (p. 57). What a sound and reasonable assessment of Pericles and Athenian democracy this is! Sadly, democracy in its pristine form leaned heavily on the towering presence of Pericles, and once he was dead the edifice began a long decline.

'The Peloponnesian War' (Chapter 4, pp. 60-74), accelerated a process which Barrow shows was impeded neither by its political leadership, of diminished calibre as exemplified by Cleon, nor by the demos, increasingly fickle in its allegiances and intemperate in its judgements. Some detailed discussion of other leading figures such as Alcibiades and Nicias could surely have been expected here, though, with the reliance on the texts of Aristophanes, it is easy to see why Cleon receives the lion's share. The illustration of the 'Mourning Athena' (p. 73), aptly chosen, accompanies the conclusion to this section and the demise of democracy, if only temporary, at Athens.

In the brief 'Epilogue' (pp. 75f.) attention is drawn to the frailty of democracy both Athenian and modern and, thereby, an avenue for futher discussion is provided. The words of Aeschylus, Eumenides 696f., Athena again featuring, with which the author ends, were prophetic then and remain so now: 'Guard well and honour that system of government which will turn aside from both excess and servility.'

Three minor points of detail in this volume caught my attention, and seemed to deserve some comment in response. Firstly, Barrow contends quite unfairly (p. 13) that the Roman courts of law in the republican period were corrupt, though attention to studies in this area would show that such a generalisation will not work at all.[[2]] If a lack of integrity in the legal process was the norm then how might the conviction of Verres and others for misconduct be explained? Secondly, Hippias became the sole tyrant of Athens after the death of Peisistratus in 527 BC. And there was not, as Barrow seems to believe, a form a joint tyranny enjoyed by Hippias and his brother Hipparchus (p. 14). Thirdly, it is claimed (p. 19) that: ' . . . Darius, crossed the Hellespont and marched down into Greece with a vast force, which, amazingly, was defeated . . . at the battle of Marathon.' The defeat certainly amazed the Greek and Barbarian worlds alike, but Darius never left Susa, and his army was transported across the Aegean by a fleet emanating from Cilicia, as Herodotus, suprisingly ignored in this study, would easily have shown.

Having said that, this volume will continue to be much used in the teaching place and its readership will surely reach far beyond the school or the university student. As an introduction to the history of the Classical period, to ancient Greek culture in general and to Athenian democracy in particular it is to be highly recommended reading.


[[1]] The first was Patricia Jeskins, The Environment and the Classical World (London 1998). Cf. my electronic review in

[[2]] For example, E.S. Gruen, Roman Politics and the Criminal Courts, 149-78 B.C. (Harvard 1968).