I Do What I Want: Freedom and Power in Classical Athens
Campa-Thompson, Naomi Esther
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This project investigates the ideology of freedom and power underlying democratic citizenship in classical Athens using philological analysis and modern theoretical approaches, including performance and power studies. In opposition to other political systems such as oligarchy and tyranny, democracy is linked in ancient texts to freedom. Beginning with an exploration of what freedom meant to the Athenians and what logical conclusions this definition entailed, I find that freedom is often described as the ability of its citizens to do "whatever they wish." Building on modern political theory's distinction between negative and positive freedom (freedom from constraints versus freedom to act in order to take control of one's life), I argue that the phrase to do "whatever one wishes" is an expression of positive freedom, rather than negative freedom. I support this view with evidence from legal language, the historians (Herodotus and Thucydides), and the philosophers (Plato and Aristotle). These sources indicate that positive freedom and autonomy in both the private and public realms were conceptually and institutionally important for the Athenian citizen. This type of freedom accords, in turn, with a sense of power. I argue that power is best tracked by tracing the use of the adjective <italic>kurios</italic> and its opposite, <italic>akuros</italic>. Using the kurios of the household as a model, I outline basic features of power, including its performative and contested nature. I then focus philological analysis on <italic>kurios</italic> as deployed in forensic speeches to describe the defendant, jury, and the laws. The move from political theory into the pragmatic setting of the law court is conducive to identifying and analyzing prevalent notions about power and autonomy. In addition, I aim to show that democratic ideology negotiates a balance between its free citizens and its laws by conceptualizing the two parties as symbiotically drawing power from each other. Finally, I close with a case study of <italic>Against Neaira</italic> ([D.] 59), exemplifying how questions of freedom, power, and their attributes may be deployed for textual analysis. In contrast to other readings of the speech, I show that power struggles are central to the prosecution's argument.