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Ancient Source Paper

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In looking into the background of ostracism and its true purpose alongside the other Archaic Greek traditions in Athens of expulsion, exile, and ἀτιμία, there are several primary sources I will be using. However, the topic has its challenges. Since it covers a period where most of our surviving sources have been written sometimes centuries after the period they are writing about it is hard to find true primary source writings.
The first primary source I will be using for my paper is Herodotus’ Histories. He is the first extant source for this period in Archaic Greece and through the Persian Wars, which is when the law of ostracism was enacted. His work is a very broad look into what he thought were the reasons that led to the clash between the Greeks and Persians, and as such is not particularly detailed or focused on ostracism itself. However, he does mention its use and in one case even seems to give a hint to his feelings about it: “… Aristides son of Lysimachus, an Athenian, crossed over from Aegina. Although he had been ostracized by the people, I, learning by inquiry of his character, have come to believe that he was the best and most just man in Athens.” It seems that he does not agree with the ostracism, noting Aristides’ good character and usefulness to Athens as a leader. This use of ostracism against Athens’ “best and brightest” seems to be a reoccurring theme throughout the entire period until it falls into disuse. I do not know if this might show a bias against the people for misusing ostracisms like that of many other authors that come after Herodotus, but it is worth looking into.
I believe Herodotus is a reliable enough source for this paper. He does not go into much political detail concerning the laws of Athens so Herodotus for me as a source will be for a more broad understanding of the actions of individuals and states, as well as the political climate of Greece during this time. He may show a bias towards Athens, giving them much of the glory in the Persian wars, but on the other hand, he was not born an Athenian and his admiration for Athens may in fact be genuine. Showing someone or something in a good light doesn’t always mean there is a bias.
Another major primary source for this paper will be Aristotle’s Athenian Constitution. This work was written around 350BC for use at Aristotle’s school. This work tries to look back at early Athens and explain how the Athenian government formed and evolved into what it was during his time. That can also be one of the first red flags for use as a source. Not only was it written centuries after the period it talks about, but Aristotle writes it in a very evolutionary method. He knew what the government was like in his time and possibly writes backwards, guessing how it might have been in the past and gradually changed into its current form circa 350 BC. I think parallels could be seen in Livy’s History of Rome, when writing about events hundreds of years before his time. Among modern scholars debating about ostracism , they all seem to find Aristotle reliable as a source. Aristotle also seems to have used other sources for his work which adds to his credibility. According to Hignett, Aristotle used Androtion for many of his facts and dates. And an Androtion fragment is one of our surviving works that helps us date the start of ostracism.
Unlike Herodotus, Aristotle’s Athenian Constitution goes into a lot of detail about the actual history and workings of Athenian Democracy. Not only does chapter 21 and 22 cover the very important time of Cleisthenes’ reforms and introduction of ostracism, but his earlier chapters also piece together the political climate in Athens from Draco and Solon’s time. This helps give us an understanding gradual changes in the Athenian government over this period. Aristotle also gives us the first enactment of ostracism.
“Eleven years afterwards came their victory in the battle of Marathon; and in the archonship of Phaenippus, two years after the victory, the people being now in high courage, they put in force for the first time the law about ostracism, which had been enacted owing to the suspicion felt against the men in the positions of power because Peisistratus when leader of the people and general set himself up as tyrant.”

Also in a broader understanding of not only ostracism, but where it fits into the other laws involving ἀτιμία or exile, Aristotle also mentions the law against tyrants. “These are the ordinances and ancestral principles of Athens, if any persons rise in insurrection in order to govern tyrannically, or if any person assists in establishing the tyranny, he himself and his family shall be disfranchised.” Thucydides is another source for the paper and his work helps pick up the political history of Greece where Herodotus left off. Unlike Herodotus however, Thucydides is a much more respected source of ancient history. He writes in a style very distinct from Herodotus. While Herodotus is telling a story and giving different views of the same event, and writing not just about history but also genealogy and culture, Thucydides is very matter of fact. His works are very chronologically in order compared to Herodotus and he often cites his sources. He would also have been alive near enough the time of his writing to interview many people who witnessed or participated in the events he writes about. To add to my paper directly, he makes a specific reference to the use of ostracism for a purpose other than as a political tool to remove a potential tyrant or a political enemy. “There was a certain Hyperbolus, an Athenian of no characters, who, not for any fear of his power and influence, but for his villainy, and because the city was ashamed of him, had been ostracized.” This same ostracism according to Plutarch was the last time ostracism was held, though it was never actually taken off the books. Like Herodotus, for my paper it would be hard to find much fault or lack of credibility with Thucydides. His work is better for understanding the political situation at the time both in and outside of Athens as well as the outside influences such as the rise and then fall of the Athenian Empire and understanding the correlation between its empire and its democracy. Plutarch’s Parallel Lives is a comparative biography of many imminent Greeks and Romans has a lot of good information for my paper. As a biography it covers history from a slightly different angle, weaving one person’s life into the historic background. It helps bring the focus on one individual, his strengths and weaknesses, and his contribution to society and his place in history. Due to his biographies of many of the leading men of this time, he will be a good source for my paper. Though writing comparative biographies, he might sometimes try to make the Greek and Roman compare or contrast better to fit the point he is making. He also seems to borrow heavily from previous writings we have and so at times might not be bringing any new information to the table.
He has a biography on Themistocles who is able to turn the law of ostracism from a tool to protect democracy from tyrants into a political weapon to use against his foes and keep descent down during a time of war with the Persians. However, the ever fickle people of Athens in the end ostracized Themistocles. It is in his biography of Aristides that he gives us his personal views on ostracism in a very direct manner.
Now the sentence of ostracism was not a chastisement of base practices, nay, it was speciously called a humbling and docking of oppressive prestige and power; but it was really a merciful exorcism of the spirit of jealous hate, which thus vented its malignant desire to injure, not in some irreparable evil, but in a mere change of residence for ten years. He seems to believe that ostracism was not a tool for protecting the city against tyrants but simply used by the people to project their fears, jealousy, or insecurities onto their betters. He also has biographies on early Greek politicians, both Solon and the legendary Theseus who was even said to be the first one ostracized. I think Plutarch will be a very important overall source to work with on this paper. In his work on Alcibiades, he also brings to light another example of the ambiguity of Greek law. While Alcibiades was engaged in seditious activity, it was instead charged with impiety. Unlike general history like Herodotus and Thucydides, Plutarch’s biographies give many details about the most prominent men in Athens during this period, many of which have others ostracized and eventually themselves ostracized. One major note of caution, like with most sources for ancient history, is his time of writing. He is writing almost 500 years after many of these people were alive and one has to hope he did not just make things up or fill in the blanks himself when he wasn’t just repeating the history from Herodotus or Thucydides.
Another interesting source and one that I’m still learning to use is the 10th Century Suda. The fact it is 1500 years after the time period obviously raises some suspicion but it seems to be one large collection of whatever the 10th century Byzantines still had surviving following the collapse of Rome. In the Suda there are several direct references to ostracism. “Those most hostile to the people used to be ostracized and convicted; for the name of the man about to be exiled was written on pieces of pot.” Even more interestingly, and very important for this paper, is the very next entry giving a brief explanation of the difference between exile and ostracism. I think this entry is at the very heart of what my paper will be trying to find out.
“Ostracism differs from exile, because the properties of those condemned to exile are confiscated, whereas the people do not take away the possessions of those whose departure is the result of ostracism; also, for the ostracized a time and a place is specified, whereas exiles have neither of these.”
Again, the Suda seems like it might be a very good source for information, but there are so many questions about who put it together, the sources used, and the methods, that I will have to read more about what modern scholars have to say about its reliability, though I have already seen many articles that reference it without any footnotes or questions of reliability. There are other sources I have come across that might eventually be useful in the final paper as well. Despite being later, I think the speeches of Demosthenes and Andocides will help explain the day to day workings of the legal system and the intricacies of exile and ostracism and who it was used against, why, and its repercussions. Between 508 and 417 BC we know of less than 20 actual ostracisms , yet it seems to play such a major reoccurring part in the rise of both Athenian democracy and empire.

Works Cited:
Hignett, Charles. “A History of the Athenian Constitution to the End of the Fifth Century B.C. Clarendon Press, 1958
Herodotus, Histories
Kagan, Donald. “The Origin and Purpose of Ostracism” The Journal of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (1961) 292-401
Plutarch, Parallel Lives.
Raubitschek, Antony. “The Origin of Ostracism” American Journal of Archaeology (1951) 221-229
Robinson, C.A. “Cleisthenes and Ostracism” American Journal of Archaeology, (1952) 23-26
Suda On Line: Byzantine Lexicography, http://www.stoa.org/sol/
Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War…...

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