Public Opinion in the Greek Polis: Debate and Decline from 431 BCE to 104 CE

History 103A.002

Fall 2013
Day & Time: 
W 2-4P

The polis or “city-state” is arguably the most cardinal topic in any textbook of Greek history, where it is granted but a burst of vitality in what we now call the Classical period. This course, however, takes the unorthodox view that the notion of “decline” is vital for the century-long history of the Greek polis, whose democratic institutions are the outcome of debate and conflict.  In particular, we are interested in those moments of polis-history that are made up of public debate: whether to sack a neighboring polis or not, whether to memorialize past disasters or to forget them, whether to resist monarchs or to embrace them, and so forth.  We investigate the purpose of such debates and whom they benefit.  Apart from deepening our understanding of the late Classical, Hellenistic, and early Roman polis, this course introduces students to unfamiliar source-material and excitingly different ways of doing history.  After an initial focus on narrative history in Thucydides and Xenophon, we move to orators and philosophers such as Isocrates and Plato, and continue to concentrate on monumental inscriptions, the in-your-face kind of documentary evidence.  And while we zoom in on singular events of the polis, we pursue a long-term perspective against the grain of traditional periodization.  This course promises to be as foundational as provocative.

Jelle Stoop studied Classics and Ancient History at Corpus Christi College, University of Oxford (2007) and graduated with a PhD from Yale University in 2013.  His main interest is the history of the Hellenistic Mediterranean and in particular Greek inscriptions.  He wrote his dissertation, "Portraits and Pretense: Honorific Habits in Hellenistic communities," on the the economy of honor and praise in the Greek city-state and its communication through documents and literature.