I Do What I Want: Freedom and Power in Classical Athens


ACLS Fellowship Program




Athenian democracy was distinguished from other ancient constitutions by its emphasis on freedom. But just what did this freedom entail? While scholars have focused on whether it protected private life from state interference, "Freedom and Power in Classical Athens" shows that freedom was instead understood as being able to do “whatever one wishes,” a phrase attested in various 5th and 4th century BCE texts. Rather than create anarchy as ancient critics claimed, this freedom underpinned a system that aimed at protecting both the individual and the collective. Even freedom, however, can be dangerous. The developing notion of freedom as citizen autonomy empowered as well as oppressed people within a democratic hierarchy. Elucidating freedom in Athenian democracy demystifies elements of governmental procedure, offers solutions to theoretical problems, and illuminates the experience of both empowered citizens and marginalized Others.