Reading ideology through myth: institutions, the orators and the past in democratic Athens
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My thesis investigates the construction of democratic ideology in classical Athens. Ideology has often provided an alternative tool to formal institutions for the study of Athenian political life. An approach that reconciles institutions and ideology can provide us with a fuller understanding of Athenian democracy. Rather than as a fixed set of ideas, values and beliefs shared by the majority of the Athenians, I argue that Athenian democratic ideology should be seen as the product of a constant process of ideological practice which took place within and was influenced by the institutions of the democracy. My thesis focuses in particular on the construction of shared ideas and beliefs about Athens’ mythical past. Ch. 1 lays down the methodology of my work, which is inspired by the trend in the political sciences known as New Institutionalism. Ch. 2 explores the relationship between myth and Athenian democratic institutions. I show that the Athenians interacted with myth at all levels of their public and private lives, and were thus able to appreciate mythical variants and their potential ideological value. I also show that Athenian democratic institutions were characterised by specific discursive parameters which conditioned the behaviour of Athenian political actors. A comparison between mythical narratives produced for public and private contexts shows that the discursive parameters of Athenian democratic institutions influenced the construction of shared ideas about the mythical past in Athenian public discourse. As proven in Ch. 3-5, the Athenians emphasised different values and mythical variants depending on the institutional settings of the democracy. Ch. 3 analyses the influence of institutions on the values of charis and philanthrōpia in the myth of the Athenian war in defence of the Heraclidae. Ch. 4 explores the use or absence of hybris in accounts of the Attic Amazonomachy produced for public and private contexts. Ch. 5 explores how the myth of autochthony was conceptualised in terms of exclusiveness or collective eugeneia in different Athenian institutions. My research therefore provides a dynamic and multifaceted picture of Athenian democratic ideology, and shows that the Athenian democratic institutions enabled the Athenians to produce multiple and compatible ideas about their mythical past.