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CLASSICS 4L03 AthenianDemocracy

Academic Year: Winter 2017

Term: Winter

Day/Evening: D

Instructor: Dr. Sean Corner


Office: Togo Salmon Hall 710

Phone: 905-525-9140 x 26546

Office Hours: 11.30-12.30 MTh

Course Objectives:

Classical Athens was the world’s first democracy.  It stands as a foundational predecessor to our own democracies.  Yet Athenian democracy was very different from ours, and even what the Athenians thought democracy was is importantly different from what we think it is.  Athens’ exclusion of immigrants and women from political rights, and its denial of even basic freedom to slaves, are hardly reconcilable with our democratic ideals.  Yet the Athenians would not call our society a democracy and would not see us as free.  That we elect others to rule on our behalf, which for us is synonymous with democracy, would be regarded by the Athenians as a surrender of freedom.  For them, democratic freedom meant equal participation by all citizens in direct self-government.  Exploring how Athenian democracy was different from our own is as valuable and revealing for us as understanding the ways in which it was similar.  Was Athens free and democratic?  Are we truly free?  Do we in fact live in democracies?  By examining Athens we gain perspective on ourselves and better understand our own possibilities as we make our own history.


In this course, we shall examine in detail the nature of Athenian democracy, exploring ancient sources and engaging modern scholarly debates.  Understanding democracy is to understand how power was distributed and exercised.  To what extent did the common people rule in Athens?  If they truly did, how did they reconcile popular government and the ambitions of a wealthy elite?  How effective and rational was democracy?  What space was there for expert leadership if all had an equal share in rule?  The average Athenian voluntarily dedicated a quarter of his adult life to civic participation.  Why?  And how could mass participation in government be made to work?  What of those excluded from citizenship?  Why did democracy for some mean exclusion for others?  We will investigate these questions by examining Athens’ political institutions and system of law, but we will also consider whether Athens’ political constitution meant more than just its laws and offices of state.  We will examine the contribution of tragedy and comedy to democracy, and consider how democracy extended beyond the assembly and courtroom, not only to the theatre and public festivals, but also to socializing in the marketplace, gossip in the barbershop, bonding in dinner parties, and even to the citizen’s sex life in bedroom and brothel.        

Textbooks, Materials & Fees:

M.H. Hansen, The Athenian Democracy in the Age of Demosthenes

J. Ober, Mass and Elite in Democratic Athens


In the course of the seminar, we will read these works extensively.  Additional assigned reading will be available either on Avenue or on reserve in Mills Library (as specified in the schedule below); translations of assigned ancient works may be found for free on a variety of websites, including Perseus.  Reading for the last two meetings will be assigned by the student presenters.  You will be expected to have thoroughly read all assigned reading in preparation for each class.  Preparation, together with class participation, will account for a considerable portion of your final mark.

Method of Assessment:

Assignment 1                                      15%     Due February 6th

Assignment 2                                      20%     Due March 6th

Presentation                                         20%

Class Preparation & Participation        20%

Final Exam                                          25%


Assignments and Presentations

Your assignments will contribute to and build toward your presentations.


Assignment 1: Annotated Bibliography:

Identify an issue, problem, or question to pursue within your topic area.   Write an introduction of one or two paragraphs outlining the question you have chosen to address (what the question is and how answering it will contribute to our knowledge/understanding).

Then, write an annotated bibliography containing at least six items (articles/essays in edited volumes/books or sections of books).

Follow the guidelines for writing an annotated bibliography on the following website:

You will see on the website a section entitled ‘Various kinds of annotated bibliographies’.  For this assignment, the annotated bibliography will:

  1. Include evaluation as well as summary (thus under ‘Example 2: Identifies the Argument’ on the website, you will find a sample entry; your entries should follow this format but should include a further sentence or two evaluating the source’s contribution to research on your topic: see under ‘Assessing the relevance and value of sources’ on the website).  Each entry should consist of a full bibliographic citation and an annotation of about 150 words.
  2. For the bibliographic entries, treat each source independently.  You may consider the sources in relation to one another in your conclusion.

Finally write a conclusion of one or two paragraphs outlining how you plan to proceed with your research (i.e., which sources you will start with and what other sources you expect to use, explaining how this will allow you effectively to research and tackle the question).

The annotated bibliographies will be graded on thoughtfulness as well as the clarity and quality of your writing, so be sure to prepare early enough to produce a good piece of work.


Assignment 2: Engagement with Scholarship:

Select three articles/essays in edited volumes/books (you may choose to concentrate on a particular chapter or section of a book) pertaining to your topic.  These should not be works that you included in your annotated bibliography but be drawn from further research.

In about one page each, present what issue or question the work is addressing and the thesis that it argues for.  Then in about three pages, assess the arguments in relation to one another, in light of the question or problem that you have chosen to address.  E.g., you might have three articles that treat Aristotle’s view of democracy; they might not refer to each other and might treat quite different aspects of the question; you should weigh their arguments and consider how, taken together, they speak to the general question of Aristotle’s view of democracy.  What particular questions are at issue?  Where are the arguments compatible and incompatible?  Which positions do you agree or disagree with and why?

Thus by assessment of the arguments I do not mean criticism of how the pieces are written (how useful or accessible you found them, their language and style, how you found them to read, etc.).

The assignment should be written in full prose (not in bullet points etc.).  The clarity and quality of your writing will be assessed in your mark.

One of the pieces may come from the works on reserve for the class.


Presentations and Final Exam:

Presentations will fall in the second half of term, the date depending on topic.  The final exam will be scheduled by the registrar during the examination period.  The format of both will be discussed in class.

Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:

A late assignment will be penalized by a deduction of one-third of a letter grade per day that it is late: that is, a B becomes a B- if one day late, a C+ if two days late, a C if three days late, etc.

Please Note the Following Policies and Statements:

Academic Dishonesty

You are expected to exhibit honesty and use ethical behaviour in all aspects of the learning process. Academic credentials you earn are rooted in principles of honesty and academic integrity.

Academic dishonesty is to knowingly act or fail to act in a way that results or could result in unearned academic credit or advantage. This behaviour can result in serious consequences, e.g. the grade of zero on an assignment, loss of credit with a notation on the transcript (notation reads: "Grade of F assigned for academic dishonesty"), and/or suspension or expulsion from the university.

It is your responsibility to understand what constitutes academic dishonesty. For information on the various types of academic dishonesty please refer to the Academic Integrity Policy, located at

The following illustrates only three forms of academic dishonesty:

  1. Plagiarism, e.g. the submission of work that is not one’s own or for which other credit has been obtained.
  2. Improper collaboration in group work.
  3. Copying or using unauthorized aids in tests and examinations.

Email correspondence policy

It is the policy of the Faculty of Humanities that all email communication sent from students to instructors (including TAs), and from students to staff, must originate from each student’s own McMaster University email account. This policy protects confidentiality and confirms the identity of the student.  Instructors will delete emails that do not originate from a McMaster email account.

Modification of course outlines

The University reserves the right to change dates and/or deadlines etc. for any or all courses in the case of an emergency situation or labour disruption or civil unrest/disobedience, etc. If a modification becomes necessary, reasonable notice and communication with the students will be given with an explanation and the opportunity to comment on changes. Any significant changes should be made in consultation with the Department Chair.

McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF)

In the event of an absence for medical or other reasons, students should review and follow the Academic Regulation in the Undergraduate Calendar Requests for Relief for Missed Academic Term Work. Please note these regulations have changed beginning Fall 2015. You can find information at If you have any questions about the MSAF, please contact your Associate Dean's office.

Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities

Students who require academic accommodation must contact Student Accessibility Services (SAS) to make arrangements with a Program Coordinator. Academic accommodations must be arranged for each term of study. Student Accessibility Services can be contacted by phone 905-525-9140 ext. 28652 or e-mail For further information, consult McMaster University's Policy for Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities.

Academic Accommodation for Religious, Indigenous and Spiritual Observances

Students requiring academic accommodation based on religion and spiritual observances should follow the procedures set out in the Course Calendar or by their respective Faculty. In most cases, the student should contact his or her professor or academic advisor as soon as possible to arrange accommodations for classes, assignments, tests and examinations that might be affected by a religious holiday or spiritual observance.

Topics and Readings:

Jan. 9th                 Introduction


Jan. 16th              The Institutions of Democratic Government

Read:  M.H. Hansen, chapters four, seven & thirteen, The Athenian Democracy


Jan. 23rd         The Nature of Athenian Democracy

Read:  J. Ober, “Conclusions”, Mass & Elite; J. Ober, “The Nature of Athenian Democracy”- on Avenue; J. Ober, “Public Speech and the Power of the People in Democratic Athens”- on Avenue


Jan. 30th              Rhetores and Demos                   

Read:  Aristophanes, Knights- online at Perseus etc.; M.H. Hansen, chapter eleven, The Athenian Democracy; J. Ober, chapter three, Mass and Elite


Feb. 6th                 The Ekklesia

Assignment 1 due in class

Read: Demosthenes 9, Third Philippic- online at Perseus etc.; M.H. Hansen, chapter six, The Athenian Democracy; J. Ober, chapter four, Mass and Elite 


Feb. 13th          The Dikasteria

Read: Demosthenes 21, Against Meidias- online at Perseus etc.; M.H. Hansen, chapter eight, The Athenian Democracy; J. Ober, “Power and Oratory in Democratic Athens: Demosthenes 21”- on Avenue; P.J. Wilson, “Demosthenes 21 (Against Meidias): Democratic Abuse”- on Avenue


Feb. 27th              Gossip, Rumour & Public Scrutiny

Read: Aeschines 1, Against Timarchus- online at Perseus etc.; M. Foucault, part one, The Use of Pleasure: The History of

Sexuality Volume 2- on Avenue


Mar. 6th           Sophism and Democratic Anxiety

Assignment 2 due in class

Read:  Aristophanes, Clouds- online at Perseus etc.; W.K.C. Guthrie, chapter three, The Sophists- on Avenue; A. Ford, “Platonic Insults: Sophistic”- on Avenue; H.D. Rankin, chapter four, Sophists, Socratics and Cynics- on Avenue


Mar. 13th         Matter Outstanding


Mar. 20th             Matter Outstanding


Preparatory reading for the presentations will be assigned by the presenters.

Mar. 27th             Presentations 1 & 2: Democracy & Theatre; Thucydides, Democracy & the Peloponnesian War


Apr. 3rd                Presentations 3 & 4: Philosophy & Democracy; Democracy Ancient & Modern


A work with which to begin your reading- on reserve in Mills:

Democracy & Theatre: J.J. Winkler and F.I. Zeitlin (eds.), Nothing to Do with Dionysos?

Thucydides, Democracy, and the Peloponnesian War: J. Ober, Political Dissent in Democratic Athens

Philosophy & Democracy: J. Ober, Political Dissent in Democratic Athens

Democracy Ancient & Modern: J. Ober and C. Hedrick (eds.), Demokratia