The Peoples' Suppliants in 4th cent. Athens
University of Chicago
This paper will examine the evidence for the ritual of supplication in the 4th century Athenian assembly. It will compare the relevant information in the Aristotelian Athenaiôn Politeia (43. 5-6) to extant inscriptions recording successful supplications. The comparison will highlight some interesting discrepancies. The AP states that "anyone who wished" could supplicate, but the inscriptions attest only non-citizens. The AP states that "any matter whatsoever" could be the subject of the supplication, but the inscriptions involve only the bestowal of honors. I interpret this discrepancy as a direct result of a clash between supplication's ideology and practice.
Ideally supplication was about giving the weak a chance to air their grievances. Practically supplication in the assembly was more about the suppliants' sponsors and the institution of the assembly than it was about the suppliants. The sponsors benefitted personally by participating in a reenactment of a tradition that was democratic and aristocratic at the same time. This enabled them to claim status without appearing to undermine Athens' egalitarian ethos.
Scholars have argued that in the 4th cent. the courts and a resurgent Areopagos were making inroads against the assembly's jurisdiction. By providing the arena for supplications, I argue, the assembly was attempting to enhance its collective prestige in response.
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