Democracy is either aspired to as a goal or cherished as a birthright by billions of people throughout the world today — and has been been for over a century. But what does it mean? And how has its meaning changed since it was first coined in ancient Greece?
Democracy: A Life is a biography of the concept, looking at its many different manifestations and showing how it has changed over its long life, from ancient times right through to the present. For instance, how did the 'people power' of the Athenians emerge in the first place? Once it had emerged, what enabled it to survive? And how did the Athenian version of democracy differ from the many other forms that developed among the myriad cities of the Greek world?
Paul Cartledge answers all these questions and more, following the development of ancient political thinking about democracy from the sixth century BC onwards, not least the many arguments that were advanced against it over the centuries. As Cartledge shows, after a golden age in the fourth century BC, there was a long, slow degradation of the original Greek conception and practice of democracy, from the Hellenistic era, through late Republican and early Imperial Rome, down to early Byzantium in the sixth century CE.
For many centuries after that, from late Antiquity, through the Middle Ages, to the Renaissance, democracy was effectively eclipsed by other forms of government, in both theory and practice. But as we know, this was by no means the end of the story. For democracy was eventually to enjoy a re-florescence, over two thousand years after its first flowering in the ancient world: initially revived in seventeenth-century England, it was to undergo a further renaissance in the revolutionary climate of late-eighteenth-century North America and France — and has been constantly reconstituted and reinvented ever since.
Paul Cartledge was the inaugural A. G. Leventis Professor of Greek Culture in the University of Cambridge, and President of Clare College, Cambridge. Between 2006 and 2010 he was Hellenic Parliament Global Distinguished Professor in the History and Theory of Democracy at New York University. Over the course of his distinguished career he has written and edited numerous books on the ancient Greek world, including The Greeks: A Portrait of Self and Others (2002), Ancient Greece: A Very Short Introduction (2011), and After Themopylae (2013), all also published by Oxford University Press. He has also served as historical consultant for the BBC television series The Greeks, and for four Channel 4 documentaries, including The Spartans.
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