University of Virginia Library

Search this document 
Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas
170 occurrences of ideology
[Clear Hits]
  
  

expand sectionV. 
expand sectionIV. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionII. 
expand sectionIV. 
expand sectionIV. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIV. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionIV. 
FREEDOM OF SPEECHIN ANTIQUITY
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionIV. 
expand sectionIV. 
expand sectionIV. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionIV. 
expand sectionIII. 
collapse sectionVI. 
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
expand sectionVI. 
109  expand sectionV. 
29  expand sectionV. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionII. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionII. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionV. 

170 occurrences of ideology
[Clear Hits]

FREEDOM OF SPEECH
IN ANTIQUITY

1. The terminology, theory, and practice of freedom
of speech in the modern Anglo-Saxon world is geneti-
cally connected with Greek and Latin ideas and institu-
tions. It is therefore not very difficult to recognize in
the Greek and Roman world the words, previous hit ideologies next hit, and
institutions which can legitimately be studied as the
classical counterpart of the modern notion of freedom
of speech. But the evidence of the classical world
presents serious difficulties to the interpreter insofar
as it is unevenly distributed, and relates to social and
political conditions which are seldom well known. Our
main evidence for Greece is confined to Athens from
the fifth century B.C. onwards; we know very little
about other Greek city-states. The evidence about
Rome begins to be entirely reliable only in the second
century B.C. This means that for both Greece and Rome
the important archaic period, in which institutions and
ideas were shaped, is insufficiently known. Even so,
one is bound to recognize that much more could be
done with the extant evidence if it were properly
collected, sifted, and interpreted according to modern
methods of social research. The present sketch can only
offer a provisional and small map of largely unexplored
territory.

The discovery and interpretation of data relating to
freedom of speech in the great ancient civilizations
of the Near East (Egypt, Mesopotamia, Hittite King-
dom, Persia, Phoenicia, Judea) present far more serious
problems because—with the partial exception of the
biblical texts—genetical connections with modern
ideas and institutions are not apparent. It is even
arguable that the whole political and social structure
makes it difficult to isolate the very notion of freedom
of speech from other political and religious notions.
The only field in which analogy of institutions makes
comparison easier with the modern world is that of
political assemblies.

One general remark may be added. The modern
notion of freedom of speech is assumed to include the
right of speech in the governing bodies and the right
to petition them, the right to relate and publish debates
of these bodies, freedom of public meeting, freedom
of correspondence, of teaching, of worship, of publish-
ing newspapers and books. Correspondingly, abuse of
freedom of speech includes libel, slander, obscenity,
blasphemy, sedition. In the classical world all these
aspects appear to be present, including a sort of jour-
nalism at the end of the Roman Republic and at the
beginning of the Empire. However, certain aspects
such as the right of petition never became seriously
controversial. Others, such as freedom of teaching,
surprisingly enough, were issues only for comparatively
brief periods. Furthermore, religious freedom was so
clearly subordinated to the notion of impiety and later
of heresy as to require special treatment.

2. Though it may be mere pedantry, let us start with
some very general remarks on the classification of
political assemblies, insofar as it is relevant to the
ancient history of the Near East, of Greece, and of
Rome. First of all, we must obviously make a distinc-
tion between popular assemblies and councils of
advisers. Not every popular assembly implies a democ-
racy or indeed even the smallest amount of freedom
of speech. The chieftain or king may convene an
assembly simply to give orders. In other types of
assembly the people are asked to confer power on a
sovereign and to sanction decisions previously taken
either by the king or by the council of advisers without
being given the alternative of refusing to do so. De-
mocracy in its ancient form exists when the popular
assembly has power to elect the king or the magistrates,
to make war and peace, to enact laws, and to adminis-
ter justice.

As for the council of advisers, it presented itself in
two different forms in the Near East. In tribal societies
or in city-states it was normally a council of elders.
Membership of the council was often hereditary, less
frequently, dependent on some sort of election. In large
territorial monarchies the advisers were chosen by the
king from among the members of certain families
(including his own) and/or among the highest officers
of the State: he could dismiss them at will.

Popular assemblies are not to be found in the great
monarchies of the Near East, with the partial exception
of the Hittite Empire. In the Empires of Egypt,
Babylonia, Assyria, and Persia, the monarch ruled
despotically and by divine right with the assistance of
his officers and advisers. This does not mean that indi-
vidual cities or villages of these Empires did not have
their popular assemblies and councils of elders.

3. Councils of elders and general assemblies of citi-
zens existed in individual cities of Mesopotamia since
the third millennium B.C. An episode in the short
Sumerian epic poem on Gilgamesh and Agga is
regarded as the earliest evidence on record about both
councils and assemblies. The extant tablets of the poem
were inscribed in the second millennium but reflect the
situation of a time not far removed from 3000 B.C.
Gilgamesh, the mythical hero and lord of Uruk,
addresses the council of elders in order to enlist its
support for war. The council turns down his proposal,
but another assembly, which is likely to have included
all the local arms-bearing males, overrides the opinion
of the elders and declares for war. The possibility of
disagreement in assemblies is confirmed by an omen


253

of the Old Babylonian Kingdom (ca. 1800 B.C.).

Composition and function of such councils and
assemblies naturally varied in time and space. In the
Assyrian commercial colony of Kanis in Cappadocia
in the nineteenth century B.C. the council of elders
apparently divided into three sections while deciding—
which might imply a collective vote of each section.
In a trial for murder at Nippur about the twentieth
century B.C. opposite opinions on the guilt of the cul-
prit are chanted alternately by various members of the
judging assembly. Thus military expeditions, trials,
relations with local kings all appear to be within the
competence of such gatherings. In no case are we
sufficiently well informed to visualize the real nature
of the activities of these bodies. Even the distinction
between councils of elders and popular assemblies is
blurred. According to what is now the prevailing opin-
ion among Assyriologists, the Mesopotamian institu-
tions developed from an original basis of primitive
military democracy, and the king in Mesopotamia (in
contrast to Egypt) was very seldom equated with a
god. Indeed even the gods formed a society with some
democratic features. The Enûma Elish was written in
the first half of the second millennium B.C. to explain
how Marduk had been elected by the gods to be their
king. However powerful the royal palace and the tem-
ple might be in a city, the original communal orga-
nization survived beside them: it was especially strong
in the great commercial centers. The proud sense of
autonomy of the citizens of Babylon (who reminded
Assurbanipal that even a dog is free when he enters
their city) and the elements of social criticism in pray-
ers and epics go well with this communal life. But the
history of Babylonia and Assyria in the second and first
millennia B.C. is that of centralized empires in which
decisions are taken by a king, and his advisers are
hardly visible. Intellectual life is directed towards the
reiteration of orthodox opinions, not towards expression
of dissent. The absence of popular protest against the
administration in real life, and the poverty of intellec-
tual controversy in Akkadian literature, have often been
noticed. We must assume some freedom of speech
behind routine legal and administrative processes: no-
where does it appear as a value or as an art in itself.

The Hittites were the only great state of the Ancient
Near East in which the king had to reckon with a
central political assembly—not just with local
assemblies of individual cities. The Pankus is men-
tioned in the so-called political testament of Hat-
tushilish I (ca. 1650) and in the edict of Telepinush (ca.
1500) regulating the succession to the throne and
reforming the judical system. The etymology of the
word Pankus, an adjective meaning “entire,” is irrele-
vant to the interpretation of the institution. But a
magical text puts the Pankus above the court officials,
though it places the “kin of the Pankus” below the
priests and the military. This can only imply that the
Pankus was an aristocratic assembly, and indeed there
are signs that it had some say in the succession to the
throne. Hittite scholars like to think that the Pankus
was an institution of undeniably Indo-European char-
acter, but who has ever seen an Indo-European
assembly? Telepinush even extended (or restored) the
judicial powers of the Pankus to include the trial of
a king under specified circumstances. We hear nothing
more of the Pankus after him. In the next century the
builders of the Hittite empire seem to have had an
easier time working with a tamer council of court
dignitaries. When Shuppiluliumash I (perhaps about
1350) was suddenly faced with the request to provide
a husband for the widow of Tutankhamen, “he called
the great into council (saying): since of old, such a thing
has never happened before me.” The “council of the
great” is probably something different from the Elders
of Hatti who appear in a strange clause of the political
testament of Hattushilish I. Hattushilish I appears to
be anxious to establish a barrier between his successor-
designate and the Elders of Hatti: “The Elders of Hatti
shall not speak to you, neither shall a man of...,
nor of Hemmuva nor of Tamalkiya, nor a man of...,
nor indeed any of the people of the country speak to
you.” For the rest we know that the Hittie code
recognized the jurisdiction of the elders outside the
capital. Naturally the king dealt with councils of elders
in occupied territories.

Thus it appears that the Hittite kings came to rely
increasingly on a military organization in which
decision-making would be characterized by swiftness,
secrecy, and deference to the king's will. Hattushilish's
move to prevent the elders—and more in general the
common people—from approaching his heir is one of
the most definite and explicit limitations of freedom
of speech we encounter in antiquity. We should like
to know whether in the exercise of justice the weak
was heard and whether intellectual life included dis-
cussion of moral and religious topics. The Hittite texts,
such as they are, do not offer much in these directions.
A moving soliloquy, the prayer of Kantuzilish for relief
from his sufferings, is a sign of reflection and sensitive-
ness. But independent thinking on either political or
social or religious issues does not emerge from the
extant Hittite documents.

4. The El-Amarna letters and the Ugaritic texts have
shown the presence of councils of elders and less
conspicuously of popular assemblies in Syria-Palestine
during the second half of the second millennium. It
was a world of small city-states in which assemblies
made sense. Both councils of elders and popular


254

assemblies seem to have been particularly active when
the local king was not present. Letter 254 of El-
Amarna very vividly recounts the story of Labaja who
addressed the citizens of Gezer. One passage in the
Egyptian story of Wen-Amon indicates that in the
eleventh century B.C. the King judged cases between
foreigners in a popular assembly at Byblos. J. A. Wilson
recognized the Phoenician word mo'ed, “assembly,” in
the Egyptian text. The existence of assemblies favored
changes of political allegiance in a time of crisis: it
favored what we would call propaganda and is better
described as inducement to rebellion. According to
some El-Amarna letters (74; 81) a rebel against Egypt,
Abdiashirta, apparently used political assemblies to
spread his call to subversion.

In the old South Arabian states (known to us from
documents of the earlier part of the first millennium
B.C.) a tribal assembly or council existed and was
summoned by the king for the enactment of laws and
other decisions.

We have seen from an Egyptian document that the
Phoenician cities had popular assemblies and councils
of elders as early as the eleventh century B.C. Greek
and Latin sources confirm this feature which may be
an adaptation to city life of the old tribal assembly
and council of the Semites. Unfortunately we have no
details. But we do know more about the constitution
of Carthage, the Phoenician colony of the Western
Mediterranean, because Aristotle was interested in it
and described it in some detail. He thought that the
constitution of Carthage was similar to that of Greek
cities. While the Phoenician cities of the East retained
kings, perhaps until after Alexander the Great,
Carthage was a republic as early as the fifth century
B.C. It was ruled by a mercantile aristocracy through
a supreme council of thirty members elected or chosen
(we do not know how) for life. Aristotle tells us in a
notoriously difficult passage of Book II, 1273a, of his
Politics that the Carthaginian popular assembly was
asked to decide on matters on which the magistrates
and the council of the elders had not reached
agreement. Indeed, in case of disagreements among the
leaders the common people were allowed freedom of
discussion. Aristotle remarks: “Anybody who wishes
may speak against the proposal introduced, a right that
does not exist under the constitutions of Sparta and
Crete.” Nowhere in the Near East do we find a com-
parable right. The Carthaginians were in close contact
with the Greek colonies of Sicily and may well have
learnt something about freedom of speech and
collective decision-making from their Greek neighbors.

The Persians, during the Achaemenid period, had
certainly no assembly and probably no central council
of elders. The kings who were chosen by Ahura Mazdā
never considered themselves gods, but had the truth
by divine right and were supposed to fight “the lie.”
How they ascertained it is a question strictly connected
with the nature of the religious beliefs of the
Achaemenids about which we know so little. It would
appear that the Magi, “a very peculiar race,” as
Herodotus says, did not invariably function as religious
counsellors to the Achaemenids. Whatever their ori-
gins, they had become a priestly class which controlled
sacrifices and interpreted dreams (Herodotus, I, 107;
140). They could not be ignored, but after the
Smerdis affair there were legitimate suspicions. No
doubt the king had other advisers. The six helpers of
Darius in his struggle for the throne were the origi-
nators of families who had free access to the king (ibid.,
III, 118). These six families may ultimately be identical
with the seven chiefs of the Persians and Medes, who
according to the Book of Esther could see the face
of the king, if we assume that one of the seven was
the representative of the family of the king himself.
We are also told by Herodotus that during the expedi-
tion against Greece, Mardonius was sent by Xerxes to
ask the advice of his vassals about the suitability of
engaging the Greeks (ibid., VIII, 67-69). Xerxes was
pleased with the minority opinion expressed by
Artemisia, but decided that the “advice of the greater
number should be followed.” So he was defeated at
Salamis. The considerable decentralization of the
Persian state, with its system of satrapies, made it easier
for the king to rely on private and individual consul-
tations, though the result often was rebellion. Political
debates were not a frequent occurrence with the
Achaemenids.

One of the things we learn from the scanty evidence
about assemblies and councils of elders in Syria and
Palestine is of course that the Hebrew tribes with their
assemblies and councils of elders conformed to well-
known patterns. Biblical tradition being what it is, we
are never quite certain whether our evidence about
pre-monarchic institutions (and even monarchic
ceremonies) reflects actual events or later idealization
and theorization. It is, for instance, suspicious that
apparently there is no mention of an assembly of one
tribe in the pre-monarchic period. But the picture of
the functions of elders and assembly inspires trust even
if individual episodes bear the sign of later elaborations.
Though we would not take Deuteronomy 5:23 as evi-
dence for the existence of elders in each tribe, elders
of Judah (e.g., II Samuel 19:11) are well authenticated.
So are the elders of Gilead who made a pact with
Jephthah (Judges 11:5f.), not to speak of the elders of
individual cities. The elders of each city had juris-
dictional functions even during the monarchy. They
represented the tribes or the cities: in some texts “men


255

of Israel” and “elders” are used interchangeably
(Joshua 24:1-2). The elders had a say in the declaration
of wars of the monarchic period (I Kings 20:8) and,
what is more, in the election of the first two kings (I
Samuel 8:4; II Samuel 5:3). Later, in the post-exilic
period, they organized the convocation of the assembly
(Ezra 10:8). We do not know who were the heads, the
sarim, of the elders about whom we hear in various
circumstances (e.g., Isaiah 3:14).

The assembly ('edah, Kahal) had judicial functions,
at least in the idealization of later times: the Sabbath
violator (Numbers 15:33), the blasphemer (Leviticus
24:14) are brought before it, and it is a touch of realism
conforming to popular justice in the Near East that
the judges are also the executioners. Women appear
before the assembly to ask for the right of inheritance
(Numbers 27:2). The 'edah and its obscure “princes”
appear in treaties and arbitrations (Joshua 9:15; Judges
20:1). The 'edah proclaims Jeroboam King of Israel (I
Kings 12:20). The assembly of Judah is probably
implied as partner in the covenant of Josiah after the
recovery of the Book of the Law (II Kings 23:1-2).
According to Chronicles the 'edah took part in the
restoration of the Davidic dynasty with Joash (II
Chronicles 23:3) and in the reform of Hezekiah (II
Chronicles 29:28f.). It reappears after the exile in legal
decisions of basic importance, such as the repudiation
of foreign wives (Ezra 10:1-2). As we have already
mentioned, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish in
the sources the assembly from the elders. In Exodus
19:7-8 Moses puts the words of Yahweh before the
elders of Israel, and all the people answer. The elders
of Israel make a covenant with David in Hebron on
behalf of the people (II Samuel 5:1-3).

Elders and assembly were closely involved in the
covenants which characterize the election of leaders
and later of kings among the Hebrews, though it would
be a waste of time to try to reduce these elections to
one pattern. The contractual character of leadership
is a notion which underlies much of the biblical think-
ing about judges and kings and undoubtedly had its
roots in historical facts. It has its counterpart in the
notion of the covenant between Yahweh and Israel
which in various degrees of development is accepted
by all our biblical sources from the Yahwist to the
Deuteronomist. According to one line of thinking,
which did not prevail, the covenant with Yahweh was
incompatible with the choice of a king and consequent
covenant with him. Thus historical and constitutional
thinking in Israel presupposes the existence of assembly
and elders and conceives the relation between Israel
and its leader (whether human or divine) in terms of
a covenant. Indeed a series of covenants with God
marks the progressive separation of Israel from the
other nations. There is not much room in the Bible
for the notions of amphictyony and divine kingship
which modern scholars have tried to introduce into
ancient Hebrew thinking.

It is difficult for us to visualize how decisions were
taken in a Hebrew council of elders or in assembly
either before or during the monarchy. We may have
an example of how a council of elders operated in the
disagreement between the senior and the junior
advisors of Rehoboam at the beginning of the conflict
with the northern tribes (I Kings 12:6). And we re-
member how easily the assembly and the elders of
Jezreel condemned Naboth to death according to
Jezebel's pleasure (I Kings 21:12). The historical books
of the Bible taken as a whole give the impression of
informality and outspokenness in the relations between
the Hebrew leaders and their followers which agrees
with the contractual nature of the relation itself. This
impression is confirmed by the few letters of the
seventh and sixth centuries B.C. which have so far been
discovered (especially the ostraca of Lachish). The man
who writes to his superior uses traditional servile for-
mulas, but speaks directly and firmly, and in one case
boldly rejects an insinuation.

What characterizes Hebrew life, however, is the
intervention of the prophet in the name of Yahweh.
Recent concentration on the problem of the relation
between cult and prophecy, though understandable as
a reaction to the romantic idealization of the prophet
as a solitary seer and thinker, obscures the essential.
The prophet is the unpredictable messenger of the
word of Yahweh. It has been calculated that out of
the 241 mentions of the “Word of Yahweh” in the Old
Testament, 221 indicate a prophetic utterance. The
word of Yahweh manifests itself through the mouth of
the prophet. In the Prophetic Books, in the Psalms,
and even in the Book of Job (15:8) one finds the notion
that Yahweh has his own Council, and the true prophet
is a member of it. According to Jeremiah, Yahweh says
of the false prophets: “If they stood in my council, then
they would have proclaimed my words to my people”
(23:22). This notion of a Council of Yahweh is only
one instance of the legal thinking which emerges from
the Prophetic Books. In some memorable passages the
word of Yahweh is an indictment of Israel in proper
legal terms for infringement of the Covenant: “There-
fore I will surely bring suit against you [Oracle of
Yahweh], With your children's children I will contend”
(Jeremiah 2:9ff.; cf. Deuteronomy 32; Isaiah 1:2;
Micah 6:1).

In other cases, of which Jeremiah 3 and [Deutero-]
Isaiah 42:6, 49:8 (whatever the precise meaning of
these passages) are the most conspicuous, the prophet
is made to announce a new covenant with Israel.


256

Through the prophet a new legal situation is promised
to Israel. But the word of Yahweh does not of course
exhaust itself in legal formulations. It introduces into
Hebrew life an element of freedom of speech which
breaks all the conventions and which the kings may
try to suppress or at least to control. As long as
prophets operated in their midst, the freedom of speech
that the Hebrews knew was the word of God through
his prophets. When prophecy lost momentum, the
notion of an unchangeable Torah became the center
of Jewish life: this implied a profound reorientation.
The prophet gave expression to the constant feeling
of guilt towards Yahweh which was inherent in the
life of the Hebrew tribes. The rabbi, who to a certain
extent replaced the prophet as a teacher, was the
mediator in a new harmonious relationship between
God and man. The task of the rabbi was to define the
boundaries of the Torah, in other words, those types
of behavior which are Kiddush Hashem (“sanctifying
God's name”) in contrast to Hillul Hashem (“profaning
God's name”). The rabbi's concern was not freedom
of speech, but cooperation with God, hence the danger
of heresy.

5. Ancient Egypt from a certain point of view offers
the most interesting situation to the student of freedom
of speech. Advisers at all levels and village notables
existed in Egypt as elsewhere, but there was no place
for formal assemblies in a country which had settled
for divine kingship and regular bureaucracy before
recorded history began. Yet the Egyptians appreciated
eloquence and knew the power of words. As the Vizier
Prah-hotep said in his Instruction, “Eloquence is more
hidden than the emerald, yet it may be found with
maidservants at the grindstone.” The warning came
true in the crisis of the First Intermediate Period
(2200-2000 B.C.?). In the Admonition of the Leyden
papyrus, Ipu-wer reflects the new discontent: “All
female slaves are free with their tongues. When their
mistress speaks, it is irksome to the servants.” Protests
became loud. The “Story of the Eloquent Peasant” has
perhaps too much of a happy end to be regarded as
a story of social protest. The eloquent peasant, after
denouncing injustice in violent terms, not only gets his
goods back, but also obtains the patronage of the Chief
Steward whom he had accused. Other texts are less
ambiguous. The Sage Ipu-wer himself takes advantage
of the freedom of speech he notices as a bad symptom
in the maidservants. He blames the King. He compels
him to defend himself and concludes by saying that
what the King has done, though perhaps good, is not
good enough. The “Dispute over Suicide” presents
suicide as the only remedy for a social situation in
which nobody is left worth talking to:

To whom can I speak to-day?
No one thinks of yesterday
No one at this time acts for him who has acted.

The point is made, even if ultimately (but this is
not certain) the soul persuades the body to wait for
death instead of hastening it by suicide.

This determined questioning of the ordinary as-
sumptions of life was never aimed at political reforms;
if anything, it encouraged anarchy, religious skepti-
cism, and enjoyment of whatever pleasure life could
offer. Another well-known early text, the “Song of the
Harper,” is the classic statement of Egyptian hedonism.
In later times return to order and power politics took
the form of the idealization of silence. The Wise Man
of the Post-Hyksos period is a silent man.

In perhaps the fifteenth century B.C. the scribe Ani
advised his son: “A man may fall into ruin because of
his tongue.” The “Hymn by the Scribe to his god
Thoth” states: “The silent one comes and finds the
well.” According to the teaching of Amenemope—one
of the late texts which influenced Hebrew Wisdom (or
which were influenced by it!)—“the truly silent man
holds himself apart. He is like a tree growing in a
garden. It flourishes, it doubles its fruits; it stands before
the Lord.” Egyptian history is a very long history, and
it is dangerous to string together texts which are sepa-
rated by centuries. But the final impression is that in
the crisis of the Old Kingdom freedom of speech be-
came an issue. Writers were aware that protesting,
debating, and accusing were ways of undermining the
existing order. Silence appeared to be the remedy: it
became a central virtue in later days. It did not neces-
sarily mean compliance and obedience; it included an
element of astuteness and perhaps of concealment. But
it implied the essential acceptance of an unmodifiable
order. The prospects of freedom of speech had never
been brilliant, because there was no institution to
which potential reformers could turn when they felt
dissatisfied with the Pharaonic administration. There
was no regular assembly in which to voice discontent.

6. The development of Greek political assemblies
is to a great extent still obscure. We do not know how
the majority of Greek assemblies actually functioned
at any time of their history. Even for Sparta we are
confined to the interpretation of a few (and not very
coherent) pieces of evidence. The only assembly we
know well is the Athenian ecclesia, and even here our
evidence begins to be reliable only from the fifth cen-
tury B.C. Seen from the angle of classical Athens, what
characterized a political assembly was the extent of
its powers as the legislative, judicial, and policy-making
body. Equally remarkable was the extent to which an


257

ordinary citizen could initiate business or advocate
policies from the floor. It may well be that Athens took
a lead in the creation of what, in the fifth century B.C.,
became known as democratic government, though it
has been claimed that Athens was preceded by some
Ionian cities of Asia Minor. Many of the Greek States
(including Sparta) never granted such powers to their
assemblies and never allowed comparable freedom of
speech in political meetings. The time and modality
of the introduction of important parliamentary fea-
tures, such as the counting of votes, the regularity of
meetings, the quorum for the validity of certain deci-
sions, the qualifications for participation in the meet-
ings, the formalities of the relations between the gen-
eral assembly and other bodies (city council, king's
advisers, priestly colleges), are either unknown or
imperfectly known.

The earliest descriptions of Greek assemblies are of
course to be found in Homer. They are a good example
of the problems which Greek assemblies pose for the
modern researcher. Any reader of the assembly scenes
in the Iliad is entitled to ask whether such scenes reflect
any historical reality: this is a part of a more general
question about the value of the Iliad as historical evi-
dence. We have less difficulty with the evidence on
assemblies provided by the Odyssey because it obvi-
ously reflects some acquaintance with the political
assemblies of the Greek polis of the archaic age. Life
in the Greek camp near Troy may be the product of
the imagination of the poet of the Iliad, but the meet-
ings at Ithaca or among the Phaeacians seem to be
of the sort a poet might see for himself when he
wandered about Greece. The sensible middle way
seems to be to use the evidence of the Iliad about
assemblies only when it is in basic agreement with that
of the Odyssey. But we must always bear in mind that
very little is certain about the historic reality of the
institutions described by Homer and that, even in the
most optimistic assessment, we are still left in the dark
about the time, the places and the coherence of the
political experience reflected by the Odyssey.

Five features characterize the Homeric assemblies:
1) The assemblies described by Homer are irregular:
they are convoked in special circumstances. 2) They
may be summoned by “important” individuals: neither
kings nor magistrates seem to have the exclusive right
to summon an assembly, though it would obviously be
unthinkable to have one summoned by ordinary mem-
bers of the city or of the army. 3) The assembly listens
to “important” people and signifies approval or dis-
approval, but does not vote. 4) Intervention from the
floor in the exceptional case of Thersites in the Iliad
is clearly considered scandalous (yet it does happen).
5) Decision may mean either that dissent is ultimately
eliminated by pressure or persuasion or that contrasting
groups will ultimately act in contrasting ways. No
Homeric assembly ends in civil war, but the danger
is implicit in the whole course of action.

7. On the borderline between Greeks and non-
Greeks there are the Macedonians. It has been sug-
gested, but it is a suggestion of doubtful value, that
the Macedonians preserved features of the “Homeric”
institutions. Their kings considered themselves Greek
in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C., but the ordinary
Macedonians never seem to have shared the ambitions
of their kings in this matter. They had a national,
perhaps a military, assembly and we know that
Philip II and Alexander spoke before it. For the rest, all
our evidence concerns the exceptional period when
Alexander's generals had to take responsibility for the
succession. It has been asserted that every Macedonian
soldier was entitled to speak freely in that assembly,
and Polybius has been quoted as an authority for this
statement. Polybius tells us apropos of the condem-
nation of Leontius in 218 B.C. that the soldiers sent
a deputation to Philip V, begging him not to try the
case in their absence. Polybius' comment on the sol-
diers' message to the king is: “with such freedom
(isegoria) did the Macedonians always address their
kings” (Polybius, 5, 27, 6). Now Polybius mentions
Macedonian freedom of speech, not on the occasion
of an assembly, but in connection with a deputation.
He seems to emphasize the directness with which the
Macedonian soldiers treated their kings, not what
happened in the Macedonian assembly.

In Spartan political life not all was crude. It has
indeed been suggested that with the so-called Rhetra
of Lycurgus (Plutarch, Lycurgus 6), which somehow
defined the powers of the gerousia (the council of 28
life members to whom the two kings were added), the
rule that council should take the responsibility and the
initiative for presenting measures to the assembly was
introduced into Greek political life for the first time.
This would have happened in the eighth or seventh
century B.C. The same Rhetra gave the assembly power
to approve or reject proposals. Even by the beginning
of the Peloponnesian war shouting was still the ordi-
nary method of the assembly for the election of magis-
trates and for the voting on formal proposals (which
might involve peace and war). The candidate who got
the loudest shout at elections was deemed to have been
chosen; and the proposal which had the loudest
applause was deemed to have been approved. But at
least in the case of voting decrees the extent of the
approval represented by the applause could be checked
by subsequent division, as happened in 432 B.C.


258

In a disputed passage, Aristotle seems to tell us that
there was no freedom of discussion in the assemblies
of Sparta and Crete (Politics II, 1272a). We cannot say
anything very definite about Crete, but in the case of
Sparta there is enough evidence to show that, whatever
Aristotle may have meant, private individuals could
speak in the assembly even in Aristotle's time.
Aeschines (I, 180-81) has a story about a disreputable
man who spoke in the Spartan assembly and was
listened to with attention. Then an elder warned the
Spartans that the city could not survive for long if they
listened to such advisers. The possibility of speeches
by private individuals seems always to have been
contemplated by the Spartan constitution. The famous
rider to the Rhetra in Plutarch (Lycurgus 6) enjoins
that if the demos formulates crooked decisions the
gerontes and the kings shall decline to accept them.
This rider was already known to Tyrtaeus (frag. 3a).
Its natural interpretation seems to be that it gives the
kings and the gerontes power of veto, limiting preexist-
ing rights of the assembly. The veto controls, but does
not abolish, the powers of initiative of the assembly.
There is, furthermore, evidence in Thucydides and
Xenophon that the assembly was an important decision-
making body in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C.,
though it must be emphasized that deciding after
listening to opposite opinions is not the same as taking
part in the debate. What we really do not know is
who at a given time took the initiative and controlled
decisions behind the screen of theoretical equality of
the Spartiates.

It is a pity that we have so little information about
the limits of freedom of speech in other Greek cities
for the period in which they were not yet likely to
have been influenced by Athens. We know from
Thucydides that at Syracuse a magistrate could stop
discussion in a way which seems different from
Athenian practice. But the archaic assemblies of Ionia
remain a mystery, and as long as they remain a mystery
it is possible to overrate Athens' contribution to politi-
cal freedom of speech. It is true, however, as we shall
presently see, that at least one of the two technical
terms for freedom of speech, parrhesia, spread from
Athens.

In the matter of freedom of speech much of the
constitutional development of Athens is obscure. The
rule that people over fifty had priority in speaking is
attributed to Solon, and was already obsolete by the
fourth century. It shows that private individuals were
allowed to speak in the Solonian assembly, which seems
to have been open to the fourth class, the thetes. It
is uncertain when the meetings of the assembly became
regular in Athens and when the ordinary citizen was
allowed to propose amendments and new resolutions.
But one point is clear. From the end of the sixth cen-
tury B.C. five hundred Athenian citizens were chosen
by lot every year to be members of the Council (Boule).
Members of this Council were bound to discuss matters
freely and in detail during their meetings. After such
an experience they could not be expected to keep silent
when they returned to the assembly as ordinary citi-
zens. Freedom of speech in the Athenian assembly
cannot have been more recent than the reforms of
Cleisthenes. It may of course have preceded them.
What we know well enough is the state of affairs in
the second half of the fifth century B.C.

In the second part of the fifth century and during
the greater part of the fourth century every Athenian
citizen had the right to speak unless he disqualified
himself by certain specified crimes (such as having been
a deserter or having beaten his own parents, or having
been found guilty three times of illegal proposals). Any
citizen could defend his own proposals already submit-
ted to the boule and introduced to the ecclesia by
probouleuma, or could submit proposals direct to the
ecclesia. No citizen could speak more than once in a
meeting on the same topic. The only risk a speaker had
to face was the possibility of being prosecuted later for
having misled the people, a remote possibility even for
professional politicians.

We need hardly add that this extraordinary amount
of freedom of speech in the assemblies was accompa-
nied by an exceptional amount of freedom of speech
in the theater and generally speaking in ordinary life.
A fifth-century law which made it illegal to attack
people by name in comedies can have been enforced
only by fits and starts because our information on it
is both vague and contradictory. But there are two
remarks which we should like to make about freedom
of speech in Athens outside the ecclesia. First, personal
reputations were protected by various laws against
slander. In the fourth century it was an offense even
to sneer at any citizen for having worked in the
marketplace. Secondly, about 432 B.C., Diopeithes'
decree, making it an offense to deny the gods of the
city and to teach new doctrines about meteorological
phenomena, showed that Athens cared more for politi-
cal liberty than for intellectual liberty. Anaxagoras,
Protagoras, Diagoras, and perhaps Diogenes of
Apollonia had to run for their lives. Socrates did not
go away and was killed. The suspicion that democracy
and philosophy were incompatible could never be
dispelled again, with the consequences that are evident
in Plato's works.

With this background of political institutions in
mind, we shall not be surprised if the notion of freedom
of speech turns out to be an Athenian fifth-century
idea. In earlier times the notion of liberty (eleutheria)


259

did not include freedom of speech: indeed, another
important notion of Greek archaic ethics, aidos
(“modesty, respect”), implied that silence and reticence
were characteristic of the good man.

Since Homer (and probably even earlier, in the
Mycenaean age) the free man (eleutheros) is the oppo-
site of a slave. For Homer the event that stood out
as the cause of transition from freedom to slavery was
defeat in war, the end of “the free day.” This, of course,
was a gross simplification of real life with its many
varieties of freedom and of slavery. Some archaic poets
restricted the meaning of eleutheros to indicate the
generous man. They paved the way to the later notion
cherished by Aristotle that there is an inborn aristo-
cratic quality of the mind which distinguishes the free
man from the slave.

On the other hand, Solon perceived that debts can
be worse than war in affecting the freedom of the
individual. He also associated the notion of eleutheros
with the notion of law (nomos) and regarded tyrants
as the enemies of freedom because tyrants do not
respect the law. During the Persian Wars, the Persian
king appeared as an especially dangerous and powerful
tyrant. Liberty—eleutheria (now used in the ab-
stract)—came to indicate a collective Greek attitude
to political life as opposed to Persian despotism. We
do not know where and by whom freedom was first
associated with democracy. The connection appears to
be current in Athens during the fifth century: it is
hinted at by Aeschylus and loudly proclaimed by
Euripides; it is clearly familiar to Thucydides who uses
it in Pericles' speeches. In democratic thinking freedom
of speech appears to be one of the most important
and necessary ingredients of eleutheria. Aeschylus in
the Suppliants (now dated after 468 B.C.) names the
free mouth as a sign of freedom, whereas Herodotus
uses the word isegoria (equality in freedom of speech)
to indicate Athenian democracy (V, 78).

8. When Thersites spoke, he broke the rules of aidos,
the aristocratic virtue of respect and self-respect.
Homer represents his aristocrats endowed with “gentle
aidos” (Odyssey VIII, 172). Hesiod, who remembered
Homer's lines, described the kings from whom gracious
words flow (Theogony 84). Theognis has an implicit
rebuke for those who believe that aidos is a virtue of
the eyes only, not also of the mouth. The writers of
the fifth century still emphasize the value of aidos, in-
sofar as speech is concerned. But in the same century
a new notion spread, the notion that freedom of speech
is a positive, or at least a remarkable, achievement.
Prometheus is affectionately accused: “you speak too
boldly.” A free tongue is an essential element of the
ideal democracy of Aeschylus' Suppliants. The same
Aeschylus describes in the Persae how, among the
Persians, after the defeat of Salamis, “the tongue is
no longer in fetters.” Pindar, the aristocrat, was obvi-
ously suspicious of this change of attitude towards free
speech. It has been suggested that when he spoke with
horror of panglossia in the second Olympian Ode, he
had in mind the word parrhesia. This may or may not
be the case, but certainly panglossia, like parrhesia,
denotes a readiness to utter anything. In another pas-
sage of the second Pythian Ode, Pindar is at pains to
explain that frankness is free from political connota-
tions. He hated what he called the slander and envy
of people.

The word parrhesia, however, is to be found neither
in Pindar, nor in Aeschylus and Sophocles, and first
appears in Euripides' Hippolytus (line 422; performed
in 428 B.C.) and Ion (lines 672, 675; of uncertain date).
In both cases the word is used in connection with
Athens. In other passages (most notably in the Electra,
lines 1049, 1056; of uncertain date), Euripides uses
parrhesia to mean freedom of speech in private rela-
tions (cf. also Orestes, line 905; Bacchae, line 668;
Phoenician Women, line 391; frag. 737, Nauck, 2nd ed.).
But, in his only passage mentioning parrhesia, Aristo-
phanes also uses it in a political sense (Thesmophoria-
zusae,
line 540). Finally, Democritus says in a fragment
(226D) that parrhesia is inherent in eleutheria. We
conclude that in the late fifth century parrhesia became
a popular word in Athens, denoting freedom of speech
chiefly in political matters, but occasionally also in
private situations.

If we turn to Herodotus (V, 78) and Pseudo-Xenophon
(“the Old Oligarch”), Constitution of Athens (1, 12),
we find that neither of them uses the word parrhesia.
Both indicate democracy by the word isegoria. Isegoria
was not necessarily a democratic virtue: it meant
equality of rights in the matter of freedom of speech
and could easily apply to a restricted number of aristo-
crats. Isagoras, who was an aristocratic contemporary of
Cleisthenes, was probably born about 550. It is hard
to believe that his father called him Isagoras because
he wanted to encourage democratic virtues in his son.
But in the fifth century isegoria, like isonomia, came
to mean democracy. parrhesia represented democracy
from the point of view of equality of rights. There was
an old-fashioned flavor about isegoria. We are not
surprised that Herodotus and the Old Oligarch pre-
ferred it to parrhesia, while Euripides chose the more
modern word parrhesia.

Thucydides, of course, knew both words and, of
course, used neither. Not simply because he was never
satisfied with simple formulas. Discussion he appreci-
ated above all things, but he recognized that freedom
of speech is inseparable from good faith, both in the
speaker and in the listener, and must be used to foster


260

reason against unreason. The debate between Cleon
and Diodotus is not only the most profound discussion
about imperialism ever held in the ancient world be-
fore Saint Augustine; it is also the most searching
analysis of the conditions in which discussion is useful
in a democracy. If you attack, not the objective valid-
ity, but the good faith of your opponent, you introduce
an element which will poison democratic proceedings.
Even more than Pericles' Funeral Speech, Diodotus'
speech represents Thucydides' contribution to the the-
ory of freedom of speech.

In the fourth century parrhesia became more popu-
lar than isegoria. Demosthenes uses parrhesia twenty-
six times as against three or possibly four instances of
isegoria; Isocrates has parrhesia twenty-two times,
isegoria only once; Aeschines parrhesia eight times, but
isegoria once. In some of the Demosthenic speeches
of doubtful authenticity parrhesia is most emphatically
the right of the Athenian citizen. But other texts say
that in Athens everyone enjoyed freedom of speech,
including foreigners and slaves. At the same time
parrhesia was frequently used to mean either the virtue
of frankness or the vice of loquacity. Plato, of course,
knows parrhesia both in the political and in the non-
political sense, but Aristotle, remarkably enough,
knows parrhesia only in the nonpolitical sense, except
in an anecdote about Pisistratus (The Constitution of
Athens
16, 6).

We have learnt from J. Sundwall's epoch-making
studies that in the fourth century Athens was ruled by
a minority of wealthy people. Both the Macedonian
and the anti-Macedonian parties had wealthy leaders.
These people emphasized the right to say all that they
wanted (parrhesia) rather than equality of freedom of
speech (isegoria). But the interest in democratic insti-
tutions was declining. People were more interested in
private life and private virtues and vices than in politi-
cal achievements. Menander replaced Aristophanes,
and parrhesia as a private virtue replaced parrhesia
as a political right.

9. At this point we may pause. isegoria implied
equality of freedom of speech, but did not necessarily
imply the right to say everything. On the other hand,
parrhesia looks like a word invented by a vigorous man
for whom democratic life meant freedom from tradi-
tional inhibitions of speech. We doubt whether the
word parrhesia pleased Cleon, but it must have pleased
Euripides and certainly pleased Demosthenes. We are
not surprised that Plato disliked it (Republic 557e)
except when it was granted as a privilege to the wise
counsellor (Laws 694b; Laches 188e). We shall never
know about Pericles. The two words parrhesia and
isegoria point to the conflict between democracy as
liberty and democracy as equality that was to concern
later political thinkers.

After the fourth century B.C. isegoria remained a
very respectable though not a very common word. It
was used by people with a philosophic education, both
in the political and in the nonpolitical sense. Polybius
used it alone or together with parrhesia (never
parrhesia on its own: 2, 38, 6; 2, 42, 3). He used isegoria
to describe the state of affairs prevailing in the Achaean
League. In this league every member was entitled to
speak in the assemblies, though in fact the league was
ruled by an oligarchy. Soon afterwards, with the Romans
ruling the world, there was little freedom of speech
left for Greek political assemblies. Philodemus the
Epicurean used isegoria in connection with the good
king, and Philo considered isegoria to be the quality
of the serious man. Marcus Aurelius (I, 14) was grateful
to one of his teachers for having introduced him to
the idea of isegoria in politics: it is difficult to imagine
what he really meant.

The career of parrhesia was more brilliant, because
it was not as connected with political institutions.
parrhesia became a philosopher's virtue. In the
Nicomachean Ethics Aristotle included it among the
characteristics of the “magnanimous” man (1124b
28-30) and of the good comrade (1165a 9). Diogenes
the Cynic made parrhesia his watchword (Diog. Laërt.,
VI, 69). His choice may have discouraged other philos-
ophers from talking about parrhesia. As a matter of
fact, neither Zeno nor Epicurus seem to have made
extensive use of the word. But later Epicureans came
to like parrhesia as a quality of friendship. Philodemus
wrote a book on parrhesia, and Horace may have got
from him or other Epicureans his incorrupta fides
nudaque veritas
(parrhesia) of the ideal friend (Horace,
Carmen, I, 24). Plutarch defined parrhesia as the voice
of friendship (Moralia 51C). The Cynic Demonax
condemned religious mysteries as secretive, and there-
fore contrary to parrhesia (Lucian, Demonax 11). Many
texts teach us that parrhesia signified a courageous
behavior towards tyrants and emperors. It was not a
revival of the republican or democratic meaning of
parrhesia, but rather the reaction of philosophically
educated men to the flattery and moral degradation
inherent in tyranny. The meaning attributed to libertas
(or even licentia) by some Roman writers, including
Tacitus, was certainly influenced by the use of
parrhesia.

10. At this stage the Greek situation becomes prac-
tically identical with the Roman situation, and to Rome
we may turn to clarify antecedents and to explain what
happened in the Roman Empire.

Republican Rome was an aristocratic society in
which patricians and plebeians, patrons and clients,
rich (adsidui) and poor (proletarii) were kept apart by
law and custom. But patricians, patrons, and rich men
were not necessarily the same persons. Different insti-


261

tutions took different notice of the various categories
of citizens. Up to the end of the republic, patricians
formed a group of their own in the Senate, though
of decreasing importance. On the other hand, patri-
cians were never allowed into the influential assembly
of the plebeians (comitia plebis tributa). In the assembly
of the centuriae (comitia centuriata), the main legis-
lative and electoral assembly, wealth was the main
criterion for the classification. Wealth counted in the
general assembly of the tribes (comitia tributa), but less
conspicuously.

The Roman army remained organized according to
principles of wealth until the end of the second century
B.C. Later it became an army of proletarians. Patronage
was recognized in civil law, especially in relation to
freed men, who were ipso facto clients of their ex-
masters. Patronage operated unofficially in lawsuits,
elections, services, etc. Legal regulations and customs
affecting freedom of speech in the Roman society of
the Republic have to be interpreted against the back-
ground of this complex net of relations. According to
the most plausible interpretation, one of the laws of
the Twelve Tables (fifth Century B.C.) punished slander
by death. Aristocrats were likely to derive most advan-
tage from such a provision which can be paralleled
in other societies (Anglo-Saxons punished slander by
the excision of the tongue). At the end of the third
century B.C., the poet Naevius seems to have been
prosecuted in accordance with this law when he
attacked the powerful Metelli in a theatrical perform-
ance (the details are extremely obscure). Later this law
fell into desuetude, and slander was prosecuted as
iniuria which was stretched to cover attacks in theaters
against individuals. At least since the time of Augustus
(if not of Sulla) offensive words against persons in
authority came under the law of maiestas: here again
details are by no means clear. Foreign philosophers
and rhetoricians were thrown out of Rome more than
once in the second and first centuries B.C. under the
ordinary coercive powers of the magistrates, who had
the support of the Senate. This amounted to implicit
interference with education.

In the political assemblies (comitia) as such there was
no place for discussion. Citizens were there to vote.
But there was opportunity for discussions in the more
informal meetings (contiones) which normally preceded
the formal comitia. The magistrate who presided over
the contiones had considerable discretionary powers.
It seems that he could either throw open the discussion
or invite carefully selected individuals to speak. For-
eign ambassadors were admitted to speak in such
gatherings, and women are known to have spoken in
them. In the Senate freedom of speech was complete,
but senators were asked to speak in order of rank
(which meant that the most influential members, the
ex-censors, the ex-consuls, and the consuls-designate
spoke first).

The general impression one receives for the last
century of the Republic is that in both political and
intellectual life tongues moved freely. But this was a
period of crisis, and even in this period the beneficiaries
must have been a restricted privileged group. Men like
Cicero felt that there was less freedom of speech in
Rome than in Athens. This admission did not imply
any regret. It is typical of Republican Rome that free-
dom of speech was never directly and precisely con-
nected with the more general notion of libertas. The
very terminology of freedom of speech, however,
pointed to a relationship between freedom in general
and freedom of speech in particular: we hear of libera
lingua, óratio libera.
It goes without saying that by the
first century B.C. Roman terminology was influenced
by Greek usage. Yet parrhesia never had an exact
equivalent in Rome; when it was translated by licentia,
contumacia,
an element of criticism was often implied.
The general attitude seems to have been that only
persons in authority had a right to speak freely: one
senses that freedom of speech belongs to the sphere
of auctoritas just as much as to the sphere of libertas.

11. In the Imperial period the connection of freedom
of speech with political freedom became generally
recognized, for obvious reasons. Paradoxically, Tiberius
was one of the first to say so (Suetonius, Tiberius 28).
Limitation of political discussion even in the Senate
and the disappearance of contiones before the formal
assemblies (followed by the de facto disappearance of
the assemblies themselves), political trials, constant
intimidation, and eventually elimination of potential
rivals left the members of the Roman Empire in no
doubt as to the repressive character of the regime
established by Augustus. The burning of books and
desultory persecution of philosophers (especially under
Vespasian and Domitian) more particularly affected the
intellectuals. Restrictions in the practice of astrology
(Dio Cassius, 56, 25, 5) and frequent expulsions of
astrologers from Rome underlined the danger of any
enquiry about the future of the government of the
Empire. Noises in the circus remained the only im-
pressive (and occasionally effective) form of verbal
protest in the Roman Empire. Widespread servility
made sensitive people aware that adulation was a
characteristic vice of Imperial society—a vice dis-
astrous for the moral fibre of men. In the first century
and in the early part of the second, both Roman and
Greek writers expressed profound disgust with adula-
tion (Phaedrus, Persius, Quintilian, Juvenal, on the
Roman side; Philo, Dio Chrysostom, Plutarch, and
Epictetus, on the Greek side). Tacitus, though not
without contradictions, gave this feeling its classical
expression. His Annals are a study in the moral degen-


262

eration resulting from the lack of freedom of speech.
His Dialogue on the Orators examines the relation
between decay in eloquence and decline of political
liberty.

After the first decades of the second century freedom
of speech ceased to be an important issue. It was
replaced by the issue of religious toleration raised by
the spread of Christianity. As far as we are aware,
nobody presented the case for or against Christianity
as a question involving the principle of freedom of
speech. There is, however, a Christian development
of the idea of freedom of speech which deserves our
attention and may bring our story to a conclusion.

parrhesia was one of those words—like ecclesia,
intercessio, suffragium
—which the Christian Church
took over from Greek and Latin political language and
endowed with a new meaning. The Christians were
preceded by the Jews in this reinterpretation. The
isolated expression of Isocrates' Busiris 40, “liberties
towards the gods,” was rediscovered and given a posi-
tive meaning by Jewish writers such as the Septuagint
translators, Philo and Josephus. The Septuagint used
parrhesia to translate different Hebrew expressions
(Leviticus 26:13; Proverbs 1:20, Psalms 93:1, etc.), one
of which indicated God's power. parrhesia became the
right and the privilege of the believer; already in Philo
(De specialibus legibus I, 203) and later in the Testa-
ment of the XII Patriarchs
(Reuben 4, 2) it is connected
with the notion of syneidesis, conscience (cf. also
Josephus, Antiquitates iudaicae 2, 52). In the New
Testament, parrhesia “in the name of Jesus” is the
consequence of conversion. The word occurs most
frequently in the Fourth Gospel, in Acts and in Saint
Paul. It is the sign of the new hope (II Corinthians
3:12). The believer can speak not only in the name
of Jesus, but also to Jesus. He has parrhesia towards
God. Saint John Chrysostom makes it clear that a
catechumen does not enjoy this right (Homilies 2, 5,
ed. Gaume, X, 506). More particularly, parrhesia be-
comes the right and the privilege of the martyr and
of the saint. These have purchased liberty by martyr-
dom and sanctification, and have a special right to
speak to God. They can therefore help other people
by speaking to God on their behalf. The Life of Saint
Anthony by Athanasius is a conspicuous document
testifying to this conception which was to affect the
whole outlook of the Middle Ages. On the other hand
parrhesia is used in monastic texts (for instance, the
Apophthegmata patrum) to indicate pride and excessive
attachment to this world.

We have come a long way from the political
parrhesia of which the Athenians were proud, but the
new parrhesia of the Christian martyr and saint con-
tributes to the notion of freedom of conscience. Faith
and suffering give a right to speak out—even to God.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

The Oriental texts (with the exception of the biblical
ones) quoted above are to be found in J. B. Pritchard,
Ancient Near Eastern Texts, 3 ed. (Princeton, 1968). Pioneer
work on political thinking of the ancient Near East has been
done especially by members of the Oriental Institute of
Chicago. It will be enough to refer to H. and H. A. Frank-
fort, J. A. Wilson, Th. Jacobsen, The Intellectual Adventure
of Ancient Man
(Chicago, 1946); reprinted as Before Philos-
ophy
(Harmondsworth, 1949); H. Frankfort, Kingship and
the Gods
(Chicago, 1948); J. A. Wilson, The Burden of Egypt
(Chicago, 1951); reprinted as The Culture of Ancient Egypt
(Chicago, 1956); C. H. Kraeling and R. M. Adams, eds., City
Invincible
(Chicago, 1960); A. L. Oppenheim, Ancient
Mesopotamia
(Chicago, 1964); and the collection of essays
by Th. Jacobsen, Toward the Image of Tammuz and other
Essays
(Cambridge, Mass., 1970); some of the most impor-
tant essays by Jacobsen are quoted below.

On Oriental political assemblies and related problems see
especially: G. Buccellati, Cities and Nations of Ancient Syria
(Rome, 1967). I. M. Diakonoff, “Die hethitische Gesell-
schaft,” Mitteilungen aus dem Institut für Orientforschung,
13 (1967), 313-66. G. Evans, “Ancient Mesopotamian
Assemblies,” Journal of the American Oriental Society, 78
(1958), 1-11. A. Falkenstein, “La Cité-temple Sumérienne,”
Cahiers d'Histoire Mondiale, 1 (1954), 784-815. G. Fohrer,
“Der Vertrag zwischen König und Volk in Israel,” Zeitschrift
für Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft,
71 (1959), 1-22. P.
Garelli, Les Assyriens en Cappadoce (Paris, 1963), pp.
171-204; idem, le Proche-Orient asiatique (Paris, 1969),
248-53. R. Gordis, “Democratic Origins in Ancient Israel,”
Alexander Marx Jubilee Volume (New York, 1950), pp.
369-88. O. R. Gurney, The Hittites, 2nd ed. (London, 1966).
Th. Jacobsen, “Primitive Democracy in Ancient Mesopo-
tamia,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 2 (1943), 159-72;
idem, “Early Political Development in Mesopotamia,”
Zeitschrift für Assyriologie, 52 (1957), 91-140. H. Klengel,
“Die Rolle der Ältesten... im Kleinasien der Hethiterzeit,”
Zeitschrift für Assyriologie, 57 (1965), 223-36. S. N. Kramer,
“Gilgamesh and Agga,” American Journal of Archaeology,
53 (1949), 1-18. J.-R. Kupper, S. N. Kramer, et al., articles
on “Vox Populi” in the Ancient Near East, in Revue
d'Assyriologie,
58 (1964). J. L. McKenzie, “The Elders in
the Old Testament,” Analecta Biblica, 10 (1959), 388-406.
S. Moscati, The World of the Phoenicians (London, 1968).
A. L. Oppenheim, “A New Look at the Structure of Meso-
potamian Society,” Journal of Economic and Social History
of the Orient,
10 (1967), 1-16. H. Reviv, “On Urban Repre-
sentative Institutions and Self-Government in Syria-
Palestine in the Second Half of the Second Millennium B.C.,”
Journal of Economic and Social History of the Orient, 12
(1969), 283-97. R. N. Whybray, The Heavenly Counsellor
in Isaiah XL, 13-14
(Cambridge, 1971). G. Widengren, “The
Sacred Kingship of Iran,” Numen, Supp. 4 (1959), 242-57.
J. A. Wilson, “The Assembly of a Phoenician City,” Journal
of Near Eastern Studies,
4 (1945), 245. J. A. Wilson et al.,
Authority and Law in the Ancient Orient, Journal of the
American Oriental Society
(1954), Supp. 17. C. U. Wolf,
“Traces of Primitive Democracy in Ancient Israel,” Journal


263

of Near Eastern Studies, 6 (1947), 98-108. R. N. Whybray,
The Heavenly Counsellor in Isaiah XL. 13-14 (Cambridge,
1971).

On Greece and Rome this bibliography is confined to
specific works on freedom of speech. For the history of
freedom in general refer to R. Klein, ed., Prinzipat und
Freiheit
(Darmstadt, 1969); H. Kloesel, Libertas (Breslau,
1935); D. Nestle, Eleutheria, Vol. I (Tübingen, 1967); M.
Pohlenz, Diegriechische Freiheit (Heidelberg, 1955); Ch.
Wirszubski, Libertas (Cambridge, 1950); reviewed by A.
Momigliano, Journal of Roman Studies, 41 (1951), 146-53.
Greece and Rome: J. A. O. Larsen, Representative Govern-
ment in Greek and Roman History
(Berkeley, 1955). Greece:
A. Andrewes, “The Government of Classical Sparta,” in
Ancient Society and Institutions. Studies Presented to V. E.
Ehrenberg
(Oxford, 1966), pp. 1-20. V. Ehrenberg,
“Isonomia,” in Pauly-Wissowa, Realencyclopädie, Suppl.
VII, (1940), 293-301. G. T. Griffith, “Isegoria in the
Assembly at Athens,” in Ancient Society, op. cit., 115-38.
A. H. M. Jones, Sparta (Oxford, 1967). J. A. O. Larsen,
“Cleisthenes and the Development of the Theory of De-
mocracy in Athens,” in Essays in Political Theory: Presented
to George H. Sabine
(Ithaca, 1948), pp. 1-16. M. Radin,
“Freedom of Speech in Ancient Athens,” American Journal
of Philology,
48 (1927), 215-20. G. Scarpat, parrhesia
(Brescia, 1964). Rome: T. Bollinger, Theatralis Licentia
(Winterthur, 1969). T. Frank, “Naevius and Free Speech,”
American Journal of Philology, 48 (1927), 105-10. M.
Gigante, Ricerche Filodemee (Naples, 1969). L. Robinson,
Freedom of Speech in the Roman Republic (Baltimore, 1940),
discussed by A. Momigliano, Journal of Roman Studies,
32 (1942), 120-24. Early Christianity: L. J. Engels, Reallexi-
kon für Antike und Christentum
(Stuttgart, 1968), 7, 839-77.
W. Jaeger, “parrhesia et fiducia,” in Studia Patristica, I
(Berlin, 1959), 221-39. E. Peterson, “Zur Bedeutungsge-
schichte von Parrhesia,” in Festschrift für R. Seeberg, I
(Berlin, 1929), 283-97. H. Schlier, Theologisches Wörterbuch
zum Neuen Testament
(Stuttgart, 1959), 5, 869-84. W. C.
van Unnik, “De semitische achtergrond van parrhesia. in
het Nieuwe Testament,” Mededelingen Nederlandse
Akademie,
N.R. 25 (1962), 585-601.

ARNALDO MOMIGLIANO

[See also Constitutionalism; Democracy; Equality; Free-
dom; Liberalism; State.]