Law's Cosmos: Juridical Discourse in Athenian Forensic Oratory

Cambridge University Press
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Recent literary-critical work in legal studies reads law as a genre of literature, noting that Western law originated as a branch of rhetoric in classical Greece and lamenting the fact that the law has lost its connection to poetic language, narrative, and imagination. But modern legal scholarship has paid little attention to the actual juridical discourse of ancient Greece. This book rectifies that neglect through an analysis of the courtroom speeches from classical Athens, texts situated precisely at the intersection between law and literature. Reading these texts for their subtle literary qualities and their sophisticated legal philosophy, it proposes that in Athens' juridical discourse literary form and legal matter are inseparable. Through its distinctive focus on the literary form of Athenian forensic oratory, Law's Cosmos aims to shed new light on its juridical thought, and thus to change the way classicists read forensic oratory and legal historians view Athenian law.
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About the author

Victoria Wohl is Associate Professor of Classics at the University of Toronto. Her previously published work includes Love Among the Ruins: The Erotics of Democracy in Classical Athens (2002) and Intimate Commerce: Exchange, Gender, and Subjectivity in Greek Tragedy (1998).

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Additional Information

Publisher
Cambridge University Press
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Published on
Jan 7, 2010
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Pages
377
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ISBN
9781139483711
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Ancient / General
Law / Legal History
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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From the Hardcover edition.
How can we make sense of the innovative structure of Euripidean drama? And what political role did tragedy play in the democracy of classical Athens? These questions are usually considered to be mutually exclusive, but this book shows that they can only be properly answered together. Providing a new approach to the aesthetics and politics of Greek tragedy, Victoria Wohl argues that the poetic form of Euripides' drama constitutes a mode of political thought. Through readings of select plays, she explores the politics of Euripides' radical aesthetics, showing how formal innovation generates political passions with real-world consequences.

Euripides' plays have long perplexed readers. With their disjointed plots, comic touches, and frequent happy endings, they seem to stretch the boundaries of tragedy. But the plays' formal traits—from their exorbitantly beautiful lyrics to their arousal and resolution of suspense—shape the audience's political sensibilities and ideological attachments. Engendering civic passions, the plays enact as well as express political ideas. Wohl draws out the political implications of Euripidean aesthetics by exploring such topics as narrative and ideological desire, the politics of pathos, realism and its utopian possibilities, the logic of political allegory, and tragedy's relation to its historical moment.

Breaking through the impasse between formalist and historicist interpretations of Greek tragedy, Euripides and the Politics of Form demonstrates that aesthetic structure and political meaning are mutually implicated—and that to read the plays poetically is necessarily to read them politically.

Classical Athenian literature often speaks of democratic politics in sexual terms. Citizens are urged to become lovers of the polis, and politicians claim to be lovers of the people. Victoria Wohl argues that this was no dead metaphor. Exploring the intersection between eros and politics in democratic Athens, Wohl traces the private desires aroused by public ideology and the political consequences of citizens' most intimate longings. Love among the Ruins analyzes the civic fantasies that lay beneath (but not necessarily parallel to) Athens's political ideology. It shows how desire can disrupt politics and provides a deeper--at times disturbing--insight into the democratic unconscious of ancient Athens.

The Athenians imagined the perfect citizen as a noble and manly lover. But this icon conceals a multitude of other possible figures: sexy tyrants, potent pathics, and seductive perverts. Through critical re-readings of canonical texts, Wohl investigates these fantasies, which seem so antithetical to Athens's manifest ideals. She examines the interrelation of patriotism and narcissism, the trope of politics as prostitution, the elite suspicion of political pleasure, and the status of perversion within Athens's sexual and political norms. She also discusses the morbid drive that propelled Athenian imperialism, as well as democratic Athens's paradoxical fascination with the joys of tyranny.


Drawing on contemporary critical theory in original ways, Wohl sketches the relationship between citizen psyche and political life to illuminate the complex, frequently contradictory passions that structure democracy, ancient and modern.

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