Journal of Hellenic Studies 125:73-92 (2005)

Plutarch (probably following Aristotle's lost Constitution of the Megarians) associates several episodes of riotous behaviour with the existence of a radical democracy in Archaic Megara (Moralia 295c-d, 304e-t). Modem historians, in turn, have accepted that Megara was ruled by a democracy in the mid sixth century BC. I suggest that this conclusion is unjustified because the connection between riotous behaviour and democracy in Plutarch is based on fourth-century anti-democratic political thought. I propose instead that anecdotes describing the insolent behaviour of the poor towards the rich are better interpreted in terms of customary ritual s of social inversion and transgression. Drawing on comparative examples from the ancient world and early modem Europe, I show that popular revelry involving role reversal and transgression of social norms was an important locus for the negotiation of relations between élites and masses. I argue that such rituals provided temporary release from the constraints of the social hierarchy, and served to articulate symbolically the obligation of the powerful to protect the weak. The comparative examples show that such rituals were usually non-revolutionary, but could turn violent in times of rapid social and economic change. I argue that the violent episodes reported by Plutarch reflect the escalation of ritual revelry into real protest and riot in response to the breakdown of traditional relations of reciprocity between rich and poor in Archaic Megara. I suggest that élites in Archaic Megara successfully warded off more far-reaching rebellion and political reform by enacting new measures for the economic relief of the poor (e.g. the return of interest legislation). In conclusion, I address the broader historical question of why subordinate groups use ritual forms to express discontent
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DOI 10.1017/S0075426900007114
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Athenian Religion: A History.Frank J. Frost & R. Parker - 1997 - Journal of Hellenic Studies 117:223-224.
Festivals of the Athenians.G. T. W. Hooker & H. W. Parke - 1978 - Journal of Hellenic Studies 98:190-192.
A View From the Top: Evaluating the Solonian Property Classes.Lin Foxhall - 1997 - In Lynette G. Mitchell & P. J. Rhodes (eds.), The Development of the Polis in Archaic Greece. Routledge. pp. 113--136.

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