Populist rhetorical strategies in the courts of classical Athens

Adamidis, V. ORCID: 0000-0001-6347-5327, 2021. Populist rhetorical strategies in the courts of classical Athens. Athens Journal of History, 7 (1), pp. 21-40. ISSN 2407-9677

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The elusive populist phenomenon has been the focus of numerous studies in recent years, with the reliance of populism on divisive and aggressive rhetoric being acknowledged. The paper aims to apply these findings to the Athenian forensic rhetoric and identify manifestations of populist rhetoric in the antagonistic arena of Athenian courts. By reference to the most 'political' of public trials, namely the indictments against inexpedient laws and illegal decrees, it is argued that the rhetorical strategies employed by the Athenian litigants who sought to persuade mass audiences in a zero-sum process, have much in common with modern populist discourse. Aiming to secure the good will of the dicasts, speakers competed over their level of adherence to the shared traditional values and norms of Athenian society, making the audience the nodal point of their rhetoric. Artfully interpellating the audience into a fictitiously pure and homogeneous group, litigants sought to establish concord with the dicasts while alienating the opponent. The division between the pure demos and the corrupt establishment, allowed the speakers to use a divisive and aggressive rhetoric, through which the adversary was presented as an outsider, representative of the out-group of corrupt political elite who undermined the political and moral principles upon which the Athenian identity was based.

Item Type: Journal article
Publication Title: Athens Journal of History
Creators: Adamidis, V.
Publisher: Athens Institute for Education and Research
Date: January 2021
Volume: 7
Number: 1
ISSN: 2407-9677
Divisions: Schools > Nottingham Law School
Record created by: Linda Sullivan
Date Added: 07 Dec 2020 15:43
Last Modified: 31 May 2021 15:09
URI: https://irep.ntu.ac.uk/id/eprint/41804

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