Abstract | Herodotean Democracies

What can Herodotus say to today’s democracies? This essay begins from a puzzle about the very language of democracy in Herodotus’s Histories, namely the narrator’s notorious re-description of what the Persian Otanes called isonomia as a demokratia. Most interpreters wave off this difference as insignificant, but I show how it highlights the variety of democracies within the Histories. Different democracies also practice different principles of equality: isonomia, isegoria, and isokratia. Herodotus’s depiction of these principles in turn suggest a challenge to how we theorize and practice democracy today.