The concept of self and otherness in ancient Greek courts

  Dainotto, Roberta. “The concept of self and otherness in ancient Greek courts.” CHS Research Bulletin 10 (2022). http://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HLNC.ESSAY:102284848.



Pre-doctoral Fellow in Hellenic Studies 2021–22

The CHS pre-doctoral fellowship has represented for me an extremely important appointment both for my personal growth and the progression of my academic career. At this stage of my PhD, I am on the verge of revising my manuscript with the precious support of my team of supervisors. The process of writing of my dissertation has been heavily implemented by this fellowship and the discussion on this relevant topic which has enriched me to deal with a new approach to the subject and to work along with other professors and scholars whose support has in fact gone beyond the tasks of the fellowship. 

The field of study of my PhD project concerns the analysis of storytelling in forensic trials and the ways in which speeches delivered in courts allow us to look into the history of classical Athens, its system of beliefs, and its social dynamics. The narratives that prosecutors or defenders provided offer the possibility to raise questions of ethos, by manipulating jurors’ emotions or directing negative sentiments against their opponents, by means of indicating their opponents’ antisocial behaviour and their own conformity with the polis’ shared values. 

Through my dissertation thesis, I emphasise the importance of competing stories in Athenian courtroom practice as directly relevant to the idiosyncrasies of Athenian procedures. As wide as it is, the study enhances the analysis of the society under many features and from different perspective. Thanks to this fellowship, I narrowed the argument to explore self and otherness as leading to the portrayal of an individual in both public and private life and in the assertion of their adherence to the polis’ values or their contrast with the shared ideology. In particular, in the paper I published in the FirstDrafts@Classics@ I shed light on this argument through a case study, the charge Against Aristogeiton I (Demosthenes 25) which allows a clear understanding of the issue and the ways in which litigants used storytelling to favour their stance. In Demosthenes 25, the speaker depicts, with particular clarity, a veracious attempt to undermine and, eventually, banish a man by appealing to the dominant democratic Athenian ideology of the union and homogeneity among civic members. Aristogeiton is in fact accused of disrupting the polis’ order and bringing shame and disgrace upon the city through his behaviour. By addressing my attention to the arguments of the narrative sections, I outlined how Aristogeiton is portrayed as a social outsider and how the speaker clarifies the distinction between him and the full citizens. 

The focus on this speech provides an interpretation of the interfaces between the strict interpretation of norms and the wider conception of justice, acknowledging that these are the polis’ governing principles and its regulating forces. Through the article I suggest that the rejection or non-acceptance of another person or group of people was based on a specific conception of Athenian identity and personal interpretation of the ‘stories’. My research has thus charted a crucial conjunction between the community as a social entity and an outsider as a person who jeopardised its unity. 

In broad terms, I may distinguish the length of the fellowship into two phases: the first months, which were mostly dedicated to research, also thanks to the support of my appointed supervisor, Professor Melina Tamiolaki, whose invaluable advice and unfailing support through all stages of the project have been extremely important. The second phase, instead, mainly gravitated around the experience in Washington DC and the physical location of the center for a few weeks. There, I had the privilege of enjoying a free and unlimited access to the center’s archive (an advantage I also took remotely) which revealed itself to be of great help since the library has a large list of relevant texts and boasts limited editions that are difficult to find elsewhere. Furthermore, my experience in Washington DC was extremely educational, other than a great opportunity to expand my academic network with valuable insights. In fact, while there, I had the chance to bond with the other fellows with whom I shared this appointment, and several other scholars I was lucky to meet during my staying there. I may say, in fact, that their support went far beyond the specific research and implemented my growth considerably. Overall, the fellowship was a success also due to the contribution of the vivid community of the center administration staff, which was supportive in all phases. 

All in all, I greatly benefitted from the fellowship under every aspect and consider it as one of the most important academic steps achieved along my path, so far. I would also like to point out that besides the completion of my task, due to the great interest in this topic and the several comments and suggestions I received from other scholars, I aim to extend my research further with upcoming projects always dealing with this topic. In fact, the polarisation self/other can be applied to all the corpus of extant speeches and every sphere of Athenian society.

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