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17.4.Simonton

The Hellenica Oxyrhynchia is our sole source for the stasis at Rhodes in 395 BCE, an important episode for both the history of Rhodes and the history of Greek democracy. The historian records (15.1-2 Bartoletti) that a small group of Rhodian democrats backed by Athenian troops rallied the populace from the herald’s stone in the agora, killed the reigning Diagorid oligarchs, and established a new constitution. Yet the means and motives of the Rhodian revolutionaries have remained obscure. Using contemporary social science to expand upon a suggestion made by Jacoby, I show that the actions of the key players in the Rhodian stasis are illuminated by the performance of Solon’s “Salamis” poem as described by Plutarch (Sol. 8.1-3). Along with several related examples, this parallel suggests that the Rhodian revolutionaries, like Solon before them, earnestly sought a mass mobilization of the demos, and that their actions were well calculated to achieve that end.

The assumed social context of Solon’s “Salamis” poem provides the key to understanding the Rhodian episode. Plutarch’s recreation of the poem’s original performance, with Solon feigning madness and leaping atop the herald’s block, was no doubt inspired by the language of the poem itself (Bowie). Yet, the strategy Plutarch imagines Solon employing conforms closely with ancient Greek political practice. In Plutarch’s account, Solon senses that a popular opinion is being suppressed because people are afraid to take the individual initiative to voice it. Solon uses an address from the herald’s stone as a public means of mass communication. His actions serve to gather the populace at a central place and to encourage them to act on their latent consensus. Once the citizens have observed one another’s affirmative response to Solon’s appeal, they recognize the power of their hitherto-silent majority and pursue the desired policy.

The Rhodian democrats should be understood as operating in a similar manner: their leader, Dorimachus, hoped that by proclaiming an attack on the oligarchs in the public space of the marketplace he would spark a revolution. Resistance to the dominant oligarchy had so far been prevented by the population’s apprehension and their ignorance of each other’s true beliefs. Dorimachus’ performance on the herald’s stone, resonant with the traditional words and gestures of an act of tyrant-slaying, provided a culturally meaningful signal to the demos aimed at overcoming their collective hesitation and coordinating revolt. The logic behind this social phenomenon of endemic “preference falsification” that is suddenly transformed into collective action when a bold act precipitates a “revolutionary cascade” has been explained by modern political scientists (Kuran, Lohmann). Similar processes have been on prominent display during the recent uprisings in the Middle East.

My approach offers a via tertia in the longstanding debate among scholars on the nature of the Rhodian stasis. Some (Funke, David) have argued that the event indicates deep-seated political division within the citizenry, stemming from social conflict between the many and the few. Others (Bruce, Ruschenbusch, Riess) either have emphasized “interstate” factors, independent of internal politics, or have seen the plan as depending entirely upon the actions of a few conspirators. By applying the strategic logic of the Solon paradigm to the Rhodian case I show how bold public action carried out by a few conspirators is perfectly compatible with a plan for widespread revolt. Other examples of revolutionary conspiracy in ancient Greece arguably follow a similar logic: e.g., the plot of the Athenian tyrannicides in Thucydides (6.56) and Xenophon’s description of the conspiracy of Cinadon (Hell. 3.3.4ff.). In addition to making better sense of the Oxyrhynchus historian’s compressed account, my explanation of the Rhodian revolution provides a fresh way of connecting Greek poetic performance with politics (Gentili, Stehle, Irwin). It also contributes a new perspective to recent discussions about the nature of stasis in the polis (Fisher, Forsdyke, van Wees).

Bibliography

  • Bowie, E. L. 1986. “Early Greek Elegy, Symposium and Public Festival.” JHS 106: 13-35.Bruce, I. A. F. 1967. An Historical Commentary on the ‘Hellenica Oxyrhynchia’. Cambridge.
  • David, E. 1984. “The Oligarchic Revolution at Rhodes, 391-89 B.C.” CP 79.4: 271-284.
  • Fisher, N. R. E. 2000. “Hybris, Revenge and Stasis in the Greek City-States.” In H. van Wees (ed.), War and Violence in Ancient Greece. London: Duckworth, 83-123.
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  • Funke, P. 1980. “Stasis und politischer Umsturz in Rhodos zu Beginn des IV. Jahrhunderts v. Chr.” In W. Eck, H. Galsterer, H. Wolff (eds.), Studien zur antiken Sozialgeschichte. Cologne-Vienna: 59-70.
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  • Kuran, T. 1995. Private Lies, Public Truths: The Social Consequences of Preference Falsification. Harvard.
  • Lohmann, S. 2000. “Collective Action Cascades: An Informational Rationale for the Power in Numbers.” Journal of Economic Surveys 14.5: 655-684.
  • Riess, W. 2006. “How Tyrants and Dynasts Die: The Semantics of Political Assassination in Fourth-Century Greece.” In G. Urso (ed.), Terror et Pavor: Violenza, intimidazione, clandestinità nel mondo antico. Pisa: Edizioni ETS, 65-88.
  • Ruschenbusch, E. 1982. “Stasis und politischer Umsturz in Rhodos.” Hermes 110.4: 495-498.
  • Stehle, E. 1997. Performance and Gender in Ancient Greece. Princeton.
  • van Wees, H. 2008. “‘Stasis, Destroyer of Men’: Mass, Elite, Political Violence and Security in Archaic Greece.” In C. Brélaz and P. Ducrey (eds.), Sécurité Collective et Ordre Public dans les Sociétés Anciennes. Geneva: Fondation Hardt, 1-39.

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