Athens : The City as University book cover
1st Edition

The City as University

ISBN 9780367864675
Published December 12, 2019 by Routledge
134 Pages

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Book Description

The citizens of ancient Athens were directly responsible for the development and power of its democracy; but how did they learn about politics and what their roles were within it? In this volume Livingstone argues that learning about political praxis (how to be a citizen) was an integral part of the everyday life of ancient Athenians. In the streets, shops and other meeting-places of the city people from all levels of society, from slaves to the very wealthy, exchanged knowledge and competed for power and status. The City as University explores the spaces and occasions where Athenians practised the arts of citizenship for which they and their city became famous.

In the agora and on the pnyx, Athenian democracy was about performance and oratory; but the written word opened the way to ever-increasing sophistication in both the practice and theory of politics. As the arts of spin proliferated, spontaneous live debate in which the speaker’s authority came from being one of the many remained a core democratic value. Livingstone explores how ideas of democratic leadership evolved from the poetry of the legendary law-giver Solon to the writings of the sophist Alcidamas of Elaia. The volume offers a new approach to the study of ancient education and will be an invaluable tool to students of ancient politics and culture, and to all those studying the history of democracy.

Table of Contents

About this book



Introduction: Democratic Knowledge

Citizens Modern and Ancient


Intellectual Attainment and Democratic Ideals

Myth and Mousikē

Heroic Politics

Hesiod’s Poetics of Struggle

Solon: Accommodating Athens to the Muse


Knowing Where It Happens

Democratic Citizenship: Staging and Rehearsal

What Did Citizens Learn?

Learning at Home

Places of Learning

The Agora

The View beyond the City

In and Out of the Barber’s Shop


Writing the City

Suspicion of Writing in Athens

On Writers (People Who Write Written Speeches, or Sophists)

The Argument of ‘On Writers’

A Misdirected Attack on Writing?

The Two Faces of the Writer

Stylish Spontaneity

Conclusion: the City as University


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Niall Livingstone is a Senior Lecturer in Classics, Ancient History, and Archaeology at the University of Birmingham.


"This slim book takes on a big question: 'How did the citizens of ancient Athens learn to live in a democracy?' It’s an important question, both for our knowledge of the classical city and for our understanding of how citizenship works in democracies today ... Livingstone’s work is an important reminder that "culture" (political or otherwise) is grounded in face-to-face human interactions. His book is a powerful statement about how much ancient Athens still has to teach us ... it is a worthwhile and compelling read."

- Ryan R. Abrecht, University of San Diego (USA), the Bryn Mawr Classical Review