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A Phenomenology of Democracy: Ostracism as Political Ritual

Author(s): Paul J. Kosmin

Source: Classical Antiquity, Vol. 34, No. 1 (April 2015), pp. 121-162
Published by: University of California Press
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A Phenomenology of Democracy:
Ostracism as Political Ritual

This article has two objectives. First, and in particular, it seeks to reinterpret the ostracism
procedure of early democratic Athens. Since Aristotle, this has been understood as a rational,
political weapon of collective defense, intended to expel from Athens a disproportionately
powerful individual. In this article, by putting emphasis on the materiality, gestures, and location
of ostraka-casting, I propose instead that the institution can more fruitfully be understood as
a ritual enactment of civic unity. Second, and more generally, I hope to explore the frames
within which early Athenian democracy is placed: while Greek kingship and tyranny (i.e.
“primitive” polities) have been very successfully explored through anthropological and cross-
cultural comparison, Greek democracy for the most part has remained in the domains of
the institutional historian and political theorist. Taking a phenomenological and comparative
approach, this article asks how the citizens of early democratic Athens experienced and
comprehended their new sovereignty and the invented procedures of mass decision-making
through which it was expressed.

In memory of Getzel Cohen.

A recurring event in the history of archaic and classical Greece was the
conscious remodeling of political institutions,1 and none is more famous or
significant than Cleisthenes’ program of reforms in late sixth-century Athens.
The now standard identification of this moment as the epochal “foundation of
democracy”—recall the celebrations in 1992/3 of its 2500th anniversary—has

This article has benefitted enormously from the comments and criticisms of Jan Bremmer, Emma
Dench, Susanne Ebbinghaus, Adriaan Lanni, Nino Luraghi, Duncan MacRae, Ian Moyer, and the
journal’s anonymous readers. Parts of the argument were presented to a workshop at Harvard
University. I am grateful to Leslie Kurke and Richard Neer for sharing with me the manuscript of
their 2014 article.
1. See, e.g., Murray 1990.

Classical Antiquity. Vol. 34, Issue 1, pp. 121–161. ISSN 0278-6656(p); 1067-8344 (e).
Copyright © 2015 by The Regents of the University of California. All rights reserved. Please
direct all requests for permission to photocopy or reproduce article content through the University of
California Press’s Rights and Permissions website at

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122 classical antiquity Volume 34 / No. 1 / April 2015

given an inevitable teleology to its historical investigations, whether in post-

Ephialtic Athens, the fourth-century city, or contemporary western polities. And
so, even where agency has been relocated from Cleisthenes to the dēmos,2 most
scholarship has focused on questions of intentioned, reasoned reform and its
political or institutional effects. Taking ostracism as a case study, this paper
instead explores how the Athenian citizenry experienced and comprehended their
new sovereignty and the invented procedures of mass decision-making through
which it was expressed. Since Aristotle, ostracism has been understood as a
rational, political weapon of collective defense, intended to remove from Athens
a disproportionately powerful individual. By putting emphasis on the process
of ostracism rather than its end result, this paper proposes that the institution
can be more fruitfully understood as a ritual enactment of civic unity, borrowing
technologies, gestures, and symbols more usually associated with acts of magic
and pollution-cleansing.
Ostracism allows the historian an incomparably thick description because
of the confluence of three kinds of data. First, ostracism’s targeting of leading
politicians and its importance as a moment of reversal in their careers made
it a cluster-point for the character-revealing anecdote in ancient biography and
historiography.3 Second, the strangeness of the practice prompted detailed de-
scriptions in antiquarian mode by the Atthidographers, the author of the Athenaiōn
Politeia, scholiasts, and lexicographers. Finally, many thousands of ostraka, the
inscribed sherds of pottery with which Athenian citizens identified their targets,
have been excavated from the Agora and the Kerameikos; these, the very bal-
lots cast, are first-hand testimony of individual citizens’ sentiments and mental
associations. In short, ostracism gives us our earliest and richest evidence for
the practicing and self-understanding of Athenian people-power.4 It is to early
democracy what Old Comedy and forensic oratory are for the later fifth and fourth
These three sets of sources can be combined to give the following schematic
description of Athenian ostracism after Marathon; the reality no doubt was far
messier, contested, and variable than our texts indicate.5 At the meeting of the
Athenian ekklēsia in the sixth prytany, in mid-January, the assembled dēmos
was asked to vote, by a show of hands and without discussion, whether or not

2. Ober 2007.
3. For the same reason, it features as the subject of historical declamation; see Gribble 1997
and Heftner 2001 on [Andocides] 4.
4. Brief mention and a few ostraka attest the existence of parallel procedures in fifth-century
Argos, Cyrene, Megara, Miletus, (Sicilian) Naxos, Syracuse, the Tauric Chersonese, and Thurii; see
Bacchielli 1994, Vinogradov and Zolotarev 1999, Greco 2010, and Schirripa, Lentini, and Cordano
2012. The technology seems to have been similar to Athenian ostracism, except at Syracuse where,
according to Diod. Sic. 11.87, olive leaves were used instead of pottery sherds.
5. On the danger of ritual-in-text, see Buc 2001. Like royal coronations, ostracism was regular
enough to have a clear procedural script, yet sufficiently singular for specific ostrakophoriai to be
remembered for their targets and outcomes.

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kosmin: A Phenomenology of Democracy 123

they wished to conduct an ostrakophoria, the casting of ostraka, that year.6 If

a simple majority opposed the preliminary suggestion, that was the end of the
matter until the following year. If a majority were in favor, the ostrakophoria
itself was held at the beginning of the eighth prytany, in late March or early April.
On the appointed day, the Athenian Agora was fenced off and a circular enclosure
was erected at its center.7 With the archons and the Council presiding,8 the dēmos,
gathered from all over Attica, entered the delimited area through ten separate
gates, one for each of the new Cleisthenic tribes. Each citizen carried face-down
a single ostrakon, which was either pre-prepared or inscribed on location. This
ostrakon was then cast into the circular enclosure. Once all the ostraka had
been deposited, they were gathered together and counted.9 If fewer than six
thousand ostraka had been cast,10 they were disposed of in the old wells and
land-fills of the Agora and Kerameikos and the procedure ended; these aborted
ostracisms are unreported in the textual tradition but must be represented by
some of our surviving sherds. If the quorum of six thousand had been surpassed,
the ostraka were then counted again, this time by name, to determine which
citizen had been targeted most frequently, and then discarded in the same way.
The result was proclaimed by public herald. The most targeted citizen was
obliged to leave Athens within ten days, to remain for his exile outside of the
Geraestus and Scyllaeum promontories of Euboea and the Argolid, respectively,
while retaining full rights to his property, and to return only after ten years had
elapsed or a decree for recall had been issued. The process was repeated at
the next meeting of the sixth prytany. For purposes of clarity, I shall use the
terms “ostracism” for the full procedure, from the preliminary decision to the
politician’s return, and “ostrakophoria” for the inscribing and casting of ostraka
in the Agora.
There are nine firmly attested ostracisms, and possibly five more, beginning
with the ostracism of Hipparchus, the son of Charmus, in 488/7 and ending
with that of Hyperbolus in 416/5; from the report of the Athenaiōn Politeia it
is likely that ostracism remained on the books but unused into the later fourth
century. The two-decade delay between the law’s supposed promulgation by
Cleisthenes11 and its first use against Hipparchus, son of Charmus, after Marathon
has been met with varying skepticism and ingenuity, but an attractive solution

6. According to [Arist.] Ath. Pol. 43.5, at the same meeting preliminary complaints were
brought against sycophants and deceivers of the dēmos; see Christ 1992. For the lack of discussion,
see [Andoc.] 4.3.
7. See below. Plut. Alc. 7.4: να τπον τ ς γορς περιπεφραγμνον ν κκλω δρυφκτοις.
Poll. Onom. 8.20: περισχοινσαντας δ τι τ ς γορς μρος . . . ες τ ν περιορισθντα τπον.
8. Philochorus FGrHist 328 F30; Sch. on Arist. Eq. 855.
9. This may be depicted on a red-figure vase by the Pan Painter (Oxford 1911.617); see Siewert
2002: T4.
10. Calderini 1945: 38–39.
11. [Arist.] Ath. Pol. 22.1 and 3; Ael. VH 13.24; Philochorus FGrHist 328 F30; Sch. Ar. Eq.
855; Diod. Sic. 11.55.1 (implicitly).

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124 classical antiquity Volume 34 / No. 1 / April 2015

is provided by Vaticanus Graecus 1144.12 This fifteenth-century miscellany of

kulturgeschichtliche items includes an unparalleled but internally consistent report
of Cleisthenes’ introduction of a proto-ostracism process: each member of the
boulē, having deliberated for a number of days, would inscribe on an ostrakon the
name of whichever citizen he wished to exile and throw this sherd into an enclosure
within the Bouleuterion; whoever received two hundred or more votes would be
required to leave Athens for ten years, retaining usufruct of their property. At
a later stage, perhaps under the influence of Themistocles and certainly by the
time of the ostracism of Hipparchus, the practice was relocated from the boulē
to the dēmos.13
Most, if not all, ancient and modern discussions of the institution have iso-
lated one moment—the expulsion of a citizen for ten years—as the telos of the
process and so telescoped into this ostracism’s entire significance. Accordingly,
ostracism has been interpreted as a weapon of removal, serving to safeguard
the new democratic constitution by banishing from the community those who
would most endanger it, whether the friends and family of the Peisistratid tyrants,
medizing or overweening aristocrats, or factional leaders. From this perspective,
as argued most insightfully by Sara Forsdyke, ostracism was a secular, rational,
political tool that filled the niche once occupied in the archaic period by intra-
aristocratic exilings.14 Such a mode of interpretation ultimately derives from
Aristotle’s comparative constitutional inquiries, in which the removal of superla-
tive or outstanding elements, “the rule of proportion,” is identified as common
to all politeiai, whether the Argonauts expelling Heracles, the kings of Persia
humbling the Babylonians, Greek tyrants lopping off “the tallest ears of wheat,”
or democracies ostracizing their most influential citizens.15 But such focus on the
single, generalizable fact of expulsion overlooks two things. First, unlike other
forms of exile, the return of the politician was an explicit and necessary part of the
ostracism institution, albeit sometimes unfulfilled. Put schematically, ostracism,
focalized on the targeted politician, has not the double home-away structure of
banishment but the triple structure of a rite de passage—separation, marginal-
ity, and reaggregation16 —that transforms a dangerous or treacherous politician
into a safe member of the Athenian community.17 Second, and more importantly,

12. McCargar 1976; Develin 1977; Pecorella Longo 1980.

13. See Lehmann 1981, Hall 1989, and Doenges 1996.
14. Forsdyke 2005. Needless to say, “secular,” “rational,” and “political” are each much disputed
terms; they are used in this paper to characterize a rational-choice analytic model of ostracism which
assumes that the electoral preferences of voters are motivated exclusively by the electoral outcomes
which their participation generated; see Schuessler 2000.
15. Arist. Pol. 1284a-b.
16. The terms are those of Turner 1969: 94–95, adapting van Gennep 1960.
17. [Andoc.] 4.5 responds directly to this idea—if a citizen is exiled because he was bad
(πονηρς), leaving Athens will not cure him (ο#τος ο$δ% πελθ&ν νθνδε πασεται). Note that
Calame 1999 has cautioned against the reductionism and over-simplicity of van Gennep’s model;
but it remains helpful as an ideal classification of processual rites.

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kosmin: A Phenomenology of Democracy 125

the functionalist reduction of ostracism to expulsion bypasses all the supposedly

irrational, overly formalized, and superfluous elements of the institution.18 The
removal of a dangerous citizen by communal vote could have been achieved in
far simpler ways. Both the ancient evidence (the ostraka above all) and modern
anthropological theory suggest that the enactment of the ostracism procedure,
the mass ceremonial in all its processual, expressive, emotional, and embodied
strangeness, was as important as the expulsion which it sometimes prompted. An
analysis of ostracism, especially the ostrakophoria, as a political ritual can illumi-
nate the procedure and, more generally, shed light on the practices and mental
categories with which the Athenian citizenry made sense of the new democratic
While the hermeneutic of ritual makes ostracism more amenable to scrutiny,
it assumes a particular methodological stance. On the one hand, it requires ex-
tending a frame of analysis developed for social moments that possessed both
particular morphological characteristics (stylization, staging, repetition, a collec-
tive dimension, etc.) and supernatural referents (religious or magical) to those
with the formal element alone or primarily. On the other hand, it must move
beyond the theorization of long-established rituals in long-existing societies, with
the Durkheimian emphasis on social maintenance and homeostasis that follows, to
an examination of newly-crafted procedures that self-consciously proclaim their
novelty. Fortunately, both political and invented procedures have been the object
of effective ritual analysis over the past couple of decades.19 Useful analogies
for thinking about ostracism range from the political ceremonies created for the
new states of the global South to non-traditional spiritual movements like Sci-
entology or Fang Reformative Cult; the rituals in each case, while straight off
the typewriter, were promulgated with the expectation of permanence. Such an
approach is further validated if we follow Catherine Bell in considering ritual
as not a clearly delineated and autonomous category of traditional social life,
but a strategic way of acting (“ritualization”) that can be deliberately adopted to
differentiate or privilege particular moments and activities.20 The three key ingre-
dients of ritualization—symbolic objects, prescribed gestures, and a distinguished
location—are present throughout ostracism, most evidently in the ostrakophoria.
In the following analysis, I will explore the multiple intentions and levels of
experience or representation that are unified around each of these constituent

18. These were dismissed by Carcopino 1935: 6 as “les détails pittoresques.” For theoretical
criticisms of functionalism, see Rappaport 1979: 43–96. On “ritual involution,” see Tambiah 1985:
19. The edited volume of Moore and Myerhoff 1977 was crucial; see also Kertzer 1988 and
Bell 1997: 128–35.
20. Bell 1992.

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126 classical antiquity Volume 34 / No. 1 / April 2015


The iconic object of ostracism, after which the entire procedure was named,
was the ostrakon, or potsherd, on which an Athenian participating in the os-
trakophoria would inscribe the name of his target. These potsherds are typically
treated as mere pragmatic text-bearers: banal, quotidian, and culturally invisible
planes for the words inscribed upon them.21 In fact, certain surviving ostraka and
ancient descriptions of their use indicate that, at least for some participants, they
were symbolically meaningful in themselves. As symbols, they demonstrate both
a multivocality of association and an economy of reference in clustering these
into a single object.22
Even before they were written upon, the genesis of ostraka and their ob-
servable, tactile properties made them appropriate symbols for ostracism. While
many ostraka were recycled pieces of accidentally broken vases, it is clear that at
least some were specifically generated for a particular ostrakophoria by smashing
vessels in advance or on site in the Agora.23 The violent gesture that broke up a
ceramic vessel transformed a single, smooth-surfaced, and in some cases beautiful
container into a multitude of sharp, jagged-edged sherds. The smashing was an
audibly brittle and visibly immediate crash. It was irreversible. It is no surprise,
therefore, that the breaking of a pot was a common metaphor in the wider ancient
world for human mortality, urban violence, and even earthly cataclysm.24 On
occasion, the pot-smash was used in rites of magical annihilation, as in Mid-
dle Kingdom Egypt’s execration vases, which were inscribed with the names of
targeted enemies of the state and then broken.25 Still today we can recognize
the concentration of emotions and their immediate release in acts as common as
the smashing of a child’s clay piggy-bank or as considered as Ai Weiwei’s 1995
Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn.
That pot-smashing held symbolic significance for Athenian ostracism is nicely
illustrated by two non-joining ostraka, targeting Megacles, son of Hippocrates,
that come from a single red-figure vase of the Pistoxenus painter. One of these
ostraka (Fig. 1) identifies its target as Megakl[es], the name scratched on the inside
surface; yet on the other side of the same sherd we find the phrase, painted in glaze
during the vase’s manufacture, Meg[akles] | kalo[s] (“Meg[acles] is handsome”).
The dating of the vessel requires that this handsome Megacles, honored in this

21. See, e.g., the recent discussion of Missiou 2011: 41–84.

22. Turner 1962 and 1967: 19–43.
23. Several ostraka join together; though inscribed with different names they come from the
same vessel (Siewert 2002: 72–76).
24. E.g., Ecclesiastes 12:6, The Lamentation over the Destruction of Sumer and Ur (“in Ur,
people were smashed as if they were clay pots”), Death of Gilgamesh (“For six days, Gilgamesh
lay ill like a shattered pot”); see Foster 2010: 143–45. See Diehl 1964: 146 on the deliberate breaking
of hydria for child burials and Vinken 1958 on the broken vase as a figure for female loss of virginity
and male impotence.
25. Pritchard 1958: 225; Posener 1966: 277–79; Weiss 1969: 150–51; Faraone 1991a: 174–75
and 1993: 78–79; Redford 1992: 87–89.

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kosmin: A Phenomenology of Democracy 127

way by the vase’s maker, be the politician’s homonymous son.26 In other words, at
least two citizens, wishing to target Megacles, deliberately selected a sympotic
vessel which already contained his name and advertised his son’s noble good
looks, smashed it (perhaps accompanied with hostile pronouncements), inscribed
his name on the sherds, and used those pieces in the ostrakophoria. By necessity,
only one of these ostraka could carry the original dipinto, the fortunate survival of
which allows us to reconstruct this episode, but the significance of the ritualized
destruction may have carried over to all the sherds that originally came from
this vase. It is possible that such self-conscious selection and destruction of
vessels was much more common than we can ever know. The targeting of
ostracized politicians in this mode—first destroying a citizen’s praise-object and
then reusing the material against the same person—is attested elsewhere: for
instance, the bronze statue dedicated on the Athenian Acropolis by the first target
of demotic ostracism, Hipparchus, son of Charmus, was melted down after the
ostrakophoria and turned into a stele, on which, beginning with his own, the names
of the city’s traitors or ostracized politicians were inscribed.27 The symbolism of
the shattered vase is recognized in a fragment of a lost play by Aristophanes,
where one speaker says to the other, “What shall I do with you, you devil
(kakodaimon), you ostracized sherd of amphora (amphoreus exostrakistheis)?”28
With only this line preserved the precise significance of the figure is obscure, but
it is plausible that the addressee, perhaps the ostracized politician Thucydides
or Hyperbolus, is identified in his misfortune with the ceramic vessel broken up
for the ostrakophoria.29 Similarly, a proverb preserved by the imperial-period
grammarian Diogenianus may confirm this: kerameus anthrōpos, a pottery man,
means someone who is “cracked” (epi tou sathrou), i.e. unsound, impotent, or,
appropriately enough for ostracism, treacherous.30
Moreover, the shape and texture of the potsherds made them ideal hand-
weapons. Two lawcourt speeches indicate that they could be used to maim and
kill personal enemies.31 Such violent associations of ostraka’s materiality were
well suited to the aggression and personal hatreds of the ostracism procedure,
even if the targeted politicians were not physically attacked with the sherds.
The late antique lexicon of Hesychius of Alexandria refers to ostracism as the

26. Willemsen 1991; Siewert 2002: T1/87.

27. Lycurg. Leocr. 117–18. On this passage, see Connor 1985: 92 and Schreiner 1970.
28. τ δ' σο( δρσω, κακδαιμον, μφορε)ς | ξοστρακισθες; Ar. F661 (KA) = Plut. Comp.
Ar. et Men. 853c. Siewert 2002: T13.
29. The number of small drinking-vessel bases used as ostraka—for example, 122 of the 191
famous Themistocles ostraka found in 1937 on the north slope of the Akropolis were kylix feet (see
Missiou 2011: 60)—raises the possibility (it is nothing more) that the “decapitation” of these cups
for use in the ostrakophoria was a moment of marked significance; it is striking that Arist. Pol.
1284a compares ostracism to Periander’s snapping off the tops of the highest ears of wheat.
30. Diogenianus Paroemiae s.v. κεραμε)ς +νθρωπος.
31. Lys. 3.27–28 and 4.6–7. On the use of ostraka as weapons in Athenian law, see Phillips
2007: 74–105.

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128 classical antiquity Volume 34 / No. 1 / April 2015

keramikē mastix, “the pottery whip”;32 the phrase, perhaps originating as an

Old Comedy joke, nicely captures the skin-tearing qualities of the ostrakon, the
gestures associated with its casting (see below), and the sublimated violence of
the entire procedure. Indeed, these physical characteristics of ostraka may explain
why they were considered appropriate for the casting of hostile magical spells.33
Old Comedy identifies a more playful association of the ostrakon. An Athe-
nian children’s chase-game, ostrakinda, used a potsherd, black on one side, termed
“Night,” red or white on the other, “Day,” as its main token. Athenian boys would
divide themselves into two groups, Night and Day, separated by a line drawn
in the dust. The ostrakon would be tossed into the middle and, depending on
which of the colors landed face up, one team would chase after the other. The first
member of the pursued team to be caught was made to sit down and named onos,
“the donkey.”34 The game is explicitly linked with ostracism in a fragment of the
comic poet Plato’s Alliance and in Aristophanes’ Knights.35 In the latter passage,
the Sausage-Seller tells personified Demos that he need but frown and look for
a game of ostrakinda, and Cleon and his associates “at night (nuktōr), running
(theontes) to seize the shields [won from the Spartans at Sphacteria and dedicated
in the Stoa Poikile in the Agora], would occupy the entrances (tas eisbolas) of our
grain.” Demos’ ostrakinda is clearly intended to recall ostracism and the lines
skilfully interweave the language of the children’s game—ostrakinda, “night,”
“running”—with the terminology and location of ostracism and conspiracy—the
hostility of the dēmos, the prospective treason of Cleon, the Agora location, the
eisbolai through which grain arrived at the city and also the ten tribes entered the
Agora for ostrakophoriai. The association of the two potsherd-based activities
(political ritual and children’s game) is recognized in an ostrakon excavated from
the Kerameikos, which identifies the intended target of an ostrakophoria as the
captured victim of ostrakinda—Agasias Lamptreus onos, “Agasias, of the deme
Lamptrae, the donkey.”36 The suitability of the game’s association for ostracism
lies in its enactment of division, selection and abuse of a victim, arbitrariness,37
and, above all, the materiality of the potsherd.
All of these associations derived from the ostraka themselves, even before
anything had been written on them: any ostrakon predicated a unity which had
been broken and continued to manifest the violence of this destructive act.

32. Hsch. s.v. κεραμικ- μστιξ (= Adespota F363 KA).

33. Collins 2008: 66; see, e.g., PGM CXXIV.1–43. For ostrakon curse-tablets, see Gager 1992:
31n.5 and below.
34. Pollux 9.112; Eust. in Il. 1161.37: . μ'ν τονυν ληφθε(ς τ/ν φευγντων 0νος ο#τος
κθηται. See also Pl. Tht. 146a.
35. Plato Com. F168 KA; Ar. Eq. 855–57 (1στ% ε σ) βριμ3σαιο κα( βλψειας 5στρακνδα,
| νκτωρ καθαρπσαντες 6ν τ7ς σπδας θοντες | τ7ς εσβολ7ς τ/ν λφτων 6ν καταλβοιεν
8μ/ν). See also Plato Phaedrus 241b (5στρκου μεταπεσντος).
36. Bicknell 1986; Siewert 2002: T1/35.
37. Particularly clear in the Plato Comicus passage; see Siewert 2002: T11 and Rosenbloom
2004: 80.

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kosmin: A Phenomenology of Democracy 129

Indeed, it should be noted that the first count at the end of an ostrakophoria,
to determine whether or not the quorum of six thousand had been reached,
deliberately overlooked the ostraka’s inscriptions and so foregrounded their
basic physicality; only at the second count were the names read. One ostrakon
even speaks its political charge from the potsherd’s perspective: “This ostrakon
says. . . .”38
Meaningful in their materiality, ostraka were turned into more complex
symbol-bearers by the inscription of words or images. The most basic and
commonly attested addition to ostraka was the name, sometimes with patronymic
and/or demotic, of the targeted citizen. Labeling the potsherd in this way was
the pragmatic means for the ballot to weigh against the selected politician in the
second count at the end of an ostrakophoria (if the quorum had been surpassed).
But the inscribing of a name on a sherd had, at least for some participants,
significant associations derived from other practices.
Named ostraka recall the tokens that could be used in sortition or lot-taking to
identify a politician or leader. For instance, Ajax was identified as the Achaean
champion by the selection of his marked or named lot.39 Plutarch reports that
the Thessalians asked the Delphic priestess to select their king from a number
of beans on each of which a different name had been written.40 On the basis of
several seventh- and sixth-century potsherds inscribed with names, sometimes of
known aristocrats like Peisistratus or Aristion and found in the Agora or on the
Acropolis, it has been suggested that an early, pre-Cleisthenic ostrakon-based lot
was used at Athens.41 A lot oracle at Delphi, precise details unclear, may have
used similar name-bearing tokens.42 Certainly, the bean-lot for the selection of
the city’s archons, the officials who presided over the ostrakophoria, was first
used in 487/6, the second year of demotic ostracism.43 The full significance of this
will become clear below, where we will see that the gestures of ostraka-casting
evoked lot-taking or diagnosis rites; but, by itself, the formal similarity of the
name-bearing ostrakon to a lot token could gather to it some of the significance of
divinely sanctioned identification.44
To be identified in sortition or lot-taking was, for the most part, either
positive or neutral; but an ostrakon used in ostracism was intended to harm

38. Siewert 2002: T1/153 ([τδε] φεσ(ν . . . τ0στρακ[ον]); see below.

39. Hom. Il. 7.175–76.
40. Plut. De fraterno amore 21 492a-b. She chose the bean representing Aleuas the Red,
eponymous founder of the Aleuadae of Larissa and political organizer of Thessaly (see Helly 1995:
41. Vanderpool 1949: 405–407; Mossé and Schnapp Gourbeillon 1998: 50.
42. Philochorus FGrHist 328 F195; Callim. Hymn 2.45; Hsch. s.v. θρια; Steph. Byz. s.v. θρια;
see Eidinow 2007: 35–36.
43. [Arist.] Ath. Pol. 22.5; see Raaflaub 1998: 44–45. Rhodes 1981: 274 suggests that the new
procedure may have been introduced in the previous year, that of the first known ostracism.
44. The most explicit statement is Pl. Leg. 6.759c. On the combination of randomness and
divine sanction in sortition procedures, see Stewart 1998 and Johnston 2003.

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130 classical antiquity Volume 34 / No. 1 / April 2015

the named individual. Accordingly, there is a more important formal connection,

of the name-inscribed potsherd to the magical curse-tablet.45 In the most general
terms, ostraka and curse-tablets were each technologies for the manifestation of
individualized, interpersonal antipathy through the inscribing and manipulation
of a small, hand-held writing-surface. While the dominant medium for curse-
tablets was lead, ceramic potsherds were also used, some of which are, on first
sight, indistinguishable from ostracism’s ostraka.46 Such curse-ostraka were not
only synchronous with Athenian ostracism—appearing in Sicily and the Greek
mainland in the early fifth century47 —but even, it seems, deliberately emulated by
some participants in the ostrakophoria. The association operates on two levels.
First, fundamental to the inscribing of curse-tablet and ostrakon was a be-
lief in the metonymic power of naming. The vast majority of both ostraka and
classical curse-tablets carry only the target’s name; even when lengthier phrases
are used the name is given first.48 It has been demonstrated of curse-tablets that
this very name-writing was a charged moment of spite, transference, and self-
communication, in terms of the sharp cutting gestures of scratching letters on
lead or ceramic and the verbal curses or injunctions that accompanied them.49
Scratching with a sharp point, such as was used to inscribe ostraka, appears in
Phrynichus’ fragmentary Ephialtes as a metaphor for the Athenian youth who
would nastily mock their fellow citizens in the Agora: “holding some point in
their fingers . . . wandering about the Agora . . . scratching with deep scratches
those to whom they were formerly pleasant.”50 Moreover, the curse was sympa-
thetically enacted or reinforced by the scrambling or retrograde writing of the
target’s name;51 curling the inscribed name or phrase into a circle has also been
recognized as some kind of magical act.52 Many ostraka share these features,
indicating that name-writing had a more than pragmatic significance. Like early
curse-tablets, citizens’ names on ostraka are found in the accusative and dative
cases as well as the more standard nominative, implying that the moment of

45. This has been observed in passing by, among others, Ogden 1997: 142; Rosenbloom 2004:
337; Forsdyke 2005: 157–58; Collins 2008: 65.
46. Some curses were even inscribed on the circular kylix feet, a preferred type of ostracism
ostrakon (see n.29 above). Gager 1992: 4. Lebedev 1996a and 1996b.
47. Jeffery 1955: 72–76. The binding spell in Aeschylus’ Eumenides (staged in 458 bce) assumes
public familiarity with their use; see Faraone 1985: 152 and Eidinow 2007: 141.
48. Audollent 1904: l; Gager 1992: 5.
49. Steiner 1994: 71–75; Collins 2008: 4. Verbs of cursing or binding were frequently com-
pounds of graphō. On the importance of individual autocommunication, even in collective ritual, see
Rappaport 1979: 178.
50. Phrynichus Ephialtes F3 (= Ath. 165b): 9χουσι γρ τι κντρον ν το:ς δακτλοις,
| μισνθρωπον +νθος ;βης< | ε=θ% 8δυλογο>σιν ?πασιν ε( κατ7 τ-ν γορ7ν περιντες. | π(
το:ς βθροις @ταν Aσιν, κε: τοτοις οBς 8δυλογο>σιν | μεγλας μυχ7ς καταμξαντες κα(
συγκψαντες ?παντες γελ/σιν. With such imagery and location, is this a joke about the practices of
the ostrakophoria?
51. Gager 1992: 5; there are several examples of jumbled spelling in Jordan 1985.
52. Lebedev 1996a and 1996b.

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kosmin: A Phenomenology of Democracy 131

their inscribing or casting was accompanied with some kind of aggressive or

disadvantaging verbal pronouncement;53 we will see below that even nominative-
case names could be integrated into performative speech-acts. Moreover, the
politicians’ names are often written backwards or in circles, even where this is
not demanded by the shape of the potsherd.54 Such meaningfulness of writing
is confirmed by the deliberate erasure of certain names or adjectives, presum-
ably as a kind of “persuasive analogy” for destruction.55 For instance, in the
480s an Athenian inscribed on his potsherd the name Boutalion in the accusative
case (so the object of a verb), scratched a couple of horizontal lines through
it, and then, to secure the identification for counting, rewrote the name and
added the demotic.56 A carefully inscribed four-line ostrakon against Megacles,
found in the Kerameikos, gave the politician’s name (in the accusative case), his
patronymic, his demotic, and then, just visible on the final line, the adjective
aleitēron, “accursed”; each letter of this word has been separately and carefully
scratched away (Fig. 2).57 An ostrakon targeting Callias, son of Cratias, calls
him a Mede (Mēdos), but scratches out the first three letters of this treacherous
ethnic identifier.58 For a culture familiar with the significance of the hostile writ-
ing of names, the famous tale in Plutarch, where Aristides inscribes an ostrakon
with his own name on behalf of an illiterate peasant who does not recognize
him, may illustrate not merely the uprightness of this most just of Athenians
when asked to ostracize himself, but also a memorable act of auto-imprecation;59
note that the anecdote is immediately followed by another description of Aris-
tides’ selfless self-exile, when, departing from Athens following the ostrakopho-
ria, he raises his hands in prayer that the dēmos need have no occasion to be
reminded of him.
Second, several ostraka bear additional words or magical symbols that, while
superfluous to the political name-count of ballots, were evidently considered
worthwhile and efficacious within the broader social context of the ostrakophoria.
In certain cases, this was the channeling of a private grudge, keenly felt, in no way
publicly significant, and in consequence mysterious to the modern historian: land

53. Brenne 1994: 23 gives the proportions as 87.4% nominative, 9.8% dative, 2.7% accusative,
and 0.1% genitive.
54. See, for example, Lang 1990: #114, 117, 127, 300, 305, 542, 751, 762, 816, 1049, and
1053. One ostrakon from the Agora (Siewert 2002: T1/141), for a certain Myrrhinicus, breaks up the
name in an intriguing and apparently deliberate way (Μυρρ|νικος | Dτο | Μυρ). Nothing seems to
have broken off the edge or bottom of the ostrakon. It is unlikely that mur is an abbreviation for
the deme-names Myrrhinoutta or Myrrhinous, as these usually follow immediately after the name
and before any verbal injunction. Perhaps the idea was that victory, nikē, is taken from Myrrhinicus.
55. Pace Siewert 2002: 153–54.
56. Lang 1990: #89 (with Fig. 4).
57. Siewert 2002: T1/93. On the significance of the adjective, see Hatch 1908: 157–62.
58. Siewert 2002: T1/48.
59. Plut. Arist. 7.7–8. The anecdote is usually invoked in discussions of vicarious literacy; see,
e.g., Missiou 2011: 59.

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132 classical antiquity Volume 34 / No. 1 / April 2015

disputes,60 interpersonal conflicts,61 and other things we cannot begin to identify.

Such resentments may explain the so-called “scatter-vote,” i.e., individual ostraka
cast against unknown and obscure Athenians, which stood no chance of expelling
their target but nonetheless satisfied some social-psychological function. We
are dealing with the very same face-to-face, intensely competitive world in
which curse-tablets were deployed.62 This is confirmed by the explicitly magical
signs that appear on some ostraka. Inscribed on one, in the line between the
name Hippocrates and his patronymic Alcmaeonides, are the three letters or
symbols N N N, meaningless except as magic;63 an ostrakon against Callixenus
bears, among other symbols, a drawing of a mullet, a fish associated with
Hecate and the dead (Fig. 3);64 the Eumenides (Euneides or Eumeides) may
be invoked in another;65 one seems to begin with the imprecation ma tisin s’,
“Yes! Vengeance against you” or equivalent.66 A small number of ostraka
contain profile portraits, much as one finds on curse-tablets, embedding the
target more deeply into the sherd and so making its sympathetic manipulation
(see below) all the more effective.67 One particularly horrific ostrakon (Fig.
4), cast against Megacles, depicts him as a corpse, lying dead on the ground,68
either sublimating a violent hostility into the ostracism ballot or intending this
image, in the manner of black-magic figurines, to have some kind of analogical
While these features indicate the use of ostraka as therapeutic responses to
personal anxieties or resentments, additional accusations point to more public
concerns. A number of ostraka, especially from the 480s (between the first
and second Persian invasions), accuse political targets of treason and medism,
directly (e.g., “Callixenus, the traitor,” “Against the medizing Habronichus,
of the deme Lamptrae”) or by asserted ethnic or kinship link (e.g., “Callias,
the Mede,” “Arist—, the brother of Datis”).69 Some of these charges are also
illustrated on ostraka, depicting, for example, Callias in the costume of a Persian
archer or Callixenus with the beard and crown of the Great King (Fig. 3).70

60. Siewert 2002: T1/112 against Megacles δρυμE hνεκα (“on account of the copse”);
perhaps also T1/109 and T1/110, again against Megacles, πρας hνεκα (“on account of the
(land?) beyond”).
61. Siewert 2002: T1/86 against Megacles FΡοκω χριν (“for the sake of Rhoecus”).
62. Faraone 1991b; Riess 2012: 164–234.
63. Siewert 2002: T1/43; on such Konsonantenreihen, see Delatte 1913: 247–48 and Dornseiff
1925: 60–61.
64. Siewert 2002: T1/157, see Consogno 2005: 352–53 and Apollodorus FGrHist 244 F109
= Ath. 7.325a-b.
65. Siewert 2002: T1/114.
66. Siewert 2002: T1/42; Raubitschek (in Vanderpool 1949: 403) thought it equivalent to ς
κρακας. See Hall 1989: 98 on these “imprecations of a plainly sacral character.”
67. Siewert 2002: T1/156–64.
68. Siewert 2002: T1/159.
69. Siewert 2002: T1/65, 41, 50–55, and 37, respectively.
70. Siewert 2002: T1/156 and T1/157; see Brenne 1992: 178–82.

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kosmin: A Phenomenology of Democracy 133

Other accusations include financial dishonesty and sorcery.71 Importantly, these

crimes—tyranny, treason, medism, abuse of authority, and magic—are precisely
those publicly condemned by priests or magistrates with officially intoned curses at
political gatherings, sacrifices, and festivals throughout the Greek world.72 In early
fifth-century Teos, for instance, the city’s Timouchoi pronounced curses against
those who used poisons, interfered with grain imports, conducted or condoned
piracy, betrayed the territory, or worked in some way against the polis.73 In Athens,
a similar commination text was recited at every assembly and council meeting,
condemning medism, tyranny, and subversion of the laws.74 Ostracism shares with
these public curses a protective function, a prospective (rather than retrospective)
temporality, and internal (rather than foreign) targets, but the potsherd technology
allows a double individuation: on the one hand, each citizen, rather than the priests
or magistrates representing them, can condemn these acts of public betrayal and,
on the other, specific targets can be identified by name.
That some Athenians considered inscribing (and casting out, see below)
ostraka magically or symbolically efficacious is corroborated by eight ostracism
sherds excavated from the Kerameikos. On these we find, instead of the name of a
fellow citizen or dominant politican, the word limos, “Hunger” or “hunger,” in
the nominative and accusative cases, twice the object of the verb ostrakidō, “I
ostracize,” once, intriguingly, termed eupatridēs, “nobly born” or “aristocratic.”75
Food-shortage was, of course, a constant Greek concern and those who contributed
to it were the target of law cases76 and, as we have seen above, curses. In addition,
apotropaic rituals were used to expel personified Hunger: Plutarch describes how
the inhabitants of his home city of Chaeronia would drive a chosen slave out of
the house, beating him with branches, while saying “Get out Hunger (Boulimon)!
Come in Wealth and Health!”;77 an imperial-period inscription from Termessus in
Lycia praises a certain Onoratus for protecting the grain supply and “pursuing
hunger into the sea,” perhaps indicating a similar such ritual;78 Athens seems to
have dedicated a plain in Attica in propitiation of Hunger.79 These ostraka indicate
that at least eight citizens considered the potsherd a suitable technology and the

71. Megacles is accused of being philarguros, “silver-loving” (Siewert 2002: T1/111). Leagrus
is termed a baskanos, “sorcerer” (Siewert 2002: T1/72), and melas, “dark” (Siewert 2002: T1/73); see
Buxton 2013: 60–71 on the possible implications of melas. Crates is given the sobriquet Phrynondas
(Siewert 2002: T1/69), a name associated with magic and sorcery (see Phillips 1990: 129–33).
72. On these politikai arai, see Vallois 1914, Ziebarth 1985, and Parker 1996: 192–96.
73. ML 30; SEG 45 1628; see Herrmann 1981.
74. Dem. 19.70 and 20.107; Isoc. Paneg. 157; Ar. Thesm. 331–71 (in parody); see also Din.
2.16 on curses against bribe-takers.
75. Siewert 2002: T1/75–81.
76. E.g., Lys. 22 (against the grain-dealers).
77. Plut. Quaest. conviv. 693f: 9ξω Βολιμον 9σω δ' Πλο>τον κα( FΥγειαν. Note the
description of ostracism as the keramikē mastix, above. See Herter 1950: 117–18.
78. TAM III.1 103 ll.6–7: δωξε γ7ρ ες ?λα λιμν.
79. Zenobius 4.93, Diogenianus 6.13, and Apostol. 10.69 (Λιμο> πεδον). For personified
Hunger at Sparta, see Polyaenus Strat. 2.15 and Callisthenes FGrHist 124 F13 = Ath. 10.452a-b.

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134 classical antiquity Volume 34 / No. 1 / April 2015

ostrakophoria an appropriate moment for such an act of symbolic expulsion.

Dismissed by Brenne as “wasted votes,”80 these sherds are in fact evidence for the
bottom-up interpretation or co-option of the new democratic ceremony to relieve
an ancient and deeply felt anxiety.
Far from being banal writing-surfaces for a rational, political process, os-
traka seem to have been treated by at least some Athenians as ritual symbols,
both in their genesis-in-violence and in the way that inscribing them could sym-
pathetically manifest personal or public hostility. That is to say, the coherence
of object, function, and symbol made ostraka as appropriate to expressive, af-
fective satisfactions as to narrowly instrumental objectives. Even if the evidence
for this comes from a small proportion of excavated ostraka, it can suggest the
emotions and oral pronouncements that may commonly have accompanied the
more simply inscribed majority. Indeed, precisely because ostracism was a de-
signed, self-consciously artificial procedure, we can expect the ostrakon to have
achieved its symbolic charge by involving associations beyond its immediate
role in the ostrakophoria.81 It is crucial to recognize that individual ostraka,
which is really to say individual Athenian citizens, show considerable variation
in their associative conceptualization of ostracism, ranging from a children’s game
and hunger-expulsion to private black magic and public imprecation. In a 1965
study of Bwiti Reformative Cult in the northern Gabon, a post-independence
deliberate reworking of Fang ancestral religion, anthropologist James Fernandez
demonstrated that, despite all participants testifying to the efficacy of the new
cult’s rituals, there was considerable variation in the individual interpretation of
commonly experienced phenomena. For instance, the ngombi, or native harp,
the central object of Bwiti cult, meant nothing beyond a musical instrument to
some informants, a representative of the female element in the universe to oth-
ers, and a complex configuration of mythic symbols to still others.82 Like Bwiti,
ostracism, especially in its first decade, performed a number of different purposes
and allowed individuals to select those that most suited their temperaments and
spoke to their condition. Consensus lay neither in shared political targets—for
ostracism encouraged the individuation of political opinion—nor in a common
interpretation of the procedure, but in the imposed, and therefore synthesizing,
technology through which a congeries of intentions was made manifest.

80. Brenne 1994: 21.

81. See, e.g., Turner 1961 and 1962 on the subtle web of associations called up by commonplace
symbols in Ndembu ritual and Versnel 2006 on the culturally ingrained, spontaneous associations
of Greek ritual.
82. Fernandez 1965.

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kosmin: A Phenomenology of Democracy 135


Once the pots had been smashed and the ostraka inscribed, whether with
a politician’s name, additional magical symbols, or even “Hunger,” they were
carried by all participants into the Agora. The ostraka were then cast across a
barrier—the ballistic verb rhiptō, “I throw,” is used—into a circular enclosure.83
This expulsive casting of ostraka was a regular kinetic movement, a marked,
significant gesture within individual and collective frames of reference.
We have seen, above, that the inscribing of a name or portrait onto the ostrakon
turned the sherd into a metonymic bearer of the targeted person (or personifica-
tion): one Athenian could even write on the ostrakon he took to the barrier, “I
am carrying (pherō) Megacles,” totally assimilating potsherd and politician.84
Embedding the target’s identity in the ostrakon meant that its manipulation could
intensify and sympathetically enact the inscriber’s purpose. Several inscriptions
on ostraka indicate the symbolic force of the throwing gesture: “Cimon, son of
Miltiades, should get out of here (itō), and take (your sister) Elpinice with you!”85
“Megacles, son of Hippocrates, should flee (pheugetō)!”86 “Megacles, son of Hip-
pocrates, out with him again (echsō eiseltheis)! But not to Eretria!”87 “Callixenus,
son of Aristonymus, should go (ioi)!”88 “Myrrhinicus should go (itō), Myr-!”89
“Themistocles, son of Neocles, should go (itō)!”90 and even “[I?] expel (pheu–)
Hunger!”91 As before, it is likely that these expulsive verbs indicate what was
regularly spoken or shouted over the majority of ostraka that bear the targets’
names alone. The same third-person imperative, itō, “he should go!,” appears on
an ostracism ostrakon from the Tauric Chersonese, pointing to the ubiquity of the
injunction.92 The casting away from the citizen and over a barrier was a gesture
that precisely paralleled the orders inscribed on, and presumably spoken over,
the ostrakon: action and utterance are different sides of a single analogous act.93
Presumably, the varying violence of the gesture and volume of the injunction gave

83. Throw: Tzetz. Chil. 13.449 (ρρπτουν); Vat. Graec. 1144 (Lπτειν ες τ το> βουλευτηρου
περφραγμα). Note that the same verb was also used of ostrakinda, the children’s game identified
with ostracism (Pollux 9.112: . δ' Lπτων τ 0στρακον πιλγει “ν)ξ 8μρα”). Barrier: Pollux
8.19 (τ ν περιορισθντα τπον); Plut. Ar. 7.4 (να τπον τ ς γορς περιπεφραγμνον ν κκλω
δρυφκτοις). According to Vat. Graec. 1144, bouleutic ostraka were cast into a similar enclosure (τ
το> βουλευτηρου περφραγμα).
84. Siewert 2002: T1/84.
85. Siewert 2002: T1/67; on the incest accusation, see below.
86. Siewert 2002: T1/85.
87. Siewert 2002: T1/94.
88. Consogno 2005: 349 (P17772).
89. Siewert 2002: T1/141.
90. Siewert 2002: T1/43–46.
91. Siewert 2002: T1/81.
92. Vinogradov and Zolotarev 1999: #7; Schirripa, Lentini, and Cordano 2012: 125.
93. See Corbeill 2004: 3 on how linked gestures and spoken utterances derive from a single,
underlying mental process.

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136 classical antiquity Volume 34 / No. 1 / April 2015

public expression, in a way not possible for a hand-vote or secret ballot, to the
intensity of an individual’s opinion.94
This expulsive verbalized gesture shares the forms and behavior of Greek
sympathetic magic, according to which a marked action was performed while
an incantation projected this activity onto the absent victim. As Christopher
Faraone has demonstrated, “in most cases the similia similibus formula employs
a third-person imperative or optative”;95 these are the precise verbal forms we
have on the ostraka. In addition, the words and gestures of this political ritual
are strikingly close to apotropaic formulae used across the Greek world against
illness, hunger, demons, and ghosts:96 “Go out (exō), Hunger!”97 “To the door
(thuraze), ghosts!”98 “Flee, flee (pheuge pheug’), leave (iou) bile!”99 If we recall
the “I(?) expel Hunger” sherd, cast at the Athenian ostrakophoria, it is evident
that the new political ritual is situated, for at least some Athenians, within a similar
While the individual’s casting of his ostrakon can be assimilated to sym-
pathetic magic, the simultaneous throwing by a crowd of citizens held different
meanings. Hundreds, if not thousands, of Athenians, gathering from all parts
of Attica around the circular enclosure in the Agora, together cast their ostraka
into the center. This collective activity was charged by deeply rooted chains of
cognition related to group throwing, associations that seem to be of long duration
and close affinity.
The simultaneous throwing of sharp, hard objects by a crowd of citizens ar-
rayed in a circle recalls nothing so much as stoning.100 For ostracism and lapidation
share three fundamental characteristics. First, both were mass-participation ac-
tions that were strongly marked as demotic and ideally enacted (and thereby
witnessed) by a good part of the community. The identification of stoning
with the dēmos is evident in narratives which give the entire population (“the
Athenians,”101 “the Mytileneans,”102 “the Coans,”103 “the Arcadians,”104 etc.) as
the active subject of stoning verbs and in such literary compounds or juxtaposi-
tions as dēmoleuston, “dēmos-stoned,”105 dēmorrhipheis leusimous aras, “dēmos-

94. See Faig 1993: 144 on this effect of the Spartan shout-vote, and Schwartzberg 2010.
95. Faraone 1988: 282.
96. See Rotolo 1980 and Faraone 2004.
97. Plut. Quaest. conviv. 693f.
98. Photius s.v. Θραζε Κρες.
99. Heim 1892: #57 (Alex. Trall. II p.377); see also #58–60 (Marc. 8.193).
100. On stoning, see Pease 1907, Gras 1984, Rosivach 1987, Cantarella 1991: 73–87, Steiner
1995. The connection with ostracism has been noted in passing by Gras 1984: 85 and Rosenbloom
2004: 337.
101. Hdt. 9.5.2.
102. Hdt. 5.38.1.
103. Apollod. Bibl. 2.7.1.
104. Paus. 8.5.13.
105. Soph. Ant. 36 and Lycoph. Alex. 331.

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kosmin: A Phenomenology of Democracy 137

thrown stoning curses,”106 and leustēra dēmou, “the dēmos’ stoning.”107 It is

explicitly understood as a weapon of the weak many, brought about by mutual en-
couragement and reinforcement.108 Second, ostracism and lapidation, as demotic
weapons, were collective regulations of leadership. That is to say, stoning tar-
geted the same kinds of individuals for the same kinds of crime as ostracism:
tyrants or would-be tyrants,109 treacherous leaders,110 medizing politicians,111
magistrates who interfered with the grain supply112 or accepted bribes,113 gen-
erals who did not press their advantage,114 and those guilty of generating sta-
sis.115 Lapidation was the manifestation of demotic opposition to the humiliation
of self-interested leadership, the outrage of abusive authority, and the fear of
treachery and betrayal. Several narratives indicate that it was considered an ap-
propriate punishment only for in-group leaders, not external threats. Third, in
both stoning and ostracism the casting of the ballistic object was linked with
the simultaneous uttering of accusations or curses.116 Danielle Allen has shown
that this was considered an integral part of the lapidation punishment.117 We find
curses and stones combined in such formulations as dēmorrhipheis leusimous
aras, “dēmos-thrown stoning curses,”118 apeilas . . . litholeuston Are, “threats
. . . stony stoning violence,”119 ballein kai boan, “to pelt and to shout,”120 and
mixtaque cum saxis . . . verba mala, “harsh words mixed with stones.”121 We
have already discussed some of the hostile comments inscribed on certain os-
traka—traitor, medizer, silver-lover, sorcerer—and presumably spoken at the
point of inscription and casting. As a comparison, Xenophon describes how his
Greek mercenaries began to stone Dexippus, “proclaiming him ‘the traitor’”
(anakalountes ton prodotēn).122 Other ostrakon accusations, to be examined fur-

106. Aesch. Ag. 1616.

107. Aesch. Sept. 199.
108. For instance, in Eur. IT 331–33 the heroic Orestes and Pylades are surrounded and disarmed
by a greater number of weaker but stone-throwing herdsmen. On mutual encouragement, see, e.g.,
Hdt. 9.5.3, Xen. Anab. 5.7.19 and 5.7.21–23, and Tzetz. Chil. 5.965. On the emotional dynamics
of ritual, see Chaniotis 2006.
109. Hdt. 5.38; Diod. Sic. 3.47.4; Plut. Sol. 12.1; Nicolaus of Damascus F51 (Dindorf); Diog.
Laert. 9.26; Val. Max. 3.3.2; Plut. Sol. 12.1; Tzetz. Chil. 5.965.
110. Aesch. Myrmidons F132; Xen. Anab. 1.3.1–2 and 6.6.7; Sch. Eur. Or. 432; Paus. 8.5.13.
111. Hdt. 9.5.
112. Plut. Parallela minora 313b; also piracy, Apollod. Bibl. 2.7.1.
113. Paus. 8.5.8–9.
114. Thuc. 5.60.6; Diod. Sic. 13.87.4–5; Hyp. Against Autocles F59 and 63 (Jensen).
115. Paus. 2.32.2.
116. See Bers 1985 and Schwartzberg 2010 on Pl. Leg. 876b, where the multitude uses thorybos,
shouts of blame or praise, to compel the acceptance of its values in the assembly, the theatre, the
military encampment, and the lawcourt.
117. Allen 2000: 206; see also Watson 1991: 46–50.
118. Aesch. Ag. 1616.
119. Soph. Aj. 252–254; cf. Eur. Ion 1240
120. Ar. Ach. 353.
121. Prop. 4.5.78.
122. Xen. Anab. 6.6.7.

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138 classical antiquity Volume 34 / No. 1 / April 2015

ther in the next section, included such ridicule as incest (Elpinikēn labōn),123
adultery (moichos),124 impudence or stupidity (aphelēs),125 and being a passive
sexual partner (katapygōn).126 These echo the verbal obscenity, or aischrolo-
gia, that accompanied Athenian stone-throwing festivals.127 Aristotle considered
such abusive language a form of violent aggression, comparable to assault and
These structural similarities between ostracism and lapidation can be seen
at work in the punishment of Lycidas in 479, a paradigmatic case of aggressive
Athenian patriotism. Herodotus reports that, when the Persian Mardonius sent
the Hellespontine Murychides to the Athenian council, evacuated to Salamis,
in order to offer terms of surrender, one of the councillors, Lycidas, alone
proposed that the matter be considered. Herodotus suggests that Lycidas either
had been bribed or was happily medizing. The Athenians in the council and those
outside were so incensed at Lycidas’ betrayal that they surrounded him in a circle
(peristantes) and stoned him to death (kateleusan ballontes); at this great noise
(genomenou thorybou), presumably indicating shouts and curses, the citizens’
wives, one calling on another, then stoned Lycidas’ wife and children. The
foreigner Murychides was allowed to leave unharmed.129 In Lycurgus’ version of
the same event, the councillors removed their crowns of office before the stoning,
thereby acting merely as citizens.130 Lycidas’ crimes—treason and medism—
are among those targeted by ostracism, especially in the five or six successful
interwar ostrakophoriai of the 480s. The stoning is an in-group punishment.
Although the episode takes place on Salamis, to where the Athenians have
evacuated, the stoning outside of the temporary Bouleuterion, where a crowd of
citizens had gathered, schematically reproduces the dynamics (Athenians standing
in a circle, shouting, throwing) and the precise location of the Agora-based
Despite these evident similarities, ostracism, of course, had no tyrant, traitor,
or abusive magistrate physically present at the center of the circle. The violence of
the stoning of Lycidas and his family should be understood as a maximal extreme,
made possible by the wartime setting and the dislocation of the polis to Salamis.
A number of fifth-century sources recognize that stoning was exceptionally

123. Siewert 2002: T1/67.

124. Siewert 2002: T1/106.
125. Siewert 2002: T1/119–30.
126. Siewert 2002: T1/150; Vinogradov and Zolotarev 1999: #8 (in Tauric Chersonese).
127. See Parker 2005: 274; Forsdyke 2008: 48–49; and, related, Hsch. s.v. γεφρις, with Rusten
128. Arist. Eth. Nic. 1131a9, Pol. 1262a27; see Halliwell 1991.
129. Hdt. 9.5.
130. Lycurg. Leocr. 122. Allen 2000: 144 suggests that this was to show that the councilors
did not abuse their magisterial power by punishing beyond their legally prescribed limits.
131. Theodorus Metochites, Miscellanea p. 609 (Müller-Kiessling): Pς Qθροιστο . δ μος
παντθεν ες τ βουλευτ3ριον; see discussion below.

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kosmin: A Phenomenology of Democracy 139

cruel132 and so could be sublimated into functionally equivalent but more civilized
practices. Sublimation and substitution have, of course, been guiding concepts
for ethological or psychological interpretations of Greek sacrifice, ritual, and
games.133 I would suggest that the Greeks understood this political ritual in
a similar framework. So, lapidation could be identified with or transfigured
into democratic voting, encouraged by the shared technology of the psēphos,
“pebble,” used in both demotic practices.134 At the battle of Plataea, for example,
Amompharetus showed his objection to the withdrawal of the Spartan army by
picking up a large stone (petron megan) with both hands, throwing (katabalōn)
it at the feet of Pausanias, and declaring, “This is my vote (psēphon)!”—the threat
of stoning is unexpressed but evident.135 Hipponax and the dramatists frequently
play on the identification between communal decision-making and lapidation.136
Xanthus of Lydia even preserves an appropriate mythic aetiology: when the gods
wanted to punish Hermes for killing Argos, but needed to restrain themselves since
he had acted at Zeus’ behest, they threw their voting pebbles at his feet (instead of
at him) and thereby created the first herm.137 Similarly, the spontaneous lapidation
could be institutionalized: Deinias reports that the Argives located their legal
trials at the very spot where they had stoned to death Melachrus and Cleometra.138
Exile could also be considered a less severe version of stoning.139 If these three
demotic practices—voting, judging, and exile—were recognized as substitutions
for stoning, as the considered and regularized sublimation of spontaneous demotic
violence,140 then I would suggest that we can infer this for the closely related
practice of ostrakophoria as well.
Lapidation was incorporated into two additional forms of demotic violence,
actual or symbolic, with which the casting of ostraka was associated: scapegoat

132. Aesch. Eum. 179–90 lists lapidation alongside such cruel punishments as gouging, amputa-
tion, and beheading, all not to be associated with Apollo and Delphi.
133. See, e.g., Burkert 1983; Mack 1987; Herman 2006: 303–309.
134. See Burkert 1983: 165n.16; Steiner 1995: 193; Hollmann 2012: 9.
135. Plut. Arist. 17.3. Cf. Diod. Sic. 13.87.4–5, who describes the stoning of Acragantine
generals in the city’s ekklēsia.
136. E.g., Hipponax F128 (West): @πως ψηφ:δι 〈κακ S〉 κακ ν ο=τον 0ληται | βουλ S δημοσηS
παρ7 θ:ν% τρυγτοιο; Aesch. Sept. 198–99: ψ φος κατ% α$τ/ν 5λεθρα βουλεσεται, | λευστ ρα
δ3μου δ% οU τι μ- φγηS μρον: Eur. Ion 1222–23: Δελφ/ν δ% +νακτες 1ρισαν πετρορριφ |
θανε:ν μ-ν δσποιναν ο$ ψ3φω μιW; Eur. Or. 48–50: κυρα δ% ;δ% 8μρα | ν Xι διοσει ψ φον
Y πλις, | ε χρ- θανε:ν ν& λευσμω πετρ\ματι; 440–42:—ψ φος καθ% 8μ/ν οDσεται τ Sδ%
8μραW. |—φεγειν πλιν τ3νδ’; ^ θανε:ν ^ μ- θανε:ν;—θανε:ν _π% στ/ν λευσμω πετρ\ματι;
Cratinus Drapetides F62 KA: Λμπωνα, τ ν ο$ βροτ/ν | ψ φος δναται φλεγυρ7 δεπνου
137. Xanthus FGrHist 765 F29 = Etym. Magn. s.v. FΕρμα:ον.
138. Deinias FGrHist 306 F3 = Schol. Eur. Or. 872. Note that Michelakis 2002: 56–57 has argued
that a civic solution domesticates the threatened stoning of Achilles in Aeschylus’ fragmentary
Myrmidons, but the details remain unclear.
139. Soph. OC 434–36.
140. Note that Allen 2000: 50–59 has drawn attention to the importance of city-regulated/regu-
lating anger (Soph. Ant. 354–55: στυνμους 5ργ7ς) for the politics of punishment at Athens.

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140 classical antiquity Volume 34 / No. 1 / April 2015

ceremonies and corpse expulsion. Similarities between Greek pharmakos or

scapegoat rituals and ostracism have long been recognized, with scholarship
focusing on either the rhetorical characterization of politicians as scapegoats141 or
the idea of city-purification through expulsion.142 These are important frames of
comparison, but attention has not been given to the close connection between the
gestures used in scapegoat rituals and ostraka-casting. Stoning played a central
role in the mythic aetiologies and ritual practice of Greek scapegoating. It was
used against the pharmakos to dispel plague, drought, or famine.143 In Athens,
Massilia, and Abdera the pharmakos was pelted with stones and chased over the
border;144 the Athenian Thargelia festival re-enacted the Myrmidons’ lapidation of
mythical Pharmakos;145 Hipponax frequently refers to the stoning of pharmakoi;146
and Aristophanes’ Acharnians characterize Dicaeopolis as a scapegoat and traitor
before they stone him.147 Alongside lapidation, Hipponax and Hesychius describe
how a pharmakos was publicly whipped with squill- and fig-branches148 and then
paraded out of the city to the tune of the “fig melody.”149 It is interesting in
this light to recall that ostracism was called the keramikē mastix, “pottery whip.”
Indeed, one ostrakon against Callixenus has scratched onto it, alongside the mullet
fish and medizing portrait, discussed above, a leafy branch (Fig. 3). Consogno
has recently and persuasively argued that this was the squill-branch with which
a pharmakos was beaten: the inscriber assimilated his thrown ostrakon to the
scapegoating whip and so Callixenus to a pharmakos.150 We may wish to place in

141. See, e.g., Parker 1996: 257–80. Ar. Ran. 730–33 comments that Athens is led by politicians
who previously would not even have been considered appropriate as scapegoats. [Lys.] 6.53
suggests that the exile of Andocides would purify the city like the expulsion of a scapegoat
(ν>ν οaν χρ- νομζειν τιμωρουμνους κα( παλλαττομνους Ανδοκδου Y τ-ν πλιν καθαρειν κα(
ποδιοπομπε:σθαι κα( φαρμακ ν ποπμπειν κα( λιτηρου παλλττεσθαι, Pς bν τοτων ο#τς
στι). Demosthenes was condemned by Aesch. in Ctes. 131 as “the polluting demon of Greece” (A τ ς
FΕλλδος λειτ3ριε). Scapegoating terminology is found on several ostraka: Siewert 2002: T1/92–
93, T1/153 (Megacles and Xanthippos, respectively, as aleitēros, “cursed”), T1/149 (Themistocles
as hypegaios agos, “a curse on the land”); see Faraone 2004: 239.
142. Vernant 1972: 125–26; Burkert 1985: 83; Parker 1996: 269–71; Ogden 1997: 142; Dreher
2000: 74. Ammonius’ definition of a pharmakos (142 Valckenaer) is “one who is cast out to purify
the city” (. π( καθρσει τ ς πλεως Lιπτμενος), using the same verb as the casting of ostraka.
It is worth considering if the ostracized politician would have departed Athens through the gate used
for scapegoats and refuse (Plut. de curiositate 518b).
143. Philostr. VA 4.10; Plut. Quaest. Graec. 26 (297b); Schol. Ar. Eq. 1136; Tzetz. Chil.
5.728–40; see Bremmer 1983 and 2008: 191–92, Cantarella 1991: 83–84, and Luraghi 2013: 57–60.
144. Schol. Callim. Aet. F90; Schol. Ov. Ib. 467; see Bremmer 1983: 315.
145. Suda s.v. φαρμακς (= Ister FGrHist 334 F50). Rosenbloom 2004: 339 has noted that, like
mythical Pharmakos, Hyperbolus was accused of stealing cups (Leucon Phratry-Members F1).
146. Hipponax F6, F7, F128; see Masson 1948 and Faraone 2004.
147. Ar. Ach. 182, 282–85.
148. Hsch. s.v. κραδηστης (φαρμακς, . τα:ς κρδαις βαλλμενος); Hipponax F5: πλιν
καθαρειν κα( κρδηSσι βλλεσθαι, F6: βλλοντες ν χειμ/νι κα( Lαπζοντες | κρδηSσι κα(
σκλληSσιν 1σπερ φαρμακν. See Bremmer 2008: 184–89.
149. Hsch. s.v. κραδης νμος.
150. Consogno 2005: 349–52.

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kosmin: A Phenomenology of Democracy 141

the same context Cratinus’ joke against Pericles, whom “the ostrakon has passed
by” (toustrakon paroichetai)—a reference to the ostrakophoria at which his rival
Thucydides, son of Melesias, received more votes—as a “squill-headed Zeus” (ho
schinokephalos Zeus).151
Ostraka-casting could also be identified with the precipitation of a living
body or dead corpse. This practice shared with ostracism a two-stage geography,
transitioning from the identification and punishment, often by stoning, of a
citizen at the city’s heart to the expulsion of his remains into a pit or over a
border.152 Throwing stones and throwing the body were linked and analogous
gestures: the Delphians both stoned Aesop (hoi polloi lithois auton ballontes) and
pushed him off a cliff (kata krēmnou eōsan);153 the Arcadians stoned Aristocrates
(katalithōsantes) and then cast him unburied beyond their boundaries (ekballousin
ataphon);154 Plato proposed in his Laws that, if someone were found guilty of
murder, he should be executed and cast out naked (ekballontōn gymnon) at a
crossroads, where all the magistrates, acting on behalf of the city, would first
stone him (lithon hekastos pherōn . . . ballōn) and then cast out his corpse beyond
the borders unburied (eis ta tēs chōras horia pherontes ekballontōn . . . ataphon).155
Even where stoning is not found, the expulsion of a corpse beyond the borders
was often a second stage: the Leucadians, according to a picturesque custom
described by Strabo, would tie false wings and live birds to a criminal, throw
him off a sea cliff (rhipteisthai), collect his remains in a boat, and dispose of
them over the state’s boundaries.156 The significance of corpse-expulsion for the
Athenians’ conceptualization of ostracism is shown by the Megacles ostrakon,
discussed above, onto which a naked corpse had been drawn (Fig. 4). In the
previous section, I argued that the act of inscribing this image may have been
symbolic or allegorical, turning the ostrakon into a kind of curse-tablet or “voodoo
doll.” Here, where we are examining the throwing gesture, we may go further,
to suggest that the casting of such a corpse-ostrakon was intended to recall the
expelling of the naked body of a public enemy over the Athenian border or into
the barathron, the natural chasm that was used for these punishments.157 We can
identify such a self-conscious association in the literary tradition as well. Plutarch
reports that Aristides, at the height of his competition with Themistocles, advised
his fellow citizens as he was leaving the Assembly one day that Athens would
not be secure unless they threw both himself and his rival into the barathron

151. Cratinus F73 (Kassel and Austin) = Plut. Per. 13.9. This has usually been treated as a
reference to Pericles’ supposed cranial abnormality; see, e.g., Cohen 1991.
152. See Rosivach 1983 and Cantarella 1991: 91–105.
153. Vitae G and W; see Nagy 1979: 280–81.
154. Paus. 4.22.7.
155. Pl. Leg. 9.873b.
156. Strabo 10.2.9.
157. On the barathron, see Gernet 1924, Gras 1984: 81, Cantarella 1991: 96–105, and Allen
2000: 216–21; on its location, see Lalonde 2006: 114–16.

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142 classical antiquity Volume 34 / No. 1 / April 2015

(eis to barathron embaloien).158 It is hardly likely that Aristides is suggesting

his own precipitation; rather, the ancedote is surely a reference to the purpose
and gestures of the sherd-casting ostrokaphoriai, through which his rivalry with
Themistocles played out, and yet another variation on the theme of his patriotic
and voluntary self-ostracism—recall his ostrakon auto-inscription and departure
prayer, discussed above.159 Another possible example: in Aristophanes’ Knights,
personified Demos promises to throw the politician Hyperbolus, who would be
ostracized almost a decade later, into the barathron.160
A final association. We have seen that a meeting of the Assembly in mid-
January determined by hand-vote and without discussion whether or not an
ostrakophoria should take place that year; in other words, the procedure existed
in two possible states—not occurring or occurring—each of which signaled
something about the political health of Athens.161 By itself, the ostrakophoria
was both the public recognition that something was rotten and the diagnosis of
that evil.162 Indeed, as the famous tale of Aristides’ auto-inscription demonstrates,
ideally and in practice the guilty party would be one of the participants in the
ostrakophoria. Given the formal similarity between inscribed ostraka and lots
or religious tokens (see above), the throwing of these sherds into the circular
enclosure to identify the most hated citizen would have resembled forms of
casting-divination used in Greece and throughout the ancient Mediterranean. A
lot-oracle was associated with Delphi, where the cast tokens were known as thriai
or mantikai psēphoi;163 the practice was widely attested in the Italian peninsula.164
In Iliad 7 each Achaean who wished to enter single combat with Hector marked a
token (klēron esēmēnanto) and threw it (ebalon) into Agamemnon’s helmet.165
Tacitus reports on Germans who took auspices by marking signs on sticks and
casting them (spargunt) onto a white cloth, from where they were read and
interpreted by a civic priest.166 Like Aleuas the Red of Thessaly, Saul was
identified by lot as the first king of Israel.167 More relevantly, the casting of
lots could be used to determine which in-group individual was responsible for a
public malaise of some kind. So, Herodotus’ Scythian soothsayers could identify,

158. Plut. Arist. 3.2: λλ% ε=πεν π τ ς κκλησας πι\ν, Pς ο$κ 9στι σωτηρα το:ς Αθηναων
πργμασιν, ε μ- κα( Θεμιστοκλα κα( α$τ ν ες τ βραθρον μβλοιεν.
159. On the voluntariness of the pharmakos, see Bremmer 2008: 183–84.
160. Ar. Eq. 1362–63: +ρας μετωρον ες τ βραθρον μβαλ/, | κ το> λρυγγος κκρεμσας
161. See Rappaport 1979: 91.
162. Ostracism corresponds to Burkert’s model of religious therapy, expounded most schemat-
ically in Burkert 1996: 103.
163. Zenobius 5.75; Robbins 1916; Graf 2012: 37–39.
164. Champeaux 1990a. On the use of the inscribed lot for Roman Republican political practice,
see Stewart 1998: 22–51.
165. Hom. Il. 7.175–76; on this episode, see, e.g., Steiner 1994: 10–15.
166. Tac. Germ. 10.1.
167. 1 Samuel 10:19–22.

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kosmin: A Phenomenology of Democracy 143

using a technology similar to Tacitus’ Germans, the subject who had caused his
king’s illness, even determining guilt by majority vote.168 In the Hebrew Bible,
the Phoenician sailors carrying Jonah to Tarshish throw lots to discover on whose
account the tempest threatened their safety and then, in a precipitation-like act,
throw the prophet overboard.169 An episode in the book of Joshua pulls together
many of the phenomena we have explored: when the Israelites were suffering
God’s anger because of the theft of some religious dedications a lengthy process
of lot-casting within the camp identified a certain Achan as responsible; he was
then led far away, stoned to death, and left unburied beneath the heap of thrown
rocks.170 The Hebrew verbs of lot-casting were also used for expulsive throwing.171
No ancient source explicitly links the ostrakophoria with casting-divination, but
the identity of gesture, diagnostic purpose, and inscribed tokens suggests that the
association was possible.172
In sum, ancient narratives and the images and phrases inscribed on some
sherds suggest that ostraka-casting can be understood as a ritual gesture, sym-
pathetically enacting expulsive intentions and imitating long-established forms
of demotic punishment or diagnosis. Stanley Tambiah has argued that the mean-
ing of ritual gestures is situated precisely in this capacity to codify analogically
and to express multiple implications simultaneously.173 The gesture is not just a
way to express something but is itself an aspect of that which it is expressing.174
Furthermore, even if only a minority of participants conceptualized the ostraka-
casting in any of these ways, the simultaneity of gesture by itself would have
forged among all a kind of political communion.175 If the bare occurrence of an
ostrakophoria signaled factionalism and interpersonal distrust, then the group
casting of sherds into the center of a circle gave a unity of expression to the
citizens’ individualized, contradictory opinions. That is to say, even though each
Athenian had his own target, his inscription was unknown to the crowd and his
voice lost in their thorybos; the collective throwing of ostraka toward the same
center posited, behind the polyphony of competing voices, an idealized vision
of a homogeneous and united polis. Unlike hand-raising or the secret ballot, the
ostrakophoria’s ritual gesture allowed the fantasy of the unanimous vote. The
gestural associations, with lapidation in particular, disguised the incipient stasis

168. Hdt. 4.67–68. See also Amm. Marc. 31.2.24 on the Alani. On the use of such stick-lots
by Gauls, Germans, and Scythians, see Champeaux 1990b.
169. Jonah 1:7, 12. Note that the verb for throwing Jonah into the sea (the hiphil form of tul)
is also used of casting lots (e.g., Proverbs 16:33).
170. Joshua 7.
171. See Lindblom 1962.
172. On the religious authority of the dēmos in classical Athens, see, e.g., Garland 1984.
173. Tambiah 1985: 53; see also Rappaport 1979: 199.
174. On the “obvious” aspects of ritual, see Rappaport 1979: 173–222.
175. Cf. Ozouf 1975 and Kertzer 1988: 23. A Biblical proverb teaches that the casting of lots
together generates friendship (Proverbs 1:14: “Throw in your lot among us; we will all have one
purse”). See also Riess 2012 on the integrative effect of civic violence.

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144 classical antiquity Volume 34 / No. 1 / April 2015

as a citizenry “hating with one mind.”176 Compare, for example, the Spartan ephor
Sthenelaı̈das’ reification of division, by physically grouping into two separate
sections the Spartiates who supported and those who opposed war with Athens in
432,177 with the ostrakophoria’s common action at the Agora’s circular enclosure.
Indeed, the growing accumulation of ostraka would have been an effective symbol
of this unity-through-gesture, like the pile of rocks that engulfed the victim of
lapidation and gave visual confirmation of both the number and consensus of
participants.178 If, as I argued above, any individual ostrakon could symbolize the
broken unity that generated it, then the ingathering of several thousands of these
provided a powerful image of restored and unstriated unity.179 The significance of
this massive aggregation of sherds is shown by the double-count that followed
their casting: the ostraka were first tallied up as a single unit, without being read,
to see if the quorum had been surpassed. This first reckoning can be considered
a formal confirmation of their collective and unifying function.
Such an analysis follows an influential body of Durkheimian scholarship,
which has identified political integration as a primary social effect of ritual and
the cloaking or domestication of intragroup conflict as a subset of this.180 A key
insight of such analyses, helpful for our understanding of ostrakophoriai, is that
such social solidarity can be generated by people doing the same things rather than
thinking the same things. Precisely because ostracism was a procedure emerging
from a dramatic diversity of opinion, social coherence came from the publicly
visible unity of gesture and the associated suppression of explicit speech.


The circular enclosure around which the Athenian citizens gathered to cast
their inscribed sherds was erected in the new Agora to the northwest of the
Acropolis. As far as we can gather, this periphragma was located in the open
area below the Kolonos Agoraios, between the Cleisthenic Bouleuterion, the
Altar of the Twelve Gods, and the Tyrannicide statues on the Sacred Way.181
Kolb has suggested that the ostracism enclosure was raised on the so-called
Orchestra.182 This setting should be considered a meaningful ritual location. As
we have seen, the ostracism procedure began with a preliminary binary hand-vote

176. Aesch. Eum. 986: στυγε:ν μιW φρεν. On Athens’ self-idealization as free of conflict and
at peace, see Loraux 1991.
177. Thuc. 1.87; see Faig 1993.
178. E.g., Philostr. VA 4.10; Xanthus FGrHist 765 F29 = Etym. Magn. s.v. FΕρμα:ον.
179. On the symbolic unity of the Cleisthenic system, see Lévêque and Vidal-Naquet 1996.
180. See, e.g., Turner 1957; Gluckman 1962: 40–41; Bell 1992: 172–76; Wulf and Zirfas 2004:
181. For the early fifth-century Agora, see Kolb 1981; Camp 1986: 36–63; Shear Jr. 1994; Millett
1998: 211–14; Anderson 2003: 87–102; Neer and Kurke 2014.
182. Tim. Soph. Lex. Plat. s.v. 5ρχ3στρα; Paus. 1.8.5; see Kolb 1981: 27–54 and Brenne 1994:

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kosmin: A Phenomenology of Democracy 145

in the ekklēsia in mid-January; if a majority were in favor, an ostrakophoria was

held in early spring. The two moments were distinguished from one another by a
temporal delay, different decision-making technologies, and, above all, a change
of location. We do not know where the early fifth-century Assembly met: if it
already gathered on the Pnyx hill by the time of the first demotic ostrakophoria,
the spatial distinction between the preliminary vote and the Agora-based sherd-
casting was present ab initio;183 if the Assembly met in the Agora until later into the
fifth century,184 when the ekklēsia was moved to the Pnyx the ostrakophoria was
left in its original location. In either case, the Agora setting was deliberate. The
findspots of ostraka in Cyrene, Sicilian Naxos, and Thurii suggest that these extra-
Athenian ostrakophoriai also took place in their cities’ agorai.185 Functionalist
explanations of ostracism have explained away this preference as a mere pragmatic
necessity: Rosenbloom proposes that an ostrakophoria summoned a larger crowd
than the Pnyx could hold,186 Carcopino that the Agora’s flatness of ground made it
more suitable.187 One could also add that, if bouleutic preceded demotic ostracism,
as the Vatican manuscript suggests, then the procedure simply moved outdoors in
the same location. Whether or not these hold, I will argue here that the Agora was
chosen for ostrakophoriai because of its association with the demotic regulation
of hierarchy and its identification as the spatial center of Attica.
The location of the ostrakophoria was colored by two forms of demotic coer-
cion: anti-elite gossip and anti-tyrannical violence. By at least the second half
of the fifth century, the Agora was recognized as the privileged Athenian loca-
tion for day-to-day free speech and loidoria (personal abuse directed at named
figures).188 The widespread envy endemic to Athenian society could find ex-
pression in bad-mouthing the elite.189 Such activities were characterized as ago-
raic and, conversely, considered typical of those who spent much time there.190
This is where Theophrastus stations his rumor-monger.191 Phrynichus’ spiteful
youths, who “scratch with a sharp point” their fellow citizens (the metaphor is
discussed, above), are always wandering around the Agora (aei kata tēn ago-
ran periontes).192 Aristophanes’s Knights identifies the combative language of
the Sausage-Seller (named “Agoracritus”) with the space.193 And in his Wasps

183. Martin 1951: 290.

184. A plausible suggestion; see Thompson 1982: 136n.10 and Osborne 2007: 197.
185. Bacchielli 1994; Greco 2010; Schirripa, Lentini, and Cordano 2012: 135–44.
186. Rosenbloom 2004: 96.
187. Carcopino 1935: 76.
188. See, e.g., Hunter 1990, Halliwell 1991, Steiner 1994: 187–93, Lewis 1996: 14–19, Forsdyke
2008, and Storey 2010.
189. Walcot 1978; Eidinow 2010: 25–27. Note that Plut. Them. 22.4–5 and Alc. 7.1 identifies
ostracism as a form of appeasing this envy.
190. On the Agora as locus of information exchange, see Dem. 24.15, Hyp. 4.21, Isoc. 18.9,
Lys. 24.20.
191. Theophr. Char. 8; see also Dem. 24.15.
192. Phrynichus Ephialtes F3 (= Ath. 165b).
193. Ar. Eq. 217–19.

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a speech of Bdelycleon indicates, in a typical conflation of food and politics,

that this is where suspicions of hostility to the democratic order were raised:
“The word [tyranny] is being bounced around the Agora. . . . ‘That man looks
as if he’s buying special fish with a view to tyranny!’ . . . ‘You’re asking for
an onion. Is that for setting up a tyranny?’”194 The concentration of gossip and
ridicule in this particular space made it a site for the projection and enforcement
of normative values and democratic attitudes.195 The several ostraka that bear
accusations, both political (treason, medism, bribery) and personal (incest, sex-
ual passivity, adultery), indicate that the verbalized gestures of ostraka-casting
could function as an intensification or institutionalization of this spatially situated
demotic criticism.
It was argued in the previous section that ostrakophoriai substituted for the
more extreme weapons of lapidation and precipitation. This is reinforced by
the fact that the precise environment of ostraka-casting was a space of demotic
violence. Ostracism’s circular enclosure was erected in the immediate vicinity
of the famous statue group of the Tyrannicides, Harmodius and Aristogeiton.196
The first sculptural pair, carved by Antenor, was set up at some point between
the fall of the Peisistratid tyranny and Xerxes’ invasion; Pliny’s synchronism
of the group’s erection with the expulsion of the Roman kings (510/9) may
only be a convenient fiction.197 After Xerxes stole this away to Persia in 479,
a replacement was quickly made by Critius and Nesiotes. These monuments,
one replacing the other, remained the only statues of Athenian citizens in the
Agora for the entire fifth century; moreover, the area around the group was left
empty, giving prominence by isolation to the two figures.198 In other words,
every single known ostracism took place in the shadow of Harmodius and Aris-
togeiton, and these were the only sculpted human forms, the only Athenians
honored with statues, visible during the procedure. This is significant for a couple
of reasons.
Although we know nothing of Antenor’s sculpture, standing during the os-
tracisms of the 480s,199 a couple of contemporary skolia, or drinking songs,
indicate that the depicted citizens were already celebrated for their murder of “the
tyrant” Hipparchus (in fact, younger brother of the senior Peisistratid, Hippias)
and their supposed establishment of isonomia, a face-saving narrative that oc-
cluded the corruption of the Pythia and the consequent Spartan intervention in

194. Ar. Vesp. 488–91. On the comic Agora, see Wilkins 2000: 156–201. Steiner 1994: 191
observes that the democrats of the Piraeus, overthrowing the Thirty Tyrants and restoring democracy,
gathered in the Agora and not the Pnyx.
195. See Morris 2000: 134–38.
196. The location of the statue group is described by Tim. Soph. Lex. Plat. s.v. 5ρχ3στρα, Paus.
1.8.5, and Arr. Anab. 3.16.8.
197. Plin. HN 34.17; on synchronisms invented for ideological effect, see Feeney 2007.
198. Taylor 1981: 26; Ma 2013: 113–14.
199. It was returned to Athens by Alexander (Arr. Anab. 3.6.8), Seleucus I (Val. Max. 2.10 ext.1),
or Antiochus I (Paus. 1.8.5). Its artistic priority was immediately evident to Pausanias.

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kosmin: A Phenomenology of Democracy 147

507.200 The most famous runs, “In a branch of myrtle I’ll carry my sword, like
Harmodius and Aristogeiton when they killed the tyrant (ton tyrannon ktanetēn)
and made Athens isonomous.”201 The later group depicted Harmodius and Aris-
togeiton energetically striding forward, weapons in hand, in the act of striking
down Hipparchus. Many scholars have noted the absence of the victim from the
composition, leaving the monument unbalanced and open-ended, incorporating
the citizen viewer into the action, and so transforming a historical moment into
a political paradigm.202 The sculpture was paraenetic, encouraging imitation of
the heroes and the ongoing targeting of would-be tyrants and oligarchs:203 in the
skolia, quoted above, we see citizens play-acting the Tyrannicides; Herodotus
has Miltiades call on Callimachus, polemarch at Marathon, to join battle with
the Persians and so surpass even the Tyrannicides in civic honor;204 the chorus
of old men in the Lysistrata adopts the pose of Aristogeiton in their defense of the
constitution.205 Julia Shear has persuasively argued that the assassination of the
oligarch Phrynichus in the Agora in 411, for seeking peace with Sparta, was a
deliberate re-enactment of the Hipparchus episode.206 Accordingly, ostrakopho-
riai took place beside an idealized, hortatory visualization of tyrant-killing, a
monument that legitimized and promoted civic violence in defense of the dēmos.
Furthermore, it is likely that these statue groups were erected on or near the very
location of the slaying of Hipparchus.207 In other words, the monument identified
the Agora and, more particularly, the open area at its center, where ostrakophoriai
took place, as the historical birthplace of Athenian democracy. The circular en-
closure, into which ostraka were cast, may have been considered the very site
of Hipparchus’ death.208
So, during an ostrakophoria, thousands of citizens, wielding their potsherds,
converged on the celebrated killing zone of the tyrant. The Tyrannicide statues
would necessarily have been incorporated into the assembling hubbub, triggering

200. The issue’s many complications need not detain us here; see, e.g., Lavelle 1993 and Thomas
1989: 238–61.
201. Poetae Melici Graeci #893–96.
202. Brunnsåker 1971: 163–64; Ober 2003: 218 and 221; Neer 2010: 78–85; Ma 2013: 114.
203. Ober 2003 has shown that democrats assimilated oligarchic opposition to tyranny.
204. Hdt. 6.109.3.
205. Ar. Lys. 631–34.
206. Thuc. 8.92; Shear 2011: 28–29, 60. According to Lycurg. Leocr. 113, his bones were
expelled from Attica. Note that it also echoes the stoning of Lycidas on Salamis, also outside the
Bouleuterion and also for proposing peace with the great enemy.
207. Taylor 1981: 42; Castriotia 1998: 202; Ajootian 1998: 3. Hipparchus was killed in the
vicinity of the Leocorium ([Arist.] Ath. Pol. 18.3; Thuc. 1.20.2, 6.57.3), the shrine of the daughters
of Leos, who sacrificed themselves to ward off famine (Ael. VH 12.28; Aristid. Pan. 13.119). This
was a familiar landmark in the northern or central part of the Agora, beside the Panathenaic Way; see
Wycherley 1957: 108–13.
208. Cf. Timoleon’s razing the palace of Dionysius II of Syracuse and building courts of justice
on the very site (Plut. Tim. 22.1–3)—a similar localization of anti-tyrant aggression; on house razing,
see Connor 1985.

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148 classical antiquity Volume 34 / No. 1 / April 2015

memories, modeling attitudes, and characterizing the procedure; perhaps some

participants even emulated their stance. The association must have been especially
close for the early ostracisms, which directly targeted the family and friends of
the assassinated tyrant—the first victim was a Peisistratid named Hipparchus. A
late fourth- or third-century inscription from Erythrae demonstrates the ongo-
ing aggression of such tyrannicide monuments: the public decree reports how
oligarchic revolutionaries removed the sword (exeilon to xiphos) from an old
statue of the tyrannicide Philites, “thinking that the statue’s stance was entirely
aimed at them (nomizontes katholou tēn stasin kath’ autōn einai).”209 I would
suggest, therefore, that the location of ostrakophoria, in addition to its archetypal
tyrant-killing mass gesture, turned the procedure into a ritualized repetition of the
originary, generative act of anti-tyrant violence.210 Such re-enactment is implied in
Plutarch’s suggestion that Pericles was fearful of being ostracized (phoboumenos
exostrakisthēnai) because he physically resembled the tyrant Peisistratus (edokei
Peisitratōi tōi tyrannōi to eidos empherēs einai).211 No portrait of the tyrant could
have been made or survived for such resemblance to be observed. Rather, the com-
ment implies that, just as ostracism assimilated the dēmos to the Tyrannicides,
so it made tyrants of the targeted politicians.
In addition to being imbued with demotic aggression, the new Agora had also
been turned into the symbolic center of all Attica. A comprehensive program of
public construction and relocation of functions, beginning under the Peisistratids
and accelerating after Cleisthenes’ reforms, demarcated and developed the south-
ern and western edges of the Agora.212 Most importantly, the new Altar of the
Twelve Gods, close to the Orchestra and the Tyrannicide statues, was selected
as Athens’ geographic node, to and from which all distances were measured;213
Pindar terms it the city’s omphalos, “navel.”214 Furthermore, the marking out
of the Agora with horoi and lustral basins made it a sacred space, from which
those guilty of murder, mistreating their parents, impiety, cowardice, or desertion
were formally excluded.215 The ostrakophoria, therefore, possesses a paradoxical
directionality, a strange combination of the centripetal and the centrifugal: on the
one hand, Athenians gathered from all over Attica at the sacred and pure center
of the city to cast a sherd into the middle of a circle; on the other, the action

209. SIG3 284; SEG 32 1143; Heisserer 1979; Gauthier 1982: 215–21; Ober 2003: 227.
210. Pace Forsdyke 2005: 279, who, with her focus on the expulsive telos of ostracism, considers
it a re-enactment of the expulsion of Cleisthenes’ rival Isagoras after the fall of the tyranny.
211. Plut. Per. 7.1–2.
212. Camp 1986: 36–77; Hölscher 1991; Shear Jr. 1994; Millett 1998.
213. Camp 1986: 42; Shear Jr. 1994: 231. Note that the democrats erased from the Altar of
the Twelve Gods the dedicatory inscription of Pisistratus, son of the tyrant Hippias (Thuc. 6.54.7),
demonstrating to Athenians the symbolic power of names and their removal at this very spot.
214. Pind. F75. Note, however, that Neer and Kurke 2014 have argued that the Altar of the
Twelve Gods was originally erected in the old Agora, to the east of the Acropolis, and relocated
to the markedly democratic space of the new Agora at some point in the fifth century.
215. Lycurg. Leocr. 5; Aeschin. 3.176; Dem. 20.158, 22.77, and 24.60; see Millett 1998: 224.

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kosmin: A Phenomenology of Democracy 149

was intended to expel far beyond the boundaries of the state someone considered
guilty of treason, bribery, and other polluting personal offences. How can we
reconcile this?
The ostraka enclosure should be considered, to adopt Foucault’s term, a
heterotopia.216 That is to say, for the duration of the ostrakophoria, this bounded
circle at the navel of the polis came to represent an anti-Athens populated by anti-
Athenians. It was a space into which citizens symbolically disposed of both what
they did not like—tyranny, incest, hunger, and so on—and those they did not wish
to have among them. The circle, therefore, represented an absolute break from the
regular time and space of the Agora; it was marked off physically by a barrier
and ritually, as I have argued, by a repeated gesture. As a locus of pollution,
deviance, and political danger it operated in a relation of inverted analogy to
the idealized democratic polis; such a polar reversal may have been effected
precisely because it was located at Athens’ geographic and conceptual center.
Circle-tracing has a recognized ability to mark off a space as heterotopic,217 and
certain ostraka may represent this in the shape of their inscriptions. An ostrakon
against Callias, for instance, schematically locates the targeted politician within
this heterotopia by placing his name and deme (Kallias Alōpekēthen) at the center
of the sherd, around which a circle of writing records his patronymic (Kratiou)
and his crime (hos e(m) Mēdōn, “the one from Media”); another has the same
Callias’ name inscribed across the top of the sherd and the similar accusation, hos
em Mēdōn hēkei, “who has come from Media,” written in a full circle beneath.218
The casting of these “from Media” circle sherds into the enclosure may have been
an analogous expulsion back to the foreign locale. Similarly, the inscription nea
kōmē, on a couple of ostraka targeting Megacles, son of Hippocrates, may indicate
something like “a new village [for you]!” identifying the circle with the generically
non-Athenian, non-polis life of the exile.219 If I am correct to understand the
casting of the Megacles-corpse ostrakon as a symbolic precipitation (see above),
then the enclosure becomes the barathron or equivalent. The circle in which
the ostraka accumulated, therefore, was capable of juxtaposing in a single real
space several imagined destinations that were in themselves incompatable but
gained a unity from their shared expulsive relation to Athens. In other words,
the ostrakophoria procedure temporarily transformed this delimited part of the
Agora into a dystopic a-polis.

216. The term was introduced by Foucault 1986 and developed by Soja 1996: 154–63.
217. On the symbolism of the circle in archaic and early classical thought, see Vernant 1969:
170–80. Circle-tracing was a widespread technique of ancient magic used for, amongst other things,
protection against demons, thaumaturgy, rain magic, and debt obligations; see Cameron 1928, Goldin
1963, and Kosmin 2014: 129–30.
218. Siewert 2002: T1/56.
219. Siewert 2002: T1/107–108. Cf. the fetial rite for inaugurating a Roman war, according to
which a spear was thrown into a piece of land beside the temple of Bellona at Rome that temporarily
represented foreign territory (Serv. ad Aen. 9.52); see Ando 2011: 19–36 and Rich 2011: 204–209.

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150 classical antiquity Volume 34 / No. 1 / April 2015

The Agora offered ostraka-casting what the Pnyx could not: the city’s central
location, an association with quotidian anti-elite behavior, and the foundational
site of democratic freedom. The ostrakophoria would have been charged by its
proximity to these demotic monuments and memories. But ostracism was not only
a passive receiver. A procedure of such scale and emotion would in turn have con-
tributed to this ideological and physical program of agoracization: the citizenry
performed to itself the Agora’s significance as the city’s spatial, demotic center
and, by repeated negation, limned all that Athens should be. Indeed, the ingather-
ing of the citizenry in this form can be understood as a moment of democratic
socialization: to paraphrase d’Azeglio, if Cleisthenes’ reforms had made Athens
a democracy, Athenians still had to be made democratic. Moore and Myerhoff
have noted how political ritual can objectify and reify social relationships or ideas
that are otherwise invisible.220 So, the ostrakophoria asserted in one and the same
place the physical reality of the new political order by, for instance, grouping the
population entering the Agora into its ten otherwise discontiguous new tribes,221
publicly deploying the administrative responsibilites of the magistrates and coun-
cillors, and demonstrating the ultimate and aggressive sovereignty of the dēmos.
For the duration of the ostrakophoria, the Agora was a microcosm of the state.
Such political socialization was already observed by George Grote, first modern
defender of the ostracism institution: “It was necessary to create in the multitude,
and through them to force upon the leading ambitious men, that rare and difficult
sentiment which we may term a constitutional morality.”222


Any account of ostracism’s emergence must also find room for its desuetude.
From its almost annual frequency during the 480s, the institution declined to
perhaps three completed ostracisms in the 470s, maybe two in the 460s, possibly
one in the 450s, a couple in the 440s, none during the 430s or 420s, and
finally ended with that of Hyperbolus in 416 or 415.223 While it is likely that
the preliminary question continued to be asked of the Assembly throughout the
later fifth and fourth centuries224 and it is possible that several below-quorum
ostrakophoriai have not entered the historical record, the overall pattern is
undeniable. Explanations for the waning of the institution argue either that its
functional niche was filled by the lawcourts and the eisangelia prosecution225

220. Moore and Myerhoff 1977: 14. See also Wulf and Zirfas 2004: 18–20.
221. It is still debated whether they would have been seated by tribe in the Assembly; see Hansen
1977 and 1987: 39–41, 127 and Stanton and Bicknell 1987.
222. Grote 1856: 4.205; see also Petzold 1990: 172 on ostracism’s contribution to the dēmos’
223. Phillips 1982: 27.
224. Heftner 2003.
225. E.g., Mossé 2000; Dreher 2000; Riess 2012: 97, 163, 389–90.

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kosmin: A Phenomenology of Democracy 151

or, following ancient accounts, that it was made disreputable by Nicias’ and
Alcibiades’ turning of it against low-born Hyperbolus.226 The approach taken
in this paper can add a further insight: the ostraka themselves, where they
can be dated by target’s name or orthography, show a decline in associative
or symbolic richness over the course of the fifth century. Most of the sherds
that have been particularly helpful for the above analysis, with their images,
imprecations, magical signs, and so forth, date to the 480s or 470s; with a
couple of exceptions, such “superfluous” elements are almost entirely absent
by the 460s or 450s. Furthermore, a similar reduction occurs in the use of the
accusative and dative cases for the targets’ names and, presumably, the verbal
injunctions that would have accompanied them: of the 31 dative-case published
ostraka from the Agora, 28 date to ostracism’s early period (the 480s and 470s),
2 to the middle period (460s-440s), and only one to the late period (410s); of
the 13 accusative-case sherds, 11 are early, 2 late.227 (The Kerameikos data
have not yet been processed in this way.) Additionally, the scatter-vote seems to
narrow from a broad range to the few major players. These changes suggest that,
even if, as Old Comedy demonstrates, ostracism could still attract symbolic or
ritualized meanings, nonetheless the institution had undergone a routinization and
disenchantment (Entzauberung).228 The ensemble of practices and associations
that generated ostracism ultimately opened a space for the idea of ostracism
itself. That is to say, the inscribing and casting of ostraka became increasingly
situation referential, referring to the institution for which they were used and not
to the reperformance by allusion or analogy of other rites.229 Such narrowing of
ostracism’s associative or symbolic fan correlates with the institution’s declining
We can see this in the last successful ostracism, of the rabble-rouser Hyper-
bolus, which, according to Plutarch’s three accounts, discredited the procedure
among the Athenians because, on the one hand, it turned against a ponēros an
institution properly used to target elite citizens230 and, on the other, the proce-
dure was openly manipulated by Alcibiades, Nicias, and possibly also Phaeax.231
The Hyperbolus ostracism can be considered a ritual breakdown or infelicity232 —
publicly instrumentalized, socially divisive rather than integrative, inverting the
ritual script, and so producing an inappropriate result233 —all predicated on the

226. Thuc. 8.73.3; Plut. Arist. 7.3–4, Nic. 11.4–6, Alc. 13.4–5. See, e.g., Connor and Keaney
227. Lang 1990: 17, with nn.64–65.
228. For these Weberian concepts, dispersed through his writings, see Koshul 2005: 9–39.
229. On situation referentiality, see Fernandez 1965: 911–12.
230. The identification between ostracism and elite status was so close that Demetrius of Phaleron
argued that Aristides was wealthy simply on the basis that he had been ostracized (FGrHist 228 F43
= Plut. Arist. 1.2).
231. Plut. Arist. 7.3–4, Nic. 11.4–6, Alc. 13.4–5; see Fuqua 1965 and Rosenbloom 2004.
232. On ritual failure, see Geertz 1957, Grimes 1990, and Hüsken 2007.
233. Cf. Hoffmeister 2007, on the breaking of the social script in serial killings.

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152 classical antiquity Volume 34 / No. 1 / April 2015

above process of routinization and rationalization. Indeed, the tension between

the ritualized ostracism examined in this paper and the functionalist ostracism
of Aristotle and most modern scholarship is not only the result of the respective
foregrounding of embodied participation or intellectualized choice, but also itself
an effect of the disenchantment of the procedure. The richness of semantic associ-
ation, ritual identification, and symbolic or magical analogy manifested in early
fifth-century ostraka was unavailable or unknowable to fourth-century analysis.


In Spring 488/7, the victors of Marathon assembled in their ten new tribes
in their new Agora to take part for the first time in a new procedure—to write on a
broken piece of pottery the name of a fellow citizen and to cast this into a circular
enclosure. The strangeness of this political ritual must not be overlooked: we
can imagine Athenians questioning their neighbors on the procedure; disagreeing
about whom to target or whether private grudge outweighed public misdemeanor;
the growing thrill of collective might; the heightened resentment and envy and
revenge; the fun of it all, or the fear; the Tyrannicide model; the breath of
magic and sacrality. Such a study of ostracism does not require us to divide
its features between the “political”—the rationally motivated, goal-oriented,
individualized choice-making that has dominated scholarship—and the “ritual”—
all the symbolic, affective, and communal elements discussed above. They are
inseparable. Rather, the emerging picture of ostracism as an assemblage of
practices and meanings allows us to understand the procedure, and, I would
suggest, the Cleisthenic moment of political reform in general, as bricolage.234
No element in ostracism—the shattering of vases, the inscription of hostile
messages, the casting of tokens, the demotic aggression, or the expulsion of
a dangerous or polluted citizen—was newly invented. Cleisthenes creatively
recycled cultural wares, combining preexisting, pre-signified materials into a
new ensemble. This is not the “invention of tradition” popularized by Eric
Hobsbawm235 but the “inventiveness of tradition,”236 where the meaning and
particularity of new cultural formulations derive from the embedded logics and
intelligibilities of their constituent parts. Given the brazen, engineered artificiality
of much of the new democratic order, and so the need to generate genuine group
sentiment, it is easy to see why borrowing and resignifying was an effective
strategy: in addition to ostracism, we can observe it in the adoption of Doric
sanctuary architecture for the newly constructed Council Chamber, probably its

234. The term was introduced by Lévi-Strauss 1966: 17–28.

235. Hobsbawm 1983: 4–7. Attempts to identify the hero Theseus as the inventor and first victim
of ostracism (Suda s.v. Αρχ-
Y Σκυρα), perhaps encouraged by his death outside Attica, are late;
see Carcopino 1935: 9–14.
236. The phrase was coined by Sahlins 1999, discussing the institutionalization of sumo at the
Meiji court.

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kosmin: A Phenomenology of Democracy 153

first use for a non-temple building in the entire Greek world,237 or the selection
of preexisting Attic heroes as the Stammväter of the ten new tribes.238 In this
way, the reform program of Cleisthenes is comparable to other “revitalization
movements” that express ideological innovation through cultural syncretism,
the novel use of old things, and borrowing across traditional boundaries.239 For
instance, Hugh Urban has recently shown how L. Ron Hubbard, as a religious
bricoleur, incorporated into the Dianetics rite of his new Scientology materials and
ideas drawn from eastern religions, science fiction, the occult, psychoanalysis, and
even police lie-detecting, and that each of these brought to the invented procedure
quite distinct sets of associations.240 Similarly, Emily Chao has demonstrated
that revived Chinese exorcism has introduced political and military elements,
such as punchy quotations from Chairman Mao, anti-Japanese marching hymns,
and phrases from the national anthem, all to charge the religious rite with the
expulsive power and historical memory of battlefield resistance.241 As we have
seen, the inscriptions on several ostraka indicate that the migration to the center of
democratic politics of technologies and gestures from magical, symbolic, or ludic
practices also carried over, for at least some Athenians, their preexisting and pre-
embedded associations. This is a well-paralleled phenomenon: it has been shown,
for instance, that rituals in T’ang China echoed, implied, and assumed other
rites,242 or that modern voting behavior among the indigenous Tzotzil of southern
Mexico resembles prayer and shamanic practices.243 Speaking more generally, I
am arguing that participants in the newly invented procedures of early democracy
needed to cross-reference domains of meaning in order to supply associations and
information from well-known spheres or practices to the newer ones. Ostracism
shows us that in early democratic politics, as presumably in other spheres of life,
Athenians thought through objects, gestures, and locations as well as about them.

Harvard University

237. Shear Jr. 1994: 232–39; Anderson 2003: 97–102: “The appeal lay . . . in its suggestion of the
traditional practices and cultural permanence associated with structures hitherto built in this idiom”
238. Kearns 1985: 201.
239. The concept of revitalization—a deliberate, organized, conscious effort by members of a
society to construct a more satisfying culture—was introduced by Wallace 1956 to theorize phe-
nomena as varied as cargo cult, messianic communities, political and religious reform movements,
and revolution; it has been developed in material-focused directions by Liebmann 2008.
240. Urban 2011.
241. Chao 1999.
242. Bell 1992: 129.
243. Vogt and Abel 1977.

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154 classical antiquity Volume 34 / No. 1 / April 2015

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[1 62] Kosmin figures 1–4

Fig. 1: Drawing by Catherine Alexander

(Siewert 2002: T1/87).

Fig. 2: Drawing by Catherine Alexander

(Siewert 2002: T1/93)

Fig. 3: Drawing by Catherine Alexander

(Siewert 2002: T1/157)

Fig. 4: Drawing by Catherine Alexander

(Siewert 2002: T1/159)

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