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date: 23 October 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This essay considers Thucydides’ treatments of the crowd or mob in the context of his analysis of democratic politics in ancient Athens. Scholars have often located in Thucydides a critique of the crowd familiar from ancient philosophical accounts of democracy and a corresponding call for leadership that amounts to crowd control. Close attention to Thucydides’ portrayal of Athenian democratic politics complicates matters. While he indeed worries about the tendency of collective emotion to overwhelm reason, Thucydides also credits the crowd with an ability to quiet itself in a manner that makes deliberation possible. This ability does not amount to full-fledged agreement with recent claims about the “wisdom of crowds,” but it does suggest that for Thucydides, democracy requires not crowd control but the painstaking building and nurturing of an always-fragile relationship between leaders and demos.

Keywords: crowd, mob, democracy, oligarchy, leadership, silence, Pericles

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