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Euripides and the Origins of Democratic «Anarchia»

Jonah F. Radding


In this essay, I argue that the terms anarchia and anarchos had become associated with critiques of democracy before the final quarter of the fifth century BCE. I begin with a review of archaic and early classical uses of the term, with a particular focus on two instances in Aeschylus’ Oresteia. I then examine Euripides’ two uses of anarchia/anarchos, one in Hecuba and the other in Iphigenia at Aulis. In each case, we see that the concept of anarchic behavior is associated with democratic bodies; that charges of anarchia are laid by characters who engage with critiques of democracy throughout the dramas; and that the term itself is embedded within discourses that are laden with the language and rhetoric of anti-democratic discourses found in Thucydides, Herodotus, and the Old Oligarch. Given that Euripidean references to anarchia are embedded within terminology that was already current in contemporary anti-democratic thought, I conclude that the concept of democracy’s ‘anarchic’ tendencies had already been developed by the final quarter of the fifth century BCE.


Aeschylus; anarchy; anti-democratic rhetoric; democracy; Euripides; anarchia; democrazia; Eschilo; Euripide; retorica antidemocratica

Full Text:



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DOI: https://doi.org/10.7358/erga-2019-001-radd

Copyright (©) 2019 Jonah F. Radding – Editorial format and Graphical layout: copyright (©) LED Edizioni Universitarie

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