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Title: The Spirit of Athens : the reception of fifth-century BC Athenian history in eighteenth-century British political thought
Author: Earley, Benjamin Edward
ISNI:       0000 0004 6056 6567
Awarding Body: University of Bristol
Current Institution: University of Bristol
Date of Award: 2016
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This thesis seeks to explore the important and numerous ways in which British political commentators engaged with fifth-century Be Athenian history, with particular reference to the rise and fall of Athenian sea power and maritime empire, in the eighteenth century. It argues that Athens provided British commentators with historical material in debates over the nature of maritime empire, the rights of colonists, the influence of luxury on imperial powers, the role of the individual in a free constitution, the causes of war, and the spread of factionalism and violence. This material was, at the same time, interpreted in the light of political concerns, while helping to shape the nature of various contemporary debates. The idea that the rise, decline, and fall of the fifth-century Athenian Empire and democracy was common intellectual currency and seen as politically useful is contentious. Edward Andrew argued that 'Athens definitely was not a model' for eighteenth-century thinkers, while J . T. Roberts sees Athens as an anti-democratic model. That is to sayan example of a constitution to be avoided. My thesis will add nuance to these accounts by considering the reception of various facets of Athenian history in total rather than individually. Over the coming chapters we will see how it is misleading to separate the history of the empire, the role of luxury, debates over Pericles, and the causes and violence of the Peloponnesian War. All these different strands together form a compelling case, I argue, for the importance of Athens in eighteenth-century British thought. This thesis will further point to the influence of readings of Thucydides, Plutarch, Herodotus, Xenophon, Aristotle, and others on the reception of Athenian history. The classical texts provided the raw material from which ideas of Athenian history were formed. This thesis will point to various traditions of reading these texts that were current in the eighteenth century, which provided material in contemporary political debates. Furthermore, I will explore ways in which readings of these texts problematised received wisdom. For example,. around the time of the American Revolution, Thucydides' depiction of the descent of the Athenian Empire into tyranny provided troubling material when compared with the perceived liberty of the British Empire.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available