Monday, March 18, 2024

“History repeats itself” — Hellenic Museum to consider voter suppression

    The Illinois primary election is Tuesday. With November's pivotal moment in American history looming beyond that. So now might be an apt time to pause and ask ourselves: this whole voting business, where did it come from?
     Partial credit for citing the American Revolution, 1776 and all that. A major step away from being ruled by kings.
     But where did American revolutionaries get the idea? Voting initially sprang from a very specific time and place — Greece 2500 years ago — and like any new tool, it had a specific purpose: to create a new form of power.
     Elections in ancient Greece represented "the new weapon of the popular vote against the old power of family politics" according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Being in charge because you were the son of the ruler was fine, if you were the son of the ruler. But those non-relatives had begun to chafe. Shouldn't their views count? An idea sprang up — ask people to give or withhold their consent, aka democracy.
     Then the question became: who votes? Could foreigners earn the right? About 451 BC, Greek general Pericles changed the Athenian constitution to require that to be a citizen, you had to have Athenian parentage on both sides.
     In April, Chicago's National Hellenic Museum is putting Pericles on trial for fiddling with the constitution.
     "Hero or tyrant?" is how the museum presents the issue. "Audience members will cast their votes to decide the final verdict."
     Raising the subject of voter suppression and xenophobia can't have been an accident.
     "No accident," confessed retired Circuit Court Judge Anna Demacopoulos, a trustee of the museum and co-chair of the event. "This year's presentation is so relevant. You can actually see the first time somebody was accused of voter suppression. Do you protect your citizens or do you do what it takes to retain your power? Which is exactly what leaders might be grappling with right now."
     As if voting rights and treatment of foreigners were not relevance aplenty, there is also the matter of the status of women.

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  1. When Greek democracy was in its' infancy and Pericles was changing the electorate, seedlings and saplings of Giant Sequoia were taking root in California. Some of those young trees are still growing two and one half millennia later. Which will be the last one standing?

    1. Hopefully, sequoia groves can migrate ahead of an ice age. I suppose American democracy can survive a limp Trump-style fascism, although it would be best to squash Trump while we have the chance.

    2. The first time I visited Calaveras Big Trees I was in awe at the size of the Sequoias and humbled by the realization that a couple were alive when/if Socrates drank the poison. They have shallow roots and survive now in areas protected from high winds. It is unlikely that they expand their range but could survive several more millennia, if climate change doesn't kill them. Democracy is in more immediate peril, Arizonans today stormed a local government meeting, closing it while the mob occupied the chamber. It is a harbinger of the tactics MAGA crowds will use in the fall. There are few reasonable Republicans in office who can even admit January 6 was a riot, much less hold the Cowardly Liar accountable for his words and actions. To borrow from Wayne LaPierre, will it take Democrats with guns to stop real steal?

  2. Sometimes history is written by the losers. Thucydides' account of the Peloponnesian War is one. The rebel generals writing about the "lost cause" and "states' rights" is another. Athens did become the victor in the end; the Parthenon still stands and Sparta is just a tiny spot in the landscape. Fortunately now, we are finally rejecting that rebel claptrap.

  3. Certainly this has parallels with what goes on these days.

  4. It turns out there are more of them in England than in California. People in 19th Century England were so entranced with the giant redwoods & sequoias, they brought several hundred thousand seedlings to England & planted them there. Now they are over 100 feet tall & growing taller every year.

  5. Today's EGD is marvelous. Neil, I have been wondering why you so often focus on David's "The Death of Socrates", and now I know the answer. Thank you for informing us (me) about the Hellenic Museum's mock trials. Truly fascinating...this one being so timely and meaningful to current events. As a student, I read The History of the Peloponnesian War (most of which I have forgotten) way back in the '60s, which became the catalyst for studying the history of Greek art. Thank goodness there are scholars who keep that history alive. Should Pericles be convicted by this court, it might send a message that oligarchies usually fail. I hope the world and American voters are listening.

  6. I wonder if we get to the point that the front page of newspapers begin to publish the argument that a vote for any republican, is s vote to end the American experiment.


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