Dangerous CounselAccountability and Advice in Ancient Greece

Dangerous CounselAccountability and Advice in Ancient Greece

Matthew Landauer

Print publication date: 2020

ISBN: 9780226654010

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


This book examines the role of the sumboulos (adviser) in Greek conceptions of both democratic and autocratic politics. The distinctive role of advisers follows from the structural similarity between the two regime types, especially with regard to accountability politics. The Athenian demos, gathered together in the assembly and in the popular courts, was understood in the fifth and fourth centuries to have competencies and powers akin to those of an autocratic ruler. In particular, both the demos and the autocrat were recognized as unaccountable rulers able to hold others, including their advisers, to account. Given the power asymmetries structuring the relationships between advisers and decision-makers in both democracies and autocracies, both practicing orators and theoretically inclined observers came to see that the problems and opportunities associated with having (or choosing) to speak to the powerful were comparable across regimes. In playing with the image of the demos as tyrant, fifth- and fourth- century authors such as Herodotus, Thucydides, Aristophanes, and Plato illuminated the logic of accountability and offered powerful accounts of the ways in which power asymmetries conditioned and at times distorted political discourse.