Thank you very much to everyone who submitted an entry to Competition AH6, based on Stephan Nitu’s lecture on ‘Athenian Democracy: Modes of Thinking About Different Worlds’. Below you can read the winning entry, as selected by our team of markers.
Building on the ideas covered in the taster lecture, think about how society is portrayed in your favourite book, television show or film (you can pick one from any genre or era – it should be one that has had an impact on you).
- How is society portrayed in your chosen book/television show/film?
- Is the society a democracy?
- If not, what structure does the society have?
- How do the main figures or concepts impact on the society’s structure?
Write a response considering how the portrayal of society in your chosen resource compares to that in Athenian society.
Lorna’s winning entry
My chosen book is ‘Red Rising’ by Pierce Brown, a dystopian novel set on Mars where society is divided into ranks and ‘Colours’: from the golds, who run the society, to ‘lowColours’, like the reds, who are expected to be subservient to the golds and have less rights in society. This hierarchical system differs from the construct of the Athenian society, which treated classes of society relatively similarly in terms of their voting system. The totalitarian political view is that there should be total servitude towards the state, and that there should be little liberty of the people. This is shown in Red Rising, as each colour is assigned their role within society: whether this be mining, technology or even solely prostitution.
However, these societal constructs may not differ entirely. Taking an external look at the Athenian democracy presents an image of equality amongst the people (‘demos’), but there are still some similarities, such as the role of women. Despite their democratic approach, women were excluded from this in Athens and would never be seen in positions of authority. Whilst in Red Rising women are still able to gain power, it still presents the idea that there was not total equality between all groups in society when it came to allocating power, and that there is a sense of hierarchy even with a democracy: women, slaves, and metics in Athens, and the lowColours in Red Rising.
Another difference is that the Athenians preferred election by lot, as opposed to election by war. In Pierce Brown’s novel, the gold with the greatest military prowess would succeed and be appointed as leader, whereas the Athenians believed that, for democracy to be achieved, the choice should be up to the public themselves: the most popular ‘wins’, rather than the most powerful.
Leonita’s winning entry
Within the novel A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini society is presented as intoxicating and controlling through religious reinforcement. In other words, society is structured under a religious regime where politics and extreme beliefs are mixed. It is evident in the novel that people are suffering through this structure and they seek for a way out of it. Athenian society was a structure whereby people in society were segregated into groups; all adult males could vote yet women could not and society was fundamentally patriarchal. Assemblies would take place, duty was paid, various rights would take place to bring lawsuits together and discussions were carried out.
I will first discuss the similarities of the Islamic republic government and the Athenian society. The main similarly is the treatment of women. In the novel, the treatment of women is harsh and brutal whereby women can’t leave their house without their husband and consent was vital from the male figure of their lives for every situation that they encountered. This view is embodied by all the members of society because Laila (the protagonist) grows up with her mum (a product of the extreme Islamic republican) saying that men are more valuable then women and she should just accept it. Athenian society also expresses that similar view as well; we learn that all adult men can attend and vote for what they believe in. However, women don’t obtain that right. This is because both societies are constructed to benefit males and therefore, both the novel and Athenian society express this value within their structures. However, a paradox between the two societies is that although Athenian society was based in a time period where they separated religion with politics whereas in the novel the government mix the two together which differs from Athenian society.