Discourse and Truth: The Problematization of Parrhesia.



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Parrhesia and Politics

The second important aspect of the evolution of parrhesia is related to the political field. As it appears in Euripides plays and also in the texts of the Fourth Century BC, parrhesia is an essential characteristic of Athenian democracy. Of course, we still have to investigate the role of parrhesia in the Athenian constitution. But we can say quite generally that parrhesia was a guideline for democracy as well as an ethical and personal attitude characteristic of the good citizen. Athenian democracy was defined very explicitly as a constitution (politeia) in which people enjoyed demokratia, isegoria ( the equal right of speech), isonomia (the equal participation of all citizens in the exercise of power), and parrhesia. Parrhesia, which is a requisite for public speech, takes place between citizens as individuals, and also between citizens construed as an assembly . Moreover, the agora is the place where parrhesia appears.

During the Hellenistic period this political meaning changes with the rise of the Hellenic monarchies. Parrhesia now becomes centered in the relationship between the sovereign and his advisors or court men . In the monarchic constitution of the state, it is the advisor's duty to use parrhesia to help the king with his decisions, and to prevent him from abusing his power . Parrhesia is necessary and useful both for the king and for the people under his rule . The sovereign himself is not a parrhesiastes, but a touchstone of the good ruler is his ability to play the parrhesiastic game. Thus , a good king accepts everything that a genuine parrhesiastes tells him, even if it turns out to be unpleasant for him to hear criticism of his decisions. A sovereign shows himself to be a tyrant if he disregards his honest advisors, or punishes them for what they have said . The portrayal of a sovereign by most Greek historians takes into account the way he behaves towards his advisors--as if such behavior were an index of his ability to hear the parrhesiastes .

There is also a third category of players in the monarchic parrhesiastic game, viz., the silent majority : the people in general who are not present at the exchanges between the king and his advisors, but to whom, and on behalf of whom, the advisors refer when offering advice to the king.

The place where parrhesia appears in the context of monarchic rule is the king's court, and no longer the agora.




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