2022 Georges Lecture: Did the Greeks believe their lawgivers invented law?

The Department of Classical Studies at Tulane University presents the Dennis A. Georges Lecture in Hellenic Culture

"Did the Greeks believe their lawgivers invented law?"

Dr. Melissa Lane (Class of 1943 Professor of Politics, Princeton University)

Thursday, April 21, 2022 at 6:00PM CST in the Stone Auditorium (RM 210 Woldenberg Art Center) ~ Reception to follow in Woodward Way

This lecture explores the figure of the lawgiver in classical and post-classical Greek thinking, arguing that the great lawgivers were depicted in terms of their systematic selectivity in promulgating laws that could (re)shape social norms. Such selectivity meant that the figure of the lawgiver did not create laws from scratch, but rather, presupposed their social evolution both in the polity in question and elsewhere. In other words, I argue, the Greeks figured the lawgiver not as a protōs heuretēs but rather as what I shall dub a protōs hairetēs, not as a first inventor but as a first chooser or selector.

Systematic selectivity could involve borrowing laws from other polities, as lawgivers including Lycurgus, Solon, Charondas, and even Zaleucus were said by at least some classical authors to have done; alternatively, it could involve inverting laws existing elsewhere to achieve the opposite effect, as Xenophon described Lycurgus as having done. Building on Karl-Joachim Hölkeskamp's study of the fourth-century BCE philosophical delineation of the figure of the lawgiver (against the varied backdrop of the actual emergence of Greek laws), this lecture relates to debates about the ultimate originator of laws in a given polity (or in Greek polities overall); the role of colonization and the borrowing of laws in that context; the technology of writing as a means for promulgating laws; and the role of the gods in inspiring various lawgivers.

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