Agora – ‘scalar stress’ – ‘primitive theatre’ – HOA meeting

….Men had gathered in the market-place where a quarrel was in progress, two men quarrelling over the blood-money for a man who had been killed: one claimed that he was making full compensation, and was showing it to the people, but the other refused to accept any payment: both were eager to take a decision from the arbiter. The people were taking sides, and shouting their support for either man, while the heralds tried to keep them in check. And the elders sat on the polished stone seats in the sacred circle, taking the rod in their hands as they received it from the loud-voiced heralds…..

….the crowd is shouting and taking sides, with the heralds struggling to hold them back. In contrast to our tendency to idealise the agora, Homer reminds us of a simple but important fact: the agora was not only a place for bringing people together, but also for keeping them apart….

….As population increases, sub-groups develop and faction ensues, what anthropologists call ‘scalar stress’. Research has shown that communities tend to ‘fissure’ when they reach figures in the late 100s. The Hutterite Anabaptist communities in the 19th-century US split at around 150; among the Yanomami, of South America, conflict arises nearer 200. Moreover, the evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar at the University of Oxford argues that such limitations are hard-wired. Scaling up from the size of primate brains, and primate groups sizes, he estimates that we can maintain meaningful relationships only with around 150 people – the average size of a village in the Doomsday book – with an upper limit of around 230. Tihingan, the village in which Geertz carried out his field work, had a population of 720…..

….In The World of Odysseus (1954), Moses Finley concludes that when an assembly (agora) is convened in the Iliad, it never results in ‘rational discussion’ but rather ‘quarrels’ won ‘by harangue and by warning’…..

‘primitive theatre’

…. It separated fighters from their kinsmen, and rival kinsmen from each other, helping to stop the fight spreading to the community at large. When Aias and Idomeneus begin to quarrel during the chariot race at the end of the Iliad, Achilles instructs them to shut up and rejoin the spectators…..

…. The ‘Greek miracle’ of the agorathus constituted a revolutionary suspension of belief: the belief that politics was necessarily held hostage to that Homeric obsession – rage…..



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