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The Aesthetics of Equality in Early Greek Poetry


This dissertation asks how Homer, Hesiod, and Theognis envision egalitarian alternatives to the conditions of social stratification that prevail in the fictional worlds of early Greek poetry. I track moments when characters relegated to the lower ranks of their societies—beggars, plebian rabble-rousers, and masses of common soldiers—stage challenges to the social and narrative primacy of the texts’ protagonists, who invariably belong to the aristocratic or propertied classes. Even though these challenges fail on a narrative level, their rich aesthetic content invites readers to reflect on how each text’s poetic priorities could be subverted, reinforced, or transformed in a flattened social landscape. I draw on the work of contemporary philosophers and political theorists to model how egalitarian subjectivity, ways of organizing and belonging together, can surface in diverse venues, including forms of collective militancy, ethical self-fashioning, and aesthetic expression. By locating a space of political contestation in sensory experience, this approach supplements the forms of deliberative politics that are more familiar to Classical Studies scholarship. It thereby offers a novel way of giving voice to the minor characters who pose a challenge from below to the fundamental social premises of early Greek poetry.

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