Monday, July 11, 2022


Constraints on Freedom

Euripides, Hecuba 864-867 (tr. E.P. Coleridge):
There is not in the world a single man free;
for he is a slave either to money or to fortune,
or else the people in their thousands or the fear of public prosecution
prevents him from following the dictates of his heart.

οὐκ ἔστι θνητῶν ὅστις ἔστ᾽ ἐλεύθερος·
ἢ χρημάτων γὰρ δοῦλός ἐστιν ἢ τύχης,        865
ἢ πλῆθος αὐτὸν πόλεος ἢ νόμων γραφαὶ
εἴργουσι χρῆσθαι μὴ κατὰ γνώμην τρόποις.
Justina Gregory ad loc.:
864 ... ἐλεύθερος: Like ἰσονομία (291-92n, cf. 804-5n), ἐλευθερία was a defining feature of Athenian ideology. The concept of political freedom developed in the wake of the Persian Wars as a metaphorical extension of the traditional antithesis between personal freedom and enslavement (K. Raaflaub, Die Entdeckung der Freiheit [Munich 1985] 313-27). Hecuba plays on the various senses—personal and political, literal and metaphorical—of "free," reversing the categories that actually apply and portraying Agamemnon as a frightened slave and herself as the one in power.

865 ἢ ... ἢ: Hecuba's first two examples refer to private constraints on the individual. [For enslavement to money cf. εἰς τὸ κέρδος παρὰ φύσιν δουλευτέον, Phoen. 395. For enslavement to fate cf. τῇ τύχῃ δουλευτέον, HF 1357.]

866 πλῆθος αὐτὸν πόλεος ... νόμων γραφαὶ: Hecuba's last two examples refer to civic constraints on the individual. Majority rule and written law were the foundation-stones of Athenian democracy. [Cf. Arist. Pol. 1317b5 for τὸ πλῆθος ... εἶναι κύριον and Supp. 433-34 for written law as safeguarding equality.] Hecuba has invoked democratic principles when it suited her argument (291, 799-805), but here she reverts to an aristocratic perspective (254-57n) and depicts majority rule and written law as limiting individual freedom of action.

867 "prevent him from following his inclination according to his will." μή is a "redundant" negative with an infinitive depending on a verb of negative meaning (Smyth §2739). [Normally preceding the infinitive, it is here displaced metri gratia. Hecuba's remark alludes to the competing demands of individual liberty and majority rule under a democratic system. For "doing whatever one wishes" (τὸ ὅ τι ἂν βούληταί τις ποιεῖν) as a hallmark of political freedom see Arist. Pol. 1310a32; also Thuc. 2.37.2 and 7.69.2.]

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