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Open Access Thesis
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The figure of the πολυπράγμων, the overactive, over-engaged, or meddlesome democratic citizen, is a literary trope that emerges in Classical Athenian literature in the 5th and 4th centuries B.C. This project seeks to use the πολυπράγμων as an entry point into understanding Athenian attitudes toward citizenship and socially acceptable political behaviors in Athens’ democratic era.
I explore the history and usage of the term πολυπράγμων, and the associated characteristic of πολυπραγμοσύνη (meddlesomeness), and its synonyms and antecedents. I demonstrate that to be labeled πολυπράγμων is a term of social restraint—one is named a πολυπράγμων if they do not “mind their own business.” In 5th century Athens such an admonition is primarily political. It refers to and demonstrates the existence of a contested definition of what is and what is not acceptable political behavior on behalf of the non-elite citizens of Athens.
Through a reading of Plato’s dialogues and an analysis of other Athenian literary productions describing street-level social and political interactions in the fourth century, I endeavor to demonstrate in the second half of this thesis that the behaviors of social inquisitiveness, over-activity, and the negative characteristics attributed to the πολυπράγμων by contemporary writers such as Plato, could actually have served to increase the common knowledge and cohesiveness of the Athenian city-state. To do this, I consider the πολυπράγμων through the lens of modern scholarship and social science that considers Athens as an “epistemic democracy” concerned with aggregating and employing politically useful information.