This provocation contests the familiar construction of classical Athens as an ideal exemplar of democratic politics through a focus on the city’s material fabric, its visual artworks, and the performances which took place within its public spaces. It highlights the city’s ongoing process of material re-building (particularly following the Persian invasion of 480 BCE), during which process many of its old artworks were appropriated or re-purposed to express democratic aspirations and anxieties. It also foregrounds the ongoing tensions given articulation through the city’s new showpiece building projects and performance events, including theatrical tragedy and comedy. The aim, throughout, is to challenge clichéd (and idealising) views of classical Athens as a unified and serene white-marble vista. Instead, this provocation cultivates an alternative vision of the democratic city as unfinished, insecure, and frequently disunited: a permanent “work-in-progress” in both a material and a political sense. In conclusion, the Athens of the fifth century BCE is re-positioned as a timely (though not a “timeless”) reminder to today’s politically-engaged artists, educators, and activists that democratic self-definition and practice can only be sustained through a vigorous, ongoing, and open-ended process of debate, confrontation, and contestation within the civic and creative spaces of the city.


fifth-century Athens, democracy, Greek tragedy, Greek comedy, Parthenon, classical sculpture

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Kritika Kultura
Department of English
School of Humanities
Ateneo de Manila University

The Philippine Commission on Higher Education (CHED) declares Kritika Kultura as a CHED-recognized journal under the Journal Challenge Category of its Journal Incentive Program.

International Board of Editors

Jan Baetens
Faculty of Arts
Katholieke Universiteit te Leuven (Belgium)

Joel David
Professor of Cultural Studies
Inha University (South Korea)

Michael Denning
Professor of American Studies and English
Department of English
Yale University (US)

Faculty of Cultural Sciences
Universitas Gadjah Mada (Indonesia)

Regenia Gagnier
Professor of English
University of Exeter (UK)

Leela Gandhi
John Hawkes Professor of the Humanities and English
Brown University (US)

Inderpal Grewal
Professor of Women's Gender and Sexuality Studies
Professor of South Asian Studies, Ethnicity, Race and Migration Studies
Yale University (US)

Peter Horn
Professor Emeritus and Honorary Lifetime Fellow
University of Cape Town (South Africa)
Honorary Professor and Research Associate in German Studies
University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa)

Anette Horn
Professor of German Studies
University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa)

David Lloyd
Distinguished Professor of English
University of California, Riverside (US)

Bienvenido Lumbera
National Artist for Literature
Professor Emeritus
University of the Philippines

Rajeev S. Patke
Director of the Division of Humanities
Professor of Humanities
Yale NUS College (Singapore)

Vicente L. Rafael
Giovanni and Amne Costigan Endowed Professor of History
University of Washington (US)

Vaidehi Ramanathan
Department of Linguistics
University of California, Davis (US)

Temario Rivera
Professorial Lecturer
Department of Political Science
University of the Philippines

E. San Juan, Jr.
Philippines Studies Center (US)

Neferti X.M. Tadiar
Professor of Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies
Barnard College (US)
Director of the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race
Columbia University (US)

Antony Tatlow
Honorary Professor of Drama
Trinity College Dublin (Ireland)