Kellam Conover is a PhD candidate in the Classics department. He is interested in examining the role of law in ancient and contemporary societies. His current research focuses on the legal history of bribery, both in ancient Athens and in the early American Republic.
For more on Kellam, see his LAPA page.
For the colloquium, we will read a chapter from my dissertation, which examines the pervasive phenomenon of bribery (dorodokia) in Athenian morality and law of the Classical period (ca. 480-322 BCE). The Greek language had no specific word for 'bribe'. Instead, the same word, doron, was used to designate both gifts and 'bribes'; dorodokia simply meant 'the taking of gifts'. Further, gift exchange and reciprocity were cornerstones of ancient Athenian society: in the political sphere, with short terms in office and essentially no requirements for office, performing one's duties as a public official virtually required relying on networks of friends and acquaintances. The exchange of gifts and favors in a political context thus would have played an integral role in the democracy. So, this dissertation asks, what made dorodokia bad? And what did the Athenians do about dorodokia?
In Part One of the dissertation, whence this chapter comes, I develop a synchronic model for how the Athenians were conceptualizing dorodokia (Chapter 1) and then see how this conceptual model changed throughout the democracy (Chapters 2-4). As I argue, because political office itself was viewed as an exchange between an official and the Athenian people, dorodokia was effectively conceptualized as the privileging of a private friendship (bribe-giver/official) over a public friendship (official/Athenian people). Bad politicians thus were essentially bad citizens: when they took in bribes (bad gifts), they refused to give a reciprocal good to the community, just like bad citizens who shirked their obligations to perform benefactions for the city. The chapter we will read examines dorodokia in the last decades of the Athenian democracy and traces the various narratives that Athenians used to describe dorodokia. These narratives highlight how in this period dorodokia was considered an act of inherent treason, one that undermined trust between citizens, thereby threatening both the city's laws and its moral economy of values.