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Alternatives to AthensVarieties of Political Organization and Community in Ancient Greece$
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Roger Brock and Stephen Hodkinson

Print publication date: 2002

Print ISBN-13: 9780199258109

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199258109.001.0001

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Megara’s Mafiosi: Timocracy and Violence in Theognis

Megara’s Mafiosi: Timocracy and Violence in Theognis

(p.52) 3 Megara’s Mafiosi: Timocracy and Violence in Theognis
Alternatives to Athens


Oxford University Press

This chapter draws comparisons between the worlds of Theognis and the Mafia to highlight the culture of violent competition which they have in common. If Mafiosi, all engaged in fierce struggles for power and wealth can see themselves as paragons of virtue while accusing their rivals of unprincipled greed and violence. We need to look beyond Theognis' black-and-white imagery, and give full weight to the evidence which suggests that in his community violence and greed were structural phenomena rather than aberrations which could be blamed on ‘the bad men’. This conclusion should in turn alert us to the significance of other archaic evidence which attests to the prevalence of violent competition for power. It is in the nature of the surviving evidence that we hear most about the coups d' é tat and violent reigns of tyrants, but we should not assume that such men were exceptional in resorting to force. Poetry — notably the remainder of the Theognid corpus and the work of Alcaeus — and oral tradition both suggest that violent struggles among the élite were common and invariably involved groups of people going into exile or fighting their way back. In many parts of Greece, as in Megara, therefore, power and property must have changed hands constantly as it was abandoned, seized, and recovered.

Keywords:   Theognis, Mafia, violent competition, power struggles

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