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Dangerous Counsel

Accountability and Advice in Ancient Greece

Dangerous Counsel

Accountability and Advice in Ancient Greece

We often talk loosely of the “tyranny of the majority” as a threat to the workings of democracy. But, in ancient Greece, the analogy of demos and tyrant was no mere metaphor, nor a simple reflection of elite prejudice. Instead, it highlighted an important structural feature of Athenian democracy. Like the tyrant, the Athenian demos was an unaccountable political actor with the power to hold its subordinates to account. And like the tyrant, the demos could be dangerous to counsel since the orator speaking before the assembled demos was accountable for the advice he gave.
With Dangerous Counsel, Matthew Landauer analyzes the sometimes ferocious and unpredictable politics of accountability in ancient Greece and offers novel readings of ancient history, philosophy, rhetoric, and drama. In comparing the demos to a tyrant, thinkers such as Herodotus, Plato, Isocrates, and Aristophanes were attempting to work out a theory of the badness of unaccountable power; to understand the basic logic of accountability and why it is difficult to get right; and to explore the ways in which political discourse is profoundly shaped by institutions and power relationships. In the process they created strikingly portable theories of counsel and accountability that traveled across political regime types and remain relevant to our contemporary political dilemmas.

256 pages | 2 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2020

Ancient Studies

History: Ancient and Classical History

Political Science: Political and Social Theory


"An insightful book, wonderfully written and eruditely argued [. . .] any historian working on Athenian democracy or political scientists curious about the politics of advice should find a copy of this book."

Bryn Mawr Classical Review

“This is a clever, thought-provoking, and knowledgeable work that makes a significant contribution to the understanding of ancient Greek political thought.”

Melissa Lane, Princeton University

“Landauer has produced an exceptionally well-written and readable work of political theory that raises new and thought-provoking questions about the role of advice in tyrannies and democracies, which will be of interest both to political theorists and historians of ancient Greece.”

Matt Simonton, Arizona State University

“In this well-written and stimulating book, Matthew Landauer intervenes in the debate concerning… the exceptionality of Athenian democracy… This book is an important contribution to the contemporary scholarly debate about ancient Greek democracies and is strongly recommended reading for classicists and political theorists alike.”

Polis, The Journal for Ancient Greek and Roman Political Thought

“…a short but interesting survey of the accountability of advice in ancient Greece.”

Sir Michael Fallon | Classics for All

"Matthew Landauer’s Dangerous Counsel is a lively, erudite, and judicious presentation of ancient Greek thinking about accountability and advice."

Andreas Avgousti, Simon Fraser University | Perspectives on Politics

Table of Contents



1 Accountability and Unaccountability in Athenian Democracy
2 The Tyrant: Unaccountability’s Second Face
3 The Accountable Adviser in Herodotus’ Histories
4 Responsibility and Accountability in Thucydides’ Mytilenean Debate
Parrhēsia across Politeiai
6 Demagoguery and the Limits of Expert Advice in Plato’s Gorgias



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