Divining the Gods
: Religion and Authority in Attic Oratory

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis offers an examination of religion in the legal and political speeches of fourth-century BCE Athens. It studies how litigants in the law courts and speakers in the Assembly construct and use religious discourses, analysing what this reveals about the place of religion in the legal and political decision-making processes of classical Athens. The thesis explores not only what the orators said about the divine but furthermore dissects how they could say what they do. To do so, this study concentrates on the notion of ‘religious authority’, which it takes as a dynamic and discursive constructed-and-contested process. This focus on religious authority allows for a recognition of both the asymmetry inherent in the relationship between orator and audience and the individual agency of orators, understanding their speeches as varied appropriations of religious ideas and notions and practices by individuals within a specific social context. Research on religion in Attic oratory falls largely into one of two strands: either focusing on the value of the orators as sources for 'popular' morality and religious thought, or examining the use of religion in the texts solely as rhetorical tools of persuasion. Both these approaches treat the orators' speeches as a cohesive body and do not take sufficient account of the variety and differentiation found within this corpus, which is something this study aims to do. It does so by investigating a number of sources for religious authority which orators draw on as building blocks for what can be said about the gods: this includes divine signs such as oracles and dreams, as well as oaths and laws. Ultimately, by dissecting the complex process of speaking authoritatively and persuasively about the gods in the law courts and the Assembly, this thesis contributes to our understanding of the place of religious conceptions in Athenian democratic society.
Date of Award1 Jul 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorHugh Bowden (Supervisor)

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